Dear Clients: Links Have Left the Building

I rarely mention my job title in my personal social media circles. This is for a few different reasons: first, if you say the letters ‘S’ ‘E’ and ‘O’ together, you are just asking to be followed, retweeted, replied to, and generally overwhelmed with auto-responses from eager SEOs who are just waiting to pounce on any mention of the industry. Second, it’s because I was originally hired to be a linkbuilder, and that’s not really the case anymore.

Elvis StampWith the Hummingbird algorithm swinging into its second month of life, we in the SEO industry have had to change – sometimes radically – the way we provide our services. It’s not entirely unprecedented; the Panda and Penguin updates killed a lot of the old bad mass linkbuilding tactics (thank you, Google). But a lot of clients are still thinking in terms of link quantity; there have been many times where our monthly updates to clients have been met with dismay from their end because we haven’t provided a quantifiable number of new links that month. But just ‘grabbing’ links is an exercise in futility in many cases, and the most successful campaigns are those in which the client embraces a more esoteric, long-term plan.

While you can try to keep up with hints dropped by Matt Cuts or analyses from the top search engine commentary websites, the jargon is enough to make your head spin. The crux of it all is this: when you come to an SEO, you are trying to solve a problem. You don’t have as much traffic as you’d like, so you enlist the aid of people who have a specific skill set in that area of communications and marketing. We want to show people that you are a fantastic resource to help them fill a gap in their life. You, as the business, have a solution; your potential customers need you to help solve a problem in their lives. Our role as marketers is to facilitate communication between the two parties, putting your name out there to new markets and ensuring that you stand out from the crowd.

For a long time, I feel like SEO stood apart from other marketing specialties because it required so many fiddly mathematical things – it was all about the number of links you got, their PageRank, their relevance, and how to mathematically game the system. With Google’s increasing restrictions on old-school SEO tactics, I think we still stand apart from the ad departments (a la Mad Men) and traditional marketing agencies, but for a different reason. The guys making billboards and TV commercials are still, mostly, relying on manipulation, clever psychological tricks, and memorable catch phrases. On the internet, people have the power to navigate away with nothing but a click, abandoning your business forever. We still want to accomplish the same goal: to get you in front of a larger audience of potential customers. But our tactics are no longer jargon-heavy and link-based; I find the most rewarding, refreshing campaigns are those where we assess your business’ strengths, build solid tools and resources to back those strengths, and approach the desired demographic with open palms and genuinely useful reasons for them to visit your website. No tricks, no gimmicks, no falsehoods. Links are still acquired, but the means by which we get them are much more based on the human connection.

Links were once a major metric by which we measured a site’s success; the right combination would result in high search engine positioning. However, the best tactics nowadays are more honest, long-term strategies, utilizing a business’s strength and going forth with honesty. It’s a brave, big new world, and it’s intimidating, but it’s also a lot of fun.

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