There are a lot of bad words people use when talking about link building and link builders. Many of them involve expletives, and only the really creative ones are worth remembering. But the worst ones seem harmless, or even good. Some of these seemingly innocuous words make me feel like washing my own mouth out with soap. Don’t let their innocent little vowels and consonants fool you, because when the topic is link building, these words can be seriously misleading.
I don’t have an issue with numbers in general; I just think that the word hundreds, when used in conjunction with the word links, needs to be taken very carefully. When something is big news, or goes viral or there is a major, logical event that attracts a load of links all at once, there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s cool, that’s a party. But that’s also usually the result of plenty of time spent, researching creating and executing some sort of marketing plan that culminated in the news, launch or mega-viral super hit.
But if you’re talking about getting hundreds of links all at once by, say, buying them or signing up for a few hundred links on “book marking” sites or whatever other nonsense people are pushing, that’s weird. That’s not normal. Even if you’re getting singular, one-off links, you’d have to have one heck of a link army to get hundreds of links in a matter of weeks.
Every site is different, which means the circumstances and variables which could or might raise red flags will be different for everyone. A site with millions of links can probably acquire a couple of hundred without it being a blip on the giant radar. But, in most cases, there are 2 pretty standard truths about the mass influx of links. A. The sudden increase looks suspicious if the links aren’t natural. And B. Links you can get en masse tend to be of dubious value or strength. So, even a spike in back links can end in a rankings flat line.
Let me clarify, I don’t hate reciprocal links. I think there’s nothing wrong with reciprocal linking, when it happens because two related websites recognize one another via links. There are plenty of intentional and accidental reciprocal linking situations which make perfect sense. What makes “exchange” a bad word, is the act that it implies. When two websites, actively agree to exchange links, it’s usually an unholy alliance. Especially when there is a links page” involved. I know that to most people, saying this is like announcing that Eli Whitney just mastered the Cotton Gin. But seeing as I still get a link exchange request from some automated program at least once a week, it still bears repeating. It’s also worth hammering home the distinction between “reciprocal links” and a “link exchange”. One is a sign of symbiotic respect the other is a sign of someone trying to cheat the system using a laughably out-dated methodology.
This entry seems completely contrary to my building cynicism. I know. But in spite of condemning certain kinds of links that I believe carry little value; I don’t think that any link is completely worthless. Even the most seemingly inane, low-value links could, in some small way, serve a purpose.
I had a grandmother, who collected everything, sugar packets, plastic utensils; you name it, because she believed she might need it someday. Being a pack rat of things usually ends with a house full of stuff you will never use. Being a link pack rat means collecting some links, directories or article submissions maybe, that at first seem as valuable as empty Styrofoam cups. But someday those obscure little links might actually send you a visitor or two.
However, this is not a green light to surround yourself with garbage links like your name is Oscar and you live in a can. It’s still a bad idea to waste your link budget on marginal value or whatever easy links you can get your hands on. There are smart, highly effective ways to invest your time and money in link building, and there are cheap and deceptive ones. The good ones carry the most value and the most impact. I’m just saying never hate on the runt of the litter; because sometimes the weak, dormant links you wrote off yesterday, will surprise you tomorrow.
Taking another 180 degree turn, try not to get dizzy, there’s no such thing as a perfect link. This is a notion I first had a long time ago, when I was still just learning about the entire scope of link building and had yet to really see their full power. Even after a few more years and a lot more perspective, I’m still convinced that nothing is ever perfect. There are great links I mean GREAT, cash bonus, do-a-little-dance worthy links. But are they perfect? Probably not. We could usually wish for a little more.
A few more page back links, a little better anchor text, it’s always easy to attach the words “I wish” to a link. Anyone who promises “perfect” links is perfectly full of crap. Good, better, strong, and useful are all totally reasonable words to describe the kinds of links that someone can get you. But perfect? I seriously doubt it. Half the time, the links you think are going to make an impact don’t even show up in your top back links in Yahoo!. Meanwhile that “worthless” blog comment you made, brings you traffic once a month. Simply put, there’s just no such thing as “perfect” in the link game.
For the same reason I take issue with the word “perfect” I’m wary of “guarantee”. There are really only a few kinds of links that can be “guaranteed” and some of those are scary. Getting good links, real, strong links is pretty difficult to guarantee. Yes, it can be done but the question is; at what cost? See, I’ve seen monthly quotas hit consistently, I’ve seen the “guaranteed” number of links delivered. I’ve also seen short-cuts, cut corners and quality sacrificed in order to meet those demands.
But my biggest problem with the word “guarantee” regarding link building is when links are “guaranteed” to work. Making that kind of guarantee is like promising to cause an earthquake. No one can make that promise, just like no one can promise rankings or even traffic as a result of links. That darn secret algorithm along with pesky free will makes those kinds of assurances misleading. And when those promises are broken, as they most often are, it does nothing but disparage the name of SEO in general and the good hard work of many honest link builders.
Just Put a Nickel in the Swear Jar
It’s not that none of these words should ever be used, but they should be handled with wisdom and care. Approach guarantees and perfection with skepticism, never underestimate the worthless and tell hundreds of would be exchangers to save their breath.
It’s not that no one should ever use dirty words, when you shoot yourself with a staple gun; the use of certain words is unavoidable. But, just like F-bombs should be dropped out of the earshot of little ones, some link building terms should be spoken with equal care and only in the right context.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!