“Link Building is Dead:” What Small Businesses Should Know About Links

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Link building is deadLink building is not an activity that we typically think about here at Small Business Trends, even though we run an online business.  In that regard, I suppose we’re not much different from many small businesses.  We have 100 things we have to do in a typical work day just to keep operating and make a profit.  An activity called “link building” simply doesn’t make it into our daily activities.  We just don’t have time.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought before reading  a book called Link Building is Dead – Long Live Link Building!

This is a new book written by Sage Lewis. Together with his wife Rocky, he owns a digital media agency called SageRock Creative in Ohio not far from our headquarters here at Small Business Trends.  He is someone I have known professionally for years in real life.  His firm is a member of the Northeast Ohio Software Association, where I was on the Board for a number of years.  So I was beyond delighted to get an autographed copy of his book as a gift in the mail one day.

The book is about 200 pages.  I was able to get through it in four evenings — your mileage may vary.

This is a book intended for business people with a website they want to attract traffic to. It’s also for those who may be relatively new to the search field or to online marketing – beginners to intermediates.  It’s not intended for those with advanced knowledge.  There are no complex formulae or techniques.

Rather, this is a primer on what link building is, and how a business can go about addressing it.  As you read it, you can pick up lots of tips and pointers explained in a way that will make you feel like you could apply them.  The author has a knack for describing things in everyday words and examples. He makes even the most complex concepts understandable.

Two Overriding Messages

There are a couple of overriding messages woven into this book.

The first message is that link building has changed dramatically in the past several years.

Let me back up for a moment. Perhaps you have only a vague idea of what link building is all about and why it’s important.  Link building is the process of getting third party sites to link to your website. Why are links important? The author writes, “All search engines value links as a measure of how influential and important a Web site is online. According to search engines, sites with many important, related sites linking to them must be worthwhile, therefore deserving a better ranking in the search listings.”

In other words, it’s a good thing to have important sites linking in to your site on relevant topics.  It will help your own site get found when people search in search engines.  The emphasis is on “important” and “relevant.”  The goal is to get links to your site from reputable sites that are themselves considered important, and that are relevant somehow to topic(s) on your pages.  Links from spammy sites or totally off-topic sites don’t help (or at least, not nearly as much).

Lewis goes over what has changed in recent years.  The search engines are continually evolving. Methods for making a site popular in the past no longer work as well today. Newer techniques have to be learned, such as using social media for link building.

One fascinating section is called “All links are not created equal.” He evaluates some inbound links, but looks at them from different metrics.  He compares which links sent the most visitors, which resulted in the most pages per visit, and which ones kept the visitors on the site longer.  After reading that section, you will have a greater appreciation for which links are valuable.  The conclusion: search engine rankings are just one dimension.  Other benefits of links may be more valuable to your business. For example, traffic directly from a site that attracts an audience interested in what you offer may be more valuable than search traffic.

Thus, your view of link building shouldn’t be limited to thinking about search engines.  Look at the bigger picture.  It’s about getting the right kind of visibility and traffic and attention.

The second message is that you should think about link building as “accreting” links to your site.  That word means gradually collecting something over time.  You  need to envision a long term series of activities that attract links to your site, that build up over time.

His point: make your business interesting,  and your site will attract links.  Focus on giving people a good reason to link to your site.  And don’t expect overnight results. In their natural state links grow gradually, not in one fell swoop.

Other Topics Covered

He even covers controversial subjects like buying links.  The author’s position:  you can buy links, but with two HUGE caveats. First, if you buy a link, do it in order to get online exposure, not to try to game search rankings.  Second, use a “nofollow” tag to protect your site, as that tag tells the search engines you’re not trying to use that paid link to game them. If you want to know more about nofollow, you’ll have to read the book.

The book includes sections on monitoring which sites link to yours, which pages they are linking to, and why.  But the tools and monitoring techniques are all ones that a relative newbie could use after a short learning curve.

There are a few short places where the book goes off on less-than-useful tangents. One, about linking to copyrighted information, is based on such a unique set of facts that it won’t apply 99.99% of the time.  Another is a section about PageRank sculpting. Most small business owners could be perfectly successful never knowing a single thing about sculpting except this: don’t link out to disreputable spammy sites.  But those are minor tangents. They do not detract from an otherwise useful book.

More About the Author

Finally, I want to warn you that the author is a bit of a character.  I mean that only in a good way.  The USA television network has a tagline “characters welcome.”  I like to think of the small business market as one where characters are welcome.

Most small business owners tend to be independent types. We march to our own drummers. That’s why I love dealing with other business owners.  There are a lot of “characters” in this market and I am proud to know them. Sage Lewis (@SageRock on Twitter) is just that type of small business owner. It makes him interesting and memorable.

The author’s personality comes through in his writing style.  When you read the book, you’ll see what I mean. He writes like he talks, and he has a colorful way of expressing himself.  He doesn’t take himself seriously, either. For instance, he jokes about “all five visitors” to his blog for a certain topic — and turns that into a lesson on what he did wrong and what he should have done instead.   Oh, and his book has a picture of his cat, Marty, in it.  How can you go wrong with a book that has the author’s cat in it?

All kidding aside, Lewis has been in the search business for nearly 15 years.  He has been the professional in residence at one university and teaches SEO classes at another university.  His book also comes with recommendations from industry veterans such as Jim Boykin and Bruce Clay.  He also got testimonials from three nationally-known people based here in Ohio who I know, including marketing guru Jim Kukral;  Joe Pulizzi, the founder of the Content Marketing Institute; and Mike Murray with whom we collaborated on a small business call-to-action study recently.  So Lewis’s expertise comes well recommended.

Why You Should Read “Link Building is Dead”

Make no mistake.  You’ll hear from an experienced practitioner who can give you a serious grounding in how to make your business and your website more popular, and attract links.  And that can help your online presence grow, and in turn help your business grow.

Whether you are a do-it-yourselfer, or a marketing manager or business owner planning to hire an outside agency to improve your online presence and just want to know the right questions to ask — I wholeheartedly recommend Link Building is Dead – Long Live Link Building!

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Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

9 Reactions
  1. Sounds like a Christmas gift for my dad. He could use a good primer on linkbuilding to reinforce all the stuff I’ve been telling him over the years.

    • Hi Robert,

      That’s a great idea. The book is appropriate for business owners who are not search professionals. And it’s fun reading, also, for a subject you may not necessarily think of as “fun.”

      – Anita

  2. Great job on this book review, Anita.

    I got the book, too, and will now dig into it a little faster that I was going to. (It’s sitting on my Computer; I have it on Kindle.)

    You know…Click to open.

    The Franchise King®

  3. Victorino Abrugar

    Interesting title – link building is dead. This seems to be a great book to read for small business owners who want to understand the essence of link building for getting search rankings. I agree that link building should only focus on building links but on building relationships.

    • Hi Victorino,

      The book is actually about more than search rankings. There are many reasons links can help a site, even if they don’t change search results one iota, based on what the author says.

      I think that’s important for small businesses to keep in mind. Example: getting featured in an email newsletter may not aid your site one bit in search. But it could send you valuable direct traffic.

      I urge small business owners to think about links not as they relate to search engines so much, but for getting traffic. When people focus on search it leads to all sorts of unnatural things that can you into trouble.

      – Anita

    • It’s actually about two conflicting messages. But then again, I am getting tired of all these ‘dead’ stuff. It just raises pointless debates when these people should be focusing more on action than theory. Just my 2 cents.