What Link Building Tactic Is Going To Get Flamed Out Next?

by Jon Cooper

The cool thing about being in the position I am as a blogger who writes about link building is that I get to hear from a lot of people and hear what they’re currently doing to build links.

The current time period is no different from any other in the 5 years I’ve been doing this. There’s one tactic that’s getting used & abused by a lot right now, and eventually, it’s going to get dinged or devalued in the near future. In other news, the sky is blue.

Today’s tactic that’s in the spotlight: scholarships. Of course, they’ve been around for a while. They’re nothing new. But guest blogging wasn’t new when it got out of hand from 2012-2014, so this shouldn’t surprise you.

The cool thing is, this one is going to flame out QUICK. The reason being is that these opportunities are shared by the Web as a whole. Sure, you’ve got some saying things like:

  • There are some niche specific opportunities in certain verticals that others can’t qualify for
  • They’re still editorially reviewed by web editors / university personnel
  • Schools will always want to offer their students information on scholarship opportunities
  • They’re not “bad” links in the eyes of the big G

But of course, it has its downfalls:

  • Schools will finally be aware of the SEO value, and offer to inform their students by other means (i.e. by newsletter) besides obscure deep pages that they probably don’t even find.
  • Schools will become wary of web-based scholarships, as more & more sleazy marketers will create legitimate-looking landing pages, but fail to actually pay them out.
  • They might not be toxic to Google, but they’re certainly not endorsements worth counting. It’s already been widely observed that these links are being devalued to an extent, but they’ll continue in this direction.

So, we’ll be left back at the drawing board, stuck twiddling our thumbs and waiting for bloggers to publish the next big thing that scales to infinity and is easy to do.

But the posts won’t come.

I really do think that this time, we’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel. I get asked numerous times a week about which tactics we should be doing, and I just don’t have the kind of answer that they’re looking for. That’s because everyone is still looking for something brand new to reshape our entire perspective on what it means to build links. And that thinking is exactly what’s lead us to this point.


If you think like this, scanning every “entire list of tactics” post that gets published, then do yourself a favor and put yourself on the right side of fate by stopping and thinking about the tactics you already know.

So I see two options for those who refuse to play the role of the fox once the barrel runs dry and have to do actual work.

1. Do the stuff that takes effort & is as close to a sure-fire thing for the long-term.

The kinds of things I’m talking about here are:

  • What Matthew Barby writes about here. It might sound simple, but it takes effort to craft a value proposition that gets found in the midst of a ton of pitches by PR (not SEO) professionals.
  • The kind of content that agencies like BuiltVisible creates that’s used to get seeded on large publications.

The best thing about aiming for these kinds of opportunities is that you instantly weed out 80-90% of the industry who isn’t willing to put in the level of work needed to achieve these links, and never will put in this level of work.

2. Do the “Ghosts of Link Tactics Past” better & more effective than anyone else.

Remember the tactics from a few years back that were used, abused, and then thrown into a ditch in search of more victims?

Well, I haven’t forgotten about them.

What’s left of them are tactics that needed to be executed at a much higher level than before in order to yield the same results. I’m talking about things like guest blogging, links pages, product reviews, general link requests, and even submissions.

Once the barrel runs dry, this is inevitably what people will come back to, and only those that are able to do them exceptionally effectively will continue as link builders, simply because poor execution here will yield no results (or even negative) on a much more frequent basis than ever before.

Currently, this is where my agency lies. We do tactics that won’t surprise you. No, we don’t do anything under number 1, but that doesn’t mean we don’t build links that we believe will stand the test of time.

For example, there are numerous university websites looking to refer new students & faculty to local housing resources.

There are numerous blogs that do want external contributors. Our agency even shares an office with a college town blog network (not the bad kind, the kind that the term was originally coined for) that’s always looking for unique local contributions on what to do, what to eat, and where to go in their cities. And these are blogs that have great readership and social traction.

