Earning Links vs. Building Links

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Earning Links

Create great content

Two of the earliest “viral videos” I can remember were the “Numa Numa” kid singing and dancing at his desk and the “Star Wars kid” who filmed himself jumping around and reenacting a desperate light saber duel with an invisible opponent. Each video had millions upon millions of views, yet neither one actually did anything to market the video. They were just fun, and funny, and countless people linked to them over and over again.

The key to earning links, generating traffic and ultimately boosting rankings is not to depend on just asking for links, or even build your own links (which I’ll touch on later), but to earn your links in a natural way. Create great content, whether it is an article, a video, slide deck, infographic, whatever, that people will see as valuable. Get attention by being original and pointing out new information. Give them a reason to stop doing whatever it is that they’re doing and spend 5-10 minutes consuming your content and sharing it with their social circles.

As marketers we need to focus on driving visitors to a site through referral traffic and allowing the rankings to increase as a byproduct. In other words, don’t just think about the rankings, think about getting visitors to consume your content. The rankings will happen by themselves and people naturally share something they discovered and decided was worthwhile.

Be consistent

Just creating good content on occasion isn’t enough. Most of us can come up with one good idea now and then to share with the world, but can you remain consistent with your ideas and keep the creative juices flowing? Can you update your blog regularly with relevant and unique articles or perhaps design an attention-grabbing infographic or Prezi presentation? People who find something really valuable tend to follow that source for more great content. When you have a consistent publishing schedule your audience will stay with you and keep coming back for more.

One of my favorite examples of scheduled and consistent content is Rand Fishkin with his White Board Fridays. I know I can find it every Friday and I know I’ll learn something from it. Rand and his team work hard to keep the content unique and consistent. Good businesses will also make sure they have a consistent publishing schedule.

Build a reputation & grow your community

Once you have built a brand based on great content that is produced on a consistent schedule, you can promote it through your social media networks. Build a following with your reputation and consistency and people will share it before you ever have to ask them. Demand greatness from yourself and people will be able to count on you – which means they will be more inclined to share with others (no one wants to make a bad recommendation).

A few websites that I personally find addicting for entertainment include PeopleofWalmart, Buzzfeed and AwkwardFamilyPhotos. I heard about each of them through social media, but now I know I can count on them for consistent, awesome content. Each of these sites have thousands of back links, and aside from the few that were created by sharing content through social media, they haven’t had to rely on building links to get them.

Another great way of earning links is participating in Q & A sites such as Quora, Yahoo! Answers, Mahalo Answers, All Experts and Formspring. DO NOT get involved in these forums solely for the SEO value. Sites like Quora can pick up on what you’re doing and they won’t hesitate to ban you. Add real value to the conversations that are going on with well-researched and relevant answers. Be a credible source in your field of expertise and the referral traffic to your site will naturally follow (so will a boost in your rankings).

People that create valuable, engaging content usually don’t have to build their own links or even ask for links nearly as much. They spend more of their time working on great content and sharing it with their circles of influence. This, in turn, gets shared with more influencers and ultimately creates a lot of good links pointing at the site.

Building Links

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase: “beggars can’t be choosers.” When you want something for free that provides value to you (the receiver) while not really doing anything for the other party (the giver), you can’t expect too much. Still, that doesn’t mean what you get doesn’t carry some value, and there may be something you can offer in return after all. There are a variety of different ways to build links. Some are more natural than others. Let’s jump in.

Broken links

Some sites have lists of resources for visitors who are looking for specific goods or services. These are some good links because they are relevant and natural and provide real value. You can acquire some of these links by running a quick broken link analysis through this cool chrome extension. You can offer the webmaster something valuable right off the bat by mentioning some broken links in the list, including yours, and the site will be much more inclined to redo some those parts of its list. Just asking for a link without giving them something in return is much less promising. Simply alert the webmaster of the correct URL and let them know of any other broken links.

Mentions without links

Some types of link building can be described as picking the low hanging fruit. You could, for example, use an advanced search operator to find mentions of your branded keywords that don’t contain back links to your site. You may be surprised at how often this occurs. If you request that the webmaster add your URL to that keyword in addition to performing a quick broken link analysis as mentioned above, you’ll be offering them value. The branded keyword is already there so you’re not asking for much.

Competitive link building

Perform a competitive analysis and see where you competitors are building links and then duplicate these efforts as much as possible. Also find ways to improve on what they’re doing and beat them at their own game. You may find that bigger competitors are tougher to emulate because they’ve been focusing on their link building efforts for some time and will have links that you can’t possibly duplicate at the moment. Instead, focus on the smaller competitors and go after their efforts that can be emulated.

