It might have seemed like I was playing a bit of a “Lazy Link Builder” role when I was having the back and forth with Jon. My point wasn’t and isn’t that we should give up on content marketing for link building or that “creating great content” isn’t a viable strategy.
But in my conversations with some of the industry’s most prominent thought leaders they admit that despite their incredible content work, they’re still getting beat in the SERPs.
It should be telling that Wil Reynolds of SEER Interactive, someone who I respect a great deal for his innovative link building techniques, can be quoted as saying,
“If you completely listen to Google, you will probably fail at SEO.”
That’s not advocacy for black hat tactics and it isn’t laziness. That’s a man being honest about the current state of the industry we work in.
Why can’t we all be this honest?
So in response to Jon’s post, I’d offer up a few quick points of my own:
I’m going to come out and say it: Spam works really well. Some spam is so insipid that it just might work forever. No white Google horse can ride in to save the day.
In fact, while we’re all paying $1,000+ to attend conferences about next-level tactics, spammers are dumping anchor text links in forum profiles and cleaning house in the SERPs. Say whatever you want about unnatural back link profiles, over optimized anchor text or “bad neighbourhoods”. I find that simultaneously hilarious and depressing.
I’m not saying give up. I’m not advocating spam. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive towards more sustainable strategies and long-term success. We should. We are. We’re getting better.
But here’s some food for thought: For those companies who have won using spam tactics for the past 5 years, that HAS been long term, sustained success.
Breathe in, breathe out. Admit spam works and is only getting more prominent. Admit that it won’t ever stop. Admit you’re fighting an uphill battle. You’re now ready to move on.
Jon touched on this when he talked about the “nearest relevant niche”, but I want to take it one step further because to me this is the single most effective link building mentality to have.
Know where I get most of my content links and shares from? It’s not people in my clients’ industries. It’s not people in related industries. It’s the average Joe.
For example: Hardly anyone cares about your new scaffolding product. A few people might care about how it will improve the workplace – they might want to interview you. But snap some photos of gruesome workplace accidents involving scaffolds, post it on 4Chan, and watch your traffic/links explode.
Why? Because people don’t want to talk about scaffolding, but they DO want to talk about that guy who fell off a scaffold and got impaled on a drill. Got video? Even better.
It’s that “mildly irrelevant but entertaining content” Jon talks about that MOST people care about. So for every hour I spend thinking about how to engage my client’s immediate industry, I spend far more trying to make their product or service relevant to John Doe without compromising the company’s image or reputation. Think outside your niche.
Make normal people give a damn, or fool them into doing so. There’s a lot more average Joe’s than there are people in your client’s niche.
As Jon pointed out, don’t “put all your eggs in one basket”. So can we be honest enough with ourselves to say that the same applies for the “great content” basket?
As an SEO, I try to act like a hungry octopus. What I mean is, have multiple hands in multiple cookie jars. Putting all your link building effort into “creating great content” is dangerous; so is putting all your effort into paid links, blogger outreach, forum profiles, directory submissions, blog commenting, guest blogging, asset building or reciprocal linking.
I’m not saying spam the web. I’m not saying take bad risks. You are still accountable to your clients and their reputations. But like a ballin’ stock broker, I diversify my risk where I can and take the wins where they come.
Have hands everywhere.
Awhile back, the agency I worked for executed a “Scholarship” link building strategy perfectly. We contacted 100’s of colleges/universities and got a ton of initial traction with it; record traffic.
But the net link outcome was extremely underwhelming to say the least. We invested $1,000 for the scholarship and what likely came out to 40+ hours worth of internal haggling for a marginal end benefit that no client would have been happy with.
My point? Creating something useful might not be a sustainable or effective link building strategy, even when you do it right.
More food for thought: Wasting client money on a white hat tactic that doesn’t work us just as bad (if not worse) than wasting client money on a grey or black hat tactic that does.
I was a little scared to write this post because there’s a stigma attached to anyone who dares to admit that spam works and that sometimes content marketing falls flat on its beautiful, shimmering white face.
I hope at the end of the day I can inspire some conversation and get more people talking honestly about the genuine challenges in link building – but if not, at least I got to use the “guy impaled on a drill” example.
Totally worth it.