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Why artificially building links is a tired and risky strategy

Ben Dickens, May 20, 2014

In my latest post I’m looking at link building and why building links artificially is a risky and short sighted strategy.

I’ve written a number of posts hoping to demystify content marketing and hopefully highlight what brands should look for in a content marketing agency, writes Ben Dickens, content marketing agency DVO’s managing director. But I thought it would be valuable to take a good hard look at the notion of link building and why both brands and agencies seem to equate content marketing with link building.

Let me state my position on link building:

Artificially building links – read paying for them – is a tired strategy based around short-term gain. For every link built this way, you are actively increasing the risk that at some point in the future you will be caught out by a search engine which will penalise you for breaching their guidelines.

Content marketing should never be focused on building links – it’s about engaging an audience earlier in their journey to build trust so when they come to spend some money they do it with you. The only time I would advocate tracking links is to assess the quality and effectiveness of your content.  Sure, you need to drive some awareness of your content, but if it’s not being linked to and shared naturally it’s not engaging your target audience and, in my opinion, it’s therefore failed.

However, this is where it becomes tricky. It’s very easy to artificially create these signals and put the awareness budget to use by developing links and shares using content to link to. But such a strategy is doomed to drag you into a link-building culture because you’ll probably look at your content and say, well nobody naturally linked or shared but what I spent on artificially creating these signals kind of worked. In future, you’ll let your content standards slip as it’s all too easy to build those links. There are loads of sector-specific bloggers who’ll link to and extol the virtues of your content for a fee – and you’ll see the results in a rise in organic traffic.

But you risk producing content simply for the sake of having it there, and you’ve totally missed what you set out to do which was properly engage an audience and improve your chances of getting more people to spend more money, more often with your brand. Sure, you’ll see a bit more traffic but nearly all these people will be at the preference and purchase end of the sales funnel, so again you’ve missed the point of engaging them earlier, and all the time the black cloud of a penalty will be growing ever larger.

This trap is very easy to fall into. Everyone wants results yesterday and sometimes a quick win is what’s needed to keep a client or boss happy. That’s why we advocate content marketing as a top down strategy that needs to permeate through almost all areas of marketing. The way content marketing is delivered naturally aligns the various silos that exist – in most businesses, the problems occur when content marketing is thought of as a replacement for certain aspects of marketing, particularly SEO where most link addicts hang out.

I know full well that search engines work on links, and acknowledge their importance for organic traffic. But equally, I’ve seen how tricking the system has played out and it’s not pretty. Perhaps, this is where I roll off a long diatribe about the web and the founding principles etc etc.. but hey they don’t pay the mortgage.

In a nutshell, don’t get obsessed with links. It’s not where to channel your energy, and be wary of anyone who isn’t focused on creating a great site that people want to experience, share with their friends and link to. I think Matt Cutts said something similar!

So give DVO a call. We’ve got the correct blend of publishing expertise, consumer understanding and technical knowledge to deliver measurable results through your content marketing.

Call us on 020 3771 2461, drop us a line at iminterested@dvoagency.co.uk or tweet us. We’re @DVOagency.

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