Sign up for our daily recaps of the ever-changing search marketing landscape.
Content and SEO: Building linkable content
What makes content link-worthy? Columnist Andrew Dennis discusses the qualities that make content easy to promote and share.
In March, Google Search Quality Senior Strategist Andrey Lipattsev stated that Google’s two top ranking factors are content and links.
Content and links have a symbiotic relationship: great content attracts links, and links improve the visibility and popularity of content. However, not all types of content will attract links, and even content types that typically attract links require strategic promotion in order to secure those links.
What makes content linkable?
There are numerous types of content: blog posts, articles, white papers, eBooks, listicles, videos, photographs, case studies and more.
But not all types of content are link-worthy.
It makes sense — different content should serve different purposes (awareness, education, conversion and so on). Therefore, if links are a goal in your marketing strategy, you should have content planned to secure links.
Creating content alone isn’t enough. You can’t build it and expect the links to come. You need a link strategy.
The first step to creating linkable content is to understand why people link on the web. Then, when you’re planning your next piece of content, ask yourself the question, “Why would anyone link to this content?”
Your answer should guide your content promotion strategy.
What makes content link-worthy?
People typically link to content because they find the content useful, entertaining, unique, insightful or valuable.
Another important aspect of link-worthiness worth remembering (that doesn’t necessarily pertain to content format or type) is site, brand and publisher reputation.
Google uses links as a signal of trust in their algorithm because people tend to link to trusted authorities online. Authoritative sites also typically have larger audiences and visibility, making it easier to acquire links. If your site is relatively unknown, you may need to devise a strategy to tap into someone else’s audience to aid your link development efforts.
With that being said, some content formats are more linkable than others, lending themselves more easily to citation, reference and endorsement.
What are some examples of linkable content, and what makes them link-worthy?
One example is a recent study by Moz and BuzzSumo that looked at one million articles to analyze the relationship between shares and links. As seen in the screen shot below, this piece of content has earned 2,866 links from 555 referring domains!
Many of these links are citations, such as this one from Fox News:
Another example of a link-worthy piece of content is AJ Kohn’s post, “RankBrain Survival Guide.”
In this post, Kohn does an excellent job of explaining RankBrain in simple and plain terms. Because of the quality of the post — and Kohn’s authority as an experienced marketing executive — he’s secured numerous endorsement links. Majestic data shows that Kohn’s post has garnered 799 links from 69 referring domains:
People will also link to content that is authoritative and covers a specific topic in depth when they are referencing said topic. For example, here is an impressive link that Search Engine Land secured on The Washington Post:
The author of this article wanted to reference artificial intelligence in Google’s algorithm, but their post is not about this specific topic. Because Search Engine Land covers the topic better than anyone else, the author referenced their resource, and Search Engine Land earned a link.
Understanding the fundamental reasons people link is critical to creating link-worthy content. The starting point to craft linkable content is to determine the various reasons that someone might link, and then build those reasons into the content.
Promoting content for links isn’t rocket science; it’s good planning. You don’t have to be (as) creative with outreach if you’re strategic before content creation.
There are a number of ways to build link-worthiness into content planning:
- original research/data;
- expert opinions/quotes;
- collaboration; and
- unique imagery/video.
Building link-worthiness into content planning — before creating content — will make promotion simple and straightforward.
One of the best types of content for securing links is original research.
Original data earns links because it provides unique information that cannot be attained anywhere else. This means any time a website wants to cite information from your study, they have literally only one source to link to: you.
Research is inherently linkable because it is backed by data rather than opinion, making it a natural source of citation (links) from others. As you plan your content strategy, you should consider a new study or test.
Of course, unique research shouldn’t be done for the sake of content and links alone. The research should serve a greater purpose: revealing insightful information for your company, providing value across your entire industry and/or answering questions vital to your audience. Research projects are more than a content initiative; they’re a business investment.
Obtaining original research and data isn’t easy. Gathering the necessary information can take months to complete, so you need to have a firm list of goals and KPIs attached to your study before you begin research.
You need to have answers for all these questions:
- What questions does my study aim to answer?
- Will this data make anybody’s job/life easier?
- Who might be interested in my findings?
- Does my study build upon a previous study or experiment?
- What is my hypothesis for how the test will unfold?
- What if the data is different from what I expect?
