Link Loopy, Part 1: Why Link Building Sucks

Ian Lurie

This is part of a 5-part series I’m writing about link building. I’ve not written much about it up to now. This first article gets to the heart of why I hate link building, but do it anyway.

I hate building links. I mean I hate it. It’s either:

  • Begging for a link.
  • Begging for attention.
  • Tricking people.
  • Paying people absurd amounts of money for 3 words on a page.
  • Engaging in a criminal enterprise (to Google, anyway).

Inevitably, after working hard on a link campaign for a day or two, I feel like I’ve been doing breaststroke in raw sewage with my mouth wide open.
And, there are almost no metrics. You can keep a list of links to show what you’ve added to your client’s portfolio. So what? Are those links really helping them move up? Did that article about cubic zirconium really attract any useful authority? Who knows?
The best part: There are rules. But no one will tell you what they are:

  • Some purchased links are OK, if they’re called things like sponsorships. Other purchased links are anathema. In between are those that are a waste of money. Good luck figuring out which are which.
  • The best links are from authoritative, relevant sites. OK. What the hell does that mean?! See “there are almost no metrics”, above.
  • The guy with the most cash typically wins. Whether you’re buying links or writing great link-attracting stuff, you have to spend, spend, spend. There’s nothing controlling that race to the top/bottom.

So Why Bother?

Because links are important. You have to have them. Without a link strategy, your competitors will eventually pass you by in the rankings. Like it or not, links are votes in an internet-wide popularity contest.

What Works

Smug internet marketers like me will tell you ‘organic link growth’ through ‘compelling content’ is the best strategy. If I say that to you, I won’t resent it if you kick my teeth in.
The truth is, the best way to build links is to adopt a 4-part strategy:

  • Research the competition.
  • Find your opportunity gaps.
  • Go get those links!
  • Out-execute your competition.

There’s more, of course, like coming up with brilliantly creative ideas that compel thousands of people to link to you. Can’t say I know how to consistently do that. So I’ll leave that kind of advice to omniscient beings.
Read Part 2, tomorrow, for tools I use to do competitive research. Don’t worry, I won’t give away all the secrets.
Part 1: Why Link Building Sucks
Part 2: 3 Competitive Link Research Tools
Part 3: Finding the Opportunity Gap
Part 4: Get those links
Part 5: Out-execute the competition

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Ian Lurie
CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. Posts like this = why I’m addicted to this blog.
    As a lowly e-commerce copywriter who dabbles in writing SEO copy, I must confess that this whole Link Thingie has always struck me as inscrutably mysterious — kind of like Eastern Orthodoxy or the ingredients in shampoo.
    At the same time, I’ve always intuitively felt that I didn’t really really want to figure out the mystery. Not that I could, anyway. But I wasn’t sure I even wanted to try.
    Now I realize that my intuition was spot-on. LOL!
    Thanks for yet another wonderful post. 🙂

  2. Aaack — Ian! My college senior daughter is interning as a “link builder” at an online pet insurance company, Trupanion. If she sees this post, she’ll probably quit on the spot!
    She’s finding the link building quite a frustrating job, especially since she’s not trained in it. Now I see it’s more than that! Even the well trained struggle.
    ps. I bought your latest book, “Web Marketing All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies” for her and she’s devouring it.

  3. @Terri Tell her not to give up. Yesterday’s post was my venting session. Today we’ll get down to business. But yes, it’s VERY difficult.
    Glad she likes the book!

  4. Ian this sounds like you have just been link building for a few days.
    I have often found myself at the end of a week and wondered what the hell I have done for the week – yes I have a list on a spreadsheet – but did this contribute to the world in some way?
    I think not often…
    Time then to work harder on my own sites and enjoy life a bit more.

  5. @Leslie A lot more than a few days 😀 But the truth is creating the spreadsheet is only the beginning. Then you gotta go out and get the links. That’s the part I really hate, but you have to do it. More on that today in today’s installment.

  6. Link building is a highly time consuming task. Although traditional link building may still have some value, the rise of social media sites have completely revolutionised the link building strategy. Today it is more about generating back links from sharing and syndicating content than simply swapping links with other sites. Link building today requires careful though.

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