March (Link) Madness: Breaking Free of Link-sanity

basketball-game

Along with much of the rest of the country, this week I submitted my official NCAA tournament bracket to the office pool. I, like most people, have a final showdown between Kentucky and UNC with the Wildcats coming out on top.

Now, I’m not a sports fan, I married one so I’m subjected to a lot more games and ESPN than I’m used to, but still I’d never consider myself a “sports person”. Yet every year I fill out a bracket, follow the entire championship (well unless I’m completely busted by the Sweet 16) and get swept up in the “madness.” I can’t help it, it’s contagious.

March Madness got me thinking about another kind of “madness” we get caught up in: building links.

Everybody wants links. But we don’t just want them; we go nuts for them like a crowd explodes when a T-shirt gun comes out.

Everyone has the best intentions but we let ourselves buy into certain kinds of hysteria, because it seems like what everyone else is doing. Anyone can get drawn into the mania, and anyone can break free of it too. It’s a simple matter of relenting to the fact that some things are just plain craziness.

The Spam is Working, I Swear

I’ve written before about some of the absurd link spam I’ve seen and the ridiculous comments that have gotten caught in my blog spam filter. And it doesn’t stop; it just keeps coming, flooding our in-boxes and dashboards. But it’s coming from somewhere. People are doing it for themselves, and even worse they pay others to do it for them. And that is flat out madness.

Link spam isn't working. People aren't touched by template emails asking for a link to a “highly relevant” directory from their home page.

To spend a single dime of your precious marketing budget on a service that tries to spam people to link to you is lunacy. Take that money and invest it in something more worthwhile like asset development, network building, or teaching a donkey to polka. Anything that has a higher chance of success than getting links from spamming people.

My Site is Totally Linkable

One of the questions that people struggle with a lot is why they aren’t getting any links.

There are times when you look at a site and you’ll find some really nice ideas at work. There may be instructional or educational material, a few calculators or widgets, some great images or videos that have a lot of potential. Those are the good days. 

Other times you may find nothing but sales pages, product listings, and generic information.

In one case, the weakness is often a simple matter of proper promotion. In the other, there’s a much deeper kind of madness that comes from the idea that content development is a pointless investment.

In staying with the basketball theme, it’s like what the Knicks were dealing with. Mike D’Antoni and Carmelo Anthony couldn’t make their different philosophies about how the game should be played work together.

Not everything mixes, not everything blends, and sometimes something or someone has to give. In this business your style of link building needs to fit your other marketing strategies.

If you want great links, you need excellent content, and even better outreach. But if those assets aren't in your head coach’s game plan, then you better get used to losing.

Don’t Fix Anything, Just Get Links

Along those same lines, you often find people who believe that links solve everything. Now, don’t get me wrong links are powerful, and they can make a lot of difference in a site’s overall online visibility, power, trust, and standings in the rankings. But they don’t necessarily make all the difference.

Links are a lot of things but they are not an automatic cure for all that ails a site. Links definitely aren't a bandage for on-page problems.

On-site issues are often the best problems to have, because you can actually address them. Link building is hard because it requires an action for another person that is not invested in you or your business. However, on-page optimization is yours to control.

Under-optimized on-page elements, duplicate content, canonical issues, broken links, and usability problems can all be addressed. But sometimes, due to the link madness, they go ignored in the hope that “the links will fix it”. If you’re sick, you can believe that chicken soup and vitamin C will make you better and they may, if you have a common head cold. But if you have pneumonia, you need to get some actual medication.

When a website is struggling, it may just need the kind of boost that links can give. But if it’s in really bad shape, it may need surgery. Without attention to on-site details, no amount of link love is going to solve all of your problems.

Stop the Insanity

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. And when you really think about it, each of these examples – and a lot of other problems in link building and SEO – can be boiled down to a simple flawed thought process. A lot of times, what we think will work, what we want to work, and what we keep trying to make work, aren’t always going to.

The best way to break free of link-sanity is to admit when something isn’t working and resign yourself to trying something new. You may find that on your next game out, you beat the Blazers by 42 points. And even if your next effort isn’t a decisive victory, if you play as a team, use your strengths and take your shots where you can, you can walk off the court with your head held high.

OK, in this job, it’s rare you get glory. But at least if you shake off the link madness you’ll be able to call it a day with a clearer head, a saner vision and much better link prospects.

So, what’s the craziest link madness you’ve seen?