It’s Not Just Links: Why Nothing Is Safe In Online Marketing

Links have been under fire for years. And while I’m someone who provides link development services, I’ve never thought that links are all you need. In fact, if all of my clients would let me become more involved in other aspects of their marketing, I’d be absolutely gleeful.

Links, while important, aren’t the alpha and the omega of SEO. I think that they serve a crucial role in online marketing, and my job is to get the best links I can.

the alpha and the omega

In most of the link posts that I read, there’s at least one commenter who bemoans links as a ranking factor. Look at the following comments from various entries in the Link Week column on this very site, for example:

“How about everybody stops talking about links and just get on with your business.”

“Search engines should scrap the link popularity algorithm and just rank on content. Anyone can see link popularity is badly broken and has been for years. Results based on content and context is the only way to guarantee you’ll get to see the result you want.”

“Incoming links should be ignored. That way you’ll all be out of a job, unless you can also write.”

“Most link build in not just an assumption but spammy” (sic)

“The fact that we have articles that make the case in defense of link building is quite telling.”

“Basically, anything that is a pure SEO effort to get links is bad. “

If links are so bad, so unnecessary, and so dangerous, then why do people keep seeking them? Why are link builders still in business, with a waiting list? Why are other link companies still doing well and getting good results for their clients? It’s not because we’re all charlatans. It’s because some people understand that nothing is safe in online marketing.

It isn’t just links — it’s everything. And if links still help, then people will still want them. I get a lot of business referrals through the posts that I write for this website, for example, so I don’t care if the link is followed or no-followed, impacting rankings or not. It still drives traffic, and traffic is what I want. If there was no link to my site and clients had to find me in some other way, that would be just as valuable as a link to me because I am still being contacted for work.

Conversions Are The Thing

Our conversion rate on potential clients who have found us through a Google search is much, much lower than for potential clients who come to us from word of mouth or online referrals. To me, for my own site, the attractive part of any link is the potential to send converting traffic, not rank me in the top-five for any keyphrase.

There are lots of other online practices that can hurt you and get you penalized, whether manually or through an algorithm change. I’ll admit that I was surprised when people started using spammy structured markup, but I do know that as an industry, we are very, very good at figuring out how to play the game.

chess

After being advised to create content that naturally drew links, people started creating way too much content that really said nothing. I’ve seen some sites who push out 15 two-paragraph-long blog posts full of nothing every single day. Those posts don’t generate any social shares or comments, but they just keep coming. It’s hard to add a guideline that says “no overly boring and totally un-useful blog posts that no one wants to read.” Is it any wonder that Panda happened?

You see sites that have a clean link profile and look great until you read them and realize that every fifth word is their major keyword. It’s in their title tag, in the H1 tag, in the meta description, in an alt tag, in the images filenames, and in 100 different places on the page.

They did almost everything “right,” but they over-optimized the heck out of their major keywords in an effort to rank well without resorting to what they thought were spammy tactics… yet, over-optimization is now considered a common spammy tactic.

Can Your Domain Get You In Trouble?

Despite the new thinking that exact match domains don’t work well, you can see them ranking all over the place. People are still buying them, and why not? Some people’s businesses are named that way. Should they have to use a different name for their site because Google might not like the exact match domain, even if it’s legitimate in their case?

If your business is actually named something like Best Plumber In Greensboro, will you be penalized for that domain? Should you have to get a domain that is not your brand just because you named it something 15 years ago that Google doesn’t like now?

Sites can get penalized for being hacked, and who’s to blame for that one? Plenty of older sites use techniques that are now considered to be spammy. There’s hidden text all over the place, much of it done for reasons other than “I’m trying to scam Google.”

Many sites don’t work well on mobile devices, so now they’re scrambling to fix that. They’ve heard that if you provide a poor mobile experience, your rankings may suffer. That’s all a good way of reminding you that even if you intentionally do nothing wrong, you can still suffer.

Nothing Is Guaranteed

That’s just life online these days, though. Nothing is a guarantee in any form of marketing. We can talk about the safest way to do something, but it’s never foolproof. We can talk about level of risk and why one thing is safer to do than another, but in the end nothing we do is truly safe.

If you have a site and you do absolutely nothing to optimize it, you’ll either go nowhere online (which I suppose is mostly safe, if you’re into that) or you will do well for a bit until you get hit by an algorithm change designed to crush sites that don’t have social sharing buttons implemented or don’t use authorship or don’t have enough thick content or something equally absurd.

You can violate every Google guideline there is and still rank the pants off your competitors. You can lose everything at any time, no matter what you do.

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