It has long been said that links are the currency of the Web. Until even recently, if you had a lot of external links to your website with targeted keyword anchor text, you likely had a good chance of ranking for your keyword. You didn’t even need a marketing background or education. You just needed a chip, a chair, a little training, and some HTML and you could be off and running with your website in the organic search rankings.
Sure, you usually needed meaningful content. Sure, having a great design helped. But for many, links are what drove traffic from the search engines and drove profits. Whole industries were created around links.
In some ways, this heavily link based algorithm was good. It leveled the playing field and allowed a lot of people around the world the opportunity to make a significant amount of money without a lot of start up costs or connections. They could even beat out big established brands for their products or service, even if they were an affiliate of that very same brand. It also built out the Web, which in many ways Google benefited from.
This low barrier to entry created an environment where you could get online and sell products or services, either directly or through advertisements, without having to really market yourself or your website – the links did the work for you. With Penguin and other recent updates, this has all changed. While links are still important, relationships are the new currency of the Web. They are how you get high quality links, build awareness, and scale, which is key to building a successful online presence.
Relationships are King
The Google Penguin update hit many people and companies hard. No longer would Google allow sites whose rankings were built almost entirely on highly targeted anchor text or low quality links be able to sustain their high organic search rankings. Sure, some sites got a pass, but this may not last; they could be impacted by an algorithmic penalty at any time.
We have entered a new era of SEO. Google has gotten smarter and improved their algorithm depending on your point of view. The only way a site can be safe (if ever) from an algorithmic update is if the links they have are links that come from real connections adding real value and displaying their authority and worth on the Web. It also makes the value of social shares and other sources of traffic outside of Google more important.
These connections or relationships can come from building up a brand or personal, cultivated relationships such as through friends, contacts, networking, in-person meetings, outreach, and social networks. Developing relationships is how you connect with the right people, get their attention, and ultimately get greater visibility for your website.
SEOs need to become more creative and innovative. They need to become successful marketers. The days of devising ways to go after site wide blogroll and footer links on a relevant website, or easy links on low quality sites are now a very poor SEO strategy.
The Responsibilities of SEO have Changed
Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz wrote an excellent post on “The Responsibilities of an SEO Have Been Upgraded” and indeed they have and they continue to evolve. SEO is now more like traditional marketing. It’s much more multi-faceted and much more about getting out there, making quality connections, and getting your message out. It’s ultimately about building important relationships that result in sales and strengthen a brand.
In the film Field of Dreams, it is said, “If you build it, he will come”. In today’s World of SEO, build relationships and links and social shares will come. This is what a successful SEO does.