By Cory Collins
16 Oct 2014

SEO Trends & The Value of Links

Link Building

SEO is an ever-changing industry.

Right now, some of the hottest topics in the SEO industry are content marketing, what role an SEO should play in content, and the future of link building.

A Penguin algorithm update is right around the corner, and it’s hard to know what impact it will have on the future of SEO and link building. It’s supposed to be a rework from the ground up, which means the impact will likely be large. There can be no doubt the original Penguin was one of the biggest changes to the SEO field in recent years.

Nevertheless, today I want to talk about SEO trends and the value of links, both on the web and in search.

I happened across this conversation in my Twitter feed, started by Russ Jones of Virante:

Russ Jones is an authority and thought leader in the SEO community. I highly respect his opinions and he’s made some seriously smart comments (you'll have to scroll down to his comment - no way to link directly to it, unfortunately) about the future of links. I similarly respect the opinions of Ross Hudgens, John Doherty, Dan Shure, Martin MacDonald, and Michael Martinez (who all took part in the conversation). This was the chart Russ was referring to in his initial tweet:

And this was what Ross, John, and Martin responded with:

Pretty clearly outlining that link building is trending down, and content marketing is on the rise. To which Russ Jones responded with:

You can see plainly Martin MacDonald’s response, which I believe describes most SEO's mindset well:

Mike Martinez had this to say:

Which I believe may be a touch extreme, but true enough. Let’s just say it plainly: link building is not content marketing, and content marketing is not link building.

So where does this leave us? What does it mean that SEOs are now actively engaged in content marketing, many for the purposes of building links in 2014?

Before I answer that, I first want to speak to my own perspective and biases.

Addressing Biases

I received a degree in Journalism from the University of Idaho. If you have personal experience in journalism, you know that ethics and the discussion of biases and objectiveness are integral to journalism.

It’s impossible to live in this world and not be biased. People form opinions based upon their experiences, interactions, and environments. The best we can do is be honest about our biases, acknowledge them, and not let them guide us. We strive for objectivity despite our biases.

As you likely know, I’m Managing Editor here at Linkarati. Linkarati is a link building community created by Page One Power, an SEO link building agency. Page One Power is my employer, and my official title within the company is Content Marketing Manager.

The point of all that is to say that I’m employed by a company that is extremely invested in the concept of ethical, sustainable, valuable link building. We believe in the concept that links can be built in a white hat manner, and that links matter on the web. My job is content marketing, because we know that it’s important to have a diversified online marketing strategy, so I create educational content and spread our messages. We also believe in the power of community - hence, Linkarati.

So I am biased: I believe in the power of content marketing, the power of links, and the importance of actively pursuing and building those links.

I’d like to think the fact that I’m more or less on both sides of this fence gives me a unique perspective on the matter. And today I’d really like to share my perspective on link building, content marketing, and the future of SEO.

The Value of Link Building

With content marketing on the rise, does that mean the death of link building? That is more or less the implication within the twitter discussion I mentioned earlier.

I absolutely do not believe this to be the case. Michael Martinez explained it well:

The fact is both content and links are important online. They’re very foundational materials, with links being the primary means of navigation, promotion, support, etc., and content being the “physical” representation of the web. Content are the cities and links are the means of connecting them.

But let’s be more specific: are links going to matter less in search, considering the rise of content marketing? No. Definitely not.

There’s the very reasonable and logical argument that as more signals are introduced into Google’s algorithm, links will matter less and less. Which makes sense, to an extent. But the reality of SEO is that Google isn't moving away from links. They don't have the next big signal. Cutts has discussed the issues with social signals, with user engagement signals, with really every signal SEOs have predicted. None are stable, none are as good as links.

Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts have both talked about this. Google is still struggling to find any kind of meaningful signal better than links. More than that, they've invested so, so much into making link a quality signal (Penguin). And it's working - that's why so many people are moving away from link building and into content marketing.

Of course Google is quick to quote their 200 plus signals. But SEOs still agree that the most important signals involve links.

The fact of the matter is that many SEOs are treating content marketing as a new method of building links, when really they’re not the same thing. Point in fact, there are still many great strategies to build links without content.

But let's really look at content marketing and link building:

Content marketing is:

  • The dissemination of a message through content
  • A method of building brand loyalty and consumer trust
  • A means of establishing your brand or company figures as thought leaders and authorities
  • A way to educate clients and potential clients
  • Top of the funnel marketing

Link building is:

  • Promoting a website or page to another website with the intention of securing a link, which is:
    • A representation of a connection between two websites
    • A signal of trust and authority to both humans and Google
  • A tactic to place your website in front of new audiences
  • A method to improve search visibility and thus brand recognition and traffic
  • Mid funnel marketing

As Jon Ball said, content marketing and link building are two peas in a pod. They’re extremely complementary – content marketing is the creation of content important to both your brand and your target audience, which imparts an important message. Link building is a means of both promoting that content and gaining recurring traffic to the created content (through search).

Content marketing gives link builders something worthy of promotion, and link building gives content marketers visibility to the content they invested so much time and energy to create.

The Rise of Content Marketing Doesn’t Mean the Fall of Link Building

If you’re investing valuable time into content marketing, links need to be a serious consideration for you. Your content won’t do any good if nobody ever sees it.

For every link you “earn” there are five more worth building (thanks Jon). You’ll certainly never get all the links you deserve if you don’t make an active effort to find and secure valuable link opportunities.

The future is uncertain. Will SEOs need to take on content and content marketing? Maybe. I know at Page One Power hiring content creators is a concern that we’ve addressed, so we’re able to produce our own quality content when necessary.

I also know that being an SEO doesn’t mean you inherently have the skills necessary to create content. There is nothing about the duties and responsibilities of SEO that build content creation skills.

But SEOs certainly need to be involved in online content. SEOs are naturally great at determining successful content within a niche, which is extremely important for content ideation. SEOs should also be involved in execution, to ensure there aren’t any performance issues with the content itself. And finally, SEOs and especially link builders absolutely have the necessary skills to promote the content once it’s published, and promote it in meaningful ways.

It’s pretty easy to see that content is going to matter more and more for the future of SEOs. But none of that means that links themselves will need to be less of a consideration. Links are still going to matter, and matter in a big way.

Let's stop thinking that the rise of content marketing means the death of link building - they're by no means mutually exclusive, and if you don't have an active link builder within your content marketing initiative, you're wasting valuable opportunity.

I guarantee if you’re an SEO applying for a new job you’ll be asked about examples of link acquisition tactics, plans, and strategies before you’re asked for excellent writing samples.

Cory Collins

Cory Collins is the Business Development Manager at Page One Power and has been with the agency since 2012. Cory is an SEO strategist, writer, runner, and outdoor enthusiast residing in Boise, Idaho, with his wife, daughter, and (too) many pets.