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There’s something I do every month or so that helps remind me that making a fool of myself in public is acceptable. I do improv comedy, we get up in front of “crowds”, and I use that word loosely, and we play improv games to make people laugh. Well, on a good night anyway. We all draw from our histories and other parts of our lives to do our day to day jobs. Now, I’m not saying link building is anything like doing short form comedy, but I do think some of the tenants of improv make sense when applied to getting links.Take Suggestions From the Crowd
One of the biggest parts of any improv show is taking suggestions from the crowd. We can apply that to link building in all sorts of ways. First, look internally. No matter who you have on staff dedicated to working on your website or promoting it, don’t ever assume that they are the only ones that may have web insights. We all live in the digital world, by keeping the door open for anyone on staff to contribute ideas you may get all kinds of interesting feedback.
People on the front lines, the sales reps, the customer service department, the product development specialists, all have different perspectives on your industry. It helps immensely when everyone contributes ideas, news tidbits and problems or successes they’ve had. All kinds of inspiration can be synthesized and in some way applied to the website. Whether it’s content creation for links, new contacts or ideas that may improve conversions, you never know where the best innovations will come from.
The other crowd to look to is of course the millions of other people on the web. Their suggestions may not come in through a “Brainstorming” meeting but if you pay attention, the crowd is shouting suggestions left and right. Whether it’s through trending topics on search engines, Twitter or other news driven publications, if you want to know what people are jonesing for, they’re telling you. You can find it by looking at what posts are most popular on highly trafficked blogs. You can find it by discovering what pages are most popular on your competitor’s websites. You can find it by noticing what kinds of content goes viral. When you listen to all of those voices and try to figure out how you can make your topic fit in with those popular topics, formats and themes you can replicate them, or even better, re-invent them to become fierce link assets of your own.Accept and Amplify
You’ll run into a lot of rejection in link building, at least you will if you talk to people on an individual basis. People will shoot down your link requests, guest posts, and proposals. Turning a no into a yes, is no easy feat and some people won’t even engage in conversation, but when you can the take the “yes, and” approach. As in, Yes I understand why you don’t want to link to this page, AND I have another suggestion for something you might like”. Or “Yes, you make a good point AND I’d love you know what would interest you”.
You can also accept and amplify by analyzing each link you do get. You accept the link as it is and you try to get another one the same way by amplifying the factors that were successful in procuring the original. It may be the angle of approach, the subject or style of the content, or even a new contact that can be built into a stronger relationship. By accepting each success and studying it for clues on amplifying it, your link building strategy becomes stronger by building upon itself.Know When the Game is Over
One of the biggest things new people in the troupe struggle with is ending a skit. With no pre-set ending you have to read the situation and know when to wrap it up. Of course ideally you wanna go out on a big laugh, but some nights with some games, it just ain’t happening. So you just move forward into the next one, hoping that it goes well enough for the audience to forget the debacle they just witnessed. Sometimes we link builders need to learn to give up too. Not all together of course, but sometimes the best we can do is chalk something up to a learning experience and try something new.
Recognizing a failing game in link building can mean a lot of things. It could be realizing that all the links in the world won’t make your website palatable to visitors and it’s time to re-focus your energy on usability. Sometimes it’s accepting that your link building strategy isn’t producing results or maybe it is, but the links aren’t working. Sometimes your content keeps getting ignored or rejected and it’s time to own up to the fact that it just isn’t all that good. When these things are happening, deep down we know it.
We have this sense of treading water, but we think just a little more, just a little longer and it will work out. But what if there is no pay off? It’s not easy to call something a bust, but it’s a reality that everyone has to deal with at one time or another. The good news is, when it’s a link building program, you can learn from your mistakes, keep the lessons of your success and blaze a new path. But the first step is to admit that you need one.
It’s been 7 years since I started doing improv and it still makes my pulse race every time, because there’s nothing easy about it. And there’s nothing easy about getting links either. Both are pursuits that involve commitment and risk taking. But what we can take with us from any good improv show is that listening to suggestions, accepting and amplifying and knowing when to call it quits are vital to making well, anything, work. Oh, and a sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. Learning to laugh at your mistakes and keeping your head up in the face of disaster will make you a better link builder and probably, a better person too.
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As the CEO of his own search company, Ramaswamy is accountable to the users of his product who pay a monthly subscription to access Neeva.
