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Is it Really All About Links?

Links are code. When webmasters published the web, they did so in code. Nowadays people publish to the web. They don’t use code.

How does a person “link” to a site today? Is it an anchor tag? Does it have attributes? No, they simply type into their user interface. There is very little incentive to make a link, and very little if any visible benefit.

Today people use platforms, and platforms produce code. Tech people used to code html pages, but now even they use platforms (like WordPress). WordPress used to have “blogrolls”, but they are now out of fashion. What’s in fashion? Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress blogs with minimalist themes (no blogrolls).

People still “recommend” websites. They don’t build as many links as they used to. What’s a search engine to do?

Facebook is manipulating internal (and outbound) linking. If it does so following a schema, Google can manage it. If not, Google has stress. Twitter forces TinyURLs, according to a schema. But lately Twitter is showing it knows how to make friends, and can influence people. Twitter is starting to manipulate the internal and outbound links it owns, and sell its integrity to players in the web industry. I don’t expect much from Twitter.

The days of the public-facing web page platform are behind us. The players producing platforms are manipulating the currency that they see those platforms aggregate — which is mostly links. As you type type type your content into Twitter or or Wikipedia you are fueling the coffers of an elite group of benefactors, and if they continue to manipulate the open web, we lose the “free” benefits of our world wide web. They used to encourage you to sign onto their systems, but now they need you. We’re not linking because our tools don’t make it easy enough to express our linking selves. Those who make the flexible tools today do so for personal gains, not the betterment of the web, and so they manage the linking. Greed is the new black.

And as we all stop linking, and our overlords manipulate the linking behind our content, what is Google to do? Just a hint — we stopped linking quite a while ago, in Internet time. Google’s been trying things, but I haven’t seen much success.
Free was never free; it was “no cost to users”. But as users lose the benefits of the open web, the cost of free can be substantial. The Tragedy of the Commons is hastened by the greed of those pulling platform strings, encouraged by search engines seemingly comfortable with the relationship, and supported by the masses of individuals looking to easily publish themselves on the web in order to “be somebody”.

I wrote this post on my self-published blog, and felt no desire nor need to link out to anything on the web. I’m not trying to educate an audience, nor trying to get them to sign onto my platform. I know few will link to this, although relatively many will indeed read it. Some might comment, but unless they desire a stunted, asynchronous one-way “conversation” they won’t bother. One or two may Twitter a 132 character quip to me about this, or send a DM, but I won’t hold my breath waiting.

The days of the html web are over, and we are in transition to something next.. the real time web. We have been for a while. Google runs the show today, because Google owns the archives… and I refer to very short term archives, since if we don’t witness something published live, we immediately go to Google to re fined it. People are saying twitter search is the next Google. Boy oh boy I can’t wait to see what our leaders and governments will do with populations of short-memory, attention overloaded, short-term-archive-dependent citizens.

For now, as an SEO, I have a job to do. But looking forward, unless Google or another search engine “nationalizes” itself for the good of the web or the web users, things are going to get ugly.


  1. Jami Broom wrote:

    Wanna talk about archives? Check out Brewster Kahle (of alexa and the wayback machine) and his Internet Library. I’d like to know what he’s going to do with it and where it’s going. and if Google is shaking in their boots. Nice article on him in the economist last week.

    Monday, March 16, 2009 at 6:45 am | Permalink
  2. xentech wrote:

    I’ve always thought that it would be logical for Google to count mentions of a website URL in their algorithm (say if someone types in a forum), whether they do or not I don’t know.

    Monday, March 16, 2009 at 6:53 am | Permalink
  3. Anna Green wrote:

    Im relatively new to SEO, and this is a point of view i hadn’t though of. It reminds me of the worlds attitude to climate changes we all know we need to act independently to make a difference but no one wants to be the first to make a move and loose out. Its going to get worse before it gets better, i think.

    Monday, March 16, 2009 at 7:45 am | Permalink
  4. Jeremy Luebke wrote:

    Hence the reason Google will continue to try and integrate both user traffic data and the social graph into their algorithm. I’ve seen engineers say multiple times that those metrics are spammy, but they have no choice to find a way.

    Monday, March 16, 2009 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  5. Brad wrote:

    Thanks for saying this so eloquently. I’ve pondered the same ideas regarding links.

    Monday, March 16, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  6. Tim Dineen wrote:

    Totally agree John. I believe the G has been incorporating as many social signals as they can into their algo for several years. The Brand concept is a difficult one, not sure how they’ll crack that one and already I feel they are headed in the wrong direction with their recent attempt… brand isn’t so useful anyway when compared with discovering PageRank-ish data from non-link or follow-less info sharing sources.

    btw – Some of us still hard code our HTML and even our RSS feeds :)

    Monday, March 16, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  7. Hi John


    I was going to be one of those “read, won’t comment” types you referred to above. Happily reading away, nodding in general agreement as a very basic self-coding HTMLer, until I came to a typo or two.

