Link-Building Hogwash

There I was, sitting on a plane in Portugal reading the newspaper as we took off. Nothing new for me. Thirty minutes later, I’m sitting with a doctor who’s administering oxygen. Very new for me. Forty minutes after that, following an emergency landing in a small town in northern Spain, I’m in the accident and emergency department of the local hospital.

Still, I live to tell the tale. And after a brief rest-up in the U.K., I’m back at my desk in New York. Never a dull moment.

As you’re probably aware, if you can’t keep on top of your e-mail due to illness, when you do get around to it, it’s an avalanche!

Like everyone else, I receive ridiculous link requests on a regular basis. Most times I just delete and carry on. However, when you have to go through almost a week’s worth of e-mail, you suddenly realize just how many of these stupid requests you get. Especially if you have a lot of e-mail accounts.

Are you one of the people who sends those link requests?

Then you should be horsewhipped!

For starters, these guys send their spammy link requests to an e-mail address harvested on the Web by some mindless bot; it starts with “Dear Webmaster.” With quality companies that own quality Web sites (the kind you really want to link to you), the Webmaster is probably the last person with the authority to place a link. In fact, without specific instruction, usually the Webmaster has no authority to place links. Not only that, the kind of company and Web site where the Webmaster is able to give you a link probably needs links even more than you do.

I’m not poking at reciprocal linking, as such. Anyone who understands how that works doesn’t send an e-mail to a competitor saying, “Your site and mine have the same theme, so it will be beneficial for us to link to each other.”

Here’s the thing. Don’t be a link collector, be a business developer. You don’t need links. You need business relationships. Think about all the stuff you can do offline with your marketing, then apply it online. Advertising, PR, co-promotion, sponsorships, charitable events, business in the community, ad infinitum.

With a good online marketing and PR plan, quality links will become a by-product of simply doing good business. When that happens, you’ll find that you don’t need to turn up, like the afore mentioned e-mail misfits, with a link-begging bowl.

I can’t understand why so many people are still living under the misty purple veil of SEO (define) 1999. Ten years ago, Google announced that linkage data was a major factor in its ranking algorithm. Ten years ago!

Surely it’s inconceivable for anyone in this industry to imagine there’s been no progress in information retrieval on the Web since then.

Yes, linkage data is still a good signal. But these days, it’s only one signal. In 10 years, search engines have picked up so many other strong signals, including end-user behavior, toolbar data, online bookmarking, tagging, and rating.

SEO 1999ers (or textbook SEO professionals) still have tunnel vision when it comes to search engine rankings. And perhaps that’s why they are stuck with this whole “links, links, I gotta have links, I have to be number one at Google” approach. But search engine rankings (and ranking reports) are so passé in 2008.

While competing for the most popular keywords, it’s about quality of links, not quantity. And where really popular queries are concerned, you might need to factor in the Britney Spears problem.

But think about this: even micro businesses now have the opportunity to hit the top spot at Google without so much as a Web site, let alone links. Take a look at the results for “bed and breakfast New York.” Notice the number one listing, after the paid results?

It’s a listing directly from Google’s Local Business Center, sitting right above the organic results. And no spammy e-mail required.

Plus, universal search and blended results mean there are so many more opportunities to get in front of your potential customers via search engines. I’ve talked so much at conferences about the need to shift from the 56k dial-up-modem style, 10-blue-links result set to a much richer broadband experience for the end user.

And earlier this month, Google’s Marissa Mayer alluded to the shift from this static, guesswork approach in her Future of Search column. “We’ve barely scratched the surface with universal search, but it’s an important first step to exploring the full range of what we can do with rich media,” she writes. “For the past year, our goal has been to take advantage of these new types of results and evolve the interface design and user experience in response. You’ll see the fruits of this experimentation in the coming months, but even these changes are just the beginning.”

In July, comScore stated that over 11 billion videos were viewed on the Web. And of those, Google accounted for about 5 billion views. In one month!

Link monomaniacs, don’t you feel you might be missing something here?

Join us for a new Webcast, High-Touch Personalization, The Successful Marketer’s Secret Ingredient, September 29 at 2 p.m. EDT.

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