With Content Marketing, Link Building is Obsolete… Right?

It seems that every day a new blog post is published claiming that link building is dead. It makes for a great headline, but it’s just not true. In fact, it’s very much alive, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, the content marketing purists who preach the “build it and they will come” methodology are setting themselves and their audience up for failure.

When I get asked about whether a business should continue with link building in the future, I usually say, “Your competitor would love it if you stopped building links to your content.”

Don’t get me wrong — I am a proponent of producing useful content and making content marketing a large part of your overall internet marketing strategy; I even wrote a book about it. However, I also recognize the value of links and the impact they have across the web.

Let’s take a look at why I believe link building is still and will continue to be a tremendously important component of online marketing and the number one search engine ranking factor.

Not All Links Are Bad

Not too long ago, blog commenting, article sites and blind link requests were considered reasonable link building tactics. Spamming used to be commonplace in the SEO world. The quantity of links trumped quality when it came to search engine rankings, and internet marketers were focused on getting links at any cost, literally.

Fortunately, Google has cracked down on spammed-to-death, old-school link building, forcing website owners to embrace more sustainable methods of achieving high quality backlinks.

Links still matter, and there are many legitimate ways to obtain links that do not violate any search engine’s terms of service. Even Google’s own Head of Webspam Matt Cutts recently stated, “Not all link building is bad.” Link building has significantly changed, and for the better, but the premise behind the concept remains the same.

There are still many ways to build links to your content without being a spammer. Consider link reclamation, partnerships, sponsorships and even traditional marketing (press releases, radio, TV, etc.) that can result in a link. As long as links are actually helpful to the intended audience, they will positively affect SEO and rankings.

Sustainable, Penguin-proof links aren’t impossible to obtain, and even some old-school link building tactics can still work — when done correctly. “If Google didn’t exist, would you still want the link?” is a common saying used by self proclaimed link Moses Eric Ward. Some methods such as forum links, directories and, most recently, guest blogging have been knocked down by Matt Cutts as spammy tactics. Why? Because they are done incorrectly and spammed.

But, would you pass up a relevant link from this Adobe Forum, which boasts a DA of 100? How about a link on the DMOZ.org directory, or a guest blogging opportunity on your competitor’s own website written by an expert at your organization? Not all links are bad, but you have to ask yourself why you’re building the link. If it’s just for Google, then you’re starting off all wrong. Build a link that makes sense, provides value to the end user and showcases your content in a positive light.

Social Signals Aren’t Being Used

Many marketers believe that social signals are being used as a rankings factor, but that just isn’t true. There are plenty of reports stating the correlation between social signals and rankings, but there is no conclusive causation mentioned along with any of the findings.

Marketers are forgetting the fact that correlation does not imply causation. Just because there is a correlation between social signals and rankings doesn’t mean that one causes the other, and that’s a huge distinction that people are missing.

Additionally, Cutts explained that +1s (and any other Google+ social signals) do not have an impact on search engine rankings. He also stated that Google+ and other networks’ social signals such as Facebook “Likes” and shares and Twitter mentions and retweets won’t improve rankings in the short term, but could help in the long term. Cutts said that an accumulation of social signals may be able to give search engine bots a clue as to whether your content is authentic and should be trusted, and could eventually affect search engine rankings.

The only definitive thing about social signals, Cutts has said, is that social signals are not being used to rank content right now. So what does this mean? It means that having a social presence could be helpful in terms of search engine rankings down the road, but right now, it isn’t.

That’s not to say that having a faithful and engaged online audience isn’t lucrative in other ways — it is. Web traffic, branding and positive sentiment are hugely important and can impact marketing and sales in other ways, just not currently with search engine rankings.

“Build It And They Will Come” Doesn’t Exist

Though quality content creation can make link building easier, it does not mean that proactive link building shouldn’t be part of your content marketing strategy. Publishing quality content should result in links based on its own worthiness; but, that is often not the case.

Consider that 73 percent of B2B content marketers say they are producing more content than they did a year ago. More and more content continues to be produced, which means more and more competition. Without manually building links to your content through promotion, distribution and other proactive link building tactics, you run the risk of losing out to your competitors that are.

Content marketing and link building should be used in tandem. Develop content that will naturally attract links and give it a boost by obtaining some links manually. PR folks do it all the time, garnering great mentions for their clients. You can do that, too, with the goal of obtaining a link.

