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SES Chicago Roundup: Screw Link Building

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Thoroughly enjoyed speaking at SES Conference Chicago [2], which not only gave The Search Agency a voice for our philosophy, research & opinions, but also gave me a chance to listen in on other thought leaders, industry trends, insights, opinions and research results to see how they align with The Search Agency’s philosophy and best practices.

In an age of “integrated marketing” there were a number of sessions and keynotes on how to tie online marketing channels into cohesive strategies, especially around social & search convergence around content and content marketing.

There were a couple of sessions that caught my eye as “not to miss” for my own research & edification (there were many standouts, but time is always more of an issue that opportunity!) – “Screw Link Building, It’s Called Relationship Building” and “The Convergence of Search, Social, and Content Marketing.” –

At The Search Agency, we’re been “thinking beyond the link” for a while, educating our clients and prospects in the credo that links, though still valuable, are only part of an equation we call “Authority.” With Google’s (and other search engines) aggressive moves to mitigate link spam, improve relevance signals, and leverage trust as a quality factor, links are not the original currency of the web they once were.

A consistent theme in the linking AND content sessions was around the *quality* of link building efforts, in building relationships and leveraging those to build links.

Our credo, although aligning in principle, is a little different.

As the relatively recent surfacing of ‘results within the results’ in the form of rich snippets, Google’s Knowledge Graph, and elements like weather and world time have proven, Google specifically is looking at query and relevant results matching intent of query, providing quicker answers – where feasible – to address that intent. Also prominent in search results are social indicators, author recognition and richer snippets to improve Click Through Rates (which in turn provide a feedback mechanism on user interaction / relevance signals.)

This shift moves ranking criteria away from just pure link juice, and more toward Authority connections, mentions, associations, affiliations and citations leveraging improved trust signals as a better measure of relevance (wouldn’t you prefer an expert’s point of view over someone with less experience?)

In the “Screw Link Building” session, Erin (with a nickname of ‘Angry Erin’, though she was more ‘Passionate Erin’ in this session) Everhart, gave a phenomenal overview of alternative efforts to garner links through relationship building, all the while never mentioning links in the traditional sense i.e. specific anchor text, no follow etc. and very carefully noting that quality was key. [NOTE: She also threw me a bag of M&Ms for which I am eternally grateful]

It was my hope that this message – reinforced by Katherine Watier in the same session, and noted again in Arnie Kuenn / Lisa Williams’ session on Content Marketing – around quality over quantity, would resonate with the SES attendees as the industry *needs* to move away from the 100 links for $250 mentality and metrics that are driven by link count and PageRank, towards metrics that actually matter; traffic, reach, visibility, conversions (to name a few!)

As noted, I was hopeful – the session attendees seemed informed and during my session on SEO Diagnostics I purposefully steered clear of link analysis, all with the desire of downplaying linking discussions from the ‘norm’ and more towards the authority quotient appearing as a more likely quality signal to search engines.

Alas… although Arnie skillfully positioned content as a valuable component of SEO, and Brent Payne spoke on “The Right Way to Do Link Building” in another session, the first two questions I was asked by attendees in post-session conversations were “how do I get more links?” and “how can I learn link building?” Sigh.

In an industry that is in constant flux, with a partner (Google) dead set against manipulative tactics, and a ready market of vendors willing to provide linking services with little regard for strategy & consequence, I am confident the next SES will feature stronger messages around the challenges of ‘traditional’ link building and focus more on the message I heard in a few of the savvy sessions, specifically addressing alternatives, where links are the byproduct, not the goal, and where value defines the reason to connect, relationships drive valuable associations, and it’s recognized that search engines are looking at authority signals to inform their ranking algorithms.

It’s happening. Screw link building. Think Authority!


Connect with Grant on Google+ Grant Simmons+ [3]

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About Grant Simmons

Grant Simmons+ [11] is an Online Marketing Professional at The Search Agency driving product development & innovation as Sr Director, SEO and Social Product.

Grant has over 22 years experience in both traditional and digital marketing, working with such companies as; Paramount Studios, Countrywide Wholesale Lending, M&M/Mars, Disney, Napster, Warner Bros., UPS, SunAmerica, Red Bull, Young Presidents’ Organization, GE Plastics, Amgen and Fox Sports.

As an entrepreneur, Grant has been key to the successful branding, development and launch of several thriving and innovative Internet startups.

Described as an online marketing strategist, motivator, entrepreneur, idea machine, experienced bridge between marketing & technology, Grant prefers; father, sailor & innovator - though not necessarily in that order when there's a fair wind.