Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : More Approaches to Content-Based Link Acquisition

1/12/2011 11:34:51 AM
Content is your most important asset in link building. Leveraging your content—together with your users and online networks—can lead to scalable link acquisition and some exciting results.

1. A Closer Look at Content Syndication

The concept in content syndication is to develop content with the intent of publishing it on someone else’s site. In return for providing the content, the author gets a link back to her site. This is a legitimate strategy in the eyes of the search engines because the site is endorsing the content by accepting it, and the return links are an acknowledgment of that endorsement.

It is also often possible to get targeted anchor text in this scenario. Be careful, however, because if the anchor text is unrelated to the article itself, it will not comply with what the search engines want publishers to do for link-building techniques.

There are a couple of important points to watch for when syndicating content:

  • The publisher should strive not to distribute articles that are published in the same form on the publisher’s own site. Search engines will see this as duplicate content. Although the search engine’s goal is to recognize the original author of a piece of content, it is a difficult job to do perfectly, and it does happen that the search engines make mistakes.

    When looking to distribute content published on a site, the best practice is to rewrite the article, add some things to make it a bit different in structure and in its material points, and syndicate that version of the article. One way to do this is to take a different angle on the discussion within the content. Therefore, if the site publishing the syndicated article ranks high for key search terms, it is not a problem for the author’s site.

    If you must syndicate the exact article you have on your site, have the article link back to the original source article, not just your site’s home page. That will serve as a signal to help the search engines identify which version is the original.

  • When considering the syndication of content, it makes sense to study the site’s content needs and then custom-tailor the content to those needs. This practice maximizes the chances of the target site accepting the article.

One variant of content syndication is to generate articles and then submit them to article directories. Many of these types of sites exist, and many of them are, frankly, pretty trashy. But there are good ones as well. The distinction between the trashy and good ones is relatively easy to recognize, based on the quality of the articles they have published. Many of these article directories allow publishers to include links, and these links are followed. Table 1 lists some that are worth considering

Table 1. List of quality article directories
Directory siteCategory
http://www.mastersmba.comGeneral help
http://www.pandecta.come-business marketing
http://www.buildyourownbusiness.bizBusiness business

Note that even if these do appear to pass link juice, some of them may be disabled on the back end by Google, but there is no way to tell which ones. For that reason, it is best to focus on whether the article directories themselves appear to be of value. This maximizes the chances that the search engines will value them as well.

In general, though, search engines are not going to punish a publisher for putting an article in these directories, and many of them may provide somewhat helpful links. However, this is not a high-value activity, so although you can pursue it, you should probably not make it the focus of your link-building efforts.

2. Leveraging User-Generated Content

Providing users with ways to contribute content directly to your site can be an effective tactic. There are many ways to do this:

Open up a forum on your site

One of the biggest challenges with this strategy is achieving critical mass so that active discussions are taking place on the site. This typically requires a substantial amount of traffic to accomplish, but in the right situations it can become an activity for developing interesting content with little effort.

Launching a blog and inviting third-party contributors

One of the best ways to do this is to contact respected members of your market space and see whether they would be willing to make written contributions to your blog. They may do this simply because they would like the exposure, or you can pay them for doing it.

More selectively inviting third-party contributions

A blog platform may be more than you want to do, but you can still ask respected members of your community to consider contributing articles to your site.

Of course, the contributed content does not need to be an article or a post. You can seek out photos, videos, cool new tools—anything that may be of interest to users.

With each of these strategies, one of the big questions is whether the method for contributing content is open, strictly controlled, or somewhere in between. In other words, can any user come along and post a comment in your forum? Or do all users have to have an editorial review first? Editorial reviews may significantly reduce spam attacks, but they are a barrier to the development of active discussions.

In the case of forums, engaging discussions can attract links. For an example from the world of SEO, Search Engine Roundtable is a frequent linker to discussions in the WebmasterWorld Forums. The key to this is the critical mass of discussions that take place on these forums.

The reason the tactics involving third-party authorship can result in links is that most people have pride in what they have created and want to show it off. As a result, they will have a tendency to link to their content from other sites where they contribute, or their own website.

It is a good idea to make this easy for them. Provide sample HTML that they can use, or badges that confer the value of recognition—for example, a badge that says something like “Valued Contributor,” or “Contributing Offer.” Only people who are authorized contributors are allowed to post such a badge, so it becomes an honor to be able to do so.

3. Creating Link Bait/Viral Content

Link bait is the term that some use to refer to the notion of creating content for the specific purpose of acquiring links. The content is published on your own site or perhaps on another website, and it is compelling enough that lots of people link to it. Such content can take a couple of forms. For example, it can be content that is designed to provide enough additional value that people will want to reference it.

