Forward Thinking Link Building and SEO

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Published April 12, 2013 by Brad Knutson
Forward Thinking SEO

This thought might scare you. What if the days of anchor text being the holy grail of SEO were coming to an end? This may be a frightening thought for many SEOs, but it doesn’t have to be.

If we as SEOs are not adapting to search engine algorithm changes and being forward thinking in our campaigns, we could at best be leaving opportunities on the table, and at worst setting up our clients for failure. Google has shown in the past with its Penguin and Panda updates that it is devaluing anchor text and placing more weight on quality of inbound links. It is reasonable to assume that over time Google will continue to devalue anchor text and place more weight on other signals. I don’t think that anchor text will ever completely be eliminated from Google’s search results algorithm, but it won’t always be as powerful as it has been.

Social Signals

Social Signals

Image courtesy of

Think of social signals as a “social recommendation.” Search engines understand that consumers are more likely to take recommendations from their friends than they are a random person on the internet. They use this concept to give value to social shares, likes, votes and +1s.

If search engines are using this in their search ranking algorithms, then there will certainly be widespread abuse across many different social platforms. Despite what you might have read, it is strikingly difficult to spam and abuse various social media platforms to get large amounts of likes and shares. Some sites will even offer paid options to instantaneously gain a large amount of social gumption.

There is something to be said about social authority, and myself and other SEOs think that it has a valuable place in social signals. To combat spam, the only surefire way to gather data on worthwhile likes, +1s and shares is to give individuals social authority, and value higher authority shares more than lower authority shares.

With this knowledge in our arsenal, we can really focus our efforts on making strong connections with influential individuals and industry leaders. If we can get buy-in from a few high authority sources (buy-in in the form of social shares), many many more individuals will follow. But how do we go about making connections with high authority individuals and making strong connections with them?

Build Relationships, Not Links

Perhaps the best forward-thinking link building strategy isn’t to build links at all – but rather to build lasting and worthwhile connections in the professional space.

Good content will produce it’s own inbound links without any link building effort on your part. The only think you need is an audience to show your content to. If you have a proven and lasting relationship with professionals in your industry, they will be more likely to share your content on their social media feeds and write about you on their personal sites and blogs, perhaps even use you as a reference.

There has been a lot of talk about quality of links and social shares versus quantity. If Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have shown us anything, it’s that we should be focusing on quality over quantity. Google and other search engines could see large quantities of low quality links as spam, and in extreme cases you could get penalized for it.

Below I’ve outlined a few steps I take each day to make strong and lasting connections.

  • Target industry leaders and high authority individuals. Start with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and Pinterest – change priority depending on your niche. To identify high authority individuals on Twitter, Followerwonk is a great tool.
  • Follow these high authority individuals.
  • Engage them in conversation by commenting on their blog, post, update or tweet. Give them positive feedback with your own twist. Ask them a question. Engage them in thought provoking conversation so they will feel compelled to talk back to you.
  • Continue to engage with these individuals across multiple platforms, building a personal relationship with them.
  • Write a follow-up blog post expanding on a topic that they have covered. Add worthwhile content to their subject of expertise.
  • Let them know about your follow-up blog post, and suggest (or politely ask them) that they share it.
  • Continue to engage them in worthwhile, thought-provoking conversation. Compliment, give positive constructive criticism, expand on their ideas and methods, never abuse them, and perhaps most importantly – thank them.
  • Don’t spam anyone!

The above list is just a start. The goal is to build professional and lasting relationships. The more these individuals trust you and value your input, the more likely they will be to share your content with their following.


I’ve touched on co-citation before, and it’s a difficult concept to comprehend at first. Search Engine Journal made a great graphic to help explain it.


Image courtesy of Search Engine Journal

Essentially, co-citation (or co-occurrence) is a method used to correlate two subjects. If a post about SEO uses a blog post as a reference, the two are correlated. If another post on a different site focuses on SEO and uses the same blog post as a reference, the link between the two is stronger. The more co-citation, the stronger the correlation.

