Quality Sites Are the New Links and Santa Exists
According to Google and Search Engine Land the decades old practice of link building has been replaced by “building quality sites” back in 2013.
Is SEO dead then, again? No, that’s not a joke. This is official.
The webmaster guidelines by Google have been changed to:
“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.”
Formerly they were saying instead:
“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”
At first I was like “cool, now I can get back into the Google index, they will finally acknowledge that I have a quality site here”.
Then I was like “wait a moment, no way, this is just to mislead noobs to believe they can’t improve their ranking by building links anymore”. Are you kidding me?
The Truth According to Google
I told everybody about it including the author of the SEL article but nobody really cared about my comments and social media messages.
After all, who am I, just a weirdo from Germany while what Google says and SEL confirms must simply be true.
My weirdo status at least allows me to argue with big Google. I don’t care!
Why that? I have nothing to lose anymore. Google penalized me already.
I don’t have to cuddle with Google execs on the next search conference. Therefore I can tell you the truth.
Does link building still make sense? Google doesn’t want you to get links.
Links still work though! At least they work much better than quality sites.
You can have indeed the best quality site and still rank nowhere in Google.
I have experienced it myself by failing to make quality sites rank LOL.
Quality Sites Do Not Rank
Yes, I have some great quality sites that do not rank simply because they have no incoming links. This blog here is the best example.
My blog has been penalized by Google despite hundreds of quality posts.
I do not want to expose myself here a bit too much. After all it’s a bit embarrassing to admit that I didn’t succeed with a site or even more than one.
Let it be said that I just didn’t have enough time and resources to make it succeed. Simply said: I didn’t have the time and resources to make the quality sites get enough links by link building.
I do not mean old school link building with directories, link exchange or paid links when I talk link building.
I mean high quality earning links. I just use the old term because its meaning is changing all the time to the better.
True, decade old link building schemes still are all over the place but Google is smart enough to root them out by now.
I witnessed the SEO agency by one of the largest German publishing houses getting their link network aka “portfolio of 2000 sites” busted.
It was really sad to witness because they have made a client of mine believe that such a linkfarm can still work despite my advice not to use it under any circumstances.
I even told him that this scheme can blow up any time. A few weeks later most of the sites got de-indexed.
Great Content and UX Do Not Suffice
I am not talking about such artificial or in Google’s words “unnatural” link building by setting up networks of fake sites just to get links from those.
When you read on Google says that you need to look up the “Webmaster Academy” for more insights. There under the subheadline “create great content” they write:
“One key element of creating a successful site is not to worry about Google’s ranking algorithms or signals”
That’s bullshit of course. In case you don’t know how Google ranks websites you won’t succeed even with a great site featuring fantastic content. They go on to state:
“concentrate on delivering the best possible experience for your user by creating content that other sites will link to naturally—just because it’s great.”
Yeah, getting links by creating highly valuable incentives to link to you is legit. Yet you won’t succeed with that either without using common sense popularization techniques like blogger outreach.
It’s true to some extent, I have been telling you for several years to create flagship content to make people want it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a big proponent of quality content and sites, after all I publish content and optimize sites for 15+ years now.
Sadly, just because you create “great content” doesn’t mean it will rank on Google. There’s a whole lot more to it.
Even in case you have created great content you have to compete with myriads of other sites that also have great content.
Are quality sites with great content and the best possible user experience a bad thing? Of course not. Will quality, content and UX make you rank on Google by itself? No.
Santa Does Not Exist
I still remember the day when my mother told me that Santa doesn’t exist. It was not only the fact that the mythical figure disappeared so suddenly.
It was also about trust. I was like “whoa, my mother and everybody else has been lying to me all the time”.
From then on I not only stopped believing in Santa, I also stopped believing everything people were telling me, even the people I trusted.
I knew that you have to “read between the lines” despite not knowing that idiomatic expression yet.
Reading between the lines is easy. You simply have to know who says something and what the motives are for saying that.
For example when I know Google says something and their main goal is profits then it doesn’t have to be true.
Their statement just has to reflect the most profitable strategy. What is the most profitable strategy for Google?
Getting and controlling as much content as possible and also analyzing user profiles (via tracking cookies and analytics) and data from different Google services.
They want your content and relationships for free and under their control.
What Google doesn’t want anymore are open standards that create on open Web the competition can use also against them. That’s why they abandoned RSS feeds for example and dumped Google Reader.
Discounting hyperlinks and replacing the free Internet with a more proprietary Facebook-like walled garden is another huge part of their strategy as I noted already.
That’s why they don’t want people to build links or even establish links via legit relationships. The only relationships that Google really appreciates are those controlled by them via AMP, Schema and the likes.
It’s OK Santa
I know that Santa does not exist for a while now and that’s OK. I’m afraid there will be enough naive webmasters out there to believe Google and SEL that Santa exists over at Google though.
All you need is to create a nice wish-list as a website in accordance to the “just create great content and they will come” content strategy but the only Santa will be yourself.
You will be giving the present of free content to the Google machinery. It will work, for Google. In contrast you will need to
- reach out to like-minded individuals
- establish relationships with peers
- create a community and ideally a hard core tribe of supporters
and much more so that your quality site gets the attention it deserves. At first Google won’t even notice, it will take months.
The good news is though that you don’t need to wait for Google. Once you have followed through all the SEO 2.0 steps you won’t need Google anymore.
You will have an audience all by yourself independently of the gatekeeper and you can even put Google behind a paywall.
My sites do just fine without all that “link building”. Yes, links still help but look at all the misery they have led to.
The secret to success is to let go of whatever definitions you have for “quality” that are obviously not working for you.
Thanks for sharing your insights on this. I wonder how long it will work in Google’s favor to control the web? It seems since they have such a big share of search, the majority of businesses will continue to play into their hand.
I think as web marketers it’s vital that we promote ways for sites to get traffic and conversions aside from Google. I know this is something you’ve done for a long time & I appreciate that.
We recently started a Q&A series on our blog and our first post in the series went along the lines of this topic.
I’m going to add a link to your post because I think you have a great perspective that none of us really covered. At least to the depth you did. Thanks again!
[…] 6/28/2013: We came across a post from Tadeusz Szewczyk, Quality Sites Are the New Links And Santa Exists, in which Tad addresses Google’s recent claim that, “”In general, webmasters […]
Michael: What’s your definition of quality?
Annalisa: Yeah, good question!
Successful optimization is a process. Site developers and web marketers should focus on a variety of techniques and not just the “get rich quick” method! It’s not supposed to be easy.
Now that was a refreshingly no B.S. reality check on the current state of SEO.
I’d love to read more SEO case studies. (Apologies if they’re on the site – this is the first post I’ve read. But not the last)
Sadly I don’t often have the time to write a real SEO case study, that takes a successful project first (that’s difficult by itself by now as Google is killing off white hat sites) but I am preparing a small case study on the immediate value of a blog post in dollars.