This quote gets recycled a lot to suppose a specific premise: that if you do something well enough, it will naturally attract people. If you create an amazing ice cream stand, people will flock to buy your ice cream. If you build a baseball diamond with ghosts of great players, I bet you’ll have plenty of people buying tickets.
And if you create content that’s truly valuable, you should naturally attract links.
That’s the concept behind link earning, but the mechanics are a bit more nuanced.
Let’s explore them.
Link Building: A Dangerous Game?
First, a refresher. Search engine optimization (SEO) is contingent upon PageRank, Google’s algorithmic system for determining page quality. The more links you have pointing to your site, the higher your authority will be, and the easier it will be to rank for relevant search queries.
In other words, you need links to climb ranks.
In the early days of SEO, you could build links however you wanted, spamming them in everything from forum comments to link circles. Not anymore.
Ever since the Penguin update (and even a little before), Google has made a concentrated effort to penalize people who would abuse their link-measuring system in such a blatant way.
Modern link building strategies prioritize building links that seem natural, constructing them in a way that mimics a realistic form of link inclusion, like citing an article in the context of a guest post.
But why would you try so hard to mimic a natural link, risking a penalty, when you could just… earn a natural link?
Link Earning in a Nutshell
Link earning is basically what it sounds like.
The idea is to write content so informative, so valuable, and so cool, that people in your industry can’t help but link to it. They’ll want to cite your facts, reference your opinions, and even send their readers to your site so they can learn more.
The more links you earn, the more value you’ll get, both in terms of higher domain authority/SEO and in terms of inbound traffic.
And if your content is good enough, you can truly accomplish this—with a couple of important caveats.
The Pros and Cons of Link Earning
Like any marketing approach, link earning is imperfect.
Link earning has a few qualities that make it a valuable addition to your SEO strategy:
Safe. If you don’t have any hand in constructing new links, you can’t possibly be held accountable for conducting a link scheme.In other words, link earning is safe.If you’re especially concerned about the possibilities of a Google penalty, or if you just want to build your SEO dominance as safely as possible, link earning could be the approach for you.
Convenient. You should be writing good content no matter what. It’s a brilliant marketing strategy by itself, and it’s necessary if you want to strengthen your onsite authority and optimize for keywords.In some ways, it’s possible to use link earning as an incidental strategy. If you keep focusing on content quality, with some extra attention to promotion, the links should come rolling in.
Hands-off. You’re not the one making citations, writing offsite content, or planning a long-term approach. Accordingly, link building is a hands-off strategy.You can get away with not paying anyone and spending less time building links if your strategy relies on link earning.
But there are also some weaknesses you should know about:
Inconsistent. Even the best link earning strategies have inconsistent returns.With one article, you might earn dozens of new links.With the next, you might earn none. Even with consistent quality, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. This makes it hard to account for as the cornerstone of your SEO strategy.
Unpredictable. You’d be amazed what some people will link to. And what some people won’t link to.I’ve had great posts that didn’t get any attention, and half-assed posts that got results. Your guess is as good as mine why this is the case, but some combination of timing, luck, and other impossible-to-measure qualities will have an influence on your bottom-line results.
Reliant on others. Okay, so you don’t have to pay anyone to earn links—but you’re also putting your fate in their hands.If you aren’t getting momentum from link earning, you might be able to write better content or shift your approach, but there’s a limit to how much you can do.
What Makes “Great” Content for Link Earning?
For your link earning strategy to succeed, your content has to be so good that people want to link to it.
But what exactly does that mean?
What kind of content do people want to link to?
These are some “essential” qualities of content that has the power to earn links:
Unique. You could put together a hilarious bad review of the 2019 film Cats, but that’s not exactly a hot take. If there are already 1,000 options to choose from, writers will be far less inclined to link to your piece.The way to overcome this issue is to write something that’s truly unique. Cover a topic that doesn’t get much attention, examine a specific aspect of a topic that gets ignored, or pose an original opinion.
Detailed/robust. A linkable piece of content will be sufficiently detailed, with ample body content. In general, longer posts tend to earn more links, but this isn’t universally true. What’s important is that your work has enough detail to cover the topic as thoroughly as possible—while still remaining concise.
Well-researched. Your post should also be well-researched. You should feature links to other posts in the same field, covering some of the research that has come before yours, and you should acknowledge those opinions in your work. It shows your knowledge, and makes your work more reputable.If possible, you should also include original research—key data points that could be valuable to another person in your industry. Statistics and new facts tend to attract a ton of citations.
Valuable. “Value” is somewhat subjective, but your linkable content should be valuable to someone. That could mean providing information that another writer finds useful, or just getting a laugh out of someone.When people build a link to a piece, they’re saying to their readers, “Hey, check this out!” They won’t take this action unless there’s something really worth seeing.
