If so, what will replace it?

It’s hardly a secret in the SEO world that Google is doing all it can to kill link building efforts. Over the past year and a half the search engine giant has gone to great lengths to modify its search engine algorithm with the sole intention of devaluing backlinks. I’d probably get booed off stage at an SEO convention, but I’ll go on record and say that I applaud the effort–and here’s why.

For too long Google told people the best practices that would help their websites appear in the SERPs; the only catch was there were no teeth behind the bite. Google wanted (and even warned) people to approach SEO in a certain way. Now, with last year’s Panda update and this year’s Penguin update, it has the means to enforce these requests. It’s hard to feel sorry for marketers and SEOs who didn’t heed the warnings and have seen their backlink profile significantly devalued.

Since Google is still trying to limit link building efforts, I raise the question: Is link building dead?

For all intents and purposes this once-mighty staple of SEO is critically injured and on life support. Link building will never officially end but we’re heading into a time when an organic link building philosophy must be pursued.

In the absence of a now defunct link building campaign, it’s time to turn your sights to your site. I’ve long held the belief that Google is paying attention to site metrics more than they lead on. In the past, site administrators had insight into how their site(s) stacked up against the competition thanks to the Benchmarking report in Analytics. Benchmarking contained data that compared your website’s metrics (traffic, time on site, pages/visit, and bounce rate) against other sites with traffic volume.

Last year, Google quietly removed Benchmarking from Analytics and marketers were left blind to how they stacked up against competing sites. This data was still available–though significantly stripped down–in a quarterly newsletter until June 2012 when Google pulled the plug entirely on benchmark reporting.

Much like Google’s attempt to limit the visibility of referring search engine keywords, the disappearance of benchmarking leads me to believe that more than ever Google heavily weighs site metrics as part of its algorithm. It only makes sense–if sites A and B each have similar competing rankings, then the best way to differentiate which is more useful to visitors is to compare data. If site B is outperforming site A then it should rank higher because it’s proving to be more useful.

Given that the scenario outlined above is true then it’s time to improve your website metrics. Encourage user engagement by expanding the amount of written content, images, video, and audio (podcasts) on your primary landing pages. Make sure your navigation is easy to use and that internal linking structure weaves people through your site and guides them to related areas. Essentially, undergo a landing page optimization campaign–or go the extra mile and tune your site through CRO to ensure the traffic you receive is converting into business leads, sales, etc.

For ideas on how to improve your landing pages or the process involved with conversion rate optimization, check out my other blog posts.


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