Leverage your content by sharing it with an individual who created a great resource page — ask to be added. Look for relevant links lists or search for mentions of your brand discussing your content but not linking to it. These are all opportunities that exist for just about every brand with a web presence today.

Social media is critical to almost every business, but just sharing your content on social networks isn’t going to cut it, either. Again, having an engaged audience that shares your content across social networks is great exposure and can certainly result in increased links, traffic and sales. However, in most cases, you will need to participate in proactive link building if you want searchers to find your content.

Almost half of all web traffic comes from natural search (and for many of us, way more than half), which means search engine rankings can really impact overall web traffic. If your site is like most and relies on organic search traffic, link building is not an option — it’s a necessity.

In Conclusion

Getting backlinks is hard work. That’s probably the single biggest reason people want social media and other factors to outweigh the value of links. In my opinion, there is no way that search engines are going to make links a zero factor any time soon—like in this decade. And though many content marketers may like to think that creating quality content on its own is enough, it’s not, as links are undoubtedly still the top ranking factor.

However, link building has to be done right. Today there is no doubt that certain types of links will help your cause while others will hurt, and search engines continue to do a better job of telling which links are which.

Do you think link building is becoming obsolete with the rise of content marketing? Let me know in the comment section below.

Images provided by Vertical Measures.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content Marketing | Content Marketing Column | Link Building | Search Marketing


About The Author: is the president of Vertical Measures, a search, social & content marketing company helping their clients get more traffic, more leads, and more business. Arnie has held executive positions in the world of new technologies and marketing for more than 20 years. He is a frequent speaker and author of "Accelerate! Moving Your Business Forward Through the Convergence of Search, Social & Content Marketing" available on Amazon.

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  • http://www.brand.com/blog James R. Halloran

    I think the best way to look at link-building is to look at it as a matter of EARNING links, not necessarily creating them. That’s the best way to acquire the right links for your site without entering spammy territory.

    I do agree with you, though, about the practice — it’s not dead and it’s more alive now than ever. To give up on building the right links now is only assuring your business to vanish from relevancy. Links are still a lifeblood to a site.

  • http://johnwiehe.com/ John Wiehe

    Hi Arnie,

    Using content marketing and link building together will advance SEO because they both improve the relevancy of a business’s message to their target audience. Both involve the essence of attracting people to a site and answering questions. I think what’s cool about SEO is it’s becoming more and more clear to stay human because search engines are killing the old tactics robots know how to use.

  • Arnie Kuenn

    Yep, earning is always preferred. The point I was trying to make above is that earning doesn’t always work, and that sometimes to get the ball rolling a little link outreach might be called for – and appropriate.

  • Arnie Kuenn

    Staying human is key! Any automated, scalable tactic will get you killed these days. Or at least I hope it will. ;-)

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young
  • http://kaseylarose.com/ Kasey LaRose

    I am annoyed by the “If you build it, they will come,” strategy that Cutts tries to get everyone to believe. You can have the greatest piece of content ever written, but it you don’t actively try to get it out there through social media and other tactics, it doesn’t do anything for you.

    I feel like link building is more difficult than ever, especially when other sites have years of link building ahead of you.

  • Bruce Zhang

    Hi Arnie, great analysis. We found out that only 5% of links are earned, and 95% of links are promoted. We looked at many pages from top 3 content sites in US and a few pages from apple.com related to iPhone to come up with the number. See more at http://www.4th-media.com/seo/earned_links.php.

  • Rachel Cornish

    “Marketers are forgetting the fact that correlation does not imply causation.”
    Arnie’s comment is relating social posts to rankings. But if you instead consider social posts relating to useful links then the answer may be different. Social media can be very effective at promoting the useful content,

  • Arnie Kuenn

    Totally agree!

  • Arnie Kuenn

    No doubt about using social to promote. We do it all the time. And obviously you are familiar with the whole “causation, correlation or coincidence” debate :-)

  • konradmarkham

    Great article. Couldn’t agree more. Just last week, my client received an unsolicited email from an SEO company saying you should stop all guest blogging.

    As you say in the article, and Matt Cutt says in his linked article, he is not referring to high quality multi author blogs.

    If you create high quality content on a guest blog. you should have little to worry about. If you are just doing it as a link building exercise then you should probably stop doing it.


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