How To Research, Create And Distribute Highly-Linkable Content

Without an ordered approach, careful research and custom tools, it can be difficult for link builders, writers and content strategists to know what content will attract links in a target market.

Here, we’ll provide a process and tools for developing and distributing linkable content, based on the content that has proven to attract links in your target keyword space. You should be able to answer these questions using the accompanying tools for your market:

  • What content topics receive the most links?
  • What are the attributes of the most-linked content?
  • Who is the “linking audience” of your keyword space?
  • Who links the most frequently to content in your keyword space?
  • What are the attributes of mid-linkable content?
  • What reoccurring topics and themes suggest possible content directions?
  • What content is missing (eg: top 10 or 100 lists, resource collections)?
  • Who links to topics similar to content you’ve already created?

Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to begin the linkable content research phase. In this article, we investigate the link building content space using two keywords: [link building] and [link building blog]. Though we’re pretty familiar with the space, we’re going to approach it as if we were not.

Here are the tools we recommend for this exercise:

Process for gathering linkable content data for analysis

Read through the process first and then follow along from home with your Linkable Content Analysis Worksheet.

Step 1. Identify the top information sources in your keyword space

First, you must identify which content is considered most valuable in your target keyword space. Our [link building] example is fairly simple because so many people have written so much about it. If you’re in a less-discussed content space, you may need to look at more keywords, or perhaps look at more informational keyword phrases [how to + target keywords].

Google search: [link building] Google search: [link building blog]

You could also use the URL and Hostname Occurrence Counter Tool on the SERPs of resource oriented queries for finding more of your top info sources. Further, we’ve used the blogrolls of highly-prominent bloggers as a starting point for analysis of unfamiliar spaces. The goal here is to find your industry’s most prominent, important and trusted resources.

Step 2. Extract resources from the Top 20 results

Next, you’ll need to extract non-salesy resource URLs and hostnames from the top 20 results. You’re looking for how-to resources, thought pieces, entertainment pieces – anything that’s ranking and doesn’t have a “buy now” button on it (unless of course, you’re investigating highly-linkable product pages).

Capture both sub-pages and hostname results from the resources you find. Any sub-page titles and URLs can go right in your worksheet. Use SEO for Firefox to find and record inbound link count to these pages into sheet 2, the Highly-Linked Content sheet.

For each of these sub-pages (and only the sub pages, we don’t want site-wide inbound links here) export the inbound links as detected by Yahoo. Paste these inbound links into the “link tank” sheet of the Linkable Content Worksheet (sheet 4).

Also, be sure to copy and paste out the hostname of the sub-pages that appear. For example, the URL for Aaron Wall’s How to Build Links Fast: 101 Tips & Strategies (#1 for [link building]) looks like this: You’d want to record that URL on sheet 2, and the hostname, onto sheet 3.

Copy the hostnames into sheet 3 – they need more processing.

Step 3. Identifying linkable content from the top resource domains

Take your top hostnames and explore them with Yahoo Site Explorer (YSE). In our experience, YSE shows pages from sites *roughly* in the order of the number of links that they have acquired. In a new tab, open up 10 or 15 pages that appear high in the list and that have promising titles.

For example, here’s Debra Mastaler’s old blog in YSE. The second page listed is her classic Help! I’m New, I Need Links, What Can I Do? post. Using the SEO Toolbar, we can see clearly that this particular page has 260 inbound links. This article is clearly a giant of the link building content space and so title, URL and inbound link count all went into our work sheet. Next, we export the 260 inbound linkers to her article and paste them into sheet 4 – many of these links are from people who appreciate high quality content, and we want to get to know them better.

From the first page of YSE for Ms. Mastaler’s blog, we can see a number of articles – to keep this exercise manageable by hand, we only selected the top 10 or so. For more thorough linkable content analysis, you could go to 20, 30, or even export the top 1000 results into a TSV file if you’ve got the tools, time and talent to handle that much data.

