The Unbearable Torture Of Linking

the torture of link building

It's not too late to escape link building prison

It’s been a long, painful Spring and Summer for a lot of websites and link builders. I took a month away from it all for personal reasons, but I did conduct a couple linking strategy training sessions, and kept on top of things via my iPad.

In this time, I read a few hundred posts about Panda’s and Penguin updates, unnatural link warnings, freaked out Web marketers, and noted a general consensus that the Summer of 2012 is when the scales finally tipped the other way and Google officially became the enemy.

Link building is now the absolute most loathed job on the SEO foodchain.

And of course I disagree completely.

I’m in the camp that wonders why it took so long to stop trusting anchor text so much. Exact match domains?  Stupid signal. Blog networks and sitewides? I can spot those without my glasses or an algorithm and I was a C student. Scraped content? Man, people have been scraping my articles since before my hair started turning gray.

In every way and with every change, small or large, everything that has come to pass over the past year and culminating this Summer was destined to happen, and as much as I know this angers a lot of people, many of us have been telling you what was coming for years.

Danny Sullivan’s Oscar worthy rant about links and his subsequent post Link Building Means Earning “Hard Links” Not “Easy Links” was for me an epic moment in the history of our still young industry.

Danny summed up what so many of us have been screaming at link chasers forever, but with the magnitude of his audience and the humor and eloquence he displayed during a remarkable extemporaneous speech, he can reach so many more of you than we can. Please, if you haven’t listened to the audio and read his post above, do yourself a favor and do so.

Doing What Works

I understand it’s hard to make a change when what you are doing is working. You had high rankings based on a manipulated linking strategy all along and you knew it, and you also knew Google was getting smarter and smarter, but you did nothing or as little as possible to prepare for the slaughter.

Why not? My hunch is because you hoped the slaughter would spare you. You convinced yourself what you were doing was fine. You weren’t like those “other” guys.

There’s been no shortage of warnings. Now Is The Winter of Linking’s Discontent and Don’t Blame Google For Your Own Linking Failures are both four years old. Part of me does sit back in my chair with a bit of smug content and wonder why more people didn’t listen.

But rather than write a manifesto (and I’ve been tempted) about what your linking strategies should be today, I would like to try and do something that will in some small way distill down all the anger, resentment, confusion, he said/they said, we said into something that I think turns the now vast sea of link building bullshi* in a two single drops of truth.

Drop #1:

Outside of content creation for your own site, everything you’ve done to create links that would help you rank higher at Google is a form of manipulation. You were simply hoping the form of manipulation you were using would not be discovered and discounted.

Drop #2:

 Any link you could obtain without there being a layer of quality control, selection, or curation between you and that link was a link that could not be trusted, and you knew it.

I have no doubt people will fight me on these two drops of truth, but I’ll stand by them. There’s still plenty of room for bonafide linking strategies for sites with worthy linkable assets that are willing to pursue them. I think it’s time you stop acting like you have been screwed over by what’s happened and is still happening, and move forward.

There are many of us in our field taking brand new sites to great heights, both in rank and click traffic, developing unique linking strategies that are custom designed just for the sites we are working with. It’s time to break free of  your self imposed link prison.

It’s time to create something real about something you are passionate about.

Let the right people know what you created and why.

Watch it work.

Just like it always has.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building | 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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  • Jim Magary

    Why are you gearing for a fight?  Everything you said rings true. 

  • Eric Ward

    Because I am both a linking strategist and a Google fan boy, people often come after me anytime I defend Google.

  • ScottyMack

    Well said and absolutely true. I must admit that I enjoyed a bit of smug satisfaction watching the people who laughed at me for doing things the right way ride the quick slide to oblivion this past spring. Five of the six websites I had did remarkably well post-Panda/Penguin, climbing the rankings, rather than falling.

    I should also admit that one site I had where I decided to join the “easy link” throng took the plunge. I knew better but decided I would ride the wave on that new website for as long as it lasted. When it dropped like a ton of bricks, I blamed nobody but myself for it (nothing a new domain name and real quality content and link building can’t solve, though).

  • Erick Recors

    What is the point of this article? Just ranting? Glad I wasted my time reading this. Back to seomoz

  • Ehsan Rahmatulla

    Totally agree with Eric. Link building is moving to link earning via content targeting

  • Agency Marketing

    Based on Drop #1, is this post a form of manipulation?

  • linkmoses

    By the title it’s pretty obvious it’s an opinion piece. A typical reader would finish it in about 90 seconds. I’m deeply sorry I wasted 90 seconds of your time. What’s a bit telling, though, is if your time is so precious that you were mad you wasted it, why waste even more of it by taking the time to comment on it and plug moz? I think that answer is obvious as well.

