The Natural Link Is Making A Comeback (Part 3)

by Joel Klettke

This is a guest post by Joel Klettke from bestlookingmanintheworld.com. This is part 3 in a series of posts on natural links; here’s part 1, and here’s part 2.

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:

1.     Counterpoint: The unnatural link is still winning the battle; we can only hope it will lose the war.

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.

2.     The Power is in the Everyman.

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.

3.     Diversify.

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. 

4.     Stop expecting your “great content” or “innovative marketing” to get links.

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.

Bottom Line

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.

This post was written by...

Joel Klettke – who has written 1 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Joel Klettke+ bashes a keyboard relentlessly at Vovia Online Marketing, a Calgary-based online marketing company. Before you forget, you should connect with Joel on Twitter at @cstechjoel, where he promises to make you laugh at least once.

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  1. Kevin Ekmark says:

    Glad to see how this Twitter conversation turned into some great content on both sides!
    Joel and Jon, I think one of the best points is to diversify. We get lost in our own forest easily, an it’s good to remember to actually multitask in this area.
    I try to make a list everyday of what I’m going to do for each client to make sure that they’re SEO is diversified and to make sure that I don’t burn out from submitting links 15 hours a day.

    Enjoyed the reads. Glad to see what came of all this.

  2. Joel K says:

    Thanks so much for the opportunity to respond and be a part of this post series Jon! It was a ton of fun digging into this stuff with you, it’s exciting to me that I get to converse with such smart and talented people on a daily basis.

    Thanks for your contributions as well Kevin! Excited to be a part of whatever it is you’re cooking up next too!

  3. Keith says:

    I know this has been about links (this series), but SEO isn’t just linkbuilding. While I will concede that linkbuilding should be a “part” of every SEO solution, it should NOT be the focal point.

    As an SEO, I refuse to sell link packages. Period. If someone calls me asking for it, I turn them away.

    Another thing, I find using other techniques like what Neil Patel wrote about on KissMetrics yesterday about link blending to be much more effective, longer lasting, and completely ethical.

    Why do we have to look for the easy way out all the time? The system was set up to (hopefully) provide the most relevant content for the search provided. Due to stuff just like this, Google has to constantly change, then we have to constantly change.

    I stick to a basic regiment with my SEO work. I use tried and true methods. And it works. Why do I need to spam?

    • Joel K says:

      First of all: I completely agree that the “Package” approach to ANY facet of SEO is inherently flawed. Whether that’s link packages, campaign packages – whatever kind of packages. SEO generally requires a customized solution that can’t just be pulled out of a hat and applied like a “just add water” made-for-tv product.

      As far as “why do I need to spam” – Just want to reiterate that I’m not advocating spamming. But the answer to that question, if I can play devil’s advocate, might be “In order to compete”.

      Now, read me carefully here. But for example: If your competitors are crushing you with artificially manufactured anchor text links, you have three choices:

      1. Do nothing. Your clients will hate you.
      2. Compete with higher quality tactics that typically take longer, cost more and are more difficult to execute – but will provide more sustainable success. Explain to your clients that they need to be patience, and do so understanding that there’s still a risk that your “great content” strategy will STILL fail.
      3. Use the same tactics as your competitors regardless of hat type. Run the risk of de-indexation. Possibly see results sooner; but perhaps not results that are long-term sustainable.

      What I’m getting at in the above is that it’s not enough to say “Google wants to promote legit sites who create legit resources” when the reality of things is that spam STILL works. If you’re going to stay on the glistening white path, that is AWESOME, but do so with an honest understanding of what that actually means: for you AND your clients.

      • Keith says:

        Hey Joel,

        I completely understand your “devils advocate” and have to deal with those exact questions from clients sometimes. I simply tell them the truth. I won’t jeopardize my reputation, nor your rankings to do anything other than methods I believe to be “safe”.

        Honestly, this kind of stuff is what tarnishes our industry (not you, but spammers and other black hatters). It is shameful. I have worked in other industries in my career, and it reminds me of someone that takes a deposit to build a screen porch, builds it, get’s the rest of the money, disappears. Porch falls down.

        What’s the difference?

        Just because I know I can get away without grounding a circuit on a remodel job because it isn’t getting inspected, doesn’t mean I should…… just sayin’ 😉

  4. Chris says:

    Nice one Joe, I fully agree with the guy impaled on a drill example if any inexperienced link builders are reading this head over to Huff Po and read through their guest articles you’ll find lots of examples.

  5. Joel K says:

    Also, Keith – I’m interested in your point on link building NOT being the focal point. Could you elaborate? What SHOULD be the focal point? That’s a really loaded statement and I’d love to dig in more!

  6. Jon Cooper says:

    Joel and Keith, you guys are awesome! FANTASTIC conversation you guys had/are having. Outside of link building not being the focal point of SEO, I agree with both sides.

  7. Matt Davies says:

    This is the most genuine, realistic article on link building I’ve read in ages. Sometimes all the conflicting advice surrounding SEO (especially link building) can mash your head a bit, sometimes to the point where you’re not sure what to do for the best for the client (who are paying you to get results, at the end of the day), so it’s great to this and nod along, agreeing with everything you’ve written.

    • Joel K says:

      Matt, thanks so much for this high praise. I guess at the end of the day we all still live in the real world, not the magical fantasy world where this stuff is easy, always effective and where Google always gets it right. I think we need more people willing to talk about that.

  8. ScottB says:

    Great post – glad to see I’m not the only one that finds the whole “do as Google says” mentality to be a tad irritating! So many people blindly follow what is frankly minimal communications from the ‘plex as if it’s gospel.

    • Joel K says:

      A whole lot of worshippers at the church of Cutts, that’s for sure. It’s important to listen to what Google is publically saying; it’s also important to look at the realities we see in the SERPs.

  9. Miguel says:

    Great post and I especially love #2! That is some great advice and seems to be what all great content marketers do. Its the difference between writing a really good post about how to buy a voip phone system and writing a post about cool phone system hacks.

    • Joel K says:

      Totally, Miguel. It’s one thing to engage your industry – and that can be very powerful,. don’t get me wrong. But if your goal is solely links/traffic, why not target the broadest audience possible?

  10. milkmen says:

    Sweet post! I don’t think I am going to share how white my hat is or isn’t, if it gets dirty, if wash it etc… Great discussion. Thanks guys. Many spot on comments.

  11. matthew hunt says:

    Be interesting to do a part 4 to this series now that we are seeing some the link spam getting nuked. I bet more folks will be looking to contribute the web now, rather than polluting it with garbage profile links and thinly spun content that is syndicated across some crappy blog network.

    I personally have played in black hat, grey hat, & white hat arenas when it comes to link building and at the end of my journey in link building, I’ve decide for myself it’s a lot more fun and lot easier to play with the white hat strategies. I like creating fun, useful content and networking online with real people to build real resources and a real digital communities.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Agreed Matthew, I might have to follow this one up. I’ll add it to my list of upcoming posts!

      There in lies all the fun! I mean, really. I too have gotten my hands dirty, and for me, it’s just not nearly as entertaining at the end of the day. Talking with actual people and seeing real links materialize is a lot more satisfying and reassuring than anything. There’s nothing better than adding another deserved item to the “Acquired Links” section of a client’s spreadsheet 🙂

  12. Joel K says:

    If you’re thinkin’ follow up, I’d love to contribute. 😉

The Natural Link Is Making A Comeback (Part 3) - Point Blank SEO