Valentine’s Day is one of the most polarizing holidays. Some people cuddle up with their significant others and gush over flowers and chocolates, while others are left out in the cold. In the SEO world, there are also some terms that feel the love and others… not so much.

Consider our affection for terms like Metadata, mozRank, PageRank, SERP and others. These are fundamental definitions that every Internet marketer knows. In fact, I’d argue that we’re infatuated with many of these buzzwords in our industry. However, there is one term in particular that has lost its favor.

The term “link building” refers to the process of receiving more inbound links to your website for the purpose of improved search rankings. The term has taken on a negative connotation in the past few years, especially with publishers who feel their site is a link farm for the benefit of others. This is nothing new, and frankly it’s the root of many of Google’s recent changes.

More often than not, our industry has tried to divert attention away from this language and instead use different terms like outreach, contributing, and inbound marketing instead of actually changing the bad practices. Whatever it’s called, savvy publishers should steer clear of these crappy guest posts and the practice of selling links.

Check the Yearbook

Believe it or not, “link building” used to be one of the most popular girls in school. In the days before Google’s algorithm updates, she was head cheerleader and at the top of the pyramid. Let’s take a look at a brief history of how the rise and fall of this buzzword.

1994: Brian Pinkerton creates the first crawler to index pages on the web and creates a list of the top 25 sites. From there, search sites like Excite and Lycos begin indexing more pages.

1998: Google launches PageRank. This begins a long love affair between SEO and Links.

2000: Meta tags were the main focus for marketers; however, link building was already on the fast track to becoming a widely accepted practice.

2011: Google launches its first Panda update, Penguin was soon to follow. Google has since tried to punish the sites building low quality links with regular updates including Penguin 2.0 and Hummingbird.

Today: The search world has a negative perspective on the term “Link Building,” and the term, “Guest Post,” is starting to fall out of favor.

“Link Building” Will Never Graduate

The process of link building is not dead. As marketers, we understand the importance of language. Link building leaves a sour taste in many mouths because it conjures up outdated terminology and sketchy, unethical undertones.

Like most aspects of the Internet, the few bad apples ruined it for the rest of us. Link building, when done with the intent to provide quality content from the outset, is different than littering boring guest posts with irrelevant links.

As long as Google exists, so will the business of trying to improve search results.  We have merely changed the tone and changed the verbiage. Links remain a critical component to search and always will. Links connect information and they’re the foundation of sharing information across the Internet. Consider these three facts and you tell me if the process of “link building” is dead.

  • Google’s PageRank is based on links
  • Spiders crawl the web and they use links to do so
  • Links are a natural way to point out examples

Moving forward, both publishers and content creators need to understand the power of inbound linking. Just because the term is viewed in a negative light, doesn’t discredit its value.  Guest posts for the sole purpose of acquiring inbound links will fade as more publishers are alerted to Google’s recent remarks. However, policing resourceful links and the difference between solid guest posts and others remain impossible for Google to detect.  We may view “link building” as a term of the past, but if we underestimate the process –we’re dumb. Links are synonymous to search. They’ll  forever married.

The Identical Twin Sister of “Link Building”

As for the future, the term “link earning” is rising in popularity, where good content trumps links. Nowadays, SEO strategists are changing their tune. It’s no longer about gaming a system; instead, user-end experience through custom content outweighs tricking your way to the top of search.

As Distilled CEO Will Critchlow points out, building something implies a tangible end product. SEO marketers understand that this is not always true. Even more so, there are too many unknowns and variables to guarantee “X” amount of links from “Y” amount of sources.

The transitional focus from links to user-experience has been felt across the Internet. Native advertising has been dubbed a successful replacement to guest posting and focuses on engagement instead of clicks.  Upworthy has started measuring success by “attention minutes,” proving that the value of traffic is in time on the site instead of mouse clicks.

What do you think? Is the term link building just referred to as something else these days? Should it still exist as a staple term in SEO?