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Why content marketing complements (but doesn’t replace) link building

Content marketing has often been conflated with link building. In fact, numerous SEOs have declared content marketing to be the new link building. But there’s one problem:

Content marketing doesn’t actually secure links without promotion. And manual promotion with the goal of links is, well, link building.

Content marketing can certainly complement link building, but content marketing does NOT replace link building.

Content Marketing and Link Building Aren’t Interchangeable

Content marketing cannot supplant link building; they are two entirely different marketing strategies.

The two practices do share some broader goals (exposure, branding, relationship building) but the main functions of each are quite different.

Content marketing’s primary goals are to:

  • Disseminate marketing messages.
  • Developing and establish brand voice, tone and style.
  • Deliver audience value and build brand affinity.

Link acquisition strives to:

  • Signal authority to search engines and humans alike.
  • Create more inroads and access points to your website.
  • Secure proper attributions and citations.

Content marketing is not a sufficient replacement for link building because the primary goal of content marketing is not securing links. Without someone focusing on link acquisition, link equity and opportunity will be left on the table.

It turns out, an abundance of opportunity is left on the table. For years now, the idea has been circulating throughout the SEO community that you don’t need to actively pursue links. Instead, you can focus on creating compelling, high-quality content and links will come “naturally” without active promotion. This is often referred to as “link earning”.

Link earning is a fallacy.

A recent study conducted by Moz and BuzzSumo showed that there is actually no correlation between popular content (high number of social shares) and a high number of links.

“Across our total sample of 1m posts there was NO overall correlation of shares and links, implying people share and link for different reasons. The correlation of total shares and referring domain links across 750,000 articles was just 0.021.”

People believed that they didn’t need to manually secure links because they could passively earn links on the sheer validity of their content. The Moz and BuzzSumo joint study clearly demonstrates this is not the case.

If you want to secure the links your content deserves—and avoid leaving opportunities on the table–you need to strategically and manually secure links.

Link Building and Content Marketing are Complementary

It’s easy to understand why content marketing and link building are so often conflated. But the truth is content marketing and link acquisition work better in tandem.

Securing worthwhile links without worthwhile content is supremely difficult. You need an asset—something that provides some sort of value to a specific audience—to acquire real links. A link builder’s job becomes substantially easier and more effective when a deliberate, strategic content initiative exists.

Similarly, content marketing improves with a link development strategy in place. Links increase content exposure by tapping into new audiences and improving visibility in search. So much of the success of a content initiative is determined by exposure and visibility—links can fuel new initiatives by providing early momentum and awareness, along with sustained traffic from search.

In fact, link building can even be applied to older, forgotten content. Link acquisition is often the missing ingredient in content campaigns that have failed. Links can breathe new life into under-promoted assets, achieving the attention and success they deserve.

If you’re going to invest time and resources into content marketing, you should also invest in link building—and vice-versa.

Links Aren’t Being Replaced Any Time Soon

Link acquisition as a strategy isn’t going away any time soon, because links as a signal aren’t going away any time soon. As long as links continue to be a primary goal, link building will exist.

Despite the fact that Google continuously adds new signals to their search algorithm (which contains 200+ ranking signals), links remain an important signal of authority in organic search.

In fact, Andrey Lipattsev—Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google—recently revealed that links are indeed one of the top three factors for determining ranking in search.

Also, there have been a handful of case studies published within the SEO industry that indicate strong correlations between links and ranking in organic search. These studies include:

It’s clear that links are still (and will continue to be) critical to search visibility. But links also have value beyond SEO as a foundational element of the web.

Links are in fact why it’s called the web. Without links, the Internet wouldn’t be navigable. Links serve to connect the web.

Unless the Internet fundamentally changes, links will continue serve a crucial role and remain a strong signal for authority and trust.

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Discussion

  1. Avatar John Alexander

    Excellent article Andrew!
    Highest regards,
    John Alexander

  2. Andrew Dennis Andrew Dennis

    Thanks so much John, I appreciate it!

  3. Avatar Brent Barnhart

    You can’t have links without content; however, you can’t navigate content without links. The great paradox, right?

    I will say, though I feel like it’ll be more difficult for Google to bring the hammer down on black hat link-building versus low-quality, spammy content. It seems as if the seeds have been sewn for the latter.

    Great read, thanks!

    Brent

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