Specific to an audience. Ideally, your work will also be written for a specific demographic. It’s possible to write “general” content, which could feasibly appeal to a wide variety of people, but in the realm of link earning, relevance is more important than potential audience reach.Make sure you understand your demographics, and customize your content to appeal to them.
Coherent and/or eloquent. Even if you have original research to present, and even if your work could make someone’s job ridiculously easier, your content won’t earn links if it reads like a fourth grader’s book report.Your article doesn’t have to win a Pulitzer prize, but it should show moderate-level mastery of your native language. Everything should be grammatically correct, with no spelling errors or typos, and the sentences should be both comprehensible and easy to read.
And if you’re looking for some bonus points, these qualities can help you earn even more links:
Opinionated.Opinionated or controversial content can be powerful, as long as you’re writing it in a respectful manner. Controversy tends to attract more shares, more comments, and ultimately, more visibility—so whatever you write will get more attention.If people strongly agree with you, they’ll be highly motivated to include a link to your work to pay tribute to you. And even if people strongly disagree with your work, they might link to you out of spite, to show other people how wrong your opinion is.Either way, you’ll get a free link out of the deal, so the joke’s on them.
Multimedia. Written content is ideal for SEO, since you can optimize for lots of keywords and phrases, but adding multimedia elements can help your cause, earn you more readers, and make your content invite more links.Try including more images, videos, or even audio content to spice things up.
Regularly updated. You won’t always need to go back and make edits to your past work, but if the situation demands it, regularly updated content is a sign of investment and competence as a writer.For example, if you wrote something like “the state of paid advertising in 2018,” going back and updating the content could be valuable both to people who have already linked to you and people interested in linking to you in the future.
Making the Push: Earning Links With Syndication and Promotion
That “if you build it, they will come” quote has a major caveat when it comes to online content; even the best online content can get ignored if no one knows it’s there.
For example, you can write the best blog post of all time—the most incredible, exhaustive, funny take on a popular subject—and it still won’t earn you links if nobody knows it exists and nobody reads it.
That’s why your link earning strategy will be dependent on your ability to publicize, promote, and syndicate your content; in other words, you have to make it visible.
There are a few ways you can do this:
Social syndication. The first and easiest approach is to use social syndication; in other words, publicize your works on social media. Make a post to your followers when you have new work available, and regularly repost your older work.For this to be truly effective, you’ll have to pump those follower numbers up—the bigger your audience is, the bigger your syndication reach will be.
Collaboration. It’s also a good idea to collaborate with other content creators. You’ll immediately get the benefit of another writer’s experience and insights mixed in with your own, but the biggest advantage comes after the post is published.If your collaborator is reasonably popular, you’ll basically get some free influencer marketing out of the deal. They’ll be incentivized to popularize the post, and both of you can benefit from it.
Cross-promotion. Exchanging links isn’t a good idea, since link exchanges are frowned upon, but there’s nothing wrong with forming partnerships and cross-promoting each other’s best work.Find some people in your industry and content creators you respect, and tell them about pieces of theirs you love; they’ll likely return the favor and mention some of your best posts to their audience.
External publication. You can use elements of a guest posting strategy to promote and support your best onsite work.For example, let’s say you’ve written a great onsite post about how to build a treehouse. You could make a pitch to an external publisher on the topic of “fun family activities,” and link to your own post as an example.Yes, this is link building, not link earning, but in the process of link building, you’ll improve the visibility and traffic of your most important posts, causing it to earn links. It’s a fantastic feedback loop you’ll want to capitalize on.
Supplemental research. You could also suggest your content to people who are linking to similar work, or who are writing content in your niche.For example, let’s say you have that “treehouse” post, and you notice someone writing about building wooden structures for children. You can reach out to them via social media or another channel to inform them your post would be an excellent addition to the post.
These are just some basic strategies you can use to popularize your content.
Feel free to get creative, and experiment with new angles!
Link Earning as Part of a Bigger Link Building Strategy
Link earning is incredibly valuable, especially because it makes use of the high-quality content you should be creating in any scenario.
However, it’s not perfect.
The best way to use link earning is in conjunction with another, more reliable, more consistent link building strategy—and of course, effort toward onsite optimization.
If your goal is improving your search rankings, you’ll need a comprehensive, multifaceted approach. One that includes a variety of content marketing, link building, and technical optimization strategies. It’s not easy to stitch one together, especially if you’re starting from scratch, but if you commit to consistent improvements over time, eventually you’ll see the results you want.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International.
He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building. Connect with Sam on Linkedin.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building. Connect with Sam on Linkedin.