Editor’s Note: This is a section of our completely redone SEO Guide. Enjoy!

To build a high-quality backlink profile, you need to stop working on building links and start working on earning links, as Rand Fishkin shared in a Whiteboard Friday.

Real talk: Link earning is about creating trustworthy, awesome content and promoting it like crazy…you know Beyoncé style.


The discipline of link building is perceived to the public as negative, created by the mammoths at Google spreading fear into link building with the reboot of Penguin and penalizing big name companies.

Check out how Google’s own John Mueller responded to a webmaster’s question on “Is link building in any way good?” in this Google+ hangout. He responds “In general, I’d try to avoid that.”

Yet as I witness a rise in content marketing, it’s clear that a shift is occurring in how SEOs create an off-site SEO strategy. Take a look at how links have evolved:

Why Do You Want to Earn Links?

This is a common question I get from my clients a lot. What is the value of a link? Why do I want to earn a link from these prospects?

Increase Traffic

Gaining links organically grows your website traffic. A link from another site will send you more visitors. A link doesn’t guarantee a conversion, goods bought, or social shares, that’s the website’s job.

Brand Awareness

When you gain a link, you’re gaining additional exposure. So, if you get a link on New York Times you’ll most likely be seen by a lot more people. If you gain a link on a small blog, most likely you’re not going to get a ton of exposure. But, if it’s your niche audience, it’s completely worth it.

Search Engines Care about Links

As much as we want to believe the myths that links don’t matter, that is simply not true. Links add authority, trust, and value to your brand so, therefore, search engines boost your brand if other trustworthy sites are linking to you.

When trading the labor-intensive link building strategies for the earned, it’s more effective to view the big picture. A content strategy — as you might have heard “content is king” — can give you a structured way to assess what value you offer, who is listening, and where to distribute. Developing a solid content strategy that integrates link earning into the promotional phase will have the most impact for long-term success.

Link earning isn’t a marketing tactic, it’s how you impact your community to earn the actual links. So, how do you not only create ah-mazing content but help nurture relationships that make people want to share your content?

In Creating Awesome Content, Strategy is Everything

You can employ a number of marketing tactics to improve website traffic — email drip campaigns, community management, pay-per-click ads, the list goes on. Before you start with a campaign, give it the content it needs to succeed by creating a strategy. It makes a difference. A strategy is the first thing you should do when creating content for link earning.

Who do you want to target? Where do you want to get links from? What are your competitors doing? These are all things to consider when making a successful link earning strategy.

How to Create a Roadmap for Link Earning

Creating a roadmap for link earning is essential for making decisions about your content. But, how do you decide where to start?

Researching your competitors and listening to your customers allows you to effectively process the type of content that is generating the most links and what engages your audience.

Developing a system of researching, content mapping, and promotion is the lifeblood of link earning.

Here are the four steps strategy for turning content into links:

1. Research

One of the hallmarks of developing your strategy is finding data-oriented information on your audience and competitors to create actionable takeaways.

To quickly find competitor information, I type in a keyword I want to rank for in the search box (using incognito). I’ll take the top five to eight competitors listed and ignore the big players, like Amazon product pages and Facebook pages.

Then, I plug those URLs into link building tools like Moz and Ahrefs to begin pulling data. For example, in Moz, you’re able to view the most linked pages of that site. I’ll note the top 10 articles that are being linked for each competitor.

Next, I’ll add my competitor URL into Buzzsumo. I’ll note the top 10 articles that are being shared. Buzzsumo also gives you the option to “View Sharers” which is great to start adding to my persona discovery list.

After I have all my data pulled, I’ll build my personas. The information from Buzzsumo, social media, and Google Analytics will help me to define demographics, goals and challenges, values, and any additional insights I might uncover.

2. Creative

Mindmeister has an amazing tool for content message mapping. I use this tool to help clearly define my message for the content I want to publish. Content mapping will also identify if there are any gaps within your strategy.

At this stage, I begin building my editorial calendar with Trello. I give myself the freedom to throw as many ideas out there as I can pulling the resources from the research phase. I’ll pair each idea with a topical keyword phrase to keep it structured.

Once Trello is planned out, I’ll begin pairing my content with design ideas. I try to be purposeful in connecting the dots for each visual. For example, would a video or podcast work best for an interview article? Or, perhaps an infographic or e-book for a research oriented piece?

And, I’ll also decide what types of content upgrades I can feature for each article.

3. Promotion

After the article is written, I’ll run through my content promotion workflow. Again, this process is laid out on Trello. First, I’ll go down my on-site SEO checklist. The usual meta titles, alt tags, h1 tags, etc. are all in play here.

Once I hit publish, I’ll submit my articles to social bookmarking sites and answer any relevant questions on Quora or Reddit. Then, I’ll email my the team at SEJ with pre-populated tweets and links to the social bookmarking sites for a little extra love.

Next, I’ll schedule the article in Buffer to be published on Twitter three to four times throughout the next week or so and once on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+. Depending on the direction of my personas, I’ll also allocate $50 to $100 social ad spend.

And then, I’ll schedule a dedicated blog post email newsletter to my audience with a pre-populated tweet.

In addition to the email newsletter, I’ll send a personalized email or tweet to all of the people I mentioned in my article. And, any influencers I think might be interested in this particular piece.

