Search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing are inseparably intertwined, especially when it comes to link building. You need good content as a foundation for link-building efforts, and you need the inbound links to rank better in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Guest posting is a staple strategy when it comes to link building, while a more contemporary version is leveraging platforms such as HelpAReporterOut (HARO) and it should be noted there are many more backlink building strategies. In the former, you pitch an article to a relevant domain whose link equity you would want to spill over to your own website through a backlink. In the latter, you use a platform meant to help reporters and content creators gain information from reputable sources, to try and secure a link if you're cited as a source. Aside from active outreach and pitching, however, there are content-focused link-building strategies that can be utilized to attract organic inbound links.
A key advantage of this approach compared to outreach is that you're using owned media -- your own blog posts or other resources published in your domain. Furthermore, you can use these owned media for outreach as well, by proactively referring to the highly relevant and useful content within when you're pitching or providing insight for reporters on HARO.
This article explores three link-building strategies that leverage owned content to drive inbound links organically -- and of course you can promote the content yourself.
If your website could benefit from content repositories such as a business blog and you'll need to keep it updated as part of your SEO and digital marketing campaign anyway, you should consider a categorical approach to content types. You can create tiers of content, each with its own specs with roles in both content marketing and SEO link building.
A fundamental approach with a three-tiered system would look something like this:
Long-form, in-depth content that aims for authority, thought leadership, and branding - Long-form content that exceeds 800 to 1,000 words that usually discusses issues in depth is excellent for attracting links organically. Since high-quality long-form content takes some time to develop, you can sprinkle a few planned long-form pieces throughout your publishing calendar.
For this tier, keyword targets are long-tail and user motivation factors significantly in keyword research -- think transactional versus navigational or even informational keywords. Ensuring alignment of buyer persona motivation -- and therefore long-tail keyword use -- with your content marketing seamlessly merges SEO with your sales funnel. Also, remember that a foundation of excellent content as the backbone of your active campaigns requires on-page optimization.
The benefits of this tier of content are manifold. A well-written, well-researched, or original thought leadership piece is exactly what Google looks for in its In-Depth Articles Index. Authoritative, lengthy articles are excellent deeplinking material, as they can be used to refer readers to further reading and similar topics. You can leverage this yourself and, as mentioned earlier, other people who appreciate your content will naturally do this as well. For branding purposes, long-form, in-depth posts help position you as a thought leader in the field.
Regular blog content - The typical pieces of online content, usually around 500 to 600 words long, covering the breadth of your industry. Regular content can further be categorized into whatever content types suit your marketing activities most. Since it doesn't take as long to create as long-form, in-depth posts, regular content usually makes up most of a blog's publishing calendar.
The primary benefit of regular blog content for your SEO campaigns is that it makes up most of the consistently "fresh" content that search engines crave. While not as effective as long-form content, it also works well for deeplinking and as further reading material. So you can leverage website features that recommend additional reading, such as WordPress widgets that automatically choose related blog posts and place links to them at the bottom of a webpage. Additionally, if you align your content types and subject matter to your sales funnel, you can "nudge" your readers further along your sales funnel by linking towards content meant to push them deeper into their customer journey.
News bits and updates - These and other short-form pieces help spice up your content repositories. Shorter than regular content, they contain brief messages and bits of news. Typically used for announcements, they can help break up the formatting of your content repository listing, and create some content variation while also helping keep your domain updated with fresh -- if short -- content.
The combination of these three (or more, depending on your business objectives, industry, and marketing campaigns) categorical content tiers becomes a solid foundation for link-building activities while also keeping your domain constantly updated with valuable content.
Imagine being a curator for a museum. The museum itself doesn't employ the artists, sculptors, and geniuses who create artwork; the museum didn't create anything within the displays at all, but they reap the rewards of all the visitors. This is basically the bottom line of content curation.
A good example to illustrate how content curation yields wonders for link building is by looking at the CMO council's efforts. The Chief Marketing Officer Council World Wide's yearly marketing spend fact sheet consistently comes up in search results for related keywords, and none of the content on it is original.
It's essentially a list of facts and stats collected from external sources. Each factoid is linked to a footnote that in turn links to the external source. So this seems nice and handy -- and can definitely help lessen the workload when it comes to generating excellent new content, but what benefit does this give you when it comes to link building?
Turns out you can get a lot of organic backlinks this way -- up to hundreds per blog post. Essentially, statistics are excellent backlink bait. Better yet, the parties backlinking typically use extremely relevant anchor text, helping build context around the curated post as well. A collection of statistics makes it easier for content creators who could use those numbers to borrow some authoritativeness and credibility from data researched by third parties.
Of course, content curation as a practice offers other benefits:
Note, however, that one common pitfall of curating content is its source: ideally, you wouldn't link to a potential competitor, both to avoid giving the valuable link equity and leading your readers away to their domain.
There's one thing SEO experts would probably love to emulate from the world of social media: the ability for a piece of content to go viral. A viral article, for instance, sustains its own momentum of social sharing just because of the social sharing.
The Nieman Journalism Lab tasked one of its own to look into the psychology of social media sharing that leads to viral sensations online. The result was an in-depth piece on NiemanLab called "Sharing fast and slow: The psychological connection between how we think and how we spread news on social media." The piece itself is grounded upon research by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who looked at the way the human mind works and categorized its thinking processes into two: systems 1 and 2, for fast and slow thinking, respectively.
That's the backstory, but NiemanLab's research into how Kahneman's theory applies to social media sharing resulted in some refined recommendations for online content. Content creators can essentially leverage human psychology to give their content much better chances of becoming viral on social media.
In terms of how social media and SEO intertwine, Google and other leading search engines don't seem to have a unified philosophy when it comes to social signals for ranking, and over the years there have been some flip-flopping. There's also little in the way of technical data to determine the specifics of how social sharing affects link building from any perspective that is easily measurable, except for visitors referred -- a metric that can be tracked through analytics.
However, the very act of attracting social sharing and making content more share-worthy is of course worth noting for any link-building effort. Here's a brief checklist for content optimization based on Nieman Journalism Lab's research:
This list is obviously neither exhaustive nor fully representative of the findings of Nieman's Journalism Lab, but it's a good start.
Basically, you'll need to invest in enriching your content base through a content marketing strategy, and this in turn will naturally impact your SEO and link-building campaigns positively, especially if you take the effort to properly integrate them. SEO experts leverage each part of an overall digital marketing campaign for their SEO efforts.
Obviously, different businesses would have varying levels of detail of content infrastructure and complexity of publishing calendars and content types. Regardless of these differences, however, SEO is a sound business investment, and so is enriching the content foundations that keep your domain fresh and attractive to SERPs.
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