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SEO’s Dilemma – Link Building vs. Content Marketing – Whiteboard Friday

SEOmoz August 8, 2013 Comments Off

Posted by randfish

Today’s web marketers face a difficult decision: Do they stick with the classic link-building and keyword-marketing techniques they know have worked in the past, or do they opt to spend time on the broader realm of content marketing?
In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explores the reasons you might choose one path over the other.

SEO’s Dilemma – Link Building vs Content Marketing – Whiteboard Friday

For reference, here’s a still image of this week’s whiteboard:

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I want to address a dilemma that a lot of SEOs and a lot of marketers face and that is sort of choice between what should I be doing to move the needle on my search traffic? Should I be doing kind of classic SEO, the keyword targeting plus link building, which moves the needle? Or should I be thinking more broadly in terms of kind of a full content marketing spectrum? I’ll describe these two, and I’ll talk about why it’s so tough for these guys who are at this fork in the road.

So, in link building land, we research some keywords to target. We know we want to go after those. Maybe we’ve already been assigned them by our boss or our team or our client if we’re doing consulting. Then we try and go out and find potential opportunities to earn links. Maybe we do a little bit of comparative analysis. We’ll run the Keyword Difficulty tool and look at how people who are ranking for that keyword have done in terms of link metrics versus how we’re doing, and maybe we’ll do a little bit of on-page optimization as well. But mostly it’s around this link opportunity stuff.

I think a lot of folks in the classic SEO world do this, even today, and it does work. They go out and get those links. Maybe they do outreach, find competitive links, find open link opportunities around the Web, whatever it is that can move the needle on the links. But it’s really about that push-for-direct outreach and direct link building, not kind of passively sitting back and letting the links hopefully roll in.

Then you move up in the rankings. Slowly, but steadily, you will move up because links are still a big portion of the search engines’ algorithms, Google and Bing both. Over time, if you are moving the needle on links more than your competition, chances are good that you will be able to outrank them, assuming you are doing other things right.

On the flip side is the content marketing world. In content marketing land, this is a very, very different approach. We kind of take the broad view at the beginning of: Who is the audience that I want to reach? Who are all the people in that audience group? Then, what do they use? What channels do they use to discover content, to share things, to influence one another and to be influenced, and to discover new stuff, like the products, services, mission that I’m trying to fulfill or that I’m trying to sell them?

That could be things like Twitter and Facebook. It could be blogs that they read. It might be influencers that they follow on social networks or through email channels or whatever it is. Obviously, it’s going to be a lot of Google searches. Google is still quite a bit of the Web’s search traffic. Maybe it’s YouTube, people using video to find these things.

Then, I’m going to take from this audience and where they are and what they’re doing. I want to create content that will appeal to my target audience, the people I’m directly trying to reach and to their influencers. That might be a webinar, a video, a blog, a free tool, whatever it is.

Now I’m going to go out and do influencer outreach. I’m going to try and do good, smart keyword targeting on Google. I’m going to promote my stuff on social. I’m going to reach out to my community, maybe through email or directly.

Then, I’m going to hope to get the results of a little bit of increased traffic. I’m going to hopefully grow my community. If I’m producing valuable content stuff, more people will follow my social accounts, more people subscribe to my email, more people will be personalized by the connections that they’ve got to me through Google, so that their Google search results will be biased in my favor. I’ll move up a little in SEO because my domain authority hopefully grows some and I get a few links and referring traffic.

Then, I rinse and repeat this model over and over until I feel like, hey, now I need to go target new audiences, and I’m going to repeat this process all over again.

The challenge here is that . . . and I’ve seen this discussion happening in the SEO world and, in fact, I think it’s a very fair discussion to have. There are folks who are kind of in link building land who say, “This works for me; this doesn’t work for me.” You hear all sorts of reasons why it doesn’t work for them. Maybe it’s who their client or who their team or what their product is or who they’re trying to reach. They say, “Well, they’re just not interested. They don’t do a lot of content consumption. They’re not influenced by social channels and by YouTube and by blogs and by industry news or trade shows and events, or whatever these things are that I can use to amplify my content. I’m not getting value from this, and so I’m going to stick to this. I get some links. I move up in the rankings. I get more visits for the key terms I’m going after. That turns into conversions. This is what I’m after.”

Actually, I think it’s okay. I know that in the past many folks have kind of assumed that oh, well Rand is really against this, or Moz is really against this world. But that’s not actually the case. If this is working for you, I don’t have a problem with it.

What I have a problem with is when people don’t think holistically and don’t make the conscious choice and simply stick to what they have been doing because they’ve seen it work in the past. Even if it is not working as well or if it keeps getting harder or if something like Penguin comes along and penalizes a bunch of the tactics that you were using to get those links, you just stay on the treadmill. That’s where I think things get really dangerous, and I’ve got some ideas here about how you can choose.

One of the things that I think you should be conscientious about is goals and metrics. Are your goals tied to broad marketing efforts? Are we trying to get lots of people aware of our brand, aware of our product? Are we trying to do some positioning? Are we trying to get people to change their minds about how they solve a problem and come over to our world? Or is our metric just are we ranking well? Are we getting traffic directly from Google for the rankings, for the keywords that we care about, and are we converting them? If that’s your whole goal and metric, maybe link building land is the right way to go. Maybe this is a little bit broad.

Secondary, are you thinking long term or short term?

In the long term, one of the things that I do worry about is a lot of these tactics and a lot of Google’s algorithm has been getting more and more focused on things that are outside of just how many linking root domains do you have, and does the anchor text include your keywords, and is it pointing to a page that you’re targeting?

They’re getting a lot smarter. They’re using a ton more signals than they were just three or four years ago. They’re doing a lot more rich data options, rich snippets, different types of results. The classic 10 blue links, I think Dr. Pete found that was like 15% of search results are ten blue links and that’s it. That’s not a lot of opportunity. Even if you are moving up, boy, you’ve got to be pretty hopeful that they stick with this model and that the algorithm doesn’t change too much and that links continue to be a huge powering force and that nothing else overtakes those.

Multi-channel versus single. If search, in particular search rankings on primary keyword targeted phrases, are really the only channel that’s producing any kind of results and you don’t even see that in a multi-channel attribution, that social or that content or email or referring links or something else, long tail searches or whatever, are having a positive influence, then link building land looks a little more attractive and content marketing land doesn’t.

Finally, if the breadth versus depth of your skill set, your team, your SEO, your web marketing team is really around, “Hey, we’re good at this. You know, we haven’t quite figured out this stuff yet. We don’t have the people, the staff, the resources, the time, the energy, the buy-in from management to do these things.”

Well then, I understand going after link building land. I think that what’s important is that we have a conscious conversation and we understand the dichotomy and the different reasons we might choose one of these paths, not that we always pick one or we always pick the other.

In fact, there might be times when you are in content marketing land and you’re right here in and doing some SEO and you really move over to doing this cycle a little bit continuously because that is the focus of your efforts right now. It could be that you’re over here and you do some analysis. Maybe you’re doing your analysis around your keyword targeting and you say, “Boy, we’ve got good links to our page, but our domain authority just doesn’t help us. We need a broader set of influencers and of links and of people using our stuff. We really need to boost our overall domain and brand awareness. Maybe we want to get into content marketing land for a little while.

So, this choice is certainly up to you. I’m sure there will be a great discussion in the comments, and I look forward to that. Thanks for joining me. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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