Ramaswamy is currently on the conference circuit raising awareness about Neeva, and we managed to catch up with him at Collision last week in Toronto.
We profiled Neeva once before and welcomed Ramaswamy as a guest on the Search Engine Journal Show in December.
However, each time we only scratched the surface. Now, we want to dig deeper.
So, what makes Neeva different from the other companies — and what makes Neeva a viable alternative to Google and Bing?What Are Neeva’s Core Values?
Many companies enter the market making lofty claims of how they’ll do right by users. Even Google once had “don’t be evil” written into its code of conduct: a promise to which some critics argue it hasn’t lived up. Google has de-emphasized “Don’t be evil” in its code of conduct, though it was never removed.
In 2023, Google was sued by three former employees over its “Don’t be evil” motto. They allege that failure to live up to the motto is the equivalent of a breach of contract.
To better understand how Neeva will continue delivering a product that puts users’ needs first, I asked Ramaswamy what Neeva’s core values are.
“It’s not something we have published, but this is something I’ve talked about a lot with Vivek [Raghunathan, co-founder of Neeva], and I feel good about saying it,” Ramaswamy began. “At our core, we think that, as a company, we want to make technology serve people.”
“I think many other technology companies, especially in the last 25, have turned rather exploitative,” he continued. “I think the ad model exemplifies this. Basically, if I can convince you and get you hooked on my product, I can pretty much do anything.”“It’s Technology Serving People”
“Yes, companies are for-profit, but I think if you set up your values to be aligned with your user, to be aligned with your customer, you’ll always serve them,” he said. “To me, that part is important. If you had to say, ‘Hey, what exemplifies what you do?’ It’s technology serving people. This is why we do things like offer a flat price for the search utility you get from us.”“Technology At Scale Is Quite Inexpensive”
Many companies within the sector lead consumers to believe scaling technology is expensive, which is how some justify charging higher fees, for instance, as they grow.
It doesn’t have to be that way, Ramaswamy says, as he believes the cost of technology at scale is overblown.
“It’s our belief that technology at scale is actually quite inexpensive,” he noted. “That’s the magic of technology, but right now, the way all of these companies are structured — as they scale, they squeeze more money from you.”
“It’s not like you’re getting more value, though obviously there are exceptions,” Ramaswamy continued. “But it’s really back to the basics of how you create products that delight people. And to me, that’s an honorable living.”What Does Neeva Do To ‘Serve People’?
Neeva’s definition of ‘technology serving people’ is exemplified by its feedback system.
Roughly 20% of the Neeva team is tasked solely with listening to customer feedback and using it to shape the product experience.
On the other hand, many criticize Google for not giving users what they want out of a search experience.
I asked Ramaswamy if he could give examples of specific customer feedback that helped shape Neeva into what it is today.
“But then,” Ramaswamy said, “I realized a larger truth about how people think about the internet.”
Neeva was initially against going the Google route of delivering content directly in the SERPs, but has had to make some concessions.
Another perk offered to Neeva subscribers is access to a Slack channel where customers can engage in group discussions with developers.
“A lot of people said, ‘We want to be able to offer feedback to [improve] your search results,’” Ramaswamy said. “So we built a community feedback feature that’s released to some people; it’s not released to everybody.”
The way it works, he explained, is users “can say, ‘Hey, this result is not relevant.’ Or, ‘This result is the top result for this query.’”
“This list sort of goes on and on,” Ramaswamy said. “Customers are really a source of lots of ideas.”Neeva Is A Customer-Guided Product
At Collision, Ramaswamy described what he eventually aims to accomplish with Neeva, and how it differs from the goals of larger search engines like Google.
After speaking with him, I asked if he could clarify what he meant by wanting to “let society figure out” what to do with Neeva.
“I spoke about it more in the spirit of: Google spends a billion, makes a hundred billion. My thing was more: We want to make a couple of billion and let society figure out what it wants to do with the service,” Ramaswamy explained. “It’s more of a general argument around not captive capitalism, but competitive capitalism.”
“The beautiful thing about technology is creating a product for 100 million people is not wildly different from creating a product for a billion people,” he continued. “That’s the magic of scale and technology.”
Being paid for by the people who use it gives Neeva unique flexibility regarding future growth.
Users don’t have as much influence over a product like Google Search, considering they typically don’t pay to use it.