Within a month or so, I’ll look to start syndicating my content. Whether this is on my own platforms like LinkedIn or Medium or I pitch it to Huffington Post.

And, lastly, I’ll look for any opportunities to fit my article in a guest blog post.

Bonus Tip: Set-up Google Alerts for the long-term growth of the article.

4. Measurement

Now that you’ve hit publish, you want to start tracking your metrics. Ask yourself how does promoting your content increase awareness, deliver links, contribute to social shares, or add to the bottom line?

Jay Baer shares metrics of content marketing in one of my favorite SlideShare decks. Baer separates these metrics in four categories:


You can also measure month-over-month how many links each piece of content is generating within the sharing metrics.

Here is a spreadsheet I use to track my metrics.

High-quality content is one thing, but if you don’t build a strategy that leverages social shares and link earning the right way, then you’re wasting your time.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few core link earning techniques to consider when planning out your content strategy.

5 Link Earning Ideas to Try

By now, it’s well-documented that link earning is more than a one-trick pony at gaining organic space in the SERPs. During a #semrushchat, Julia McCoy tweeted “I like to think of good content marketing as tactic free. Be of real use. Give readers excellent content, you’ll earn back.” Link earning is not something that happens overnight. It takes time to build relationships, be a part of a community, and develop content ideas that actually worth sharing.

Let’s take a look at some link earning ideas to try:

1. Data-Backed, Long-Form Resources

serpIQ did a study of the average length of the content in the top 10 results of search queries and found that the top-rated posts were over 2,000 words. Now, I’m not advising that you hold yourself to these length restrictions. Each piece of content should match your audience’s needs.

However, creating valuable content that is backed by statistics, quotes from authoritative sources, or your own data can help people. This one article has 103 linking root domains because they did their own research.

Let’s take Vero’s 40 Tips for Dramatically Better Emails article, for example.

This article currently has 60 linking root domains, over 8,000 social shares, and a Page Authority of 52. What makes this piece so successful?

Vero’s content is useful to its email marketing targeting audience.

This style can also be used in ego bait or interview style content. Groove does a great job at interviewing up-and-coming top tech company entrepreneurs. The article they wrote with Zapier’s CEO, Wade Foster, has 19 linking root domains, 1,500 social shares, and a Page Authority of 34.

2. A How-To Guide

How-tos, tutorials, ebooks, and guides all create valuable content that helps to attract and convert potential customers. When you begin educating people, you begin to earn their trust which trust eventually converts to links and revenue.

Take a look at the partnership between Chupamobile and KISSmetrics. They needed a conversion carrot for their emails and, so this lead gen page was created. The page converted 44% right off the bat.

Or, how about this repair guide. This guide currently has 31 linking root domains, 13,841 social shares, and a Page Authority of 74. Why does this work?

3. Engaging Visuals

Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images. Engaging visual content builds your digital story. Visual content is like the Nutella to your peanut butter. Without it, it’s just not that good.

Let’s take a look at some visual content:

Or, what about this interactive map, Your State’s Favorite Reality TV Show. This map currently has 71 linking root domains, 984 social shares, and a Page Authority of 52. Why is this map killing it?

This also includes video. Robbie Richards discusses in a very detailed case study how he used long-form engaging content with visuals and video to earn links.

He talks about this article, How To Fly A Quadcopter, which now ranks number 2 for “how to fly a quadcopter.” This article has nine linking root domains and over 1,000 social shares.

4. Community Building

Building a happy community around your brand takes time, trust, and authority. Your community represents a lot of things: your brand, your ideal customer, and your ongoing support system. They’re the ones who convince others to use your products or services. They help expand your reach and represent the voice of your company when you’re not there.

Sephora built a forum for their community. With 23 linking root domains, 1,173 social shares, and a Page Authority of 54.

Groove built got 1000+ subscribers from one blog post in 24 hours. This article currently has 32 linking root domains, 2,197 social shares, and a Page Authority of 49. What did they do right?

5. Tools

Creating tools or quizzes is an extension of your brand. These typically require a user to interact with your content. It’s a fun personalized experience for both the brand and the user. This requires you to truly understand who your audience is and what their needs are.

HubSpot is the pretty much invented the idea of using tools for inbound marketing. Their website marketing grader has generation 313 linking root domains and a Page Authority of 79. What makes this work?

CoSchedule also created a similar tool called the Headline Analyzer. Again, the personalized interactive content makes this a win-win.

And, my personal favorite, Android’s Find The Phone For You.

Why Link Earning Matters

Link earning is not a solved problem. But, there are many who are experimenting with ways to legitimately earn high-quality links. It’s high time for SEOs to unite to build the groundwork link earning for businesses to grow organically in the search engines.

Steve Sheinkopf, president of Yale Appliance and Lighting, stated content marketing strategy is the engine that drives their engagement. Their traffic tripled from 40,000 to 150,000 monthly visits. And, they’ve built a Page Authority of 46 with 23 linking root domains.

River Pools and Spas is another small business that has benefited from link earning. Just one blog post “How Much Does a Fiberglass Pool Cost?” has generated over $2 million in sales, eight linking root domains, and a Page Authority of 39

It’s proven that a fierce commitment to strategizing, creating, and promoting content plays an important role in pushing your content and links forward.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Paulo Bobita
All screenshots by Anna Crowe. Taken August 2016.
In-post image via Canva and created by author.