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Welcome to our weekly linkbuilding technique column! Back when I first started out to use the Internet around 1997 it was all about hypertext.

Hypertext, the interconnected text containing links where you do not have to structure reading in a linear way with numbered pages that follow each other. Instead you can use links like some wormholes to end up on the other end of the world within an instant. Links made a huge difference and we willingly embraced linking out as the early Web enthusiasts we were. I remember creating interactive “digital poetry” with links, frames and scripts.

Today the Web is not the same as back in the beginning. Many people and especially companies do not want to link out.

When they actually link out they make sure to make these links as worthless as possible for the linked to website by using nofollow attributes. In many cases just the URL gets mentioned so that you can’t even click on a link. I use an extra Firefox extension that allows me to open these non-links despite not being linked.

Clearly we experience a post-link Internet, post means after here, so it’s the Internet after the link.

Facebook is probably the most important factor in this paradigm shift: The like is not a real link anymore, it’s just a proprietary kind of vote other websites can’t see by default: You have to connect to Facebook to be able to read some aspects of the like data and you rarely will find out who actually likes you.

A link connects both ways, a website that has been linked can track who linked it and where from. This is particularly meaningful as this way a connection between two people is established. Liking on Facebook or even just mentioning an URL without linking to it allows you to stay in the dark. It also limits your connection, it becomes one way. So it’s not a real communicative act or a conversation.

In SEO for years we depended on links for our Google rankings. Also Google depended on them and was thus dependent.

Then Google shot itself in the foot by introducing the nofollow attribute with the other search engines. From now on Google couldn’t follow many of the most important links. For example the back in the days very important social bookmarking platform Delicious used nofollow and noindex on all of their content to hide it from Google.

Other sites like Twitter have introduced the attribute just on the links like Google suggested initially. Google wasn’t unable to check Twitter links from then on and had to buy access. Finally Google +1 votes have been introduced to allow Google a direct access to real time social graph data.

So today it’s very common to get links that are in one or more ways non-links:

  1. nofollow-links
  2. script/forwarded links
  3. shortened links like t.co or bit.ly
  4. not linked URL mentions
  5. brand mentions
  6. not indexed social bookmarks
  7. Facebook likes
  8. Google +1 votes

Real links like those we used to play with back in the nineties are a rarity by now. Even Google had to adapt as the Google+ and +1 development shows. They can’t rely solely on real links anymore. Some people already argue that or at least suspect that Google counts not linked brand and URL mentions and uses them as ranking signals as well.

In 2011 you can’t ignore non-links anymore. Some SEO practitioners still try to go after real links only. Such a site is by now obviously a SEO site a no other regular site with a healthy link profile has solely real links. Matt Cutts and Rand Fishkin are quick to weigh in that just a small percentage of links use nofollow. Around 1% or 2%. On the other hand almost all the important sites like Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Delicious use nofollow on outgoing links.

You have to appear on these social sites in order to be on the Web today. A website without any mention on social media is either outdated or suspicious. While Google can’t index these sites it can see many of the links. Also third party services link Trunk.ly make them spiderable because people opt-in to use them and share their links.

One of the best ways to get links in the post-link Internet era is to connect with people like I suggested last time. You connect to a person and stay connected and the person will most probably “link” to you via different means, like social bookmarks, tweets, likes etc.

Each time you successfully connect with a person you lay the foundation for many links in the future.

The great thing about the Internet is that you do not even have to meet them in person. Of course it’s even better to know a person from face to face encounters but it’s much easier to reach out to people on the Web.

When you get a non-link you have to first find it and second contact the person responsible for it. You don’t need shiny tools to do so. Google search and email are enough for a start. Google Webmaster Tools and Blekko plus a free CRM tool like the one at Zoho are better. On the other hand complete a link building tool suite like ours can greatly improve your workflow and let you focus on the actual connecting.

A Google search like
cognitiveseo.com -site:cognitiveseo.com (insert your URL instead of ours)
can already reveal sites that mention your URL without linking especially when you use Google Blog Search.

The editors of these sites will be prone to giving you a real link. Just the other week a client of mine received a list of ten sites and their editors who have mentioned his URL without linking it: He got two links immediately which is a conversion rate of 20%. I asked him to send them an email and a note with some branded schwag (ball point pens etc.)

It’s not just an idea, it’s a proven technique. There are also ways to monitor social media mentions, Facebook likes etc. I may follow up on these in the near future. Or suggest another addition in the comments. Do you know other techniques to practice linkbuilding in a post-link Internet? Tell us!

*CC image by Hiroyuki Takeda.