Other popular methods are doing something controversial, something funny, or something that simply draws a strong emotional reaction. Each market space has some hot buttons, and these buttons can be pushed with an opinionated article.

3.1. Coming up with link bait ideas

It is easy to come up with content that people will want to link to, but it does take some effort to come up with the right kinds of ideas. Here is a four-step process for coming up with and picking ideas:

  1. Write down everything.

    Just collect any and all ideas that come to mind. Do not censor or edit yourself during this phase; take down every idea no matter how bizarre, idiotic, or farfetched it may sound.

  2. Break down your ideas.

    Once you’ve squeezed every last drop of creative juice from your head, it is time to filter everything out. It is a good idea to break down each idea (no censoring or editing yet) into its Concept and Content components. That is, what is the format (Concept) for the suggested link bait (tool, widget, top 10 list, how-to guide, blog post, etc.) versus what is the subject (Content) of the suggested link bait (Wii, iPod, PPC ads, pigs, celebrity weddings, etc.)? Separate these into two lists.

  3. Evaluate the content.

    Ignoring your Concept list, critically evaluate your Content list. Are some ideas time-sensitive? Can some wait for a relevant piece of news to complement them? Are there ideas you’d really like to write about? Are there ideas that can go into storage for a dry spell?

  4. Mix and match.

    Once you’ve prioritized the content, you can mix and match it with your Concept list. No story/content is beholden to the original format in which you brainstormed it. Is your story something that might make Digg? Then consider the concepts that do well there: top 10, how-to, and so on. Can it be interactive? Perhaps a tool or poll concept would be effective. By marrying your priority content to the most appropriate concept, you can optimize the effectiveness, reach, and novelty to your intended audience.

If you use this process or something similar, you’ll probably notice that you quickly generate a handy repertoire of concepts. Once you have these down, you can turn virtually any random idea that pops into your head into link bait.

3.2. How far should you go with link bait?

Most folks in the corporate communications, PR, and legal departments shy away from anything potentially controversial, and for good reason, right? But then, why would a company selling life insurance online dare to venture into the taboo topic of weird and disturbing death trivia? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

But that’s exactly what did with its link bait article, “The 19 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Death” ( With such goodies as “After being decapitated, the average person remains conscious for an additional 15–20 seconds,” you can imagine how much of a hit the article was with the irreverent alpha geeks that make up the Digg community. The article made it to the Digg front page, which in turn got it in front of countless bloggers and social bookmarkers.

Surely the success of this article in attracting links has contributed to’s impressive Page 1 ranking for life insurance that it maintained for many months. Not surprisingly, though, this contentious article is nowhere to be found in’s navigation hierarchy, so customers and prospects are unlikely to ever stumble across it.

Potential linkers also love a good corporate citizen, so be one. Consider such activities not as an expense, but as an investment that will generate a return in the form of links. With Second Chance Trees, social media marketing agency Converseon created a charitable initiative using internal resources and expertise that could have otherwise been utilized for billable work.

The idea was to create an island in Second Life where players could purchase a virtual tree with Linden dollars and plant it. This would then trigger the planting of a real tree of the same species in an ecologically sensitive region, such as a Central or South American rain forest. For a charitable endeavor, the payoff was huge. High-value links came from news outlets, the blogosphere, organizations, and elsewhere.

Do not be afraid to be bold or off the wall. You do not always have to toe the corporate line. If you’re thinking that this will garner links that aren’t very relevant to your business and industry, you’re probably right. But remember that one component of PageRank is topic independence. Tests we performed show that high-PageRank-endowed yet topically irrelevant links still help, and they can help a lot. Definitely still work to acquire topically relevant links as well, but do not neglect the off-topic ones too.

3.3. Encourage link bait to spread virally
You can extend the notion of link bait distribution by creating something you can pass around. For example, a hilarious video clip might be passed around via email. Provided you make it easy for people to determine the video creator (presumably your company) and to visit your site, this type of campaign can garner a lot of links. Be aware, though, that if you host the video on a video-sharing site such as YouTube, most people will link to YouTube and not to your site.
  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Choosing the Right Link-Building Strategy
  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Types of Link Building (part 2)
  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Types of Link Building (part 1)
  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Further Refining How Search Engines Judge Links
  •  The Art of SEO : How Links Influence Search Engine Rankings (part 2) - Additional Factors That Influence Link Value
  •  The Art of SEO : How Links Influence Search Engine Rankings (part 1) - The Original PageRank Algorithm
  •  Developing an SEO-Friendly Website : Optimizing Flash (part 2)
  •  Developing an SEO-Friendly Website : Optimizing Flash (part 1)
  •   Developing an SEO-Friendly Website : Content Management System (CMS) Issues
  •   Developing an SEO-Friendly Website : Redirects
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