Most people aren’t going to understand this post and to be perfectly honest, I can’t totally wrap my head around it either. There is this belief that in order to rank for anything competitive, you need lots of links. But one thing that most people discount is the influence of website age and how it influences rank.
Here’s the reality. You don’t need a lot of links. You just need a lot of patience. I’m not the only one who thinks this way, by the way. Here’s someone who is not technically an SEO but whose blog gets 100,000 visits a month who basically says the exact same thing.
I personally got a taste of this a year or so back when I discovered that my vanity blog, (then it was leodimilo.com) was hovering between pages 2 and 5 for the keyword term internet marketing. This was despite the fact that I didn’t actively go after links (it was non-commercial). The few links I did get were unsolicited. Those around me had way more links than me. The only definable difference was my website had a bit of age to it (like 4 years) while a lot of the websites around me were much younger. The only thing I had changed with the website was I changed my hosting package to a VPS host.
That discovery made me start to rethink the role of links in SEO.
Head Terms Shouldn’t Matter because…
I should also point out that there is no value in the head terms like internet marketing, just as there is no value in a keyword like SEO (and why people go after those terms is beyond me). Sure, you get traffic but they are too non-descript and there is very little way to determine what the searcher’s intent is in the first place. Besides, most astute SEO’s will tell you that head terms are for amateurs…long tails are where it’s at. It’s the long tails that pay the bills (plus, they are much easier to rank for…sometimes with no external links at all.)
But nonetheless, it is a competitive keyword. And I was on the precipice of ranking for it.
So, why? I don’t have a clear answer but I think that after 4-5 years of blogging, Google became comfortable with the fact that my website was about internet marketing (because it was). And those around me spent so much time doing what everyone else was doing (ie. getting links from places everyone gets links from), that whenever an update happened, big or small, I was rewarded with more trust based on my link profile (or lack of one).
People Don’t Like it When You Rock the Boat…
I mentioned this in a comment on a blog and got positively hammered by “SEO’s” (yeah…in quotes) who flat out told me I was crazy for thinking such a thing. My argument was that most SEO’s only test with links and that there is no way to prove that you are ranking solely from back links. In other words, to prove a test, you need a control to test it against.
Now, I can only surmise where it would be today and I don’t think you can reach number one without building real links, but I think that in today’s I-want-it-now culture, it is easier to swallow the get lots of links to rank mantra than it is to swallow the be patient and just keep on keeping on.
Besides, link building is a million dollar market that needs consumers in order to thrive. And this is what perpetuates the half-truth (I won’t call it a myth because you do need links).
To put it plainly, people don’t like to hear things that don’t have a concrete meaning behind it. Who are you going to believe? – Someone selling the idea that you can buy your rankings with links or someone who tells you that you can’t, at least not for long?
But it is what it is.
The reason why I even mention this now is because of posts like this one, where the author is trying to figure out in scientific terms as to why he is suddenly ranking for highly competitive keyword. It could be any number of the things he mentions. Or it could be something as simple as domain age and the trust associated with it. It could be that all the websites that were ranking were over optimized and heavy laden with trumped up back links. It could be all of these things or none.
You still need links
Coming full circle here….This doesn’t mean that you don’t need links. It simply means that the manner in which most people get links is probably flawed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that most people aren’t going to take the time to drop exact match anchor text and it not be a solicitated link in most cases. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that your website should have more links associated with your brand than anything else.
I think in terms of value, valuable links don’t necessarily boost up the context of keywords but they boost up the trust value that search has for the website on the whole. We are talking long term here, though. A rash of low quality links may serve you well for awhile but ultimately as loopholes get closed, those links get devalued to the point where it affects the rankings. These are all just my opinions though.
So what do you do?
The honest answer is to affect the things you can affect. Website architecture is important. Web design may influence unsolicited links. Obviously, promotional material affects how many eyes see your website. And, of course, content. These are things that you should focus on. Links come when those things are executed properly. And with it trust.