Writing Great Content Will NOT Get You Links

by Patrick Hathaway February 14th, 2012 

"The passive link building plan"

As social media has become increasingly pervasive, many site owners have jumped on the bandwagon and starting blogging their hearts out. Moreover, the numerous success stories of companies using blogs to attract links and drive long-tail traffic has made the prospect seem very lucrative, inviting businesses to start taking their blogs seriously. Blogs, being less commercial in nature and tone, are often seen as the natural home for linkbait or viral content. However many bloggers focus so heavily on the content creation that they forget about content promotion.

Unless you have an existing, engaged community that will lap up your content, a "passive link building plan" will not work for you. You could have developed an ideal content strategy of writing for a content-hungry audience with some fantastic material up your sleeve, but if your promotion strategy extends to "post it and they will come", well I'm afraid they simply won't.

Attract readers, not links

The underlying principle is that you won't get any links to your posts if no one sees them. So if you think your post is linkworthy (which presumably you do, or you wouldn't have written it in the first place, right?) you need to do whatever you can to get it in front of people's faces. Links are given out by people, not websites, so you need people to see your masterpiece if you want to get links from it. If you are writing content solely in order to get links, then your intent is completely wrong.

Actively promote your content

Whilst every different site owner should look to devise a specific promotion strategy that is unique to their goals, there is a number of key things that anyone can do, with any level of experience.

Make it easy for people to access

Your number 1 goal in the first instance should be to get readers, and once you have a reader you want them to subscribe.

  • Make sure to include an RSS button in the main navigation
  • Consider an additional 'subscribe to this blog' CTA
  • Sign up to FeedBurner to allow people to subscribe via email, or through various feed-reader channels such as iGoogle and My Yahoo!
    Optimise your feed through the FeedBurner settings area
  • Make sure your blog is mobile friendly. The surge in smartphone usage means that mobile users will overtake desktop users in the next few years. Make sure any mobile users are not alienated by a poorer experience
mobile internet users

Link to other influencers' blogs

Most blogging platforms track 'pingbacks' that tell website owners when someone has referenced their work, so linking to them could inspire them to read your stuff (and potentially publicise it for you in the future). It is probably the most basic form of egobait: you give them a link, you might make a friend. It's not the most powerful tactic, but a generous sharing strategy can also reflect positively on your 'brand.'

Connect with contributors

People that contribute to your blog are your most valuable assets. If they have taken the time out of their day to read your blog and then respond with a comment, use this opportunity to engage with them. You want them to feel like an appreciated member of your community, and welcome back at any time. If they provide an email address, email them to thank them for taking the time out to comment on your post and supporting your blog. From experience I know that this can be a great way to build relationships; in fact I made my very first SEO 'contact', James Carson, when he emailed me about a comment I'd written on his blog (follow him, he's smarter than he looks).

If someone tweets your post, reply and publicly thank them on Twitter. Then use that opportunity to follow them on Twitter and Google+. If they follow you back, even if they don't subscribe to your blog (yet), they will at least hear about your next post when you share it on the social platforms.

Similarly, if there are influencers in your niche that you wish to draw the attention of, read all of their stuff and whenever you can, try to add a comment. And I don't just mean valueless Bacn like 'thanks for sharing' – you want to really provide some additional insight that will offer genuine value to the other readers. Try a combo approach in order to make yourself more 'visible' – post a comment on their blog, tweet their posts, follow them on Twitter and then 'encircle' them on Google+. If you can attract their attention and they do end up following one of your social profiles, you might be able to use their influence to your advantage in the future and spread your net even wider.

Participate in a community

This seems the most obvious one, but probably the most time-consuming to get right. Socialising online should be like socialising offline, and therefore should be centered around conversation. You can worry about all sorts of 'engagement' metrics – likes, shares, tweets, +1s, etc… – but the purest and most powerful form of socialising is straightforward conversation. Participate in an online community by listening to others and commenting/responding to them to try and strike up conversation. Ask questions and share content to try and inspire further engagement. There is nothing wrong with posting links on social platforms back to your content, but it should only be done in moderation and where appropriate – nobody wants to feel like they are being spammed.

The best social network for you to participate in depends upon your type of business and what you hope to achieve. To decide which is best for you, it would help to answer the following questions:

  • Where does the audience lie?
  • Where do the influencers hang out?
  • Is my content suitable for the platform?

