Knock It Out of the Linkin' Park!

I have tried to look at both sides of the argument. I've tried to say to myself, "It’s complicated, Sage." But you know what? It's not complicated.

I am so over getting links just to try to game the search engine system. It's two dimensional thinking. It's the wrong paradigm.

Hear Me! ... Wrong!

In The Beginning

Let's start from the beginning, and I’ll tell you why we got ourselves in this mess in the first place. When Google came on the scene, it changed the landscape by using links as a major aspect of its algorithm. It was, and still is, wildly successful. It's the reason they are the #1 search engine on the planet.

Then in about one NY minute, SEOs grokked getting more and better inbound links significantly boosted search engine rankings. Hence, our current obsession with buying links, paying for blog posts, and submitting ourselves to obscure directory submissions.

Hire and Higher

So why did we default to searching for crappy, undeserved links instead of trying to get quality links? That, I blame on the SEOs: the likes of me, your friendly Link Love columnist. We all knew we needed links. For clients desperately seeking better search listings -- and low on link appeal -- we became scavengers for synthetic, contrived links.

Our clients weren't hiring us to participate in content development; they were hiring us to get them higher in the search engine listings. And connecting those dots between SEO and content is a really tough sell. So, in our defense, we were given a job to do with a limited set of tools. We did what we could to keep turning a profit in a new search ballpark.

Slinky, Linky Love

In a more ideal business world, we would've trained our clients about the search landscape. Instead, when clients said, "Go get us links!" -- we found ourselves slinking off to earn our hourly rate. Hunkered down in our SEO forums, we asked each other, "How the hell are we supposed to get this done?"

We linked all our clients' sites together. We scoured the Web for any places that would accept links on their sites. We searched links of competitors to see if we could replicate their campaigns. We obsessed about the link and the PageRank. We obsessed so much about the link we forgot the reason why we were supposed to get links in the first place. Links were meant to be community recognition of a job well done. "Hey this site is cool. Check it out [insert link”."

The Linkin'stein Monster

Link building has created a slew of Frankenstein grotesques living online. These are sites that are mediocre at best from a content standpoint. Yet they have unnatural, extreme link power. These sites have been created in a dark laboratory, sewing parts together to form a mindless, wretched beast that throws off the organic fabric of the Web. These monsters help no one and are born from the minds of profit-driven simpletons. People too limited in vision to create something of value and worth.

SEOs have created this madness. It's our responsibility to make it right. We all know what "should" be done. We now must stand up to our clients and demand that they hire us not to drum up valueless links, but to be drivers of creative content and content distribution for their Web sites.

Torch Tortious Attorneys ... and Brand Managers?

I guarantee we'll be met with resistance. Content creation can be vague, difficult, and messy work. Brand managers will be incensed that we have to get involved at all. Corporate lawyers will tell us how impossible it is to distribute all this content properly. There will be much hand-wringing and discussion of how ROI will die. But we must not falter. We must stand up for building good content.

This is the new world of links: Build good content first. Your link building will make a world of sense. Building links with no relation to content is backward, short-sighted, and not in the best interest of our clients or ourselves. So ... Knock it Off!

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.