PR is replacing link building – this is why

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  • September 7, 2015
Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright

Director of Search

Links are not dead. Links are still an integral part of the algorithm.

But building links is no longer part of the job description for an SEO.

For Branded3, link building was in its death throes at the end of 2013. Since then we’ve been shortlisted for UK Search Awards and Drum Search Awards and CIPR Awards for the links and coverage we’ve acquired for clients.

It isn’t link building, and it isn’t our Search Strategy team who are doing it.

The fundamental change in SEO over the last few years: the person who optimises your website is no longer the person who is best placed to acquire links back to it.

An SEO campaign requires the input of more people now than ever before. Is your SEO the best person to write your product descriptions? The fact that you’re doing this because it will give you more traffic from Google is irrelevant. Just because a taxi driver gets you from A to B doesn’t mean he can fly a plane.

The good news is that the SEO consultants/managers/strategists of a few years ago are in a great position, since we typically have a solid grasp of PR, of content, creative, coding, analytics and more.

This is a wonderful thing because technical SEO is more important than ever.

Freeing up your SEO’s time to get things done and drive results gives you a huge advantage over your competitors if all they are doing is adding  content to the site and adding links back to it.

One of the most significant differences between PR and link building is the quantities we deal with.

Not only is the number of links that can realistically can be acquired smaller, but the number of links required to drive results is smaller, too.

The comparative quality of the websites and the bigger bang from a campaign means that you can replace the 300 links you might have spun across the web two or three years ago with 30 from awesome, targeted websites.

As an SEO you should be able to make a judgement call – does this website need links more than it needs new content, new landing pages, or something else? Can I compete with the other websites in my sector on links?

Can an SME still rank through SEO linkbuilding? Yes. Can you rank for “car insurance” like this? Not a chance.

You need to pick your battles. The old skills that all SEOs have built up over the years – like using analytics, finding demographics, seasonality – are the most useful for planning a PR campaign.

So, what I would say is that you can’t expect to be great at PR just because you were great at link building.

But if you were/are great at link strategy – knowing who your audience is and where they consume content – then PR doesn’t work without you.

Let’s talk about cost per link

Kaspar Szymanski wrote on Search Engine Land about a week ago “…if you think SEO is expensive, you should see how expensive cheap SEO gets.”

Horror stories about site migrations aside, this is especially true of link building…and even truer of link buying.

There are a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t be paying for links but the clue is in the title, so to speak:

Paying for links is expensive.

The effort needed to create something worth linking to and the effort of building relationship with someone who owns a website puts people off, but the effort of cleaning up after yourself is worse.

Right now some SEOs still get away with paying for links.

Many more do not get away with it. How can you be sure that you’re hiring someone who is going to buy you some links that will still be around in six months or a year?

When the bill comes.

SEOs who are smart enough and have the contacts are so few and far between – and have such a limited amount of time – that the cost of hiring them stretches into PR territory, sometimes beyond.

Is it enough to build links that will pass?

The aim should be to build links that pass value – and always will.

Since Penguin rolled out it’s become cheaper to do it properly. We can build links on the nationals in the name of SEO, for free, so why wouldn’t we?

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