Quality Link Building : Editorial Links vs. Acquired Links

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Link building was a major discussion which encompassed the majority of the panels at Search Engine Strategies New York last week, whether on the agenda or not. Two of the sessions which really struck me were one on social media marketing with panelists Neil Patel, Rand Fishkin and Andy Hagans and then a Link Building Q&A with representatives from Google, Yahoo and MSN Search.

What puzzled me at both sessions was a crowd-wide confusion on link building. My concensus coming out of SES NY is that after 10 years of SEO and link building being a major cornerstone of Internet marketing, the majority of search marketers and webmasters still do not understand the differences of link building.

Essentially there are two major forms of link building:

  1. Editorial Link : These are links which are not paid for, not asked for and not traded for. These are links which a web site organically attracts because that site is producing good content and marketing that content via social media sites such as Dugg or Reddit, linkbaiting, syndication and public relations.
  2. Acquired Link : These are links which are acquired by the site owner via payment or distribution. Such links include link advertisements, paid linking, template linking, article distribution, directory links and comments on forums, blogs and other interactive forms of social media.

Both link groups add value to a site, but Editorial Links are much more valuable than Acquired Links. Why?

It’s an old push/pull philosophy, if people link to you with intention of rewarding or citing your original content, then those links are more trusted.

If you link to yourself by paying others and promoting your own content on sites like article distribution portals, those links are not going to be worth as much. Search engines do however give them some value.

During the social media marketing discussion, two major examples were given of how sites such as Digg.com, Reddit, Netscape, Del.icio.us and other niche social news sharing destinations drive such Editorial Links.

The links from such sites and immediate traffic (Digg.com can drive tens of thousands of users) are not as important in the long run as the Editorial Links end result from bloggers and news sites which scour these social news outlets in an effort to find something to write about.

Example : Site gets on Digg > Blogger sees story > Blogger likes story > Blogger writes about site > Blogger links to site

Link building cannot get more valuable or organic than such.

My own bewilderment came however when members of the audience did not seem to get the simple examples laid down by Mr. Patel and Mr. Hagans. The subject of earning links seemed to breeze over the heads of many in attendance, and this led me to thinking about the source of this problem.

It was not the presentations, nor the examples given, they were top notch. The reasoning for the mass audience confusion on Editorial linking did not hit me until the Link Building Q&A session when a webmaster asked the panel to look at her site and its backlinks.

Detlev Johnson launched the audience member site backlinks on the screen using Yahoo Site Explorer to list the inbound links.

99% of the links to this site were from Acquired Links such as the Yahoo Directory, ArticleHub, ArticleDashboard, Content-Articles, InteriorMall, Free-Articles-Zone and tons of questionable link trading and farm sites.

That’s when it hit me!

A lot of marketers in the SEO industry do not understand earned linking because they are so programmed to acquiring links.

  • Acquired Links are an easy sale.
  • They are easy to define in terms of a proposal.
  • Clients get it.
  • Agencies profit upon it.
  • Sites see some increases in ranking.

These Acquired Links are still helping sites which they link to, but not in the same value as Editorial Links.

So, here’s the challenge. Companies like ACSSeo, SeoMoz, and AndyHagans.com have to package the trade of link building via social media & linkbaiting into an industry accepted and understanded package.

Maybe doing so will take time, as changing the mindset of an industry does seem to do so, but only then will the reaction of the crowds at these conferences be smiles and the nodding of heads, instead of the shaking of their noggin’s and horrible time wasting questions.

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker
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  • james kingsted – Domain Inform

    I think what people have to understand is the fact that it takes time to get editorial links. I was not getting very much links or traffic to my site. I think it’s kind of like a big wheel, once I started to get the wheel turning I noticed that people were writing me and telling me that they linked to me. They would say stuff like I think your site has really great content here’s a link. I think that it’s almost impossible to get these kind of links in the beginning but if you have good content then when you finally get the wheel turning it happens and it happens a lot more often than you could even believe

  • Neil Patel

    James, I actually feel that editorial links can be obtained in a very quick fashion. As Loren mentioned sites like Digg, Reddit, and Netscape are great ways to get a burst of traffic and natural links.

  • CarstenCumbrowski

    What about a (may be) paid link that is editorial?

    You know what the intend of my question is. I plastered it all over the net, including SEJ, RN and Matt’s blog 🙂

    I don’t need to go into technical details, but more and more of the links I am referring to are designed to do both things at the same time, help the target in the search engines, but still track the referrals.

  • Halfdeck

    “Digg, Reddit, and Netscape are great ways to get a burst of traffic and natural links.”

    True, but some sites (e.g. porn) can’t be dugg.

  • Jaan Kanellis

    Halfdeck begins up a good point. Sure in theory Editorial Links are the best and most important, but what about some business niches where news (breaking or not) is really hard to come by. For instance I had a client in the past that sold display cases for memorabilia. Not exactly the most “social” type of website.

    Now initial it is really hard to think of how to harness Digg and other social media outlets. Of course after thinking of some ideas we came up a with a couple of solutions, but I can defintely see the confusion and stress that is caused on the client side when all of the SEO expert say “go do it” without specific direction for each niche. Of course that is why they still hire us instead of doing it themselves.

  • Loren Baker, Editor

    But porn can be ‘Pligged’ on SocialPorn.com and similar sites.

  • San Francisco Photographer – Benipayo


    I get that editorial link is better but what do you think of some SEO experts stating that it will eventually be archive and it’s relevance diminish over time. Also, since it is not in the main url and it is on a blog, it does not have the same weight as if it was in the main page. What do you thinks?