As much as I hate to pile on, run it into the ground, or beat a dead horse, when the topic is link bait I can’t resist; thus this week’s Link Week column.
The recent fake-news-story-as-successful-link-bait event and the surrounding firestorm has bugged me and had me thinking, which is dangerous when I’m supposed to be on vacation. Yet here I am with my laptop. The concept I can’t get off my mind is this notion of “trusted links” and “truthiness.” Is one fake news story any different than the thousands of press releases put out daily that are that are filled with hype masquerading as news? Is a fake news story any different than any marketing driven web site? Any different than any other content with an agenda?
The answer for me is no. They are all one in the same. They are all B.S., and journalists are simply supposed to be a somewhat better B.S. filter for content on its way to us, the naive reader.
I know this is stating the obvious, but sometimes you have to state and re-state it. It is not the link itself that the engines trust. It is the person behind the link, and I don’t mean the link builder, link baiter, link strategist, or anyone else in charge of increasing the number of links pointing to any given piece of web content.
The source of the trust is the person who makes the decision to include a link to it from their content in the first place. The person or persons with editorial oversight. That person can be someone as hard to please as an online reference librarian at the Library of Congress, or as easy to fool as a reporter that doesn’t have time to worry about things like veracity when a deadline looms.
But even so, I must admit I love the fake-story-as-linkbait approach because of the longer term positive residual impact I suspect it will have. A search engine does not have to be able to determine if each individual story is fake or not. Google did not set out to be a lie detector on a document by document basis. Warren Commission report? WoMD? Is the documentation in those two reports any less fake than this or any other article? How so? According to who? Is it Google’s job to determine if Oswald acted alone?
The ultimate credibility of the content will be determined, from a linking standpoint, by the credibility of those giving out the links. Those of you who make fun of old school link building and cringe when I espouse the virtue of librarians may want to stop reading now, because here I go again. The web already has millions of content selection experts who can’t be fooled, vetting and placing links to trustworthy content across hundreds of topics. These folks are in and of themselves the web’s most trustworthy collective human algorithm. And the smart engines know it.
Web marketers should not ignore the significant role this human algorithm will play in their link building future.
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 Tuesdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.