By NicoleKohler
14 Jul 2014

How to Make Sweet Music with Harmonious Link Building and Content Marketing

Content Marketing     Link Building     SEO Strategy

Link building is becoming increasingly less “sexy” to write about, or so this post by Tadeusz Szewczyk seems to indicate. The negative connotations of link building – penalties, spam, black and white zoo animals – seem to have given way, in the world of marketing, for the gloriousness that is content marketing.

Content marketing is still new (well, sort of). It’s still got that shiny gleam. If it were a car, it’d smell like fresh leather. And with all the evidence you need to suggest that it’s effective, it’s no wonder that every agency imaginable is touting the benefits and writing posts right and left about it.

But for all its newness, content marketing doesn’t make link building any less necessary. In fact, links are more important than ever. Where would your fantastic content be without links? It wouldn’t be ranking, that’s for sure.

Andrew wrote this post about content marketing and link building working together earlier this year, which I think does a fine job of making the case for why the two should be inseparable. But if you have these tasks assigned out to two different people, the question you may actually asking here is how to make them inseparable.

That is, when you have a content strategist looking at the earned media team going “how am I supposed to write content for links from those sites?” or your outreach specialist wrinkling their nose at the content marketer’s work and going “I’m supposed to build links to that?” … how are you supposed to get them to play nice? Heck, even if these duties are handled by the same person, how can you balance the desire to create amazing content and the duty to BUILD ALL THE LINKS?

build all the links

It’s going to take time and practice, but it can be done. And here’s how.

For the Content Marketers: Write Your Content With Links in Mind

There is a ton of content out there on the Internet, as my fellow Linkarati very well know. Getting something published and read by more than a handful of people is hard enough, but getting links pointed at it… now that’s a challenge. So what can you do when your team is creating fantastic blog posts, whitepapers, guides, and so on… but not acquiring a single link?

You know how actors sometimes (apparently) ask “what’s my motivation for this scene?” You should do the same thing. That is: put yourself in the shoes of someone who might link to your stuff, and ask “what’s my motivation for this link?”

Changing the way you view your content might be very revealing. Let’s say your client has a blog about cat food, so your target linker is a pet blogger. When you look at your post about cat toys and think “what’s my motivation for this link?”… well, you may realize that you haven’t written anything new or interesting. Or you may realize that pet bloggers aren’t even interested in a roundup of cat toys.

One really great exercise you can do before writing content is scoping out links given out by blogs or sites you’re thinking about pitching. For example, you may look at a pet blogger and see that she most often links to manufacturer blogs that have posted video testimonials about the benefits of food or services. Bingo! Or maybe she seems partial to detailed toy reviews that have hands-on photos. In that case, you could revise your original content to include some photos.

If you’re working with any content marketers, this is an important discussion to have with them. When they write content, they’ll need to think about it from the standpoint of someone who might want to link to it. Here are a few questions they should ask:

  • What makes this “linkworthy”?
  • Who do I want to link this? Is this the kind of thing they’ve linked to in the past?
  • How is this different from what’s already out there?
  • What could I do to motivate more (or different) people to link to this?

For the Link Builders: It’s All in the Framing

When I managed an ecommerce store, non-targeted, spammy link building pitches drove me up a wall. Even the well-written ones drove me nuts if they weren’t targeted to the industry I was in. Sometimes I wanted to write them back and say something like “sure, I’d be happy to accept your guest post about granola, as long as you can tell me how to make a piece of wall art out of it.”

(Actually, that kind of seems like a missed opportunity, now that I think about it.)

Relevance, as I’m sure you know, is everything. And while you lovely, educated link builders wouldn’t dream of asking for links from unrelated websites just to say “I tried”… well, sometimes a particular client or piece of content may present a big challenge, and you may not have any clue where to start with your link requests.

We have several clients in very niche or even obscure industries. So we have to get really, really creative to earn links for clients. No, nothing shady (trust me, I wouldn’t be here if that was the case). But the way you frame a link can determine whether or not it works or not.

Let’s return to our cat food brand example. Cat food is not exactly an enthralling topic, but your client wants links from CNN and the Huffington Post. Instead of creating cat memes in a last-ditch attempt to get attention, start asking how you could frame pitches around your client’s existing content to get links.

For example:

  • What has been said or done lately that is unique or newsworthy?
  • What sets this content or website apart from the rest? (For example, maybe this cat food is the first to prolong the lives of cats by 3-6 months thanks to a unique set of ingredients. Pitch it as “this is how you can make your cat live a longer life.”)
  • How does this content fit into a “bigger” story?
  • How does this content fit into a seasonal story or current trend?

For cat food, you might think about just pitching pet bloggers, but why not work it into a pitch about small changes you can make to improve the life of your pets? That has mainstream appeal, don’t you think? It’s not worthy of CNN’s front page, but it might at least make the lifestyle section.

Making them Work Together: Sweet, Sweet Marketing Music

When I was much younger, I took piano lessons for a few years. My eye-hand coordination wasn’t yet what it is today (I hadn’t started playing video games yet), so for a long time I would memorize and play the left and right hand parts of pieces separately, not understanding how they would work well together. When I finally managed to coordinate myself well enough to play everything at the same time, my piano teacher would always be blown away.

I think link building and content marketing, in harmony, are really the same way. When they’re utilized separately, they have the potential to sound pretty good, especially if they’re played by talented hands. But when a team works together, they can make sweet, sweet marketing music that delivers amazing results for clients.

The key – just as it was for me – is practice. Content marketers aren’t going to immediately keep link possibilities in mind when writing, and link builders aren’t going to automatically know how to frame content for their pitches. It’s going to take time, education, and coaching to get it right.

Here are some ideas you can apply with your team (or yourself, if you’re a one-person-show!):

  • Come up with five content ideas together. How will your content marketers present the resulting content to make it “linkworthy”? How will your outreach pros frame the content to get those links?
  • Switch roles for a day. Have a link builder write a post and a content marketer do some outreach. Sometimes this experience can be immensely helpful!
  • Try to set up a process to review content or outreach that doesn’t do as well as expected – not to point fingers, but to find improvement opportunities.
  • Encourage team feedback. For example, if a link builder notices an element missing that would really make a piece of content amazing – even on the content size – they should be able to speak up about it.

Now that you know exactly how to make your amazing content and talented link builders work well together, it’s time to apply your newfound knowledge! Get out there and BUILD ALL THE LINKS!

build all the links

Er… well, like I said, this could take some practice. So don’t be afraid to start small. Good luck!


Nicole Kohler is a writer, nerd, and lover of all things yellow. She is the Web Content Strategist for WebpageFX, where she spends a lot of time writing new things and making faces at Wordpress. You can follow her on Twitter@nicoleckohler as long as you promise not to mind the occasional all-caps tweets about video games.