For example, an artist's blog might benefit from Pintrest, a pharmacy's from Quora, and a dance school's from YouTube; but they probably wouldn't work the other way around. There is no rulebook for this sort of thing. Some websites have had incredible success by combining several platforms at once, and making use of multiplier sites like Triberr.

Submit guest posts

One of the best ways to show off your work is to publish it on someone else's blog. If your audience numbers are low, just go borrow someone else's! It can be a fantastic way to showcase your work and develop your profile in the community. Not only that, in exchange for your post they will give you a link back (that's what you wanted in the first place, right? WRONG! Go back to the beginning).

If you need further convincing of the benefits of guest blogging, or need help devising a strategy, James Agate pretty much covers the lot on his Seogadget guest post (just realised that this is a guest post, talking about guest posting, referring to someone else's guest post about guest posting. Hmmm).

…and accept guest posts from others

Accepting guest posts is something that is not immediately obvious as a link building method – surely that is giving links away, right? Well yeah, it is, but all it is in essence is relationship building with another like-minded blogger. You can get high quality content written for you, for free, with very little effort on your part. And the best thing about it is that they will often end up bringing their community along with them, increasing the exposure of your blog and introducing new audience members. As long as the content is decent, it is a bit of a no-brainer: someone else will write the content, and help promote it for you! Win-win (disclaimer to this is that it can be hard to attract guest bloggers with a fledgling site/blog, but a powerful technique nonetheless).

Leverage existing relationships

Whatever business you work in, you will have a variety of relationships with different professionals from all walks of life. Why not write some content that appeals to them and send them the blog link? As long as it is relevant, high-quality content you should not feel bad about asking someone to read it. And you can really try anyone – other business owners, 3rd party suppliers, internal sales staff, even your own friends and family! They all offer potential for increasing readership, more social shares, more views, and more linking opportunities.

Outreach

Many people use their blog to present content they wouldn't dream of putting on their main site – perhaps a 'viral' video or a snazzy infographic – and often the blog is indeed the best place for this type of content. This is the sort of content that can potentially get you lots of links, but only if you put the effort it, which is where outreach comes in. Manual outreach takes the most effort, but can be the most rewarding, particularly when you can get 'multiplier sites' on board that spurn a host of social shares. There are some great resources out there in the community that explain how to do effective outreach, but as a general rule of thumb if you listen to everything that Justin Briggs and Mike King say, you won't go far wrong.

Don't Give Up

If you write good content, links will follow: if you promote them hard enough. If you don't believe me, just take a look at the links embedded in this post – practically every one exists because somebody wrote good content, and told enough people about it. Sure, I might subscribe to most of the blogs in my RSS feed now, but the initial promotion is what got me on board in the first place – and then the quality of the post attracted the link.

The only other bit of advice I can offer is to read Rand's 21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic. And if you can't be bothered to read them all, just read the last one, which can be summarised by this graphic:

why bloggers give up

Whatever you do, don't give up!

See also:

Patrick Hathaway

I work as the Marketing Manager for Ideasbynet, a UK promotional gifts company, and spend my days on SEO, social media and website maintenance.

IdeasByBlog

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16 Responses to “Writing Great Content Will NOT Get You Links”

  1. Mac says:

    I also believe article marketing is a good place to promote yourself. Use article directories with editor approval and unique content submissions. This makes for a better directory and usually gets you some good traffic. As a tip, write the resource box as a conclusion to the article so that the reader naturally flows into it.

  2. [...] Writing Great Content is NOT a Blogging Strategy, Search Engine People [...]

  3. Brent Truitt says:

    Well – joining the community can certainly help SOME web properties out, but when the subject matter is purely commercial you are not likely to get any social traction. E.G. – finance blogs

    So in 2008 I started a test writing only great content on a blog, and it never had any social interaction. Over time the linking came anyway, and all we ever did was write. It's getting around 5-6 thousand uniques a month now a plenty of inbound links to it (which we never had a thing to do with).

    So I disagree – if you write nothing high quality content, your site will excel just fine.

    • Hi Brent,
      Thanks for the comment. Your example is interesting, I would love to know the specific blog?

      However I wasn't trying to say it is impossible to get links solely from good content, simply that relying entirely on that tactic is not advisable in most cases (would you disagree with that comment?).

      It is also fair to say that the social landscape has changed somewhat since 2008, and most 'proper' blogs require a level of social interaction so that the community does not feel empty.

