Why I Will Continue to Use the Term Link Building

Last week, Dave Davies wrotee a column entitled, “Why I Shall No Longer Use The Term Link Building.” This is, as you may have guessed, a rebuttal to that column.

I’ve never personally interacted with Dave Davies, but I know he’s an intelligent guy with more experience in the search realm than myself. And his post wasn’t about the death link building – just why he’s moving away from the term.

I respect that, I respect his opinion, and I respect him. Here’s my own take on the situation.

Dave’s Argument Against the Term “Link Building”

To distill Dave’s argument to its roots, he has two basic reasons for no longer using the term link building:

  1. The term is tied to past iterations of link building, which aren’t reflective of today’s practices.
  2. Google will be incorporating more off-site signals into the algorithm in the future, making the term “link building” too narrow.

Both are valid points, although I disagree with his end decision.

The Term Link Building Has Already Evolved

As Dave states via his introductory sections “Link Building Circa 2000” and “Link Building Circa 2010”, there have been many iterations of link building over the years. There are precious few SEOs who weren’t swept up in the race to get ourselves and our clients ahead. Spam worked, and it worked well. Because of the efficacy of link spam in the past, link building does indeed have elements of an unsavory history. SEOs tend to be optimizers by nature – the very word is in our title – and when push came to shove many chose to push the boundaries to get results.

But link building has never been perfectly synonymous with spam. Just look at the practices of Eric Ward, who’s been doing link building the right way since 1994. That’s four years before Google was founded. Link building has always been a subjective term, which could take on many different meanings given the context surrounding its usage.

SEOs are quick to share various tactics which can net links, but the truth of the matter is, quality link building isn’t tactic; it’s application. SEO has always been based on client education. It’s our job to provide the right context, educate the client on the correct application of both SEO and link building, and fire them if necessary. Rebranding to avoid a shady past isn’t the right answer. Many have already moved on from the link building definitions of the past, and a rebrand now will only further confuse the issue.

Links Are Fundamental To The Web, And Will Always Factor into Google’s Algorithm

“Always” is a strong word, but I feel fairly comfortable using it here. I’m obviously not being literal – I don’t mean 100 years from now – but as long as Google exists in its current recognizable form, links will continue to be a critical factor.

Using links as their core signal allowed Google to become popular in the first place. It was the efficacy of links as a signal that spurred Google’s better results. It’s what pushed them ahead of the competition. The entire Web as we know it would have to undergo a fundamental change before Google stopped relying on links because the Web influences Google’s use of signals, instead of the reverse, where Google’s use of signals would control the web.

There is some interplay between the two, but Google must base their signals on the Web as it exists. And the fact is, links are one of the very foundational elements of the Web. Without them, navigating the Internet in any meaningful way would be impossible, both on websites like Facebook and on the Web as a whole. The fact that the Internet relies so greatly on links means that Google will continue to rely on links, as well. Even the introduction of new signals are likely to be used in conjunction with links, rather than as opposed to links.

SEOs Have Been Predicting New Off-Site Signals For Years

To be fair to Dave, he didn’t predict the demise of links – just the birth of new, important signals that we will need to optimize for, or risk being left in the dust. This forward thinking is good for an SEO, but we need to make today’s decisions based on the information we have available today.

Link building and SEO are more ingrained in marketing than ever before. By all means, I laud Dave in his pursuit of the bigger picture. But here’s the catch: don’t change the very name of the service, industry, and business based on what you think might change in the future. Continue to prepare for the future to the best of your ability, but don’t destroy your business today in the pursuit of tomorrow.

And that’s why we all need to stick with the term “link building”.

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