Link Building in 1986: How We Connected Before the Web


Yeah kid! Now you are wondering: how the heck could he be doing link building in 86? I don’t mean 2006 or even 1996! How does it compare to the way we are connecting today?

There was no Internet in that prehistoric era! Was he even alive back then? Yeah, I’m THAT old! Despite that I’m young enough to do parkour so that young girls (I mean around 25) ask me whether I’m a stuntman. OK, enough of that shameless bragging.

Back in 86 I was almost a teenager. Unlike now where I’m a fitness wonder compared to two or twenty years ago I was very weak and short in school. I was indeed the oldest guy in class and the shortest in 6th grade. I was a poor immigrant kid and couldn’t even speak German when we fled the dictatorship in Poland and move to Berlin.

Also the class I wound up was full of violent kids so it was difficult not to get in a fight.

I had to develop some advanced techniques to cope with that dire situation.

Most of them still help me achieving link building success in its modern sense of earning links.


Befriending Karate Kid

I was not only weak back then, I also was already a pacifist. So I tried not get into a fight without appearing to be a coward.

So how does a young boy survive pre-teen days without money and excellence in sports? He builds links and becomes an authority!

There was another immigrant kid in class who I started hanging out with. Not being German was probably the only thing we had in common. I reached out to him as he joined our class and that’s how our relationship started. He was a bit of an outcast like myself, not because he was uncool like me but because he was too cool to play with the other children.

My friend was two years younger than me but looked two years older than myself. He was a lot taller than me. He even had a mustache already! He was also very good at karate. So everybody knew that the little kid has some support. So it didn’t matter that I had no other friends and mostly enemies.

It’s like on the Web today, you may have just 100 “friends” on Facebook but it matters a lot who these friends are and whether they are really friends.

Don’t befriend the greatest bully though. Many people try to side with Google on the Web today: they assume that such opportunism will make them survive. That doesn’t work. You will get a beating when you least expect it. I know that the Google fans don’t often read my articles let alone spread them but you can’t howl with the wolves all the time despite being a sheep.

There was one guy in our class who was a complete nerd. Remember that being a nerd was not cool in the days.

Bill Gates was still unknown. Everybody was picking on the nerd. He was a planespotter for example. I was the only person not to bother him so he soon figured out that he’s not the lowest in the hierarchy anymore. He tried to call me names a few times until I went home and asked my father what an “a…e” is. Then he tried to side with the bullies against me but that didn’t work out, he lost his last potential ally.

On the Web it’s the same,

flattering the most powerful people or even corporations is not a sound business strategy.

It only leads to dependence. Google and the power influencers only care for you as long as they get your lunch box each day. You stay hungry. Not caring, ignoring or downright attacking your peers who can support you online and share your content won’t help you either.

Key takeaway: You have to spot the other little guys around you. That’s how I made most of my friends online and thus got countless links. Whenever someone new appears on the SEO scene I will reach out, help first and sometimes point out how we’re together in this mess. We can protect each other from “manual action” from the Google bully and help each other out.


Killer Content (literally)

Befriending karate kid wasn’t my only SEO (school experience optimization) strategy.

I was already verbally strong. So I created “killer content” using my best tool, my mouth. Becoming a victim is often a process. At first there is verbal assault, then follows visible fear and ultimately bodily harm. So my strategy was the preemptive verbal strike at the bullies. I had to use my fists from time to time too but only to keep them at bay. In fact I have never been beaten up during those awfully long years or even involved in a serious fight.

You really have to imagine this, this little lean kid wearing awkward glasses trying to match up with several bullies.

One of them even had ADHS so once enraged he was like a maniac. Back then I learned the power of idioms and metaphors when describing to potential attackers what I will do to their face. Also I learned not to show fear. As noted above: a bully will always look for a weaker victim so if you appear backing down you get that punch. So I was the first to raise my fists when the verbal slur began.

It’s the same with Google. In case you don’t have a strong brand or a broad support group they will also employ some “manual action” on you

but you won’t be able to strike back. Otherwise you can raise hell in the press or at least confront the Google spokesperson Matt Cutts directly. Sadly it’s difficult to build such a strong following and brand to be able to cope that way directly with such a Google attack.

