Quality or Quantity?

In the last couple of days I have exhanged a couple of comment posts with the site owner over at howigotrich.net and the topic of conversation set me thinking as follows…

The topic under discussion was the use of automated link-building services to get your sites up the SERPs. Now I have no experience of this as apart from the odd occasion dabbling with AdWords I have never paid for a link in my life. However I don’t like these services for a couple of reasons.

Firstly I should restate that I have never used the services I am about to slate. Partly this is down to my natural reluctance to part with my hard-earned cash but I am also put off from even trying these services by a combination of suspicion and outright paranoia. The suspicion is about whether they are genuinely useful or not.

It seems to me that if I had a link building service there would be two ways of making money from it. Method one would be to push my own outstanding sites up the SERPs and make money through affiliate/advertising revenue. The second way would be to sell the service to others and make money that way. Now by all means call me paranoid (and I will be getting more paranoid shortly) but it seems to me if I had some kind of secret sauce that could help increase profits for internet marketers then rather than sell it to others I would build more sites myself. I know there’s the argument that one man can only do so much but if my method was that good I wouldn’t be one man, I’d start taking on staff and get other people to build the sites. The point is that the very last thing in the world I would do is sell it. I have heard the arguments (usually from people who are trying to sell me some system) that there is plenty of space on the internet for all and they can make money by passing on their knowledge/system without compromising their own sites but I really doubt it. For each worthwhile key phrase there’s only profitable room at the top of the SERPs for two or three sites. How galling would it be if I was making book from selling anything from pills, porn and poker through to pet insurance, popcorn and PC games, and then discovered that someone who had paid me $100 for the priviledge was knocking my sites down a place and losing me $1000s. I just don’t see the argument that the best way to monetise a good link building service is to sell access to it. The best way to monetise these services must surely be to use them yourself, unless they are not really up to much.

The ‘more paranoid’ I mentioned above is probably completely wrong but I have to say that the biggest advantage I could see to setting up some kind of on-line link building service would not be the cash it would generate, it would be the behavioural data I would gather from my customers. Each of them gives me a list of websites along with their preferred keyphrases in their niche and from the amount spent I can even see how profitable different niches might be. What an amazing way to gather intelligence on where I should be deploying my rather better, not-for-sale link building techniques. Now I am not alleging that any of the people offering link building services do any of this. I am more saying that if I was in their shoes, I’d be sorely tempted.

My second issue is about the whole approach to internet marketing that these services promote. When I first got into ‘making money online’ about five years ago I used to visit sites such as Syndk8 and WickedFire and I got caught up in the whole ‘outfox Google’ approach. This led me to dabble with a few different black hat technologies such as link farming, scraping, automatic content generation, automatic directory submission and spamming up people’s blogs with pretty low quality comments etc. My whole focus was on how ranking algorithms worked and how you artificially get your sites up the SERPs so you can start making $$$.

Sites came and went and I made a little cash but everytime I got a site into a position where it was becoming profitable it was not long before it got slapped down by the search engines and game over. I user to spend hours hunting out the latest tips or ideas on how to sculpt link love and track down dofollow blogs and, to be honest, I found the whole thing pretty frustrating. The only things that kept me going were the occasionally big but short-lived payouts from the affiliate programmes and the forum comments and blog postings from successful marketers that indicated it was possible to make decent money at this, even if it was clear that in many cases their intention was to sell their own particular brand of probably-not-so-secret-sauce.

A couple of years ago I had the luxury of being able to go full-time at this game and this is when I had my ‘road to Damascus’ experience and opened my eyes to what I was doing. Going full time meant I had to start taking my erstwhile hobby seriously so I stopped thinking in terms of putting up frankly s****y sites and building backlinks for money, and started thinking in terms of building some kind of long-term business.

Focus shifted from trying to fool the search engines into ranking my undeserving sites, to serving customers by providing a better experience than was currently provided by the top ranking sites in a particular target area. Along with this came a switch from targeting low-competition, long-tailed phrases to going after higher competition phrases with more searches, as long as I could see a way to produce web content that was a genuine improvement.

