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August 3, 2015

How Links & Content Work Together in SEO Rankings

Photo Credit: Baitong333 via freedigitalphotos.net
Photo Credit: Baitong333 via freedigitalphotos.net

It’s one of the most hotly debated topics in the world of content marketing: to link or not to link?

That is the question.

As it turns out, however, the answer is a little more complex than we previously believed.

While many would have you believe that links are not important when it comes to ranking well on Google, that idea is just plain wrong.

As it turns out, links are still very, very important.

The Moz Study

According to a recent study conducted by SEO software giant Moz, external links are a top factor in a website’s ranking success. Of the top 50 Google search results that were returned in conjunction with 15,000 keywords, 99.2% boasted at least a single external link pointing to the page. What’s more, the study found very few websites that ranked without a single link pointing their way.

There is a caveat, however, as the study did succeed in finding several individual pages that ranked well in Google without the help of external links. It bears mentioning, though, that these individual pages were often part of a larger platform that had many external links pointing to it, like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.

The Moz study seems to say it all: external links are important and content marketers can’t afford to do business without also considering how best to gain high-quality external links.

The Right Types of Links

Now that we know external links are important, it’s worth divvying up what makes them important. It’s not enough to simply have external links – you have to have high-quality external links. High-quality external links come from reputable sites and, in order to rank well, it is imperative to naturally gain all of the links that point to your site.

There are many ways to build links naturally, and all of them require more work than borderline black-hat techniques like buying links off Fiverr or using link-building software. Some people, when pursuing links, will approach an external site with the proposition of a barter or deal. Often, this is waved off by the link-seeker as harmless advertising, but Google sees it as a good reason to downgrade and penalize the link-seeker’s site. Natural link building requires human outreach and effective communication.

Two Easy Natural Link Building Techniques

There are many ways to successfully build natural links and each of them essentially involves making sure your website shows up in a variety of high-quality, high DA places. Read on to learn more.

1. Asking for Links

The first step is to simply ask a reputable website if they will link to your site. In order to do this and be successful, it is important to have first read the other site and to know exactly why you admire the site and what a link to your website would offer the readers of the other site. You are unlikely to be successful if you simply send out a mass-market email to the authors of dozens of other sites asking for a link. Take your time, be deliberate and put some thought into this tactic. Links might just come in easier than you think.

2. Adding Yourself to a Directory

Another great way to build natural links is to list your site in a web-based directory. Some directories are free while others charge a small fee to mention your site and service. If you do wind up paying for a directory listing, rest assured that this is not a black hat link buying behavior. Purchasing a listing in a directory is a perfectly legitimate way to build natural links and boost your site’s ranking.

How to Excel at Social Linking

Finally, one of the most effective ways to earn natural links is through social linking. Social linking includes everything from the links in your social media profiles to all of the ways you interact socially online, including but not limited to commenting on blogs, posting in niche-related forums, and answering questions on sites like Quora.

Guest Blogging

Earning natural links is often simply a matter of putting yourself out there and this is easiest to do through the process of social linking. Social linking can happen a variety of ways but one of the most popular means of social linking is guest blogging.

If you’re working to build high-quality, natural links that point to your site, consider offering your services as a guest blogger for a site you admire. Guest blogging can often be seen as a means to an end while searching for links, but it’s worthwhile to approach it as a larger and more important endeavor.

Yes, guest blogging can provide your site with plenty of high-quality external links, but it can also place you in touch with new audiences, expand your site’s reach and help you hone your message and voice. It’s important to remember that good content and good links go hand in hand and it is impossible to have one without the other. For this reason, guest blogging should be seen as a worthwhile pursuit that should result in high-quality content and great social connections.

Each guest post you make will offer you a way to link back to your site in an author bio at the end of the post. Although each site’s stance on author bio links varies, most offer the opportunity to link to your website, blog and social media network(s) of choice.

Video Content

When it comes to social linking, creating high quality video content is an ideal place to begin. The popularity of video content is exploding and, for many demographics, video is a more easily accessible means of social media. Popular video networks like YouTube and Vimeo offer users the opportunity to add a link into the description of the video.

This means that, when a user finds your video via an Internet or YouTube search, they will have the option to click directly on your site’s link. Additionally, since video content is among the most-shared platforms on the Internet, your video stands a decent chance of being passed around the Internet pretty quickly. Even if you are unfamiliar with creating high-quality video, there are plenty of articles that cover what makes videos go viral.

Social Profile Linking

It’s no secret that social media marketing is huge and when you consider that 52% of American adults use two or more social media sites on a daily basis, it’s not hard to see why. Social media allows you to embed several links to your site and, given the reach of various social media networks around the world, well-placed links have the potential to skyrocket your site’s traffic.

A successful social media profile can make you more find-able among your fans and serve to increase exposure and connections. In addition to including the link to your site on your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn account, it is also wise to integrate social media into your website through share buttons and analytics.

The Importance of Great Content

As we’ve said earlier, it is impossible to have great links without also having great content. Nobody wants to link to crappy site and, no matter what you do in terms of social link building, guest blogging or creating video content, none of it will matter if the meat of your content is bad.

Remember: sites don’t rank, pages do. And pages only rank when they are comprised of cornerstone content. Cornerstone content is essentially the foundation upon which the rest of your blog is built or developed. It can serve as the central link-point for a variety of your other blogs and it serves the incredibly important purpose of telling visitors what you’re about. Cornerstone content revolves heavily around the proper use of keywords, title tags, effective headlines and related links.

