Elephants In The Link Building Living Room

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.

Related note

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.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via EricWard.com.

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  • http://www.byrnehobart.com/blog/ byrneseyeview

    I’ve always seen directories as a proxy for a horde of low-value editorial links. Surely, your average five-year-old directory passes more Googlejuice than the typical one-year-old blog — but getting a link from that blog takes more time and effort.

  • Andrew Goodman

    Hi Eric,


    On the curated content concept…

    Remember “Seidman’s Online Insider”? It was a little bit like what you describe, but of course it couldn’t last. All things digital got out of hand for Robert Seidman, the publisher, around 2001 as I recall.

    The oldest of Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Watch monthly newsletters probably filled the bill pretty well, too.

    About.com had a bit of a concept there, too. Remember? Chris Sherman was About.com Guide to Search. Those were the days. (With apologies to the other Guides, who were also good, just not the Sherman Champagne version.)

    The signal to noise situation has gotten worse, I’m just not sure what to do about it. It is hard to build any kind of movement today that helps us move from “more” to “less.”

    But editorial voice definitely has been lost as we’ve moved to indiscriminately “more”. Trying to recapture that makes you sound like an advocate for the Old Newspaper Industry circa 1975, but all Silicon Valley seems to sell us is weak filtering methods that attach to noise-creators, creating a continuous increase in noise and an addiction to the (weak) filters they build.

    I guess noise beats having to get your info from a single individual with a cult-like following. Certainly we are still, most of us, not reaping the benefits of technology as we might have hoped from Digital Clipping Service 2.0, 3.0, etc.

    Perhaps the answer is that the first generation of services like Techmeme, etc., needs to become much better and more customizable so I’m not always reading someone’s me-too reactions to the latest minor wrinkle in Apple hardware.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Andrew…Seidman’s Online Insider was groovy. How about “Web Diamonds” from Tom Vassos. That’s circa 1995. Dana Blankenhorn’s “A Clue” was also outstanding, and Larry Chase continues to fight the good fight with WDFM. My current info overload mgt technique is to hit each content piece’s URL just long enough to determine if I really need to read it, and if I do, I drag that URL to a folder on my toolbar named (MUST READ). At night, after the kids are down, I fire up the laptop, and MUST READ has replaced Conan SportsCenter for me :) Thank god the URL/URI has remained the method for resource loaction. Any content presented in such a way that I cannot drag it really pisses me off. Like content launched in stripped browser windows, or flash boxes. Love live the URL.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Perhaps this is the end game for LinkMoses. My own MUST READ list each week, specific to content publicity/link building, with my added comments as to what to do about it, published under the brand name LinkMoses.

    So let it be written…

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Or doesn’t this just add to the problem. Like these three comments in a row ;)

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I can hear my news editor Barry Schwartz crying right now. You want curated content? Search Engine Land gives it to you each day. It’s called SearchCap, our daily round-up of search news.

    Barry combs through all those blogs out there, picks out the stories he thinks are significant and carefully organizes them into category. There’s nothing else like this for the search world. Honestly — it’s unique.

    All that too much? Well, SearchCap starts out with the top stories that Search Engine Land has covered. This is what we consider the essential reading for the day — the most important stories that we felt deserved bigger coverage on Search Engine Land itself, as discussed among the various editors.

    Daily recap too much. Well if you’re a Search Engine Land member, we also have a weekly recap (Search Week) and monthly one (Search Month).

  • http://searchengineland.com Chris Sherman

    Heh… Sherman champagne. That would be *really* old vintage stuff by now, maybe even undrinkable… ;-)

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    SearchCap is the ONLY pub I read the instant it arrives. Barry is the unsung hero of vertical curated content. Shame on me for not menttioning it in my article.

  • http://www.jexanalytics.com.au jexley

    That was an excellent, excellent article. Typical to my reading habits, I end up reading articles and saying, “Yeah, that’s what *I* think too!” and somehow feeling special because I identify with all this stuff. Well… duh, of course I do, I’m in the same bloody industry doing the same bloody thing as the author!

    This kind of thing though, the feeling left out and the best intentioning and the PR stuff and all the other silliness… well, let me just say what I HAVE to say…. “ME TOO!”

    Heh, great stuff, thanks Eric.

  • Tom

    Eric… glad to see you’re still burning up the SEO space… you always were the best in the business… :)

    Tom Vassos


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