Content Marketing 101: What Kind of Content Actually Gets Links (and What Kind Should You Avoid)?

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Content Links

“Just write more content!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read advice like this on various marketing blogs. It’s as if saturating the internet with even more blog posts, eBooks, and guides will somehow help you to get the links you need.

The truth is that while publishing content is important, it is absolutely essential to understand how to publish the right kind of content.

It’s not just a coincidence that some content attracts more links than others. Yes, a big part of it has to do with your outreach efforts, but it is also directly related to the type of content you’re trying to promote.

In this post, I’m going to tell you what kind of content you should create to get more links and what kind of content you need to avoid.

Is There a Correlation Between Share Counts and Backlinks?

First things first: is there any correlation between the number of shares a piece of content receives versus its backlink count?

Common sense would say yes. After all, if a piece of content is popular (i.e. it has a lot of shares), it should also be heavily linked to by bloggers and webmasters.

However, according to a study conducted by Moz and Buzzsumo, while there is still some correlation between shares and links, the study found that out of 757,317 well-shared posts, over 50% still had zero external backlinks.

After analyzing over 100,000 random posts, this is the result of the study:

What Kind of Content Actually Gets Links? | SEJ

Since social signals don’t necessarily influence rankings, if your goal is rankings, you’ll need to come up with something a little better than just a sensational headline. You’ll need to craft content that can actually attract links and not just social shares.

So what kind of content actually gets links?

Content that Gets Links

In 2012, Moz dug through its content archives to figure out what kind of content gets links. Its results weren’t exactly surprising: posts with images receive more links than posts without images:

What Kind of Content Actually Gets Links? | SEJ

People find it easier to digest content that is visually appealing, as opposed to just reading plain text. Remarkably, the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than the time it takes for the brain to decode text. Since the advent of the internet, with consumers living fast-paced, on-demand lives, it’s essential to connect to your readers from a visual standpoint in order to keep them reading on your site.

In addition, the above study found that there was a clear correlation between word count and backlinks. Longer content portrays the content is more in-depth, well researched, and credible, increasing the likelihood of people linking to it.

So, the takeaway is if you’re trying to create a linkable asset, be sure to create content that is longer, more in-depth and contains visual content as well. Quality over quantity, if you will.

You may even want to consider creating a separate ‘resource’ section on your site, especially for in-depth content or guides. Besides allowing you to be more creative with your design, this will also make your in-depth content stand out, and help to distinguish it from the millions of other blog posts that are being published on a daily basis.

Studies, Surveys, and Research Data get Links

There is, however, some content that can yield great results, even though it doesn’t meet the above criteria.

For example, take a look at this page on marketing statistics from HubSpot. It is a relatively simple page that curates the latest marketing statistics from across the web. It doesn’t stand out in neither design nor depth. However, according to ahrefs, it has earned an astonishing 5,320 backlinks from thousands of referring domains:

What Kind of Content Actually Gets Links? | SEJ

This page gets links because it has data and as humans, we love statistics and comparing numbers. Writers, bloggers, editors frequently need a source or marketing statistic. HubSpot’s brand strength coupled with freshly updated (and accurate) stats means that people are more likely to link to it.

If HubSpot’s curated list of marketing statistics gets thousands of backlinks, natural order dictates that the studies HubSpot is basing its stats on should also get a lot of backlinks.

And the numbers back this up. Pew’s social media fact sheet, for example, has over 15,000 links from over 2,500 root domains!

What Kind of Content Actually Gets Links? | SEJ

Original studies do particularly well from a link building point of view, since they not only get editorial links but also links from data compilations (such as HubSpot’s list of marketing stats).

For link builders, this means original studies or research can make great linkable assets. And if you don’t have the time or budget to put one together, curating the best studies, statistics, and data on a topic is the next best thing.

Answer Common Industry Questions

As an expert in your industry, you’ll be surprised how much you can help out others with your experience and knowledge base. How about putting together an in-depth FAQ page where you chronicle questions you get from your customers and the answers and tips you gave them? You could update this on a weekly basis and give a shout out to the customers who asked the questions.

Another approach that can reap significant benefits is offering a definitive answer to a common question that is otherwise under-explored in your industry.

