Content marketing and SEO live in parallel universes. Great content is usually optimized for search simply by the nature of its high quality and quantity.
The problem occurs, however, when content marketers lose sight of their goals and, therefore, fail to have the correct perspective on the techniques that back up the findability of great content. Your content marketing goals should drive your content marketing practices and techniques.
As Joe Pulizzi has explained, you can have a number of overall business goals in content marketing.
- Brand awareness or reinforcement
- Lead conversion and nurturing
- Customer conversion
- Customer service
- Customer loyalty/retention
- Customer upsell
- Passionate subscribers
But that is only the start. There can be more goals, depending on the specific audiences and the niche. To accomplish any of those goals, your content must get:
- Ranked by search engines
- Found by users
- Read by users
And for the content to do that, it must be linked.
The concept of linking opens a huge can of worms, in both the content marketing and SEO worlds. Content marketers may object to links altogether, declaring them to be part of the seamy underworld of black hat SEO. SEO marketers, on the other hand, may secretly crave links and surreptitiously buy links.
Whatever the polarized views on the issue are, links are a real part of content marketing and SEO because:
- Unless your content gets linked, is linked, and has links, it doesn’t get ranked.
- If it doesn’t get ranked, it doesn’t get found.
- If it doesn’t get found, it doesn’t get read.
- And if no one is reading your content, then what’s the purpose of content marketing?
We have to think about links. We have to do something about links. We have to be informed, proactive, and strategic when it comes to linking technique in content marketing.
Linking is an integral part of content creation. The wrong linking practices may mean that your content never gets ranked or found. Even worse, misguided linking practices may result in a link penalty.
Here are the six things that every content marketer needs to know about linking techniques.
1. Use co-citation
Co-citation isn’t the sexiest technique on the planet, but it’s a darn good one. Plus, it promises to hold sway in the future of SEO.
SEO co-citation happens when your brand is mentioned but not linked. Since Google tracks brand mentions and not just direct links, you can grow the authority, ranking, and recognition of your site when you get more brand mentions.
Co-citation can even happen when Website 1 links to Website 2 and Website 3, thereby lending the authority of Website 2 to Website 3 even though the two aren’t linked.
Have I confused you yet?
Co-citation and its cousin co-occurrence are a bit mind-boggling. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to grasp the application of it.
Here’s what you should do: Mention other brands and sites in your content even if you don’t link to them.
Now, to be clear, linking to such sites is usually best. But if linking is not optimal or possible, then co-citation is an appropriate method of improving ranking and authority.
Here are times when co-citation can benefit your site:
- Guest blogging – Mention your site and/or brand name.
- Social media posts – Google indexes brand mentions on social platforms.
- Forum discussions or other user-generated content platforms where linking is not possible.
Watch the power of co-citation in practice.
“Content Marketing Institute” is mentioned on Forbes and Practical Ecommerce. Therefore, it appears in Google’s Search Engine Result Pages:
I click through to Practical Ecommerce. Here’s what I read:
There are two mentions of CMI, but no links. Is this a tragic loss of link potential?
Not necessarily. Why not? Because Google knows that the Practical Ecommerce site builds brand presence and potential for http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ and is giving it ranking presence. The articles mentioning CMI get found by search engines, noticed by users in Google’s News Knowledge Graph, and read by those users.
2. Forget about keywords
Even though I’m an SEO and digital marketer, I’m really telling you to forget about keywords.
Obviously, this point requires elaboration.
Keywords aren’t dead, but they have given way to a more complex SEO medley of search intent, long-tail complexity, semantic relevance, and schema markup.
In the old days of SEO, if you wanted to get ranked for a certain term, you would stuff your page with that term. Many SEOs went so far as to insist on “keyword density,” a supposed ideal ratio of keywords to the rest of the content.
In those days, the content might well be crappy, but it had tons of keywords, so Google would index it, rank it, and your website would be found.
It doesn’t work that way anymore. New standards of content marketing demand that you create insanely good content. Keywords and their semantic cousins happen naturally as a byproduct of great content.
