Danny Sullivan’s Epic Rant on Links at SMX Advanced

4 min read

In case you have not heard, Danny Sullivan, Editor of SearchEngineLand.com let loose with an incredible stream of consciousness rant about link building today at SMX Advanced. I was recording it, and you can hear the entire 7 minutes of it right here:

UPDATE: Here’s the text transcript:

Danny: [mumbling while skimming list of audience question for the Ask the Experts panel]

Vanessa Fox: [inaudible] we can’t hear the questions, we’re just enjoying you reading them in your mind.

Danny: Okay, okay. Oh, slap down! Can we talk about Panda recovery stories? No? Not right now.

Panda? Those who don’t want to hear about links, you want to hear about Panda?

Audience: [Various no’s and groans]

Danny: You see how hard this is to sit there and, “No, I don’t do Facebook, because I have people.” Look, let me just get the link question out of the way. I want no more than five minutes’ discussion on it, but I’m just going to tell you all the link stuff that’s coming down… I’m going to read it out to you, and get it into your mind and come up with your quick responses.

What are your top tips for doing link building? Links are still important. Nobody would deny that it’s getting harder and harder. What would you do? Gosh, my competitor is using WordPress theme links, paidlinks, and trust seal links. What should I do? Should I report those links? What percentage of your links can be crappy and still be okay? What stops competitors from buying 6,000 Xrumer links for $5 on Fiveeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.com?

I haven’t heard anybody talk about link building tactics like article marketing, directory submissions– you see what’s in my mind– and do you still believe these tactics are effective?

Don’t just contemplate it, let is spin in your head with your ideas. Yeah, come over here and live in my world.

I still have a root domain with a strong link profile. In general, it won’t be the strongest. Does that strength allow me to be less strenuous with the deeper links that I’m targeting with the link building campaign?

Can I continue getting partial or exact match anchor text links?  And it goes on like that.

Vanessa: You were right before not to take questions.

Danny: No. No, I’m not even halfway done with the link questions. Do you guys buy links, or do you do non-compensated placement campaigns? And if we did, we’d call paid links non-paid links, that’d be like calling paid inclusion, “paid inclusion.”

Are link wheel services still safe? Some seem to have survived Penguin, but are they legit?

Panel: [Various attempts to respond] 

Danny: No, no, no. Do you have enough of the sense of the confusion that’s going on?

Vanessa: I don’t quite get it yet.

Danny: Let me just summarize it like this, and kind of crystallize what I’m seeing. [inaudible] I was telling [inaudible] this last night. Penguin has been [inaudible] really understood that a lot of people seem to think that link building meant just get links. It didn’t matter whether or not anybody actually saw the freaking links to
click on them to go do something.

When I was a little kid walking through the snow and we built links, we got links from websites that people actually went to in some way because they wanted to go to the website, they read some information, and then they said, “Oh, there’s more information about this topic. I can click on this link that will take me over there.”

You didn’t get links from websites that when you go to the homepage they say, “What is the purpose of this website? To give you links.” Or we didn’t have to worry about 2,000 directories being banned, because we only had 3 directories. We had three directories because we used them to FIND shit.

And they were called Yahoo! and the Open Directory and Look Smart, and we used them to find things. And when Google came along and said, “We would like to kill them, but we can’t kill them right away. We need to figure out what the good sites are. We’ll just crawl them, figure out what all the good sites are because they’re linked in the directories, and eventually we’ll be better than that.”

Then people said, “Well, Google, you’re all hot and awesome. How do we get to be listed with you?” Google said, idiotically, not anticipating 20,000 directories would later come, “You should get directory links.” AND THEY MEANT GET LINKS FROM Yahoo! and the Open Directory and Look Smart.

God HELP US that they ever said that, because that led us to getting the best links for ever on the top of top 20, $20 for [inaudible] nofollow.com, .edu, .org. And now, it’s like all the 13th generation SEOs that have grown up on Black Hat Warrior Fiesty Fighter [inaudible] or GetMyLinksFastXrumer.com, and that’s like . . . so

Audience: [Applauding]

Danny: [inaudible] answer the question. I’ve been dealing…I’ve had a lot on my mind recently… but that is why I said to Matt  yesterday, “it is fine if you guys sit there and say, ‘Just go get links. It’s so easy.” It’s like, I swear, I want them to go out there and spend 30 days to get links, just to go get links, because they’re freaking hard.

One last story and I’ll let you respond. Okay? Just to illustrate. Back when I started Search Engine Land, which is a new website that I had to start over with from nothing. I had to go do link building. And one of the links that I wanted to get was from this other site that you may have heard about, run by this guy named John Batelle.

Perhaps you’re familiar with John. Big luminary in the search world. When I see John, he says, “Hey, Danny.” I say, “Hey, John.” We know each other pretty well. He seems to like me.

Okay, I’m like, “Hey, John, you linked to my old site on your blog, which is a pretty important blog about search. I would love if you would list me as one of the resources for my new site.” John’s like, “oh, dude, we’ll totally make it happen, I’ll get my guy to do it.” 

Guy doesn’t do it. Who wants to put a link on a website, right???

So then I’m like, “Hey, John, I’m really sorry, but I know you said you’d link, but you haven’t added the link, and I’d really like to get the link… is there any way you think you could add the link?”

Eventually, John was like, “yeah, yeah, I’ll get my guy to do it.” Eventually, I do get the link. But the guy when he goes to install the links decides that’s now the time to make all the links FREAKING nofollow.

So I got my link and it was worthless. And that’s from someone who knows me and trusts me.