To reiterate: copy title, URL and inbound link count into sheet 2 of the Linkable Content Analysis Work Sheet. Copy inbound links (only inbound links) to that URL, excluding the domain itself – into sheet 4, the link tank.

Repeat hostname analysis with YSE until you’ve worked through your list of hostnames (from sheet 3) that appeared in the top 20 results for your keywords.

Linkable content analysis and strategy creation

Once you’ve gathered your highly-linked content and the pages that link to it in the Linkable Content Analysis Worksheet, you can begin the work of identifying your linking audience and charting out your content creation strategy.

What topics receive the most links?

When you sort your Linkable Content Analysis Worksheet based on number of inbound links, you’ll easily determine the “big head” of linkable content. We put 58 pages into our Linkable Content Analysis Worksheet based on the two searches above, along with the processes outlined. The top 5 most-linked content breaks down like this:

(Congrats, Wiep…you showed up twice!)

Now, even if we were new to the industry, we’d know some of the most-linkable documents within its keyword space.

What are attributes of the highest-linkable content?

What exactly makes these 5 articles the most-linked articles within the keyword space of [link building] and [link building blog]? That’s the question of a good linkable-content strategist! While we have our own ideas based on our experience in link building and SEO content in general, here are some things you could measure if you were new to a space:

  • Core topic
  • Number of words
  • Reading level of content
  • Embedded media (images, video, podcast, etc…)
  • Outbound links on the page? Are they reciprocal?
  • Scope/thoroughness of content
  • Information structure (top 10 list, “ultimate guide,” info aggregation, etc…)
  • Apparent target audience
  • Apparent target audience skill level (basic or advanced?)
  • What stage of the buy cycle does it target?

Look for patterns that might be significant for your space. For example, when it comes to link building content, it appears that having large numbers in the title may incite links. These large numbers (101 and 69) further indicate that the linking audience for this content prefers thorough coverage, and a quick read shows this to be true. A quick comparison of word count for each of the top-linked pages shows an average of over 4000 words per article, with 2000-3000 being the most represented. That’s a lot of words for one article.

We would not recommend that everyone begin writing content pages that are 3000 words long. But we would recommend that everyone check out the attributes of highly-linkable content in their keyword space (including but not limited to word count) and consider that as a starting point.

Who is the “linking audience” of your keyword space?

By now, sheet 4 of your Link Qualification Worksheet should contain a powerful audience of inbound linkers – people who link to specific, high value sub-pages and not just the home page. Begin looking for opportunities to build relationships with the owners/operators of these sites. Ideally, they become a vital part of how you distribute your content and build links.

Your opportunities may look like:

  • Guest posts (note: this article is a “guest post” on SEL)
  • Blogroll link requests, blogroll link exchanges
  • Add to RSS for comment conversation participation
  • Contributions to existing resource pages
  • Contributions to email newsletter
  • Distribution through Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg, Etc…

For more thorough link prospect qualification, follow the process outlined in “Qualifying Link Prospects for Relevance, Value and Potentiality.”

Who links the most frequently to content in your keyword space?

Conduct a host name co-occurrence analysis of your inbound linking URLs from sheet 4 using the Hostname Occurrence Tool. Paste your results into sheet 5.

The sites that occur the most frequently are the sites that link out most often to highly linkable content. Those with a higher value as measured by the Link Qualification Worksheet and that demonstrate a high propensity for linking typically represent the most important sites for establishing a relationship. Sites that link frequently but don’t display a high value metric may be sources of quick and easy links that may not convey much search influence.

What are attributes of mid-linkable content?

Now remember, not all of your content needs to be a grand slam, or even a home run. Base hits are great. In our quick survey, we found 58 highly-linked URLs. By grouping and evaluating the mid-level players, it’s possible to identify a “linkable-enough” level of content, as well as a “core linking audience.”

