Link Building: The Future Of Relationships

The Future Of Linking

Link building is hard work.

Have you ever tried to get people to link to your pure commerce/commercial brochure-web site? You know how tough it is out there. The link economy has become so established, we've even got strategies built around the idea of never linking out. Once people perceive something to be valuable, they'll think twice about just handing it over for nothing.

So what is an SEO supposed to do?

The key to linking in an environment where there is high value placed on links is to think of linking less as a process, and more in terms of building relationships.

Here are a few linking ideas designed to reduce the pain and increase the effectiveness of your link building campaign.

Relationship Link Building 101

The first step in your link building strategy occurs before your site hits the web.

If you're thinking of launching a static brochure-ware site, and link building is part of your marketing strategy, think again.


There is less chance for relationship building.

Preferably, you want a site with plenty of potential for on-going community involvement and interaction.


News Sites. Social sites. Blogs. Frequently-updated information sites. Teaching sites. Advice sites. Q&A. Wikipedia-style sites. The static brochure website will still have a place, but those sites with higher levels of user engagement will trump it.

Produce Really, Really Interesting Content

Posting what everyone else is posting is not interesting.

Look at what everyone else is posting and take a new angle on the the topic. Don't just go one better, go ten better. Learn the lessons of The Purple Cow. Be worth remarking upon. People are hungry for unique, quality content.

They'll link to you if you have it.

If your competitors are spending ten minutes on their posts, you spend a day. Spend a whole week. Cover areas no one else is covering. Make your posts game-changing posts. You're going to need not one, but a consistent body of such posts. Think about the sites you link to. You need to aim to be better than those sites.

At very least, you need to offer a point of difference in order to be linkworthy.

Link Out

If you're new, you're going to need friends. You're going to need influential friends.

A link out to sites run by influential people becomes an advertisement for your site in their referral logs. People will follow the links back to see who is talking about them, and if you're got an impressive set of articles/posts, you'll be on their radar in no time.

Give Forward

Most modern marketing is based on the idea of reciprocation. If you do something for others, without requesting something in return, most people feel they should reciprocate.

Give something valuable. Give wide. Give freely. Some of it will eventually come back.

Give nothing, and you're guaranteed that nothing will come back.

Lose The Ads

The less commercial you appear, the more likely you'll get linked to, especially from .edu and other authority information hubs. Few people want to link to sites plastered with advertising unless that site already has established authority.

You can introduce advertising once you've built up link authority.

Flattery Gets You Everywhere

Make people feel important. Make them look good. If you make them look good, they'll want to point that fact out to others. They'll do your marketing for you.

Look For Companies With "In The News" Pages

This tip flows on from flattery. Write about companies in a good light. To find companies that have "in the news" style pages, do a Google search for [your industry + "in the news"].

Use Meme Trackers

Monitor upcoming news stories. Use Google Hot Trends, subscribe to Google Alerts, and check out Twitter stuff like Twitter Search and Twitscoop.

Write stories about fast-breaking events that have little competition but high interest levels. If the meme gets big enough, news sites will look around for content to quote, and, given a lack of competition, hopefully they'll quote yours.

Get Seen In The Community

Participate in answer sites, forums, article sites, Wikipedia, Squidoo, Amazon et al. Contribute something of real value. You'll get direct links in some cases, but at very least you'll raise awareness, which can translate into links down the line.

The Designer Angle

Get your site re-designed by a high profile designer who has a history of showcasing his/her work.

The cost of the design might be more than covered by the value of the inbound links and attention you receive, especially if the design is mentioned in trade bibles, like Smashing Magazine.


Less about relationships, but good tools to have in the box.

Trade Links

Trade links, ask for links, beg for links. Hey, it still works, although it's probably the least effective method, and most time consuming. Outsource this task, if you can.

List With Local Business Services

List with your Chamber of Commerce, Business Bureau's, Government Advisories, libraries, and other appropriate institutions.


Link baiting is when you write content with the specific aim of attracting links. It works, but you've got to be careful with your pitch. Get the tone wrong for your audience, and you'll put people off.


  • Top Ten Lists
  • Top Myths
  • Top 100
  • How To Do Something Exceptional With (Seemingly) No Effort
  • Courting Controversy
  • Be The First To Do Something
  • Being Outrageous

Press Releases

Almost all press releases end up in the web equivalent of the wastepaper bin, but if you can provide a fresh, newsy angle, there is significant potential for links.

Try combining link bait strategies with press release strategies. A local angle works well for local news services, who are often starved of local news.

Directory Listings

Keep the following criteria in mind when evaluating which web directories are worth your time.

  • They appear in the SERPs
  • Offer direct links - i.e they aren't routed through a script, or no-followed.
  • High crawl frequency - check out the latest crawl date in Google cache. If the directory pages haven't been cached in months, chances are Google may regard them as low quality.
  • Look for quality standards - Matt Cutts outlined Google's view of a good directory. Directories that stay closest to these guidelines are more likely to be around for the long haul.
  • Beware of sitewide linking

For more detail, check out Web Directories...are They Relevant to SEO?

