If you work in the field of SEO, you probably understand that Google controls everything. We constantly bend to its will and try to outthink it at every turn. Just as space travel is unpredictable because we haven’t yet experienced much of it, SEO is also a largely new frontier and we seldom know what to expect from our environment. Our environment, of course, is Google. But what if Google didn’t exist? Where would we look for sites? How would we get links? Your brain is probably boiling over with great ideas right now, and that’s the point of this whole thing—if we eliminate Google from the equation entirely, those paths that we come up with are almost completely organic.
Google is extremely popular with both the general public and with SEO professionals, but it often locks us inside of a box. At some point we’re not exploring the web on our own, and instead we are relying on an algorithm and some web spiders to explore for us. We can break out of this box and choose our own destination in a natural, organic way. Considering the question “what if Google didn’t exist?” is a great way to answer the question “where can I get more links?”
Playing “what if?” is a fun, but sometimes dangerous, game. It’s easy to get stuck down in the mire of negativity and use “what if?” to fuel your own pessimistic fire. If you use it correctly, however, “what if?” can be a great catalyst for ideas and innovation. For example, think about the popular post apocalypse genre of fiction, where a shovel might become the protagonist’s best weapon, best tool and best friend. Similarly, in a world without Google, a message board buried somewhere inside of a mediocre site with low domain authority might become an excellent research tool. After all, if all of these people are willing to brave an underwhelming site just to talk to each other and share about a topic, that means they’re passionate about it. Passion leads to great info, great leads on new sites and useful links. Google does exist, of course, but thinking outside of that box produces some interesting results.
The question “what if?” leads us to ask the question “who matters?” In a world without Google, the most important sites would be those that allow for high user interaction and traffic. Comments and forums are good places to start. If a site has a good, active comment base and lively forums, then chances are there are plenty of links and plenty of people talking about what’s on the other end of those links. Most importantly, those links are relevant to their audience. If a link is posted in the middle of a discussion, then chances are it naturally came up in the conversation. Simply put, relevancy is extremely important where links are concerned. For example, if I ran a blog based on the Marvel comics character Sleepwalker (a somewhat difficult search term, I might add), I’d want to get a link somewhere on a site like ComicsAlliance because my content would be extremely relevant. I might be able to get a link on MovieFone, which has a higher domain authority, but it would be way less relevant. In a world without Google, where my keywords and search terms didn’t matter, that link wouldn’t count for much. The link on ComicsAlliance, however, might serve me very well.
Where to Look?
All of this should be good food for thought, but we need to keep the fact that Google does exist somewhere in the back of our minds. We’re looking for new avenues for links, not trying to discredit our benevolent internet overlords entirely. So, where can we look that Google’s not pointing to? Let’s take this ComicsAlliance example again—say I’m looking for some place to do a guest post for my Sleepwalker blog. A link at the bottom of ComicsAlliance took me to Bam!Kapow!, which led me to a link to IHeartChaos, which has a ‘submit a link’ button. I could submit a link right there, but I could also keep looking. What might happen if I delved into their forum? Some of its content might not be something I want to look at, let alone something relevant to my hypothetical website, but I might just stumble upon a gem that I’d never find through Google. If I got a link somewhere down that path and Google didn’t exist, it would take on a whole new meaning—it would generate traffic. We need to remember that sometimes a link isn’t just food for search engines.
The answer to the “where to look?” question is “everywhere.” Do some clicking around if a site seems relevant to what you’re doing, because you never know what you might actually find. Sure, there are some rabbit holes that are too long and dangerous to pursue through to the end, but I’d argue that you’re going to find some great possibilities if you just start at a website and start clicking—possibilities that you might not easily find through Google.
None of this was intended to tell you that you’re building links incorrectly or that you’re looking in the wrong places. On the contrary, this is just meant to tell you that there are more places to look. Thinking about how you’d want actual people who are truly interested in your content to find your site if there was no such thing as Google is a great starting point. With Google, you’re often just skimming the top of any given subject or term. When you actually click through a site and do some real exploration, you’re finding a real community that’s sharing great content and where a link takes on a different meaning. We have to work with and around Google as well, but there is a whole frontier out there to explore that can be accessed with a little creativity and a lot of clicking around.
Dustin Verburg is a writer and musician based in Boise, ID. He writes about good blogging practices, white hat SEO and internet ethics. He writes for Page One Power, a relevancy first link building services company.