What Link Building Might Look Like in 2014

by Jon Cooper

A day doesn’t go by without reading or hearing about the future of search. Almost every week people ask me about what the future might look like for link building. I had a few predictions I’ve wanted to bring up, and now that this article has the industry talking (depending on whether you think it’s PR buzz or not), I think it’s finally time to address what the future of link building might look like.

For those who have been doing SEO longer than I have, you can vouch for me when I say that SEO is one of the most rapidly changing industries out there. What was a reality a year ago might not even be relevant today. So, with that said, link building is starting to make a big change. 

The End Goal

Look at the modern day SERPs, and compare them to the ones we saw when the term “link building” was first coined. The practice of “link building” was SEO back then. Why? Because ranking first in Google meant everything. There were no paid ads or fancy markup like images, video, reviews, etc to distract the user from the first result. If you ranked 1st, you got loads of clicks. This meant that ranking first was really the one all end all KPI for your SEO efforts. It still is for a lot of marketers, but this is slowly changing.

A couple days ago I read an article (I’m a little angry I can’t find it right now) about a website ranking 1st for one of its most important terms. Despite this, their CTR was terrible – it was roughly 2-3%. Why? Because of the amount of paid ads for that query. This immediately caught my eye because this idea of low CTRs in conjunction with high rankings is starting to tell us that rankings are slowly becoming less important.

This is why everyone’s talking about the nomenclature of what we do. “SEO” just isn’t going to cut it in the future. Ranking 1st can’t be our sole responsibility, because it doesn’t have the kinds of returns it used to. That’s why we’re becoming inbound marketers; other channels need to be utilized to get the kind of traffic & sales we once almost solely depended on organic search for.

No, this isn’t the picture for everyone, but it is becoming real for more & more marketers. Think of this change like the curve in the graph to the right.

The curve will never touch zero, just like this won’t ever be a reality for everyone (maybe even no where close), but as time goes on, the rate at which this becomes a reality for marketers increases. No, it’s not as extreme as the curve demonstrated, but hopefully you get the idea.

With that said, we’re going to be building links in an entirely different way, and we’ll be doing it for an entirely different reason. “Link building” first meant building links for SEO, but the future of this practice will start to encompass all links, whether for search value or not. For example, a link in an email newsletter (stealth link building as Eric Ward calls it) will be one of the types we’ll pursue in the future. Essentially, link building will start to increasingly become closer to what other forms of marketing are.

Here’s some evidence to back me up. In the WSJ post I mentioned at the top, they mention right out the shoot, “Google’s search engine will begin spitting out more than a list of blue Web links”. Now, we’ve already seen this with the markup & paid ads I talked about above, but the idea of entities and Q&A type results are said to be growing in importance. Both have been talked about & introduced before, but in my opinion, the dormant period after these types of introductions seems to be coming to an end. Thus, more distractions for the user, and less clicks on traditional SERP results, causing us to turn to different avenues for the traffic we need to sustain our businesses.


Although unrelated, I want to address the future of infographics, a widely praised linkbait strategy that’s been around for the last 2-3 years.

Infographics are dying, and finally I have some evidence to back me up. If you haven’t noticed, Visual.ly is a startup making a ton of noise. What they do is infographic creation. In a nutshell, it’s a super simple tool to create awesome infographics in minutes. This severely lowers the barrier of business owners to create infographics, and when this happens, the value of infographics starts to drop significantly.

But don’t be foolish. The idea behind infographics will never go away. Data visualization has and always will be an extremely effective content strategy, it’s just this form is starting to meet its’ demise. It will never completely go away, but it will slowly (and now more rapidly with automation tools like Visual.ly) lose a lot of its value.

Before I move on, realize this goes for anything. Once directory submission software came out, the value of directories dropped. Once tools like widgetbox.com made it easy to create widgets, they became significantly less cool. That’s just how things are. This barrier of entry for certain link building strategies will never go away, no matter how much we evolve.

At the same time, use this to your advantage. Ditch strategies that can be automated, and spend time on things that other people aren’t doing that can’t be automated.

So what does this mean right now?

Frankly, not a whole lot. We still see sites ranking and bringing in $4 million worth of traffic per month. Ranking 1st is still what I’m paid to do, and the same might go for you. What it does mean, however, is that this change will be coming in the next few years, and the first people who get on board will be the winners in the long term. You’re right, we white hats talk about the long term probably a little too much, but with updates like these, a lot of these warnings & predictions we’re making are showing signs of finally coming true.

I’m curious. Are my predictions a load of crap? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 129 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper is a link builder based out of Gainesville, FL. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter @PointBlankSEO.

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  1. Nick LeRoy says:

    Infographics wont die simply because its an easy to get paid links (to them) that are really hard to track and don’t give spam signals if done appropriately … I won’t say anymore 😉

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I don’t think that will keep them from dying. When I say dying, I don’t mean that they’ll totally go away. People have said directories & widgets, for examples, are dead, yet they still have some value. They’ll still be around, and what you talk about might still work, but they won’t provide the kind of natural success that they’ve provided in the past as time moves forward.

  2. gary viray says:

    Sorry to disagree. I do think anything visually enticing will work and will still be effective as before. Infographics are here to stay. Human beings are always visually motivated. Paintings, photography and other visual media existed for hundreds of years already but are still effective until now.

