When it comes to earning natural links, it’s our responsibility as SEO professionals and digital marketers to know what should (or potentially could) work, as well as what won’t.
Trying to game the system with spam tactics (e.g., paid links) will never work in the long term. Google will always catch up to the wrongdoers, especially in the age of Google Penguin 4.0.
Want some some legitimate link building tactics that will help improve your brand’s backlink profile, while also improving the search experience and contributing to a healthy backlink ecosystem?
Here are 10 general ideas for content types that will attract high-value links naturally. They can be used across a variety of industries, in a variety of ways. Of course, every brand is unique, and different tactics work differently for different industries.
I’d recommend using the ideas below as starting points to earn links naturally, and working out how the recommended content types may help your brand, and how you and your team can get the most leverage for the valuable content you create.
1. Aggregate Lists of Resources
While this seems like a low-hanging-fruit type of idea that has been around forever (it is), it’s likely there are some in-house marketers and analyst-level SEOs that still don’t understand the full value of a quality resource list composed of little more than simple, but thorough, research.
Give your audience a valuable list of some of the best resources in its niche to earn links naturally.
For something like SEO, offer a list of the best free tools for competitive analysis, the top 100 digital marketers and how to follow them, or the best tools for identifying content gaps for your brand.
For something completely different, like building tiny houses, you could offer a list of the best companies to buy tiny-house building plans from, the best cities in America for tiny-house enthusiasts, or the best places to get supplies to build your tiny house.
Lists like this will typically get your website a lot of engagement, including shares on social networks, within comment sections, and even in other publications that find value in what you’ve spent your time composing.
You can get an idea of the potential power of these resource lists from an example like this from Medium.
2. Include Shareable Infographics
Visually stimulating media helps enhance any message. That’s why email marketing campaigns with images have a 42 percent higher click-through rate than campaigns without.
Tweets with attention-grabbing images receive 18 percent more click-throughs, 89 percent more favorites, and 150 percent more retweets than those tweets without. And that’s why Facebook posts with images get 2.3 times more engagement than posts without images.
Infographics are juiced-up versions of standard images, packed with quick-hit facts and stats that drive an argument or opinion, but also offer visual appeal, easy-to-digest and easy-to-recall statistics, and a fun way to not only present content but also a fun way to interact and share it.
Lean on a good graphic designer to help construct these creative pieces of imagery, or use one of the free infographic-building tools that can be found here.
3. Offer Free Tools
Depending on your ability, bandwidth, and resources – and of course, the industry you’re in – creating and offering a free tool could be the golden ticket to increased traffic and quality backlinks, among several other positive signals.
Some of the best free tools out there currently include Quicken’s Free Budget Calculator, the HomeByMe tool for designing your tiny house, the product-management and organization tool Trello, and the IKEA Home Planning Tools suite.
There is basically a free tool out there for every problem one may encounter in their day-to-day responsibilities. If there isn’t one you can think of, you better get started on it. And if there already is one out there aiming to simplify a task, but it misses the mark in doing so, don’t be afraid to create your own and offer it on behalf of your brand.
Just don’t forget to include instructions and FAQs for users, and having someone available to answer questions as they arise isn’t a bad idea either.
4. Produce White Papers
Thoroughly researched documents covering the more complex ideas within your industry are always going to be deemed valuable assuming they are executed properly. They take a while to complete, rely heavily on quality sources, and oftentimes are written by several contributors. But they can also be considered industry-leading insight if the issue covered hasn’t really been examined that way yet.
It’s another chance to really let your expertise shine, but also offers real understanding into a complex issue that users genuinely want to learn more about. Since white papers are longer in nature, packed with information, they tend to rank holistically for a variety of terms related to the issue covered.
Holistic content is powerful and typically ranks well in search since it is considered to be authoritative by search engines and users alike. And studies show that Page 1 results from Google average about 2,000 words, with the No. 1 result averaging around 2,500 words. Position No. 10 averaged just over 2,000 words, too.
Simply stated, a white paper is one of the most authoritative pieces you and your brand can publish. And the goal of your brand’s web presence should be to build yourself as an authority and put that expertise on display.
5. Offer a Deal
This is as “gray-hat” as I get. And the reason is simple: it’s good business.
Businesses that do right by their customers and potential customers are the ones that are rewarded in real life. And they should be rewarded online, too.
Nothing wrong with helping the community and its students, public officers, retired folks, military service men and women, and so on. The more good things businesses can do for the people supporting them, the better.
And if it turns into some valuable backlinks in the process, then so be it.
