Why Great Content Isn’t Always Enough to Earn Links

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The importance of content in today’s marketing world should be no surprise to anyone by now. Sometimes, it’s obvious why a brand’s content efforts or a specific piece of content fails to garner any real traction. There is a wealth of lackluster and hastily thrown together content out there that, frankly, doesn’t deserve to get linked to.

Other times, however, high quality content still fails to receive the attention or links that it would seem to deserve. Sometimes, things just don’t seem to add up. Despite metrics like social interaction or web traffic, links still aren’t rolling in. This does not have to be the case, though.

You Built It, so Why Won’t They Come?

If you have great, high quality content, but it still isn’t receiving the links it deserves, then there are other things you need to look at. This will help you to gain a more in-depth understanding of your situation. Only then will you be able to move forward with fixing it.

A major hurdle that stands between many sites with great content and getting links to that content is not having the correct audience. In order for people to actually link to your content, they have to see it in the first place. This is not the only aspect of your audience that matters, though. You also need to attract the right kind of viewers. In terms of receiving links, it doesn’t matter if you have a large audience, or even a great deal of social shares, if it all comes from people that don’t have a site or outlet somewhere to link to you.

One of the biggest reasons why good content still fails to gain links is that many people are still trapped in outdated ways of thinking about SEO. Specifically, the misconceptions about Google’s 2012 Penguin Update still hangs over the internet in ways that are harmful to brands.

Following this update, countless people were quick to proclaim the death of link building as an SEO tactic. But they preached the rise of link earning in its stead. Yes, Penguin dealt a huge (and much needed) blow to what link building looked like at that moment. It penalized cheap and easy link building tactics that delivered little to no value to users.

The concept of link earning is that the quality of your site, product, content, or social following should earn you the links you deserve. Sometimes this is true, and high quality sites link to worthy content without the content’s owner doing anything to make it happen. Yet, more often this just isn’t the case.

link-building-not-workingThe idea that great content will earn links without extra effort is broken.

If You’re Proud of Your Content, Let People Know About It

Instead of waiting around for these links to come in, you need to be proactive and do the necessary work to make it happen. The most important step in this process, and often the biggest hurdle for most people, is outreach. The idea of asking someone for a link can be daunting when you have limited experience with the process.

Before starting, you probably have quite a few questions. What do I say in my pitch? How do I ask for a link without sounding spammy? What channel should I use to outreach someone? Should I immediately ask the person I’m outreaching if I can add them to my professional network on LinkedIn? If not, what about sending a friend request on Facebook to their personal account? How do the kids even communicate these days?

If you search out answers to these questions you will find seemingly countless, or even contradictory answers. So, how do you know which ones to listen to?

First, you should know that any advice that deals in absolutes when it comes to outreach likely will not be able to back that claim up. Remember, only a Sith deals in absolutes, and they don’t seem like the kind of people to take advice from.

Don’t view outreach as “always do this,” or “these are the tools I should use because someone else said so.” Instead, adopt some general philosophies. Experiment with a wide range of the link building outreach resources available to find what best works for you.

Email Outreach

Email is the most powerful outreach tool for pitching your content. It is direct, professional, and used by everyone (that you’d ever be asking for a link, at least). Yet, because of its ubiquity, email outreach can be tricky. You have to remember that it is unlikely that your pitch is the only one the person you are emailing has received. In fact, they likely receive them on a regular basis.

This means that you have to make your proposition worth their time. Identify why your content would improve the site you are pitching it for. What would the other person and their readers get out of your resource? This is why it is important to have a human touch. If your email reads like a generic form, it is unlikely to receive a favorable response. Be flexible in your approach and craft your email outreach to the person on the other end.

automated-emailsObvious form emails are a great way to never get responses.

No matter how impersonal a cold email may feel when you send it, there’s an actual human being on the other end. Thus, you need to approach it as such.

Social Media Outreach

Social media can also be a powerful tool for outreach. To be effective on social media requires an approach that emphasizes the importance of being helpful and user-minded. If you want to connect with the names and influencers within your industry, your social content should bring worthwhile ideas and opinions to that niche. Making these connections is also one of the best ways to improve your company’s name within your niche.