And that’s just scraping the surface of legitimate link opportunities that are still out there to be acquired by relatively traditional means. The difference is, those that are going to continue to survive & thrive are those that:

  • Maximize up-front opportunity with deeper prospecting & analysis
  • Are willing to spend the time to manually find the correct person to contact at a given website or organization
  • Create unique value propositions with their outreach that triggers responses from people with flooded inboxes
  • Continuously test different aspects of their outreach (great example)
  • Create internal tools that give competitive advantages

And those aren’t things that are seen in the normal member of this industry. The average SEO:

  • Uses all-in-one SEO suites that leave a lot of prospects on the table
  • Uses automation tools to find contact information
  • Uses the outreach template examples in blog posts read by 1000s of other SEOs (and inevitably used by a lot of them)
  • Decides on a template and sticks with it for the foreseeable future
  • Uses the same tools that every SEO is using

And at the end of the day, what’ll happen is that these average SEOs will proclaim link building is dead, and you can no longer do things like you could “in the good old days”.

Meanwhile, the few that are willing to put in the work even just using the low hanging fruit mentioned in this section will continue to succeed and will hopefully keep to themselves (and some of you will yell “hypocrite!” at your screen as you read that) as the mediocrity starts to wind down.

So I ask you:

  • Why are you still looking for the next big thing? Why aren’t you trying to get ahead of your competition by stopping this kind of thinking, and start planning to do more effective and/or stop taking shortcuts?
  • As link tactics continue to get flamed, can you really do this practice at a high level while you also offer local SEO, CRO, web design, and whatever the hell else? If you can’t, then you need to rethink what your service offering should include or not include.

Those are two questions that I hope a lot of SEOs & agencies in this space can start to think about if they haven’t already.

What do you think? Would love to hear from you either in the comments or on Twitter (find me: @pointblankseo). As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned this year for a few interesting things in the works for Point Blank SEO!

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. This is definitely a possibility, although scholarship links are still working very well for us. Another tactic I could see being devalued is charity donations. It practically is paying for links.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Good call Takeshi; just don’t think though that sponsorship links can ever be the height of the practice for a period of time. Also think a lot of those links have been devalued to an extent.

      • How can you tell that the links are being devalued? Our scholarship page still seems to rank pretty well.

        Another tactic that I feel is being overused is snapping up expired domains and recreating the content or 301 redirecting them. Since Google is a registrar now, I feel like it’s only a matter of time before they crack down on this.

  2. This:

    Uses the outreach template examples in blog posts read by 1000s of other SEOs (and inevitably used by a lot of them)

    I get so many template emails in my inbox every week, I’ve started replying that I’d be willing to add the link if they actually sent me a personal email instead of a template. Some of them don’t even reply!

    Whenever I’ve used a template, my results have been mediocre, but whenever I’ve done something different, results have been different too.

    Nice post as usual Jon

  3. Abrar says:

    Hi Jon,

    In next 4-5 years, I think link building will disappear, where link gaining will take the place. Why? Because counting the links that is earned is the best possible method to determine exact page quality.

    This could be Google’s next target, eventually.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Looks like a new term has been coined in the comments here! 🙂 Is it safe to assume “link gaining” has the same meaning as “link earning”? In that case, it’s just semantics at this point.

  4. JS Bullock says:

    Unfortunately in Ireland (Google.ie) some of the worst back-linking practices are still paying off. Local directory links (like yalwa.ie) still have an impact, which I think is fair. But, a more recent find is that these directories furniturestoresdublin.com and furniturestoresireland.com are helping a client’s competitor occupy the 1st page of Google.ie for countless furniture related keywords. In some places it’s still a darker shade of grey.

  5. Great points of view being presented here. I have been in this space a long time since late 1995 and have seen all sorts of tactics come and go. Pretty much like every tactic in SEO or link building. once it goes main stream its just a matter of time that the level of abuse gets it shut down. I have always been a believer in balance. Diversify the links and the methods used and of course striving towards great information to earn links.
    Interesting to see what the future holds in this ever changing space!

