How Larger Companies Can Break The Crappy Link Building Habit

All too often, I encounter many enterprise organizations that are mired in the habit of manipulative link acquisition. It often falls to me to try and talk them out of doing it that way. This can be very challenging.

There are always reasons why they want to continue to do what they are doing. That the current methods still work for them is usually the most basic one. They go out and place a bunch of low-quality blog posts on low-quality sites with low relevance, and with rich anchor text, and they see rankings for the related terms rise.

The reason why it may still work for them is that larger brands have enough overall link equity to protect them from the current implementation of the Penguin algorithm. On top of that, the people who are making the decisions have short-term financial goals (often the companies in question are public), and the key people up the management chain don’t have enough visibility to understand why they shouldn’t keep doing what they are doing.

For them, falling behind aggressive competition while trying a new tactic is a bigger risk than being penalized by Google. New, less manipulative tactics seem like they might bring about new traffic slower. At least, that is the way it seems now. The unknown is always scary. So how do you create the mindshift? Great question! Let’s dig in and talk about ways to do just that.

Recent Google Algorithm Update History

I am not going to recount the entire Google algorithm change history for the past two years, just the initial release of the major new types of algorithms that came out:

  1. Page Layout / Top Heavy — January 19, 2012
  2. Panda 1.0 — February 23, 2011
  3. Penguin 1.0 — April 24, 2012
  4. Pirate — August 10, 2012
  5. Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update — September 27, 2012

These major updates (the “New Algorithms”) all have one thing in common that distinguishes them from the updates that Google has made over the past few years — they all occur at periodic intervals. Danny Sullivan refers to this as the return of the Google Dance (all Google’s algo updates used to be periodic in nature, and the industry used to refer to this as the “Google Dance”).

The Panda algorithm has been through numerous updates, and Penguin has had two total updates since the initial release. Each of these appears to require calculations that are separate and distinct from what is going on in the main Google algo, which is dynamic in nature. We can visualize this process simply as shown here:

I did ask Matt Cutts about this new structure representing an increase in capabilities for Google in my recent interview with him, and here is what he said:

“… you are right that these algorithms do represent new types of capabilities for us.”

We have seen five major, new types of algorithms in the past 20 months — how many more to come? How will the existing ones be updated? I think that it is reasonable to assume that these new types of algo updates will keep coming, and perhaps with increasing swiftness. As long as there is a manipulative SEO practice that is causing the Google algorithm to do things they don’t like, the updates will keep rolling.

OK, but what do I do?

That’s today’s million dollar question. Here are some ideas:

Strike The Fear Of Google Into Management’s Hearts

It is well known that people respond more to the fear of losing something they already have then obtaining something new. Examples of victims of other Google actions are good. After all, no one wants this headline:


Of course, the naysayers will point out that history shows that JCPenney is the exception, but certainly not the only victim of these types of moves by Google:


However, the more important point to make is that these articles show Google in a bad light, and they end up putting public pressure on Google to prevent these things from happening. This means that Google needs to do more of this type of cleanup work.

This is what the “New Algorithms” are all about. They represent a new wave of attacks on these practices. Over time, they will use these new capabilities to eliminate more and more of the SEO tactics they don’t like.

Show Management The Upside

Having shown them the risks and made your case that these tactics can be harmful to your business over time, now it is time to show them the upside. How do you do that? Start talking up the positive traditional branding impact of a high quality link building campaign.

There are many ways to do this, but consider the value of obtaining a guest post placement in a high quality side such as Techcrunch:

Or the New York Times:

That should get people’s juices flowing. You mean I can get SEO value and visibility in high-profile journals such as those? You sure can.

Also, consider pitching them on the value of a social media campaign where you deliberately build an engaged audience that interacts with your brand. Then further, take that idea down the patch of using social media to build and reinforce relationships with major influencers in your industry (or closely related areas).

You just might end up creating the type of synergy shown by this graphic:

Many types of ideas like these are possible with a little bit of brainstorming. Generate some ideas, model them, and then use them to pitch the upside of pure, white hat promotional methods.

Wrangle A Test Budget & Run A Proof Of Concept Program

Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, this will still not be enough. The fear of changing something that is working now is strong. Worse still is the fear that your competitor will continue to cheat and get away with it and get an edge on you. That is a hard one to combat, especially when it remains possible to find sites for search results relevant to your business that are driven by questionable practices.

But, there is still a way to move forward. Nearly any senior executive is going to understand the arguments made above. Most of them are going to have an interest in doing things in a long-term, sustainable way.

Consider pushing them for a test budget. For six months, run a test where you run a true white hat campaign. For example, perhaps the current plan involves placing low-quality guest posts on low-quality, low-relevance sites, and jamming them with highly targeted anchor text.

Take a portion of that budget, and reallocate it to doing some high-quality guest posts on high-quality, high-relevance sites. If they let you use some rich anchor text, that is fine, but if they don’t, don’t sweat it. Other types of test campaigns might be better for your business, but you get the idea.

In the work we do at STC, these types of campaigns show consistently positive results. Chances are that it will for you, too. And once you can show that doing it the right way can lead to success, you should be off to the races. Then, your competitors who don’t change their methods will be carrying all the risks, and you will be competing effectively in the short term without carrying those same risks.

Isn’t that exactly the way you want it to be?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Enterprise SEO


About The Author: is the president of Stone Temple Consulting, an SEO consultancy outside of Boston. Eric publishes a highly respected interview series and can be followed on Twitter at @stonetemple.

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  • Dwight Zahringer

    Great post Eric, always enjoy reading your articles.

  • Eric Muhanji

    Nice post and some good points. I never thought of aiming at such high publications for guest posting and now Matt Cutts has given cart blanche to the practice we can “strike the fear of Google”.


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