SEO’s Dilemma Link Building vs Content Marketing – Whiteboard Friday

By | August 10, 2019

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition
of Whiteboard Friday. I want to address a dilemma that a lot of SEOs and a lot of marketers
face and that is sort of choice between what should I be doing to move the needle on my
search traffic? Should I be doing kind of classic SEO, the keyword targeting plus link
building, which moves the needle? Or should I be thinking more broadly in terms of kind
of a full content marketing spectrum? I’ll describe these two, and I’ll talk about why
it’s so tough for these guys who are at this fork in the road. So, in link building land, we research some
keywords to target. We know we want to go after those. Maybe we’ve already been assigned
them by our boss or our team or our client if we’re doing consulting. Then we try and
go out and find potential opportunities to earn links. Maybe we do a little bit of comparative
analysis. We’ll run the Keyword Difficulty tool and look at how people who are ranking
for that keyword have done in terms of link metrics versus how we’re doing, and maybe
we’ll do a little bit of on-page optimization as well. But mostly it’s around this link
opportunity stuff. I think a lot of folks in the classic SEO
world do this, even today, and it does work. They go out and get those links. Maybe they
do outreach, find competitive links, find open link opportunities around the Web, whatever
it is that can move the needle on the links. But it’s really about that push-for-direct
outreach and direct link building, not kind of passively sitting back and letting the
links hopefully roll in. Then you move up in the rankings. Slowly,
but steadily, you will move up because links are still a big portion of the search engines’
algorithms, Google and Bing both. Over time, if you are moving the needle on links more
than your competition, chances are good that you will be able to outrank them, assuming
you are doing other things right. On the flip side is the content marketing
world. In content marketing land, this is a very, very different approach. We kind of
take the broad view at the beginning of: Who is the audience that I want to reach? Who
are all the people in that audience group? Then, what do they use? What channels do they
use to discover content, to share things, to influence one another and to be influenced,
and to discover new stuff, like the products, services, mission that I’m trying to fulfill
or that I’m trying to sell them? That could be things like Twitter and Facebook.
It could be blogs that they read. It might be influencers that they follow on social
networks or through email channels or whatever it is. Obviously, it’s going to be a lot of
Google searches. Google is still quite a bit of the Web’s search traffic. Maybe it’s YouTube,
people using video to find these things. Then, I’m going to take from this audience
and where they are and what they’re doing. I want to create content that will appeal
to my target audience, the people I’m directly trying to reach and to their influencers.
That might be a webinar, a video, a blog, a free tool, whatever it is. Now I’m going to go out and do influencer
outreach. I’m going to try and do good, smart keyword targeting on Google. I’m going to
promote my stuff on social. I’m going to reach out to my community, maybe through email or
directly. Then, I’m going to hope to get the results
of a little bit of increased traffic. I’m going to hopefully grow my community. If I’m
producing valuable content stuff, more people will follow my social accounts, more people
subscribe to my email, more people will be personalized by the connections that they’ve
got to me through Google, so that their Google search results will be biased in my favor.
I’ll move up a little in SEO because my domain authority hopefully grows some and I get a
few links and referring traffic. Then, I rinse and repeat this model over and
over until I feel like, hey, now I need to go target new audiences, and I’m going to
repeat this process all over again. The challenge here is that . . . and I’ve
seen this discussion happening in the SEO world and, in fact, I think it’s a very fair
discussion to have. There are folks who are kind of in link building land who say, “This
works for me; this doesn’t work for me.” You hear all sorts of reasons why it doesn’t work
for them. Maybe it’s who their client or who their team or what their product is or who
they’re trying to reach. They say, “Well, they’re just not interested. They don’t do
a lot of content consumption. They’re not influenced by social channels and by YouTube
and by blogs and by industry news or trade shows and events, or whatever these things
are that I can use to amplify my content. I’m not getting value from this, and so I’m
going to stick to this. I get some links. I move up in the rankings. I get more visits
for the key terms I’m going after. That turns into conversions. This is what I’m after.” Actually, I think it’s okay. I know that in
the past many folks have kind of assumed that oh, well Rand is really against this, or Moz
is really against this world. But that’s not actually the case. If this is working for
you, I don’t have a problem with it. What I have a problem with is when people
don’t think holistically and don’t make the conscious choice and simply stick to what
they have been doing because they’ve seen it work in the past. Even if it is not working
as well or if it keeps getting harder or if something like Penguin comes along and penalizes
a bunch of the tactics that you were using to get those links, you just stay on the treadmill.
That’s where I think things get really dangerous, and I’ve got some ideas here about how you
can choose. One of the things that I think you should
be conscientious about is goals and metrics. Are your goals tied to broad marketing efforts?
Are we trying to get lots of people aware of our brand, aware of our product? Are we
trying to do some positioning? Are we trying to get people to change their minds about
how they solve a problem and come over to our world? Or is our metric just are we ranking
well? Are we getting traffic directly from Google for the rankings, for the keywords
that we care about, and are we converting them? If that’s your whole goal and metric,
maybe link building land is the right way to go. Maybe this is a little bit broad. Secondary, are you thinking long term or short
term? In the long term, one of the things that I
do worry about is a lot of these tactics and a lot of Google’s algorithm has been getting
more and more focused on things that are outside of just how many linking root domains do you
have, and does the anchor text include your keywords, and is it pointing to a page that
you’re targeting? They’re getting a lot smarter. They’re using
a ton more signals than they were just three or four years ago. They’re doing a lot more
rich data options, rich snippets, different types of results. The classic 10 blue links,
I think Dr. Pete found that was like 15% of search results are ten blue links and that’s
it. That’s not a lot of opportunity. Even if you are moving up, boy, you’ve got to be
pretty hopeful that they stick with this model and that the algorithm doesn’t change too
much and that links continue to be a huge powering force and that nothing else overtakes
those. Multi-channel versus single. If search, in
particular search rankings on primary keyword targeted phrases, are really the only channel
that’s producing any kind of results and you don’t even see that in a multi-channel attribution,
that social or that content or email or referring links or something else, long tail searches
or whatever, are having a positive influence, then link building land looks a little more
attractive and content marketing land doesn’t. Finally, if the breadth versus depth of your
skill set, your team, your SEO, your web marketing team is really around, “Hey, we’re good at
this. You know, we haven’t quite figured out this stuff yet. We don’t have the people,
the staff, the resources, the time, the energy, the buy-in from management to do these things.” Well then, I understand going after link building
land. I think that what’s important is that we have a conscious conversation and we understand
the dichotomy and the different reasons we might choose one of these paths, not that
we always pick one or we always pick the other. In fact, there might be times when you are
in content marketing land and you’re right here in and doing some SEO and you really
move over to doing this cycle a little bit continuously because that is the focus of
your efforts right now. It could be that you’re over here and you do some analysis. Maybe
you’re doing your analysis around your keyword targeting and you say, “Boy, we’ve got good
links to our page, but our domain authority just doesn’t help us. We need a broader set
of influencers and of links and of people using our stuff. We really need to boost our
overall domain and brand awareness. Maybe we want to get into content marketing land
for a little while. So, this choice is certainly up to you. I’m
sure there will be a great discussion in the comments, and I look forward to that. Thanks
for joining me. Take care.

