How long do you want to sustain? You might get a short boost by slathering the links. You might get a longer boost that sticks too but it's probably more likely that your boost will fade out pretty quickly. If you're not in it for the long term, the link slathering might be the way to go.
OK, fair question. And it shows that we need some defined goals. So, the goal is to acquire long-term traffic to my mythical website. That goal includes nurturing my visitors and giving them a reason to come back. It also means bringing in new, regular visitors. So this site is looking for sustained traffic over a long period of time.
Next, let me nix the term "slather" for a moment and start with something simple e.g. one inbound link. This link is posted in a blog comment or perhaps in a thread on a forum somewhere. The link appears in a discussion about widgets and is included in a substantive comment that details my experience with widgets and directly addresses the main point of the thread. It's linked to an article on my site which is highly relevant to the thread as well and actually expands on the subject.
Let's also presume all the links on this blog or forum are nofollowed. So, theoretically, I shouldn't get any boost in the SERPS for this link but I have created a conduit to my website that people can follow.
Do I know what the long-term, cumulative effect of that link will be as relates to my site's SE ranking? And do I know ahead of time how many visitors that link will eventually send me via click-throughs? The answer for me is, I don't know yet. Have I done anything to damage my rankability? Probably not. Have I created a pathway to my site that will bring visitors? Probably but...
Let's repeat that a thousand times with variations each time (no copy and paste so we won't be accused of slathering). So, every instance is unique. Links to the same site but perhaps to different pages or on different topics, from different discussions, using different link text, etc.
The first question I have is, at what point does this strategy become detrimental to my SEO strategy (or will it)? The next question I have is, at what point does this strategy become more effective than my SEO strategy?
Each strategy has a certain level of potential effectiveness. I think everyone here can relate to the concept of penalties for link scheming so we know there can be a downside where SEO is concerned. Conversely, too much FUD surrounding SEO can lead people to abandon link-building altogether (just to be safe). The reason for the question is to weigh whether there is a balance to the act, an equilibrium of sorts, and whether it is wise to abandon one strategy in favor of the other or not. Or would it be better to start by focusing more on one with the idea of migrating to a heavier reliance on the other over time? Where is the point of diminishing return in this equation and will it be the same point tomorrow as it is today? OK, the last part of that question was obviously rhetorical.
[edited by: webcentric at 6:31 am (utc) on Dec 12, 2013]