Link Fixation – What To Know, What To Do

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Link Fixation – What To Know, What To Do

Why do you seek links? The answer to this question may tell you more about your future chances of success in organic search than you realize.

Always a hot topic among SEOs – the need to collect links to their content. But why do people seek links in the first place? Once upon a time, links were needed to rank well. In the early days of search (5 – 10 years ago) when algorithms were more unrefined than we see today, links counted for much. And more links counted for more.

And links from .edu sites counted for even more. The holy grail being links from .gov sites.

And as with so many things, those lines of thinking are so old, busted and trampled on, they are simply blind alleys today. Shortcuts to a dead end.

I recently sat in on a Link Building session at a conference and found it entertaining. The first presenter went on to showcase all the links their company had built by contacting websites and either requesting the link, or by providing the sites content. Every example was at a legitimate, trustworthy website. National .org sites, well known brands, etc.

Link Fixation – What To Know, What To Do

The problem is that so many people have tried these tactics in the past – and abused them – that there just isn’t the value there once was anymore. Like so many “tactics” for link building, if its hand curated in some way, it’ll eventually fall into the bucket of “unearned” and when that happens, either at an individual level as applied to a single site, or at a broad level as a tactic employed by multiple sites, the value simply evaporates.

Large companies don’t really link build anymore. 6 years ago, when I was doing SEO at MSN, my decision was to forgo all external link building activities. They are simply impractical at that level. More and more companies are moving in this direction. There is no return on a link building budget these days.

And that’s because the point behind the link was as a vote of confidence from one location to another. That’s been perverted to no end these days, so what’s an engine to do? Rely less on the signal.

Looming large in front of many SEOs today is a cliff. Those continuing to actively build links to boost search rankings could well find themselves wasting their company’s money, time and resources on a futile tactic that’s bit the dust.

Does this mean links are dead? Hardly. Links won’t ever die. But wrapping your head around the value they can provide is more important than ever.

Links will likely remain a small part of the algos for a while yet. But as other signals grow in value, importance and trustworthiness, older signals (such as those sent by links, for example) tend to lose importance. They count for less of the overall “decision pie” the algo reviews when determining value and rank.

So Where is The Value in Links?

Where it’s always been, for years now – referral traffic. Now many will split hairs at this point (as proof of being a true SEO). What’s the difference? The difference is in intent. And outcome. The difference is felt by your business. We won’t really care about the links, but developing links from locations capable of driving traffic directly to converting pages, well, you’ll care a great deal about that.

Its time businesses stop fixating on tactics like link building. In the Air Force the term “target fixation” refers to a situation where a pilot concentrates so much on the enemy they’re trying to shoot down, that they lose situational awareness, allow enemy planes to actually get behind them and take shots at them.

Too many SEOs have lost situational awareness. If you’re building links today, do so as part of a direct traffic acquisition strategy. Not to boost rankings.

Let’s review some link types:

  • Reciprocal links – still useful for driving referral traffic, useless for SEO
  • Guest posting – useful for building a reputation, largely pointless for boosting rankings
  • Widget links – maybe useful for referral traffic, dead end for SEO
  • Forum links – depends on context – if posted by a real person, a real forum member, with history, as part of an actual conversation, in context, maybe a bit of usefulness for SEO. Otherwise, as commonly deployed en masse and randomly, a dead end.
  • Blog comments – again, depends on context, but largely a dead end.
  • Inline content links – still useful, assuming the link is actually in the text, pointed to a relevant page and doesn’t exhibit obvious “low value” characteristics. Would a writer for CNN actually include a link to your sales page in their article? Unlikely.
  • Directory Links – useful for referral traffic, maybe, but almost no value for rankings.
  • Link schemes – just don’t. Unless you’re comfortable with a bulls eye on your back.
  • Footer/header links – footer links are a dead end, and why in the name of all that’s useful in business would a company put a link to another site in their header? Unless they were, I don’t know, paid to do it?
  • Social media links – great for spreading the word and driving traffic, which has knock on benefits.
  • Le Garbage – hidden links, paid-for links, incentivized links, linked pixels, etc. With a bullet labeled as “Le Garbage”, it should be obvious to avoid these, and yet…

And it doesn’t matter what is linked – text, images, videos, etc. Thinking a linked image will help where a text link won’t is a waste of time. So infographics won’t skate past where text links fail.

Now, with all those traditional link building efforts yielding little to no value today, why do people continue to invest time in them when that time could produce what’s really valuable?

The Ultimate Link Bait

Engaging content. Not surprising at all that after 15+ years of trying to find every advantage to outwit search algorithms, SEOs find themselves right back here. Content is what searchers seek. If you understand what types of content they actually engage with, and build it for them, you’ll be more successful than chasing links. Yes, it takes more work to produce winning content. Yes it’s more expensive. No one said running a business would be cheap and easy, though.


