Link building, SEO & branding

If you want to rank a site for a keyword that’s even remotely competitive in search engines like Bing and Google, you need links. Link building has thus been one of the important pillars of most SEO campaigns over the last decade. Getting links is a non trivial business, and because of that, the SEO industry has always jumped on every new tactic it discovered to get links at scale. The usual result is Google “killing” that tactic.

We’ve seen link buying, comment spamming, directories, etc. etc. It’s a long list of tactics that, in and of themselves aren’t bad, but when used at scale, go sour quickly. As they say: “too much of a good thing”. The latest tactic being hammered by Matt Cutts is guest blogging. As the owner of a fairly popular blog I can only agree with him: it’s gone too far.

In his post, Matt says:

In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well.

If you check the list of authors on this blog, you’ll see people that either work here, I’ve personally worked with in previous jobs / projects and / or consider good friends. All of them are people with an opinion I respect on their respective topics. I didn’t need Matt to tell me that, I’ve always thought that was the only way to do it, because I respect my own brand.

I’m currently on my way back home from Silicon Valley, where I’ve seen and spoken to people at 9 different companies, both large and small. These guys needn’t really think about link building. Most of them are building something so cool, that people link to it because they like it. That doesn’t mean you can’t or needn’t do link building. In fact I advised one of them to amplify their link growth by doing a specific kind of outreach.

Branding is the new link building

Admittedly, I never did do that much link building and have been doing less and less of it. I was thinking as to why I never did, and it’s actually rather obvious if you look at our client list for our SEO consulting (I don’t mean our website reviews, but the consulting where I come on-site and do training and strategic and tactical work). We work for big brands. Not necessarily big companies, but all of them truly brands with a product or service we believe in. In fact, we’ve stopped doing SEO consulting for companies whose products we don’t believe in.

If you’re not willing to build a product or service people love (or at least talk about), and to attach a brand value to it that people will relate to, do you really think you deserve to rank?

Content marketing without branding is…

Like an airplane without wings: it won’t fly. You can have the best airplane chairs in the world, if you don’t put engines and a wing on that plane, you’re not going to get very far. In discussing this topic I got the counter argument that the best content for any specific topic should rank. I think that’s bullshit. Search engine result pages based entirely on the quality of content would look like **** too, just like results based on the number of links are. This is not simple math.

So SEOs have a choice: now that Matt has said guest blogging won’t work anymore, are they going to try and find the next disposable tactic? Will they remain tricksters? Or are they going to become real marketers? I think that as an industry we’ve been relying on crappy tactics enough by now.

I’ve made my choice quite a while ago. We invest heavily in branding. We have, Erwin, our illustrator and Mijke, our designer, doing lots of work for that. Together they’re responsible for the fact that people recognise that Barry, our new developer, works at Yoast just by seeing his avatar. So branding is one of our tactics and probably the most expensive one at that.

We also sponsor conferences, we speak at conferences, we write great content, we do some outreach, we even write the occasional guest post. You see, all of those things are tactics. If we relied on any one of them too much, we’d be in trouble, but we don’t. And yes, I think good branding is just as important for SEO as link building is.

These tactics are part of our larger strategy that is aimed at making us a bigger brand in the spaces of SEO, website optimisation, conversion rate optimisation and WordPress. So, what is your strategy and your goal? Which tactics fit into that strategy?

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!