This concept is summed up perfectly by Jeanine Guidry in a webinar about social media as a business communication tool with the George Washington University’s Strategic Public Relations program,

“It’s very tempting for us to post things about our organization, our business, ‘Look at this new product. See what we’re doing here. Join us for this’. But if you balance that with information in your field that doesn’t directly promote what you’re doing but that is related to it, you first of all profile yourself as an expert in the area and you gain trust from the people who friend you or follow you.

And finally, people have often a knee-jerk response to if they just get marketed at. ‘Well all they want is they want me to sign on the dotted line.’ Be interested in the people that connect with you. And as long as you are authentic in that and as you give people information they can use.”

Going off these fundamentals, using social media to outreach requires you to have an even more personal touch than email. If you respect an influencer or a site enough to want a link from them, then you should show it. Cite them in your own writing (and include a link, of course), and let them know about it. This gives you the opportunity to make them aware of your content, which is the first thing you need to obtain a link.

But, instead of immediately asking them for the link, if they respond to you, use this as an opportunity to build a relationship with this person. If you see them tweet about a subject that you have knowledge of, or even better, content about, chime in and prove your expertise to them. This way, they may end up linking to your content as an expert opinion without you needing to ask directly. Furthermore, it helps build your reputation with their readers.

Remember, when it comes to getting the respect of influencers in your industry, game recognize game.

How Great is Your Content, Really?

You also need to take a step back and seriously consider your content from an outsider’s perspective. You may have incredibly useful and well-written content, but not receive links because of other factors.

For instance, think about things like your site design and layout.Expecting people to link to your content is based on the assumption that they take the time to read or watch it. If your site’s layout makes it difficult to read, or doesn’t look professional, it is less likely that people will invest time in your content.

This is especially true as mobile use continues to grow and become increasingly the means in which content is consumed. It is less likely that someone will use mobile to actually add a link to you on their site. Yet, there is still a good chance that they will first view your content on mobile. But, if your content doesn’t translate well to being seen on an iPhone, they may judge your content and decide to ignore it.

Studies have shown that people interact with online writing in a different way than they do in print. It is important to factor this into your content.This is why it is vital to include signposts of online writing. Signposts are solid introductions and conclusions that summarize your greater points, and section headings.

This is a histogram showing how far people scroll through Slate article pages. Each bar represents the share of people who stopped scrolling at a particular spot in the article. (An article is assumed to be around 2000 pixels long; if the top of your browser window gets to the 2000-pixel mark, you're counted as scrolling 100 percent through the article. The X axis goes to 120 percent because on most pages, there's usually stuff below the 2000-pixel mark, like the comments section.) This graph only includes people who spent any time engaging with the page at all--users who "bounced" from the page immediately after landing on it are not represented. The graph shows that many Slate readers do not scroll at all. That's the spike at the 0 percent mark, representing about 5 percent of readers. Most visitors scroll about halfway through a typical Slate story. The spike near the end is an anomaly caused by pages containing photos and videos -- on those pages, people scroll through the whole page.

Know how readers will view your content

This doesn’t only pertain to written content, either. Videos can be even more difficult to skim for meaning than writing. So, if your description doesn’t help the viewer know what the video covers, then you are gambling on them taking the time to watch and find out. The longer the video, the more important this is. The longer the video, the more you need to make sure to eliminate any barriers that will keep people from making the steps to either watch, or link to you.

In fact, for long form video content to most effectively garner links, it shouldn’t stand alone. It should be accompanied by some form of written content that allows to quote it without any extra transcription work on their part. Doing this can take content that attracts heavy social sharing only, and transforms it into something more linkable.

Don’t Wait, Do Something

Regardless of how a link to a piece of content comes to exist, there is one constant. Something brought the content to the attention of the linking site, and a decision was made to create the link. Sometimes, in the case of web crawlers or automated news feeds, there is little editorial review, and these links have low actual value. On the other end of the spectrum lies the authoritative, quality links that you want to go after.

If you are sitting back and waiting for the links to magically roll in, then you only have yourself to blame when it doesn’t happen. If you’re hesitant or nervous about asking people for links, you need to embrace how search engine rhetoric has evolved.

I need you to say it with me: “In today’s SEO world, link building is link earning.”

BIO: Zachary Evans is a freelance writer from Boise, Idaho. He graduated from Boise State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing in 2013. He now spends his time writing, reading, playing music, and hoping to one day help colonize outer space. 

Photo credit: Flickr (Bernard Spragg)

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