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Beyond Link Building: Key Takeaways from MozCon 2012

This year’s MozCon was SEOmoz‘s largest to date; tickets sold out well before launch, and attendance was nearly double last year’s. The content was detailed, advanced, and actionable—a true rarity for a marketing conference. If you missed it, the speakers’ presentations are all available for download here.

In addition to the massive attendance increase, a few things may have been different than expected this year. If you were looking for tricks to get your new site to page one overnight, you may have been disappointed. There was a different, pervasive theme this year, a focus on long term SEO strategies, on building a brand rather than just building links, and on elevating the industry to a higher standard.

It’s Not Just SEO

Toward the tail end of day one, crowd favorite Wil Reynolds of SEER Interactive, gave a compelling and entertaining presentation called “Real Companies Do Real Things.” Reynolds discusses how lasting companies are not built upon a foundation of purchased or hastily gathered links, but rather solid investments in products, content, marketing, and relationships.

In that same vein, Ian Lurie of Portent called for the end of link building, and encouraged companies to build true content strategies, to create something that won’t be decimated by the newest Google update. Link building will occur as a result of these investments, but does not constitute a true content strategy.

Many companies who dabble in content marketing find that it doesn’t immediately bring results. This, Lurie argues, is not because content marketing doesn’t work, it’s because their content marketing doesn’t work. Content marketing is hard, and a true strategy cannot (and should not) be built and executed upon overnight. To be successful, companies must create marketable content that appeals to their desired audience, which isn’t easy.

iAcquire’s Mike King, who closed out day one of MozCon with an incredibly engaging presentation, stressed Lurie’s point regarding relevancy. Most would-be content marketers fail because they don’t do the appropriate research to determine what their audiences truly want. King also echoed much of the sentiment in Wil Reynold’s presentation, stressing that content is the platform upon which an inbound marketing strategy can be built, that it must be engaging, and that it must be relevant.

Links That (Kind of) Build Themselves

Even the sessions about link building weren’t just about link building. Raven‘s Jon Henshaw spoke about how relationships can help build links, in an aptly titled presentation, “How Relationships Build Links.” The focus here is on driving trusted and trustworthy backlinks based on actual relationships rather than amassing unnatural links that Google could discount all too easily. Paddy Moogan of Distilled opened the conference with a highly actionable, hyper-relevant presentation entitled “35 Ways to Build Links.” Though each technique was more creative than the next, many focused on building relationships and establishing connections

Long-Term Thinking

And finally, another key takeaway is that patience is necessary.  In his closing address, SEOmoz founder and CEO, Rand Fishkin, argued that companies looking to invest in content marketing should expect to begin to see returns in five years and invest accordingly. SEOmoz is one of the great examples of B2B content marketing and community, but this certainly didn’t happen overnight. In his opening session, Paddy Moogan pointed out the disparity between the engagement with SEOmoz blog posts in 2007 (limited to negligible) and the engagement with posts today. To drive home his point, Rand used his wife Geraldine’s travel blog, The Everywhereist, and an example, outlining how she built traffic over a period of five years.

The final speaker, Tom Critchlow, formerly of Distilled and a new employee at Google, ended on the same note. Stop worrying about links, and start worrying about engagement. Links are, after all, a mere proxy for trustworthiness, relevance, and influence as far as Google is concerned. As Google improves its algorithm, it will get better at approximating these measures of value. With each update, Google gets closer (or at least attempts to) and accordingly the importance of links diminishes.


To succeed in the long-term, companies must do what companies have always done. Build products, build relationships, build brands. The links will follow.

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