Some of my favorites (depending on the industry) are:
- Partner with a college, museum, school district, or other local academic institution by offering discounts and incentives for students and members.
- Work with local leaders in specific areas for conferences and teaching/learning opportunities to show your expertise and also help teach those interested what they hope to learn.
- Sponsor community programs for youth, sporting leagues, seminars, events and more. This is great for general exposure, and typically results in a few backlinks as well.
- Apply to represent your brand at industry conferences and local seminars.
- Offer free classes, how-to programs, or webinars to community members and industry novices/intermediates.
6. Offer a Webinar, Crash Course, or How-to Program
One of the best ways to highlight the expertise of your team members’ talents is to represent your brand to the public in a teaching environment. It could be a webinar or online seminar, one-hour evening crash course in person, or anything else you can think of that people may be interested in learning to do.
The point is being out there and guiding the community and/or industry members on what is best for their business. It’s invaluable information that you are qualified to share; wouldn’t you consider someone learning that to be quite valuable?
That’s what marketers mean by “valuable content.” And that’s another way to get valuable links.
7. Compile Checklists
Useful checklists can supplement a variety of informational articles, and they are one of the most user-friendly tools brands can offer to users.
Humans have been using checklists for as long as we’ve been writing … and forgetting.
Valuable content simplifies a process that humans hope can be simplified. Checklists are a direct contributor to that.
Come up with some checklists that your audience could deem useful and publish them as resources. You’ll be undoubtedly thanked for simplifying life for someone out there.
Sticking with the SEO theme, I’d offer checklists for things like:
- Full Website Audit
- Technical Audit
- Competitive Analysis
- Social Media Audit
- YouTube Channel Audit
- Content Inventory & Analysis
- Building a Microsite
- A/B Testing
Any process could get a checklist, and people (and search engines) like checklists.
Of course, there’s even a checklist for building your first tiny home.
8. Publish Guides
Much like the checklists mentioned above, guides simplify a process by explaining it in a systematic manner. This is useful for obvious reasons. There are currently guides for everything from how to boil an egg, how to build a website, and how to walk a dog.
- Related Reading: Get more tips on link building in SEJ’s Illustrated Guide to Link Building
Depending on the complexity of what the guide is explaining, guides can, too, rank holistically for a variety of related terms. That benefit comes with most long-form content that covers the many details of a specific topic, examining them individually.
What process can you simplify for your audience by creating a guide? Here are some of my favorite guides that have had real staying power:
- SEJ’s Guide to SEO (SEJ)
- How to Build a Simple DIY Deck on a Budget (Home Depot)
- How to Tie the Windsor Knot (ties.com)
- How to Clean a Fish Tank (Pet MD)
- Video: How to Build a Tiny House in a Week for $2000 (Jim Howard)
- Video: How to Never Have a Serious Poison Ivy Rash Again (Extreme Deer Habitat)
9. Source Your Site for Credible Information Across the Web
All powerful pieces of content are tied to well-researched facts. It has to be true if it has to make an impact.
But make sure your brand relays its informational content to the people who are looking for it. Publishing it and hoping the right audience finds it isn’t very proactive.
Post the content as a source for responses in comment sections of newer content posted by more well-known organizations, across Wikipedia, on answer sites like Quora, and in communities across different social media channels.
All of these avenues offer the likely chance that you will grow your audience size and reach even more people than previously.
And remember that the actual delivery of your content and all the hard work it is composed of is also imperative to its success.
10. Use Social Media & Thought Leaders for Effective Outreach
While this “content” doesn’t exactly live on-site, it’s a critical component to all content strategies, and it still represents your brand. How the content is shared and the information spread to the audience can be the difference between someone reading your piece and not.
The posts you craft to share your on-site content on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any other social network can and certainly should be considered “content.” It may not be considered to have as much “staying power,” but the impact of a post, tweet, or pin can be much more impactful – and gain much more traction – when delivered in the right context, with the right message, for the right audience, at the right time.
It’s important to uphold the brand voice and tone when composing these posts, keeping it consistent for users. Once you’ve established your brand as a trusted authority, you want to keep it that way, only increasing your authority and constantly being trusted to provide real answers.
The rules haven’t changed when it comes to earning backlinks naturally and ethically; the rules have just become much more enforceable thanks to efforts like the Google Penguin update.
Brands are expected to offer valuable content to their site’s users — current customers and potential customers alike — and that’s a critical factor in deciding just how useful a site may or may not be. The more you can offer your audience, the more they will value your site, and the more they will want to share your content with the audience of its own. That’s the best way to build out your backlink profile, and these content types are some of the basic but powerful ways to earn links naturally.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!