The Wikipedia entry for “Elephant in the room” reads that it is an English idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there might be concerning themselves with relatively small and even irrelevant matters, compared to the looming big one. To build upon that, one must also understand the meaning of the term “white elephant“.
Does link building have any white elephants? Is there an entire herd? Let’s agree that this is an opinion piece, and nothing is sacred. I’ll go first.
The most obvious link building white elephant is paid links. They are bad, right? Yes. Bad, bad, bad. Nobody talks about doing it, yet it seems like everybody does it, and it still works although it isn’t supposed to (and it really shouldn’t). But the bots can’t spot them all, and competitors are doing it, so everybody does it and doesn’t discuss it, except at the trade show bar after midnight in slurred shamed admissions to cute trade show booth reps in tight company t-shirts.
Next white elephant? The Pagerank toolbar. Nobody believes it. It’s always behind. It isn’t the true score Google uses, and it is meaningless. Really? Then remove it from your browser. Go ahead. I dare you. I think we all stare at the Pagerank toolbar as pages load, like it’s a one-armed bandit about to stop spinning. Joker, JOKER, J O K E R!!! Pagerank 7. Buy one? No. Buy Two! One with anchor text, one without.
Up next, the Directory white elephant. It’s a white elephant in reverse. Hundreds of companies still sell useless directory submission services. How can this be happening? I know how. Link builders with clients have numbers to make to keep those clients. What’s the fastest way to meeting them? Vetted authority targets? Hardly. Link-o-Bingo.com? Bingo . I hope these directories are sending thank you notes to Google every Christmas. No toolbar, no business model.
The last elephant in the room? SEO Information Overload. Good lord, I’ve pruned my Twitter follow list but no matter what I do I can’t get below 75 people who I feel I absolutely must follow. If each of them tweet a link to just one article, blog post, or news item each day, that’s 75 things I have to read to keep current, 425 per week, 1,700 per month. And that’s just Twitter. Factor in the feeds, blogs, blogs with feeds, feeds with blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, videos, discussion posts, email and actual paid work, and there is simply way too much SEO information being produced. We pay lip service to it even as we make it worse, saying “yeah, way too much”, on our own SEO blogs, but we remain in a permanent state of anxiety over it, and like trying to live on three hours of sleep, we crash and burn by the end of the week. I used to try and solve this by emailing myself the truly read-worthy stuff, thinking it will be handy in my inbox, in a special folder I made for it. I never opened that folder once. I think I should launch a service where all I do is take the top 5% of everything I read each week and put links to them into your inbox, with my comments for what to do about it. Seriously. What would you pay to have an expert prune the weeds away for you so all you have to read is the flowers? If it’s enough to make it worth it, I’ll do it.
The “white elephant” term also applies to link building. A white elephant is a spectacular thing which is more trouble than it is worth, or has outlived its usefulness to the person who has it (Yahoo directory anyone?). While the item may be useful to others, its current owner would usually be glad to be rid of it.
Those are what I currently see for elephants in the link building room, some of which are also very white. I know there are more.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.