In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand discusses how organizations might perform well in search rankings without doing any link building at all, relying instead on the strength of their content to be deemed relevant and important by Google.
For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!
Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting about is it possible to have good SEO simply by focusing on great content to the exclusion of link building.
This question was posed in the Moz Q&A Forum, which I deeply love, by Alex Moravek — I might not be saying your name right, Alex, and for that I apologize — from SEO Agencias in Madrid. My Spanish is poor, but my love for churros is so strong.
Alex, I think this is a great question. In fact, we get asked this all the time by all sorts of folks, particularly people in the blogging world and people with small and medium businesses who hear about SEO and go, “Okay, I think can make my website accessible, and yes, I can produce great content, but I just either don’t feel comfortable, don’t have time and energy, don’t understand, or just don’t feel okay with doing link building.” Link acquisition through an outreach and a manual process is beyond the scope of what they can fit into their marketing activities.
In fact, it is possible kind of, sort of. It is possible, but what you desperately need in order for this strategy to be possible are really two things. One is content exposure, and two you need time. I’ll explain why you need both of these things.
I’m going to dramatically simplify Google’s ranking algorithm. In fact, I’m going to simplify it so much that those of you who are SEO professionals are going to be like, “Oh God, Rand, you’re killing me.” I apologize in advance. Just bear with me a second.
We basically have keywords and on-page stuff, topical relevance, etc. All your topic modeling stuff might go in there. There’s content quality, all the factors that Google and Bing might measure around a content’s quality. There’s domain authority. There’s link-based authority based on the links that point to all the pages on a given domain that tell Google or Bing how important pages on this particular domain are.
There are probably some topical relevance elements in there, too. There’s page level authority. These could be all the algorithms you’ve heard of like PageRank and TrustRank, etc., and all the much more modern ones of those.
I’m not specifically talking about Moz scores here, the Moz scores DA and PA. Those are rough interpretations of these much more sophisticated formulas that the engines have.
There’s user and usage data, which we know the engines are using. They’ve talked about using that. There’s spam analysis.
Super simplistic. There are these six things, six broad categories of ranking elements. If you have just these four — keywords, on-page content quality, user and usage data, spam analysis, you’re not spammy — without these, without any domain authority or any page authority, it’s next to impossible to rank for competitive terms and very challenging and very unlikely to rank even for stuff in the chunky middle and long tail. Long tail you might rank for a few things if it’s very, very long tail. But these things taken together give you a sense of ranking ability.
Here’s what some marketers, some bloggers, some folks who invest in content nearly to the exclusion of links have found. They have had success with this strategy. They’ve basically elected to entirely ignore link building and let links come to them.
Instead of focusing on link building, they’re going to focus on product quality, press and public relations, social media, offline marketing, word of mouth, content strategy, email marketing, these other channels that can potentially earn them things. Advertising as well potentially could be in here.
What they rely on is that people find them through these other channels. They find them through social, through ads, through offline, through blogs, through very long tail search, through their content, maybe their email marketing list, word of mouth, press. All of these things are discovery mechanisms that are not search.
Once people get to the site, then these websites rely on the fact that, because of the experience people have, the quality of their products, of their content, because all of that stuff is so good, they’re going to earn links naturally.
This is a leap. In fact, for many SEOs, this is kind of a crazy leap to make, because there are so many things that you can do that will nudge people in this link earning direction. We’ve talked about a number of those at Moz. Of course, if you visit the link building section of our blog, there are hundreds if not thousands of great strategies around this.
These folks have elected to ignore all that link building stuff, let the links come to them, and these signals, these people who visit via other channels eventually lead to links which lead to DA, PA ranking ability. I don’t think this strategy is for everyone, but it is possible.
I think in the utopia that Larry Page and Sergey Brin from Google imagined when they were building their first search engine this is, in fact, how they hoped that the web would work. They hoped that people wouldn’t be out actively gaming and manipulating the web’s link graph, but rather that all the links would be earned naturally and editorially.
I think that’s a very, very optimistic and almost naive way of thinking about it. Remember, they were college students at the time. Maybe they were eating their granola, and dancing around, and hoping that everyone on the web would link only for editorial reasons. Not to make fun of granola. I love granola, especially, oh man, with those acai berries. Bowls of those things are great.
This is a potential strategy if you are very uncomfortable with link building and you feel like you can optimize this process. You have all of these channels going on.
For SEOs who are thinking, “Rand, I’m never going to ignore link building,” you can still get a tremendous amount out of thinking about how you optimize the return on investment and especially the exposure that you receive from these and how that might translate naturally into links.
I find looking at websites that accomplish SEO without active link building fascinating, because they have editorially earned those links through very little intentional effort on their own. I think there’s a tremendous amount that we can take away from that process and optimize around this.
Alex, yes, this is possible. Would I recommend it? Only in a very few instances. I think that there’s a ton that SEOs can do to optimize and nudge and create intelligent, non-manipulative ways of earning links that are a little more powerful than just sitting back and waiting, but it is possible.
All right, everyone. Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.