OK, so link building absolutely is an SEO practice. Here at Embryo Digital, we often describe one of the quickest recipes of success as being: great content + great links = great success. Links are a huge part of our successful and impactful SEO campaigns, and without them, we would struggle to keep our clients visible on the search engine results pages. Strong backlinks not only help websites and web pages reach the top of Google, but can help to solidify and strengthen their place as an industry authority in the long term too.
However, I’ve got reason to believe that the key to great link building success lies in treating it as a subset of business development, relationship building, and PR, not SEO. Why is that? Well, all you need to do is to look at the most successful and prolific link building expert of all time – Eric Ward (AKA LinkMoses).
Eric passed away a little over two years ago, but over his two decades in the industry, he helped to launch link outreach campaigns for the likes of Amazon, Disney, the BBC, the National Geographic, NASA, Microsoft, the New York Times, and many more. Eric started out before Google even existed, and when he started what he was doing it wasn’t even called link building.
Despite this, he remained at the top of the industry for over twenty years and now, even after his death, still ranks on the first page for a range of link building keywords. His experience gave him a unique irreverence for Google that a lot of SEOs lack, and his attitude proved successful and transformative for huge clients on a consistent basis. Eric lays out an approach to link building that surpasses its SEO benefits and reaches into building your brand and making new connections – a real recipe for long term success.
The First Commandment Of Link Building – Pretend That Google Doesn’t Exist
On Eric’s own website, he has an article that describes ‘The Ten Commandments of Link Building’. There’s a lot of great insight (and humour) here, including things like Commandment II – ‘Those who link in exchange for gold are link whores’ (with a list of caveats, of course), and Commandment VIII – ‘Just because you thinketh bing search is stupideth does not giveth thee permission to link spameth them’.
But it’s the First Commandment that stands out the most:
I – Linkest not just to seek favor from Google*
(*If your site’s success is dependeth on Google alone, it shall destroy you, or worse, be featured in the Knowledge Graph without attribution. The irony…)
It’s a theme that Eric Ward returns to over and over again. Google is, of course, important. But digital marketing can’t just be about links and Google rankings. Eric describes this approach as giving Google control over your fate – the more you design your strategy around satisfying Google, the more control you’re giving them and the likelier it becomes that you might suffer from it. Whereas the reality is that, if you focus less on pleasing Google and more on strengthening your brand with business building strategies, the more likely you are to end up ranking higher on Google anyway.
Eric passed this on wherever he could. Matt LaClear, author of Link Building Debunked, describes one of his first conversations with Eric, where Eric asked him what kind of links he would aim to build if all the search engines died. Matt thought it was a stupid question – after all, if there wasn’t any SERP benefit to be gained from building a link, why bother?
Links Can Do So Much More Than To Just Please Google
Eric Ward never actually thought of himself as an SEO when he was link building. For him, link building was far closer to business development and digital PR than SEO. Despite the astonishing SEO results his high authority and high trust links were giving the businesses he worked with, this was never his priority. For Eric, backlinks were an opportunity to expand business.
What links would you build if Google disappeared suddenly tomorrow? For Eric, the answer was to build links where your target audience was visiting in large volumes of traffic, and then finding a way to siphon some of that traffic to your own website. The best part? Securing strong backlinks on websites where your target audience frequents is great business development – but it’s also the kind of backlink that Google rewards as well.
Eric was well known for securing high value links in places that would have little impact on Google rankings. Hunting for business and networking opportunities on Facebook, where links are no-followed across the site, for example. Newsletters, private or otherwise, where he could get in touch with editors and owners in order to open up new business opportunities and contacts, were a favourite link hunting ground of his – a mention in a newsletter would immediately see a spike in traffic. Neither of these examples are likely to affect Google’s rankings – but they ensure that you’re making contact with the kinds of people who can direct traffic in your direction.
Links Symbolise Relationships – Treat Them That Way
A lot of SEOs see link building as a fairly disposable SEO service – just find a decent outreach template, fill it in en masse, and send it out to as many decent prospects as possible before forgetting about it, without really worrying about success ratio and simply rinse-repeating the process whenever necessary.
Eric Ward saw a backlink as evidence of a relationship and connection between two businesses or websites. The thought of sending out an outreach template before getting to know the prospect a little bit was alien to him. LinkMoses would often build rapport before ever asking for a link. He would often do this over the phone to speed up the process and get someone in a positive open frame of mind.
Only then would he extend the possibility of a link connection with the prospect. This isn’t always easy to do, of course, and is far more time-consuming than simply sending out dozens of template outreach emails. But Eric would often have campaigns in which 90% of his outreach attempts resulted in a link – the kind of success ration that could transform any business’s PR and networking, let alone their Google ranking.
All in all, Eric left us with an important piece of insight – if you approach link building with the sole aim of pleasing Google and seeing a boost to your rankings, then you’re not only doing it wrong and leaving yourself open to failure, but you’re absolutely missing out on huge opportunities to expand your brand and business reach, secure excellent connections and contacts, and drive more organic traffic that is more likely to convert to your site.
Want to find out more about great links, impactful SEO, quality creative content and how to get more visibility on Google via the best practices? You’ve come to the right place here at Embryo Digital. All you need to do is to get in touch with us to find out more and discover how our methods can help you to benefit from greater digital visibility.