Thanksgiving 2014 – What I’m Grateful for in SEO

I think it’s a fair assessment to say that the SEO industry can be pretty negative.

By that, I don’t mean negative SEO. What I mean to say is that we allow ourselves a lot of room for gloom and doom.

I get it. Since our industry is fully hostage to the whims of a search engine, our lack of control can be unnerving. Such is life I suppose.

But today, I want to do something a little different: I want to focus on the positive. In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, I want to explain what it is I’m grateful for.

Of course, first and foremost I’m thankful for a loving family that is in good health. I’m not going to spend time on an industry blog ruminating on these personal inspirations for gratitude, though. Instead, I’ll hone in on what I’m grateful for within our unusual industry, particularly within my narrow niche of link-building.

The Continued Importance of Links

I’m the CEO at a link-building agency, an agency I co-founded. Without the algorithmic advantage that links provide, my job wouldn’t exist, let alone my agency.

It is nerve-wracking to know that my entire business could change overnight as a result of one formal declaration from Google regarding the devaluation of links. However, I remain confident that links aren’t going anywhere for a long, long while. Why do I maintain such confidence? Because authorities at Google have said as much.

At the most recent SMX advanced conference, Matt Cutts had this to say about links and link-building:

If Cutts’ confirmation wasn’t enough, Google’s head of search Amit Singhal also highlighted the value of links at the most recent SMX West conference.

While Singhal concedes that links are hardly the only signal, he confirms the preferential value that backlinks still possess in the algorithm.

No one can come up with a better primary signal than links. In fact, it was the inclusion of links that gave Google the initial edge that allowed them to assume the role as the most powerful search engine on the Web, a title they’ve run with to say the least. The Web is a marketplace and to this day links remain the most powerful currency. Search engines can’t ignore that.

The War on Spam

So it’s clear to me that Google has no intention of disposing of their primary signal anytime soon. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t ready and willing to fend off those who abuse the system, those who choose instead to use counterfeit currency.

In the pre-Penguin days, it was practically a necessity to engage in spammy/black-hat tactics in order to remain competitive. Everyone was doing it because Google was – however accidentally – rewarding the behavior! Of course, no one felt GOOD about what they were doing: it was just the way things were.

Unfortunately, some old habits really do die hard: spam/black-hat link-building still exist vestigially. Spammers are the people who make it very difficult to do my job. Thanks to spam, a normal white-hat link builder is often guilty by association – it’s completely unfair.

cant-have-nice-things

When I tell people that I’m a link builder, I don’t want them to think of me as some guy locked away in a basement stalking and spamming junk forums and linkfarms, doing whatever he can to manipulate the system nefariously. That’s not what link-building is anymore (more on that in a bit).

So it’s in my best interest that search engines the likes of Google do what they can to combat webspam. I think sometimes as SEOs we forget that we’ve entered into something that resembles a social contract with search engines. As long as we play by their rules, these search engines send traffic our way, and boy do we want their traffic. Organic search directs a majority of Internet traffic according to Bright Edge. However, users would not use an engine if they didn’t trust the results.

It’s our communal interest to preserve the integrity and honesty of the SERPs. Eric Enge perfectly encapsulates all of this in his recent article “Your Job Is to Make Google Look Good.”

I know I do what I can as a white-hat link builder to better the value of the SERPs, but I don’t have nearly the power that Google does. Thankfully, they do a lot of work on their end as well.

Matt Cutts is on his extended leave, but before he departed, he was most notorious for his series of webmaster help videos. Really, Google has no forcible obligation to produce these videos. They have no legal or regulatory responsibility. Many would argue they have a moral responsibility, though, and they would make several valid points. This is Google’s attempt at fulfilling that responsibility.

The Internet is the most powerful communication platform of my lifetime, and its vitality continues to increase, as does our collective dependence. Even though they are just one website in a sea of billions, they understand the influence they wield and the responsibility that comes with such influence.

It is a source of contention whether their efforts are too draconian, and that’s understandable. It’s a tough job to clean up spam, but somebody has to do it. I’m grateful that the people who inadvertently superpowered the trend of spam in the first place are accepting their position as the custodian.

A Better Understanding of Link-Building

So Google is making an effort to execute their duties of the social contract in good faith. Now it’s our turn.

Some days, I stumble upon a conversation about link-building that really, really frustrates me. In fact, sometimes I’m the one who starts the conversation, albeit inadvertently.

Not too long ago, I wrote an article for a different site that prompted a few commenters to offer their own dissenting opinions:

link-building-thread

Now admittedly, I’m aware that sometimes:

trolls

And yes, the trolls are easy to detect. But it would disingenuous of me to comprehensively label all criticism as trolling. Often, it’s misunderstanding and misinformation. Sometimes the criticism is born from the old model of link-building; the pre-Penguin variety when anyone and everyone engaged in spammy practices to stay ahead.

Times have changed, but it’s not uncommon for me to be forced to defend my position as a link builder. Even widely admired industry figures that I respect have alarmingly proclaimed the death of link-building. For example:

moz-death-link-building

This is hardly the only link-building eulogy ever delivered.

What I’m grateful for is that the eulogies, misconceptions, and negative associations seem to be slowly eroding. Link-building seems to be slowly revealing to the world that it is still alive, healthy, and an appealing option. Fishkin posted the above Whiteboard Friday in 2012. In 2014, Moz hosted this amazing piece of content:

moz-link-building

Just two years after the supposed death of link-building, Moz decided that it was an important enough strategy to enlighten and educate the public. Not only that, but after I received dissent in the aforementioned comments, this conversation started on Inbound:

inbound-link-building

Eric Ward – whom I’m also grateful for – addressed the trolls in an Eric Ward kind of way.

You will see that many substantial influencers within the online marketing sphere come to Ward’s defense, including Marie Haynes and wouldn’t you know it:

rand-fishkin-link-building

The industry is slowly coming to realize that link-building really is just another form of promotion. We find authoritative, relevant sites and notify them why a link to our site would be beneficial to them. Yes, we’re promoting our site and/or content, but not at the expense of denigrating the user experience and integrity of influential webmasters.

Conclusion

Thanksgiving is indeed upon us.

Commence the carving of the turkeys. Let families across the country comfort themselves under cozy blankets to watch the Chicago Bears visit the Detroit Lions. ‘Tis the season to compile a list of all the items you will fight for in the early hours of Black Friday.

Despite the troubles that so often finagle their way into our world, I always try and keep in mind that there’s a lot to be thankful for. I have a loving family in good health, great friends, and a nascent business that continues to grow.

I’m particularly grateful for the growing business because it’s always hard out there for a start-up, especially in the face of a wintry economic climate. According to Small Business Planned, more than 70 percent of start-ups fail within their first year. You’re not out of the clear after the first tumultuous first year: more than 60 percent of the first-year survivors fold during their second year. Page One Power has been operational for more than three years, and we continue to grow.

In no way am I solely responsible for this. My agency wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for the talented and dedicated staff that I’m grateful for as well. No business can succeed without a combination of skill, hard work, and dare I say it, luck. Apart from my hardworking staff, my business would not be where it’s at without the continued importance of links, the vigorous battle on black-hat tactics, and the wider acceptance within the marketing sphere of link-building.

When I sit at my table on November 27, I will remember everything I’ve mentioned to this point. Happy Thanksgiving.

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