Link building has become a controversial tactic in the field of search engine optimization, which has, in turn, made earning backlinks a hot topic for discussion at the moment.

The landscape of SEO and link building has been relentlessly changing, and the importance of having high-quality links has never been higher before. The need to understand why earning links is more important than building links is essential if you’re going to compete and thrive online, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

This guide is designed to get you moving quickly and in the right direction. There is a lot to take in, but we’ve broken everything up into easy-to-digest sections and have included lots of examples along the way.

Definition of backlinks

For search engines like Google that crawl the vast metropolis of the web, links are the streets between the pages. Using strategic link analysis, the engines can discover how pages are related to each other and in what ways.

In simple words, a hyperlink (usually called a link) is a way for users to navigate between pages on the internet.

Search engines use links to crawl the web; they will go through the links between the individual pages on your website, and then they crawl the links between entire websites.

There are several techniques for links, and while they vary in difficulty, SEO specialists tend to agree that managing links is one of the hardest parts of their jobs.

Many SEOs spend the majority of their time trying to do it well. For that reason, if you can master the art of building high-quality links, it can truly put you ahead of other SEO implementers and your competition.

There are a few reasons why link building has become a controversial SEO technique.

For people that just start doing SEO, Google has done an exceptional job in spreading a lot of fear, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes intentionally.

The Penguin algorithm, which was introduced in April 2012, is an example of the latter. When it was launched, it was one of the biggest shake-ups to Google’s search results in the company’s history.

Wall Street Journal pointed one particular pet store site that saw a 96% dip in traffic. Yes, a shocking 96%!

However, Google hasn’t changed the value of links. They’ve tried, but even the former chief of the Google’s web spam team “Matt Cutts” admitted that the search results were weaker when they removed links as a ranking signal.

They never wanted to get rid of links; rather they wanted to get rid of bad links. And here’s a dilemma. After Penguin, a mindset took over the SEO sphere dictating that all link building was unnatural. Of course, this is only somewhat true.

Links with anchor text like “cheap handbags” in a comment section of an article about the “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict are obviously unnatural.

Yet, when some people hear link building, their heads jump straight to such types of link building where the resulting links are almost always spammy.

It’s an unfortunate conflation, which is why ‘link earning’ is probably one of the newest SEO buzzwords for most practitioners today.

What is Link Building?

Link building is the manual promotion of your website through various methods of online communication in an attempt to get more natural and relevant backlinks in your link profile.

So, let’s say you have a site that sells storage boxes. Your site sells boxes, and you don’t have a particularly robust backlink profile. You rank no higher than page 12 on Google search engine for any of your keywords. What would you do?

You will compile a listing of sites that live within the same niche that you do. You must have even tried some sort of link building. And you must have considered the 11 pages of results that come before you rank as a good place to start.

When you made that list, you must have found the contact information for the webmasters for each one. And then you must have turned out to be a keyboard maniac in your approach where you emailed the webmasters back to back, sipping on energy drinks to keep you going.

When you sent a flurry of emails, you must have created an email pitch that explains why a site should link to yours.

There are numerous reasons you could have used for them:

  • Your site has a valuable linkable asset.
  • Their site mentioned your key product/brand name but neglected to add the link
  • You have written a guest post that will add value to their site
  • Look, they just should okay!

For the love of Google, we hope that you have never used the last one while emailing.

There still are a multitude of link building tactics that will help you acquire the links you need to give your website a boost on Google SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).

None of this should be controversial. But hey, neither should the idea that the world is round.

Thankfully to the aforementioned Penguin algorithm, many SEOs jumped onto the link earning train. Link earning wasn’t even really a term until the aftermath of the famed algorithm.

Much like parents these days trying to say, “On fleet” with a straight face, link earning wasn’t a thing until 2013.So that’s why you see so many SEOs attempt to imply that link earning is the new link building.

In the post-Penguin era, link building is much, much harder. And this is because no one really wants to link to you. Why is that? That’s because webmasters understand the value of a link just as much as Google does.

Respectable webmasters don’t link out at random. Why would they? Their followers would ditch faster than “Usain Bolt” during a house fire.

Think of two sites- “Site A and Site B”. Both feature content of relatively equal quality. The same can be said for their layout and the site load speed. However, site A only links to sites that provide additional information for the user and Site B links to anything under the sun.

Which site do you think users are going to trust more? It is not too difficult to guess that they will choose Site A.

Webmasters only link to those sites that are going to be beneficial to their particular audience or followers.

