The Coming Link Apocalypse

I just finished reading “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, hence the title of today’s column. If you’ve read it then you understand. It’s a bit dramatic, but then again drama, controversy and hyperbole is LinkBaiting 101. Sadly I add.

The apocalypse I speak of is related to link building, and what I mean by it is that right now, as you read this, there are tens of thousands of people building links to hundreds of thousands of web sites, all over the world. You are probably one of them. And even in what would seem to be the most topical niches, like custom hood ornaments or accordion repair, there are multiple sites probably each using various link building tactics, ranging from paid links to article syndication to directory submission to link analysis to paid reviews to social sharing to RSS feeds to link bait.

You aren’t doing anything wrong, and you do your job well. You try hard. You are conscientious. You care. But no matter the content subject, what I have seen over the past five or six years that link building has gone mainstream is a herd mentality. Everyone uses the same tools, the same tactics, the same tricks, the same companies, the same link requests, the same link-ridden press releases, the same approaches, with almost no thought or differentiation. A site about whale watching in Iceland does the same link building as a site about spelunking in Arkansas.

And this is why many link building tactics people use now—whether they work now or not—ultimately won’t make a difference in your ultimate success or failure on the web.

We are creating a vast gray landscape of marginal links that will not stand out, will not help people, will not give the engines confidence and which will not really do anything other than make it harder to find anything of value.

How many reciprocal links pages and PPC link farms do you have to wade through on your way to something decent? How many spam link requests do you delete every day? How many links pages have you found your site listed on without asking? When you spend the day looking for linking opportunities, how many worthless pages do you have to look at before you find just one decent one?

It’s the very challenge of identifying legitimate and valuable link targets that causes many people to give up and seek an easy way out. Forget taking the time to look for, pursue, and finally obtain 6 or 7 quality links. It’s easier to use this third party company promising 100 new links every month for $2,500.

Forget doing real search engine research to find perfect targets. Just use some free tool to show you the top 100 high trust sites that pass PageRank. Or some tool that tells you which site is the oldest. Why take the time and exert the effort, sweat and tears when some site promises to find every hub in your niche? And look here… a list of 250 directories that accept submissions!

If I sound annoyed, I’m not. My willingness to not use the same link building approach as everyone is the very reason I’m still around 14 years later. At the same time part of me is—due to my longevity—saddened by what I see in the link building profession.

I hear from people every week that have spent thousands of dollars on link building services and have nothing to show for it. It bugs me that so many services are selling linking related tools and services that I know are worthless. But they exist and thrive because of people’s hopes and fears, and willingness to believe a shortcut exists. To believe that some $30 piece of link building software is what they need to succeed. Sure, you and 100 competitors who bought the same software.

The link apocalypse has actually started, and I’m glad. Millions of links that have been improperly receiving credit from search engines have slowly but surely stopped doing so. Companies that outsourced link building are bringing it back in-house and seeking link building training do it right. People are wising up. Search engines are wising up. The apocalypse will be slow. Steady. Links that shouldn’t help won’t. Millions of pages, articles, directories, links lists, and press releases will be ignored. Anchor text for many will become poison. Multiple agenda-driven social bookmark accounts will vanish.

I’ll close with a couple real world points. Do we really need 3 million RSS feeds from veterinarians? How many of those feeds were created because someone told somebody that RSS feeds were a good strategy and they believed it?

Robert Frost once wrote: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers. The Link Week column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: General | 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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  • thomkennon


    You are bumming me out, man, and it’s not even 9am ET on a Monday morning in otherwise buzzy Manhattan.

    So, your apocalyptic, frighteningly accurate, assessment begs the question: ok – so now what?

    Is it what I think it is – applying one or two smart and savvy content specialists/marketers full-time in researching, acquiring and managing our brands link program?

    I think that it is, and I’d like to see if we can figure out an ROI model that will allow us to convince oursleves and then our client partners/corporate handlers that there is a way to imagine and manage these programs that are measurably justified by bottomline returns.

    Shall we?


  • massa

    You are exactly right, but it’s the same as it ever was. Before the toolbar, it was reports on how to create meta tags and submit your site to 92,000,000 quality directories.

    Buying links is a little 2005, but off site optimization is here, it’s been here and it’s here to stay. The more any search engine tries to control it, either by FUD or by algorithms, the more value it has. If you don’t know what embedded links and content hosting are, maybe it’s a good time to learn.

    Page rank is dead, but getting other webmasters to talk about you or your product is not. Never has been and never will be. Search engines may come or go but people telling other people about you is the real word of mouth and it will be just as powerful in 1,000 more years as it was 1,000 ago.

    Credibility and trustability is what is important. Google’s toolbar may have shifted the focus of the value proposition for a time, but those things have always been the most important in terms of marketing. Sites that get real people reading real content is gold! It is gold in terms of increased traffic and conversions and it is also gold in terms of getting search engines to think highly of your site. And nothing is going to ever change that.

  • Mikkel deMib Svendsen

    Very good article, as always, Eric. However, in linkbuilding, as in any marketing aspect, many poeple of forget that not all strategies are long-term. Not all have to be!

    I have worked in a lot of “hit-and-run” verticals (we all know the ones I talk about) where the easiest way to make good quick money is to think super short term. It works! And if you look at the bottom line it often makes a lot of sense. I have aoperated hundreds of sites of the kind that only stay alive for a few weeks but the money I can make in those weeks devided by the time it takes me to make them still gives me a better hourly rate than any major corporation will pay me for long-term strategies …

    So, I guess my point really is that even the best general advise, even yours Eric, do not always apply to YOUR business :)

  • eric_ward

    “…So, your apocalyptic, frighteningly accurate, assessment begs the question: ok – so now what? Is it what I think it is – applying one or two smart and savvy content specialists/marketers full-time in researching, acquiring and managing our brands link program?…”

    The perfect link building scenario must be different for each site, which is part what makes staffing and ROI measurements so hard for link building activities. Why? If you are managing a site that’s designed to compete content-wise with a popular brand already entrenched, then you may well need 5 full time content publicists and link builders to compete. But if you are running a 12 page site for an Athens TN Bed and Breakfast, then frankly every link building tactic most people use are pointless. Companies selling link building services try to commoditize it into a nice neat package, i.e., x number of links built for xx number of dollars. Neat packages are easy to sell. But in putting together that nice neat link package that can be sold to anyone, you have to pursue target sites that are willing to accept links from anyone, and that’s exactly where it all fails. That Athens B&B site needs a links from niche targets like this site here, not hundreds of easy links from here.

  • Lucky Lester

    Good story and one that most businesses are going to have to deal with in the near future. Myself, I work in the much maligned and despised online gaming industry. This industry has been set upon from many fronts and has always managed to stay on top of the SEM game and will continue to do so in spite of anything the search engines throw at us. PPC was taken away from us, no problem. Affiliate marketing is slowly being taken away from us — once again no problem as we will take our vast SEM experience and move into mainstream industries just like we are with the so-called “skill games”.

    The point is this… evolve or die. If the engines take away their simplest way of maintaining their “mechanical search” platform we will find another way to achieve our rankings. Personally, I hope that Google does reduce the value of linking as it will certainly have a culling affect upon the SEM industry.

  • thebassman

    A little late on reading this, but a great article as always, Eric.


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