The evolution of the role of “links” in SEO has been inevitable, and our focus at RKG has gradually shifted from “link building” to “digital visibility.” It is a necessary step and one that centers on our clients’ business goals and is focused on increasing relevant KPIs such as qualified traffic, sales, CTR, social engagement, and brand awareness.
Traditionally some types of SEOs have been in business to game the system and "build links" for search engines, regardless of their value for users. That doesn’t work anymore. Rather than continuing to look for quick wins, smart marketers need to be thinking in terms of sustainability and providing value.
Links are great, but they are not our end goal; it is delivering quality user experiences.
Furthermore, why are we constantly measuring ourselves against the least common denominator? Just because so many link building tactics have been abused and are now in Google’s line of fire, it does not mean these tactics aren’t valuable and completely relevant if (and this is a BIG if), they are useful for the user.
Fundamentally, our perspective needs to shift from being defensive to being proactive in obtaining measurable successes – and I am not talking about obtaining X amount of links for X client here. Links should be natural byproducts of identifying target audience personas, then developing relevant and compelling content that those target personas want to consume, and putting that content in front of users (allowing them to naturally and organically link, share, etc. if they think it is valuable).
Previously acceptable strategies to garner links are no longer viable today. Should I nofollow links in guest blog posts? How about press releases? What about blogger outreach? If I can’t do all these things that used to get me great backlinks, what should I be doing?
Why not shift our focus to tried and true traditional marketing principles? The American Marketing Association’s definition (which by the way hasn’t changed since 2007) states:
Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.
Simply stated, SEO strategies should be focused on identifying target audiences and providing value to them. Executing these relevant marketing initiatives within a digital ecosystem of search, content and social, will achieve measurable successes including getting links and social engagement.
We, of course, still keep search engine best practices in mind, but we keep the spotlight on creating compelling user experiences. This is where we can be most impactful. Links are not the goal; they are merely one outcome and benefit of marketing with the goal of profitability.
I have a novel idea that may help webmasters work out some of these link placement head-scratchers. Is the link useful for users? Does it help a user explore related resources, validate references made by the piece, or otherwise usefully augment the information in the piece. If the answer to this question is "yes," include the link; if it is "no" do not. ...If a link is useful for users you don't need to worry about whether or not you're gaming Google and need to use nofollow, for if a link isn't useful for users you're *already* gaming Google, and the rest of the conversation is desultory anyway.
In Google’s quality guidelines, the first basic principle listed is: Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Indeed, let’s focus on the users.
Recent Press Release: RKG Introduces Digital Visibility for Enhanced SEO and Key Performance Indicators
Coverage in SearchBlog: Search: RKG Shifts To Building Character