Case Study: I Listened to Google and I Failed

This is a post of why natural link building seems to be no longer working, despite Google not admitting that.
I don’t know how many times Google have said: “Produce great content and if users find it useful, they’ll recommend and link to you.” But Google, how do I get these people to even come through your engine? “Produce great content and they’ll (somehow) come. They’ll find your content and recommend you!”

It was January 1st. I’ve decided to start a blog and listen to Google’s advice. I started and decided to write on topics I like and also some I want to rank for. So far I wrote 31 world-class articles, all amazingly great content. My motto was: I’m not going to focus on building links for the search engines at all (by building them manually), I’m just going to get traffic to my articles and hopefully, some of the people who see them will find them useful and link to them! So I focused 90% of my time on building useful content, 10% on building links manually.

I did that for 6 months. Some of the articles got on the Digg front page 5 times (it’s easy to get on the Digg FP if you know how with an average article, but mine got a lot more diggs than the average because the content was really useful). Many of them got featured on StumbleUpon which is all about good/interesting content (over 10 of the articles got 20k+ views each, this one had the biggest success, 110k+ views.) Here are the traffic stats for the site from January:

But what about Google? Only 2000 people? That’s around 10 per day (it was actually 10-20 daily because I wasn’t receiving much traffic during the first 2 months.)

Several days ago I took my most popular posts and did an analysis to see what traffic Google sent to each of them over time. I was shocked to see most of them didn’t rank even in top 100 for the keywords which weren’t so hard, judging by the top 10 pages. Ironically, the ones that received most traffic from Google were the ones where I took the time to manually build the links by doing some forum marketing/guest posts (there was one exception though, I got one article that went both popular on Digg and StumbleUpon and 2 authority sites picked it up but it still wasn’t ranking in top 20 for the intended keyword, it was frustrating to see that most of the top guys for that keyword did manual link building.) Overall, I wasn’t receiving much traffic from Google.

2 lessons here: social bookmarking (Digg, StumbleUpon, Mixx, Propeller) currently SUCKS if you want to build good links (for popular posts that got 30k+ views, I barely got 2-3 links from PR2-3 sites who feature daily ‘interesting sites’ so those are not that valuable links.) I also got some good links, for example, a link from HowStuffWorks which ir PR7 blog. With 400k views, you are bound to get some of these links 🙂 However, the results weren’t enough to persuade me to focus 100% of the time to this strategy. I mean, spend 10 days writing and researching content for (hopefully) 1 PR7 link? In the process of promoting my site on Digg, I met several people who had their sites go on the front page more than me. Same results there.

Back in 2007, if you had an article go popular on Digg/StumbleUpon you would get a bunch of authority links. This great article on 25 free people search engines got also over 100k views from StumbleUpon and got featured on around 5 authority sites who made separate posts just to review it. But now, things aren’t that easy because all this got over-saturated.
2nd lesson: Google mantra “Build great content and users will find you” isn’t valid anymore. The fact they still spread this propaganda makes me sick. I’ve realized that building great content is just one piece of the puzzle (so I’m not saying building great content is bad, I’m just saying it’s one piece of the puzzle, not everything.)
It comes down to Economics 101 if you ask me. What if Google suddenly started recommending you build links? Webmasters wouldn’t spend so much of their time building great content. SERPs will be filled with less quality content and users won’t like what they see. Google profitability will suffer. Also, Google always recommends you get only ‘natural links’ (of course, you can get these with good content 🙂 ) but as we’ve seen, people don’t link very much nowaways. That’s why, I think, most of the SERPs you’ll see for any keyword are by people who went and built the links themselves.

How to protect yourself against present (and future) Google SEO propaganda

There’s one question you can ask the person or entity who is spreading a particular propaganda (I’ve learned this from Thomas Sowell, an economics professor, great guy) and literally destroy their argument. The question is: “Do you have any (hard) evidence for that?” A good question to ask someone from Google once they start saying ‘produce great content’ is: “Do you have any proof that the majority of sites got their SERPs on the basis of following your advice for ‘producing good content’ and that was all they did?” According to my experience, that is far from the truth and I have hard evidence for that. Do you have any hard evidence to back up your claim?

Does good content matter?

Yes. Personally, I’ve been noticing that my return visitors increased as I’ve been producing more great content. You also build trust, authority and all that. Heck, someone might even link to you (although that doesn’t happen much these days.) I’m going to continue to produce great content for all of my sites, more because for a matter of principle (I want to contribute value to the web, not pollute it) than results (people linking to me.)
Before I finish, I want to leave you with one video of Matt Cutts talking about getting natural links through producing interesting/useful content and getting it on places like Digg, Twitter, Facebook and so on. There were 2 top-rated comment that summarize my point quite well:

For TechieGeek1, he doesn’t have to ‘think’ that is the case anymore, it’s confirmed (by me and other webmasters I know who have quite popular sites.) And for the first comment, I agree that Google needs to do something do adjust this side effect. Things aren’t going good for natural link builders.

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