Share One Strategy

If you've reached this far, and thought "I know this stuff!" - great :)

How about sharing your single best link acquisition strategy with the community :)

The Future Of Linking

Links have been so important for so long now, but are things about to change?

In the dark, distant past - 1997 - the web was about publishing.

However, the web ecosystem is evolving into more of an interactive space, based on platforms.

As a result, we're seeing a different kind of website emerge - it is more "place" than "brochure". Think Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Blogs, et al. We're seeing more applications. We're seeing more cloud computing. The web is becoming a place where we truly interact, as opposed to simply publish.

Google's ranking models have, in the past, been based on publishing models - specifically, an academic citation model in the form of PageRank. This approach will become less effective at determining relevance as people move away from the publishing model and towards interaction and engagement.

Google realize this, of course. This is why I think Google will be adapting their model to monitor and gauge interaction. Interaction will become a new valuable metric as to a sites worth, which will flow into ranking.

In a recent post on The Official Googleblog, Google talked of how interaction will change how systems "think and react":

"As we're already seeing, people will interact with the cloud using a plethora of devices: PCs, mobile phones and PDAs, and games. But we'll also see a rush of new devices customized to particular applications, and more environmental sensors and actuators, all sending and receiving data via the cloud. The increasing number and diversity of interactions will not only direct more information to the cloud, they will also provide valuable information on how people and systems think and react..... As systems are allowed to learn from interactions at an individual level, they can provide results customized to an individuals situational needs: where they are located, what time of day it is, what they are doing. And translation and multi-modal systems will also be feasible, so people speaking one language can seamlessly interact with people and information in other languages."

Notice the frequency with which Google use the terms "interact".

I think this hints at the future direction of search and ranking. Google will increasingly shift from measuring external popularity metrics, such as linking, to measuring the level of interaction, if they are not already doing so.

There have been three recent developments that search marketers should be aware of:

This all points to the increasing role of engagement metrics.

In order to positioned well in the future, you'll need to think as much about the level and type of interaction on your site as you will as you will about link authority. This comes all the way back to my first point above - build a site with plenty of potential for relationship building.

Something to ponder :)

Further Reading:

Published: September 21, 2008 by A Reader in Links


September 22, 2008 - 6:12am

This is an awesome post, and after reading it, I want to really go ahead and implement the ideas I've had for my sites. However, I have to admit that I find a lot of these ideas a little difficult for a pure commerce site, especially if you're selling a product that's not traditionally "sexy"
Fashion, Art, Electronics and Unique Products are easy to create a sense of excitement and mystique about. Vans has a great community, but Vans Shoes has been interacting with a willing crowd since forever. Health Supplements? build a forum, answer questions.
TShirt Hell just has to piss someone off.
But there are some products out there, like mine, that are just not on everyone's list. I've been working on making them "sexy" for years. Nobody collects them. Nobody is interested in the finer points of it's design. People generally look them up only when they really need them, and then they don't really check out the blog, or the forum, or see if there is a community about the products.
Will the day come? Who knows?
But in the meantime, what do you want a merchant with a needed, but unsexy product to do?

September 22, 2008 - 5:18pm

If you feel you are selling a commodity you are correct. Packaging is important. It is up to you to figure out how to package your offering to add value / turn it into art / make it a non-commodity.

Publishers, Retailers, and Manufacturers Must Become Storytellers and Interactive Media Artists

September 22, 2008 - 3:21pm

Nice post.

So was that blog post of Peter Norvig(sp?) saying usage data didn't work well in G's algorithm that sort of 'happened to be posted' nothing but a bluff?

September 22, 2008 - 4:14pm

Holy long post, Batman!

Well crafted, and it's amazing how many Fortune 100 companies are completely unaware of this "destination" and "relationship building" dynamic.

We manage SEO for roughly 20 such companies, and I'd say that at best, only half of these organizations get this concept.

And only half of those that get it, are able to convince other stakeholders within their organization to act upon this knowledge.

September 22, 2008 - 8:41pm

A lot of good ideas in here that are fundamental now and I think especially in the future as search engines are relying more heavily on these trusted links! This is a foundation that will continue to play an important role even as the industry changes!

Here is another good article on basic link building.
Building Quality Links

September 22, 2008 - 8:51pm

SEO Rookie reading this=head spinning.

So the rules are about the change? That's cool--cause I haven't learned the original rules yet.

September 22, 2008 - 8:55pm

I agree with the fundamental idea here that linkbuilding approaches must become more and more like real relationships to be successful. This is, I think, one way to look at the goal of Google. The problem with this, though, is that so many of the people that we potentially create relationships with who aren't web publishers do most of what they do on frameworks that are nofollowed (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Wikipedia, etc). The irony is that the nofollow system has helped to make these links more valuable for Google's purposes, which leads me to think that Google will most likely (if they haven't already) start to selectively ignore those nofollows for passing link juice.

