The external 3rd party link to a website is still an SEO ranking factor. But, times and search algorithms change, and with that, the tactical and strategic focus of where the “Bang for the Buck” in SEO is continuously shifts. Admittedly, in our early days as an SEO agency, we spent a lot of time chasing after link opportunities for clients. But, with each passing year, opportunities that brought those links in “at scale” have dwindled, and some of them are just flat-out not cool with search engines anymore.
It’s gotten to the point where these opportunities are largely one-at-a-time opportunities that can take months to realize. And even after working all those months to get an opportunity for a 3rd party publication to write about a client’s product or solution, it’s more and more common that you won’t also get an actual link back to your website. Thanks for the nice mention, that’s not really helping me build rankings.
The battle that we formerly fought hard for many years ago was getting links with exact match anchor text on third party sites that linked to our client’s product or service pages. Getting top rankings for product and service pages on non-branded keywords can be difficult. This is especially the case if you are trying to attract searchers with no brand in mind that search for non-branded keywords.
Most search queries are “informational”, i.e., people looking to do some research and understand something better. Search with buying intent is obviously less searched. Not surprisingly, links tend to flow “editorially” to helpful and informational content to a much greater extent than they do to a product or service page that just gives very specific content about those products or services.
Some companies want to rank for those high search volume informational terms used by researchers, knowing full well that they are largely attracting learners and not actual buyers. Admittedly, there are some indirect benefits to this method when it comes to attracting links to a website in general, which could help your “blue widget” page rank better, or possibly not at all…
Back in the day, search engines had “an Algorithm”. Now search engines use machine learning to decide on multiple combinations of algorithms and ranking factors in order to determine the ranking of search results. Off-page factors like Exact Match anchor text from third party websites that deep link to your product/service page that has been optimized for the same keyword are still in effect as possible factors that can improve a website’s rankings.
But that, all by itself isn’t the end-all be-all factor that can take every site to the top of search results for a chosen search query. The old-school algorithm might have disproportionately focused on that Exact Match mess of anchor text as what it takes to be number one, but things have flattened-out considerably due to things like Google’s “Rank Brain”.
Along with those technical changes, prospecting for link building opportunities has become the equivalent of asking 100 women you have never seen before out for a date, in the hopes that just one might say yes.
The link “pitch” is an archaic practice that is only for those strong enough to accept large-scale failure. And much like the “pick-up artist”, the adventures in getting to the point of “action” often lead to extreme disappointment as many website editorial policies preclude providing third-party links or only providing links with no-follow attributes that don’t count in search engine rankings. Truthfully, this process has always been this way, but it has become increasingly so with each year.
We all go through a realization in our life that at some point it is more important to work “smarter” than “harder”. While it’s nice to get great links from other sites, devoting most, if not all your time to getting them is leaving unbelievable on-page opportunities on the table that could really improve your potential for ranking highly in search engines for important keyword phrases.
There are well over 200 different ranking factors with Google, focusing on only one of them isn’t going to win all the tie-breakers you need to win with your organic search competition.
Our strategic focus has been pretty diversified for quite some time. But I’ve had more than a couple of clients tell me in the last few months that they didn’t have any idea when they started working with us how much was going to be needed from web developer teams and content writers to improve SEO results and compete.
Our clients’ ranking results have been increasing steadily with an on-page focus on many different factors in recent years including:
Technical on-page SEO yields significant ranking improvements and doesn’t carry the risk that large-scale linking tactics do for penalization from search engines. It’s also not an exercise in frustration like trying to get third-party links to a site, and it “scales” nicely in that lots of hard work can consistently yield lots of very noticeable improvements.
Off-page SEO still matters in ranking algorithms. But, the reality of Google right now is that there isn’t just one algorithm. Artificial intelligence is making the decisions on the algorithm or combination of algorithms needed to produce the best search result.
The role and weight of external links in those decisions is in a state of flux with every separate search query. There are way more on-page SEO components in those algorithms (all with different levels of importance). Studying both the on-page and off-page factors of the top sites for the search queries you want to rank for is the best starting point to determine the kind of ranking factors that Google is looking for. Those factors might be disproportionately focused on 3rd party links pointing at a page or website, or links might not matter much at all.
We have number-one ranked service pages for our own site that don’t have a single 3rd party link pointing to them, even though the rest of the top 10 results have anywhere from 20 to 10,000 links pointing to their pages. Would we accept a great off-site link pointing to that page if the opportunity presented itself to us? Yes, absolutely. Would we invest 20 or more hours of work trying to get it? That’s pretty questionable. It would have to be from a pretty great and relevant website to make it worth our time.
The point is, SEO isn’t just about link building anymore. In 2017, SEO is highly technical. It’s working on tweaks to code, it’s creating or revising content, it’s creating content with the context that the ideal customers are looking for, and occasionally it’s chasing after link opportunities that are worth the time investment.
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