If that audience starts to sense that you’re linking to sites simply to help partner sites manipulate search engines, your audience is going to flee. Or at the very least, become much more skeptical about your services.

Why is Link building a thing of the past?

The concept of link building is as old as the idea of search engine optimization in the highly competitive and ever-changing online sphere now. It has been long considered as the premiere way of widening the horizons, building up networking milestones and getting the cream by bringing in SEO traffic to the website or blogging site.

In the last couple of years, however, the concept of link building has taken a serious beating. Much is due to the fact that SEO experts (if you can call them that) abused the idea of link building. Spam links, pushing of links and link buying were rampant till Google put an end to all of it.

Now, SEO professionals have no other choice but to look beyond link building. Serious-minded SEO experts are choosing to go for link earning rather than link building.

Link earning can be deemed a form of pull marketing where you engage online users and websites enough to make them ask for links from their website or blog.

This is the finest way of building up your linking network. It is much easier written than done! For link earning, you will have to be at the very top of your game. The content on your website has to be cutting edge in order to get other websites and bloggers interested in placing your link.

There are other ways too in which you can make your website or blog powerful enough to earn links, other than just content marketing. Building up contests for visitors and opinion polls can get you a substantial amount of popularity on the internet.

When people gather to participate in contests on your page, you can even get other parties to want links from your page. This is a great way of building up organic links and also gets you enough coverage on the internet.

Freebies in form of eBooks or other giveaways are excellent ideas to link earning. Webmasters will be interested in your page when they find that they can get something out of nothing.

You don’t have to give away premiere content or apps developed by you! Give away something that is not too hard to make but is still quite useful for others. Such simple offerings will have the entire online domain eating out of your hands.

What is Link Earning?

The concept behind link earning is quite simple. You build a site, you fill it with relevant, useful content, and people find your website and link to it, all because your site is awesome!

Link earning isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy, not even close to it. Link earning can work effectively, but you have to have some established authority to get started with.

If you don’t have this kind of authority, your luck needs to be really good while waiting for fellow members in your niche to find you.

Here’s the thing about the World Wide Web: it’s not playing around when it says “wide”.:)

Think of all of the content that occupies space on the web, and your head will start to hurt. Twenty years ago, there were hardly 130 websites. For example, let’s consider the following search query “embryonic rockabilly polka dotted fighter pilots”.

I know what you are thinking, probably gibberish right? Well, not exactly. It was the name of a sketch on “Conan”, way back in the 90s. Surely, there can’t be too much about these militant embryos on the internet.

But when you search for it, you will get more than 1,100 results for ‘embryonic rockabilly polka dotted fighter pilots’. Let that sink in for a moment.

The internet is big and it just keeps getting bigger. It’s nearly impossible to break through all of the noise, especially when you aren’t allowed to promote yourself.

And that’s all that link building essentially is: promotion.

Why Do You Want to Earn backlinks?

Link earning is about creating trustworthy, awesome content like “Adele” and promoting it like “Beyonce”.

There is a rise in content marketing and it’s clear that a shift is occurring in how SEOs create an off-site SEO strategy.

Take a look at this table below to how links have evolved from link building to link earning and how they differ:

Link building versus link earning
Why would you want to earn links? This is a common question people have in mind. What is the value of a link? Why do I want to earn a link from these prospects?

Why you need to earn links:

1.To Increase Traffic

Gaining links organically increases your website traffic. A link from another site will draw in more visitors to your website. A link doesn’t guarantee a conversion or social shares as that’s the website’s job, but links will guarantee that people ‘land’ on your site.

2.To boost Brand Awareness

When you get a link, you’re gaining additional exposure. So, if you get a link on “Telegraph” you’ll most likely be seen by a lot more people. If you gain a link on a small blog, most likely you’re not going to get adequate exposure. But, if it’s your niche audience, it’s completely worth going for it.

3.Search Engines Care about Links

As much as we want to believe the myths that links don’t matter, that is simply not true. Links add relevance authority and trust to your brand; therefore, search engines boost your brand if other trustworthy sites are linking to your site.

When trading the labour-intensive link building strategies for the links earned, it’s more effective to view the bigger picture. A content strategy can give you a structured way to assess what value you offer, who is listening to you and where to distribute.

Developing a solid content strategy that integrates link earning into the promotional phase will have the most impact for long-term success.

Link earning isn’t a marketing tactic; it’s how you impact your niche community to earn the actual links. So, how do you not only create amazing content but help nurture relationships that make people share your content?

