Let’s all take the time to stop checking our rankings, searching for new blogs in TLA and sending link request emails to envision an alternate universe, a world wide web where Google does not exist. An Internet where link anchor text does not influence ranking, because link based ranking does not exist.
Let us pretend that only on-page content and some other form of ranking algorithm, like consumer ratings, influence how users find web sites, and linking means nothing in terms of search. For a moment, let’s believe that PageRank is still a distant dream of Larry Page, who left Stanford to open a hugely successful In-N-Out Burger franchise and Matt Cutts followed up his NSA internship with a job at Booze Allen or possibly went down the road of stand up comedy.
Sure, it sounds like some sort of Zen riddle, but if Google did not exist … would you still build links? Instead of trying to build links to rank highly in Google, if Google did not exist, what would you link for? Relevant traffic of course.
If Google did not exist and Matt Cutts & the spam team were not picking through sites looking to penalize and expose sites which sell links or break the Google Webmaster Guidelines; wouldn’t you take a whole entire different approach to link building?
Here are the ways I would practice my link building in a world with no Google.
1. Directories: No longer would anchor text heavy links from meaningless sites and directories have value and no longer would there be a market for freebie directories which accept any anchor text or link heavy spam sites set up for the sole purpose of selling anchor text links.
Directories such as DMOZ, Best of the Web, Aviva, Business.com and others would then be what they were originally intended to become, a starting point to the web and web navigational tool. Therefore, titles in web site listings within these directories would not be beneficial if the anchor text were used, instead Click Thru Percentage would be more important and listing title copywriting would be of more importance.
In a world with no Google, anchor text is not important anymore.
2. Blog Comments & No Follow : Essentially, blog commenting would still be full of spam, since links can be used to build traffic, so I don’t think trackback spamming and bogus comments would go away, but with the Google demand out of the picture, there would be less of such foolishness.
But in terms of organic linking, I would continue to post comments in blogs as a form of link building and reputation building. These would only be in relevant blogs or posts which are associated with my business or the business of a client. If NoFollow were around still, for some other reason, I would ignore whether or not a blog used NoFollow.
I would post on every relevant blog post I had the time to do so on. Back in the day, we used to do this in forums and email newsgroups .. lend relevant information and add a link in the signature. There would be no reason not to continue to do so in blogs. The end result would be a random ratio of blog posts in blogs using NoFollow and those which do not. I would also mix up my link text to influence Click Thru Percentage again and also the content of the response.
3. Link Advertising : I would also participate in link advertising with this same mindset. Who cares if a link is NoFollow’d or organic? If you are building links with traffic in mind then purchase java redirect links, nofollow’d links and organic links in a blend of diverse link ads which are placed on relevant sites across the Internet.
I would make sure these links are placed in visible areas. Not in the footer of news sites or any site where web surfers and readers would not see them, but in the direct view of the reader. Paying a bit extra, in my opinion, is worth the investment.
Similarly, I would set up exclusivity plans with sites I’m buying these high profile links, or even banners on, where none of my competition could buy a similar link. If the site directs relevant traffic which we can track, I’d set up a revenue sharing plan with these sites to secure a permanent link with little upfront costs. Again, such negotiations are worth the time and investment.
4. Public Relations and Editorial Placements : Reaching out to bloggers and news publishers with an active audience would be extremely powerful in a world without Google because those power links in the stories that everyone is reading. Having a link from USA Today would be incredibly powerful because it’s syndicated to so many other sources.
Press releases would still be useful, but mass press release firms that only exist to syndicate content in Google News or Google listings would not be as important. BusinessWire, MarketWire and Eric Ward’s URLWire would be essential to web product launchings, but close participation and relationships with influential web bloggers and journalists would be key.
I recently worked on a blogging project for Barry Williams (yes, Greg Brady) and good PR and communications have already led to coverage of the social project in USAToday, WashingtonPost, AdAge and New York Magazine. These authority links are eternally valuable in a world with Google, or without.
5. Presell Pages or Hosted Marketing Pages : I remember back in the days before Google I was working for a company which sold licensed I Love Lucy products. We located all of the I Love Lucy fan sites we could via the Yahoo Directory, DMOZ and UCmore. Then, each site linked out to other I Love Lucy sites, both personal or professional, via sidebar links or web rings (remember web rings?).
I then contacted these site owners, asking for coverage of the products I was representing. Some of the site owners were so happy we had reached out to them that they set up an entire page about the products, and linked to that page from their navigational linking. Back then, we were happy to get a link or a mention, but these product pages which are now referred to in the industry as Presell or Hosted Marketing Pages had much more influence than we could have imagined. And that was 8 years ago and those listings still exist today.
6. Blog Reviews : In a world without Google I would contact webmasters and influence them via praise or payment to set up such product pages on their sites. In the blogging world, we call these same ideals blog reviews and although some of the blog review brokers have databases full of amateur or spammy blog sites, they have a great deal of authority and respected blogs in their libraries as well.
Take Search Engine Journal for example, we have over 14,000 RSS Subscribers as tracked by Feedburner and 7,000 + readers a day from search engines and external blog coverage. If you are launching a product or service for the search marketing industry, wouldn’t it make sense to try and obtain some coverage on this site?
(See that Contact The Journal link to the left? Take advantage of it!!)
You can pay for blog reviews or develop relationships with those bloggers asking for reviews. Just do it. In return your product, site or service will attract the eye balls of hundreds, thousands or millions of readers. And that coverage includes a link to your site, which will bring traffic and may bring sales.
7. Guest Authoring : In a world without Google, mass article distribution sites would not have the value they have now, because now they more or less only exist so novice link builders can distribute an article with a footer link to hundreds of these sites, hoping to influence Google rankings.
Sure, eZineArticles.com shows up for just about every Google query, but the site itself was developed to be an article database for email newsletters to use, not really any website. In a world without Google I would identify 20 or so sites, blogs or veritcle portals to contribute original articles to, and make sure those articles link to the source, which is the site I own or represent.
Coming back to the Search Engine Journal example, I was told that one of my contributing authors landed a $80K deal via a referral that came from an article they contributed to this site (heck, maybe I should charge people to contribute). The point is, a carefully and strategically placed article on one authority site has much more value than mass distributed articles, in a world with or without Google.
Ranking in Google By Not Linking for Google
These are just some examples of how linking like one who lives in a world without Google would theoretically result in better rankings in Google itself via high quality and authority linkage and placements. SEO should be performed with the end user in mind, and linking performed with alternative forms of ROI besides Google rankings.
With so many webmasters practicing link building with the intent to undermine or manipulate Google rankings, the end result is an Internet chocked full of trash or otherwise respectable blogs or dating sites littering their great ideas, such as blog awards and viral site badges, with hidden links…. killing their own reputation or those of their advertisers.
Sometimes when I look at Google rankings for the keyterms which I am trying to rank on or my clients are, I’m exposed to all kinds of spammy listings, and a quick check of those backlinks exposes tricky and transparent techniques used to trick Google.
But I assure myself, and my clients, those sites will come and go, like someone cutting off traffic during rush hour, cutting in line at McDonalds or a crotch rocket swerving in and out of cars, they will get their just deserves in the end. If you can steer the steady path of righteousness, and plan a smart linking campaign with long term effects in mind, you can sit back, see how those cheaters work, and perhaps learn from them.
The conundrum in this Zen Koan, If Google does not exist, how would you link build for Google?, is that by link building without the goal of manipulating Google rankings, and by convincing yourself that Google does not exist, one can in fact, link build incredibly efficiently, especially for Google and other search engines.