Want Links? Be A Jerk!

Jerk-ss-1920Hey, quality content is king, guys. You have heard it so often from Google and Bing that your ears bleed when you hear the phrase. I get it. I’m with you.

And there is some truth to the platitude, as there is to every platitude. Sometimes you do something so incredible, or have a product that’s so remarkable, that people are compelled to link to or share your content. It happens.

And I understand why Google would want to focus on this. Google’s search engine was built on PageRank, which is based on academic citations.

Why Do People Link?

Academics cite people whose research came before, in order to gain credibility for their own work. If you’re an academic writing a paper on Deconstruction and you don’t reference Derrida, people in the field are going to look at you like you’re loony, and they’ll throw your paper in the trash (if they pay any attention to it at all).

To think of Google as the cultural equivalent of this is to idealize the search engine in a way that I’m sure bodes well for Google’s public image.

But there’s another side of it that I’ve never heard search engines talk about. People link to websites organically for a number of reasons. Sometimes they’re just defining things, which would explain why Wikipedia, a place with no original content, is, ironically, the number one site in the world in terms of organic traffic.

Sometimes people who link reference a news story, regardless of the original source, which is one of the reasons CNET, Mashable and iBTimes outrank the Oscar Mayer site and the 360i site for “bacon scented alarm clock” — a product and ad campaign created by Oscar Mayer and its agency, 360i.

Sometimes, The Reasons Aren’t Positive

And sometimes, people are compelled to link to people that are involved in bad behavior.

Case in point: Recently, #AlexFromTarget invaded our consciousness and the internet went nuts. A viral marketing company claimed credit for the stunt, and controversy ensued.

The controversy surrounding it was covered at Marketing Land, as well as by many other reputable news sources. As a result, the brand for the company that claimed responsibility and then retracted it goes from being mentioned in 20 tweets a day to 1.2k in one day. And something similar happened with its links:

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According to Ahrefs data, this company got links from around 125 different referring domains in one day, when they averaged about three.

If you dig into the data, you’ll see that the stunt earned this company links from such authoritative sites as The Washington Post, CNET, Business Insider and USA Today – and only four of the 205 links they’ve received in the last 30 days are nofollowed.

I’m mentioning all of this not because I really want chicanery and antisocial behavior to be a link building tactic that people start (or continue) using, but rather because I don’t.

I would love for search engines to get smarter about what links and shares are given for merit, and what links and shares are given for other reasons. If you remember a few years ago when DecorMyEyes was in the news for getting more reviews with criminal practices, Google focused on it and fixed that situation pretty quickly. I’m hoping they do the same here.

Until they do, here are a few things you can do to make sure quality content really does prevail:

  1. Don’t link to jerks. If you must reference someone who is engaged in bad behavior, don’t send people to their website, and don’t confuse search engines into thinking that you believe this site has merit.
  2. If you must link to sites for any reason other than merit, nofollow the link. That means nofollow Wikipedia links, Facebook links, Mashable links, and any other links that don’t feature original quality content. If you must link to this post and you don’t like it, nofollow it, please.
  3. The next time you hear the phrase “content is king” or “quality content” from a search engine, ask them what they’re doing about situations like these, where organic links are the result of something else entirely.
  4. If you can, build or invest in a search engine that solves this problem, as it will be the ideal that Google thinks it is, and will likely have the kind of quality results that many people want to use.

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