Flashback to 1999 – journalists from old media are afraid to link to other publications or sources despite the new opportunities the Web offers – bloggers embrace the Internet and hyperlinks in contrast and get significant attention by doing so.
15 years later history is repeating because publishers afraid of Google do not link anymore
or just using the so called “nofollow” attribute to mark their own links as potential spam.
Why is Google scaring people into not linking?
Publishers around the world are increasingly dependent on Google. Germany’s largest publisher, an infamous media mogul similar to Ruport Murdoch is literally afraid of Google.
In recent years Google has made getting so called organic traffic gradually more and more difficult. While at it the search traffic monopolist has been often arbitrarily “penalizing” websites in their search results and thus harming or even destroying whole businesses.
By now Google both algorithmically and manually penalizes webmasters for not only incoming links you have no control over – that is when other people link to your site – and outgoing links – that is when you link other sites on the Web.
Given the wide spread penalties it’s no wonder people think twice before linking out.
Website owners also frequently get link removal requests from people who are themselves scared of Google. They assume that your links are somehow negatively impacting their Google rankings. Often Google even suggests themselves that your links are harmful like happened recently to 15 years old blogging veteran site Metafilter.
Will Google drop links as a ranking factor?
Isn’t it ironic that one of the first blogging pioneers, Metafilter got hit by an ominous Google penalty? Does Google want to weaken the actual backbone of the Web as we know it, the hyperlink? They claim that they want just to keep their index clean and spammer at bay but legitimate websites get affected by updates and penalties all the time.
The Google algorithm still depends on links.
At the same time they are frantically attempting to find other means of determining page authority. They haven’t found any promising alternatives yet. Other ranking factors are mostly about filtering out bad results and additional insights in the value of each resource. You basically can’t tell which page is more important without counting links as of now.
The hyperlink is the foundation of the Web
I have said a few times and I say it again: there is no Web without links. A hyperlink is what constitutes the Web. Without a link you only have static text saved and accessible on a server when you know the address. this is more akin to a library. Of course Google is like the ultimate librarian.
Google just need to index everything in their library and then every other link is competing with them.
Google is the ultimate link list. They do not want others to link out to resources. They want people to use their search engine to navigate the Web. Ideally of course these searchers will also click Google ads. Many do without even realizing that they are clicking on ads.
This is evidently a paradox. While Google depends on links it also competes with other sites that offer links. They need your content to index but their frown upon your links in it. This way Google is also undermining the actual foundation of the Web, the connections between documents and their relations.
Linking out is the best content promotion technique
We all have probably heard of the term attention economy and more recently “content shock”. There is a lot of content out there, much more than you and me can digest let alone notice. Even when it comes to small niches like SEO for example you will struggle to read everything important or substantial on any given day.
You have a finite attention span that only suffices to notice a few dozen articles and choose may several of them to skim. You end up reading and saving for later just a few of those, maybe just one or two.
You need influential people to notice your content so that they spread it.
You can do outreach of course, but that’s tedious and potentially annoying. What you need is that people actually notice your article, video or infographic automatically. The easiest technique to achieve this is to mention actual people who need to take notice in the content itself.
This so called egobaiting works to some extent for videos and infographics too. In any case: when you “ping” influencers and other bloggers or publishers and they like what they see they will share your article to their respective audiences.
Independent online strategy
The question now is whether you are implementing an independent online strategy based on content promotion and building audiences or whether you solely rely on gatekeepers like Google l and Facebook.
Monopolistic gatekeepers still give away some “free” traffic without forcing you to buy ads yet.
Both corporations control the largest part of their markets. Google dominates search traffic globally while Facebook is the the far largest social media traffic source in most countries. Even getting that free traffic costs a lot of money and effort. Both Google optimization and Facebook engagement are not be underestimated.
You have to compete not only with your direct rivals selling the same products or offering the same services you also have to fight for attention with a myriad of other content creators, publishers and marketers. Everybody wants to get at least a tiny slice of the attention pie while it gets smaller each day.
Assuming that Google and Facebook will always provide “free” traffic to your site is probably the most dangerous fallacy these days.
I have seen business owners cringe and despair over Google updates and manual penalties while they were very apprehensive to even consider any alternative routes. You need to build an audience of your own. Audience building means that you attract readers to your content directly.
The best way to build an audience is to get recommended by people in your niche, industry and/or country.
The easiest way to get recommendations is to link out to those who are able and willing to recommend you. It’s about people like you:
It’s not just about getting social shares on the same sites like Facebook. Likes are even worse. You need actual endorsements from your colleagues.
So either you obey Google and thus stop linking out, or you ignore Google’s bizarre policies to focus on your audience while promoting your content by linking out to your peers.
* Creative Commons image by Mark Skipper