Holly Powell

Why You Need to Earn Links Rather than Build Them

By: Holly Powell | August 19, 2013 | 

earn links

By Holly Powell

A lot has changed since online marketing first started; in fact, can you even remember a time when you thought stuffing meta-data full of keywords was a good idea?

Once upon a time, if you spent time building links you’d see results quickly, and minimal effort could increase your ranking on Google.

But if you’re in marketing now, you probably know how hard it is just to get a single link these days. Today, you need to earn links rather than build them.

Google and search has changed. You might think Penguin 2.0 was the tipping point, but Google has been trying to diminish, if not destroy, the value of paid-for or spammy links for a very long time.

Google is even starting to classify some guest posts as bad links, as some are potentially ‘unnatural.’

So what is a marketer to do?

Is SEO Dead?

The answer is no: SEO is certainly alive, but it’s not as we once knew it. You shouldn’t panic either, as any marketers who are focused on obtaining good-quality links, and writing content that is both engaging and reader-focused, will actually benefit from these changes.

The new algorithms at Google are working to remove the competition of those who use black-hat SEO methods, and so you’re about to be rewarded for all the dedicated, hard work you did for your clients.

You’re about to be rewarded for adhering to the rules too, and there are more benefits to come. To take advantage of them, all you need to do is embrace the new methods, it’s time to earn links.

Earning links is about creating things that people want to link to, so rather than asking people for a link, you’re just placing excellent quality content in front of influencers, and letting them do the rest.

Spend most of your time as a marketing agency coming up with brilliant ideas, rather than begging people for links, and you’ll soon find that when you produce those ideas, they are just as valuable, if not more valuable, than hours of outreach.

Earn Your Links

Lets take a look at a few of those ideas. Here are a few examples of thinking outside the box, that should help you attract the very best links:

  • Think visual. Infographics, pictures, puzzles, Photoshopped photos, editorials, and more. Most people would rather scroll through a heap of great pictures than read a blog post, no matter how incredibly well written it is. If your visual content is unique and/or original, even better. You can release your content to news websites or blogs, offer them exclusivity or even the chance to be the first to publish the content.
  • Create videos. Videos are one of the biggest emerging sectors of social media. Did you know YouTube is now the second largest search engine in the world? Just by publishing a great video on YouTube, you could get a heap of links from people sharing it with their friends or embedding it on their site. A great video could lead to your brand being approached for interviews, or being reviewed by bloggers and vloggers, because it’s such a great way of getting a lot of information across in a fun and interesting way.
  • Think offline. Sometimes online marketing has to start offline. Just think about how many websites must review, write about, and link to events and news. Well marketers, it’s time to create that news, and plan those events. Get out there and get involved with your target market, create a flash mob, launch a publicity stunt, and do what it takes to make people talk about your brand. What happens online is often reactive to what happens offline, so maybe it’s even more effective to be the creator, not the commentator.
  • Be interactive. People are more likely to engage with something if they are part of it. Games and apps are, of course, one of the best ways of doing this. Add a game or app to your client’s website, make it brilliant, funny, or just plain addictive (even simple can be addictive, just take Angry Birds or Candy Crush for example), and then litter it with sharing buttons. Links will come from sharing scores and results on Facebook and Twitter, or even from bookmarking and sharing on Reddit and StumbleUpon.
  • Add gamificationGamification is the newest buzzword in marketing, and rightly so! The idea behind it is  we are all competitive, and we like it when things are set out as a game (remember, that’s how teachers got you to learn and pay attention in school!). Any content can benefit from gamification, just think about adding scores and an interactive nature, and you’ll find competitiveness leads to people linking their friends to your content, just to compare scores and abilities.

Remember the old “content is king” saying? Well new SEO still follows that rule. Link earning allows you to spend more time being creative, and less time sending out requests for guest posts and links.

And who wouldn’t want that?

About Holly Powell

Holly Powell is a digital marketing executive who works for Webtise, a UK based web development and online marketing agency based in Bromborough, UK. She's one of a cracking team dedicated to the production of specially designed e-commerce websites to help clients engage with customers, and increase conversion rates.