  4. James Debono says:

    Hi Patrick,
    You have outlined some core principles for blog promotion here!
    I particularly agree with the statement that the purpose of a blog should be to build an audience and less about links at first.
    Once the audience is on side and engaged the links will naturally follow!
    Thanks
    James

  5. Great article! I agree.. you can have all the great content you want, but without promoting it, no one will see it. Very inspiring tips… esp the Google Analytics graph at the end.. thanks for sharing!

  6. Jenny says:

    I love this article! This is a step so many bloggers (myself included) often omit. We hit "publish" on our posts and call it a day. Brian Clark from Copyblogger used many of these promotion techniques to grow his blog, and I'd say the effort worked pretty well for him.

    Thanks for the great information!
    Jenny

  7. Dave says:

    Thanks for this. As a writer, I fell into the trap of thinking just writing great content was enough. It was a "build/write it and they will come" mentality. Sure I knew about SEO and figured a couple of fiverr gigs would take care of link building. But over the last couple of months, I've come to realize that my content is my most important asset and that my best creative efforts can't stop when I click the "publish" button. Thanks for some great ideas on how to take promoting my content up to the next level.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Great words of wisdom Patrick… I'm particularly intrigued about the guest blogging tip. It seems this is really catching on, although I haven't pursued it yet out of fear of the 'unknown'. I guess I'm rapidly becoming one of those bloggers on the 'left hand side' of that 'visitors overview' chart above. You've described the benefits of guest blogging well, but do you have any recommendations on how to get invited, or where to look for guest blogging opportunities (easy one's to start out with and to build confidence) ;-) Thank you…

    • Hi Jennifer, thanks for commenting. Yes, guest blogging seems to be one of the 'hot topics' amongst the SEO community lately, and I think one of the reasons for that is that it is a proper marketing technique – you are offering something of value in exchange for exposure.

      In terms of getting started, you will need to:
      (a) STOP being scared of the 'unknown'!
      (b) Generate opportunities yourself

      Unless you have a very well developed 'personal brand' within a community you will not be invited to guest blog, so you will need to go out and request opportunities. See my previous post about finding prospects (http://www.searchenginepeople.com/blog/linkbuilding-seomoz-tools.html) and try search phrases such as:
      "write for us" AND "zombie movies"

      If you want to start off small, target the smaller sites (DA 20-30), they are likely to be pleased you have ever asked them so your pitch is more likely to succeed. Other than that, I'd suggest reading the SEOGadget post by James Agate that I link to above, it is far more thorough than I could possibly be down here in the comments!

  9. [...] This advice comes with one major caveat – there is no point in producing great, linkworthy content if you are not prepared to put some effort into promoting it. Check out my previous post for ideas on how to get started on active content promotion techniques. [...]

  10. Sun Martial says:

    Hi Patrick
    Great article…very helpful thanks.
    I am just launching a new business (and website), and one of the SEO strategies I'm looking at is to set up a separate blog on WordPress, do all the things you talk about in your blog, and then link to my website from my blog, to hopefully get a good quality link.
    Have you got any comment on this strategy? If my ultimate aim is to improve the SEO on my website (not my blog – that is just the means to the ned), then should I be setting up different blog sites to get more links to my website. (I do take your point about developing relationships rather than seeking links, which I'm guessing is all about improving the quality of the links that you do actually end up getting.)
    Appreciate your feedback.
    Thanks
    Sun Martial

  11. Hi Sun,
    I wouldn't really recommend that as an SEO strategy. I would setup WordPress on your site (under example.com/blog) and go about producing high quality content for your blog that will hopefully start to attract links. This way you could end up with plenty of links pointing into your domain, rather than the single link you would get from the separate blog.

    In regards to setting up a little network of blogs all linking to your site, I also would not recommend this as a starting strategy. You could certainly guarantee links this way, but they would be very low quality links and not pass a great deal of value.

    I think the main issue is thinking of your blog as 'a means to an end', the point of my post was to think of it as more than a link building method.

    Thanks,
    Patrick

  12. Great article. As mentioned in another post already, Iam really impressed by the guest blogging tip. It would really require a lot of courage to publish our article in somebody else's post. But the idea is really good. I would try it out one of these days. Thanks for the insight.

  13. Thanks Patric great article,

    I think with the intersection of social media, Googles hormonal issues and human evolution, the general theme that runs through the internet today is if you what to share what you've got with as many people as you can, it boils down to creating relevant, quality content for your audience.

    When you give out value that is what you will eventually receive.