Although even for a free product, Ramasamy argues that Google could be doing much more to give users value.
“My point was a customer-paid product makes it much easier for us to release the product to the whole world [and] still run a profitable company, but not at the kind of obscene scale that I see Facebook or Google operating,” he said. “People always say … ‘Well, Google gives me free Gmail. Will they stop giving it?’ And my rough answer is: Well, I’m sure, with 100 billion dollars, a bunch of us are going to make really good decisions about how to use that money.”
Ramaswamy said that users “don’t need a monopolist to make that decision and decide they want to give you free Gmail. We don’t need charity from rich companies in order to do this; we need competition, so more of the money that is being spent on this comes to us.”Will Neeva Keep Its Privacy Promises?
DuckDuckGo, another search engine that touts privacy as its key selling point, was recently a source of controversy after it was discovered to be passing along a minor amount of data to Microsoft.
That stemmed from the deal DuckDuckGo has to use Bing’s search index.
I asked Ramasamy what measures Neeva has in place to keep its zero data collection promises.
“We truly want to create a differentiated product,” Ramasamy emphasized. “We started with using the Bing API for search [but] in many ways, I think we would have been better off investing in search from day one. We are a product company, and we want to become a much better search engine. That’s the big differentiator.”“We’re Making Foundational Investments In Search”
In addition to keeping Neeva ad-free, it will be able to maintain its zero-data promise by building its own search index.
DuckDuckGo, for example, ran into trouble because it’s wholly dependent on Microsoft for search results. Ramasamy says Neeva is the only company outside Google and Bing crawling and indexing the web.
That claim is backed up by an October 2023 report on digital competition by the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust. The report states:
“The high cost of maintaining a fresh index, and the decision by many large webpages to block most crawlers, significantly limits new search engine entrants. Today, the only English-language search engines that maintain their own comprehensive webpage index are Google and Bing.”
He acknowledged that, in response, many ask, “What’s the big deal? What difference does it make?”
“It lets us do things like creating a much better shopping experience,” Ramasamy explained, noting that, for instance, Neeva “launched Reddit links in search results … because we work with Reddit to get their index. So we have an index of all the web pages they’re serving.”
Ramasamy said that users can receive better-quality results for such queries as, “What are the most interesting Reddit posts that correspond to this query?”
Neeva can “launch features like that, because we’re making foundational investments in search; pretty much the only company outside of Google and Microsoft to be doing this.”
“We increasingly use Bing as a fallback when we cannot answer queries,” Ramasamy acknowledged. However, he said, “Over time, our aspiration is to be able to do more and more of the search results ourselves.”Neeva’s Sole Focus Is Traditional Web Content (For Now)
With people’s search behavior turning more toward short videos, I asked Ramaswamy if Neeva has any plans to index content like Web Stories or TikTok videos.
For now, Neeva’s sole focus is to solve search for text-based web content.
“Solving for search, especially things like spoken search, is enough of a large problem that we have not quite gone there,” Ramaswamy said. “We have working arrangements. We have partnerships with companies like Twitter and companies like Reddit to better surface their content.
Twitter, he pointed out, “Has a lot of real-time information. So we’re focused on things like that right now and less on video. That would be a fun project to do.”Neeva’s Greatest Challenge Is Awareness
As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Ramaswamy: What’s the most significant hurdle for Neeva to overcome on its journey toward mass adoption?
Ramaswamy’s answer: “It really is about competition.”
The product, he said, is not the issue.
“We have a great product. Compared to ad-supported options … the free Neeva search engine is infinitely better,” Ramaswamy explained. “The place where we struggle is getting the word out, getting people to know us as an option, and getting people to set us as the default search in Safari, which is impossible.“Demand More Choice”
As Ramaswamy explained, there’s no incentive for a company like Google to innovate if it doesn’t have any challengers.
Companies tend to improve their products when faced with more robust competition. But the only way for more competitors to enter the search market is for consumers to demand more options.
“To me, this is the biggest ask that I would have,” Ramaswamy said, “is to demand more choice, because competition produces better products.”
In turn, he said, “That competition creates better products for us. An incumbent that is doing very well has no incentive to innovate [or] to disrupt.”
Conversely, over at Neeva, “We have nothing to lose,” Ramaswamy told me. “We’re going to swing for the fences [and make it] easier for people to switch, for them to try Neeva, for them to decide for themselves if they want it or not.”What’s Next For Neeva?