    • Jon Cooper says:


      I agree that the idea behind infographics is here to stay, but the same old stuff we keep seeing isn’t. Infographics will evolve, like Ryan said below, but the kinds of infographics we’ve grown to know won’t have near the success they’ve had in the past. Sure, they might have a little, but nothing close to what we’ve come to expect from the kind of investment we’re currently making. Also, I don’t think this is an immediate change. That’s why I said “2014”. It’ll take a little while for this to happen, but I think it will eventually come.

  3. Ryan Bayron says:

    As history has shown us, there’s always an alternative to falling into extinction: evolving to keep up. People have been writing about the problems with infographics for SEO for a while, but there are a few designers out there who are rising to the challenge of pushing infographics to overcome those challenges.

    This past winter, Park Place Texas created an interactive infographic with text that Google can index, and it also included clickable links. (http://www.parkplacetexas.com/winter-car-care/).

    I think infographics *as we know them* are surely going to die off soon, but that doesn’t mean that a new breed of infographics will rise from the ashes and keep the ball rolling.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Well said Ryan, I completely agree. HTML5 infographics and similar content like the example you mentioned is what we should be focusing on in the future, not the same cookie-cutter infographics that I mentioned in the post (I should’ve been more clear about that).

  4. Anthony Pensabene says:

    Good thoughts, Jon. I’m not sure what post you momentarily can’t find but I like Dr. Pete’s Moz post, which shows how good rankings do not equal good conversions (all the time).


    I feel the need to clarify (perhaps) for some. Knowledgeable SEOs know the value of money. They know there’s money to be made, leveraging a variety of tactics. However, as consumers we all want quality. As workers we all want money. I celebrate those in the community who use powers for good (making money, maintaining the community and industry’s integrity, and getting long-standing/quality results for clients). Can you make more money being unscrupulous. Sure. I’ve seen it done. Does being a professional mean more to some than just showing monetary results. I THINK IT DOES. Jon, I saw your Moz comment from yesterday’s post. I know where your values are; I’m happy to be an individual who supports industry cohorts of that breed.

    Infographics. I think Jon is saying (just like Rand has been trying to get people to see) that the field will always evolve; therefore, we need to properly observe and identify changes and differences (SEO will always be SEO – however, what professionals do on a day-to-day now includes and surpasses that long-standing definition). At present, infographs are quite appealing; sure, users like that. However, there will come a time of commercial abuse; and, innovators will move on, improving upon old methods. For instance, I saw Chris Winfield post this yesterday: http://htwins.net/scale2/ Infographs who? Get me someone to do this for me.

    Jon, I noticed some augmentations to the site and informing people about what you do. 18 with the ability to maim professionally, already. Keep doing YOUR thing (the right way as you are). You’re going to be unstoppable, setting trends, not following them (like others, who aren’t willing or able to do so, driven by the wrong ideals)

    – Anthony

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Anthony, I appreciate that awesome comment!

      Awesome post you pointed out, that thing is awesome! I definitely want one of those 🙂

      Like you said, it’s about keeping up with the times, and constantly finding new things and beating others to them. If you can do that, you’ll always be a winner.

  5. Pat Marcello says:

    Yahoo, Gary!

    Infographics are overly ubiquitous these days and I feel that they’re losing their novelty (and we all know what happens to most novelty on the Web). Plus, the ratio of supply/demand is getting top-heavy. We’re developing Infographic-blindness, at least I am, and one day in the not-distant future, they’ll be going the way of the banner. (Which are re-gaining in popularity again, it seems… go figure.) But…

    About 7 or 8 years ago, it occurred to me that most any quality link you could get was a good link to have, and that the more places you can get one (as in profiles, unique articles, guest posts, blog comments, etc.), the better. The more ubiquitous YOU are on the Web is going to mean a lot more into the future.

    Think “Mr. or Ms. Popularity.” How broad is your Internet reach? How many pages of you and your company are there in the SERPs? Seems to me that the Big Dog wants to return search results about popular topics/people/companies, and if you and/or your company are not all over the Web, that kind of leaves you out. Least, that’s how I see it.



  6. Slava says:

    I think that the next stage in evolution of infographics will be something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72v6zT25194

    Also, Jon, your blog has an amazing CSS style and design. It motivates me to learn more HTML5 and CSS3! 😉

  7. I started my career in IT as SEO but year ago i switched in web development (though it is not always an option for every SEO) for two reasons. One my interest in programming and secondly, emm i would say fakedness of the SEO. You can earn a lot from marketing stuff but their are very few people in the internet marketing profession who have actually interest in the marketing field and most of the people are just lazy who want to earn without doing. So as SEO, for most of the people they rather stumbles in SEO profession rather than choosing it and even SEO is also not standing on some strong pillars it is a kind of boom you can hardly predict anything about it.

  8. I think that quality Infographics and all the rest will continue to hold power. Sure the web is being flooded with them now that there are easy creation methods out there, and people will innovate and find ways to improve them like previous commenters have said, but in the end quality content even in primitive forms like articles can still go viral.
    Thousands of youtube videos are uploaded each day and most of them are garbage, yet you still get some that are high quality rising to the top. Same goes for infographics and I think instances of high quality content will become highlighted even more so in the future as we all focus more on social media for information and share the quality items we find.

What Link Building Might Look Like in 2014 - Point Blank SEO