Guest blog posts

Guest blog posting, when done right, can be a good thing. It needs to be quality content with useful information that will benefit the readers of the target blog. You shouldn’t write an article on a topic or from an angle that’s been done before and submit it to a blog with few, if any, guidelines. Be wary of blogs that cover multiple topics and are covered in spammy-looking ads. Instead focus on blogs that already feature great content about topics that are relevant to your industry. Make sure your content adds real value to the blog and to the credibility they have already established. This will help you keep the door open in case they’d like more content from you in the future.

The most ideal method of building links is to create great content and share it through social media and any other medium where you have a good following. This will allow others to share it for and generate a lot of natural links for you. Any followers who have a lot of klout will send more link juice to your content. Creating links is still good when done right, but you need to be careful how and where you do it. Basically proceed with caution.

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11 Comments

  1. Jonathan Rodriguez says

    This is a great post. The name of the (long term SEO) game is earning links and won’t be about creating them. The link and ego bait tactics above are easy to understand and great ways to improve your online visibility.

  2. John Lincoln Ignite says

    I have seen so many articles on this topic lately, but you covered it very well. Amazing how creative SEOs need to be lately!

  3. Rick Noel says

    Nice post Jeremy. Your first point is my favorite. I like to ask this question when evaluating what kind of content to create and the level of quality that is required to attract links: “Is the content that we are creating the type of content we would link to ourselves?” If not, then why not? When writing posts and looking for supporting evidence (content), the concept of link-worthy becomes clear quickly. This test seems to work well for us. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Sanket Patel says

    Nice post Jeremy, Earning links is surely great way to optimize your site. There are so many ways to do it ethically, recently we got a link from one ipad magazine and it has already got huge number of shares. Couple of great ideas already discussed in this post and one more idea to earning links is “Get the link from your copyright images” As it might happen that people are using your copyright images in their content, ppt etc. Ask them for a link back..:)
    Overall really awesome content!

  5. Christopher says

    I think this one goes without saying. Earning links is clearly better. Anybody can build them whether you provide value or not. But in order to earn them you must provide value. These links are clearly going to be of a higher quality as a result. Plus they’re more natural which is something Google has placed a very close eye on now.

  6. Nick Stamoulis says

    Not only do you need to produce high-quality content for guest blogging, but you need to make sure that the blog itself is of high quality and trustworthy. Take a look at any of the blog contributor’s AuthorRank, or how many followers they have on social media. Having a guest post on a industry leading blog will help you build the right links back to your site.

  7. Chris Stewart says

    Offering good content that keeps searchers coming back, and perhpas bookmarking or link to your site. I do that all the time to good reads that I assume is a given.

  8. Zac says

    Great Post. Link Building is one of the most important factors when improving your SEO. It’s also the most difficult and time consuming of the common SEO strategies. Just try to make any link you produce or gain look natural and coming from a high domain authority site. This will go a long way in your link building process. Thanks for the helpful hints.

  9. Jeff Willis says

    Very interesting and well written- thanks for posting. I agree that anyone can build links, and it really is earning them that tends to be the hard but worthwhile part. Great content that is actually informative is also key too.

  10. Anders says

    Thanks for the insights. I’m struggling with re-gaining my rankings I once enjoyed. Will definitely be hanging out on your site a lot more to glean what I can.

  11. James Williams says

    Jeremy, first a big “thank you”

    I had my morning coffee, looked at my website stats – got upset, scanned the internet for an answer to “Will someone tell me how to make links effectively” and came across this post.
    Firstly, I know this was written before Penguin 2.1, but the way I see it that pesky Antarctic critter just amplified the staus quo as it already existed.
    I like the idea of self promotion. I’m a business man with a strong sales and marketing head. The idea of not selling my site or my product is an anathema to me. Surely Google doesn’t suggest that I don’t promote my business? Really?
    Then I read about content marketing and this idea of write a good post and visitors will come, and not for the first time this posit made me more than a little mad/bemused (take your pick)
    What planet are these guys living on. I’m not saying I write good posts, but sometimes I come across one, a real gem for months or years before that casued so much of a stir…that no-one before me has commented on it, and a quick check for what it should rank for brings up nothing.
    Good content requires promotion and I’m really pleased I’m not the only one that sees that.
    Promotion always seems to require a link as well. You might not call it “link building” but you promoted your stuff, and left a link. “A rose by any other name” – it’s link building. Don’t go to the toilet and then claim your … don’t …. (you know the proverb).
    I read this first
    demondemon.com/2013/10/21/what-the-hell-is-natural-linking-anyway
    I loved it. It said what I thought, so I’ve since been looking for more points of view, other people who have tested or have threories on natural linking, promotion and actually getting some level of success from the internet. And I found your site. Love the whole package.
    Reputation, consistency….and link building. Everything in moderation. The whole package. It seems it’s all finally making sense.

    James

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