I think many of us can agree that the great thing about this industry is that it’s constantly evolving and new elements are continuously being added. For example, I love the role social is playing in helping companies connect with customers and the effect it has on search (links, mentions, content generation, etc.).
However, I think many of us would also agree that this evolution has its downside…and its name is Google.
Now, I’m not a Google hater. I don’t believe that they are out to get SEOs or ruin businesses. But I do think there is a problem happening around links at the moment that they aren’t exactly sure how to deal with — and the result is unwarranted penalties, miscommunication, and increased frustration from search marketers and marketers in general.
So what can we do?
The short answer is to focus on the business. For our clients, we are creating content intended to drive qualified traffic and leads, along with content intended to drive shares. We are helping clients build up their social presence and making sure they are participating in communities where their target audience is.
We are monitoring press mentions, helping them with third-party posts (aka guest posts), and identifying locations where a link will add real business value. None of what we are doing is building links for the sake of building links.
Now for the longer answer…
Be A Brand
At SMX West in March, Moz.com’s Rand Fishkin gave a phenomenal presentation on the future (and the now) of search. In it, he discussed how SEO is no longer about gaming the engines and how companies must show that they are real businesses. On top of that, these “real” businesses must be so valuable that the search engines look bad not having them in the results.
See the Full Presentation
We hear stories all the time about big companies being penalized only to be right back in the search results a day or two later. Why? Because these are big companies that people know, love and are searching for. Google knows that if they remove them from their results, it’s really Google that looks bad.
After all, as search marketers, we often forget that not everyone is as in tune with the search results as we are. A regular user who does not see a well-known brand when searching, will not know a penalty has been assessed and will likely just assume that Google isn’t giving them the right result.
So how do you become one of these infallible businesses? Focus on getting people talking about you in places that matter. You must have company reviews, social proof and mentions in authoritative publications. These things take work, but they are certainly attainable. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- Link Building & The Power Of The Customer
- The 7 Types Of People Who Want To Help You Build Links
- PR Strategies for Digital Marketers (SMX West 2014)
It’s easy to direct our anger at Google because for so long, we were basically able to get what we wanted, and that was a nice relationship. However, as our relationship with Google has become much more tumultuous and much less beneficial for us; we are understandably not happy.
But one thing we have always said, and that still applies today, is this: don’t put all of your eggs in the Google basket.
One reason for this is that Google is doing everything it can to keep people on Google. Just take a look at this SERP:
Everything you probably want to know about the Red Sox you can get without having to leave the page. These types of results aren’t going away — and in fact, we will likely see more.
We can no longer assume someone will get to the search result and click into our site, regardless of where we are ranked on the page. You must be able to be found elsewhere.
The great news is that there are other places to be found. Social networks have billions of users and are continuing to grow. People are searching on social, they are interacting with brands, they are sharing content, they are making recommendations to friends, and they are using it for business.
Because of this, social networks are great places to build your brand, identify press opportunities, get customers talking, and build some of those valuable, authoritative links the search engines are looking for.
The second, and most obvious reason for diversifying is this: if Google decided to penalize your site and remove you from the results, could your business survive? If the answer is no, then it’s time to start thinking about how you can diversify your efforts and get started. While this likely isn’t going to happen to you, it’s always smart to mitigate risk.
Learn more about how to diversify your marketing efforts:
Don’t Freak Out
Every time a new penalty is assessed or Google’s webspam head Matt Cutts says something about links, don’t freak out. More importantly, don’t discount something just because you hear it’s bad.
As I mentioned above, we don’t do anything for the sole purpose of just gaining a link. Our goal is to generate overall value to the business. If that means submitting our client to a directory, we are going to do that. Why? Because many of our clients are in manufacturing, where directories still play a role in how businesses find and contact one another.
What else? Well…
- If we stopped guest posting just because we heard guest posting was bad, I wouldn’t be writing this post.
- If we stopped issuing press releases, we wouldn’t have gotten multiple inquiries and pickups for a report we released last month.
- If we stopped participating in forums, my client would have had ~25 less leads last year.
- If we made sure to avoid reciprocal links, our clients and their distributors wouldn’t be able to link to one another — when trying to learn about products, that isn’t very helpful.
Anyway, I think you get the picture. The point is to focus on things that help the business. If that means doing something you heard doesn’t work, that’s okay. It may not work in gaining search visibility, but if it drives relevant traffic and potential leads, that’s what matters.
At the end of the day, we can’t constantly be worried about which links are good and which are bad. Instead, we can focus on doing things that will help the business in the long term.