I have been slapped by Google “Kung Fu Panda” despite all my notoriety as a top ranking SEO blogger. Nobody really cared. After all I’m not BMW, I don’t even drive one. A possible solution would be a strong SEO organization beyond the largely symbolical ones we have today (like SEMPO).

Google always starts a verbal assault first. They will introduce new made up terms to make webmasters look bad. The Google neologism “unnatural links” is such a nonsense term. I mean what links are natural, like those growing on trees?

Google is unable to fix its algorithm so it wants to fix what’s not broken, other people’s websites.

In 2005 the nofollow attribute was introduced to combat comment spam allegedly.

Comment spam is bigger then ever, it’s just tools like Akismet that prevent the blogosphere from being taken over by pen|s enlargement and the likes. I get thousands of spam comment on my blog each day. So how did nofollow perform until now? Not really well. Still Google pushes the hyperlink crippling attribute on more and more links.

By now you ought to use nofollow on

  • comments
  • press releases
  • widgets
  • guest postings
  • infographics

and basically any link that you are involved with. nofollow was introduced to be used on not trustworthy links. Don’t you trust your own links? I doubt that. Google is once again bullying webmasters into submission by swinging their “manual action” fist for any petty reason or changing the rules of the game on a whim.

Key Takeaway: The “I will smash your face” type of content is still better than the me too type of content everybody is creating to please Google. So keyword heavy headlines won’t make you succeed, they only make you more vulnerable to Google’s whims.


Exchanging Content in Real Life

In the pre-Internet era there was no free music. There was radio already but it only played mainstream hits all day. The music of the Eighties wasn’t just what you remember today, like Madonna, Michael Jackson or some old school hip hop. It was mostly things like Genesis or Pet Shop Boys but often worse. So in order

to listen to cool music you had to buy tapes or records. I mean real vinyl records, not yet CDs.

The Compact Disc was introduced later. Not even the more affluent kids could afford to buy all the music they wanted, especially as there were few high quality record stores in those days. Even in a huge city like Berlin we had to go to the city center to the largest record store to find something beyond the usual suspects.

So how did we manage to listen to more than a few bands? We swapped tapes and records. I had a double-deck tape recorder that allowed me to copy tapes. The quality was bad, much noise and low bass and treble but at least the singers voice was loud and clear in most cases. Thus

it was important not only to exchange your tapes with friends because you had their music soon too

but also with other like-minded kids who had different tapes and records. Thus you would talk about music and bands and later dress in subculture coded attire so that you could easily spot the people listening to the same types of songs. Today everybody is more or less dressed the same as a hipster. There are some emos too but back then there were all kinds of subcultures thriving and forming.

Today we exchange content too. Guest blogging is a common content exchange technique. Group interviews is another.

Infographics you can simply copy are our tapes.

The technique is the same, just the media are different. Back then it was the firm grip of the music industry we had to circumvent, now there is Google with its search monopoly not even the lawmakers can break.

Key Takeaway: Friends are great for steady support but when it comes to spreading content you need to be able to reach people who are just your acquaintances too. Make them notice you by hanging around the right places showing signs of what you are about. On social media it’s really easy. Just contribute on topic. Steady content curation will make others notice you.


Read More about Building Real Links Like in 86 Elsewhere:


* Creative Commons image by Tam Tam.

4 responses to “Link Building in 1986: How We Connected Before the Web

  1. Hey Tad, I really liked this post. I’ll comment here instead of Twitter since I have at least 141 characters to write on the matter.

    I like that this sort of transports me to a world I’ve never been a part of– Berlin in 1986, through the eyes of an immigrant kid. That’s very compelling. But your parallels to SEO, link building and Google (as the bully) are also very apt.

    And as I’ve said before, I really do appreciate that you give the little guy a chance. Thanks for writing this!

  2. Hey Tad, I really liked this post. I’ll comment here instead of Twitter since I have at least 141 characters to write on the matter.

    I like that this sort of transports me to a world I’ve never been a part of– Berlin in 1986, through the eyes of an immigrant kid. That’s very compelling. But your parallels to SEO, link building and Google (as the bully) are also very apt.

    And as I’ve said before, I really do appreciate that you give the little guy a chance. Thanks for writing this!

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