That "link building is dead" has become a meme in the SEO community. It seems like everybody is saying it, even though most of them are just arguing that we need to start focusing on "link earning" instead. As much as I respect and appreciate what many of these professionals are saying, I'm getting tired of these semantic debates, I'm getting tired of "rebranding" SEO, and I'm getting tired of conflating it with social, content, and inbound.
These things are related. These things are important. I talk about these things. These things are not SEO. And link building isn't dead.
In fact, let me just dig up this elephant in the room: not even really spammy, ugly, manipulative, wouldn't-let-your-client-touch-it-with-a-ten-foot-pole link building is dead.
I bring this up because even when SEO professionals get into semantic debates over what they call link building, somebody will inevitably say "can't we all just agree that spammy backlinks, spun article marketing, automated comments, and paid links are dead?" No, we can't, because it's still working.
Anybody who has looked at their competitors' backlinks knows this. The cognitive dissonance is killing me.
We can argue until we're blue in the face about whether it's because they are using smarter anchor text strategies, faking brand signals, or using a more diverse range of linking sites, but the beginning and the end of it is that Google's algorithm still just isn't that smart. (And I haven't even touched on just how invisible a private link network is.)
I'm not advocating doing any of this, of course, because if you happen to have any kind of success with it, you're going to end up being visible enough that somebody is eventually going to report you, and you're eventually going to get a manual review.
I've argued before that if all of your links are coming from guest posts, you're setting yourself up for failure. I still believe that. No strategy should be a one trick pony. That's hardly the same thing as saying link building is dead, but more importantly, it was never about the algorithm. If I may quote myself:
I strongly believe that this is how you should approach guest posts. Use them to hail your site with referral traffic for leads and natural links. Use them to get your brand name in front of a larger audience. Use them to build long term relationships with influencers that will continue to multiply your results for years to come. Use them to propagate through social channels in a way that wouldn't be possible by publishing on your own site. Use them to tell your audience that you've been featured in blogs that signal trustworthiness. Use the associated reputation to boost your conversion rate.
If all you care about is that one link, you're missing out on a serious opportunity.
If I can add to that, if you think that this one link doesn't matter, you've lost touch with reality.
To be a fully successful SEO, who also knows how to leverage other digital marketing techniques, the honest truth is that you need to approach the whole thing with a little bit of split personality disorder.
You need that side that says "all of this is justifiable as inbound marketing and it will be worth the investment even if the search engines ignore it."
But you also need that side that says "this link is totally going to boost my rankings and I'm going to topple my competitors, muhahaha!"
Because if that thought's not crossing your mind, if it's not something you think about day and night, if it's not an integrated and substantial part of your strategy, why are you calling yourself an SEO?
You know I'm right.
Image credit: Benny Lin