After Google’s numerous attempts to set standards for online content production, content marketing emerged as a way to replace generic SEO and link building practices with those that actually bring results. The focus shifted to producing quality content, thus setting the stage for digital content marketing.
Today, businesses of all sizes are turning to content marketing to increase their visibility online and drive business growth. According to the latest CMI report, 70% of B2B marketers say they are creating more content than they did one year ago, while 86% of all the organizations surveyed say they use content marketing.
Given the potential of the strategy, these figures should come as no surprise. Although content marketing is not something that appeared as an answer to Panda and Penguin updates, it is increasingly defining the SEO industry, including link building strategies.
Advantages of content marketing over traditional link building
Initially conceptualized as an offline branding strategy, content marketing has been used by the world’s most innovative brands to build trust and authority ever since the late 19th century. While its purpose remained the same, the distribution channels greatly changed and this is the aspect that affects link building practices most.
Namely, the ultimate goal of content marketing is to distribute pieces of content across channels relevant to the industry and reach a carefully segmented audience. Rather than scattering links across the web to increase their quantity, content marketing focuses on improving their quality. This way, your website’s backlink profile remains in the target niche, thus sending specific authority signals to Google.
Of course, this only gains in significance with Google’s increased focus on the quality of backlinks, which is assessed through metrics such as domain authority, quality of content and quality of links on the page. These evidently introduce new rules to the link building game, forcing webmasters to abandon traditional techniques that rest upon low-quality directory submissions and generic guest posting. As opposed to these, content marketing offers several key advantages:
- Allows you to build natural links
- Increases diversity of your backlinks
- Puts your backlinks into a specific context
Matt Cutt’s suggestion that the goal of link building is not to “make your links appear natural,” but to make sure they actually are natural seems to have been vague enough to inspire some interesting discussions. This one in particular yielded numerous constructive answers including the opposites such as 1) any backlink you pursue is unnatural, and 2) waiting for natural links is futile. Probably the easiest thing to do is test both and see which one brings more results (my gut and experience tell me the latter is… well, not really a strategy).
Alternatively, you can look at it this way: you created an awesome research on a burning industry issue and you know just the site that would be interested in publishing it. You reach out to it and the editors decide to link back to the resource you created. How valuable is that link? Is it natural?
Again, instead of constantly pushing the same old content forms for the purposes of increasing the number of backlinks, producing white papers, infographics, videos, ebooks and similar material allows you to enrich your backlink portfolio. The importance of this lies in the fact that “the more diverse, random, and diluted an inbound link profile is, the better,” as suggested by Neil Patel. His article explains the idea in more detail and I highly recommend you take a look at it.
As opposed to the ancient practice of publishing guest articles on websites only remotely related to your niche, proper content marketing ensures your backlinks will remain in the desired context. High quality industry reports are more likely to find their place on authoritative industry websites, which is how your own website’s credibility grows.
Theory and practice: the gap
From what I tackled above, it may appear that you can simply go with a “build it and they will link to it” strategy, i.e. creating an awesome piece of content and waiting for everybody to notice it. Unfortunately, like all the other similarly idealistic assumptions, this one doesn’t typically work. In fact, content distribution is arguably even more significant part of content marketing and definitely the one that eventually brings you high quality backlinks.
In relation to this, some experts suggest that content marketing is 30% production and 70% distribution, the latter being the key to your link building practices.
Obviously, in order to actually get some backlinks with your awesome content, you need to increase your focus on distribution. Of course, the only proper way to do this is to analyze the audience you are catering to, research the target market and invest time into creating pieces of content that have a clear purpose. Therefore, content marketing is a strategic activity that involves several phases in order to eventually bring desired outcomes.
Content strategies that will bring you backlinks
1. Creating linkable content; the notion of linkable content can differ from industry to industry and you need to figure out what works for yours. One of the ideas is to use Buzzsumo or any similar tool to identify the most shared content in a specific field and build upon it. This is something cleverly named skyscraper technique, whose result should be a piece that is more relevant than anything else written before. Naturally, such piece stands more chances of being linked to from other industry websites.
2. Influencer engagement; considering the fact that only 3% of people generate 90% of impact online, you definitely want your content to be endorsed by the already established influencers in the industry. This means you need to find the experts that already have a large audience and try to engage them either through social media or through something called ego bait. Ego bait is a content creation technique that allows you to 1) create unique content, 2) present unique perspective/offer new information, 3) engage influencers on social media, 4) potentially have your website mentioned on their websites and thus get high quality backlinks.
3. Relevant guest posting; after you’ve created a piece of content you want to promote, you can engage in guest blogging on sites that have the audience you want to cater to and link to your resource. As long as the content is relevant enough for their audience, the editors will probably be willing to include a link to it.
The turbulent digital era enables virtually anyone – from big brands to a random guy sitting next to you on a train – to start publishing and create streams of loyal readers online. In the sea of such content, the internet-centric businesses need something unique to improve their visibility online, build relationships and further promote their brands. As a strategic activity focused on these goals, content marketing represents an efficient way to strengthen your business’s online authority and earn high quality backlilnks.
Bojana Dobran is a content specialist at Four Dots, an inbound marketing agency with offices in the US, Ireland and Serbia. With more than three years of experience in online marketing, she currently focuses on exploring the best ways to implement content marketing strategies in small to medium sized companies.