Consider this: the top 5 most-linked articles will have links from sites not typically interested in link building. The sites linking to the top 5 will be less likely to link to other link building resources especially if they are more narrowly focused. The sites linking to articles with more moderate levels of inbound links are likely to represent a “core linking audience” of link building.

Our inquiry into 10 mid-linkable link building resources with 100 links or less showed and Search Engine Land, along with a high frequency of bookmarking and social sharing sites at the top, so not super fruitful unless you’re looking for social sharing and bookmarking sites.

What reoccurring topics and themes suggest possible content directions?

By spending some time with your Linkable Content Analysis Worksheet you can begin to tease out some potential article topics. What’s wonderful is that a) part of your research for the article is already done for you and b) once the article is done you’ll know exactly which sites to approach to share your new content and request links.

Based on our quick survey data, we identified a few topic trends, or reoccurring topics and themes. You can do this simply by looking at the titles. A more thorough dig would mean reading and categorizing all the highly-linked content in your space. We highly advise this.

Here are some examples of reoccurring topics we could now use for creating adjunct content, trump content, follow up commentary, etcetera.

Link bait

Directory analysis

Assessing Site Linkability

When you pick the topic of your next article, create a Link Qualification Worksheet and add in all the pages linking to the resources that you use and cite. Further, let’s say we wrote an article on link bait. We could start with collecting inbound links to the link bait articles we found above, but then conduct some searches on [link bait] and [link bait guide] and gather backlinks to any high-ranking subpages. This article would look something like: 17 Ways to Accelerate Links to Your Link Bait (and Other Highly Linkable Content).

What content is missing?

Finding “missing link” content is easier if you have a good editorial sense and/or you know a space well. If you’re starting with content expertise in the woodworking space and want to create highly-linkable content in, say, the link building space, perhaps you’d begin with an article on link building tips for woodworking magazines (or forums, blogs, etc.).

If the content/keyword space you are investigating lacks massive numbers (100 ways; 1,000 tips…) then perhaps this could be a good direction too. Also, check if anyone has extensively aggregated the top resources in your space. Now that you’ve done all this research, you’re pretty well positioned to do so. Keep your eyes open and work to aggregate or trump what’s proven to attract links elsewhere in the space.

Ideally, the unique, informative content you’re creating also helps to sell a product or service your company offers. Can your content differentiate along the lines of your products and services? We think so.

Who links to topics similar to content you’ve already created?

If you’ve already created a body of content, look for article or content titles that suggest some similarity to yours. Visit the pages and see for yourself. Can your content compete on linkability? Further, does your content provide good counterpoint, or fill in missing material or viewpoints? If you think so, begin commenting, emailing or even calling linkers to simliar content and let them know that there’s more to the story.

Finally, for distribution, reach out to the sites that link frequently to top content in your space. Wiep puts outreach very nicely in The Perfect Link Request Email Template.

What’s missing from this article is a broader look at content marketing and how informative content can help you reach business goals. This article could compliment the research process for any content strategists seeking to add value to their content by making it more linkable and distributable by a target audience.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | How To: Links | Link Week Column


About The Author: is co-founder of Ontolo, a link building agency and co-author of, which leads motivated readers through the methods and processes of large-scale, crawler-based link research, link acquisition and linker-targeted content strategy.

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  • Eric Ward

    Garrett, this is far too good to just give away. But I’m glad you did. Great stuff! The process you describe will be effective in many verts, but not all. I’d also augment YSE with additional data. The challenge I’ve had with this has always been educating the client as to why this type of approach is best, and even then many clients still just want a quick fix. A few years ago I added the word etiologic to the description of my processes on my site. People ask me what the heck it means, and I share my approach and beliefs in understanding the origins, pathways, causes and effects of content and links, links and content. But I still feel sometimes like I’m talking to a brick wall. Your column here helped me feel better, so thank you :)


  • nickstamoulis

    Hi Garrett, This is an excellent approach and it makes perfect sense. I really enjoyed the examples that you linked to as well, each of those posts provided excellent information too…I will be sure to pass along your post to clients that sometimes look at me like I have 3 heads when I conduct this type of research :o)

  • Garrett French

    Thank you! We’re excited about this new process – it has really streamlined our linkable content creation AND the distribution and outreach portion.

