For Every Link You Earn There Are Five More Worth Building

What is the difference between link building and link earning?

Links you build require action on your behalf, while links you earn happen without any work specifically toward acquiring links.

Let’s take the common example of content. You’ve created new content and with that investment you’ve used precious time, resources and personnel.

Your wonderful content — that you’ve invested time and hard work into — is ready for unveiling to the masses. What’s the next step?

Well, with any content there’s the natural promotion channels that should always follow publication:

1. Promote through social media
2. Contact anyone featured or mentioned in the post
3. Leverage relationships
4. Utilize paid promotion (depending on budget and content — could include things such as paid tweets, Facebook ads, etc.)

Those are natural steps any content creation should involve, customized to the content of course. For link earning, there’s no additional steps beyond that. You simply wait for the links to roll in after publication and promotion.

Earned links, on the other hand, are others recognizing your greatness and awarding it appropriately.

Personally, I don’t depend upon others to recognize and reward my hard work. The world we live in is simply too fast-paced, too self-centric. If you want someone to recognize your value, you have to promote that value. Intelligently.

For those interested in building links, there are a few additional steps after publishing content:

• Identify audiences who will appreciate your content
• Identify sites where that audience spends time
• Identify pages on those sites where a link would make sense
• Contact the webmasters of those sites, informing them of:
     o The fact that your content exists
     o The value of your content to their audience
    o The suggested page where a link would make sense
    o A request for feedback regarding the content
• Follow up with webmasters as necessary

Bear in mind this is specific to content link building. Building links is only limited to creativity and there are plenty of ways to build links without content.

Will you get links without going to the extra steps? It’s entirely possible, especially if your initial promotion gets solid traction.

But for every link you earn, there are more links that you deserve, but that your promotion won’t reach naturally; links which you could secure with good old-fashioned elbow grease and targeted promotion/outreach.

So which method sounds better to you, earning or building? Why would you invest in content creation if you’re not going to do everything in your power to promote it? What would keep you from finding relevant websites and encouraging them to promote it to their audiences via links?

How did we arrive at the trend of “link earning,” and why does link building sometimes sound like a dirty word?

The answer: Penguin.

Google’s Evolution and Algorithms

Google based its algorithm around links back when it was still known as Backrub and just a project Larry Page and Sergey Brin were working on in grad school at Stanford.

Google’s reliance on links is no secret — everyone in search knows it and you can still go read the original abstract on Stanford’s website.

That was the founding of Google — a search engine that recognized a link as a vote of confidence and trust between websites. A link as a signal of authority and relevance.

Over time, Google has evolved, grown and adapted to the web. However, one thing hasn’t changed: links are still a big signal in its algorithm.

There are other signals, too, of course — Google’s quick to mention over 200 — but the fact of the matter is few things move the needle like links.

SEOs notoriously exploited that in the past. Links became shortcuts to quick and easy rankings, leading to manipulation and bad results. Google had to step in, and step in they did, in a big way. Specifically, with Penguin.

Penguin, however, didn’t reduce the effectiveness of links, or reduce links’ role in Google’s algorithm. Instead, Penguin detects low-quality and manipulative links and works to either discount or actively punish those links.

Unfortunately, links are a complicated and confusing subject, especially to those who aren’t savvy in SEO. Everyone understand what a link is, but few understand how Google actually works.

Many business owners and marketers are unsure of the difference between a decent link and a link Penguin will punish.

Why The Term “Earning” Has Merit

Google has successfully (or largely so) ended the ability to spam links for rankings.

Considering it’s been 11 months since the last Penguin refresh, which is necessary to recover if the algorithm is impacting your website, your website has had zero chance of recovery for nearly a year.

A year with significantly reduced search traffic could very well mean the difference between a successful business and a failed business.

Have I mentioned that Google doesn’t let you know if you’ve been impacted by Penguin? The only way to know is to monitor when your search traffic dropped and approximate that with a Penguin update.

So you have Penguin, which will:

• Impact websites it deems to be building low-quality, manipulative links.
     o Google won’t tell you which links these might be, although they’re quick to warn away from “low-quality tactics” which you may or may not be using for SEO.
• Remain in place for uncertain, but large amounts of time.
     o Google’s less than clear about when it will update, or any timeline in general.
• Require hours upon hours of link removal requests, along with a “machete” for disavows.
     o Google wants to send spammers a message and make the penalty hurt.

The fact of the matter is Penguin is a looming, dire threat to any business looking to engage in SEO, particularly if they don’t understand the ins and outs of the industry.

Any link or tactic that bears even a hint of manipulation or low quality has a very dark stain at this point. It’s simply not worth the risk. And that stain has rubbed off on the term link building.

You see, we need a way, a term, to differentiate between link building activities pre-Penguin and post-Penguin.

Hence the term “link earning.”

People want to be so far on the side of safe, so removed from anything that has any chance of trouble, so it is 100% “natural” that they only want links people point at their website without prompting.

The problem with this?

For every link you “earn” there are five more links worth building. And link earning gives the wrong impression.

The Real Issue with the Term Link Earning

The real issue with the term link earning is the mentality it inspires. The if-you-build-it-they-will-come attitude.

Any marketer can tell you there’s just no such thing. Just look at the amount of noise online (courtesy of Domo):

dataneversleeps-2

There is such an incredible amount of noise. Thinking that you can simply earn your way through it is setting you up for disappointment.

Links are important to SEO and subsequently search engine traffic. No one can dispute that with a straight face.

And I’m not saying that you should work to build links no matter the cost. What I’m saying is that you should look to build links that you deserve. Good links, that make sense.

If you buy into the concept that you can and should stick to “earning links,” you’re hindering your own ability to work effectively. You’re unnecessarily handcuffing yourself in fear of Google.

Matt Cutts, head of webspam at Google, said himself there’s nothing inherently wrong with link building, in both an interview with Eric Enge and more recently in June at SMX Advanced.

There’s nothing wrong with earning links — but you shouldn’t be afraid to build them, as well. Especially if you’re creating something of value and deserve attention. Put in the extra work to get the most out of your website. We are optimizers, after all.

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