Links Are Effects Not Causes

(This article was originally published on Clickz.) An important point to remember when building links for SEO, and when thinking about link building strategies and tactics, is that links are effects. Links are not causes.
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Photo by Jim Linwood. Creative Commons license.

Links are the outcome of an originating principle or strategy: to market a website online. To build influence, to introduce a differentiator, to provide value. Done correctly and well, these concepts drive attention in the form of traffic, notoriety, and yes, backlinks from other websites. Links are the effects, the outcomes, of value. Securing links is not the means or the end in itself; links are merely symbolic of the means and ends. Why, then, do companies and consultants continually try to "build links" as if they're collecting gold nuggets? As if links are the end all, be all of SEO? Yes, links drive SEO. They're a foundational component of the work. But the place to start is not by asking, "How can we build lots of links?" The place to begin is by asking, "How can we do something cool that people will love? How can we provide something valuable?" Early last year I told you to Quit Obsessing On Anchor Text. Now I'm telling you to quit obsessing on backlinks. It's Not About Links A real backlink strategy isn't about links at all, but about content, social, and promotional strategies that will engage people. A real backlink strategy will investigate everything about a company's assets and how they can be leveraged and expanded to create more awareness. The end result of more awareness and influence online? You got it: links. Now, some of you kind readers will argue that links are in fact causes: causes of rank. How can links be only 'effects' if they are the most important factor in how rankings are achieved? My answer is simple: they have historically been a primary cause of rankings, but that game is changing fast. Yes, links still push rankings best right now (with big changes post- Panda and Penguin). How do you get those crucial links, then? By remembering that links are effects and not causes. Links validate a site's ranking position or visibility online. What do links to a very poor page or site get you? Short term ranking and an unsustainable business model. It's not about the ranking, after all. It's about the value of that ranking to the visitor. Links are effects not causes. Links reflect influence, value, and popularity online. Penguin showed us how a lopsided obsession on securing links and exact match anchors as the means and ends of inbound marketing saddles SEO campaigns and drives down results and revenues. Some related and recommended articles:  
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