A Moral Quandary with Creating Backlinks

backlinks, SEO, morals, writingIf you run your own website you’re probably often left wondering how you can increase SEO and ensure that your content is easily discovered on the web. It’s a legitimate worry, and one that is shared by any webmaster worth their salt. Poor SEO can have a dramatic effect on your success and is ultimately able to seal the fate of a website or online business.

Whenever I research the issue of SEO myself, i’m hit with the same quote of ‘content is king’, a term thrown around with a fanatical vehemence rarely found outside of religious cults. Whilst my patience for dealing with this term is quickly exhausted, I have to agree with its veracity. Without good quality content to back you up, all of the marketing efforts you put into action will eventually fall short of your desired goals ensuring you’ve achieved nothing more than wasting your own time.

Content is indeed king, however, with the sheer number of people out there who have, and will continue to, put out content in direct competition to yours, producing good quality content is not going to be enough. Your work is going to need a little push in it’s journey on the road to a high rank on the SERPs.

The secrets of the SEO world are secrets no more thanks to numerous helpful articles by authority bloggers accessed through a quick Google search. That being said, simply knowing the established rules on improving SEO through effective backlinking or social media strategy doesn’t necessarily equal success. Knowing and doing are two completely different things. When the implementation of a plan is giving you trouble, it’s often a good idea to assess a method someone has already used to find success and see if it is applicable to your situation.

I recently found myself in such a situation but am still pondering over the best course of action. Before I get onto my back link predicament, i’ll throw a short description of backlinks out there to highlight their importance for those who may not be too familiar.

What Are Backlinks?

Simply speaking, backlinks are links from various other sites to your content. You could also refer to them as inbound or incoming links. These links should provide extra traffic to your site thus potentially increasing social media shares and comments, all contributing to your SEO. On top of this, backlinks also carry their own weight when it comes to increasing the perceived relevance and importance of a piece.

The weighting of the link (and thus it’s effect on your ranking) is dependant on the origin site. Say for instance you get a link from a well known industry leader referring their traffic to your site for complementary information, this will undoubtedly do a lot for your ranking. On the opposite end of the scale a link from an unknown source will still contribute to your ranking but to a much lesser extent.

My Recent Dilemma

I’m more than aware of the multitude of link building opportunities there are out there for the SEO zealots among us. From commenting on other sites with pertinent questions and answers to the abhorred practice of paying for links to be included in others content there’s quite the selection available.

Despite the varied options, it’s difficult to successfully implement a solid back linking strategy. A strategy that abides by the rules outlined by the search engines yet garners worthwhile results can be incredibly elusive, so much so that you may consider compromising your own ideals.

I’ve recently been doing some ghost writing through an agency and was asked to produce a few pieces for a marketing website which receives a respectable amount of page views. One of the pieces was, without going into too much detail, all about images with a large section of it reserved for the best places to source both paid and free images.

Some time back I wrote a piece which focused on the benefits of using good images and where to find those that are free to use. I seriously thought about dropping a link into this piece to hopefully funnel some of their traffic back to me here at HaW. The problem is, I couldn’t figure out the moral implications and potential client relationship fallout of doing so. There was a part of me which really wanted to. I mean, I was spending my time to create something for which I would receive monetary compensation but zero credit with which to build my reputation. I wanted something, anything that would link back to my site to help spread my own name and brand as I view this as more important than immediate financial payment.

I wrestled with the idea wondering whether it was ok to go through with it or whether it would be looked down on and ultimately cost me this client. I eventually decided that the risk wasn’t worth it. I had found this client through an agency and, in my experience, having a third party involved often only serves to further complicate matters and blow things out of proportion.

I started to think of other bloggers who have now hit the big time and whether any of them had taken the route I had decided against. One in particular came to mind, a person who runs a now very successful blog and has established a great personal brand. I started to wonder whether this blogger had compromised on his morals or the ideals he started out with to get to where he now is.

Don’t get me wrong, the blog deserves the success it has achieved, the writing is good and the advice sound. However, some time ago (before I first found this blog) the writer landed a gig with one of the industry leaders within his niche. I noticed as I was trawling through countless articles this writer had written that he had often included links back to his own blog and related content he had published, effectively ensuring he had an almost limitless supply of high quality backlinks.

Whilst i’m sure that this was cleared with the client as it always linked back to relevant information, I got to thinking whether this is an approach I would like to take. Granted syphoning some traffic from one of your clients is a great way to increase your own traffic and brand recognition, but will it eventually end up dictating the type of content you produce? I’m still mulling over the variables in taking this route and would love to get your take on it.

In taking this approach will every piece you write for a client have to have a complementary sister piece on your own blog? Is this effectively limiting your blog into providing far too much supplementary material within a narrow niche whilst doubling your work load as you’re now producing two full articles for each topic? It also makes it more difficult for a reader to gain the whole story from a single source, forcing them to hop between various sites before gaining a full understanding of the subject at hand.

Whilst I do have a few issues with the direction the blogger in question has taken, that being a gradual shift in focus to seemingly focus on monetary gain after building his brand on offering free advice, I can’t really say that I blame him. If I were in the same position would I be able to pass up the potential for vastly increased earnings, even if it were at the cost of my ideals? I would like to say that I would hold true to my original strategy of providing as much free advice as possible but I know that money holds far too much influence over our modern day lives. I would like to say I would unequivocally stick to my guns and continue on the same path, but I can’t make that statement that with any degree of certainty.

I have the utmost respect for the blogger I am seemingly berating. He has, after all, achieved what many of us want to in setting up his own business and having the freedom to work on his own terms. The approach that he took was an incredibly smart one. He was able to take advantage of the resources he had available to him and exploit them to the fullest.

All that being said, there is something about the approach that doesn’t seem to sit right with me and for the life of me I can’t put my finger on the exact reason. Maybe it’s because his approach, as clever as it was, strikes me as a well mapped out path to financial gain. A plan disguised with false promises of free advice and a helpful attitude yet ultimately looking like it was all part of a self serving scheme. I like to think that financial independence should be a by-product of doing what you love and not the sole target in your sights. Maybe i’m being incredibly naive and not understanding that it’s only the people who have always had financial reward at the forefront of their mind who can escape the shackles of regular 9-5 employment to work on their own terms.

It may also be that I view the trade off in focusing on producing supplementary content as not really worth it. I would rather keep this blog open to changes and keep the scope for potential article ideas as wide as possible

Whatever the reason for my unease, it’s still a laudable effort from this blogger and one that has certainly paid off for him. The question I now face is whether this is as big of a detraction from my ideals as I perceive it to be or whether it’s simply good business? Is it a path to success that I myself would like to walk and would I have to sacrifice my ideals to do so?

I’d love to hear what you guys think about this, whether the trade off I perceive is worth it or whether you think there’s no trade off at all. That the trade off is simply a a construct of my own making, there to allow me to pass judgement on a man further down the path to success than myself. I’d also love to hear if you’ve any experience yourself with this approach and whether it was successful. Whatever you have to say, feel free to have a word in the comments below.


Image  - Ryan Lerch

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