Before parting ways, I had to ask what we could expect next from Neeva.
“There’s a lot I’ve learned from Google My Business in terms of local businesses – even in terms of Search Console – that I feel confident we can do better,” Ramaswamy said, adding that “GMB, as you know, is a real problem for lots of people. Especially agencies that want to update information for a bunch of companies that they work with.”
The hope, Ramaswamy said, is that “we’ll have better tools. But not yet.”
Google’s John Mueller answered a question about natural links and mentioned that outreach link building is okay as long as certain lines were not crossed.Build Quality Content and Get Links to It
He framed it in the context of quality content.
“Like, we have to create the quality content, naturally people will give us link. That’s only natural or something because…”Mueller Validates Link Building Outreach… to a Point
John Mueller did not use the words link building or outreach.
However the substance of what he said was about the process of outreaching to publishers to let them know about content. This is generally known as outreach link building.
The strategy is to create content that publishers would be interested in linking to and then promoting it to publishers who tend to link to that kind of content.
“That’s essentially the idea behind kind of natural linking.
From our point of view it’s fine to contact people and tell them it’s like by the way, I have this great content and… maybe it’s something that you would appreciate for your website.
That’s generally fine.”When Outreach Link Building Violates Google’s Guidelines
Outreach link building can also go against Google’s guidelines.
There are many forms of outreach link building. For example, soliciting a publisher to offer them money to place links on their site is also called outreach link building.
That kind of link building is usually misrepresented to clients as outreach link building when in reality it’s a paid link that was arranged through an outreach.
True outreach link building is publishing interesting content and telling others about it.
“But anything beyond that where you’re saying like, well… you must link to me like this or you must pay me money or I will pay you money for this link or I will exchange something for this link…
That’s all something that from our point of view would make this an unnatural link.
So providing it to people and promoting it and saying like here’s great content and they link to you that’s perfectly fine.
Um… providing it and saying like I will do an exchange if you give me a link, that’s something we would consider unnatural.”
Related: Reciprocal Links: Do They Help or Hurt Your SEO?Is Outreach Link Building Outdated?
Getting a publisher to link to a site is difficult and near impossible for some sites, regardless of how high quality their content is.
What makes the process even harder is that people have more options for expressing themselves today than back in the heyday of blogging.
Unfortunately these platforms that people express themselves on, like social media and YouTube, do not provide links that can help a site rank better.
The world that PageRank was created for no longer exists.
Yet publishers are still under pressure to obtain links from an online ecosystem where links increasingly do not exist.
The idea of building great content and asking someone to link to it is seemingly an outdated concept because people today express themselves in contexts that do not support links.Citation
Watch Google’s John Mueller discuss link outreach from about the 11 minute mark.
The Web3 community knows that situations can turn on a dime. From the fall of FTX to Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover, it has become clear that market volatility isn’t the only thing to be worried about. And all it takes is just one tiny event to set off a chain reaction throughout the NFT space.
Oftentimes, this can be a positive thing, like Jack Butcher’s Checks changing the trajectory of open editions. On the other hand, events like February’s demise of the Friendsies collection can mean the inevitable spread of fear throughout the metaverse.
Although the NFT space enjoyed a significant market uptick in 2023, the fall of the once highly regarded Friendsies brought about a bit of a reality check: There are no guarantees in the world of non-fungibles. No matter how established the artists are or how well-regarded their work, project death can come for anyone.
To learn from past failures and better understand the potential ways in which projects — and collectors — can mitigate risk, we looked at three projects that died (or nearly did): mfers, the Metroverse, and Friendsies.Mfers, rising from the ashes
The mfers collection, launched in November 2023, continues to be a unique case study. Although the influential project experienced what appeared to be a sudden death in the summer of 2023, it was eventually resurrected by the very same person who created and then killed it — Sartoshi.
gm chúng tôi sartoshi (@sartoshi_rip) January 1, 2023Hitting turbulence
But according to Sartoshi, the truth of the situation was far different. He says that he decided to leave the management of mfers to the community in the spirit of decentralization. To this end, leaving the project in the hands of collectors was all part of Sartoshi’s ethos, which primarily drew on the influence of Satoshi Nakamoto. For those who aren’t aware, Nakamoto is the pseudonymous person (or persons) who developed Bitcoin before taking their exit and leaving the future of blockchain technology up to its users.
