How did you not see this coming? The end to link building.

I’ve been down on link building for many years now and I have not been the voice in the wilderness on the fringes of the SEO community. I’ve found plenty of SEOs who agree with me.

We’re talking about this again because Google’s John Mueller recommends not to focus on link building. My Twitter feed is now abuzz with chatter. When the SEO chat drowns out the general geeky chat then that’s a sure fire signal it is a big topic.

There are two levels to study.

Level One: The Semantics

The word “building” is sometimes significant. It implies a degree of process and emphasis. The emphasis is that the links were put there, built, by the SEO. I’d suggest that for a long time it would be fair to say that Google wants to discount any such link. If you built it, Google will discount it.

Even on Level One, since you can discount good links, you’re only left with harmful links.

Level Two: The Approach

Old school link building or even some form of “link earning” is a bottom up approach – and has limited chance of getting very far from the bottom.

I’ll use an article link as an example. If you write an old school article, plop a link in it, and get it published then nothing else will happen. The article will not generate any other quality signals and nor will it influence the editorial agenda in anyway. I’d argue the same is true if you persuade or hoodwink a magic middle blogger to write a generic blog post.

Once again, if the only link of significance you can expect from the approach is one that’s so negative that the search engines react accordingly – why would you do it?

So, what can the SEO community do about it?

A Wild Red Widget
Two years ago I wrote about The Link Singularity. That was the point where “achieving” a link cost more resources than the link was worth. What happens after that point is an unknown.

We need to avoid the Link Singularity.

I advocate a “top down” approach to SEO quality signals. To naturally earn the quality signals, like links, the search engines need to see, you need to influence the editorial agenda.

This is a big step change for some SEO and I’ll be the first to admit that not all client-side decision makers are ready for it. Hopefully that will change in time.

There are lots of examples of “top down” approaches, they’re not new, they’re just more familiar with other disciplines like social or PR. None of them involve asking for a link.

Rather than get a blogger to write about your red widgets consider one of the following. Build a statue out of red widgets and put it in the middle of a busy train station. Calculate the carbon footprint benefits of red widgets compared to blue widgets and pitch the story to green bloggers who would not normally write about widgets. Provide a nursing home with a month supply of red widgets and invite local press along to see the delivery. Pay film students to make a series of red widget prank videos. Newsjack a story about the Red Devils, a lorry spilling red paint, a company sliding into the red, the Red or Dead sequel, a controversial red card or a celebrity falling out of a red dress.

I don’t need to go on with the examples. SEOs are familiar with them all. That’s rather my point – how can anyone be surprised that Google officials are spelling out that a focus on the bottom up approach is likely to do more harm than good.

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