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.
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.
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.