Although the reality of the situation was apparent to many of Sartoshi’s followers — as illustrated by the multitude of tweets that predicted Sartoshi’s exit — the mfers floor still fell in response to his exit, and the community was divided. In May, the average mfers NFT sold for 2.2 ETH. In June, that number fell to an average of 1.5 ETH. And the community remained divided.
Or at least they were for six months. Then, Sartoshi returned from the dead, receiving a (mostly) warm welcome from his former fans and followers. Since then, he has regained his prominent position as a thought leader in the space and (mostly) put the controversial move behind him.
Credit: mfersKey takeaways
On the surface, this situation seems to be an example of a builder realizing the “error of their ways,” i.e., upsetting their community and rectifying their path. But on a deeper level, perhaps the event better serves to illustrate the often toxic nature of collector expectations. Although Sartoshi had previously alluded to his exit and clearly communicated his intentions to transition mfers to community ownership, many in his community didn’t trust him and demanded he stay. In a blog post announcing his return, Satoshi lamented the fact that his leaving wasn’t viewed as a powerful move toward decentralization but was instead met with fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD).
The lesson learned here is twofold. On the one hand, the mfers situation illustrated that even in the best of cases, trust is still severely lacking in the NFT space. While it’s true that many of Sartoshi’s followers understood his exit, many jumped to accusations and labeled him a thief. This fear is understandable in light of the steady stream of scams that continue to impact the NFT community. And to this end, mfers reestablished an already long-held belief in the NFT space — community sentiment is everything.
A force that exists seemingly independent of the intentions of project builders or the unique and creative feats they might achieve, ultimately, it is the sentiment of the NFT community that decides the merit of a project. We need only look toward many of the once-popular NFT projects as an example, as many of them have been taken off the map in the wake of slight missteps.Metroverse, lost in battle
Centered around an NFT strategy game once billed as being akin to Sim City, Metroverse sold out its initial collection in January 2023. The project raked in around 2,000 ETH ($6.3 million at the time). They also took five percent of royalties from secondary sales, which amounted to around $2 million. Despite all that funding, the project reportedly failed to deliver an experience anywhere near what was initially proposed.
Ultimately, the Metroverse community became dissatisfied with its creators. And on February 23, 2023, the project fell apart.Hitting turbulence
In the end, the project’s downfall wasn’t much of a surprise to those who had become invested in Metroverse. Tensions had been growing between the community and the project devs for some time. Arguments had become frequent between the two parties, and finding common ground had started to seem impossible. But why?
The major point of contention stemmed from how Metroverse was handling funds. The project devs raked in an aforementioned $8 million from the genesis collection. To make matters more complex, the devs released three subsequent collections — Metroverse Genesis Mini, Metroverse Blackout, and Metroverse Pass — which generated upwards of 5,700 ETH (around $9 million) in secondary sales volume alone.
A disconnect between the substantial amount of capital raised vs. the direction in which Metroverse was allocating these funds led many to pose questions to developers in the project’s Discord server. In short, holders were largely dissatisfied with the lackluster game that had supposedly been in development for over a year, and they had come to wonder where the money was going.
Citing mental health concerns, the devs eventually closed their Discord and announced they would discontinue the project shortly after.
I am proud to announce that I have cleansed myself from @themetroverse the toxic devs that created this rug pull of a project have fully shut it down and wasted all the community’s funds on a game that’s garbage and pathetic. This is a learning lesson that I will never forget
— Presser T (@Atarasca) February 20, 2023
@themetroverse mind explaining why you guys now closed the city recrutement channel ? Witch was the last one standing . I get that your game totally suck and no one was there to join anyways but WTF is wrong with y’all , no respect for the people that made you successful
— Charley819 (@crobull819) February 20, 2023Key takeaways
In contrast to mfers, it’s exceptionally unlikely that Metroverse will be able to come back from the brink. Why? Because the success of Metroverse depends on the team delivering on the promised roadmap, i.e., creating an enjoyable game that holders love to play. Sadly, they already tried to build the game, and it went terribly. There is nothing left for them to try.
Thanks to the debacle, the NFT space was yet again reminded that projects that mint out and raise a lot of funds can still fail, even when the dev team seemingly tries to deliver. Nine out of 10 startups will fail. That means that only 10 percent will be successful. This is true in traditional business and in Web3.
