There has been a lot of chatter in the SEO industry lately among clients, business owners, and SEO professionals alike, regarding whether or not link building is going away, what it used to be, what it has become, and how to keep up with the ever-evolving Google algorithm. Our good friends at SEOmoz recently pointed out a trend moving away from building links and moving toward earning links, stating that the best practice for getting quality links to your site is to put out valuable content and services which earn  these links. The premise being that your idea of getting links shouldn’t be to go out and submit to a million crappy quality directories or go tradesies on reciprocal links with anyone who comes along; it should instead be your goal to provide something of value to your site’s visitors, which makes them want to share this information with their friends, their site’s visitors, and so on.

The rise of a new giant: quality content.

These talks have lead to the rise of the phrase “content marketing” in the SEO world, as more and more SEOs have realized that the old link building tactics of years past just aren’t cutting it anymore. Great results are now coming largely from content marketing strategies, thanks to Google’s Penguin updates, which devalues sites that have excessive amounts of poor quality links.

What about clients? Are they getting any wiser about what they actually need from an SEO?

It would seem that the answer to that question is yes. While there were more people in general looking up “link building” online this year, there are less and less of these search queries as the months of 2012 have gone by. Interestingly enough, the exact opposite trend is happening for the phrase “content marketing”.

Link Building vs Content Marketing Graph
Monthly Search Volume per Keyword – Phrase Match

The graph to the right shows the searches over the last year for both phrases. You can see a sharp decline in searches for “link building”, and the red line representing “content marketing” has risen up to the point where it is essentially dead-even with “link building”. What this tells us is that people are starting to see content marketing as a method of earning links, rather than the outdated view which requires just an absurd number of links coming from essentially any source.

This is good news for everyone.

As time goes on, my guess would be that content marketing will continue to grow in search popularity. Why is this good news for everyone? Because more and more SEOs and their clients will understand the proper methods to use when trying to market their business. Rather than spending every waking hour trying to game the system and figure out how to exploit whatever “rules” Google announces, more people are putting in the effort to actually do some real marketing, using Google’s “rules” as guidelines and best practices within their unique marketing strategies.

Let this be a reminder for you.

There exists no magical SEO key that can make a bunch of visitors show up on a website and increase conversions/sales on a whim. What SEOs do (or should) have, is a set of skills and knowledge specific to online marketing that can help increase traffic and conversions over time, through the age-old marketing practice of strategizing, implementing, testing and measuring results, and trying again. As the industry settles into one best-practice, some people find ways to exploit the ways in which search engines determine and pass value from one site to another, which leads to search engines adapting so that the people who aren’t focused on providing a great user experience and useful information slide to the bottom of the search results, rather than gaming their way to the top.

If you build quality content, they will come.

Google has gotten pretty darn good at determining which sites are trying to game the system, and which sites are just trying to do a good job at providing the best possible information and services to their site’s visitors. The lesson to be learned here, is that if you are continually producing quality, relevant, original content from month to month, Google is certainly much more likely to be sending you more traffic from month to month.