It’s difficult to say if major search engines already are using some form of co-citation in their algorithms, but Rand Fishkin has some evidence that co-citation is already being used in Google search results algorithm.

If co-citation takes on a larger role in generating SERPs, it would again suggest that anchor text will diminish in value, and other signals will come to the forefront.

Final Thoughts

While anchor text is still a strong signal in search rankings, some evidence suggests this won’t always be the case. We should be forward thinking in marketing our content, to set ourselves and our clients up for success in the future.

It might be difficult for SEOs and marketers to wrap their heads around at first, but I would suggest that we take our focus away from building inbound links with focused anchor text, and begin paying attention to other ranking factors and signals.

Great content speaks for itself.

Reference Links

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Founder at Inbounderish
Brad Knutson is a Web Developer in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has experience working with WordPress and Drupal, and also has an interest in SEO and Inbound Marketing.

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9 thoughts on “Forward Thinking Link Building and SEO

  1. Gerald Weber

    Building relationships instead of links is becoming kind of “cliche” and while part of the point is valid it’s not always practical advice. If you are the business owner then it makes sense. Something I have been doing for year personally. But if it’s for Joe-Bob the plumber and Joe Bob doesn’t have the time to “build relationships” then it’s our job to do the link building.

    So while it sound nice on paper. Like I said it’s not always practical advice. Sometimes you have to build links.

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      Hey Gerald,

      Thanks for the comment! I do agree with you – there is no cut and dry method for SEO or link building. For some larger businesses with the right products, building customer relationships would be beneficial, and for smaller operations with less time and staff, building links could be the way to go.

      I still think that many large organizations (who have the time, money, and manpower) are too focused on link building that they forget that human interaction is what drives their business. Reaching out to their customer base and engaging them in thoughtful conversation could boost peoples opinion of the organization, and result in positive reviews online.

      Ideally, business would have an action plan for both link building and relationship building. Finding the balance between the two will differ based on your business model and needs.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Robin Tramble

    Great post. I commend you for your thorough coverage of this topic. Yes there are varying opinions,
    however, you’ve provided enough here to empower the beginner to understand the value of
    what you’ve shared. Engagement and building rapport is essential. I especially like the
    point provided to follow up with a blog post expanding on the topic and informing them of this.

    Thanks for the info.

  3. Patricia Weber

    Valuable review to – look forward. While it’s sometimes time consuming online to – build relationships (it IS all about the connections) – it’s helpful of course to be where the relationships that matter most to you tend to be. Do you find it true that you want to “hang out” where your tribe is and let go of the rest?

    Thanks for the look forward.

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      Hey Patricia,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I agree that building valuable and lasting relationships online can be time consuming, but it can definitely pay off many times over!

      I do think, as you alluded to, that you should focus most of your time building relevant relationships. I’m not saying to ignore individuals who aren’t relevant to your industry – but spending more time making connections within your niche will give you an increased chance of having your content shared by them.

      When someone is considering sharing content – they usually ask themselves two questions.

      • Does this content interest me? Will it interest my connections online if I share it?
      • Do I trust this content? Do I trust this author?

      By building connections in your niche, you’re more likely to get “Yes!” answers to the above questions.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  4. Von Barbin

    Links aren’t everything in SEO, but search professionals attribute a large portion of the engines’ algorithms to link-based factors (see Search Engine Ranking Factors). Through links, engines can not only analyze the popularity of a website & page based on the number and popularity of pages linking to them, but also metrics like trust, spam, and authority. Trustworthy sites tend to link to other trusted sites, while spammy sites receive very few links from trusted sources..

  5. seo

    You make a really good point about building relationships. When I first started I ignored this while using social media and really didn’t get anything out of it. Now that I’ve refined my communications strategy, I’m pulling leads from it like crazy. Cheers!

  6. Spook SEO

    I more often look forward to build a long and lasting connection with peoples that is also really needed in this industry. Perhaps it might be the best forward-thinking link building strategy that isn’t to build links at all but rather to build permanent and valuable relations in the professional liberty.


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