This post originally appeared on Bing, and is re-published with permission.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Syda Productions via Shutterstock
Image #1: foto infot via Shutterstock

Duane Forrester

Duane Forrester

Senior Product Manager at Bing
Duane Forrester is the Senior Product Manager at Bing. He is also the author of How to Make Money With Your Blog with Gavin Powell.
Duane Forrester
Duane Forrester

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  • Lingam

    Duane, nice analysis on the value of links. Many consultants forget about the on-page SEO and directly start to spread the links all over the internet. Also, such consultants usually abuse the available ways of gaining links as you mentioned earlier. It is must to ensure the on-page SEO first and then spread the links over the local popular directories (this works well with local keyword ranking) and expand to further in link building, also, it is recommended to use various methods and differentiate the link profile of the site to get more trust from Google

  • Beau Leaney

    Fantastic article. I couldn’t agree more that the majority of backlinks are unearned, and not to mention a complete waste of time. The true value is definitely in referral traffic.

  • Mark Johnson

    This is a thought provoking piece, although I don’t totally agree with your assessment of blog comments and forums. I completely agree with your overall point that you shouldn’t build links for SEO of course – it’s all about the traffic.

    With that said, I actually often drive a considerable amount of traffic through using forums and blog comments. It should go without saying of course that this only works if you do it in a decent way and actually provide some value (like I hopefully am doing now).

    Blog commenting can be particularly powerful because while you don’t always generate mountains of traffic, you often get the attention of important people in your niche. In fact, I have been invited to guest post for some decent blogs on the strength of comments I have left which have been read by the right person.

    Of course it depends on the site you are working on. I largely work with newer sites who have little traffic, so driving traffic is often the most important task for me.

  • Chris Needham

    Really great post. SEO from a link building perspective has been difficult to say the least over the last couple of years. I agree with Lingam with regards to citiation/directories as a good approach for local businesses especially helping achieve standing in Google places. Look forward to reading the next post Duane.

  • Alex Morris

    I agree with you fully here, and attempted to jump ahead of it all towards the end of 2013 by focusing on content. SEO before this was a myriad of different things, making it difficult to focus on one aspect of it all. Now it’s more clear cut – content creation. You have to be a skilled writer/journalist these days for SEO to work – my advice to small business owners is to employ a journalist as their SEO. There are plenty of them, unemployed, following the recession.

    Also, get yourselves on Google+! Google authorship will fire your content along nicely.

  • Steve Waller

    Widget links a dead end for SEO?? You clearly haven’t been reading Glen’s blog over at Viperchill or you’d have seen how many of the BIG boys are abusing widget links to their advantage and doing very nicely out of it.

    I’m not sure I agree with some of the other points too but hey ho, that’s the beauty of opinions I guess – everybody has one!

  • Marian

    Great post indeed, Most of the old link building tactics is no longer effective. You need to have a great writer for your content creation. Links will come naturally if you have a great content on your blog.

  • Marcus

    You also have to question the value of organic results for commercial queries in 2014 and beyond. Search adverts have matured and when you then consider localised results and the varied set of results we see now then the old school link building mentality that being #1 for your favoured keyword seems kind of daft.

    Ultimately, organic is still hugely important but at the beginning of the process. People now start researching online when they are going to buy a new product and often the content you find when conducting that research can inform a purchase decision. I am currently looking for a new mountain bike and whilst men (like myself, allegedly) don’t like to shop I do love to research my purchases online (so I love to shop it would seem – doh).

    Content is obviously hugely important BUT not even really to incite links or to make you rank for your money terms – they are nice benefits if it happens but they should be secondary factors. Content is important to get your claws into folks earlier on in the purchase process and to start a relationship with folks that may want to purchase something down the road.

    As a business looking to acquire customers from search you really have to think beyond commercial keywords. How do your customers research a purchase? How do they arrive at the products that you provide? Commercial search queries are only a small (but important) part of this picture and they are easily tied up with some sensible paid search adverts. Focus on answering your prospects questions and building relationships with them earlier on in the sales funnel and getting them to part with their money will be a whole lot easier when they are ready to do so.

    Of course, you can’t generalise and it always needs reviewing on a case-by-case basis. For many businesses the localised results (7 pack or localised organic) represent a real opportunity for increased visibility but for bigger players looking to rank nationally for big terms then the old build links and secure the top spot for a few big keywords approach is pretty much dead and buried.

  • Jason Keeler

    SEO is less and less about links and more about quality content, I’ll give you that, but I fear that posts like this will make naive business owners and decision makers eager to create content without really understanding the difference between “good” or “okay” content and truly “great” content. Only the “great” will really be a business driver. If “good” is all that can be mustered, save the SEO budget for acquiring traffic through PPC, promoted Facebook posts and email marketing. Content isn’t king…great content is king. And that isn’t easy for most businesses to create.