For example, lots of bloggers and marketers have wondered what the ideal content length is for SEO. Most go with personal preference or analyze the performance of their older content.

SERPIQ adopted a data-centric approach to this question and came up with an absolute answer based on research. It analyzed thousands of top 10 results and concluded that the ‘ideal’ length is north of 2,000 words. Webmasters and bloggers consequently rewarded SERPIQ with thousands of backlinks from over 800 root domains.

What Kind of Content Actually Gets Links? | SEJ

Great Design Equals Great Links

Some of you may recall back in 2012 when the NYTimes published a long story titled ‘Snowfall’. It was an exquisitely designed piece that reportedly cost over $100,000 to produce. It was the topic of tons of conversation online, both for the quality of the reporting and the design.

Understandably, the story was shared extensively, but it was also linked to thousands of times by publications big and small, many of whom focused on the story’s exceptional aesthetic design.

What Kind of Content Actually Gets Links? | SEJ

Of course, such a large production budget isn’t feasible for the typical small business. However, it does highlight the importance a great design layout has in getting links.

You’ll also find that websites that focus on content presentation as much as content depth get a lot of links as well.

For some examples and ideas, check out HelpScout’s beautifully designed blog posts, or take a look TheVerge’s long-form journalism, and be sure to check how many links each piece of content gets.

Oh, and besides the links, your readers will love you for it!

Editor’s Note: To learn more about link building and promoting your content online, listen to this Marketing Nerds podcast with Eric Enge.

Content That Doesn’t Work

Avoid creating content that is promotional at all costs. No one is interested in linking to a page where you’re telling the world how great you or your company are. Besides content that is outwardly promotional, which should be fairly obvious, you also shouldn’t pack your content with links back to your home or product pages. Webmasters will recognize this as a form of self-promotion and it will greatly decrease your chances of getting a link.

Also, avoid content that doesn’t offer anything unique and isn’t useful or helpful in any way.  A skimpy article that doesn’t solve a recognizable problem won’t get you any links and surely won’t earn you any new customers. This also encompasses creating un-original content that’s been covered in one form or another a million times over.

There are over 29 million articles on ‘how to floss’, so what else, exactly, is your ‘Definitive Floss Guide’ going to bring to the table?


If you want to start ranking, then you’re going to need links. And in order to get those links, you’ll need to have content that is ‘linkable’ and resonates with both readers and webmasters.

Once you’ve got great content, your outreach will be destined for success and you’ll potentially be on your way to building hundreds, if not thousands, of links, like some of the examples shown above.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Unsplash/
All screenshots by David Farkas. Taken December 2015.


David Farkas

David Farkas

David Farkas is the Founder & CEO of The Upper Ranks, a boutique Link Building company that services clients all over the world.
David Farkas
David Farkas
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  • Wow, half the posts in that 700,000+ study had no backlinks. I don’t think the SEO-types want us to know that. The reason for that is we’d have a greater appreciation for how utterly useless they are to us, how damaging their services are to our bottom line.

    Folks, you don’t need this stuff!

    Your users do not care about backlinks. They care about themselves, and the burning question they need answered. Backlinks are for selfish sites. Content that answers questions is for selfless sites.

    • Roger Rogerson

      So we’re back to you not doing SEO, not liking SEO nor SEOs?

    • I think that’s called a false dichotomy – that someone can’t create content that users love AND have an eye towards SEO and an understanding what kind of content they might love and link to.

  • Roger Rogerson

    Hardly rocket science. In fact, it’s labeled udner common-sense, which would probably explain why it’s an area that most miss.

    It boils down to understanding audiences.
    Most people generate content for end-user audiences. The problem is that in most cases, the end users won’t supply links.
    These are the people that buy the wool, cat food, car, house, or hire you to do their garden etc. It includes companies that buy your paper, toners, wrapping goods or use your shipping service etc.
    A few of the “public” may have sites, blogs or social profiles. You might get lucky and get a mention – but in the main you won’t. The business consumers likely do have sites, and blogs and social profiles – but again, you won’t see much link activity.

