According to some recent studies by Moz, it’s virtually impossible for your website to rank well in Google unless you have lots of links pointing to your site. But according to official Google sources, link building is completely inadvisable. Of course, Google has a vested interest in dissuading people from link building; the fewer people are building links to manipulate their ranks, the healthier the online environment will be. But still, Google has historically been open and honest about what it takes for a site to rank. So is Google intentionally deceiving site owners? Or is the Moz data wrong?
Despite what it seems on the surface, there isn’t really a contradiction here. Links are necessary for getting a site to rank, but traditional “link building” (the manual process of placing links on external sites that Google warns against) isn’t the only way to get them. It’s far more efficient, and less risky, to earn those links naturally from the material your site produces.
So how can you do this without tripping Google’s spam alarm?
The Basic Premise
I’ll dive into the details of this strategy momentarily, but first I want to establish an overview. The idea here is to earn links, rather than building them directly, by promoting content that people want to link to or cite in their own efforts. The keys here are to create content that people want to link to, and then make sure that content is seen by as many people as possible.
Developing Great Content
The first step of the process is developing content that people will want to link to. This can’t be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill article (though if you do write an article with sufficient depth, it could earn links on its own). There are a handful of qualities you’ll need to make sure it contains:
A detailed headline. Catchy headlines are nice here, but they’re secondary to a concise description of your approach. For example, “new data on raccoon migration patterns” performs better here than “you won’t believe what we learned about raccoons!” even though the latter may earn more net shares.
Statistics and data. You need hard numbers that other people don’t have if you want to be cited as an authority. It can be hard to secure these numbers, especially if you’re working with a limited budget or a team with little experience in original research, but this is a necessity. Try calculating these numbers based on observable data you can find on your own, such as through surveys or general perusal.
A visual element. Strictly written content might earn you some links, but if you want to make a sizable impact, you need a visual to go along with it. many have found success by creating infographics or videos that convey this original research, but as long as you have some kind of accompaniment, you’ll be in good shape.
Great writing. This should go without saying, but your content does need to be well-written as well. Otherwise, people will lose interest. Write in a colloquial style and don’t be afraid to inject some humor into your work.
Distributing Great Content
Once your content is created, all you have to do is work on distributing it. The original piece of material should reside on your main domain (probably on your blog)—otherwise, you won’t get any of the authoritative credit if people link to you. From there, the options are open to you. You’ll definitely want to distribute the piece on every social channel you can find—Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are just the beginning—and do so on a regular, rotating basis for as long as your findings remain relevant. Try phrasing your introduction of the piece in different ways to appeal to different audiences.
Then, submit your piece to different forums and blogs in the industry. Appeal to individual followers and readers who might be in need of the information you present. Hopefully, your followers will take it from there—as long as you get a few dozen people sharing the first edition of your work, their followers will share it with a new ring of followers, and the circulation will explode. A portion of readers who find your material interesting or helpful will end up linking to you on their own blogs and social profiles, resulting in a massive increase in total links pointing to your domain.
Honorable Mention: Brand Mentions
Of course, this type of approach isn’t the only way to build authority on external sources. There’s also the emerging strategy of brand mentions, which operate much in the same way that link building did, but without the risk. In this strategy, you’ll create articles and other pieces of content to host on external blogs and websites, and simply mention your brand name in the body (rather than including a link). Google bots will pick up on this and carry the authority back to your domain, but because it cannot determine a deliberate attempt to manipulate rank from a brand mention the way it can an external link, you aren’t at risk for a penalty.
On the whole, earning links is a much easier process than you might believe, and if you measure the results in terms of how much effort is required, it’s often a far more efficient strategy than manual link building. Two hours of link building might generate a dozen or so links, but five hours spent on a high-quality piece of content could generate thousands. Keep your strategies diversified and maintain your focus on keeping users happy, and you’ll have no trouble achieving your ranking goals.
Timothy Carter is the CRO for AudienceBloom. Since 1997 he's been helping businesses maximize their sales revenue from websites via content marketing, SEO and Internet Marketing strategies. Over the years he's written for publications like Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, MarketingProfs and other highly respected online publications.