    Then I thought I could add something useful, so here they are, mostly in the last para of your piece, plus maniupulate/maniupate in a couple of places:

    “anoher” should possibly be “another”.

    “fo” possibly “of”

    Warm regards from a thinking reader,

    Michael Zerman
    Adelaide, AUSTRALIA

    PS: Or they could just be “Blue Yachts”, those deliberately inserted mistakes to see who’s reading.

    No, Michael, those are real typos and thanks for listing them so I could fix them without proofreading (!) Lazy fingers at the end… I am only interested in expressing the thoughts, mostly, although once you highlight the errors I did feel the need to fix them. -=john 

    Monday, March 16, 2009 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
  8. Oh how very true. To be honest with the social way the web is moving it couldn’t be anymore anti-social. And that is why Twitter is so popular. It’s a den of self-interested link spamming that holds no value.

    Tuesday, March 17, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  9. Adam Singer wrote:

    Microblogs wouldn’t exist without blogs. Half of microblogging (Twitter & FriendFeed) is actually linking to blog content.

    Tuesday, March 17, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  10. spondishy wrote:

    Facebook passed me by, Twitter is passing me by as well. How can a site like twitter add any value beyond the sms texting quick message genre. Community interaction is obviously an important factor in the web, but what can you convey and meaningfully discuss in 200 characters or whatever it is.

    It looks like it’s here to stay for the moment, with even sites like the BBC have integrated twitter into their content.

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 2:24 am | Permalink
  11. Wow… That is something to think about. It’s like the NWO (New World Order) of the internet with the Bilderbergs (elite group of benefactors) deciding the fate of the human race (web)… hahaha

    Why take the time to learn something when you can google it. With time people will do this more and more and by manipulating the search results you could shift perception of the masses. By choosing favorites the web could become a huge propaganda machine.

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 1:32 pm | Permalink
  12. You wrote:

    “And as we all stop linking, and our overlords manipulate the linking behind our content, what is Google to do? Just a hint — we stopped linking quite a while ago, in Internet time.”

    When you say ‘stopped linking’, do you mean linking out or getting inbound links?

    What are you doing in replace of linking to get Google love, if anything?

    Twitter baffles me in a way. And it’s huge upsurge in popularity baffles me as well. And now you say Twitter search may become big possibly. Wow. What would that be like? I have an account and the people I follow talk about dumb stuff, and others just do promo stuff constantly.

    P.S. I tweeted this post.

    Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  13. mona lee wrote:

    John i totally agree with you you have posted a great article very helpful for everyone hope everyone should get benefit from all this

    Friday, March 20, 2009 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  14. Nowadays everyone nofollows their outgoing links, which hurts the principle of google: Websites that get linked to are more valuable. It is pretty much all about links though. (I’d say 70% of your SEO).

    Monday, March 23, 2009 at 2:20 am | Permalink
  15. Nice article, John as always.

    @Michael: re: ‘“Blue Yachts”, those deliberately inserted mistakes to see who’s reading.’ I never heard of typos referred to as blue yachts. Where does that come from?

    (See this is a “stunted, asynchronous one-way conversation” in blog comments. Love will find a way :)

    Monday, March 23, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  16. Domainer wrote:

    I can see the potential of Twitter. Its REAL TIME. You can actaully sit and read tweets on say ‘blue widgets’ – these will be linking to recently written content. Usually fresh and often good. Search ‘blue widgets’ in Google – you get many blogs, articles etc that are a couple of years old and ranking on the front page. The information is often outdated and therefore useless to the reader.

    Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  17. Without incoming links from relevant sites, you will not rank that well in the engines.I would say it is all about excellent content and incoming links.

    Monday, March 30, 2009 at 5:39 am | Permalink
  18. also writes about the passing of the link economy. and heralds a new passion-based economy.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  19. Dave Durbin wrote:

    I like your writing style and the gravity of this piece forced me to comment. We, as SEO pawns on a Google board, are hyper-reactive to anything that Google does because of the money. Google drives business. That’s the bottom line. If Google’s ray of sunshine shines favorably on your sites then all is well in Shangri-La. I agree with your information dilution via the snippet and Tiny URL theory as well, but I think there is something more at play here. The linking behind the scenes ratio to content is minimal at best now. Are we getting to the point of: 1 tidbit of info per link? I think so. This is like an over-normalized database in my eyes. Critical mass has been reached. What now? The devaluation of links? That’s already happening. The rich and power brokers get fat and we can only move one or two steps forward, like the pawns we are.

    Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 1:34 am | Permalink