Link Building Or Content Marketing? What’s Best For Your Business?

Despite all the talk about Google one day “suppressing” the value of links in favor of other ranking factors, those days have not arrived yet, which explains why you continue to fret over too few links given the amount of money you’re now spending on content. Should you focus less on content creation and more on link building? Or should you go all-in on content marketing with hopes that links begin to materialize at some point in the near future?

The correct answer is “neither.”


The safest, surest way to acquire links to your website is by creating content your audience desires, consumes, finds worthy of sharing and, most important, linking to. The only way that happens consistently, however, is by emphasizing link worthiness with the majority of the content your business creates, a process that pays dividends in all areas of your company.

  • Quality becomes and remains a focus for everyone who creates content at the company
  • Awareness of your audience and its needs is made a priority
  • Content and SEO teams are energized to create, promote and share content more frequently
  • Outreach becomes a part of your business
  • Content and SEO can no longer remain siloed

Instead of framing the question as “Should you become a link builder or a content marketer?” I say we frame it as “How do we create quality content that serves to facilitate gaining links for our website?”

It requires a change in mindset.

When it comes to content creation, even the brands that do it well typically do it wrong. They create amazing content they know their audience will love and share, but they miss two all-important elements as regards gaining links:

  • Who among the audience shares links to content
  • What content/content type they most often link to and share

Your business can create the best content in the world, then see it get shared and talked about nonstop online, but never acquire a significant or meaningful number of links. How does this happen?

You’re creating content primarily for consumption and shareability, when you should be thinking about linkability first.

That’s done by ignoring the noise and focusing intently on (a) who the most active linkers (Rand Fishkin calls them “linkerati“) are in your vertical, (b) creating content that closely matches the style, tone and quality of what they are linking to, and (c) enlisting their help in promoting your content.

I can read your mind.

“We’re an accounting firm, Ronell! A six-person business that can barely produce four blog posts a month, at that. How in the world can we find these linkers and get them to share our content, when we don’t know who they are, what they want? Leaving aside our inability to create such content.”

A year ago, I was in the same boat with you. My clients could barely afford to pay for content, and they did so only because they were paying for SEO in hopes of staying on top of their main keywords. But with the advent of Not Provided and the difficulty of wrangling the ranking monster, those clients began to ask “Why are we producing content, if it’s not acquiring links?” And those who weren’t asking that question began to ask another similar one: “According to everything I read, links are still the No. 1 factor when it comes to my website showing up on the first page of Google. Why don’t we just focus on link building instead of wasting money on content?”

This line of questioning made me change my approach and adopt an entirely different mindset regarding content marketing: A significant percentage of the content your business produce every month must be link worthy.

Exactly what that percentage will vary by business and vertical, but for a business that’s only able to create four pieces of content a month, my number is 25 percent, or one piece of content.

The less content you produce, the fewer opportunities you have for links, so you have no choice but to make them count.

With the 25 percent philosophy, I’d recommend the company blog four times a month, but one of the posts would be a meaty piece designed to garner links. Trust me, it’s easier than it sounds, and it starts with identifying the linkers.

Baking Linkability Into The Content Marketing Process

Using the example of the fictitious accounting firm mentioned above, I’ll lay out a strategy any business can use effectively.

Develop a rapport with the linkers. No matter your industry or vertical, there are websites devoted to the profession. And what everyone of these websites has in common are diehard followers, supporters and “watchers” of the craft. These people are easy to spot, for they are always sharing content via social media, always active in the most important conversations in the vertical and they frequently post links to content via their website.

These are the people you need to form a relationship with: share  and discuss their content; engage them in online conversation; email them questions or suggestions; share comments on their blog; tag them in Google Plus posts; and invite them to be a part of your content, through quotes in blogs or, better yet, in podcasts or Google Hangouts. In this way, you’re creating a reciprocal relationship, by helping them as they help you, which is something Stone Temple Consulting does with their “Digital Marketing Excellence Show.”

Identify the content they are sharing and, most important, linking to. Now that you’ve identified the linkers, it’s time to hone in on the content they most often link to on their websites and share online.

  • Are they certain content types that are linked to most often?
  • Do certain content topics get more links than others?
  • Is the content image-heavy?

Once you have a handle on what type of content to create, you must focus on creating a piece of content that’s the best of it’s type on the topic, which equates to baked-in shareability. To do this, you’ll mosey over to Google and look for the highest-ranking pieces of content on the topic. For our purposes, we’re looking for “Top accounting worries for new homeowners.”

top accounting worries for new homeowners - Google Search 2014-10-29 10-15-14

We’re only interested in the top three organic results. The No. 1 result looks intriguing. Once inside the post, we see that “Don’t Overspend on Furniture and Remodeling,” “Don’t Ignore Important Maintenance Items” and how to “Hire Qualified Contractors” are the top concerns.

Hmm…Getting interesting, right?

Produce the content, then set about enlisting the help of the linkers. I’d have the client produce a 1,500 to 2,000 word blog post titled “How First-time Homebuyers Can Furnish Their Home Without Breaking The Bank.” The post would be written in list format, contain at least five images (one per every 350-400 words) and feature interviews with accountants and other finance pros having active, engaged audiences, in addition to high profile furniture store owners or managers, many of whom are every active online.

Once the content is produced, I’d post the content to the company blog, then, simultaneously, reach out to the linkers for help sharing and answering comments on the site. (Be sure to list the personal names, business names and social media handles of those interviewed when sharing via social, which creates additional buzz for those involved and further incentivizes them to link to the post.) Also, ask those who were interviewed if they would mind running a snippet of the post on their website, then link to the original post. If it helps, you could have a staff member write the snippet, then email it to the linker to post on their site.

Continue to fan the flames well after the content is posted. You need to keep the linkers in your stable while you reach out to interact with other linkers in the community. Also, you must keep your eyes open for the next piece of  link-worthy content, which you are now on the hook for once per month.

The strategy laid can and will work for your business, provided you’re willing to do the leg-work of identifying linkers and developing a rapport with them. The more you share and interact, the more links you can expect and the easier the task become over time.

Please share your thoughts below.

(I must give a huge shout-out to Rand Fishkin and Brian Dean for influencing my views on link building and the role it should play in content creation.)

Recommended Reads:

About Ronell Smith

I'm digital strategist and content geek who's passionate about helping businesses wade through the B.S. and get the results they desire. I rant often about user experience, PR, SEO, branding, product innovation or content marketing. Otherwise, I'm just a boring nerd who dreams about disruptive innovation, long-form feature writing, nuclear physics, entomology and sniper rifles.

Filed under: Strategy


Neil Ferree

Good article Ronell. Good argument. Decent summation, but at the end of the day, I echo/echo Rand’s statement at 1:20 in his WBF session “it is possible, kinda sorta”.

Ronell Smith


There certainly is more than one way to get the task done. But the point Rand makes, and the one I’m making, is link building and content marketing are the best way forward.

Comments are closed.