I’m not one of those people who believes that content is king.
Despite the rally cry from spokespeople for search engines and pseudo whitehat SEO practitioners, content alone is simply not enough.
That being said, content is still very important and always will be, but we’re not just talking about just any content. That five-hundred word article you outsourced on Fiverr won’t produce results today.
Today, you need amazing content, and lots of it, but you also need to earn relevant and authoritative links if you want to rank well.
Earning those links requires well-written, in-depth, and engaging content, along with an effective outreach strategy. In this article, I’m going to explain five ways to create link-worthy content, and who you should target in your outreach to earn links to that content.
Take a controversial stance on a topic
Anyone who follows me on social media knows that I’m not one to shy away from controversy. I’m what some people might call opinionated. As a result, people know exactly where I stand on a topic pretty quickly.
The idea of taking a hard stance on a controversial topic terrifies most people because they’re worried that some people won’t like, or may even hate them because of it. If you’re one of those people, I have a secret for you—some people will hate you no matter what you do. My belief is that if they’re going to hate you anyway, you might as well give them a reason.
Look, people choose to love or hate someone because that person is either in or out of alignment with their own views. If you don’t give them a reason to love you, then only one of two things can happen.
Either 1.) they will hate you, which is OK because they’ll still know who you are and will likely still talk about you, or 2.) they simply won’t pay any attention to you, which in my opinion, is even worse.
Now when I say to take a controversial position, I don’t mean something ridiculous and cliche, like the “SEO is dead” nonsense that we see pop up every couple of years. That horse had already been beaten to death.
And don’t try to be edgy just for the sake of being edgy. Any position you take should truly be your own because you likely will get digitally beaten up by your haters for a while before it starts to benefit you. However, in the long run, and if executed properly, taking a controversial position can produce tremendous exposure, engagement, and links.
The idea here is to take a controversial stance that is so clear and powerful that your haters will link to it to point out to their audience how wrong they think you are, and your peers and fans will link to it to point out how right they think you are.
Outreach targets: Anyone who holds a strong opinion, either in support of, or in opposition to your stance, industry publications, and individual bloggers.
Create a comprehensive industry resource page
Creating a resource page is one of the most often misunderstood tactics in SEO, but to understand why, we need to understand its origin.
Bear with me here. We’re about to go off on a tangent.
In the late nineties when I first got involved in this industry, it was very common to have a “resources” page, which was basically just a list of (usually) related links. This was because search engines, frankly, sucked.
At that time, most of the web was invisible to the average user because search engines simply hasn’t yet found them. That prompted website owners to add links to other useful web pages on a page within their own website. This was awesome because it enabled visitors to find websites that may not have otherwise found. It also fueled the link-based algorithm of a brand new company that you’re probably familiar with now. That company was Google.
This algorithm was first called BackRub and then later renamed to PageRank. Personally, I think that was a good change because the idea of back rubs from a bunch of strangers on the internet just sounds a little too creepy for my taste.
The predictable outcome was endless pages of “resources” which were really nothing more than a list of links, and sometimes, a short description for each link. This fostered the concept of reciprocal linking. These links were built purely for the search engines in order to manipulate organic ranking, and offered very little to no real value to human visitors.
Many people are still stuck in a similar mindset. This is exactly why a truly comprehensive resource can have such a powerful impact today.
Now, when I talk about about a comprehensive resource, I don’t just mean a longer list of garbage than your competitors have. I mean, the absolute ultimate compilation of information on a topic. This might include, but not be limited to:
- Licencing, governing, and regulatory bodies
- Top industry publications
- Data sources
- Laws pertaining to your industry
- Educational videos
- Industry statistics
- Schools / educational resources
- Top podcasts
- Politicians / legislators involved in your industry
- Top YouTube channels
- Top podcasts
- Industry leaders
- White papers and case studies
- Employment / staffing firms specializing in your industry
- Industry associations and trade groups
- Industry events
- Facebook / LinkedIn groups
- Top books
- Frequently asked questions
It’s important to reiterate that I’m not just talking about a list of links and short descriptions here. I’ve already explained why that’s outdated thinking. Plus, the links are only a small part of what makes a great industry resource page today.
There needs to be a substantial amount of original content available on this page in addition to outside links. While word count doesn’t mean much on its own, I would generally aim for a 2,500-5,000 total word count of original, high-quality content as a good starting point. That may seem high, but you’ll find that once you write intro text for each section and original descriptions for each of the outbound links, you’ll probably approach 1,000-1,500 words with little effort. Once you start answering frequently asked questions, explaining technical terms, and and analyzing unique data, you should easily sail past 5,000 words.
This masterpiece of content should be beautifully formatted, broken into categories, and contain a table of contents with jump links, positioned repeatedly throughout the page.
And since you’ve invested substantial time and effort to write a comprehensive resource for your industry, most people will simply link to it rather than trying to create their own. Few people possess the grit to follow through on that amount of time and effort.