I really enjoyed the talk of the future of links moving toward interaction rather than citation. Part of this, I think, will be browsing habits, as you pointed out, but I think that some of it will have to be using the non-Google systems that we already use for creating popularity. It may well be that Google will start to recognize that a page that is doing well on Stumbleupon or Reddit has greater value than one that is not, and they will either come up with their own metrics, or team up with these companies, to make this a major ranking signal. Or maybe I'm a blithering idiot.

September 22, 2008 - 10:14pm

My link building took off when I got social about stuff, started commenting and linking out. Build relationships so much faster and so much more easily. It was even fun!

September 22, 2008 - 10:31pm

I agree with this relationship plays a very important role on your online advertising...^^ that's why it is advisable to make friends not just trade links.

September 23, 2008 - 7:16am

PeterD hits yet another one out of the park.

SEO is becoming more competitive daily. Those that understand this post and actually utilize the materials contained within will succeed, those that don't will fade onto page 2 and beyond.

Simple as that.

September 23, 2008 - 3:53pm

But didn't Google state that because of the outcry about privacy (completely not warranted imho), they were going to no longer collect that 2%? Wasn't that 2% annonymised anyway?

If we don't let machines, systems, engines collect information about usage, how can they improve? I doubt anyone cares about the fact that you read "Garden today" or search for lots of terms related to "wellies". But that data when it's put together with all the other data collected can provide valuable patterns to analyse.

I did an HCI experiment where i recorded conversations with a machine, and it was really hard to get people to participate. I was looking for patterns in language.

Anyway, I think we should all contribute to advances in technology a bit more. I was ok with being in that 2%.

Great post btw.

September 23, 2008 - 6:21pm

If the machine was not an ad network then people would be less spooked about how well it knows us.

One only needs to read about how Google wants to "educate" the masses with marketing messages from pharmacy corporations to see the risks.

The healthcare industry is no stranger to negative press. A drug may be a blockbuster one day and tolled as a public health concern the next. News reporters may focus on Pharma’s annual sales and its executives’ salaries while failing to share R&D costs. Or, as is often common, the media may use an isolated, heartbreaking, or sensationalist story to paint a picture of healthcare as a whole. With all the coverage, it’s a shame no one focuses on the industry’s numerous prescription programs, charity services, and philanthropy efforts.

Many of our clients face these issues; companies come to us hoping we can help them better manage their reputations through “Get the Facts” or issue management campaigns. Your brand or corporate site may already have these informational assets, but can users easily find them?

We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.

And Google has patents for targeting ads at video game users based on exploiting the weaknesses they display

decisions made by the players may provide more information such as whether the player is a risk taker, risk averse, aggressive, passive, intelligent, follower, leader, etc. This information may be used and analyzed in order to help select and deliver more relevant ads to users.

Terry Van Horne
September 28, 2008 - 7:15pm

The fatal flaw in Googles strategy it is it is treating cloud computing as a given. It's not and it will likely be a variation on the "cloud" theme that really takes off. Collaboration in "cloud computing" is cool and is looking good in that regard, however, for my business, I want that cloud on my server and Google to keep its F'in nose out of it.

I want the government to look after my medical records (luckily in Canada that will likely be the case) not some SE that gets hacked daily and with whom I have only a slim hope that they are using the personal information they gather for search not targeting demagraphic advertising. Once again coming under the category of NOIFB! Which IMO, is what the DC buy was about. DC is by far the most dangerous data miner because it has always been about converging offline data with online data.

September 28, 2008 - 9:44pm

Welcome aboard friend. How long have I been preaching that Link Building is more related to public relations than SEO? About 15 years? Still, it must, repeat MUST be repeated and clarified that no amount of effort at relationship-building-for-the-sake-links will matter unless the parties involved are producing content of merit and value in the first place. Style is fun but substance wins on the web in the long run.

Eric Ward

December 31, 2010 - 4:51pm

Linkbuilding is nowdays the most important aspect of seo. but also trust is very important!

June 8, 2011 - 2:14pm

I have a quick question… hopefully somebody can shed some light on it:

Would a backlink from a PR9 site (that is not of a relevant industry) still do any good? I mean, it’s a PR9 which is massive, but it’s not relevant to my site niche.

It’s a site that my close friend owns and operates, and we were just discussing what kind of weight his PR9 would push onto an external site of non-relevance. The page with the PR9 is his homepage, and there are less than 10 other links on the page pointing to other resources.

This is NOT paid, or anything along those lines… just an informative request.

- Batman

June 8, 2011 - 11:19pm

...has not had its ability to pass outbound link equity blocked then sure it would likely help some in most cases. But it is hard to say any meaningful % or anything like that without knowing a lot more about your site and the rest of the link profile.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.