The Link Singularity: Why SEO must be allowed to fail

Last week in The Link Singularity: Propensity I wrote about the increasing quality threshold that had to be reached before a link mattered in contrast to the decreasing chance of earning a link from a high quality site.

This week I’d like to address why SEOs must be allowed to fail. The risk of failure is one of the most import factors when it comes to determine whether the link is a good one or not.

In summary; any set of actions you can perform as an SEO that will create a link, without any real risk of failure, will create a link that Google is likely to want to discount.

Let’s dig in. In the very old days SEOs liked directory submissions. They worked as a process. Once you had that process in place you could rinse and repeat and be assured of links. Google initially accepted (and recommended) directories. Once the claim of editorial quality became a nonsense across the directory landscape Google had to step away from them.

The situation would have been different if a successful directory application had remained a rare thing. If directories had been harshly curated then directories would continue to have been counted as a quality signal. Instead we got directories with no chance of failure and therefore too many directories with no merit.

SEOs turned next to articles and article marketing. It was the same story. SEOs liked the approach because it could be turned into a process and once that process was shapely enough there was no risk of failure. As there was no risk of failure, no challenge in getting an article published, Google had to discount those links and warn against the tactic.

We see the same thing on guest posts; the battle again. Will guest posting become a process that, when followed, there is little risk of failure? If there was no editorial challenge, no risk of failure, then will the links produced by tactic be links Google wants to count tomorrow?

There are certainly two factions within guest posting. There are blogs that allow too many of the wrong type of guest posts. These are the blogs with less strict editorial decisions, more likely to appear in SEO process sheets and with a lower risk of failure. These are the blogs most likely to appear in disavow requests tomorrow. There are also the blogs in which guest posts are rare and earned. These are the blogs with very strict editorial decisions, that SEOs rightly assign a high risk of failure to when considering pitching a story too and these are the blogs which are most likely to be able to offer positive links tomorrow.

We see the same struggles emerging in content marketing. SEOs know that the right sort of content could attract links and other signals that matter. Some SEOs cannot win client sign off or dislike content marketing because the risk of failure is too great if links are your only goal. Despite your animated storyboard being very clever there is a chance that no one links to it. Some SEOs are looking to turn content marketing into a safer, process based, approach in which pretty much guarantees links. This is why I have a fear around the word “distribution”.

In contrast, links that have been earned from outside a “building process” are more likely to be links that carry their value up to the day of the The Link Singularity. Afterwards? That’s anyone’s guess.

Let’s go back to the animated storyboard example. You’ve got one on your site and you’ve pitched it to bloggers, editors and curators. This hasn’t been a distribution process and so if any of that audience to write about, share, link to (all signals) the storyboard then the timing, the phrases used and networks will be distinct and natural. If the buzz they generate grows then it’ll grow naturally and it’ll count.

If this collection of bloggers, editors and curators have kept themselves clean of pit traps like link selling, undisclosed advertorials and the rest then their publishing platforms will remain trusted.

Give me actionable insight again, damnit!

Two shifts are needed; one from SEOs and the other from clients.

On the SEO side we must accept that an insistence on clinging to safe, process based, link building is more risky than it is safe. We must reconfigure our approach to earning signals so that we will accept failure.

That said; SEOs can structure their work to allow for the risk of failure but minimise the risk of it. Our animated storyboard, for example, could we design one that might interest tech bloggers (how it was made), and travel bloggers (the story it tells) as well as local press (the mention of the cities).

The ability to engage with audiences is part of the evolution of SEO.

The second change comes from client side. SEO sits more on the earned media tier and less on the paid for media tier. It is scary but SEOs need permission to engage audiences and risk failure. Don’t ask for a processed approach to old school link building. Ask for a modern approach to earning links and other signals. Judge SEOs, whether they are agency or in-house, by their ability to manage risk rather than avoid it.

Picture credit: Blue Square Thing

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