Link Building vs. Link Marketing: What’s The Difference?

Many people think of link building as purely an SEO endeavor. You build links to improve rank. I’ll argue this is the wrong way to think about link building, but not here in today’s column. I’ve accepted that when people use the phrase link building, chances are the word Google is not far from coming up. So be it.

Link marketing is related to link building, but it’s a far more tactical and nuanced approach to the process. People often use the terms link building and link marketing interchangeably, but that doesn’t do justice to either term. If I’m not mistaken, it was Debra Mastaler that first coined the term link marketing.

How does link marketing differ from link building?

In several ways, and the easiest way to explain one is to provide an example. I can’t give away a specific client’s tactics, so this a fictional example, but using two real companies with websites. If anyone from those two companies happen to find this post, you are both welcome to use this strategy if you like it. Or, if you want to comment on why it’s good, bad, or impossible, I’d welcome your feedback.


Imagine you are You are a specialist e-commerce site offering thousands of  archery products. That’s a lot of products in a specialized vertical.

Now, imagine you are mega-store Bass Pro Shops. You also sell archery products, but it’s an extremely  small part of your business. Keyword search “archery”, and it looks like Bass Pro has about 900 archery products.

So what could these two sites possibly offer each other?

Link marketing.

How many times a week around the U.S. does someone buy an archery product online from Bass Pro Shops? Given that these two sites don’t compete at all for any archery product Bass Pro doesn’t carry, if the marketing folks at both sites could get over their fear, they might find common ground.

What if, when I buy one of those 900 archery products from Bass Pro Shops, there was a link in my confirmation email to that said something like:

For your specialized archery equipment needs, try

I can hear the marketing folks screaming, “NO WAY!” Why should we use our email confirmations to send people to another store? Well, because your sending them to a store that sells things you do not sell, based on a purchase the customer already made from you. You have little to lose and a lot to gain. Those email confirmations are gold. The links within could be golden.

You could sell those links to or, instead of being greedy, you might propose a swap. The site 3riversarchery probably sends out email confirmations as well. Far fewer than Bass Pro Shops, but that misses the point. Every single shopper at is a prospect for Bass Pro Shops, because of the variety of gear Bass Pro sells. But it’s only the buyer of archery equipment at Bass Pro Shops that cares about, because that’s their vertical specialty.

You tell me. If you are, what’s a link to your site worth inside a confirm email from Bass Pro Shops to a person who just bought archery equipment? Think about that for a minute.

My hunch is the recipient is going to be very receptive to that  link.

Conversely, if you just bought something at 3riversarchery, your email confirmation could include the note:

Visit Bass Pro Shops Clearance Section on the web for great deals on all Bass Pro’s outdoor gear.

Argue about how sending customers to another site is bad business, but the reality for any online stores is that while they might compete with each other in some areas, if they recognize where they are complimentary and are smart about how they implement this strategy, there is more to gain than lose.

They key to this link marketing strategy I call “recognition of compliment.” Maybe my above example is too grandiose. Maybe Bass Pro is too big for this to make it through corporate. But what about the thousands of smaller stores on the web that compliment each other?  Forget reciprocal links or banner ads for a moment. Warehouse Skateboards and Stewarts Surfboards? and Jeffers Equine?

Could there be a business to be built playing matchmaker for this one type of link marketing?

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via

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  • edeb

    Now look Eric, I’ve heard about giving great value in a post, but this is ridiculous. A solid idea for an existing business and a good idea for a new one? What am I going to do with all this value!

  • mlfsolutions

    Link Marketing seems great in theory. However, in practice day-to-day business the application could be extremely tricky, difficult to implement particularly if both companies have some common products even though one company may sell something the other does not sell.

    There may be some issues such as repeated customers,market share, low pricing or discount for common products. I see more downsides than benefits.

    I could only see a benefit if they sell completely two different products like one sells shoes and the other clothes.
    It is a concept which needs to rethink.
    Leon F

  • BWmarketingdesign

    Wow! You are ahead of your time. This is thinking outside of the box and could be profitable for both companies. This would take a very progressive company like Google to accept this as part of a marketing campaign. I would be more then happy to pay you for sending links (business) to me. I offer Internet Marketing services, but my clients are not the level of business that would work with Search Engine Land. In reality I am not the only one that would take you up on the offer. Now the new question is who do you send links to and is it exclusive?

  • Weblotion

    Great! If these two companies would belong to the same equity holding they would act like this.


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