Strategy is a must for Creating Awesome Content

You can employ a plethora of marketing tactics to improve website traffic – email drip campaigns, pay-per-click ads, community management and the list goes on. Before you start a campaign, give it the content it needs to succeed by creating a solid strategy. It does make a difference. A content strategy is key, do not just create content for the sake of it, ensure that it is part of a concerted effort.

Who do you want to target? Where do you want to get links from? What are your competitors up to? These are all important things to consider when making a successful link earning strategy.

How to Create a Roadmap for Link Earning?

Creating a roadmap for link earning is crucial for making decisions about your content. But, how do you decide where to begin?

Researching about your competitors and listening to your customers allows you to know what engages your audience and effectively process the type of content that is generating the most links.

Developing a system of researching, content mapping, and promotion is the lifeblood of link earning.

Here are the four step strategies for turning content into earned links:

1. Research

One of the hallmarks of developing your strategy is finding data-oriented information on your competitors and audience to create actionable takeaways.

To quickly find competitor information, you can type in a keyword you want to rank for in the search box. The search result will show the top five to eight competitors listed and you can ignore the big players, like eBay product pages and Facebook pages.

Then, you can plug those URLs into link building tools to begin pulling data. For instance, in “Moz”, you’re able to view the most linked pages of that site. You can note the top 10 articles that are being linked for each competitor.

Next, you can add your competitor URL into “Buzzsumo”. Note the top 10 articles that are being shared. Buzzsumo also gives you the option to “View Sharers” which is great to start adding to your personal discovery list.

After you have all the required data pulled, you can build your personas. The information from Buzzsumo, social media and Google Analytics will help you to define demographics, goals and challenges, values, and any additional insights you might uncover.

2.Be Creative

“Mindmeister” has an amazing tool for content message mapping. You can use this tool to help clearly define your message for the content you want to publish. Content mapping will also help you identify any gaps in your strategy.

At this stage, you can begin building your editorial calendar with “Trello”. Give yourself the freedom to throw as many ideas out there as you can, pulling the resources from the research phase. You can pair each idea with a topical keyword phrase to keep it structured.

Once Trello is planned out, start pairing your content with design ideas. Try to be purposeful in connecting the dots for each visual. For instance, would a podcast for video work best for an interview article? Or, perhaps an infographic for a research oriented piece?

And, you can also decide what types of content upgrades you can feature for each article.

3.Promote

After the article is written, run through your content promotion workflow. Again, this process is laid out on Trello. First, go down on your on-site SEO checklist. The usual meta titles, alt tags, h1 tags, etc. are all in play there.

Once you hit publish, you can submit your articles to social bookmarking sites and answer any relevant questions on Quora or Reddit. You can even email your team with pre-populated tweets and links to the social bookmarking sites for a little extra love.

Next, schedule the article in Buffer to be published on Twitter 3 to 4 times throughout the next week or so and once on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+. Depending on the direction of your personas, you can also allocate a certain amount of money on social ad campaigns.

And then, schedule a dedicated blog post email newsletter to your audience with a pre-populated tweet.

In addition to the email newsletter, you can even send a personalized email or tweet to any influencers who might be interested in that particular piece of writing.

Within a month or so, look to start syndicating your content. Whether this is on your own platforms like LinkedIn or Medium or you can pitch it to major social media platform Post.

And, lastly, look for any opportunities to fit your article in a guest blog post.

Bonus Tip: Set-up Google Alerts for the long-term growth of the article.

4.Measure

After you’ve hit publish, you want to start tracking your metrics. Ask yourself how does promoting your content increase awareness, bring links, contribute to social shares, or add to the bottom line?

Metrics of content marketing can be separated into these four categories:

  • Consumption metrics: How many people viewed or downloaded a piece of content?
  • Sharing metrics: How resonant is the content and how often is it shared with others?
  • Lead-gen metrics: How often does content consumption result in a lead?
  • Sales metrics: Did you actually make any money from the content?

You can also measure month-over-month how many links each piece of content is generating within the sharing metrics.

Here is a spreadsheet you can use to track your metrics.

High-quality content is one thing, but if you don’t build a strategy that leverages social shares and link earning the right way, then you’re probably wasting your time.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few core links earning tips:

5 Link Earning Ideas You Should Try

By now, it’s well documented that link earning is more than a one-trick pony at gaining organic space in Google SERPs. Link earning is not something that happens overnight. It takes a good amount of time to build relationships, be a part of a community, and develop content ideas that are actually worth sharing.

