By Jack Strawman (c) 2008
Once upon a time, onsite optimization was the most crucial factor in search engine ranking. Webmasters and SEO experts spent ample time ensuring keywords were used in all relevant tags, and that the keyword concentration on each page was just right (usually 5-7%). Then came all the spamming and keyword stuffing, as webmasters and SEO experts fought viciously to usurp one another in the ranks. Search engines took notice, and adjusted their scoring algorithms accordingly. Onsite optimization lost its footing.
Nowadays, onsite optimization is becoming less and less significant, overshadowed by the all powerful offsite optimization. Where keyword concentration was once god, now links have become the mighty ruler of the search engines. The fact of the matter is, onsite optimization counts for almost nothing these days (I did say "almost"). So why are webmasters and SEO experts still spewing all this nonsense about the importance of building great content. I really wish it were about building great content. The sad truth, however, is it's all about the links.
Search engines want you to believe that ranking well is all about building a great website with great content. Build a site for your users, keep your users happy, and you will do just fine in their eyes. After all, isn't this the main principle behind organic search results; let's keep it real, honest, and user-friendly. Boy, I wish that were so. What I don't understand is why all these so-called experts and webmasters are spouting the same foolish nonsense all over the Internet. Perhaps it's because they don't want us to work on improving our own rankings as their ridiculous articles are improving theirs.
It's almost like these experts and webmasters are afraid that if they tell it like it is, somehow Google will find out what they're saying and drop their site a few points. Gee, but I thought the results on the left side were purely organic. Besides, if it were that easy, I would just start posting all kinds of articles and claim they were written by my competition. Sure there are some "must haves" for onsite optimization, but any web owner could learn these in an afternoon. The reality, however, is that all the great content and onsite optimization in the world will only get you to the starting line. Links is how you run the race.
The best way to acquire these necessary links, the experts say, is to once again build great content. It's the old "if you build it they will come (and link to it)" line. This is nearly ludicrous. First of all, how would people even find your "great content" if you're on page 50? Because no matter how great your content is, and no matter how much onsite SEO you do, you'll never get closer than page 50 without back links (unless you're vying for a top position with a keyword or phrase that gets searched less than 100 times a month).
Now, let's pretend that a few knowledgeable webmasters do find your site and really enjoy the content. This does not mean they are going to go through the trouble of creating a link on their site to yours. This takes time, effort and energy. Why would they do this unless they have some incentive (but if you give them incentive, doesn't that undermine its organic nature)?
Nevertheless, if you do everything right, eventually people will link to your site. This is true. However, it will likely take you about 2 years to acquire enough relevant, high PR back links with proper keyword anchor text to move you up just one point in the PR scale. That will possibly move you to page 49 in the search results. Congratulatíons, only a few dozen more years to go. (The only alternative you have now is to pay for results on the right side of the screen, and that my fríend gets expensive.)
The fact is, you could hire a SEO company and pay them millions for onsite optimization of your PR 2 site. Then, you could spend months creating unique and user-friendly content that perfectly integrates all your keywords and phrases in a symphony of optimized perfection. Then, when you're nearly on top for some obscure keyword phrase, along comes some PR 5 website that just coincidently adds an extra page to their site that just happens to have your key phrase spliced throughout the title tag. Guess what? You just got beat. Even though they haven't done one thing to optimize their site or page for these keywords, and even though there is zero "quality content" on this add-on url, it just usurped you in the ranks.
Now I know what you're thinking. If acquiring links is so incredibly important, then why don't I just spend my time doing this? Well, this is easier said then done. I've just recently been told that reciprocal link exchanges, directory listings, and 3way link exchanges no longer account for very much in the eyes of the search engine gods (although this is still up for debate). Writing letters to relevant high PR sites is almost a ludicrous task, in that only maybe 1 in ten ever even respond to your pathetic, though eloquently written e-mails. The ones who do usually have some wonderful explanation of why you should look into paid advertising on their site instead. And of course, paid links and link farms will possibly get you banned completely from the search engines (which is about the worst thing that could ever possibly happen), though I'm not sure how they distinguish between an add and paid link, a directory and a link farm. Nevertheless, it's enough to keep your head spinning.
So what's my conclusion? I guess your witnessing it right now. I'm writing articles. It's a lot better that spending hours trading links that never seem to help, or adding links from partners who never exchange the favour. I know there are a lot more ways to acquire back links, so I guess I'm now opening it up to responses. This, after all, is the million-dollar question. If you can succeed at the link game, you will be rich beyond your wildest imaginations. Just look at Plentyoffish.com, and other sites that rank in the top five for well sought after keywords. I for one wouldn't mind finding myself in their position.
About The Author
Jack Strawman is the cofounder of the popular new website Late Night Chat, Dating and Hook Up at UStillUp.com, a totally free late night chat, dating and social networking site for late night fun.