Of course one of the benefits of going for quality rather than quantity is that you no longer need to use automated link-building services. Nicely written and polite letters to the quality sites that already linked to my competition gained me backlinks from webmasters who could see that my site was not just some spammy landing page but something that they would actually want to recommend to their own visitors. These few links are not only permanent in nature but some of my sites with only 20 or so links rank higher than competing sites with literally thousands of backlinks from paid-for and free directories, auto-blogs and syndicated 400 word ‘articles’. Furthermore the shift from long-tailed to shorter-tailed and fairly obvious keywords meant that not only did I not have to concentrate of keywords anymore, but as I gained ranking for the couple of target phrases I selected for each site, traffic from the longer-tailed phrases that included my keywords came along for free.

The point I want to make is that in my experience and in my humble opinion it shouldn’t be about setting up websites and getting backlinks and making money online. If that’s what you are doing then you are following the ‘quantity’ approach and your business model is basically to outfox Google, beat the professional black hatters and to try to get your brief turn as the top-most fish in a very large and overful pond with bigger fish than you and some highly unpredictable currents. Your competition ranges from thousands of other individuals scattered across the globe from Nigeria to Thailand (Hi Bompa!) as well as massive businesses that are churning out more sites and content than you can possibly imagine (perhaps including the businesses that you are paying for all those lousy automated links). You are also working in a marketplace where the entire approach you are taking is being eroded by the search engine ‘regulators’ whose own businesses hinge on wiping sites like yours out of existence. Finally, if you find yourself searching for advice on which are the best link-building tools and for the latest tips on how to fool the search engines then wake up and realise that you have already decided that you are a runner-up: that there are people out there who you are in competition with who know a great deal more about how to do this than you do.

To put it another way, while I used to try and be a factory I now recognise that there are others with many more resources than me so this approach is not going to get me anywhere. However the fact that I can’t compete with the General Motors and Tescos of this world doesn’t stop me building a business as long as I adopt the business model used implicitely by small businesses and the self-employed ever since Grinling Gibbons first stuck a chisel in a plank of oak. My great insight was that I was tying to be a factory when I should have been focussing on doing what I reasonably could with the resources available, and that is be a master craftsman. Nowadays, instead of polluting the internet with temporary short-lived spam and instead of failing to make money, I aim to use my writing and technical skills to improve the internet wherever I can on the basis that people recognise quality and, while it still needs to be marketed, its an awful lot easier to sell. I am happy to report that while I have never received a five or six figure payout from AdSense or an affiliate program, I do make an adequate income and over the last couple of years my site traffic and earnings have showed slow but steady improvements. It may not be sexy and I may never be able to buy the yacht that I used to joke about but I am making a living. Not only that but I also have the satisfaction of being proud of the sites I put up and proud to tell people what I do.

So that’s my two objections to using link-building services. Firstly I suspect they are nowhere as effective as the hype and possibly not very effective at all. Secondly I worry that the whole approach they encourage of ‘make money online’ is not only unsustainable in the long term but is actually taking a lot of people in the opposite direction of their real goals, which I presume to be building a profitable business.

If you are an affiliate marketer then I hope this brief diatribe may set you to thinking about the approach you are following because worrying about ranking algorithms, researching keywords, writing lots of pointless ‘articles’ and building thousands of backlinks is all part of the ‘quantity’ approach, and if you are bury yourself in all this mechanics then you are probably wasting your talent. Find something good to do, do it, and while its true that “build it and they will come” doesn’t happen, you will find that if you concentrate on doing a quality job for your users you can leave most of the trivial minutiae of internet marketing behind.

As a final thought, as I was writing this I went slightly reflexive and thought to myself, “so what business model are the providers of automated link-building services following?” Well they have clearly invested in the engineering required to create a product or service that their customers want so I guess they are building a business as well. However I can’t help thinking that they are taking advantage of a deluded customer base that wants to believe they can make big money by spending a few dollars a month on what, in the long term, will almost certainly turn out to have been worthless garbage.

P.S. When you prove me wrong then next time you pass a pennyless tramp, don’t forget to toss him a pound for a cup of tea. You never know, it just might be me!

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One Response to “Quality or Quantity?”

  1. Mansoor Says:

    Hi Starving… my first post here..

    I tend to agree that most services are not very good. Those that are very good still offer services, but tend to do it privately.

    In the past I had offered link building services. That was an attempt for me to generate some revenue to invest in tools/staff etc..

    I do subscribe to a few services if i ma being honest though they are invite only and usualy have a very high monthly pay ceiling.

    Content and website quality are always key, speaking with webmaster has had hit and miss results from me.. having said that I have one guy full time that does just that 🙂

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