"I see the world of SEO continuing to be focused and even reliant on links in a lot of ways, but not reliant on the tactics we've used to acquire them in the past. So I think that link earning is going to replace link-building." - Rand Fishkin, Moz
No one’s arguing that links are becoming less important to online visibility. If anything, they’re only becoming more important. Actively "building" links is still an important component of a successful SEO strategy. However, the approaches, and mind set, that used to work are becoming ineffective. Now, successful link-building requires a completely fresh approach.
Welcome to "Domain Equity Development."
A Fresh Perspective
The old approach to link-building was fairly straightforward. Most people would begin by making a list of sites with high PR (PageRank) and simply email each webmaster asking for a link back to their website. Other common techniques included low-quality guest posting, article marketing, and comment links. These techniques were relatively easy to implement and could be scaled by marketers.
Unfortunately for those using these techniques, the game has changed. Using most of these techniques won’t bring much benefit, and could risk the long-term integrity of your site. Forward-thinking SEOs are changing the way they do things and ushering in a new approach to link-building.
Domain Equity Development
Domain equity development (DED) is the new "link-building." This approach utilizes many elements of traditional link-building, but the techniques, expectations, and outcomes are radically different. DED utilizes techniques and strategies from all marketing channels to give equitable value to your organization’s domain. It’s link-building for those who fully adopt the integratedapproach to digital marketing. A DED formula looks more like this:
Domain Equity = (Content Marketing + Brand Recognition + Subject Matter Expertise + Social Signals + Link Building)
One of the most important differentiating factors between this approach and the old, traditional approach to link-building is how you measure success. It was only a few years ago that people began questioning the importance of PageRank.
Before that, a slight increase in your site’s PR was the most important measure of success. Now, it’s almost redundant.
Domain equity development uses a far more integrated approach, not only for link-building, but to measuring overall success. DED is all about key performance indicators (KPIs) like referring website traffic, brand visibility, relevancy, and UX.
So what changes should you make? How do go about developing the equity of your domain?
It’s All About Expertise
Every day, Google rolls out updates that increase the search engine’s ability to connect the dots between websites, organizations, and individuals. Its methods of assigning trust to each of these are also becoming more sophisticated by the day.
We’re quickly moving toward a place where a brand’s online reputation and authority is, at least partially, dependent on the collective knowledge of its employees. If the members of your team are seen as experts in their field, and their online profile supports this, Google will know.
Over the last year or so, team members have slowly taken front stage. You’ll now see industry-leading organizations helping their prominent team members to take a more active role and develop their own personal online profile. We’re not just talking about your marketing team and chief executive (CEO) here. Everyone, from your sales manager to your customer support staff, can all play an active role in bolstering your organization’s online profile and authority.
You knew that was coming, right?
Content marketing is always going to be the defining factor in any campaign. You just need to make sure you get it right.
Your job is to facilitate the production, publication, and promotion of high-quality content by as many of your team members as possible. This doesn’t just mean a group email asking them all to write something. It means giving them the systems, tools, and processes to execute an intelligent campaign. It needs organization, management, and encouragement. Give your team’s content the importance it deserves, and you’ll be richly rewarded.
There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the impact that social signals have on search visibility. The jury is still out about whether Google’s algorithm takes these signals into account. I suspect that it does in some way, or at least will very soon. However, this isn’t the way social media should be approached from an SEO or DED perspective.
Forget about whether social signals are a direct ranking factor in Google’s algorithm for a minute. Even if they aren’t, social media is still an incredibly important SEO tool. It’s also essential for domain equity development.
Social media is, by far, the easiest and most effective way for you to get your content out there. It will put your content out in front of the right people, get shared (showing endorsement and trust), and then get linked to by members of your community. It will also lead to many other secondary benefits such as writing opportunities, interviews, and networking opportunities. Social media is the gasoline that fuels the integrated digital marketing approach.
I began this article with a quote from an interview I did with Rand Fishkin last year. This was the key takeaway point and it sums up the DED principle better than I ever could.
Getting links because people want to share your information takes an entirely different approach to asking for a link because you’ve asked for it or through quid pro quo relationships. If you’re going to succeed in developing the long-term equity of your domain, you need to focus on relationships, value, and authority, not transactions. The goal should be branding, site traffic, and expertise. If you can focus on these things, the right links will come your way without you ever having to ask.
The most fundamental differences between "link-building" and domain equity development are the timescales and priorities. Link-building has always been approached with a very short-term and, in many ways, short-sighted ethos. It was about how you could improve the SERP of a particular page, and how quickly you could do it.
Time and again, this approach has proven to cause problems later down the line. It will always be the same; if it’s something that involves a transaction, or that can be easily scaled and repeated on a large scale, at some point Google will get around to penalizing sites that use that technique.
Developing equity in your domain is about creating long-term value. This will only come from links that have been genuinely earned, links that are based on your knowledge and skill. It’s not going to be as easy as traditional link-building. Only those who are fully committed will see the long-term benefits. But if you do make that commitment it WILL work, and continue working no matter how many updates Google rolls out.