  • JasonVerhoosky

    Love it! Especially love the thought that good, solid content, and bright ideas can outweigh begging for favors.
    Also love the concept of solid videos, and usage of video going the distance.  When it comes to Gamification, what examples are you particularly fond of?

  • Great post Holly. I love that you included Offline tactics. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but it can be a huge hit for sites. I run marketing at a B2B e-commerce platform and a few years back we saw a huge jump in traffic on one of our client sites and we couldn’t understand why. We later found out that a product they were selling was featured on Oprah and the buzz it generated created an enormous amount of traffic four our client as well as residual online converge in lifestyle blogs etc. Good stuff!

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  • You are spot on. It’s all about earned links and media now and less about pushing your content out on every site that will publish it. Quality first and always. Add value, not just noise. I love the idea of video — it’s something I need to add this year and push my comfort zone.

    • TaraGeissinger Joining in as a reply as my browser won’t let me “just comment” (hi Tara!). I love the line “online … has to start offline.” As a consumer, if a brand engages me somehow (inviting me to tweet them at their instore display, any number of things), I am super likely to do it especially if it helps promote a brand/product I love. And on the video — it’s fascinating to me how that’s growing. It’s hard for me to watch a video (easier at the desk to catch a written post than to be heard listening/watching a video!) but I also like how it stretches my comfort zone to throw things up on Youtube. Great piece.

  • You provided some awesome ideas here for earning links.
    My two favourites are go offline and gamification.
    I like idea of taking something offline and promoting it. I think creating an event offline would be really cool.
    Gamification is something that has been around for a bit, but it hasn’t hit the mainstream.
    As a gamer, I love the idea of adding game elements to your website. However, I don’t see many people do it well at all.
    Many forums have had gamification in place for a long time without knowing it. For example, giving titles and ranks to top posters and top commenter. People eat that stuff up.
    Everyone loves being king of the hill, so adding that gamification to a site can be a great way to increase engagement as well.
    The biggest problem I find is that if you want to use a plug in to help this out, there aren’t many of them. The ones I have seen have been lame.
    rant complete.


  • Ren_MBA

    Great article! I never realized YouTube was such a major competitor in the search category. With the emergence of picture and video social platforms, it’s obvious that graphics and visual marketing tactics are going to become more and more important. Your points about visual and video were spot on. Thanks!

  • I’ve always been a proponent of quality over quantity and it’s nice to see that approach finally trickling into broader user preference as well. Probably the greatest part of earned linking is that it continues to pay dividends long after the initial push. Infographics and videos that are both valuable and evergreen can really help any business – new or established – really ramp up traffic and engagement. Great post!

  • Been focusing on the decent content generation for awhile personally, and building a network of folks who actually like to read and share it. Because social media and leadership are broad topics, and a lot of people like sports, I have plenty to write about. I can always count on a decent amount of shares, too.
    I think our next project is a little more daunting – creating a much more technical, multi-author blog for our company. Our new website should be released next Monday, and then we start blogging about software dev, business intelligence, big data, etc. That definitely narrows the audience, and many of those readers still frequent forums vs blogs.
    I hope we are trailblazers…because nobody wants to write for crickets!

  • Actually Google aims at destroying unnatural or paid links except those coming from AdWords as well as blasting ads above the fold except on their own search results. The algorithm thing and the search for quality are just to cover the fact that they are just pushing their own products to make money, as much as possible. Like giving an automatic pagerank of 10, or 9, on every service they have.

    Also, in the real world of one person blogs who has the time to do all those things to get links and traffic while having a life? Without going to Fiverr every 10 minutes?

    Your points are definitely correct but I think we should just stop using Google and caring about its volatile traffic. Because if we find other ways to get it it might mean that one day Google will go out of business and for the freedom of the net it will be a great day.

    Imho. 🙂

  • This is an awesome post. I especially think the “think offline” point is something many people ignore: it’s not online vs. offline, it’s INTEGRATED marketing that matters.