Stop doing -and calling it- Link Building: It’s Reference Building now!

As we are all seeing Google is quickly changing the way of evaluating links, taking social related signals and authority factors more and more into consideration -with special focus in its own social network– and less to those links that could be the result of manipulative tactics, such as link building schemes, by penalizing link networks.

Some days ago Rand shared an interesting post written by Ed Fryand, “Building Awesome Relationships For Links, Likes, and Love” and commented in Twitter that link building is “relationship building”:

As you can see my response to his tweet was that for me link building is “reference building” and here is why:

What are References?

According to the Wikipedia:

Reference is a relation between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another object. The first object in this relation is said to refer to the second object. The second object – the one to which the first object refers – is called the referent of the first object.

In summary, a “reference” happens when an object connects or refers another. In SEO a reference can encompass links, mentions or votes, those signals that a user creates to “refer” a site (or a related brand) and that can increase a site’s authority in the eyes of search engines.

In a time when links were the only type of signal that search engines took into consideration to identify trust and authority it made sense to talk about “link building”.

Nonetheless this time has ended already and we work now in an ecosystem where users can refer a site or a brand with mentions (in Twitter or Google Plus, for example) or votes (with a +1 in Google or Like in Facebook) not just links, and these are also taken into consideration more and more by search engines.

On the other hand, it’s actually far easier to explain to “non-SEO” people how Off-Page SEO works when you talk about “reference building” instead of “link building”, since a “reference” is a well known concept that is more easily related to votes or endorsements than “links”.

But why not directly “Relationship Building”?

A relationship is “the state of being connected or related” and it is a concept used to call an ongoing, recurrent association.

In this sense creating “relationships” should be seen as a scalable strategy to get long-term, consistent “references” (which is actually something really important since scalability and consistency over time has been one of the most challenging aspects of link building… and reference building now).

Reference Building: Links, Mentions, Votes

At the same time,

  • Not all references are the result of a relationship: Like a first-time, spontaneous +1 at a page you had no idea it existed before, but its result in Google has answered a specific information need so you refer it, but you might never do it again,
  • A relationship starts with an initial reference: You need to have an initial *positive* interaction with the site or brand that will make you refer it in the first place… and then *possibly* start a recurrent connection with it.

Start Building References and Creating Relationships

The importance of updating the concept of “link building” to “reference building” is that it transmits the necessity we have to develop interdisciplinary activities -with content marketing, social media, etc.- that were not necessarily taken into consideration before for the typical link building process and for which is sometimes difficult to find support or resources.

Are you already creating interesting content (news, Q+A, glossaries, reviews), useful resources (applications, infographics), attractive promotions (contests, giveaways, events), using social networks to distribute them and interacting with your audience,  amplifying your online presence, establishing relationships in order to build recurrent references that will lead to more visits and conversions?

I hope the answer is yes, otherwise you are already behind and you should start with “reference building” now!