38 thoughts on “SEO’s Dilemma Link Building vs Content Marketing – Whiteboard Friday

  1. Julian Gonzalez Post author

    Fantastic Whiteboard Friday. Our company is in a similar situation. Link Building has really been the focus but the serps are now becoming filled with large competitors with enormous budgets. I fully believe in making the switch to content marketing, or least diversifying our efforts into a more balanced strategy. Thanks Rand! I think this wast he push we needed

  2. DCD Agency Post author

    Content marketing has such a great benefit because not only does it provide great content for people to link to but it also presents the writer/company as an expert in their field before the reader. Great stuff!

  3. DENNIS N. DUCE Post author

    Clear and simple. This is a vital question many of our customers don't understand I love the 4 key points on how to decide. This should open up a number of productive conversations.

  4. Webseology Post author

    Another great White Board Friday. Yes, this is certainly a dilemma, and I feel it more and more as we move toward stricter algos. I am a very small consulting company and find content marketing to be a healthier, yet longer, more difficult process. I would like to think I incorporate both methods however, with a lean toward white-hat link building practices. I believe a solid blend of relevant content, social AND link-building is what's needed to stay healthy (with the emphasis on SOLID).

  5. videofeet09 Post author

    Matt Cutts says any manual link should be no indexed and they are penalizing sites for link building. If google has wised up on link building what is left for the seo? seems like content and social is all we have left.