    The audience you won’t to target is your industry, sibling industry and profession pool. Though that will include your direct competitors, it will also include many indirect competitors (those out of your service area or that target a different market etc.). There are also the non-competitors, those with similar roles but from different industries (such as accounts for car hire vs accounts for print houses).
    These are the people that are looking for specific types of content. These are the people that will share it socially, blog about it and even reference it on their site.

    The cross over is the “hobby” group. These people do tend to share and to link. In some cases they may be considered competitors as they may compete for the same sort of terms for the SERPs. But they seldom compete in a business sense.

    Now you see how the audience is divided, you can see what content will appeal.
    It’s at this point that common-sense should kick in. What type of content do you find yourself looking for? What catches your eye? What do you find useful?
    Tada – it’s almost like magic 😀

    So … that should leave you with a list of potentials that includes things like;
    * How To’s/Guides
    * Tips and Tricks
    * Stat’s
    * InfoGraphics
    * Cheat sheets
    * Listicles
    Other formats that can generate links are things like opinion pieces, pull-/tear-down pieces, insights and explorations, in-depth reviews, interviews etc. etc. etc.
    It should be noted that the formats will vary by industry and audience. A killer setup of A,B and C may work for Industry X, but get virtually nothing for Industry Y.

    Then it’s a matter of Quality. I know many struggle with the term – but quality is a really simple concept.
    a) how much time/effort to consume the content
    b) how much does the consumer get from the content
    If a-b= positive, you have good quality.
    Factors that can improve (make the time/effort cost smaller) the value of A include things like readability, images, clarity, comprehensibility etc.
    Factors that can improve (make the content more valuable) the value of B include things like originality, usefulness, ease of implementation etc.

    An area that most people don’t cover is personality and tone.
    It’s not just who you are targeting, nor what you are creating. It’s how the content reads/presents itself.
    Consider the options below;
    a) a piece about X that is clinical, dry and sterile
    b) a piece about X that has a little whit and humour
    c) a piece about X that has a little of the author showing throw
    Chances are that (a) will get the least attention. You don’t have to be funny, but you do have to be “you” (in most cases – it does depend on audience/industry!). There is nothing wrong with including your own personality, using your own voice, phrasing and quirks. It makes things more personable, and allows readers to attach-to/associate-with you more easily.


    Content Length.
    There are plenty saying that G ranks content higher due to the length of the content.
    As far as we know, G do not have a “length” ranking signal. You don’t get better rankings simply because you wrote 185 more words than the sites below you.
    It’s to do with quality. The more detailed, informative and explanatory a piece is, the likely it is to be longer. The same factors are what are likely to generate a link.
    G see’s the links and ranks the content higher. So it’s not the length that is the ranking signal.

    Social Shares and Links.
    It’s important to understand that not all social platforms are equal. There are some that are closed off – the bots cannot see that content, thus cannot follow any links. Others apply “nofollow” to the links, so little/no value will pass.
    Some platforms/posts are public and have normal links. If you want shares that count, you need to look at audiences on those platforms and target them.

    • Great stuff as always, Roger.

      • Roger Rogerson

        I do try – and some posts make it easier than others (I mainly come here for a few of the authors :D).

        It’s nice to see people look closer at things like types of links and what prompts them. It’s taken a long time for that to bubble up through the general SEO stuff – but I think CM and UX are pushing it through. Shame it’s taken the industry so long and that it’s taken “outside” influences … but we are getting there 😀

    • Daryl Wathen

      Another insightful comment as per usual. I would love it if we could connect (LinkedIn?), and I could learn more from you, because I think your thinking in SEO is more comprehensive than others I read.

      • Roger Rogerson

        Hi there Daryl.
        I try to make sure any comment is worth reading and either adds some sort of value or insight – so thank you for reading and appreciating (makes it worth commenting!).

        I’ve been “off” for a while, but will be “back” around Spring next year with some projects etc. Once I’ve got those launched/ready to launch, I’m more than happy to get more interactive with folk, and I promise to get in touch.

      • Daryl Wathen

        Thank you Roger, I would really appreciate that.

  • Adam Stevens

    That conclusion is such a cop out

    • I’ll take it as a compliment that you read till the conclusion!

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  • Glad you enjoyed Ben and thanks for sharing!