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Imagine that the Internet is a planet, and that every website is a plot of land. Now, imagine that your business owns a plot of land in the UK, but that you also want to establish a small building on a plot of land in Algeria. You think that if you can build an outpost in Algeria, people in Algeria will think you’re great. Imagine that you go to Algeria and walk onto a plot of land which is owned by an Algerian farmer, and begin to build your outpost without his permission. Imagine that he gets angry and punches you. Then imagine that the police show up.


This is the rough, stupid end of link-building – the dregs of grey- and black-hat SEO. But the analogy of trespassing and constructing without permission serves its purpose; we can no longer think of link-building as something carried out by an individual for their personal gain. It is, at the very least, a joint venture between two people who own plots of land. I’d go as far as to say that there’s a third party whose participation, or at least consent, we need: the reader.

So what was, for a brief blip, a matter of cunning and guile, suddenly looks an awful lot like traditional marketing. For instance:

  1. We need to be aware of, and sensitive to, the business objectives of others. If a potential partner’s success is reliant upon their credibility, we need to fact-check anything we contribute three times over.
  2. It takes time to build a relationship with trust and understanding. This is not a flash-in-the-pan exercise; a couple of quick emails back and forth will not bring about the kind of partnership we need.
  3. An introduction from a mutual colleague, friend or acquaintance will help us to work better together, as will a face-to-face meeting, or at least a conversation on the phone. When the audience is involved in our thinking, we can’t cut corners on message.
  4. We need to recognise the limitations and be restrained in our co-operation. If two companies support each other all the time, it looks strange to real humans and it looks strange to search engines. What’s newsworthy or interesting is newsworthy or interesting. What isn’t, isn’t.

This is revolutionary and probably terrifying for the technology companies that have grown and made SEO their domain: an industry notorious for its lack of charisma has suddenly been asked to suit up, shave, and learn to talk to real people about real opportunities for collaboration.

Credit: Aidan Jones
Credit: Aidan Jones

Most or many of them won’t clean up their act, or at least not until it’s too late. Some will be incapable, and others will be unwilling. But the writing is on the wall: the people who will succeed in marketing their websites are the people who know how to talk, how to make deals, how to spot opportunities and how to appeal to their market.

Proper businesses, then.