Link building isn’t the marketing dinosaur purists believe it is. Even Google’s spaminator, Matt Cutts, claims that building links remains a legitimate part of SEO. Blackhat content marketing tricks will land you in hot digital water with search engines, but white hat techniques shouldn’t be thrown out with last week’s leftovers. Your rank will continue to grow as long as you’re creating engaging content that readers want to share with friends.

“A lot of SEO is now circling back around to good old fashioned marketing,” says Cutts. “If you think about what will appeal to people, you will find

[…] trying to build your links will be easier as well.” Hummingbird drove home the importance of winning an audience organically, with content that added to people’s lives even if they never bought your product. Today’s link building techniques must take the same approach by engaging high-ranking publications enough to increase your links naturally. Moz’ Ranking Factors study found that social signals and external links were among the five most effective ways to gain rank.

Penguin-Proofing

Directory listings and spammy guest blogs are toxic to Google Penguin, but these links are still as effective as ever:

  • Social media shares are still search engine magnets over the long-term. Google doesn’t pay attention to Google+ social signals and retweets unless their accumulated value proves they’ve been built organically. In other words, a loyal audience needs to be built.
  • Keyword research can still be used to find out which sites your target market visit. One-on-one marketing with their sources via press releases and email marketing can help you win quality links if your content interests them enough. Bear in mind that your competitors may be following the same strategy, so it’s imperative that you diversify your efforts to win an edge.
  • E-books, webinars, blog posts, and infographics are all opportunities to build links. As long as your content is free and not locked behind a form submission, you should have no trouble baiting sources into linking to you.
  • Use egobait to gain social media shares. By including influencers in your content marketing via interviews and profiles, you’ll probably be lucky enough to gain plenty of tweets and shares from important industry specialists.
  • No opportunity to gain organic links should be passed up. Every time you create blog posts and whitepapers, send them to niche writers who might show enough interest to provide links.

Managing Content

Deep Resources

Deep resources are perfect if you have the budget for them. Create an in-depth resource such as an e-book and build links via every marketing effort you make to promote it. Interviews, book launch events, and graphics are all valuable ways to attract industry leaders and clients.

Spam vs. Content

The days of spammy guest blog posts are dead, but that doesn’t mean all blogs are the enemy. Brand-based thought leadership posts and the like attract the interest of people rather than Google bots, so it’s not yet time to kick blogging out of your marketing campaign entirely. If you want to make the kind of impact that would make Google’s April Fool’s Day campaign seem amateur, all the better. Plan a day on which to roll out content all over the web, painting your brand identity across every site your demographic visits. The resultant buzz will not only contribute to your brand power, but your link-building strategy, too.

Leveraging Influencers

Companies are putting out enough content to create a massive noise in virtual corridors these days, and one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is through long-term influencer marketing. It’s the fastest growing and most economical content marketing tactic, according to Tomoson. 92% of buyers look to influencers for company referrals, and they usually come with the benefit of high authority and reputation scores, which improves the quality of the links they offer.

Syndicated Content

It’s tricky to get syndication right, but it can be done. Yahoo gains most of its traffic from syndicated content, and there’s no reason that you shouldn’t use it too. Matt Cutts suggests you do it by:

  • Embedding links into your article.
  • Using rel=canonical help
  • Using authorship markups

These techniques ensure that all syndicated content is attributed to the original publisher or author. The more hints and attributions you offer, the easier it is for Bing and Google to send reputation points in your direction. Clear indications of authorship also help you perform better on search. Some companies avoid the problem of duplicate content by syndicating it without copying it to their own website. As long as you build links on a reputable domain, you’ll draw benefits.

A Double-Edged Sword

Ideally, your link building and content marketing should work in tandem. Manual link building tends to be too spammy to have any value, but anything that forms a part of your content marketing strategy will naturally attract brand mentions and links. A good web presence cannot exist without social media, but merely sharing your own content on your Facebook page won’t cut it. An engaged readership needs to share your content via their pages. It’s difficult to get that right without doing some proactive link building.

Outbound Links

It’s possible that links to authority sites builds trust with Google, and given how easy they are to include, it makes no sense to cut them out of your strategy. SEOMoz found that outbound links also add relevancy signals that send the right traffic to your website.

Interviews

Public relations needs to be a core part of your content marketing campaign. If you have industry experts working under your banner, external publications can be convinced to interview them on their own site with backlinks to your website. Domain authority is everything here. There’s little point in appearing on the blog of your nextdoor neighbor (unless he’s Seth Godin, of course). Some top publications, including Forbes and Entrepreneur, publish guest content that can provide you with the kind of links money simply cannot buy.

Link Quality

Not all links are created alike. Google’s bots have a complex and comprehensive way of assessing their value.

  • Broken links tell Google that your site is neglected, so they reduce your homepage quality.
  • Internal links from domains with excellent reputations are more effective than low-PR pages.
  • Dofollow tags appear to hurt rank, so your outbound links need to be kept to a reasonable number.
  • Syndicated content taken from an indexed page will have a lower rank than the original.
  • A high number of internal links improves relevance relative to the rest of your website.
  • Longer URLs hurt rank.
  • Pages close to your homepage have more authority.

Content marketing doesn’t have enough value on its own. Link building is still among Google’s top 200 ranking factors. The search engine does an excellent job of identifying spammers and penalizing them across all their sites, so black hat links will do serious damage to your brand. To get along with Google Penguin and Hummingbird, URLs need to provide genuine value to readers. Your link building strategy will serve you for at least another four years, so your investment won’t be made in vain.