So if a project is making big promises that require a lot of expertise — like building a game, for example — it’s essential to know that the odds are stacked against it. And be extra careful to do your due diligence on the team and ensure they are trustworthy.Friendsies, left in limbo
The Friendsies collection, which launched in April 2023, was billed as a set of customizable NFTs that would act as holders’ virtual companions. Most notably, the team said that the NFTs would have utility within the interactive metaverse experience being created by FriendsWithYou.
The FriendsWithYou founders, Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III, were well-regarded and had a long list of achievements behind them — FriendsWithYou art has been exhibited at a host of prestigious museums, was the basis for an animated series produced for Netflix, and more. As a result, the Friendsies project minted out and eventually earned some $5.3 million worth of ETH.
The project subsequently received significant fanfare from a host of media outlets (including us) and became known throughout Web3 as exemplifying the values of empathy, camaraderie, unity, and kindness.
Credit: FriendsiesHitting turbulence
Just a year after the project had gotten underway, FriendsWithYou announced a hiatus and then deleted the Friendsies Twitter account. This abrupt decision deeply concerned many in the NFT community, as the team had promised to reinvest the money into Friendsies. Specifically, they promised a Tomogatchi-like P2E game, a community treasury, and a royalties program. What’s more, the team also said they would donate a percentage of the profits to charity.
But it seems they failed to do any of these things, and most of the money is gone — wallet activity reveals that much of the ETH they accumulated was swapped for USDC and taken out of the ecosystem.Key takeaways
While the Friendsies project has been left nearly in shambles, it’s unclear what will come of FriendsWithYou’s other ongoing and future Web3 endeavors. Considering the artist duo has maintained a certain level of prominence in the fine art world for over two decades, it’s difficult to conclude whether or not their existence in the NFT space has come to a close or if their blockchain journey has simply had a hiccup.
For now, they have been left in limbo — a sort of no man’s land between a full-on ousting and a potential comeback.
Undoubtedly, the principles on which they founded Friendsies are now being put to the test. However, in many regards, the team has already failed. Instead of responding to valid questions, they block their community and ban them from Discord.
Whatever the FriendsWithYou team decides to do in the future, all of Web3 will be waiting and watching to hold them to their own standard. Yet, despite the liminal space Friendsies is currently in, there are still lessons to be learned from this fiasco. In fact, there is a palpable throughline that can be drawn between each of the three projects highlighted thus far.Community reigns supreme
While there is no one secret formula for a successful NFT endeavor, by examining those that have failed and the ones that are able to come back, it’s clear that a healthy project is achievable only by pleasing (or, at the very minimum, by placating) a project community.
In the case of both Metroverse and Friendsies, if developers had been more transparent about their plans, left a line of communication open to their holders, and fielded criticism as it arose, perhaps they wouldn’t have been subject to controversy in the first place.
Looking at mfers, although some were upset when Sartoshi left, many stood behind him because he was clear about his ethos and values and communicated them to his community regularly.
That said, it is essential to note that trust is a two-way street. Because so many were so harsh and distrustful, it would have been understandable if Sartoshi had decided not to return.
If Web3 is to truly succeed, we must learn from the mistakes of the past to ensure that transparency might prevail and trust can be secured.
A couple weeks back, Google’s head of web spam Matt Cutts said that there will be a massive update to Penguin sometime this year, and that he expects it to be one of the most talked-about updates this year. So strap in and buckle up, if you haven’t been adjusting your strategy, there’s a good chance you’ll be in for a bumpy ride.What Can We Expect From the Update?
I don’t want to play fortune teller here, so I’m not going to speculate too much about individual aspects of the coming update. Instead, I’ll remind you of the things that Penguin has targeted in the past:
Too many exact match anchor text links
Too much focus on anchor text in general
Anything that could be considered “black hat”
Links from “low quality” sources
Links that are “unnatural” (They were created manually or algorithmically, not editorially.)
Any participation in link schemes like link trading, buying, and so on
Links created using duplicate content
Links designed to manipulate PageRank
Links from automated content, and content that doesn’t serve the end user
I have a hunch that if I just state these examples without any explanation, that a lot of you are going to get hung up on the details. So, to be clear, Penguin is designed to target manipulative links. It’s not so much a question of what type of link you’re acquiring as how you’re acquiring it.