Cornerstone content creation also encourages creating a content landing page, designed to tell readers exactly what the site’s goal is and provide links to each separate area of the site. Landing pages are important to creating a great, Google-friendly site and can help boost your retention rates, promote bookmarks, encourage high-quality external links and increase your ranking. A landing page also allows you to create internal links, which can help boost your site’s SEO ranking even further.

5 Things to Remember When Launching a Link Building Campaign

1. Set Goals: Setting specific link-related goals can help you reach your intended link level. By setting goals for external links, you can devise a plan to best position yourself to go out and get those links through social linking, guest blogging, creating great video content or purchasing a place in a web-based directory.

2. Determine Your Assets: In order to get high-quality external links, you need to know what you’re bringing to the table. It is unlikely that a well-ranked site is going to link to a site with poor content, no cohesion, no available products or impossible-to-reach people. Therefore, it is important to know and define exactly what you have to bring to the table. Spend some time thinking about what sets your site apart and, if you’re planning on asking other site owners for external links, prepare a pitch that best highlights your strongest features.

3. Identify Your Target Audience: In order to mine high quality inbound links, you’ll need to determine who your target audience for links is. If you run a food blog, it’s highly unlikely that you will pitch Black & Decker for links, and vice versa. Spend some time thinking about who is going to be interested in your content, who would want to link to it and what value your content can provide the readers of those sites. Once you’ve determined those things, it will be much easier to go out and mine for links.

4. Find Relevant Bloggers: Once you’ve determined your goals, assets and target audience, you can get to work locating similar bloggers and sites. Use the Scraper app on Google Chrome to scrape together a list of bloggers and then copy the resulting list into a spreadsheet. Visit each URL to determine if the content is relevant to your blog and then determine how best to attempt to build a link from that blog.

5. Determine the Link Likelihood: As you browse through your list of related blogs, consider whether or not that site is likely to link to your site. This will depend largely on whether the site links to external sites on a regular basis and whether the blog is active and features posts every week. Weed out the blogs that do not meet these criteria in order to save yourself time and then dedicate yourself to reaching out to the remaining blogs on the list. Depending upon how you structure your outreach, it is very likely that at least one of these blogs will seed your content and you will be on your way to external links.

The Case for Content and Links

If we learned anything from the Moz study, it’s that links matter and if we’ve learned anything from decades of content marketing tactics and anecdotal evidence, it’s that content matters, too. Together, content and links provide the platform needed to rank well in Google and create a high-quality, Google-friendly site that is likely to pull external, natural links all on its own.

Sites like this don’t just build themselves though, and it takes some serious elbow grease on the part of the site owner to ensure content is consistently cornerstone and high-quality and that natural links are prevalent.

Fortunately, it is easy to develop a great content strategy that deserves inbound links and, with a little extra attention and a foundation of great content, it’s easy to make your site truly link-worthy.


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Julia Spence-McCoy is the CEO of Express Writers, an online copywriting agency that began in 2011 with thousands of web content pages written to date and more than 50 talented writers on the team. Her passion is copywriting and all that pertains, including the ever-changing game of Google algorithm updates.

12 Responses to “How Links & Content Work Together in SEO Rankings

    avatar George says:

    I find your article informative and helpful, but have a question regarding guest blogging and wonder if you would mind elaborating on exactly how you suggest earning links from guest blogging. Do you simply mean including a link (no-follow or do-follow?)in the body of the guest article or author bio pointing to your site? We all know by now this approach could get you in trouble with Google.

    Thanks for sharing a really great article Julia.
    Good information about how links and content work together in SEO ranking. Use unique content and build great links for better SEO ranking. All your points are good.

    avatar Paul says:

    Great article and I couldn’t agree more with the “great content + quality backlinks” message.

    I’m glad you’ve given a positive mention to business directories, too often they get a bad press and I’ve found that manually building, consistent, high quality directory entries can be incredibly powerful. I’ve even ranked websites to page 1 from no where with nothing other than these and decent on-site optimisation. Albeit low competition phrases but they can work wonders.

    avatar van says:

    Well written and quality content article. A much needed reminder of the basics we all need to be doing – thanks, ClimbEveryMountain.com

    Great ideas concerning link building. Thanks for sharing.

    avatar Michael says:

    Julia,
    thank you for great article
    My question is about link itself while asking a reputable website if they will link to my site.
    Where on the site should the company put it?
    What form should it be?Blog?
    How in HTML language should it look like?
    <a href= example pls
    I have few companies willing to give me links, but I have to provide details
    You can contact me on my email
    Regards
    Michael D.

    avatar Tom Nguyen says:

    Giving a customer spotlight story and an interview are other ways to get relevant links. I have my press mentions in the sidebar on my About Me page.

    It all starts with writing quality content that educates your visitors though.

    avatar adam says:

    Thanks Julia, another super useful article.
    These days I’m struggling to find an honest IM person for our new site and it’s hard indeed.

    Most SEO’rs seems to ignore the thin line between content and proper link building.

    Thanks Julia, for sharing such a useful article on quality content and link building. In my experience if you write a quality content then just a little bit seo can help you achieve #1 ranking in google

    You have some very nice ideas present in this article. It was a great read!

    avatar dau da day says:

    It will provide the idea about the sandbox for the new bloggers thanks for your post.

    I read this blog, thanks for sharing another great article.
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