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Bloggers, Think for Yourselves: Reject the SEO Rumor-Mongers!

This guest post is by Dustin Verburg and Jeriann Watkins of Page One Power.

Matt Cutts spoke, and the internet started to buzz about guest posting. This unsettled blog owners who were already uncertain about accepting contributions from strangers. SEO industry veterans declared “and from this day forth, all link building is spam, especially through guest posts!” with bitterness and vitriol.

Soon after, some more fresh-faced SEO professionals came along and gave link building a few new names. Blog owners remained unconvinced. All sorts of fingers were pointed and all sorts of names were tossed around. “Spammer! Black hat! Link builder!

And, in the end, nothing changed apart from some minor algorithm updates and the emergence of a few videos. Blog owners, take heart: not everyone is just after an easy link. Link building didn’t instantly become some cursed mummy, forever doomed to wander a forgotten tomb. Instead, young professionals renamed their jobs and moved forward.

The thing is, though, the name change wasn’t even necessary. This is a perfect example of a reactionary, irrational response on both sides of the aisle.

About “link building”

In order to appease bloggers, panic-stricken lemmings of the SEO world have recently been purporting the value of “link earning” rather than link building. This stems from a comment by Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz (video included below), whose argument is that if you’re doing things to “get” links then you’re doing it wrong.

Fishkin’s main point is that you need to build great content—then, the links will come to you. While this is true, it can be misleading to people who are unfamiliar with SEO and link building in general.  

The danger is that it makes it seem like anything that’s done with the intention of obtaining a link falls into black-hat territory. The truth of the matter is that great content is not enough if no one reads it; hence, reaching out to other sources to expose your writing to a larger audience is not a bad thing.

Some people are actively trying to change the name of link building. Here’s why that’s a bad idea:

A new buzzword

The truth is, a rose by any other name is still a rose. Fishkin isn’t recommending any revolutionary changes in SEO practice, he is coining a new buzz-phrase. Just because link building doesn’t have a great reputation right now doesn’t mean that we change the name.

People who claim to be “link earning” are probably using the same methods they were last month before the term existed. No matter what it’s called, the intention is still to get links, which doesn’t have to be bad.  It’s not the name that brings the spammy methods, it’s the spammers taking short cuts and using faulty methods. Changing the name of what you do just to appeal to what is trendy seems pretty dishonest, doesn’t it?

Rather than trying to set bloggers’ minds at ease by changing the name of an industry, SEO professionals should be concerned with generating quality content that bloggers actually want. If we work to build the credibility of our industry, and our own reputations, we’ll eliminate this reactionary cycle.

Shortcuts

The reason link building is under fire is because certain methods (black blog networks, comment spamming, keyword stuffing) try to “game the system” and outsmart search engines. People try to get links without going to the work of providing quality content. Unfortunately, that is the way of the world. If there is a short-cut, it will be found and exploited, especially online, where so many short cuts are available.

The key is to find the practices that promote efficiency without sacrificing quality. Guest posting is one link building strategy that does have the potential to add quality in terms of new, unique content for your blog from someone else’s point of view.

Value

Link building functions on a case-by-case basis. The reason links are an asset is because they show that site owners appreciate and find value in the content they are linking to.

This means that if you want links you should create content that people will find valuable. Putting this content on someone else’s site with the intent of getting a backlink does not change the value.

Good writing is good writing. Google knows this; bloggers should know this as well.

Not everyone is a spammer

Like a witch hunt, the fear of spam—and the penalties that follow—has led to wide-spread panic, making bloggers all but ready to burn link builders and guest posters at the stake.

But much like many accused witches were just medicine women, there are benefits of guest posting as well.

  • Networking: Not everyone is a spammer. Guest posts can be written by people who really know what they are talking about. After all, isn’t networking marketing basics? Guest posting is a very effective networking tool, and good writers should be able to utilize it. In fact, it should be encouraged.
  • Credibility: In a recent webmaster video, Matt Cutts, Google’s head of Webspam, said that high quality guest posts still have value. He then cited some examples of well-known bloggers and industry experts who would be excellent choices to host on your site.  While this is a great statement to alleviate some of the fears of accepting guest posts, it would be a mistake for blog owners to accept posts from only well-known industry experts. After all, credibility has to start being built somewhere.