There are three tiers of links, and, if the new Penguin update accomplishes what it’s supposed to, these are the results you can expect from them.
Editorial links: links that you had little or no direct influence over, that were created simply because your content, tools, and community are worth talking about. These links are air-tight and will almost certainly never lose their value.
Spam/manipulative links: links you have full control over and that exist strictly to boost search engine rankings. These links are high risk and are very likely to lose their value. In some circumstances they will actually count against you.Evaluating Link Opportunities With Penguin in Mind
The most important question to ask yourself whenever you build a link is “would I build this link if it was no-follow?” If it fails that test, than you should be aware that your link is at risk of losing value in the future. If there’s only one thing you do to future-proof your strategy, this should be it.
Some might call that overkill, but it’s the only way to be honest about the future of link building. A link that you wouldn’t pursue if it were no-follow is a link that’s worth earning, but it’s not really a link that’s worth building. Understand that search engines are interested in links because they indicate popularity, shareability, and authority. If the links you build don’t send that message, they will not be sending the right messages in the long haul.
We have reason to believe that the major Penguin update Cutts is talking about will either expand beyond spam, or broaden the definition of spam. This has been the trend with every Google update designed to improve search quality. It’s not safe to presume that the next update will merely target what has been targeted before.
Why do I choose “would I build this link if it was no-follow?” as my primary test? Besides the fact that it fits Google’s Terms of Service perfectly, it is a sound marketing strategy. I believe the focus of SEO should be on growing your online presence even in the absence of search engine benefits. This is the foolproof strategy for growth and the only one worth pursuing if you are serious about being visible to your audience. Excessive reliance on Google’s algorithm is unsafe, and sends the wrong message to clients.
The second question to ask is “how easily could a newcomer copy my link building strategy?” Yes, anything can be copied, but how easily, and by who? No content strategy should be easy to copy without at least a year of serious writing experience. No outreach strategy should be simple without at least a year of experience contacting people online for marketing purposes.
It’s not that “easy” or “simple” are bad. Sometimes it’s important to strip away the complexity and focus on mastering the most effective skills, which are often the basics. No, it’s that “mechanical” and “linear” are bad. They are bad because even somebody who hasn’t learned the basics can handle something that’s mechanical and linear. And Google doesn’t want amateurs at the top of its search results.
What do you expect from the coming Penguin update?
Over the past few years, cockatoo video blogging has become popular on YouTube.
I started watching bird videos a few years ago and watched a few cockatoo owners grow their YouTube channels from just a few thousand or less to more than 100,000 subscribers.
What’s interesting is that these cockatoo owners aren’t marketers. They’re just ordinary people who applied time-tested and proven concepts to grow their audience.
I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at how some of YouTube’s most famous cockatoos got to where they were and how content marketers can apply these lessons to achieve their own success.1. Frequency & Consistency Work Really Well
Max the cockatoo is one of YouTube’s most popular cockatoos and is most well known for the video Cockatoo Finds out He Is Going to the Vet, which has generated more than 15 million views.
Max’s channel has gained more than 65 million views and now hosts over 1,200 videos.
Dan, Max’s owner, posts a video of Max on his YouTube channel at least once a day and sometimes twice a day. He is very consistent with his posting schedule and Max’s channel is popular for bird lovers.
Fans of the channel include other bird owners and people who don’t have the time to care for a cockatoo but enjoy watching Max.
Long form content and focusing on quality have become buzz phrases in content marketing and some bloggers are so focused on creating “quality content” that they don’t post frequently or consistently enough.
Dan doesn’t care about “quality content” and some Max videos don’t really stand out from other cockatoo videos. But fans still love watching them and look forward to getting their daily cockatoo fix.Real Life Examples
PPC software provider WordStream has done well with their content marketing. They’ve focused on content creation targeting PPC topics and using SEO tactics to rank those articles for important search phrases.
WordStream publishes content once a day consistently, skipping only some holidays. As a result, their articles drive lots of search traffic for people searching for PPC-related information.
SEO software provider HubSpot is another company that publishes frequently and consistently. In fact, HubSpot published some data showing that companies that blog more often get more traffic. Blogs that publish 16+ times per month get on average 3.5x more traffic than blogs that publish 0-2 times per month.2. Differentiation Can Get Results
While publishing frequently can work well, another effective approach is to focus on standing out instead, even if it means publishing less often.
