The Medium Is The Message In Link Building

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan proposed the idea “that media itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study.” He said that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself. He gave examples of various popular media forms of the time, describing ways in which people would react to the content presented. Back then, as hard as it is for some of you youngsters to believe, a movie was something that you watched from beginning to end.

We didn’t have video clips on YouTube, DVD players, pause and rewind in the privacy of our living rooms. A movie also gave off numerous visual clues that could be obtained through passive viewing, requiring very little effort on the part of the viewer in order to understand what was being presented.In contrast to this, comics required more active participation as a reader would be forced to glean little bits of background information from the drawings, the words of the characters, and subtext.

I hope you can see where I’m going with this. Links are built through various methods, all of which are affected by very different aspects of their medium. In order to win at each one, it’s critical to see how understanding the active/passive components and using different techniques that are appropriate for your method can help you build better quality (and more) links.

Content writing

First of all, there’s the good old-fashioned content method. You write a piece that naturally attracts inbound links. This is a passive method for the writer, but an active method for the reader, which means that it must be engaging and easy to follow. No one wants to read the same paragraph twice to figure out what you’re trying to say, whether it’s online or in print. In fact, with the average attention span of a web user being somewhat low (to put it nicely) creating quality content that attracts links means getting to the point but doing so in a unique way.

Aim for the reader to be able to passively absorb your content. Who wants to waste time reading something that’s been read numerous times before? To help make sure that your content is easily readable and absorbable (and linkable) it’s always good to write a quick outline of your piece, whether beforehand or after you write it. If you can’t easily generate an outline of your ideas, you might want to rethink your approach.

Asking, begging, and possibly pleading

Secondly, there’s the proactive pursuit of inbound links. You ask, you beg, you might whine or offer a form of compensation. This is a very active method. In order to succeed here, you not only need to have something worth linking to of course, but you also have to choose and use, proven methods for approaching webmasters and alerting them to your content. If you don’t keep up with the latest in the industry, this is going to be much harder.

Also, from my experience using emailed link requests, even though you have your method (email) you still have numerous factors to consider, as each niche has its own unique aspects. Using an email to ask for a link to your site that sells educational products for young children is going to be very different from using an email to get a gambling link. Your language is going to be different, as your targets are very different, and what you have to offer (good content and useful products in this case) may easily be enough to get you that link.

In certain competitive niches, asking alone may not work. Some webmasters would prefer to discuss a link on the phone, and some will want to IM you. There has been a lot published recently about how well a simple phone call works in establishing enough trust to generate a quality inbound link. Even though we now have new methods of reaching out, the old ones do still work.


Thirdly, there is linkbait. Linkbait is particularly interesting here because of the manner in which it can be best presented. Is it video? Is it a content piece? Is it something else? Using all of this as a guideline, you can easily see that a video that you shoot, one that is designed to garner inbound links, might be a better medium than a piece of content depending upon the topic. If it’s something very physical and funny, for example, a video might work better. Let’s say that you have a very irreverent sense of humor that doesn’t always come across in writing. If your viewers are able to read your expression and those of others in the video, your humor might come across more easily. Maybe I should start producing all of my blog posts in video format…

Linkbaiting is both passive and active. In producing linkbait in your desired form, you could just let it sit there and wait for the links to roll in, which is passive, but in order to really succeed, you have to take an active approach and do the asking/begging/pleading bits. This is where social media is very useful. Social media is also both passive and active. Some people are content to observe but if you really want people to pay attention, you have to be an active participant. Speaking personally, I’m sometimes overwhelmed with information on Twitter for example, and if I have ten minutes to spare, those ten minutes will be spent clicking on links from users that I trust and interact with, not users who just throw out links nonstop without ever taking part in a conversation with me (or anyone else.)

To conclude, I’d like to say that while this probably does sound fairly obvious to many of you, it certainly isn’t to everyone out there. (I know, because I get loads of crappy emailed link requests myself.) Link building can definitely be done without much thought, but it will be done very, very poorly if you choose to ignore the basics and then the results, if you see any, won’t last.

It’s kind of like yoga, if I may liken link building to one more thing. You do the poses and that’s great, but without thinking about your breathing and your movements, you won’t get the full benefits.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building | Link Building: General | Link Building: Linkbait | Link Week Column


About The Author: owns the link development firm Link Fish Media and is one of the founding members of the SEO Chicks blog.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • rosacrouch

    I do not really get how exactly you connect the McLuhanian probe of the technological determinism of media to linkbuilding? Yes, there are different types of connecting the medium that is internet, which is an illustration of the medium’s features. And different types of acquisition lead to different ways in which the consumer interacts with the medium. But.
    Well, just but. I can’t really distinguish a very clear or meaningful connection between the concept of the medium as the message and the practice of linkbuilding. (There might be a really cool one, but to me it’s not quite obvious.) And I am a big fan of McLuhan.

  • Julie Joyce

    Well it’s a stretch isn’t it? Like anything else…the concept is basically that links can be built through various methods, all of which have different aspects to consider based upon their inherent foundation. Using video for linkbait is different than simply writing good content and hoping you get some links. Watching a video and reading content are very different, so if you were link building and assumed that you could apply the same methods for one to the other, I don’t think you’d be all that successful.

  • Julie Joyce

    BTW I feel like I’m in Annie Hall right now…


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide