Concerns with Link Valuation3 years ago

I love “link building” but I hate the phrase “link building”. It’s a dated name, just like “SEO” no longer accurately reflects what we do for a living. As Rand has written before, the responsibilities of SEO have been upgraded, and that includes the responsibilities of link builders.

One concern I have with some parts of the link building industry is assigning discrete values to a link built/acquired. This is fairly common for link brokers who own networks of sites where they sell links. This valuation is also being used at agencies as a well, when a campaign is effectively a bulk order of links.

Valuing Links

There are many ways to value a link. This can include creating buckets based on type, creating evaluation criteria, and sorting by link based metrics such as those provided by SEOmoz. A link in a particular bucket, that meets certain metrics, can be valued at a particular dollar amount.

I’ve written before that I do not believe in link building quotas, because I think they hurt your strategy. One part of setting a quota is breaking down a time or money budget by using discrete link values, ie. “For $5,000 a month, I can get you X number of Y and Z type of links”.

Let’s not make the link the goal. Just as SEO has moved beyond rankings as a goal, it would be smart to move beyond links as a end goal. It’s a means to an end, not the end itself.

Link Building as a Viable Marketing Strategy

Earlier this year, Chris Dixon wrote a post saying that SEO is no longer a viable marketing strategy. I don’t agree with that statement, obviously, but I think there are some hard truths in that post. The SEO of 2001 to 2008 is not a viable marketing strategy in 2011. Luckily, good SEO in 2011 is a viable marketing strategy in 2011 and 2012. The problem is that our industry’s brand (and many of its participants) haven’t followed the changes that are leading our industry forward. The art of SEO is becoming increasingly less algorithmic. We’re seeing this with things like all the post recently on personas. We’re growing up, we’re becoming better marketers.

Expecting that you can win in a market by buying X units of awesome from an agency or broker is not a viable marketing strategy.

This algorithmic approach has been working, and still works this way to a degree, but I don’t think it’s a viable model for SEOs providing services to use as a long-term career or business model.

Placing discrete values on a link acquisition marginalizes us as marketers.

Links Role in Balancing the Profile

The SEO impact of a link changes based on the dynamics of a domain’s link profile. No link can be viewed as a singular addition of value. The incremental increase of a profile is based on how a link interacts with the rest of the profile. The final value doesn’t match the sum of its parts kind of thing. Because of this, the discrete link value concept falls apart.

A link strategy may include 6 months of on-going guest posting to build links. Often, this is an algorithmic focus on acquiring guest post links (ie. 10 guest post a month from DA 40+ domains with targeted anchor text). This strategy will experience diminishing returns from an algorithmic view, and its competitive advantage returns will decay even more quickly if the strategy is simply to acquire X number of Y bucket links.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a competitive advantage to guest posting, but the strategy should step above the idea of acquiring X target number of Y links. A good example of this is Oil Gardner’s Noob Guide post on SEOmoz. That’s a guest posting strategy that goes well beyond the marginal gain of a link. It’s strong content marketing, brand building, and qualified traffic generation.

Destroying the Organic Scalability of SEO

Using discrete values on link acquisition also diminishes one of SEO’s greatest assets as a marketing channel, which is that it scales to a degree that most paid channels cannot. SEO can drive cost per acquisition way down, since the monetary investment can experience multipliers over an exceptionally long period of time, even if marketing budgets are reduced at a later date.

Building what Ross Hudgens calls a link building machine does not fit well within the model of discrete link valuation. Certain SEO strategies, such as viral marketing, content assets, and linkable assets allow this high degree of scalability. These strategies also tend to be much more marketing focused, as opposed to algorithmic in nature. They also do not lend themselves well to discrete link valuation, because they’re so unpredictable in nature. And lastly, they bring value beyond the algorithmic addition of one link.

We should use algorithmic insights to inform marketing strategies, instead of marginalizing our marketing with such algorithmic approaches like discrete link valuation and campaign quotas.

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