By Brad Shorr
20 Oct 2014

The Art of Content Link Building

Content Marketing     Link Building

Content link building is an art and a science. This article focuses on the “art part” – composition. Why? Because no content link building program has a chance unless high-quality content is at the foundation. Since high-quality content is hard to define and perhaps even harder to produce, content link builders struggle to get results.

A common response to a floundering content link building program is to produce more content. But a better response is to create better content. A lot of low-quality content produces a lot of low-quality links (at best). In contrast, even a little high-quality content produces a lot of high-quality links. Which option sounds better to you?

What Is High-Quality Content?

For onsite content to attract links and offsite content to be published on authoritative and popular sites, its quality must be high. Here is a quick rundown of the five key characteristics of high-quality content. Holding to these standards almost guarantees success for your content link building efforts.

  1. High-quality content is relevant. Your topic must matter to the target audience. It could be an issue that is top-of-mind, one that is inherently complex or confusing, or one that is so important that it cannot be discussed too much or too often.
  2. High-quality content is useful. Your treatment of the topic must clarify, simplify, motivate and/or provide “how-to” advice. In short, your content must have practical business value.
  3. High-quality content is authoritative. People won’t care about your content, much less link to it, if they don’t believe you know what you are talking about, have experience, or provide sources for your data.
  4. High-quality content is fresh. Fresh content presents a new or under-covered topic, or covers an old topic in a new way.
  5. High-quality content is sharable. If your content meets the first four criteria, it is already more sharable than 90% of the competition. But in addition, highly sharable content is easy to read, fun to read, scannable and generally bookmark-worthy.

Why did this high-quality content catch my eye on Twitter? What Leaders Say When They Don’t Know the Answer is relevant to aspiring leaders or leaders seeking to improve. It’s useful because it contains specific, practical communication advice. It’s authoritative because it is written by a CEO and includes a quote [?] from a negotiation and leadership expert. It’s fresh because it discusses an issue that people don’t often think about as a problem. It’s sharable because of its conversational style, story-telling structure and brevity.

Execution techniques/errors that diminish content quality include:

  • Relevance, usefulness and authority are diminished when clients hand over all aspects of content creation to an agency. Every company has a wealth of knowledge and insight, but extracting it and transforming it into high-quality content require close collaboration between internal and agency personnel.
  • Usefulness and authority are diminished when creators resort to tricks such as using sensational headlines for run-of-the-mill articles. Over-promising and under-delivering never attract links from high-value publishers.
  • Sharability is diminished when creators use jargon, over-complicate their message or go off on tangents.

How Do We Create High-Quality Content?

An effective process for creating high-quality content looks something like this:

  1. Collaborate with clients – in particular members of the sales team – to identify relevant topics.
  2. Collaborate with clients – in particular members of their sales team and subject matter experts – to develop talking points for articles on the identified topics.
  3. Collaborate with clients – in particular members of the sales and marketing teams – to brainstorm new angles from which to approach the topics.
  4. Use professional copywriters with relevant experience.
  5. Edit copy for grammatical correctness, clarity and cohesiveness.
  6. Have clients review copy for accuracy.
  7. Before submitting or publishing, get feedback from readers who are familiar with and unfamiliar with the subject matter. This is a final check against content that’s complicated, confusing and/or vague.

… And About Those Links

Best practices for incorporating links seem to change on a quarterly basis. At this point:

  • For offsite content, linking to your site’s home page in the author bio section is acceptable to most publishers. Anchor text for links should be varied from article to article, with not too much emphasis on keyword-optimized anchor text.
  • Offsite publishers with a separate author bio page present a challenge. Sometimes these publishers let you add a link in the body text – but it must be relevant and not interrupt the flow of the article.
  • Offsite publishers that don’t allow links may not be great options for a link building campaign, but then again, maybe they are. If a publisher has a large, relevant audience and attracts a lot of social shares, content published there may attract natural links from readers and will definitely enhance brand awareness and credibility.
  • Including links to internal site pages in offsite body text is a terrific link building technique when a publisher allows it. Publishers are more inclined to accept links to your internal pages if that content is extremely useful and relevant. Again, vary anchor text and don’t overemphasize keywords.
  • Not every page of onsite content can (or should) be link-worthy. However, even a small bit of highly relevant and useful content can generate an enormous number of natural inbound links – the very best kind! For insight on how to create “evergreen” content for your site, please check out this article I wrote back in January that covers the subject in depth.

Wrap Up

SEOs struggle with content quality because they tend to be technicians. Not that there’s anything wrong with that -- technical skills play a crucial role in content link building, particularly in conducting keyword research and identifying and vetting potential offsite publishers.

However, in addition to technicians, every SEO operation now needs a creative-minded content manager, supported by copywriters and editors, to ensure that all qualitative bases are covered in the firm’s link building process.

Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of Straight North, a digital marketing agency with headquarters near Chicago. Brad writes frequently on SEO, content marketing and B2B business topics with articles that have appeared on Moz, Forbes and Smashing Magazine.