When Link Building Is Pointless
As a link builder and content publicist, I rarely see a link building challenge that cannot be overcome. Today there are many unique and legitimate ways to attract and generate links that didn’t exist ten years ago. There are different styles and approaches to link building, all of which can be effective. And there is no single approach that will be 100% effective, 100% of the time. Link building is more exciting than ever, and this November, as I enter my 15th year in this field, I can say with certainty that link building is as much art as it has become science, and sometimes the science gets in the way.
That said, while this may sound like heresy, there are times when the link building solution for a site is to simply give up. There are some types of content for which no amount of trying will help, no amount of link bait will matter, and no amount of money can fix things.
I had such a scenario come up this past week. Without giving names and URLs, here’s what happened. I had a call with a prospective client where he explained that he had a web site that was a few months old, which sold custom printing services. The site looked very nice, and on first pass I saw potential. As I talked further with the fellow that owned the site, I learned that he had purchased the site from a company that sold similar web-based printing sites to anyone who would buy one. The logo and URL would be different, the company name was different, but the bottom line was every web site was a mildly different front end to the exact same back end. There were about thirty such sites, all with a very similar look and feel, all with identical product offering. Some of them even had the same model featured in a photo on the site.
The owner of the site knew very little about the web. He knew nothing about link building or link analysis. He’d never heard the words link bait. All he knew was he’d paid thousand of dollars for a web-based business, and he was excited because he’d been told that he could build some links to his new site and end up ranking very well, and his web business would generate a nice income for him. As I learned all this, it became clear he had been sold a bill of goods in the form of a cookie cutter template driven web business no different than 100 other sites just like it, and he was in some ways a victim of his own eagerness to cash in on the promise of web riches.
Faced with this scenario, what is the best course of action that we, as link builders, consultants, marketers, and ethical humans with a conscience, can take? Do we not tell him what we know to be true? Do we continue his pipe dream by selling him still more services that will make us money but not help him succeed? For me, the answer was obvious, even as I knew it would be painful for this nice fellow to hear.
I told him that his web-based printing shop, as it was right now, would never attract the types of links that would help him succeed, and that his only hope was to use paid search and get out the checkbook. I explained that he had not done anything wrong, but that his site was identical from a link potential standpoint as the other 100 sites just like his, and that the other sites would all be in the same boat as his site. His choices were really very simple. He could buy his way into bankruptcy via paid search. He could buy links or swap links or engage in every link building scheme he could find. He could hire someone to create additional content for his site that would help differentiate it from the others, giving it a chance to attract links that would also differentiate it from the others.
He could shut down the site and cut his losses.
After a couple hours describing to him the reality of the situation he faced and doing some competitive research, we settled on a combination approach. He is going to retool the site a bit and focus on a couple very specialized printing services offered to a geographically specific market near his home on the Northeast coast, with a specific interest in yachts and pleasure boats. Even with this narrowed and less competitive approach, there are no guarantees his site will succeed, and he now understands this.
But since boating is a passion of his, and since nobody is in that particular niche to compete with yet, with a minimal expenditure for a new logo and front page he at least has a chance to recoup some of the investment he’s made on the site. And a site devoted to printing services for boats on the New England coast also gives him a chance to obtain links from hundreds of sites devoted just to New England boating, from Marinas to boat repair to private to fishing to private charters. Those are link opportunities that none of those other 100 sites can get. Those are the differentiator links. And for you PPC fans, what terms would you rather bid against? Boat lettering New England or custom signs?
So, sometimes the answer to a link building problem is to accept the reality of the market you are in and cut your losses. Sometimes the answer is spend an incremental amount to try a vertical approach. Either way, the key as always is to recognize your site’s legitimate link potential, and don’t kid yourself.
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.
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