The strength of blogging lies in giving people a chance to get their voice out to as many people as possible. This can and should include companies. Though we as a society are inundated with advertisements and may hate to admit it, even advertisements can add quality. After all, marketers are people too, and they like to make things that people won’t hate (hence all the remakes of Top 100 songs in commercials).  

Even if it is for link building purposes, a lot of quality content can be generated by people who haven’t yet made a name for themselves in the blogosphere.

Usefulness, sustainability, separation, and usefulness

There’s a separation between link building and spam. I can’t stress this enough to blog owners—there are spammers who build diseased links, but link building is not an inherently evil practice.

“Link earning” is the term used now instead of the currently pejorative “link building,” but when they’re done right they are the exact same thing. A good SEO wants to work with blog owners and webmasters because their goals are the same.

Links are the fuel that powers the internet, and valuable links don’t come without time and effort. They’re cultivated and carefully placed with the content, the website, the link’s destination and the site owner all in mind.

  • Link building: Link building takes work. When it’s done right, it is the practice of trading something worth value (content of some sort) for a link. It’s a little hyperlink in a sea of other text and code, but it makes a difference to an SEO professional. Writing something interesting and finding a good home for it (or doing it the other way around) is not easy. A good link builder values and supports the blog s/he’s posting on and wants to see it succeed. That link builder wants a link too, of course, but it’s not a case of expecting something for nothing. Those links are built and earned. The link and the content strengthen the foundation of every website they touch.
  • Sustainability: There are spammers who play at building links, but there are bad apples in every industry. Just because there are some shady characters among us does not mean we’re all crooks. There will always be spammers, but their practices will never be sustainable. Building links and producing content in any meaningful way is never going to be easy. We can’t let spammers corrupt an entire system that brings people together and supports a happy internet. The only thing less sustainable than spammers would be an internet so afraid of that spam that it shuts itself down for an eternity of stagnation.
  • Separation: Almost anyone with good working knowledge of the internet can tell a quality site from a spammy one. Likewise, it’s easy to sniff out a totally irrelevant link. Bizarre robot-driven links and the spam sites they love will always exist, but they’re pretty easy to avoid. A blog owner’s initial scan of the writer’s content (and email) should reveal a spammer. 500 words in broken English with impossible keyword density is much different than the work of a legitimate professional. The spammer and the professional both exist, but they’re at odds with each other. Just as there are web directories with endless pages robot-driven gibberish, there are writers sweating and bleeding over their craft to deliver good content to quality websites.
  • Usefulness: The danger lies in not trying to separate the two—if webmasters and blog owners just freeze up and stop responding to emails, those spam sites are going to be the only places on the web showing any real growth. Guest posts and other link building tools must be judged individually, not by some all-encompassing magic formula. This can be summarized in one question: will this content be useful for or interesting to your readers? If the answer is yes, then don’t you owe it to them to post it?

More than links

Having smart, creative people creating amazing content and reaching out to other smart, creative people makes the internet a better place. Building links, in the purest sense, is so much more than code, text and pixels. Content provides:

  • Diversity: There are different kinds of content. Good content always makes an impact—whether it makes someone want to reexamine their Google Analytics data, want to ride their bike, want to leave a heartfelt comment, or just makes someone laugh. But there’s no exact formula for good content. Some search marketers might love an in-depth analysis of a ballpoint pen manufacturer’s backlink profile, complete with charts and cold, hard numbers.  On the other hand, that sounds terribly boring to me. We all want different things. Content comes in many amazing forms, and it’s engaging on many distinctive levels.
  • Community: Comments and social media build communities from content. It goes deeper than that, though. These emerging communities share the same values, but they challenge each other with new ideas and concepts. Site owners, bloggers, and readers engage one another and keep each other honest as these communities form. This is how innovation happens in any niche—and it all starts with content.
  • Infrastructure: As we build links, we’re building a trustworthy infrastructure that interacts with and independently of the major search engines. A link between two sites is a vote of confidence. A good link means never having to be afraid of what lies beyond that bit of text and code. A good link is relevant, helpful, and thoughtfully placed—it’s never superfluous or dangerous.