  • linkmoses

    Yes, it could be argued it is, but not the type that Google is after.

  • Toni Anicic ♛

    Pfff… I’ve been saying that for years and everyone told me I was crazy. I was saying there is no such thing as white-hat link building, meaning exactly those two points you pointed out. I knew Google will eventually figure out how to split artificial links from the natural ones. Here, have a look at my post from 2009.

  • Agency Marketing

    Based on Drop #2, are moderated blog comments acceptable?

  • Kevin Gerding

    Although I personally disagree with what Google is doing regarding links, we have no choice but to adapt.  Once people do wake up and smell the roses, they will see the sky is not completely full of storm clouds.  Build your sites to last and make them worthy of being linked to.  Google is getting better at doing the rest.

  • Chris Rempel

    This would all be wonderful… if it were true in my markets. It simply isn’t. It’s true in other industries, for sure. But not the very high-comp stuff.

  • Jimmy N

    I’m sure a lot of people still use old linking methods to rank site short term, because whey still work for that.  Some people using the methods to build a good solid reputable site with trust, however, won’t get far.

    As the poster above says, it’s a bit too much of a blanket statement to say x won’t work any more, because it will and still does for some sites.

  • jimmyn

    And there seems to be tendency for “i told you so” style posts in SEO lately which don’t really add any value.

  • Eric Buhlman

    What you say sounds true.  I want it to be true.  It’s the same message I preach to anyone asking about link building.  But we’re still not seeing this as the truth when it comes to rankings.  We are still seeing websites that are on a complete spamming rampage copying and pasting manufacturer product specs into 10+ article submission websites and getting #1 rankings.  I know, I know.  You say “there must be something else they’re doing.”  Nope, that’s it.  As drastic as Google preaches about these changes, they are completely watered down, and from what I’ve seen they are completely gamable.  Unfortunately, this still doesn’t seem like a good climate for the SEO good guys.  

  • Christopher Skyi

    “Any link you could obtain without there being a layer of quality control, selection, or curation between you and that link was a link that could not be trusted, and you knew it.”

    This hits the nail on the head. “Link building” is a terrible misnomer, and it came out of bad (black hat) SEO.

  • Christopher Skyi

    I think you’re correct, but it’s also correct that it’s a doomed short-lived strategy. At some point the rug is pulled out from under these guys, their traffic drops or completely disappears,and then they’re forced to do things the right way while they’re behind the 8-ball. Penguin was just the first sweeping of garbage off the table. Better and stronger algorithms are coming, guaranteed. Better to learn how to start doing things right, and start doing that right now.

  • Michael Lee

    Are we still talking about Link Building?
    Hasn’t the internet as a medium moved on enough to stop focussing on search as the only means of finding customers?
    SEO always has been a snake oil industry anyway, it’s time it died and marketers finally take it back having schooled themselves on these types of topics for the last 5 years.
    SEO ‘experts’ are just overly focussed marketers, broaden your horizons and you’ll go further. 

  • Eric Ward

    Link building isn’t just about search rank. It’s about click traffic. I was building links for clients many years before Google existed.  Those links were for traffic.  They still are.  The smart link seekers recognize this, and are adjusting strategies accordingly.

  • John E Lincoln

    This is true. But at the same time Google put people in this position because they needed to build links in this way to be competitive. Now that real penalties are enforced on a broad scale everyone is scaling down which will again level the playing field. But taking Google’s side, when they have clearly been disorganized and unable to policy their system probably doesn’t make sense. Either way, I am and have always been a content guy. So hopefully things stick with content, internal linking and social. It’s better that way.

  • AJ Mihalic

    Eric, it looks like you’re building a straw-man and a holier-than-though attitude. Kinda lame. I don’t think anyone will contest those two points. In fact, I think quite the opposite. They indeed did know they were doing things that are intended to manipulate the algorithm and new Google could possibly take action one day. 

    You don’t mention that your strategies are intended to manipulate the search engines too. Of course, you seem think your way is the way the engines want to be manipulated, and that your grey areas are going to be perpetually grey, so that makes them Moses-approved. You’re still guessing too when it comes to Google. Fair enough, and agreed that is a good link building strategy. As far as getting links that will actually drive traffic on their own? Of course. Everybody wants to do that too. 

    Really, the “torture” you speak about is what you have been doing all along – working to find clever ways to get links that Google would have to respect and not be able to devalue. It’s just perspective. You like it, they don’t. That is going to feel like torture for people who consider it so whether it was 10 years ago or today. They don’t like doing it. 

    Pitch your services? Fine by me. Their time has come and because of that I imagine you’re about to get some real competition. I suggest not being self righteous if you actually want customers to like you, but as Old Ben Kanobi says, “you must do what you feel is right, of course”. 


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