Link Building’s Glass Ceiling

Any of you who have read any of my posts over the years know I’m a contrarian link builder. I don’t like general directories, I’ve never believed in mass article syndication, I don’t buy links, I don’t like reciprocity for the sake of reciprocity, and I despise press releases purely for the sake of link building, and paid blog reviews are just lies.

The reason I’m not a fan of these generic techniques is because they end up seducing you into believing they will work, because they can actually improve your rank, if your rank was awful to begin with. But at a certain point, the limited value of these approaches becomes apparent; you hit the wall, or the ceiling, since upwards seems to be where everyone wants to go.

Here’s a classic example.  It’s a combination of the several requests I receive from people every month.

Site owner John Q. Public has had a website for a few years. He sells things from his site. Nice things. Things you’d give Mom for Mother’s Day. His site ranks 23rd. He thinks this is wonderful, because just a year ago he ranked 55th, and then he started link building. He hired a directory submission service. He sent out press releases, he added a links page, he did a few paid blog posts, and sent out press releases. Hired someone in Linkbakistan to send out link requests. The standard link building playbook right? Sadly, it is. John thinks if he can get from position 55 to position 23 this way, it must work — and, all he has to do is keep at it and he will reach the promised land.

And he’s wrong.

John’s rankings started to slow down, and ultimately came to a halt at position 23  His site now bounces between positions 23 and 25, depending on the weather over at Google. Why did this happen? Because none of the link building techniques he used offer any distinct differentiation for his site versus any of his competitors, nor do any of those techniques take advantage of any unique content he may have on his site.

Put more simply, John took the easy way out. Throw money at a bunch of link building services and vendors, and watch the rankings improve and the cash register jingle. What he, and for that matter, thousands and thousands of website owners are finding out, is that these cut rate and pre-packaged cookie cutter linking services will never break through that glass ceiling and get you to the promised land of page one, let alone position one on page one (that’s reserved for Wikipedia:).

I’m sure the purveyors of these link building services don’t like what I’m writing here, but facts are facts, and my inbox proves it as do my phone consults. Everyone with a website is trying the exact same bunch of half-assed link building approaches and then act frustrated when their results end up half assed as well.

Now, I would absolutely love to tell you the secret to avoid this glass ceiling problem. And I already have. Over the course of several years of articles, many of which you chide me for, I tell you what you need to do. So it’s time for a refresher. Have a look at:

    Your Site’s Manifest Linking Destiny When Link Building Is Pointless What If It Isn’t Linkworthy? Are You Link Building Or Just Keeping Up With The Joneses? Introduction To Trusted Source Link Streams

Linking Intelligence plays a crucial role, I agree we need it and I helped build Link Insight for this exact reason. But that’s just the start. People continue to look for a technology solution to link building. But the Internet has really never never been about technology. The Internet is about connecting passion with content with others with the same. None of the tactics you are using today speak to this fundamental truth. You treat the web like it’s 80 billion identical white ping pong balls, hoping one will bounce your way. It’s not. The web is 80 billion different balls all bouncing in every direction looking for someone just like them. And those links are the links that break glass ceilings.

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

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  • baseer

    worthing reading n spending time thanx for this all

  • AlanCh

    Spot on Eric – I’m in your camp on this one. Problem is, you [we] are talking about a long term strategy and punters want to be top of Google tomorrow – if not sooner. And the snake-oil-link-builder salesmen promise them just that.

    Keep the faith – you know you are right and will still be around when the link-building phonies have moved on to a different industry.

  • powderjane

    I agree with Alan, unfortunately clients are star struck by those swift talking link building salesmen. It’s hard to convince people that it won’t work and it’s like going to a slimy car salesman and thinking you’re getting a great deal on a car because he said “trust me.”

    Great content will bring you great links… keep writing Eric, you’ve got great insight!

  • hmerscher

    Eric: Yes, the hard naked truth. While I believe (and I think you do to) to get from “55 to 23″, you do need to optimize your pages, create an xml map, list on directories, do Press Releases, articles etc. But, sigh, the real deal comes down to actual noteworthy content, right? Which can be daunting — to paraphrase Laurie Anderson it starts to feel like “your own personal Content Arms Race” I was talking with a friend of mine this weekend who is the farm coordinator for a local non-profit CSA. She was telling me how she organizes her small staff / volunteers to be able to keep their website updated, send out timely email newsletters and update their Facebook page. They have great content ’cause they have very passionate people who have interesting things things to communicate from different areas of the organization. She spreads the workload around and it seems to work out for them. Thanks for your excellent articles.

  • Will.Spencer

    I’ve always believed in the saying “If it’s stupid and it works, then it’s not stupid.”

    It sounds like you look down at those link building methods because they don’t help to justify the rates you hope to charge unknowing customers. Those techniques do work and they work for a lot less money.

    Moreover, I have seen them create page one — and position one — SERPS. They have created RoI for a lot of people. RoI is what this is really all about, not ego.

    I’d counsel you to put away your ego and start focusing on what benefits your customers.

  • Justin33

    Well … Not all Link Building and Seo Service Company are like that …- what you had said…. It’s always depend on the company – you or the customer must consider their services first before the customer must agree in building up your links …

    Many other SEO company sites uses whitehat-SEO methods to build links and perform a manual submission to boost the customer Google position.

  • Eric Ward

    Will, I appreciate your comment, but there is no container large enough to fit my ego. The only things that work are my wife’s daily reminder that I’m a just a big geek and changing Abram’s poopy diapers. Hard to have an ego when covered in poo. Seriously, I meant no offense. It’s all based only on what I have seen myself. You have seen different results, and to that I say well done. I must say though, that I’m a lot cheaper than what people waste on a few months of paid links or paid reviews that are short acting, fake, and not earned by merit. What benefits the customer most is honesty up front, and an offer of full fee return at the back. I’ve always provided both. That’s not ego, it’s ethics.

  • adgooroo

    Will – I’ve been thinking about how I would respond to this for a few days. I don’t think it’s fair to say “it sounds like you look down at those link building methods because they don’t help to justify the rates you hope to charge unknowing customers.” That just comes off as petty.

    When I read this article, I thought that it would make for a great research project. Eric claims that there are diminishing returns on the generic techniques he mentions. With the amount of data floating around, this can be easily proved or disproved. There is no need to conjecture. And certainly no need to throw stones.

    Here are the results of my study:

    Rich Stokes


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