For the last few years “link building” has been the magic topic that made a blog post succeed in the Internet marketing arena.
Just cover that magic topic without sounding silly and you attract enough influential people to share your article.
Now it’s the same mechanism but a different topic. Articles about content beat those about links by far. Why is that? How can you adapt your publishing practice?
Creative Commons image by Nina Matthews.
Yesterday vs today
Back in the days search engine optimizers focused on a few major key phrases they wanted improve their rankings for. Then the would work for years to optimize for those key phrases until one day they ranked on top. Of course that was the ideal, there was no guarantee you would end op in the top 10.
Given the long periods of time a SEO strategy needs to get implemented and work out many people have used social media in the meantime to attract visitors.
Here the key phrases often matched those magic words I referred to above as influential authors and publishers would focus on those. For us dealing with search link building has been crucial for years so it was the number one eye catcher in the headline.
Ever since Google has started to crack down on “unnatural” that is SEO oriented link building with its numerous Penguin updates the popularity of the topic dwindled significantly if not dramatically.
You can still get popular writing about link building but the number of those reading and especially spreading the word turns smaller each time. The size of the “link building” audience is shrinking as a whole. Meanwhile the size of the content marketing audience is steadily growing while many former search engine optimizers are defecting and trying to rebrand.
Internet marketing: links vs content
Whether you use Google Trends or the Twitter search engine Topsy you will notice that “content marketing” is significantly more popular now than link building. I have compared all kinds of keyphrases to make sure I don’t compare apples and oranges but at the end of the day you can’t deny what your gut feeling is telling you already.
- link building
- link baiting
- earning links
Not only is link building less popular now than content marketing, there also also not many similar word combinations. The previously often used “link baiting” that’s not as common these days and the slowly growing in prominence “earning links” come to mind. On Topsy of the top 5 “link building” articles of the last 30 days as of June 27th three were from Search Engine Land.
- content creation
- content curation
- content marketing
- content promotion
- content strategy
There are not only more content related search phrases but also more authoritative publications covering the topics. The Top 5 for “content marketing” contain in my case Fast Company, Content Marketing Institute (twice), Hubspot and Unbounce. Even Unbounce a site targeting a pretty specific audience has 1,5k tweets on their recent content marketing article.
Why link building is not “cool” anymore
When you say “link building” you are by now almost risking as much as when you say “SEO”. The reputation problem has been lingering over the years by itself and is growing now because Google considers most link unnatural by now. Indeed when you think of it, what is the first association that comes to mind when you think of link?
- Low quality?
Yes, these are the first three word combinations that come to my mind even though I’m in favor of link building. Google has succeeded at outlawing a whole business practice. It even made a whole industry look bad despite half-hearted attempts to clarify that “SEO is not SPAM” even the need to declare that show how Google has made the two words similar in meaning.
Just think of the job title responsible for talking with SEOs, Matt Cutts: “Head of Webspam”. Why not “head of webmaster relations” or head of “search engine optimization”? After all we’re optimizing their search engine results.
Take also note how even the top three Search Engine Land articles on link building are mostly sounding negative:
- The 10 Worst Link Building Assumptions
- 10 Questions to Ask When Creating a Link Building Campaign
- Why “Linksville” Is a Ghost Town: Link Building Is Moving In House
Even the seemingly neutral “10 questions” are about how difficult a link building campaign really is. The post is not very encouraging despite being high quality.
How to deal with the slowing attractiveness of link building?
What’s the point? It doesn’t suffice to optimize for popular terms, you have to adapt to changing trends and word usage too.
While it’s not necessary to give up one thing and replace it with another it’s advisable to adapt to market demand
and specifically the behavior of the 1% - 10% of influential people who decide whether an article gets spread around or not. You need to speak the language of your audience in general and those in charge of spreading it in particular.
Influencers do no want to lose their influence by spreading articles about questionable topics.
I’ve been trying to change the meaning of SEO and link building for quite a few years but the effort seems to be futile. It’s much easier to embrace the terms other people use. They define and understand words differently than you. So when they think SEO and link building is SPAM you can be a saint and they will only see you according to their prejudice.
Content on the other hand is what Google needs so that they declare it all the time “just create great content” and that’s what most people remember: Google approves of content but hates links.