Link building is a complicated field, and that is where the value lies. As with all industries, there will be people who offer services and products of less quality. You are probably careful about where you order sushi; practice the same caution when accepting links for your site.

The danger does not come from the name, but from the practice, and not all who practice link building are spammers. Otherwise, links would not even be a factor in search engine algorithms.

Dustin Verburg is a writer and musician based in Boise, ID who enjoys frowning at Matt Cutts’ YouTube videos. Jeriann Watkins is a writer interested in music, technology, and all sorts of random topics. They both work at Page One Power, a relevancy first link building firmin Boise, Idaho and write for their SEO blog.

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Comments

  1. Links and keywords are the core of almost every SEO campaign, arguably. Yes, one should not go spamming and putting links on every site, willy nilly, but link building is essential for anyone that wants to get to the top of Google.

    And I agree. Link earning is a useless reinterpretation of the term “link building.” Honestly, it sounds like whoever’s doing it is trying to make people think they’re reinventing the wheel, when all they did was paint it a different color.

    • Brian Rock says:

      Yup, some kind of link building is essential, and any talk about “link earning” by just writing quality content on your own site is nonsense. If you’re a nobody, just getting started, then if you don’t actively make connections and build links through guest posts, content marketing, etc, then no one is ever going you find you.

      It might be different when you’ve already got thousands of followers reading your content and linking to it organically, but we all gotta start somewhere.

    • George Orwell wrote extensively on how the use of language and the way something is phrased has an impact on how it’s received. Much of this later became the basis for the “newspeak” culture (or “neusprache” as its German translation would be, considering he wrote a lot about Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine) in his signature work “1984.” Not that I’m comparing blogging promotion tactics to Big Brother or pulling a Godwin’s law, but this seems exactly what’s going on with the term link building. Or a lot of the words in our daily dialogue rephrased for ostensible purposes of “political correctness.”

      By the way, my comments are never auto-generated outsource lunchmeat because the outsource companies wouldn’t use words like “ostensible.” I too prefer to read people-generated comments rather than AI bots or regurgitations from content spinners. Although I’m sure Orwell would probably have a field day writing about some Optimus Prime Newspeak robot known as the “Content Spinner.”

  2. Eric says:

    Link Earning now I do like that! It seems to make sense and I continue to see these trends and I would agree that its going to continue to move they way you describe it here. Any shortcut SEO in my book equals spams! The bottom line is link building, link earning, SEO is hard work and takes time to do it right.

    • Thanks for the comments, Eric! You’re absolutely right; if hard work isn’t going into an SEO campaign, then it’s not being done correctly. Shortcuts just don’t pay off in the long run.

  3. A.P.Lundell says:

    When _I_ do it, it’s called “Link Earning”.

    When _You_ do it, it’s called “Link Building”.

    When _They_ do it, it’s called “Spamming”.

    • Ravi says:

      Not really. Maybe Actually you call link spamming when someone purposefully posts links just to promote their blog and one that does not add any value or does not match the content. I have seen many such comments coming to my blog, but later i installed commentLuv which automatically avoids spam comments

    • I’m not going to lie, that made me laugh.

  4. Cyndi says:

    My comment isn’t about guest posting, but in the context of link building I see spammers in the first page of my search all the time. For example, I occasionally browse the DIY blogs. Several of them host link parties… a photo of the project you made, with a link back to your own blog. Yesterday I came across a blog with about 25 outgoing links to all the DIY parties she is linking to for that one project, and she is linked back from all of those link parties. Her blog rates high in the google search. How do they get by with all the link parties and still rank high? Reading through her previous DIY posts, this is something she does all the time, yet she ranks right up there in the first page in the search. I don’t care how good the project is. It seems like spam to me, not simple link building.

  5. Link building link earning are the same to me. But a link from a guest still remain the best. i don’t think there is good reason not to approve it, because work was done by the writer of the guest post, so i thinks he deserves some credits for putting the effort to compose a nice artticle.

