Successful Link Building in the Content Marketing Era

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Link Building and SEO

Make no mistake about it: SEO is getting tougher. A lot tougher

With Google becoming increasingly sophisticated at identifying and penalizing unnatural link profiles, it’s the companies that are able to evolve their SEO strategies that soar past their competitors in the search results. Not too long ago sites could rank well from only building links to pages that make money. This strategy is rarely effective today.

In the most competitive markets top sites have increasingly diverse link profiles. Increasingly, quality content is the ultimate way to earn natural links and increase trust from the search engines.

Despite this new landscape, many SEOs are continuing to use outdated strategies. They will first identify the keywords they wish to target, create pages around these keywords with little value to the user and then focus obsessively on building links to these pages, thus creating a very unnatural link profile.

As I outline in a new report, “Successful Link Building in the Content Marketing Era,” SEOs can implement a five-step plan to diversify their link profile through the judicial and strategic use of content marketing.

Here’s a look at some key points to keep in mind in order to have success with link building in the content marketing era:

How to Build a Natural Link Profile

Step 1: Assess Your Link Profile
Use a tool like Open Site Explorer to analyze your link profile against your top-performing competitors. Typically, when looking at the sites ranking highest for competitive terms, you will see a broad mix of anchor text and a relative even distribution of inbound links to internal pages as opposed of high percentages of links pointing to money pages.

Open Site Explorer

Step 2: Identify Your Audience
To generate natural links, you first need to decide who you want to target. You need to think not just about the types of people who should read your content, but also about the types of websites that might link to you. If the content should speak directly to their needs, wants, and/or values, the audience will be much more likely to provide links.

Step 3: Create High-Quality, Engaging Content
Write content that is useful to your target audience and from a reliable source. If you can’t do this in-house, find a company that can. While you should still build links to the content manually, it should be good enough to attract links on its own.

Instead of worrying about sheer quantity, scale back your ambitions but make each piece of content truly worthwhile. Have the content custom designed, commission illustrations or develop impressive graphs and charts. The more work you do, the more links you’re likely to get.

When you are coming up with content ideas, it’s worth thinking about the terms that the content could rank for. Write a post on a popular topic, and it’s more likely to get search traffic. It’s also more likely to be discovered by bloggers and journalists and acquire links on its own.

Step 4: Make Your Content Work for You
Over time, good content will earn links, as bloggers, journalists and others discover the content and share it. As the link volume increases, this process will continue to accelerate on its own. Keep in mind, everyone who comes looking for your content is a readymade target for further content, so try to capture email addresses, RSS subscribers and encourage social engagement.

When you build links to your content, don’t worry about how people link to you. Some might use the URL as the anchor text, and others might even misspell your company name. These are all traits found in natural link profiles, and are more likely to benefit than hurt you. Regardless of anchor text or the target page, quality links will improve the trustworthiness of your domain and improve your stature in the engines.

Step 5: Prepare to Scale
Begin to scale your content development efforts by creating an editorial calendar. You can start with this helpful editorial calendar. The format of the calendar is unimportant. What matters is that you set out a firm publishing schedule and stick to it. Try to space out your big, important pieces. This gives you plenty of time to spend on marketing and link building, and it ensures your audience doesn’t become too overwhelmed with content.

As your content efforts expand, you should start to build a solid picture of the methods and strategies that work best. Perhaps you will find it easier to gain traction with one subset of your audience, or you will see incredible search traffic from pieces about a specific topic.

When you come across a successful strategy, give it increased prominence in your editorial calendar. At the same time, don’t give up on methods that have yet to work effectively. Instead, constantly iterate until you find something that works. Over time, you must continue to acquire new links from new sites, and this is only possible through expanding beyond your most comfortable niches.

Companies must move away from promoting conversion pages via manual link building and instead use their resources create quality content. Then focus link-building efforts around the content they create. Over time, the content will begin to garner links as bloggers and journalists come across it. For every piece of content you invest in, you create an opportunity to build natural, organic links in the long term. You will also gain links from credible, authoritative sites that would never link to one of your commercial pages.

Marc Purtell

Marc Purtell

VP of Search Marketing at Direct Focus Online
Marc Purtell is VP of Search Marketing at Direct Focus Online, a full service digital marketing agency that employs hundreds of marketing experts worldwide. He... Read Full Bio
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  • Mike Knight

    I don’t think any backlinks are safe unless they’re on Google. Now they seem to have a fit over even related links. I got a link removal request from a website that is the same subject matter. I’d hate to waste my time getting tons of links, and then have the Google overlords decide they’re all unnatural. Then I get the pleasure of spending the time to get them removed. This whole unnatural link thing is just beyond silly. I believe Google has an agenda to re-shape the internet leaving them, and a handful of corporations to rule over everything. Playing this little link game is just one step down the road to a tyrannical internet.

  • Decent post, Marc.

    But I don’t think ” Companies must move away from
    promoting conversion pages via
    manual link building and instead use
    their resources create quality

    While creating quality content is a very good, future proof, long term link building strategy, I think money sites shouldn’t focus only on quality content. As SEOs, we should rather understand the patterns of how search is working, rather than all passively saying that SEO doesn’t work, and moving to content marketing.

    Take a look at this post:

  • Tulai Paul

    I do not think that natural link building has lost its value. If you continuously do link building and procure links from article posts, it propels in long term. Undoubtedly, the most authentic ways to gather natural traffic. That’s how the popular websites like Tata or Amazon or Appnext or Rediff are not to rely much upon link building . However, visibility of course depends upon links and posts.

  • Susan Wallis

    I’m really confused about this whole “natural links” thing. Everywhere I read that content marketing is the way to proceed, but I’ve never come across a single case study where a pure “build it and they will come” website has worked outside of massive corporations who probably use offline marketing to drive the initial traffic flow to the website in the first place. As for the term natural links. I read this yesterday

    It seems to come from a particular perspective, but it got me thinking, and makes a really good case for most of the terminology about linking and content marketing being subjective at best, and complete nonsense at worse. What does “natural” mean? Ask even 3 differnt members of the Google anti spam team and you’ll get three sightly different answers, and over time, they wll change to ‘toe the corporate line’ if Google’s requirements change. I feel like my cat chasing her tail.
    After all, who knows what Google may want to achieve next. So by defining their requirements to webmasters with any deal of clarity may mean having to back track, apologise or admit to a “U” turn later if their goals change. Seems to me, that by using fuzzy language like “natural” they are leaving the door open for whatever they want and can claim it meant anything further down the line.
    Defining it properly might just mean regretting it later

    Great post, I’m still hard at work thinking here though, and not sure I will ever find a real answer.