Link Building Limbo – The Strange State of Content Marketing in 2018
In a broad sense, the internet is links.
Links from search engines to social media platforms, from homepages to products; the web is an ever sprawling tapestry of interconnected data. This is why trying to work out how to succeed in the digital landscape can seem like a mammoth task. There are so many pathways and winding roads that finding one which will provide you with results is never an easy feat.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that ideas about link building and content marketing as effective digital marketing strategies are so polarised. Performing a quick Google search regarding link building will put you face to face with hundreds of impassioned marketing specialists all writing their opinion pieces on the topic. Headlines along the lines of “Link Building is Dead” and “Link Building is More Powerful Than Ever” run rampant in relatively equal amounts, which does lead to a question:
How did link building as a concept get so weird?
Although we’re not likely to write a single blog that puts an end to this debate, we will hopefully be able to shed a little light on the topic. So, let’s take a look at the strange state of content marketing in 2018.
What Exactly is Link Building?
Although the term link building is thrown around a lot, we wouldn’t blame you for not having the firmest grasp on what people are actually disputing. So, to get us started, link building (when referring to SEO) is the process of creating links from one website to another.
Search engines, such as Google, have an algorithmic method of crawling and ranking websites by determining their relevance for certain keywords. A big way that they do this is through these links. Search engines don’t “read” in the same way humans do, and instead pick up keywords and phrases, check them for relevancy, and will in turn assign authority based on a variety of factors that can change with algorithm updates (to the chagrin of SEO agencies everywhere).
Why is There So Much Confusion?
Whilst it’s difficult to pin it down as one specific issue that has caused such a divide, there are a few potential culprits that may be to blame. Some of these include:
1. Old Ideas, New Landscape
Ten years ago, the internet was a very different place. In turn, so too were search engines. The digital landscape is constantly shifting under our feet, with more websites, more platforms, and more people online all creating a relatively natural evolution over time.
Because of this, search engines have been forced to update and change their algorithms to fit this new infrastructure. At the dawn of the internet (or at least the dawn of the digital marketing agency), it didn’t matter how spammy your links were. All that mattered is that people were talking about you.
Things have changed.
That is to say that, link building hasn’t died, it’s simply a different ballpark. Take a quick glance at Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to Link Building, and you will see just how much different link building is to the scattershot approach of old. In our experience, this is where the majority of arguments under the “death of link building” banner stem from.
Working at a digital marketing agency in Melbourne over the last few years, I’ve seen so many businesses fall victim to outdated link building methodologies. I’ve also seen so many more excel in their industries because of agencies that have put in the effort to learn about the new link building paradigm, and I’m certainly not the only one.
2. The Google Algorithm
As anyone within the digital marketing world is likely aware, Google has always been very tight lipped when it comes to their ranking guidelines. This is likely to stop black hat marketing agencies (agencies who use strategies that go against Google’s guidelines) taking advantage of loopholes within their algorithm.
This has meant that a lot of what we hear about algorithm updates comes from speculation and interpretation of data sets. This, as you can imagine, leads to a lot of conjecture on all sides.
For example, back in 2016, the RankBrain algorithm update brought a more powerful artificial intelligence to Google’s web crawlers. This was an event that stirred a considerable amount of debate regarding the effectiveness of link building moving forward, as it was believed that Google’s reliance on links would dwindle.
However, the update came and went with little to no changes. Link building is still considered to be an effective tool, and one that makes up the majority of my work in the field of digital marketing.
What Should You Be Focussing On?
Since we’ve spent quite some time discussing misconceptions about link building, I’m sure you’re wondering what goes into a successful campaign. So, here are a few effective strategies that are still effective in 2018:
1. Don’t Get Spammy With Keywords
It’s fantastic when people write about your site, and if you’re writing your own articles to be posted elsewhere, there’s no harm in slipping a link to your page in (assuming it’s a valid, relevant resource). However, when you’re stuffing an article full of keywords and commercial text, that’s where things start to go awry.
Filling outreach articles with keywords holds little-to-no value and can end in your link actively being ignored/devalued by search engines. Whilst Google has placed less of an emphasis on penalisation in recent updates, that doesn’t mean that spammy link builders are off the hook.
2. Create Engaging On-Site Resources
When companies pay for links, they are essentially trying to mimic natural buzz that would otherwise supply them with that exposure. So, why not set your website up to have natural linking potential? This method has benefits that echo far beyond the reaches of outreach articles, as it will also allow your business to be seen as an authority on subjects relating to your industry.
Whether you’re a digital marketing agency offering hot-off-the-press SEO tips, or an online fabric distributor handing out upholstery ideas, well-written content is never going to be a bad addition to your site. Speaking of which…
3. Write For People, Not Just Search Engines
Over time, search engine algorithms have become more finely tuned to prioritise well-written, engaging content over that which is solely created for SEO purposes. In other words, the line between writing for people and writing for rankings is blurring. With relevance, accessibility, and readability all becoming pivotal link building factors, it’s important that you take your produced content seriously.
At the digital marketing agency I currently work with, we have a team of content writers and an in-house editor exclusively to ensure that our content is of the utmost quality. Since making this change, we have had a wide array of other high-level digital agencies come to us for our link building services, all of which have seen distinct improvements in search rankings.
In the end, people are always going to be speculating about the effectiveness of certain strategies in the digital marketing landscape. However, regardless of whether we’ve convinced you that link building is alive and kicking, hopefully we’ve succeeded in shedding a little light on this strange time in its history.