Outreach targets: Industry trade associations, industry publications, technical competitors who are outside of your geographical market, and individual bloggers.
Publish unique data + your analysis
Unique data, such as statistics, polls, case studies, and whitepapers that you have created can be a powerful way to create link-worthy content. This is both because it’s completely original content, and because it helps readers to see a more distilled perspective on a topic.
But don’t stop at the data itself. You’re an expert in your industry, so your opinion on what that data means can be incredibly valuable.
Data also plays an important role in link building because other content creators are constantly looking for data sources to support their claims. If your data can be used to help them do that, they are likely to share, and often, even link to it. Think about it like this—if I say in an article that forty seven percent of websites in the construction industry are not mobile responsive, you would probably ignore that stat. On the other hand, if I said that, and then linked to data on a third-party website that supported my claim, you would probably assume it was true. (Note: I have no idea if that statistic is true—I just made it up on the fly.)
The key to using this approach effectively is first compiling data that is difficult and/or time-consuming for others to replicate. The greater the challenge in doing so, the more likely that your audience will simply link to your content rather than trying to recreate their own similar data.
Next, you need to present the data in a way that helps others support their positions. Clarity goes a long way here, which might include tabular formatting, subheadings, and jump menus. You’ll get serious bonus points if you can make that data interactive in some way.
From that point, it’s a matter of analyzing the data and presenting your own perspective of what it means, how it impacts the industry, and what people should do about it. Ideally, it should be updated as frequently as is necessary. That might mean yearly, or it might mean daily. It all depends on the data and your industry.
Outreach targets: Industry trade associations, industry publications, news organizations, and individual bloggers.
Develop useful case studies
Case studies are a great way to demonstrate your expertise by giving you an opportunity to dig far deeper than you could in a typical blog post.
The audience for case studies may be slightly different than the audience for most of your other content. They will usually be more knowledgeable and technically oriented than the people who just read your regular pages and posts. This is because case studies tend to cover, in great detail, the execution of a project, or the use of a product, service, or process, under specific conditions.
Where most people go wrong with cases studies is that they treat them as a nothing more than a sterile recollection of details. Don’t do that, because literally no one will read them, and you’ll have wasted your time and energy.
Instead, make your case studies engaging by telling a story about the data rather than simply presenting data. Explain the circumstances leading up to the case study, and then explain in detail exactly what you did, how and why you did it, and how it impacted your company or client.
People want to know specifically how something will benefit them, so that’s exactly what you have to give them. Show them how your products and/or services will solve their problems, and do so in a clear, hype-free, and believable style.
It’s important not to be vague or ambiguous here. If you hide the details, your case study will come off as self-promotional, and people will tune it out. Instead, share as much detail as possible without giving up your (or your client’s) competitive advantage.
For example, if you used a client’s SEO campaign as a case study, you would certainly want to omit any keyword research or link building opportunities you identified, but you might include the total number of pages created and links earned instead. Obviously most competent SEO practitioners can dig this information up on their own, but why make it easier for them?
This case study should also include information about:
- The client
- Their target market and customer avatar
- Specific challenges they faced
- Strategies and tactics used to overcome those challenges
- Results obtained
- Return On Investment (ROI) if possible
Outreach targets: Industry trade associations, industry publications, suppliers, vendors, and individual bloggers.
Utilize a unique layout / presentation
A unique layout for a particular bit of information, a web page, or even an entire website can draw a lot of attention because most people are conditioned to expect the standard web page filled with text that scrolls from top to bottom. This is the standard because in most cases, it’s the most logical and user-friendly layout. But it’s definitely not the only layout. There are lots of different ways to present content that are both unique and search engine friendly.
Stepping outside of what’s expected can be an effective way to earn links.
The key is to ensure that your layout, while unique enough to motivate others to link to it, is still user and search engine-friendly. It doesn’t matter how creative it is if humans find it difficult to use and it doesn’t perform well in organic search.
Some ideas might include:
One way to utilize a unique layout is to publish interactive data, which is a modern reboot of the infographic. This is eye-catching, engaging, and informative, which makes it a powerful tool in your link building toolbox. The key to success with this tactic is to present the data in a creative, yet user and search engine friendly way. Here are a few examples of interactive data in use:
- A Guide to Who Is Fighting Whom in Syria
- Is It Better to Rent or Buy?
- Why do Buses Bunch
- Marijuana Legal States
- Daily Routines of Famous Creative People
Split screen layout
You could try a split scene layout to compare two different things. This could be almost anything—products, services, teams, politicians, ideologies, etc. You’ll have to pay extra attention to how this layout displays on mobile devices, and it may not work below certain screen resolutions.
Another option is to take a non-standard approach to navigating through a section of a website. Where most web pages simply and expectedly scroll up and down, today’s modern web allows a more complex and immersive design. This provides an opportunity to create a newsworthy and link-worthy design. Especially if you can incorporate AR or VR.
Outreach targets: Design publications, development publications, design award organizations, individual design and development bloggers.