The Link Building Bubble

By David | August 11, 2013 | Home | Blog Categories | Articles

Bubble BurstJust like oil or gold, links are a commodity that have increasingly been sold on the open market. They are priced based on varying criteria including the Google PageRank, authority of the site, expected traffic, and expected benefit in search engines. We may have reached a "bubble bursting" moment.

In the earlier days of the internet, search engines followed links but used other criteria for ranking sites. But even in those days, a site with more links pointing to it tended to have more traffic. Directories played a significant role in helping to organize and categorize links to millions of documents.

Search engines like Google used this data to build their own link library. Because directory data was a data source, Google recommended that people submit their site to directories including Yahoo and DMOZ. This helped Google find the sites and include them in their index.

However, there were shortcomings to this because often DMOZ editors were slow to review submissions and Yahoo started to charge $200+ to even have the opportunity to have your site reviewed. As a result, many other directories started to come online.

SEO firms found that submitting to directories was a very worthwhile service because it helped get sites listed in search engines, and helped them to rank higher for the anchor text used in the link title on the directory. As the clients of these SEO firms were happy with the results, there was increasing investment in directory submission. Even large corporations invested in link submissions. Quite simply, submitting to directories was a basic ingredient in nearly any SEO program. For example, likely the largest SEO firm in India (for a time) included directory submission in their link building.

But in time cracks started to appear...

There was a huge rise in link building services. SEO firms turned to low cost labor to submit sites to thousands of directories at a time. It was not uncommon to see people working for less than $2/hour building links. The quality started to suffer.

No longer did we have the traditional directory that was well edited that only accepted quality sites. There were directories popping up all over the net, and the business model went something like this:

  1. Get high pagerank link pointing to the site

  2. Setup a directory script

  3. Sell links in the directory for a premium

In many of the directories following this model, virtually any link was accepted so long as they paid for a link. Calls for following quality guidelines fell on seemingly deaf ears.

One of the reasons people were oblivious to quality is these sites were making massive profits. If someone could achieve a pagerank 6 or 7 for their directory, even if they bought that pagerank in some way, it was not uncommon to see the sites make thousands of dollars per month. Some people were making 6 figures per year.

And then the hammer dropped...

Just as Google first charmed and espoused the benefits of submitting to Yahoo and DMOZ, a time followed where Google depreciated the benefit in their algorithm for those directories. Google did the same thing for many other directories. Generally speaking, many different link building practices including blog commenting, guest posting, forum signature links, profile links, press releases, and directory links were depreciated in the Google algorithm.

And let’s be clear: These practices worked for many years very well regardless of one’s judgment on the quality of these strategies.

Even before the hammer dropped, it was evident that link spamming all over the net was reaching a bubble status that was not maintainable. It had to happen sooner or later. There are still a few people who are successfully selling their link building, but the benefit is not the same and most likely the customers are getting ripped off. One likely example of this is the directory hacker network.

The Bubble has Burst

It’s pretty evident the bubble has burst so to speak. What we should see in the coming months is a decrease in the number of players in the market that are involved in these low quality link building strategies. There is a fear in the market that people will have their sites subjected to an unnatural linking penalty. It’s going to take a little time to work itself out.

There is also some uncertainty about Google itself. It is a corporation funded by shareholders who expect profits in the short term. Increasingly we see search engine results pages littered with ads, and the organic results are almost a side show to the ads (depending on the search).

So what now?

If we view this “bubble bursting” similar to other market crashes, things hit bottom and then start to rise again. Often the players who got in near the market bottom with a new strategy for the new reality created by the bubble bursting are the ones that profit the most.

To decide what to do now, maybe some questions are in order:

  1. With the rise of big data, might smaller players be able to harness larger data sets without incurring a large expense? (ex. DuckDuckGo)

  2. Now that Facebook gets nearly as much traffic as Google, might directories be able to benefit from integration with the Facebook Graph and other tools?

  3. Has the nature of the link changed where directories need to think about linking to what is important NOW versus being an old catalog. For example, sites like Business Insider, Pop URLs and Huffington Post in many ways harness the “power of the now”.

  4. Might there be other types of data that can be categorized and organized beyond the traditional link? For example, coupon sites are big and there are a few successful phpLD users that use our script for that purpose. Other examples might include videos, images or feeds.

Sometimes the power of the question is more powerful than the statement of facts, and maybe we can start asking the right questions and start to thrive once again! If you would like to discuss these questions, we have a discussion started!

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Publish date: August 11, 2013
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