I’m not saying it’s not like [inaudible] if you didn’t hear Casie talk from Grasshopper, she was doing some kickass link  things… Now I’ll shut up now.

Panelist Greg Boser, President of BlueGlass Interactive, summed up the panel’s response best saying, if you’re taking link building shortcuts (link wheels, buying links, etc.),  “it’s like riding a motorcycle 200 mph down an alley with a brick wall at the end… it’s not going to end well.”  Rae Hoffman, President of PushFire told the crowd, the old days of paying for links are gone.  Link building is hard… get over it.

I have to say, a rant against junk link building makes me smile… This is exactly why I co-founded BuzzStream 5 years ago (BuzzStream is a CRM that helps online marketers curate and manage influencers to promote their content).  And it’s awesome to see the efforts of Grasshopper, a big time BuzzStream user, touted at SMX, but moreover to see that keeping our eyes on true North was the right decision.

Photo Credit:  Mat Siltala

Many thanks to Danny Sullivan for granting permission to post this.

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48 Replies to “Danny Sullivan’s Epic Rant on Links at SMX Advanced”

  1. Man, I can’t wait to get the video transcript. Sometimes you just laughed too hard…but thanks anyways for letting us being a part of it.

  2. ahhh, the age old question, how to do I get links? This is great information from a legend in the search engine marketing space. It is all about quality and cutting corners is not going to help anyone.

  3. I like this – Good for Danny to state this. The problem is that some people are gaming the system to a point where business managers and small business owners are at a loss at how to manage. Too many posts on how to deal with Penguin when there should be more posts on how to incorporate link building opportunities while operating your business.

  4. I’m SO glad someone got this recording… As he was talking I almost whipped out my phone but I was too late… Nice job!

  5. I can relate to all of it – unfortunately as long as people buy I will deliver. I am really trying to get this relationship-linkbuilding thing into the head of my customers but as soon as they hear the price for good online marketing the start talking about those things competitors did… *uff*

  6. Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed! Extremely helpful information specifically the last part 🙂 I care for such information much. I was looking for this certain info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  7. Thank you for posting this! That is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. I was at SES Toronto this week and @sagerock tweeted “I am so over talking about “links”. If you are talking about links you are probably going down the wrong path.” I say SEOs get together and petition Google to remove PageRank from the algo completely.

    By the way, I love that you let the link from “cctv cameras delhi” through. Proves the point the way nothing else can.

  8. Something I’ve pondered for a long time is, as Danny said, a quality link doesn’t just mean a relevant link. It’s a link that was engaged. Used. Shared. Clicked! Google has a more data that we could ever dream of.

  9. SEO’s are never going to stop buying links. I have people contacting me on a daily basis looking to purchase links. If done properly on ‘real’ websites, it’s pretty damn hard for Google to detect. If you use Indian bloggers expect to get links from spammy snapped back domains.

  10. The answer to how you get links you you buy them. That is how 99% of them are aquired. So it is just non-sense that links are part of any algo…..non-sense.

  11. Ok, folks, enough of the Danny butt kissing. I’m usually a fan of searchengineland and Danny, but where is the insight in this rant?

    What new information did you get here?

    How will you CHANGE what you are doing because of this rant?

    Time to get back to productive work.

  12. –>” Link building is hard… get over it.”

    It is not hard. It is impossible.
    Google has turned off the anchor text function in a link, and removed links in general from having any effect on SERPs.


  13. Danny Sullivan’s link rant in short: Google helped to create the problem of link spamming and the marketing environment that makes it really difficult for legit business to get links, even from people who know and trust them!

  14. Thanks for the video transcript. As a non native speaker it is hard to understand everything just from the audio. Sometimes I just don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Sure he presents the miseries in a funny way but the truth is it is not so funny.

  15. Its great when the walls come down and we learn how things really are. Not that it was any great secret, but yeah, honest link building is actual work, people. Just like content-oriented SEO. As someone in the retail online world for over 14 years, its has been disheartening to see how useless cross-links have become. Back in the day (yeah, when we used Magellan as a search engine) you would email or pick up the phone and call a website owner and have a polite chat about linking. I’m glad the factory links have gotten smacked down.

  16. Looks like part of the Google formula includes disruption as a tactic to fend off those who might outgame them. But if it leads to introducing discontinuities into the results, it could be a dangerous move for Google. It would become an opportunity for another search engine to provide what everyone wants: relevant results. For Google, a fight with SEO could be like too much chemotherapy, which doesn’t end well for anyone.

  17. It’s good to hear that the days of link building are not over, but it is just getting harder and harder. We just need to be more creative to get some relevant links, thats good…

  18. You definitely have to be smart link building now. Create some great content and link bait and have some relevant content and you will rank. I think that the majority of people that are upset is because they don’t know how to build quality content and quality links.

  19. Evolution is what makes things better and better. Same thing with search algorithms and what Google does is just an attempt to adapt to new trends.

    Don’t get me wrong, I hate those motherfuckers, but right now they’re the only ones doing something about quality of search.

  20. Well said rant! Linkbuilding is hard! The creative ways that people have tried the lazy man approach (link wheels, buying links, wordpress themes, etc) has always impressed me, but if you want a good link, you gotta do it the old fashioned way – through working hard.

  21. Of course linkbuilding is always a hard thing unless you know how to do link baiting. But that does not necessarily mean you can acquire natural links, any crappy websites will to link back to you.

  22. I have lost faith in linkbuilding way back in October when my health website crashed. Now the only thing we can do is to let our website mature so that it builds links on its own.

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