Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Don't Build Links--Inspire Links!

Have you heard the latest SEO bombshell? Link building "can do more harm than good." Indeed, the SEO world is abuzz with the recent comments of Google's Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller. As reported by multiple SEO news sites (and, to the best of our knowledge, first by Barry Schwartz), Mueller made some provocative comments on link building last Friday (the 13th!) in a Google+ hangout.

When asked, "Is link building in any way good," Mueller responded:

"That is a good question. In general, I’d try to avoid that.

So that you are really sure that your content kind of stands on its own and make it possible for other people of course to link to your content. Make it easy, maybe, put a little widget on your page, if you like this, this is how you can link to it. Make sure that the URLs on your web site are easy to copy and paste. All of those things make it a little bit easier.

We do use links as part of our algorithm but we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your web site than it actually helps."

Say what? If you're surprised by Mueller's statement, you might be barking up the wrong tree. [Photo source].
Clark Gable aside, frankly, Muller's statement should not come as a surprise to any well-seasoned SEO specialist. The very idea of link building, after all, is antithetical to the notion of organic website optimization.

Link building implies an artificial method of attracting visitors. In theory, even when practicing "good" link building, a website owner is essentially venturing out into the wild Internet, and shouting, "Come visit me!"

This could be as simple as a comment on a blog, "Hey, check out my blog," which is bound to annoy the blog owner, if not the readers. Or it could be as "sophisticated" as an ad campaign, which could do more than annoy. At the very least, most attempts to artificially promote your site are met with annoyance. Twitter users, for example, love to for lash out at "promoted Tweets." Worse, however, is when people feel stalked by the ads themselves. For example, Facebook's ads strike many as just plain creepy.

Read: "16 Creepiest Targeted Facebook Ads." 

Artificial. Fake. Annoying. Creepy.

Clark Gable Mask, Venice Beach, 1937: A little creepy.
All of these adjectives could easily apply to any well-intentioned link building campaign. And remember, we're talking about attempts at attracting "good links." We're not even talking about "bad links."

We covered "bad links" last week in a post about top SEO mistakes. Please read: "Five SEO Mistakes--And How to Avoid Them."

Thankfully, there's a better way. As you might know, "organic" website optimization favors a "natural" approach to attracting visitors. If you build an attractive and efficient website with engaging, relevant content, you will attract visitors.

As Joshua Steimle writes in his Forbes article about Mueller's comments:

"The right way to build high quality links is to not build them at all, but instead, earn them naturally. Natural links are earned by creating great content that people want to link to."

In his article, Steimle also makes a point to distinguish between good and bad links, and to emphasize that all links aren't bad--of course not. The point Mueller is trying to make is that focusing on link building to the detriment of, say, creating great content is "probably going to cause more problems for your website than it actually helps."

The point, then, is to create a great website with engaging content that people will want to link to without being told to. Don't ask (beg) for links. Don't "build" links. Inspire links.

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