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On April 2, Victoria Edwards wrote a popular piece for SearchEngineWatch titled “Screw Link Building, It’s Called Relationship Building!” In the piece, she discusses case studies from Jo Turnbull and Erin Everhart that ruminate on the concept of link building and how the practice is more modern, acceptable and profitable when it includes, or is converted entirely to, relationship building.



Edwards writes, “What do you want out of a personal relationship? Loyalty and value are at the top of this list. This is the same way you should think about link building and how you should approach it. Be valuable and loyal to people and you will have a high return on your time invested. It’s important to find those areas where the like-minded people are that you wish to communicate with.”

I couldn’t agree more with that assessment about personal relationships, value and loyalty. Finding like-minded people is important, but that’s not link building. Nor is it simply relationship building—it’s called networking, and it’s been around for as long as humans have walked the Earth.

Chameleons and Buzzwords

Relationship building, link earning and other new buzzwords are being thrown around to replace link building because of its admittedly sordid past. The industry as a whole doesn’t focus on building spammy links anymore, but we still build links. People are quick to leave the old at the altar and marry new terms. They’re quick to rebrand themselves. But at the end of the day, we’re still building links. We don’t need to abandon ship. We can build relationships and build links at the same time, but they’re not the same thing. One cannot replace the other.

Relationship building isn’t bad—it’s one of the keys to success in business. Link building is not the same as relationship building. When link building reaches its highest potential, it includes elements of relationship building. The middle of that particular custom illustration should be large and robust, but they’re not the same thing.

Survival Becomes Marketing

Let’s talk about relationship building, though, because it’s an important topic. For the purposes of this article, let’s embrace the old ways and refer to it as networking.

Imagine a tribe of cave people. They knew how to kill the woolly mammoth, but they were cold. A neighboring cave tribe knew the secret of fire, but they didn’t have much to eat. Cave tribe A networks with cave tribe B because, hey, they have something in common and they can help each other out. They build a relationship. That simple concept has escalated forward into marketing, sales, link building and everything else we do.

We build links to make money. We need money because we want to support our relationships just as much as we want to support ourselves. Nothing in this world happens without relationships. That’s especially true with link building.

The thing about that, though, is that you can’t force relationships. Sometimes when you write a guest post and it’s placed on the perfect site, you don’t exchange more than a few words with the webmaster. Either they don’t have the time or the interest. It shouldn’t happen that way the majority of the time, but that’s reality. You’ve still created a good link, but a relationship wasn’t built in the process. A relationship doesn’t automatically flicker into existence when a hyperlink is created. In the best circumstances, a relationship is created along with the link, but there are plenty of times when that’s not the case—and the link is still perfectly good.

Who You Know

The relationships you do build are important, however. They’re not just important for your link building campaign; they’re also an important part of your overall marketing strategy. You might even make an actual friend in the process, which is just as important.

Good relationships often provide us with great link opportunities, give us new ideas and allow us to take a look at the industry from a different perspective. They also open doorways into other new relationships.

Getting to know the editors of a popular industry website is a fantastic networking opportunity. The same goes for participating in the industry’s online community with comments and social media. Those are valuable relationships for obvious reasons.

I talked about it before, but link building and networking should cross over often. In an ideal world, the two would always cross over. A quality link can be built without a relationship, but if a relationship is built along with it, your overall marketing strategy will be better off for it. The two fit together closely, but they’re not the same thing. Networking is essential for businesses. Networking is an essential component of any effective online marketing strategy, and so is link building. They work together, but using a fancy new buzzword does not mean that link building is the same thing as networking.


When Edwards writes, “Try thinking about link building as a way to build value and loyalty with people in your vertical. Not only will it be a longer-term effort that just spamming people for links, but the effect will be longer lasting and way more authentic.” she is absolutely correct.

Spam, as far as effective link building goes, is a thing of the past, for a normal business (shady tactics still exist … and they might get you a quick rank and along with it a big ranking penalty). Though we’re still mending some fences, the industry has moved beyond building spammy links and onto creating useful links powered by human brains.

We want to approach every blogger and webmaster like a human being and provide something of value—but that won’t always yield a relationship. Link building is not networking, but they’re both valuable weapons in any online marketer’s arsenal—especially when they cross over.

About the author

Jon Ball is VP of Business Development for Page One Power. Jon specializes in developing highly effective link building strategies for clients across the world. Trained as a professional portrait photographer, he still passionately pursues photography as a hobby.
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