  6. John says:

    well, i think that you can share your voice to public, do not look for traffic. write for users and you will get traffic !

  7. marty says:

    I like how this showed the history of how guest posting started .I never knew link building was so important .I have the hardest time figuring out wither or not some one is a spammer or they are for real

  8. rahul says:

    hello…i want to made seminar on seo…will you please share some knowledge on same

  9. Maria Watson says:

    It is very important for any website to build links to get top in google results. But by spamming and posting link on the post or website which has no relation with the webiste (spammer), it is useless. Google is not a kid, Google cant be tricked so easily. By only spamming, the website does not get good SEO, traffic also plays a vital role.

  10. Deny Saputra says:

    Hi Dustin! Great post indeed.

    Links are links, to be honest, personally I’m no longer cares what’s a link building, link earnings. More that just a link, the hidden value, just like a treasure.

  11. Here’s what aggravates me. Recently I’ve had two people contact me about guest posting, and the content they submitted was acceptable. But they included links to companies who I’m not affiliated with or who aren’t advertisers on my site. I think I should give companies displayed on my site first crack at promotion. One of these would-be contributors acknowledged to me she was writing for SEO and offered to pay me $100 if I’d run her piece as it was. I turned her down. I’ve told her–and I’ll tell anyone else–advertise with me, and we’ll talk.

    • Hi John.

      While I agree that taking payment for guest posts (particularly links) can only lead to darker practices, if the content is good, I see no problem with taking posts containing company links. It is up to you what you allow on your site though, and it is good of you to look out for your advertisers.

  12. If you’re offering your readers valuable content, I see no reason not to have a guest post on your blog. Likewise, if I’m invited to write a post I put my best effort into it and all I expect is a link in my bio back to my site. That’s just common courtesy. I’ve made it a policy not to approve comments on my blog if the sender doesn’t have a website. That may be overkill but I check the site of everyone who comments to ensure that it is legitimate. It takes time but I do it for my readers, not necessarily Google. As you point out, Google can smell the bad and knows when the content is good and trustworthy.

    • Hey Jeanette,

      Thanks for reading. I see where you’re going with that– even before spam comments got really bad a few years ago, I always checked out every commenter’s website too (mostly out of interest since I wasn’t too aware of SEO or link building then) and I think it’s a great practice that helps keep up the integrity of your blog. Also builds community, etc.

      As for not approving comments if the sender doesn’t have a site– that’s an interesting approach and I think there’s some merit there. I often don’t enter anything in the website field when I leave comments, especially when it’s just a personal opinion-type comment. I’m sure my company wouldn’t want to be too closely connected to me swearing about the new issue of Captain America or a review on Punknews.org.

      I don’t think you’re being unreasonable at all though.

  13. Great article and it was beneficial to see the video by Rand Fishkin. Bottom line…content is always king. Create great, authentic content and you will “earn your links”. I think that is what Google is working toward with all their changes. There are so many spammers and scammers in the blogosphere and Google is doing its part to create authenticity. Readers want value. They want solutions to their problems, not just bloviating.

  14. James M. says:

    Link earning. If this is indeed blessed by Google, this implies that google only looks at links coming from giant sites. Any links mentioned by small fry sites does not merit anything. Thus, inasmuch as giant sites are also careful about SEO, they would naturally be linking to themselves only or to some other sites which serve their interests.

    In this case, the big sites gets to game Google’s systems and get even larger portions of the pie. Well, that’s the natural order in the business world I suppose. :)

  15. sadek says:

    I only believe the news reports of popular publication like Search Engine Journal.
    Most of the speculation ran in the internet are rumors, hence only concentrate on creating content.

  16. If anybody here thinks that just writing content and never reaching out to other bloggers to “syndicate” is wise, that’s the lie Google WANTS you to believe.

    I’m going to leave the second part to someone else… Inevitably, someone is going to ask, “why doesn’t Google want you to syndicate?”

  17. mohit says:

    there is no shortcut of any work,every work in this world as some specific time to be get completed and i have seen many bloggers who are trying to take some shortcut’s for making links and using some software’s for their blog,and what that software do is that it makes link but spamy links.