After my article The 5 Top SEO And Online Marketing Trends For 2014 posted, reader Mirco Simoncinio remarked, “What do you think of link building in 2014? It seems that SEO costs are increasing greatly.”
In response, I returned to my expert sources at Boostability. (Disclosure: in the time since my original posting Boostability has become an agency client.)
The answer Kelly Shelton, VP Marketing and Channel Partners gave me is akin to the popular phrase from Mark Twain: “The rumors of Link Building’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.” Great SEO that reflects Google’s updates doesn’t need to be expensive, the company told me, and Link Building is as important in 2014 as it has ever been.
Said Shelton: “As long as people continue to create, value and trust links on the Internet as a way to find and share information, the search engines will continue to use them as an essential way to determine what results are best to deliver to their searchers.”
The secret is not to focus on building links for the sake of building links, the secret is to make sure you are providing value to the end user that will ensure that each link leads to something authoritative, interesting, and clickable. Shelton went on to point out that if you “cheat,” (with artificial or spammy links, or by publishing posts contrived around the chance to embed opportunistic linkage) the algorithms will increasingly find and penalize you.
Giving further insight, Jared Turner, Boostability CTO, has posited that the following principles should guide SEO best practices in 2014:
In all, the need and value of link building is the same as prior seasons. Your company’s online success still depends heavily on where it ranks in the search results for its products and services. The need to rank is universal–companies must be on good terms with search engines to see online success. But search engines can’t always determine which websites and companies deserve to be ranked based solely upon formulas and other indexing rules.
SEO is the bridge that makes up for search engine limitations by promoting legitimate businesses that the algorithms would otherwise ignore or bypass. That being the case, these are the questions marketing firms need to answer: 1) What indicators does Google’s indexing process assess to place and rank results for any given search term? 2) How can a site or company direct its SEO efforts to be most effective in delivering valuable user experience and achieving the highest possible rank?
Links are the Language of Internet Business
Links are the lifeblood of the Internet, both technically and socially. They are what make the Internet the Internet.
Online, we communicate in links. We post links to our profiles, send them through emails, and give online directions every time we exchange them.
It’s impressive that such a small and rudimentary piece of code would have such a huge impact on the way we experience information on the Internet. Even though our interactions with the web have grown ever more sophisticated and complex, links continue to provide a foundation for them. It is still these bits of code, embedded in anchor text, in pictures, in “likes,” “tweets,” “pins” and “posts” that connect the Internet together.
Links are the pathways that Google spiders are perpetually crawling at lightening-speed to discover and rank new pages. These spiders give rank and value to links, pathways, and content based on ever-changing algorithms. A link that is shared many times across platforms, that is written about, and that attracts followers grows in strength and credibility. Links are the tangible verification of user engagement, importance, and popularity.
Link Building and Google
“Links are still the best way that we’ve found to discover [implicit relevance], and maybe over time social or authorship or other types of markup will give us a lot more information about that.” –Matt Cutts, July 2013
“We have run experiments like that internally, and the quality [of the search results] looks much, much worse. It turns out backlinks, even though there’s some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really, really big win in terms of quality for search results.” –Matt Cutts, February 2014
Google perpetually attributes value to links, good or bad. Over time, Google has consistently applied a more rigorous scrutiny to these links, but it still assigns value to them. Links are the only way (beyond website content and coding) that Google can attribute value to reach and overall presence of the content you serve. As most are aware, deceptive and spammy links are being repeatedly and increasingly discredited (as they should be), but there are still many links that Google views in a positive light.
As one of the primary indicators of conversation, activity, and engagement on the web, links are still extremely important to Google. Is the link popular? Is it being talked about? Is it being clicked on and visited?
But to assign real value, popularity, and user value to any given website, Google has to rely on the voice of users. And that’s where the value of high-quality Link Building comes into play.
With solid evidence of the value-add from the link, Google can channel information about a business to a user–where it is, how long it stays open, and what its services include.
Links and the Quality Spectrum
It’s easy to trick a robot. It’s not so easy to trick people who are looking for value. To ensure a better user experience, Google algorithms mimic and monitor the most important “trackable” user behaviors.
Users appreciate (and even adore) a high quality backlink. These are links that don’t scream “manipulation” or “spam.” These are links in their natural habitat—where they are nestled in and surrounded by great content, easy navigation, social activity, and contextual relevance.
Turner reports that Boostability has run extensive tests on thousands of clients and have found that the more advanced and user-friendly forms of Link Building are still alive and thriving. Google does credit these high value pieces.
These links go largely unnoticed to user eyes because their contextual surroundings (including industry, and page, and other pages) are related and relevant. That link continues to be important in the search engine’s eyes and can grow in strength if it is clicked on, shared, and extenuated by users. The material that surrounds the link enables readers and empowers a positive, helpful, and engaging user experience. In summary:
- Symptoms of a “Bad Link”: Link is blaring, incongruent, annoying. May or may not make contextual sense on the page.
- Qualities of a “Good Link”: Relevant content, context, social activity, site authority, traffic, user behaviors (low bounce rate, high on page time)
The New Best Practice
Many have argued that SEO link-building is dead. Certainly we can consider the old forms of Link Building practice—link spamming, content spinning, link farms, and other black-hat tactics deceased. And good riddance. Google has made no secret that it demotes sites that spam the web with irrelevant, and unhelpful links. But from our research and the experience of our users, the use of high-quality Link Building is continuing to bring incredible return on investment to businesses in 2014 (and we strongly believe it will continue to do so for many seasons to come).
In conclusion, as long as rules-based algorithms can do an increasingly effective job of distinguishing good links from bad, there will be ways for SEO to promote deserving sites to the audiences trying to find them.
So what should your great content look like? For good measure here are a few ideas from expert Pratik Dholakiya for Search Engine Journal:
Redefine Your Content
Says Dholakiya, “The top sites on the web like Facebook, Amazon, and YouTube aren’t what we typically think of as content sites. Yet sites like these completely dominate top-notch content sites like Mashable or the New York Times.”
Smart companies should emphasize and continue to focus on traditional forms of value-add content such as blog posts, videos, infographics, eBooks, and whitepapers. But as others do the same, companies will need to work harder than before to help their quality content shine through.
Redefine Your Outreach Techniques
While traditional outreach techniques like guest blogging will still have a place, the marketers who focus on building business relationships will have the most success, Dholakiya maintains. For example:
- As opposed to simply guest blogging, consider inviting influential writers and bloggers to guest post on your blog. This is, for example, how Social Media Examiner built its audience.
- Work with YouTube “celebrities” to reach a different kind of audience.
- Hire influential designers, artists, and coders (and savvy SEO companies, of course) who can help expand your reach.
- Interview experts and influencers.
- Accept interview invitations on podcasts.
I would add that smart companies are consider new ways to broadcast value add information in interesting video formats through Google Hangout, as well. Google Hangout is “Google,” and for those who are working to achieve search engine priority, paying attention to the platforms Google owns will serve them particularly well.
Broaden the Definition of Traditional PR
Some of the very best SEO is interesting news that is covered legitimately and genuinely in mainstream publications. These are the kinds of genuine links and publicity that serve your company best.
In summary, the experts have spoken. Are you convinced? Are you ready? Regardless of Google updates, it’s clear that the need for quality Link Building will not be going away.
Special thanks to collaborator Jared Turner, CTO of Boostability, for the research that serves as the crux of this article.
Source: Forbes Business