Let’s take a look at some link earning ideas to try:

Data-Backed, Long-Form Resources

According to a recent study about the average length of the content in the top 10 results of search queries was found to be over 2,000 words for most of the top rated posts. Now, we are not advising that you hold yourself to these length restrictions. Each piece of content should match your audience’s needs.

Creating valuable content that is backed by statistics, quotes from authoritative sources, or your own data, can help people.

Let’s take Vero’s 40 Tips for Dramatically Better Emails” article, for instance.

This article currently has 60 linking root domains, a Page Authority of 52 and over 8,000 social shares. What makes this piece so successful?

  • It’s a well-written and researched piece of over 8,000 words.
  • The design is crisp and each tip is coupled with a real-life instance.
  • It provides relevant data for key points.

Vero’s content is useful to its email marketing targeting audience as well. This style can also be used in interview style or ego bait content.

A How-To Guide

How-tos, tutorials, and guides all create valuable content that helps to attract and convert potential customers. When you begin providing information to people, you begin to earn their trust and this trust eventually converts to links and revenue.

Take a look at the partnership between KISSmetrics and Chupamobile. They needed a conversion carrot for their emails and, so they created a lead gen page. This page converted 44% right off the bat.

Some of the useful and excellent guides have numerous linking root domains, adequate social shares, and a strong Page Authority. Why does this work?

• The interactive features engage the audience.

• The content helps customers solve problems, in turn, making them happier which in turn makes them more likely to recommend it to their friends.

Engaging Visuals

Content with relevant images gets 90% more views than content without relevant images. Engaging visual content builds your digital story. Visual content is just like the Nutella to your peanut butter. Without it, it’s just not that great.

Let’s take a look at some visual content:

  • Interactive Infographic: Only 9% of America Chose Trump and Clinton as the Nominees by New York Times
  • Comparisons: Video Game Characters with Realistic Body Types by Bulimia.com
  • Graphics: Perceptions of Perfection by Superdrug Online Docter
  • Interactive map- Your State’s Favourite Reality TV Show. This map currently has 71 linking root domains, 984 social shares, and a Page Authority of 52. Why is this map on fire?
  • It makes a personal connection with every reality TV show watcher
  • The visual content is curated very well.
  • The content pairs nicely with data.
  • This also includes video.

Community Building

Building a blissful community around your brand takes ample amount of time, trust, and authority. Your community represents a lot of things including your brand, your ideal customer, and your ongoing support system. They’re the ones who convince others to use your services or products. They help expand your reach and represent the voice of your company.

“Groove” built got 1000+ subscribers from one blog post in 24 hours. Their article currently has 32 linking root domains, 2,197 social shares, and a Page Authority of 49.

What did they do right?

• The groove is honest and they share real data in their posts.

• They talk to their consumers within the post.

• Content upgrades are evenly scattered throughout the post.

Tools

Creating tools is an extension of your brand. These typically require a user to interact with your content. It’s a fun personalized experience for both the user and the brand. This requires you to truly know your audience and understand what their needs are.

HubSpot has pretty much invented the idea of using tools for inbound marketing. Their website marketing grader has generated 313 linking root domains and a Page Authority of 79.

What makes this work?

• It requires users to put in their email address before even playing. Lead generation tool already!

• It gives the users personalized information based on their website.

“CoSchedule” also created a similar tool called the Headline Analyzer. Again, the personalized interactive content makes this a win-win situation.

Why Link Earning Matters?

Link earning is not that easy to execute. But, there are many who are experimenting with ways to legitimately earn high-quality links. It’s high time for SEO experts to unite to lay the groundwork for link earning from businesses to grow organically in search engines.

River Pools and Spas is a small business that has benefited from link earning. Just one blog post “How Much Does a Fiberglass Pool Cost?” has generated huge revenue, eight linking root domains, and a Page Authority of 39.

It’s proven that a stern commitment towards strategizing, creating, and promoting content plays a vital role in pushing your content and links forward.

Conclusion

Link earning is the need of the hour and if you are a DIY kind of person. You can implement the above-mentioned tips in your content marketing strategy. But, if you are someone who likes to focus on other aspects of your business or website, then you can leave the job of link earning to a trusted SEO professional.

Either way, you will have to consider earning links over building links and “earn your keep” to become an online hit.

Charles Martin

Charles Martin is a SEO specialist working at DAPA in Northampton. SEO manager by day and writer by night, he is always enthusiastic about describing himself in the third person!
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