  6. Nakul Goyal says:

    I agree 100% on those scholarship links. On a scale, it’s definitely not as big as the directory links of yesterday as well as the guest posting…and therefore, on a relative scale, the risk is less, but definitely coming soon, since, we, the SEO community, has made it a “tactic”. Loved meeting you @Mozcon Jon.

  7. Great post Jon. I agree, it’s probably best to stay away from scholarship link building now. Marie Haynes, penalty expert, recently posted on SEW saying “many sites that are using this tactic are walking a fine line”. You can be sure Google is hip to this tactic. And it’s important to stay off G’s radar at all costs; penalties can be devastating. Don’t be tempted by easy link building tactics 🙂

  8. Patrick says:

    Hi Jon,

    I think as SEO’s we’ve gotten so gun shy now that we think to ourselves, “Oh, this tactic isn’t going to work now, or that one isn’t any good anymore.” I’m not trying to be critical of your post because it’s intended message is good; however, we also need to be careful not to count out a tactic just because it is being abused by some. The truth is, if a tactic isn’t being abused, if it’s being “executed at a higher level”, it’s probably okay AS PART OF AN OVERALL BALANCED LINK BUILDING APPROACH. True, if the only quality backlinks a website garners to it are scholarship backlinks, it’s probably a good bet that a) either the website as a whole sucks (that of course is another part of the algorithm to take into account), or b) that Google will see that there are no other good backlinks worth noting, so it’s more than likely a manipulation of their algo (seeing ONLY .edu links is probably a big red flag!).

    I just don’t want to see SEO’s get shell-shocked by believing that there is nothing they can do in the link building (or link earning) realm anymore that hasn’t been “devalued”. Truth is, you mention in the post itself that the old “Ghosts of Link Tactics Past” are fine if executed well (paraphrasing here).

    All in all, Jon, all things link-related should be done with balance. If there is one key to success in SEO that is probably it, besides quality of course. Let’s not get too concerned about this or that tactic being “devalued”. The algo is likely much more holistic than that. But, also be aware that you shouldn’t think that just ONE single method of getting links is the holy grail. I think that is your overarching message here, but correct me if I’m wrong.

  9. simon says:

    link building has been devalued greatly over the last few years because of search engines shift towards user engagement and social. backlinks are not the most important ranking factor for long term rankings and haven’t been for the past 2 years.
    User engagement and brand signals are more important than ever before. If you are not paying attention to these areas you are going to have a hard time in 2015. However, old habits die hard and the obsession with backlinks will continue.

  10. Ron Seigel says:

    Since when is guest blogging dead? Still works extremely well.

  11. Excellent post and very helpful. Keep sharing your thoughts

  12. Dhruv says:

    Nice post mate!

    I think Private Scholarships are in great demand. People are providing scholarships to students and in return, getting tons of backlinks from .edu and .gov sites. This is an amazing way to get recognized and receive over 300 page views daily 🙂

  13. Hi Jon,
    Thanks for post and that cat got one funny face!

  14. HI Joh – really interesting post – I think what it boils down to in simple terms is that for basically 10 years + link builders could get away with pretty much anything, low quality, poorly written content, spammy links etc. etc. the list goes on. There is nothing wrong at all with blog posting, commenting, writing, link building etc. the only difference now is that you have to be exceptionally smart, the quality of any element regarding seo has to be of the highest standard otherwise you will not stand a chance and if anything it is only going to get harder. For me it is now all about the quality and not the amount, so I spend most of my time ensuring that everything I do is well thought out and executed, that might be less going out on the face of it, however what does go out there is good quality.

  15. Thanks for the very interesting post

  16. Vikas Avnish says:

    quality of links should have greater influence than quantity of links

What Link Building Tactic Is Going To Get Flamed Out Next? - Point Blank SEO