While most things in marketing don’t truly die, tactics tend to have a shelf life.

  1. Unexploited loophole
  2. Savvy marketers catch on
  3. It becomes best practice
  4. Marketers ruin it

Link building is no different.  There’s certainly value in staying on top of the trends, and there’s especially value to being the first mover who exploits a loophole.

However, within the realm of SEO, more loopholes are being closed than opened every year.

This is why it surprises me that folks don’t put more emphasis on the two link building strategies / tactics that will quite assuredly never die.  Those are Knowing People and Good Ole Fashioned Public Relations.

Knowing people

Ever wonder why you see the SEO ‘thought leaders’ always linking to each others content?  It’s not because they all spam each other begging for links or asking for feedback on posts.

It’s because we all know each other.

We meet each other at conferences, meetups, coffee meetings, ect.  We form Facebook and Slack groups.  We take time to catch up with one another and get introductions and trade knowledge.

Spending time to actually meet and become friends with people in your industry pays huge dividends in many ways, one of which is it makes link building easier.

What happens when you form these relationships?  You get Google docs shared with you with a note ‘drop links where you see fit’.  People ask you for quotes to make their piece easier.  Others proactively drop links in guest posts.  You create content with others to share audiences.  Need to get to the top of reddit or hacker news?  You drop it in the upvote channel and miraculously appear at the top.  While all the other poor schmucks are ‘promoting their content’, you just hit up a few friends and ask them to link in a place that fits.

Real human relationships compound on one another.  Every friend has friends you don’t know, and so forth.  It’s a network effect at its purest.

Good ole fashioned public relations

PR has been a thing since the printing press was invented, and will probably never die.  Of course, you need to invest time in forming relationships with journalists, understanding how you can help them, and create story ideas that will do just that.

Don’t have anything newsworthy?  Make stuff up.  Do stunts.  Create unique studies or curate data that nobody else is doing.  Create a company culture around public relations.  Take every executive hire, product launch or company milestone as an opportunity to garner press.

Online, written press will always be a thing.  And the good news for link builders at the moment is that the ad-based model has made journalists desperate to produce content faster and faster.

PR also compounds on itself, for many reasons.  Every article written about your company gives you a bit more legitimacy when it comes to your next pitch.  The relationships you form get stronger over time.  You get better at coming up with stories.  Journalists get alerts about your article, and proactively reach out to you.  Your brand and content gets more visibility, which increases the chance it will get discovered organically.

Tactics that will fade away

  • Broken link building: Let’s be honest, broken link building may as well be dead.  There just aren’t that many broken links out there, at least to power a whole SEO strategy.
  • Guest posting: Google has issued plenty of warning shots here.  The SEO community has convinced itself that if it’s “not spammy” and the link is contextual the link is ok.  That may be so now, but once that starts manipulating the serps, Google will likely crack down.  I’d expect devaluation vs penalization, but eventually this party will end.
  • Skyscraper method:  The world simply doesn’t need any more 3000 word articles, and as great as something is, few webmasters have a true incentive to link out to it.
  • Buying links:  Sure, Neil Patel ranks for every marketing term with ghostwritten plagiarized articles and a shit ton of purchased links.  This will likely be around in one form or another, but will eventually either get prohibitively expensive and Google will probably eventually get better at filtering them out.
  • Begging for links:  Do you get emails saying “hey I just created a great piece, it would add sooooo much value if you linked to it”.  Of course you do, and the only reason you might link is because you’re an SEO paying it forward.  Some SEOs even theorize that Google devalues links added after the fact.
  • Widgets: I’m honestly surprised Google still allows this form of link building.  It allows giants like Yelp and Tripadvisor to trick small business owners into letting the giants outrank them.  But, for now they appear to be fine.  After all, Thumbtack wasn’t penalized for widgets themselves, just paying for placement of widgets.

Conclusion

Knowing people and good PR will never die.  They both share a couple things in common:

  1. They take a large, sustained effort to get started
  2. Once you get started, they compound on themselves over time
  3. They will sustain the test of time

Most link building tactics will die for a number of reasons.  Either because people become fatigued with the tactic or because Google devalues / penalizes it.  Of course, that doesn’t mean don’t do widgets, don’t beg for links and don’t do guest posts.  By all means, do these while they last.  But, be sure to invest in the tactics that compound and that will stand the test of time.