SEO seems like it's constantly changing, and that's because it is. However, some things have not really changed much at all. For instance, links remain a significant part of the algorithms for both Google and Bing. Most of the search terms you might want to rank for likely have thousands of, or even more, competitors, and links are a big part of helping the search engines know who to rank first.
You know that you need to get some links, but how do you get started? And how do you do the right things so Google does not penalize you?
The essential first insight is that Google wants links to be "editorially given." What that means is that they are not compensated (i.e. paid for), and it's not simply you going to some web site and implementing a link to yourself. Google tries hard to detect non-editorial links, and discount them. In addition, if you do too much of this, they may simply penalize you.
Google wants links to be like academic citations, similar to the ones you might find at the bottom of a professor's research paper:
These types of citations are generally given to the papers by other people whom the professor leveraged in their research. Nobody paid to get these placements, and it worked on a pure merit system. You could figure out which research papers were the most important by seeing which ones got referenced the most, and also which ones were referenced in the most important papers. This is the basic concept of how the linkgraph is supposed to work.
In the early days of SEO, we focused on link building, but for too many people this led them down a path of acquiring lots of links that Google thought of as manipulative. For that reason, these days we focus more on the notion of content marketing, which is meant to suggest a more holistic approach. With this in mind, here is a set of rules that you can use to guide your initial efforts into content marketing for your site.
1. Start by Thinking in Terms of Traditional PR and Marketing: High-quality content marketing is all about being holistic (i.e. not manipulative). Traditional marketing and PR, for which link building was not a consideration, focused on building relationships with media, bloggers, and industry analysts (influencers). This initial mindset is a great place to start.
The reason is that traditional PR and marketing focus on building your reputation and visibility. The best content marketing campaigns do too, and this differentiates them from poor-quality link building campaigns.
2. Create Unique, High Quality Content to Attract Links: Nothing else you do will be enough if you don't get this point right. Give people something worth linking to. I can't emphasize unique enough! If you have built the 25,324th site covering a given topic, what are you going to do to make it unique?
Forget about SEO for a second and think of it this way: Let's say you open a new pizza parlor and there are five others in your city within four blocks of you. Why is someone going to come into yours? Are you going to create new specialty pizzas? Are you going to organize a major charity event for a popular cause? Will you offer some crazy discount promotion? You know you have to do something, and not just once.
Gaining market share in that situation is going to very tough. So it is on the web as well, where your goal is to create mindshare. You need to create content that stands out to attract links. Doing that may be a tough problem, but you have to solve it, or else your SEO will fail.
3. Think Quality Over Quantity: Too many people fall into the trap of thinking that they need tons of links. It's more about quality over quantity. Remember that PR/marketing mindset from point 1 above? Let me share a thought to frame it for you. One very high-quality link can be worth 1 million times more to your site than a poor-quality link.
That's right — if you pursue easy-to-get, low-quality links, you might need to get 1 million of them to get the same boost you would get from one very high-quality link. Which one of those sounds easier? By the way, it's also the process of gathering up tons of low-quality links that puts you at risk of getting a penalty.
How do we define quality? Take it all in context. If you are a local pizza parlor, a link from the local newspaper is a very high-quality link. As a general rule of thumb, think of it as links from web sites that have many of your potential customers visiting them. If you are part of a large national brand, the bar for what makes a quality link is quite a bit higher.
4. Use a Mixed Strategy of Publishing on Your Site and on Other People's Sites: Consider offering content to third party sites as a way to build your reputation and visibility. This is powerful because it's one way to get in front of your potential customers on other people's sites. This is the concept of leveraging "other people's audiences."
This helps you with your reputation and visibility, and may even drive direct business. In addition, this type of content often results in a direct link back to your site in the process. If this is on an authoritative site, that's a good thing!
Then, you should also make sure that you have great content on your site, as it will give them a reason to go directly to your site next time, and it will help your site attract links as well.
5. Leverage Partnerships with Established Players: Another way to get in front of other people's audiences is to partner with other businesses or influencers to create content. Can you create a joint survey with someone? Co-host an event? Jointly author an article for a major blog or media site? Do a research study?
Partnering is a great tactic because your partner is likely to help promote the resulting content. They may link to it from their site (or you may even publish it on their site with an attribution link to your site), they may promote it on social media, and these things are good for you.
If you are just starting out, you may need to do more, or all, of the work, but if you have more to gain, that's perfectly OK. If they are the right partner, just do it. Establishing these partnerships requires that you bring real value to the table.
6. Leverage Social Media to Increase Exposure to Your Content: Social media accounts act like a built-in PR channel. If you have established a strong social media presence, then it can be a real driver of content marketing programs that drive links to your site.
If you don't have a strong social media presence, then consider paid social media. This costs some money, but you can get pretty targeted with your social media advertising. The bottom line is that this is another way to get in front of new audiences and drive exposure to your content.
Just make sure the content you are promoting this way is really solid. You don't want to spend money on a campaign if the content you are promoting is not truly of high value. You would simply be wasting money!
7. Measure Progress: Make sure you are checking progress on a regular basis. Progress can be measured many ways, including:
Some of these metrics may move slowly, as is likely the case with the organic search traffic, but they are all important to measure and track. This will allow you to see which content is resonating most with your audience, and which brings you the best results.
8. Be Patient, Be Persistent: Content marketing is not a short game. You need to be patient, as it will take time. Six months is a reasonable time period to expect to wait before seeing initial results, and then the real solid upside will take a year or more for most of you. It's true that in rare cases you can get an early hit, but you should not count on that unless you are able to come up with something that is highly innovative and very popular.
This is why step 7, measurement, is so important. Learning what works, what doesn't, tweaking the plan, and evolving on a continual basis are critical to your long-term success.
Links remain an integral part of Google and Bing's algorithms. They help identify the most important web pages to rank for given search terms. In today's environment, a holistic approach to obtaining those links is essential. Doing content marketing the right way is the best way to get such links. Use the above eight-step plan to get you heading down the right path.
You can read more about how to get started with content marketing here.