2016 Link Building & SEO

Can SEO link building truly be replaced by content marketing and “link earning”?

The year 2016 isn’t the first year the demise of link building and SEO has been predicted — and it will hardly be the last.

Stated plainly, link acquisition has come a long way from the pre-Penguin era of spam.

Prior to the Penguin algorithm, link building was riddled with spam and automation, and quantity mattered more than quality. Penguin hasn’t eliminated all spam, of course, but the majority of link spam has been penalized or devalued, and this has helped clean up the link building industry.

Google has stated that a new Penguin update (version 4.0) should be released by the end of the year, and the new version will update in real time.

Links have always been an important ranking signal, having famously been the core of Google’s original search algorithm. Algorithmically counting a link as a vote of confidence is what differentiated Google in the first place, making their results better than competing search engines.

Today, links remain powerful, precisely because Google continues to invest in links as a signal. With every Penguin update or manual action from Google’s webspam team, Google makes links a little better as a signal, removing some of the spam — or noise — that was making links less trustworthy.

With the advent of Penguin in 2012, many within the digital marketing sphere began to move away from link building. Some reasons for this included:

  • Penguin devalued link spam, making link acquisition more difficult.
  • Penguin punished spammy sites, rather than just devaluing them, making link spam “high-risk.”
  • Google was vague on the details of what triggered Penguin, which spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (and misinformation) regarding links.
  • Clients hit by Penguin became wary of link building, and SEOs and marketers attempted to distance themselves from the term.
  • SEOs are a naturally adaptive lot, and content marketing was growing in popularity.

All of these factors created a perfect storm for the conflation of content marketing and link building. Many SEOs viewed content marketing as a replacement for link building and started touting “link earning” through content marketing — a strategy that involved crafting high-quality content that would naturally attract links.