Penguins and Pandas abound, and SEO has changed forever. Consultants everywhere debate just how many SEO tactics will become outdated in the years ahead, but is it possible we’re asking the wrong question? In reality, the tactic doesn’t matter nearly as much as the way you approach it. And there’s a very simple reason for that.
You Want the Links that Google Wants to See
It all comes down to this. It’s a bit strange to come right out and say it, but it’s true: you are in the business of satisfying the needs of a search engine monopoly. And the only reason that this search engine actually cares about their search results is simple: if users aren’t satisfied they will search elsewhere. That means they’ll stop clicking on AdWords and Google Shopping results, and Google loses money.
In short, Google wants sites to rank based on their merit, something that only the web at large is capable of determining. If your link profile says “I work hard to build links so that my site will rank,” Google hears “My site isn’t popular enough to earn links unless I build them myself.”
And so, no matter how much time and effort you pour into your hand-built links, the end result is the same thing: a link that you built. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s fair; that’s not the kind of link Google wants to see.
And that’s the key idea you need to keep in mind when you approach link building if you’re in it for the long haul.
Why Only the Approach Matters
If we think about the above in the context of tactics, we find ourselves in a scary position. It means that the only legitimate tactic is to build link bait and pray for results. But that’s not my argument, because this is not a post about tactics. It’s a post about your approach toward link building, and how it can revolutionize “old” tactics by giving them the armor necessary to guard against future updates.
Let’s start with the most extreme situation: paying for links. It’s a well known fact that bought links violate Google’s terms of service, so how is it even possible to consider doing it in a way will work long term?
Simple. You take yourself out of the equation. You look for a way to buy links that are genuinely earned. And I don’t mean that they “look” genuine or natural. I mean that they are.
- You buy a Facebook ad to drive targeted visitors to your site who are likely to share
- You pay a semi-famous blogger to write a guest post on your site and share it with their network
- You acquire a blog, hire the blogger, and redirect their audience to your site
- You buy space in a popular newsletter read by a large media audience
What about using guest posts as a method of building links? Some are already saying that this popular tactic is losing value. It’s easy to see how Google would eventually end up categorizing these as “unnatural” since they are built by you. But, again, it comes down to your approach.
- Are your guest posts on sites with high enough quality that you have to have serious merit to get accepted?
- Do your guest posts drive traffic to your site that could result in natural links?
- Does your guest posting strategy increase your popularity on the web?
It comes back to the same things. As long as your link building strategy focuses on the right things, you’ll see positive results that will last.
Now, let’s get a little more specific.
Elements of Approach
Does Your Link Indicate Influence?
This is the first thing to shoot for if you’re concerned about long term rankings. The whole idea of a link-based search algorithm is that the sum of your links indicates the amount of influence you have in the online space. Ever since the introduction of Google, the link profile of the web has become “tainted” with links that don’t indicate influence.
Google’s primary goal with link-based updates, then, is to identify just how much influence each link actually indicates. Focus on building links that indicate influence and you will guard against these kinds of updates.
Does Your Link Build Influence?
A link that actually grows the amount of influence you have on the web is even more effective. These links increase your popularity and lead to the creation of natural links. An SEO strategy that focuses on growing influence is virtually unstoppable if implemented correctly. It leads to positive feedback loops that eventually help your site’s rankings take care of themselves (to some extent).
Does Your Link Serve Business Interests Unrelated to Rankings?
Links really can produce direct conversions and grow your audience, who knew? There’s nothing Google despises more than a site and a link profile built specifically for Google.
A good qualifying question is “Would I build this link if it were no-follow?” I prefer this to the more often stated: “Would I build this link if Google didn’t exist,” because it’s difficult to imagine what such a world would look like today, and it ignores second order effects that can have a positive influence on rankings.
Test this one out. It’s surprising how often you’ll find yourself saying “no.” Many supposedly “high authority” sites send a surprisingly small amount of referral traffic or lead to a small number of conversions (even counting subscriptions).
Put simply, if you build a business around referrals instead of rankings, and you’ll see your rankings go through the roof.
So let’s hear your input. Does approach always trump tactics?