The Weakest Link: How Content Marketing Has Replaced Link Building

John Mahood By John Mahood

Once upon a time, the secret recipe to ranking highly in search engines was one simple step: Link building. Solely focused on increasing the number of inbound links to your site, there was zero emphasis put on creating great content to pull in those searching for products and services like yours.

In outdated link building strategies, you could simply use paid links in order to drive more traffic to your site. You could email webmasters and request that they link back. While quality links were taken into consideration, sites with more inbound links often ranked higher, regardless of their quality.

The Content Contrast

Content marketing is different. It’s smart. It’s strategic. It is the act of creating content that is valuable to readers. Where traditional SEO tactics created content that was useful to search engines, content marketing focuses on content that is useful to real people. And content marketing is the new way that marketers are driving warm leads to their site.

So when did link building become last year’s news and content become king?

What works for search engines and Google's algorithm changes often.

* Dates and projections are general estimates. Some statistics are not specifically measurable. For illustration purposes only.

Penguin and Panda

The answer is, “When Google said so.” Google frowns upon tactics such as keyword stuffing and unethical link building, and all of this is laid out in their Webmaster Guidelines. Google has wanted sites to put out useful content all along, they just didn’t have a clear plan to make it happen. In February 2011, they decided to crack down on those breaking the rules with a set of changes in their algorithm called “Panda.”

Google said that the goal of Panda was to decrease ranking for low-quality sites. This allowed for improved rankings that WERE providing useful content, or concentrating on a content marketing strategy.

In 2012, the next round of changes, called “Penguin,” were rolled out, further penalizing marketers using poor SEO tactics to drive traffic, like the manipulation of search engine indexes for a higher ranking. Panda and Penguin are updated regularly, which is why it is important to keep up to date with what is working when it comes to SEO.

And right now, content marketing is working.

New Ways to Measure

Links are still important to SEO – but it’s the links that point to your site because you’re sharing great content that help you in rankings. However, there a lot of other factors that are important to Google and its algorithms.

With more people than ever sharing their opinions on social media, it pays to have sharable content. Google is now taking into consideration how many times people are sharing your posts, especially on Google+. In fact, you now see someone’s Google+ photo right on the Google search page when someone enables Google Authorship. And your search results can differ depending on content those in your circles have posted.

Once you get a lead to your site, the measurement isn’t over yet. Google Analytics gives you a plethora of information about their activity on your site – information you can use to change your strategy. This includes things like the time spent on your site, time spent on individual pages, and more. Google Analytics is regularly updated, and many of the factors it measures weren’t even considered a few years ago.

Blog Your Way Up the Rankings

A perfect way to regularly provide useful content that will help you rank in search engines and become a thought leader in your industry is by blogging. Social share buttons and comment sections make this kind of content ultra-sharable and easy to engage customers with.

Writing blog posts that are keyword rich and topical to your customers is an important part of a successful content marketing strategy. All it takes is a little bit of time to get into your customers’ heads. One useful exercise is creating personas of your readers, giving them a background story so that you can more clearly write to your audience.

Looking at the list of keywords you want to rank for is also good practice when trying to think of a blog topic. Knowing which words you want to focus on ahead of time will help you weave them into your post more easily. And once you’ve got a blogging strategy down, it’s important to blog actively. Having a well-updated blog will keep you relevant in search engines.

A New Plan of Attack

There are a lot of factors that affect your search rankings, and the rules change daily. But the need for good, relevant content will always be there. Having a content marketing strategy that includes great content that will encourage people to link and share your content, as well as an SEO plan with well thought out keywords and strategy will get you far.

It’s about more than just links now: it’s about content.

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