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Good link building has developed around the idea of earning links with great content. Here are a few ideas on how your content marketing can earn links, improve SEO and grow your business.

There’s a lot of uncertainty today about link building. In some cases, it’s a great thing for SEO and online visibility, but in others, it can get your site ranked lower in a Google search.

Based on prevailing SEO wisdom, high-quality links help. These links, which are usually earned, come from:

  •  Major media sites such as Forbes, The Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Maybe even from Cat Fancy or Four Wheeler, depending on your industry.
  •  Prominent business organizations such as your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau.
  • Context-based sites. For example, a link from ESPN would be helpful for a sports-based business while a link from a tech site would not be as beneficial.

Low-quality links hurt. They are generally from spammy and manipulative sources such as:

  • Most directory sites.
  • Sites that publish low-quality articles.
  •  Any site that would sell you a link.

    Purchased links can hurt your site’s ranking with search engines. (Image: Screenshot from BuyBackLinks.com)

Unfortunately, there are no clear criteria for assessing link quality, and even a good link can turn bad if its source goes downhill.  As Google continues to change what is and is not OK, what’s valuable today may be a liability tomorrow.

Regardless of the quality issues, Google and other search engines still depend on links to rank sites, and experts like Matt Cutts say SEO and link building are alive and kicking.

I believe them.

That’s why it’s important to build quality links by creating great content.

The Difference Between Links And Shares

It’s important to understand the difference between links and shares.  Links connect one website to another. They can help increase your site’s traffic and awareness, but more importantly, they are great for SEO. Google and other search engines weigh them very heavily and use them to organically boost your site’s ranking.

Shares, which are done via social media, connect other social media accounts or link a social media account to content on a website.  As a social indicator, they are very helpful for driving traffic and awareness at the time they’re shared, but they do very little to improve your site’s SEO and search engine rank.


Stop Trying To Get Links. Start Earning Them.

It’s time to stop purely SEO-focused link building.

The links we want from top-notch content tend to be top-notch links.

These are not the links that we’re trying to get; these are the links that come organically and are  according to Rand Fiskin, “…editorially-given, generally unasked for and often times unintentional links that come from doing good, interesting stuff.”

Another way to say this is that it’s better to earn your links than to pay for them – or beg for them or to do anything else to get them.

As Neil Patel wrote recently:

“Avoiding penalties while building links isn’t about luck. It’s about earning links. The types of links that Google penalizes sites for are low-quality or bought links. If you can buy it on Fiverr, it’s not a good link. Period.

High-quality links will never be penalized. These links have natural anchor text and are placed on highly authoritative and trusted sites. These links cannot be bought in the vast majority of situations.”

The penalties for shady links can be steep. If Google’s algorithm detects unnatural links, they can degrade a webpage or even an entire site in the rankings, which can slash traffic.  Violating sites won’t appear on a search’s first page, and some violators won’t even rank at the top for their own name.

According to SEO expert Jayson DeMers, it appears Google is trying to nudge webmasters toward earned links.

See a pattern?

Google unnatural link notice

Google sends out notices like this when they detect unnatural links on a site. (Image source: Google screenshot; Search Engine Journal)

Use Old-school Link Bait

It’s interesting to watch this definition of good link building develop around the idea of earning links with great content. It sounds remarkably similar to a link building technique that was popular way back in 2009: link bait – content designed to attract attention and encourage those viewing it to create hyperlinks to the site.

Link bait was a piece of content that was really great. Insanely great. You worked on it until it was perfect, then you finally published it and let certain influential people know about it. Then you sat back and hoped for the links to come in.

Link bait was not necessarily text-based content. Online tools and calculators were popular, too.


An online calculator like this one from Butterball is a great way to generate links and reader interest.

There were some best practices. First, to get the links, the link bait had to be free; asking for money will crush link-ability. Even a give and take approach to content – we’ll give you this content if you give us your email address – can spoil a piece of link bait because it forces readers to give personal information.  While this kind of “gated” content can get you some email addresses, many site visitors don’t want it. According to marketing strategist David Meerman Scott, ungated content will get 20 to 50 times more downloads.

What Kind Of Content Gets You Good Links Today

A recent study from Moz and BuzzSumo attempted to find out what kinds of content are most likely to get earned links. After analyzing more than 1 million pieces of content, their study revealed:

  • Research-backed content and opinion-forming journalism get the most links.
  •  Seventy-five percent of their randomly sampled articles get zero links. I haven’t seen scarier statistics about how poor a job we’re doing on promoting content. As the report says, “This suggests there is a lot of very poor content out there and also that people are very poor at amplifying their content.”
  • Eighty-five percent of text-based content is less than 1,000 words. This is a major missed opportunity because, as the report says, long-form content, pieces with more than 1,000 words, receive more links than shorter content. Hubspot’s research reaches the same conclusion.  According to their study, the content length sweet spot is 2,250-2,500 words.
  • List-posts and why-posts get more links than other content formats. This is interesting, because some marketers and content creators look down on list posts because they’re so formulaic. They may indeed be formulaic, but they still work really well.
    List posts are easy to read, great for skimming and even better for linking. (Image: Google screenshot)

    List posts are easy to read, great for skimming and even better for linking. (Image: Google screenshot)

How To Apply All Of This

I love stats, but they’re only as good as how well you apply them. Here are two concrete things this study tells us to do:

1) Stop creating (and publishing) poor content.

Weak content is a waste of time. Start creating authoritative content that’s longer than 1,000 words. That doesn’t give you license to blather; longer content is supposed to go into more detail, deliver more information, and be more useful.

2) Start promoting your content.

Promotion is the most important thing content marketers miss. Scheduling a few tweets and updates on Buffer is not enough. You need to:

  • Reach out to influencers
  • Invest in paid promotion
  • Reformat your best content into more than one content format
  • Spend as much time promoting your content as you did creating it
  • Promote your content more than once


I’m sure you’ve heard people say content marketing doesn’t work, and honestly, when you look at some of the content that’s still being published, it’s not too surprising. Little of it is link-worthy.

We know content marketing can work. It’s working for companies big and small, all over. It’s working well enough that budgets for content development will exceed the budgets for advertising next year.

Just don’t give your content short slack. Quit making weak content, and your content marketing might have a chance. Give that improved content even a little bit of promotion love and you might even see some ROI.

Source: What Kind Of Content Generates The Most Links For Business Owners?