The other day, my friend Jennifer and I were having an argument discussion about what has really changed in the search optimization industry since the early days. Her contention was that content was the most important in the early days and links were fairly insignificant.

My counter to that argument, “Links have always been critical.”
Her counter was, “Well, yes; they were as important, but not to rankings.”

At least! I had her where I wanted her. We have always agreed that it’s not all about rankings. I was ready to throw that in her lap, but first a little background.

From the first days of building and marketing my websites back in 1996, I realized that the entire philosophy of search was built on three things; architecture, content, and links. Based on those three principles, not much has changed. Links may not have had the power to influence rankings “back in the day” but they did have significant power. Today, I hear advice from link builders that links should be built from a marketing perspective, e.g., Can this link benefit my site and being me visitors? Does it help my reputation?

When I hear that – I smile. Those are exactly the questions that early website marketers had to ask themselves when purchasing links in the early days. I feel that it was a pure form of link building back in those days, as we didn’t consider what the rank benefit would be – only the business benefit.

I operated a commercial Real Estate website that ranked well on many search engines for my primary terms. The conversion rate was a solid 15%. For a lead generation site, I was pretty happy. Ultimately, the site generated some traceable leads that turned into sales (the sales process was well over 8 months).

Going back over the stats of the site, I learned an amazing thing. While the greatest majority of my leads came from search engines referrals, a greater percentage of qualified leads that become sales were traced back to a link that I had purchased for $20 a year. The ROI was amazing.

So, here was my counter-claim, links may not have been important from a ranking standpoint, but they have always been important from a business perspective – therefore, they have always been just as important as content, and from my isolated anecdotal evidence, links were more important to the success of my early e-business than rankings were. Ideally, links ARE content. They provide a reference, in context, which is valuable content to a user.

Bringing that into focus for today’s website marketer: Don’t overlook the power of links in your marketing, not just for link building, which focuses on the end result of rankings. Many of a site’s incoming links can be a greater source of qualified traffic than many keywords. For long lasting and effective results, the end must be business objectives, such as sales or leads, rather than rankings.