    I agree also that this process won’t work in all verticals – it’s especially useful in high-passion consumer verticals (outdoors, any DIY) and passionate B2B verticals that have embraced content marketing (SEO, for example ;).

    For B2B spaces without deep content we’ve had to dig much deeper for solid, citation-worthy content, and our methods of link counting and occurrence counting aren’t as likely to float up the best content in a keyword space. The process of identifying missing content and seeing linkable content opportunities are similar though.

    Regarding quick-fix mentality… I’m with you. My belief is that organizations should be creating highly-linkable content on a weekly/monthly basis, sending it out in an email newsletter and working to distribute it through whatever social media channels are used in their industry.

    I’m glad this article and process could be the etiology of better feelings – the process owes a great deal to YSE. Without knowing the link count to individual pages rather than an entire site we’d have a much more difficult time identifying what specific types of content are successful in a given keyword space.

    Regarding YSE augmentation – we’ve also looked at # of delicious bookmarks to a page as a measure of its impact and value within a space. Would you mind sharing other indicators that you’ve found useful? :D

    I sometimes overworry about being overreferrential when using link building content as an example. I’m glad that the highly-linkable link building content we found proved valuable to you :) I hope this article will help your clients relax and pay attention to the DATA ;)

  • tomshark

    Garrett, This is the best post I’ve read on link building in a long time. You asked questions that most of us are asking and then outlined a workable strategy to achieve one of the most elusive goals of content developers.

    I particularly liked your answer to “What are attributes of the highest-linkable content?” because you provided clear aspects to measure for most keyword markets.

    I’m interested to see how many links this piece gets!

  • Garrett French

    Thanks for reading, and I appreciate your kind words… We work hard on our internal link building processes and tools – it’s great validation to hear that they’re helpful to others. I’d value an email with links to any content you create and distribute using this method – and especially any variations on the process you discover!

  • bigmastiq

    Hi Garrett,
    I found this great article a week ago and I just said wow when I saw it. Perfectly done :) Then I decided to try this method for the vertical I work in – money transfers, competing with paypal, WU, moneygram, etc. Even for how to [keyword] searched the top 20 results are mainly commercial sites offering money transfers. There’s also some ranking guides that show with 2-3 links, sometimes with even 0 links just because they come from super trusted domains with gazillions of links. How should I proceed here, as I cannot identify highly linkable content? If we keep posting the same boring stuff on the company blog we would never attract the links we need.


  • Garrett French

    @bigmastiq yowza, that’s an interesting problem… you’re definitely fighting with some giants there. Congrats on blogging… that can often be a difficult first step to link building :)

    The first thing I thought of was checking Digg:

    There’s actually some interesting content showing up there… Some political, some “investigative” etc… but what this search shows you is that there IS HOPE for money transfer related content ;)

    (note – I cribbed this check-digg idea from Neal Rodriguez you could also look at Reddit or other social media sites for other examples)

    Another thought I’m having – without researching, so forgive me if this is off base – is looking at your target markets and identifying what media they’re reading. If they’re into the Personal Finance space for example, then maybe something that compares the costs of all the major money transfer sites, or tips for getting the best deals on money transfers.

    I would also look at different segments of your market who conduct money transfers. For example, if there are lots of college students who transfer money, write an extensive guide that’s targeted towards their needs. Then look for .edus that have mentioned money transfers, and other college student finance-related sites. These could be good prospects.

    But… getting back to research-based methods… :) I would definitely go and aggregate backlinks to money transfer FAQs at your competitors using YSE. Though many of these will be crap links from spam sites, you may stumble upon some consistent, legitimate content needs out there that may not be answered.

    You’re definitely in a tough space – good luck and, if you get a chance, let me know how you proceed!



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