Re-Thinking Link Building

I've yet to meet anyone who loves to chase down links. In my office, it's often who got "stuck" doing links.

Some people outright refuse to do it. It's boring, tedious, and doesn't provide a great deal of intellectual fulfillment.

Getting somebody to do your link building for you would be a big relief. And if you could get somebody else to do your link building cheaply, that would simply be amazing.

According to this survey of 120 respondents, 62 percent of them used interns for their link building. That's a lot of link building by people that don't know your business very well, and are likely to have never done any link building before.

One alternative that appears to be growing in popularity is outsourcing link building to India. A guy at work is experimenting with it on his personal site.

According to the Google keyword tool, these are the top 10 most-searched phrases containing the phrase "link building":

  • link building (90,500)
  • link building services (12,100)
  • link building service (5,400)
  • seo link building (4,400)
  • link building india (3,600)
  • link building company (2,400)
  • link building strategies (1,600)
  • link building software (1,300)
  • link popularity building (1,300)
  • link building campaign (1,300)

The numbers in that list represent "Global Monthly Search Volume." "Link building India" is the fifth most-searched phrase in this set. Clearly, there's a lot of interest in this.

We all get a lot of spammy e-mail about outsourcing link building to India or other foreign countries. That's not to say that all outsourced link builders are bad, or that all link builders from India specifically are not doing a good job. But the fact that there are so many less-than-ethical companies soliciting link building business through spam tells me there's money to be made there. People are clearly interested in a low-cost link building alternative, even if that's made at the expense of the quality of links.

The spam I've been getting has been promoting an offer of $5 per link. The entry-level package is 75 links for $550, which is over $7 per link. You have to buy the 200 link package for $995 to get the $5 per link rate. That's still pretty reasonable. Filling out the form by itself is probably worth $7.

With 3,600 searches in Google for the phrase "link building India" and 62 percent of people surveyed passing off link building to interns, this leads me to believe that getting links is classified as a menial task. It's considered a necessary evil that anyone can do.

What's the True Value of Link Building?

I have mixed thoughts about all of this.

First, I'm a link building idealist. Link building should be built around something worth linking to. You first have content, a tool, or something that makes your site unique. Then you go out and ask people to link to it.

If you have a three-page brochure site, you probably don't deserve the links. The outsourced link builders in India aren't concerned with your content at all. You can have the worst site ever created, and they'll still be more than happy to get you 200 links for $995.

Second, I also have a realist bone somewhere in my body. Sites often do better in the search engines after implementing campaigns such as these.

As long as the links are mildly related to what you do, aren't put across an entire Web site (site-wide links), and are one way -- pointing to your site without you having to link to them -- then they often help. They might not be the greatest links, but they seem to help get things rolling, especially for new sites.

Re-Thinking Link Building

Ultimately, the problem begins in the vocabulary: link building. We're building links. There is no other goal other than that. Just build, build, build. And then build some more.

If 10 are good, 1,000 must be amazing. The phrase implies quantity over quality.

"Link builders" should start thinking of themselves as public relations experts. After a company posts a news story on their Web site, then these online public relations experts try to get the story posted on appropriate Web sites, with a link back to the news.

I wish we could drop this whole "link building" phrase. It's becoming counterproductive for everyone.

Google hates link builders. And link builders think so little of their craft that they're willing to outsource it to an intern or someone whose primary language isn't their own. How can that person ever get a decent link?

This is all 2001 thinking. We need to move on.

Submissions are now open for the 2009 Search Engine Watch Awards. Enter your company or campaign before July 17, 2009. Winners will be announced at SES San Jose.

About the author

Sage Lewis started his online marketing company, SageRock.com, in 1999 during a time when most Internet companies were failing. SageRock, however, has thrived under Lewis’ direction -- growing an average of 30% every year, while also being recognized as one of the top ten search engine optimization firms in the U.S. by a third-party resource in the industry, Marketing Sherpa.

Regarded as a web marketing expert, Lewis speaks regularly to business organizations like NEOSA and COSE, serves as a resource for press about industry trends, and teaches a recurring class on search engine optimization at Cleveland State University.

Lewis has created a unique company culture that values the individual employee and client, and he has built SageRock around one principle, “The concern, respect and empathy for the individual people we come in contact with at SageRock is our single core value.”

Lewis lives in Akron with his wife, Rocky, and son, Indiana.

Read more of Sage Lewis's columns at ClickZ.