One of the most entertaining birds on YouTube is Pebble the Crazy Cockatoo. Pebble likes to sing, dance, entertain, and occasionally goes into random swearing fits.
Here are just a few popular videos of Pebble:
Pebble doesn’t post consistently and sometimes a whole month can go by without any new Pebble videos.
However, people still find her old videos and subscribe which has allowed her channel to grow to over 26,000 subscribers and 3 million video views (35 million if you add views from her old channel).
Pebble has even gotten featured on mainstream media a few times.
While there are plenty of cockatoos on YouTube, Pebble definitely stands out with her wacky personality and antics.Real Life Example
For content marketing, creating content that stands out can be a great way to get attention and gain enthusiastic followers.
One good example that many people who study SEO will be familiar with is Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Technique. Dean doesn’t publish that often but focuses on creating content that stands out. As a result, he says he’s been able to create a seven-figure business from his blog.3. Results Can Accelerate Over Time
Another important thing to keep in mind is that results with content marketing can accelerate over time.
Blogging can seem like it’s not providing much ROI when you start out, but people that are patient and stick with it see compounding returns.Real Life Example
Content marketing results start slower when you have less content, but can accelerate as you accumulate more content. More people will discover you through search engines, social sharing, word of mouth and other methods.
Dharmesh Shah wrote an article back in 2009 and provided a graph showing HubSpot’s revenue growth. Their revenue grew slower in 2007 but accelerated significantly in the following years.
Many businesses will give up on content marketing because they don’t see results right away. Smart businesses know that content marketing works and stick with it until they see the results.4. Piggybacking Popular Trends & Topics Can Drive Traffic
Sometimes piggybacking off popular trends and topics can be a good way to drive traffic and get traction with content marketing.
Expanding on a popular idea or going against the flow are two popular ways to do that.
In this video, Jojoe the Cockatoo sings “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor”. The video accumulated over 85,000 views, even though it isn’t a popular YouTube channel, doesn’t appear to have been promoted by the owner, and only has a few videos.
In an older video, an African Grey Parrot sings the same song and generates over 10 million video views.Real Life Example
Another way to tie into popular trends is to go against the flow and adopt a contrary argument or position. Expert roundups were popular around 2014 and many got featured on Inbound, but after a while, some people got tired of seeing them.
Jacob King wrote this article entitled “Why Expert Roundups Must Die” which got thousands of views and also got a good exposure on Inbound.
Another example of an article that did well by going against a popular trend is Dale Cudmore’s article on the Ahrefs blog about how he tried the Skyscraper technique and it didn’t work for him. (You may also want to read Our Skyscraper Technique Failure & the Lessons We Learned by Olga Mykhoparkina here on SEJ.)5. Play off Past Successes
Another tactic that marketers should use more often is to play off of past successes.
Sometimes content that has performed well in the past can be used again, rewritten or repurposed to create more content that performs well.
Max the cockatoo’s video about going to the vet has over 15 million views and is his most popular video.
Since then, he’s released a few similar videos that have also done well with his fans. Here are a couple of them:Real Life Examples
Here are a couple of other examples of playing off of or expanding on past successes.
One of Orbit Media’s most popular pieces of content is their annual blogger survey where they survey over 1,000 bloggers and analyze the data to show trends in blogging. Their annual survey attracts a good amount of social shares, mentions, and links each year.
Their third annual blogger survey in 2023 attracted over 1,000 social shares and the 2023 edition now has over 900 social shares.
Another example of playing off past successes is Moz’s Annual Report, which lets readers know how their business and marketing performed for the year. People love transparency from businesses and seeing data on growth and what’s working, so these reports have been quite popular among Moz fans.Key Takeaways
Content marketing, like many marketing tactics, is a long-term tactic where results can accelerate over time. Patience and persistence can pay off.
Show some personality and entertain your audience. People are naturally drawn to entertainment, so even if you’re in a non-entertainment niche, like business and marketing, you can draw the attention of your audience by showing some personality and entertaining your readers.
There aren’t many set rules for content marketing. If you can figure out a way to differentiate yourself and stand out, then try it. Differentiation can help you get noticed and shared faster, which can allow you to grow your audience more rapidly.
More Content Marketing Resources:
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