You should also plan several different content possibilities and angles when it comes to original research, because you won’t have control over the results.
If you have a content plan (and contingencies) in place before you launch a study — and you invest the time and effort in collecting accurate data — the original research you gather will help you secure relevant links.
Example content: Are Links Still a Powerful Ranking Factor? (New Study) by Eric Enge
Eric Enge’s study on links as a ranking factor is a perfect example of how original research can fuel a linkable asset. This study earned Stone Temple Consulting 2,503 links from 199 referring domains.
That included this great link on PCWorld:
Featuring expert insight is another option for building strategic, link-earning content.
Expert perspectives add legitimacy to your content and tap into the audiences of those experts. This makes your content more authoritative and broadens your audience, both of which improve your ability to secure links.
Be selective in who you choose to include. You should take the time to connect with influencers who are qualified and willing to share their personal experiences and insight. Real-life experiences offer more actionable takeaways than tips or best practices.
Drawing out these stories usually takes more than a cold email. You need to build real connections. You should also share your content plan and goals with them and explain why your piece will genuinely benefit the greater community.
Jon Cooper of Point Blank SEO put together one of the best link-building roundups in the SEO industry. Cooper contacted 50+ legitimate experts from around the industry and asked for their stories on the most creative ways they’ve seen links secured.
Cooper combined excellent design and actionable advice to create an awesome link-worthy asset.
This roundup post has acquired 3,157 links from 189 referring domains!
Partnering with other businesses on a content initiative is also an effective method to create link-worthy content.
During your content planning process, construct a list of potential partners and map out shared interests and audiences. Once you select a suitable partner, conduct audience research to discover which major pain points your overlapping audience is struggling with, and create content around that topic.
Similar to featuring expert insight, collaboration with other industry leaders allows you to tap into a broader audience (again, increasing your number of link prospects). Collaboration also all but guarantees you will receive links from those you’re working with, thereby strengthening your relationship.
Building positive connections in your industry also offers benefits beyond links, including:
- future promotional support;
- improved industry reputation;
- new partnership opportunities;
- brand development;
- referral business; and
- increased authority.
Working with others pools your resources to create something beyond what either of you can create alone, often resulting in content that is truly best-in-class for your niche, as well as extremely link-worthy. You’ll also benefit from double the promotional efforts, as your collaborative partner has a vested interest in the success of the content.
Of course, you have to host the content on your own site to benefit from the links (from an SEO standpoint). As part of your planning process, you need to consider what value your potential partner(s) will receive from collaborating: future content from you, exposure to your audience, future collaborative projects and so on.
A great example of a successful collaborative project — and one that earned a large number of links — is Brian Dean’s study of one million search results and the ranking factors behind them.
Brian Dean collaborated with a number of people and companies to create this content.
Because Dean was able to pool his resources with these other fine folks, he was able to secure a wealth of links to his site, Backlinko.
Brian’s post earned 7,376 links from 789 unique referring domains.
Images and other visual content are often more linkable than dry, text-only content.
During content ideation, consider how to inject visual elements into your content to make it more valuable and link-worthy. Some different ways imagery can add value are:
- Humor. Memes and GIFs help you connect with your audience on a human level, making your content more relatable.
- Visually striking. Breathtaking photography will often earn links itself, if the imagery is powerful enough.
- Charts/graphs. Humans are visual learners, and charts and graphs help people better understand the information in your content.
- Screen shots. Real screen shots lend validity to your content, often making abstract concepts more tangible.
Along with images, adding video to your content increases its value.
Video provides another medium for your audience to access your content and helps you reach segments of your audience who would rather watch than read. As mobile devices become more ingrained in our lives and mobile usage continues to grow, video content will be important, as people may not want to read long, text-heavy blog posts.
Supporting your content with images and video is a value-add that makes your content more link worthy.
Example content: Whiteboard Friday by Moz
When I think about successful video content, Moz’s Whiteboard Friday series quickly comes to mind.
Moz has done an incredible job of building a following and community, and their community appears to enjoy video content; Whiteboard Friday is one of Moz’s most popular features.
These videos are also very linkable — Moz’s Whiteboard Friday page has 6,409 links from 380 different referring domains.
How will you use the information above to create link-worthy content? Feel free to sound off on social media!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.