Link Building Is Dead Long Live Content Value Delivery

The penalties Google doled out to JCPenneyForbes and Overstock.com for participation in unacceptable link building and link selling schemes serve as signals that a new era in link building has arrived.

The days of automated link building of programs that “add hundreds of links a month from PR9 sites,” from services that guarantee to get your content placed in vast “publisher” networks throughout the web, are coming to a close.

These tactics will go the way of other “easy” methods of link building that have died off over the past few years, such as reciprocal linking, social bookmarking and mass directory submissions.

The Arc of Search History Bends Toward Quality and Relevance

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has always evolved towards quality content. You can fight it all you want (and yes, many sites have achieved long track records of natural search success through low-quality content and questionable optimization tactics), but evolution won’t be on your side. Google’s mission has always been to bring valuable and relevant content to its users. And they have a core of engineers focused on making that happen.

All of these short-lived link-building tactics have ultimately aimed to fool search engines into thinking content is more valuable than it actually is. So it’s time to ask: Why won’t marketers simply bite the bullet and invest in quality content? Maybe it’s because search agencies keep telling them they can accomplish their natural search goals without this investment. It’s difficult to justify putting resources against content development when your SEO firm is telling you it’s better to give your money to them, so they can do a bunch of “link building” to the poor quality content you already have.

Content Value Delivery

While there are a lot of legitimate ways to build links, the most impactful ones involve creating and distributing content worth linking to. So I believe it’s time we stop talking about “link building” altogether and start talking about the concept of “Content Value Delivery.” Let’s start referring to the development of links by its most constructive, rather than its most generic label.

Maybe if we talk about links differently, it will make it easier to think about them differently. Maybe we can finally start switching the link development paradigm and take the idea of creating and distributing valuable content out of the bottom of the link builder’s toolbox — where it’s often buried under the lowly identity of “link baiting” — and elevate it to the level of a strategic marketing imperative.

So what is Content Value Delivery? It’s the art (and science) of meeting the information needs and interests of your marketplace through the development and dissemination of valuable, optimized content. It’s about making meaningful and strategic contributions to the online conversations that are relevant to your business.

Getting Serious About Content

This approach means truly accepting the reality that if you’re not willing to invest in quality content and site features, you’re not going to build an effective link profile.

It also means that if an SEO shop can’t bring meaningful content strategies to the table, doesn’t understand the dynamics of its clients’ markets and can’t write its way out of a paper bag, it has outlived its usefulness.

There are no shortcuts in SEO. While many optimization tactics have immediate impact, the real payoff happens over time.

So before you ask, How can I get more links to my site?, ask, Is my content worth linking to? Does my content contribute something of value in my market space? Is my company an active contributor to the dialogues relevant to this market space?

Would You Buy a Car Without an Engine?

Deciding to make an investment in SEO without budgeting for resources to create and maintain blogs, thought leadership content, robust social media sites, useful site tools, video, etc. – is like deciding to buy a car, but refusing to “waste money” on an engine.

The good news for B2B marketers is that development of valuable content assets can do a lot more than help them improve their link profiles. When a business involves long buying cycles and complex purchase decisions, thought leadership assets are critical marketing tools and would have substantial value even if they weren’t important for search visibility.

Google Agrees that Compelling Content Should Drive Your SEO Strategy

Google has given clear instructions about the type of link building it will reward. It’s time marketers and agencies stop trying to find ways to sidestep these guidelines and start taking them to heart.

So, let’s agree that creating great content is the most important part of link building, and start aligning our search strategies and tactics around the idea of Content Value Delivery.

And the next time you get a solicitation from a search engine optimization firm touting their link-building services, ask them if they have any experience planning or building digital assets that have helped clients move to the center of their industry conversations. If they don’t, tell them to take a hike. I’m sure they can buy a pair of hiking boots on the JCPenney site (if they can find it).

11/22/2012