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Why Covering Content Beats Links for Attracting Influencers


For the last few years, “link building” has been the magic topic that made a blog post succeed in the Internet marketing arena.

Just cover that magic topic without sounding silly, and you attract enough influential people to share your article.

Now, it’s the same mechanism but a different topic. Articles about content beat those about links by far. Why is that? How can you adapt your publishing practice?


Creative Commons image by Nina Matthews.

Yesterday vs today

Back in the day, search engine optimizers focused on a few major key phrases they wanted iTodaye their rankings for. Then the would work for years to optimize for those key phrases until one day they ranked on top. Of these, that was ideal; there was no guarantee you would end op in the top 10.

Given the long periods, an SEO strategy needs to be implemented and worked out; many people have used social media in the meantime to attract visitors.

Here, the key phrases often matched those magic words I referred to above, as influential authors and publishers would focus on those. For us, dealing with search link building has been crucial for years, so it was the number one eye-catcher in the headline.

Ever since Google started to crack down on “unnatural,” that is, SEO-oriented link building with its numerous Penguin updates, the popularity of the topic dwindled significantly, if not dramatically.

You can still get popular writing about link building, but the number of those reading and especially spreading the word turns smaller each time. The size of the “link building” audience is shrinking as a whole. Meanwhile, the size of the content marketing audience is steadily growing while many former search engine optimizers are defecting and trying to rebrand.

Internet marketing: links vs content

Whether you use Google Trends or the Twitter search engine Topsy, you will notice that “content marketing” is significantly more popular now than link building. I have compared all kinds of keyphrases to make sure I don’t compare apples and oranges, but at the end of the day, you can’t deny what your gut feeling is telling you already.

  • link building
  • link baiting
  • earning links

Not only is link building less popular now than content marketing, but there are also not many similar word combinations. The previously often used “link baiting” that’s not as common these days and the slowly growing in prominence “earning links” come to mind. On Topsy, of the top 5 “link building” articles of the last 30 days as of June 27th, three were from Search Engine Land.

  • content creation
  • content curation
  • content marketing
  • content promotion
  • content strategy

There are not only more content-related search phrases but also more authoritative publications covering the topics. The Top 5 for “content marketing” contain, in my case, Fast Company, Content Marketing Institute (twice), Hubspot, and Unbounce. Even Unbounce, a site targeting a pretty specific audience, has 1,5k tweets on their recent content marketing article.


Why link building is not “cool” anymore

When you say “link building,” you are by now almost risking as much as when you say “SEO.” The reputation problem has been lingering over the years and is growing now because Google considers most links unnatural. Indeed, when you think of it, what is the first association that comes to mind when you think of a connection?

  • Unnatural?
  • Low quality?
  • Spammy?

Yes, these are the first three word combinations that come to my mind, even though I’m in favor of link building. Google has succeeded at outlawing a whole business practice. It even made an entire industry look bad despite half-hearted attempts to clarify that “SEO is not SPAM,” even the need to declare that shows how Google has made the two words similar in meaning.

Just think of the job title responsible for talking with SEOs, Matt Cutts: “Head of Webspam.” Why not “head of webmaster relations” or head of “search engine optimization”? After all, we’re optimizing their search engine results.

Take also note how even the top three Search Engine Land articles on link building are mostly sounding negative:

Even the seemingly neutral “10 questions” are about how difficult a link-building campaign really is. The post is not very encouraging despite being high quality.

Widely read publications that do not cover mainly search do not even touch the topic of link building, and when they do, the cover it in a negative context or make sure to mention content first

 How do we deal with the stheyiwraptractiveness of link building?

What’s the point? It doesn’t have to optimize for popular terms; you have to adapt to changing trends and word usage, too.

While it’s not necessary to give up one thing and replace it with another, it’s advisable to adapt to market demand

and, specifically, the behavior of the 1% – 10% of influential people who decide whether an article gets spread around or not. It would be best if you spoke the language of your audience in general and those in charge of applying it in particular.

Influencers do no want to lose their influence by spreading articles about questionable topics.

I’ve been trying to change the meaning of SEO and link-building for quite a few years, but the effort seems to be futile. It’s much easier to embrace the terms other people use. They define and understand words differently than you. So when they think SEO and link building is SPAM, you can be a saint, and they will only see you according to their prejudice.

Content, on the other hand, is what Google needs, so they declare it all the time: “just create great content,” and that’s what most people think;  Google approves of the content, but it hates links.