  6. Girish Khera Post author

    this one hit the nail on the head for us. My company, Scientific Animations, is going through exactly this problem. We have a small team and need to focus resources. Problem is, our primary keyword is medical animation and there are only 4800 searches per month in the US for it. Its so niche, that we don't know how which way content/links our strategy should lean. Any suggestions as to how we should think about this?

  7. Ram Kr Shukla Post author

    Awesome video By Rand….not because the differences were shared but because the logic dependency on both the LANDS were made clear. The success behind any of these LANDS or "combined approach" will depend upon the balance you maintain between the both, as Market and even Google both are Volatile:)

  8. Gabrijel Anic Post author

    You guys at Moz are awesome. Not only do you make things more clear for me, you also motivate me to think more critically when making choices. Awesome video.

  9. Paulstreet SEO Post author

    Matt Cutts says any manual link should be no indexed and they are penalizing sites for link building. If google has wised up on link building what is left for the seo? seems like content and social is all we have left.

  10. Linkworkers Post author

    We prefer to do both, something like "mixing both" of strategies. In fact you should avoid link building at large scales. Content marketing is harmless for possible penalization.

  11. Harshana Jayanetti Post author

    Good content. In my view one should not stick to a single pathway. Should vary and work on both methods.

  12. Hermawan firdiansyah Post author

    Permit to download this video Rand
    Thank You

  13. Eric Mwangi Post author

    Content marketing and link building are all important. Awesome video.

  14. Harshana Jayanetti Post author

    good presentation. my take up is do both. content marketing and link building.

  15. Unique SEO Tips and Tricks Post author

    I would do both. I believe that content marketing and classic linkbuilding should go hand in hand. However, it is still important that the quality of the links is not compromised as it can lead to spamming or website penalty

  16. Thomas van Leeuwen Post author

    It's been nearly a year since this video was posted.

    Annual recap on August 20th? Would love to hear any developments/changes on Moz's outlook on these worlds.

  17. decafcoffee73 Post author

    If I wish to promote my Mlm page lets say. Yrs back I could have good keyword rich fresh content, fine tune meta tags and I would submit new pages every week. Is this still true?

  18. Lee Court Post author

    Fantastic video. Very concise and thoughtful – good work guys! Subscribed  🙂

  19. Katy POP Post author

    From my point of view, link-building and content marketing go hand in hand. 

    If you create a really good piece of content, something really useful for your stakeholders and offer it to the right key-influencers, you will get good quality links and hopefully viralization, as a perk of a good content marketing strategy.
    I know it's not THAT simple, but if you hit the jackpot with the right content, the rest will follow.
    That is why I think content marketing and link-building should be seen as two pieces of puzzle that match and generate better results when combined. 

  20. Joe Seaborne Post author

    I find content rules over links, as we move forward I think social signals and authority will slowly push pr out of the way

  21. Adam Knaggs Post author

    Well stated. very true. Besides I want to mention that I use youtube to bring traffic to my website since i am a full-time marketer on youtube. I believe this particular video is very useful. thank you very much. please go to my youtube channel to find out more regarding what you can do and benefit your web business (how to get more traffic, boost sales, views on your videos, and much more..). good luck

  22. Jim Wright Post author

    Isn't link building a subset of content marketing?  The last part of the cycle 3:10 is influencer outreach which involves link building.  In other words content marketing begets link building.

  23. Chad Kimball Post author

    Stick with links, but we get links that bring you actual traffic.

  24. Gillian S Post author

    Great discussion- engaging and informative.

  25. 4SoundEngineers Post author

    great video, but i notice it is from 2013, My question is, how valuable it is in 2015, especially for someone like me who is new to seo? Thanks in advance for your reply

  26. Superación Personal X Post author

    Content is and will always be the king. what if google decides that links are no longer important? all that link building work will just be for nothing. Our content, will always be the best way to get traffic, get followers, get presence, etc. No need to discuss this point.

  27. josh lepak Post author

    lol link building land. its like going through the looking glass when you enter the land of links.

  28. Seo Socialmedia Post author

    Lovely. Moz it simply the best in SEO

  29. Gustavo Woltmann Post author

    These approaches work best if implemented together. Gustavo Woltmann

  30. Catherine Allen Post author

    Hey, you can use SpinnerChief to create unlimited articles for SEO, which can not only generate hundreds of new articles in minutes for you, but also in one click it can rewrite articles to a very high level of human readability and uniqueness. It has used the best Natural Language Analysis and Artificial Intelligence techniques to understand your articles in the same way as Google does.


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