In researching and writing this article, I did not give a single thought to a keyword. However, I imagine that eventually this article might rank for queries like “best practices for linking in content,” and “how to use links in content marketing.”
Here’s an example of how this works.
A user might be interested in “real-time marketing” and its effectiveness so she searches: “will RTM work for marketing.”
Here’s what she gets. Notice the top result:
That long-tail query, “will RTM work for marketing,” appears nowhere in Gregarious Narain’s article on CMI. In fact, the operative term “RTM” appears only twice in the article.
What’s going on here?
Well for one thing, keywords aren’t a big deal. Instead, there is a well-written article with plenty of semantic relevance. It is lengthy, well-cited, effectively linked to other sites, carefully analyzed, and it appears on an authoritative site.
And what happens? The article gets indexed, ranked to the top position on Google in mere hours (three hours after its publication), and read by a lot of people.
What’s the takeaway? It’s the old adage – write for users, not for search engines. Forget about your keywords, and dive into your subject with the best possible content you can create.
3. Stay focused on your niche
If you remain focused on your niche, you will get links from other websites.
If you stray from your niche, you will get links from undesirable websites in off-niches. Undesirable websites in off-niches will ruin your site’s authority.
When Google ranks your website, it is not just looking for links. It is looking for links from relevant websites. The more relevant these sites are, the more authority they give to your site.
Let me show you an example of this. Content Marketing Institute has a lot of links. What kind of websites are linking to CMI?
Take a look at the Majestic report:
From this chart, you notice that the Majestic topical trust algorithm considers links from “Computers / Internet / Web Design and Development” to be highly trustworthy. That’s exactly the kind of links CMI wants and needs.
They also consider links from “Business / Chemicals” to be authoritative. OK, that’s fine, but CMI doesn’t have very many of those so it’s no big deal.
CMI also gets a lot of links from marketing and advertising websites. That’s a win, because, after all, CMI is in the business of marketing.
The point is, these are the types of links that CMI wants and needs to build authority. CMI doesn’t need links from online casinos, floral design blogs, or online dating sites. Those wouldn’t be authoritative for CMI’s niche.
Question: How did CMI get such great links with such high relevance?
Answer: CMI only publishes articles for which it wants to get links.
The secret to getting the best kind of links to your content is publishing the best kind of content for your niche.
4. Don’t optimize your anchor text
When you link to other websites, there is a huge principle to keep in mind: Don’t optimize your anchor text.
What does this mean?
Every text link uses anchor text – the words in the copy that form the link.
In the following sentence, the term “cheap cell phones” would be the anchor text for a link to “www.example.com/cheap-cell-phones”
Check out the best place to buy cheap cell phones.
“Cheap cell phones” is a horrible anchor text. Why? Because it’s optimized with keywords.
The URL and presumably the page title and content all use that same keyword – “cheap cell phones.” By optimizing the anchor text with that term, the site is at risk for being penalized.
Linking is great. Linking with keyword-optimized anchor text is not great.
Instead of using keywords, use sentence fragments, branded terms, or other innocuous words in your anchor text.
5. Interact with other websites and blogs
A great way to get links from other sites is to interact with those sites.
You probably know the other players in your niche. Maybe they are competitors or simply other great websites. If you link to them and discuss their content, they are more likely to notice you and link to you.
Buffer, a social media tool, consistently publishes detailed long-form articles. In doing so, it interacts with other content sites in its niche.
In this article, Buffer links to Socialbakers:
That link goes to this page:
Here’s the thing. Socialbakers is a social media measurement and optimization platform. So is Buffer. Are Socialbakers and Buffer competitors?
But that doesn’t keep Buffer from linking to Socialbakers nor should it. Great content is great content, no matter who publishes it. Thus, Buffer can link to Socialbakers.
Who gets the benefit? Buffer and Socialbakers get the benefit. Socialbakers gets the benefit of a link, while Buffer gets recognition, co-citation value, recognition from Socialbakers, and the ethical use of its data in a great piece of content. Win.
The moral of the story is that it’s OK to link to other websites, competitors or not, as long as those websites have great content that adds value to your own.
In this article, I’ve linked to Kissmetrics, Search Engine Watch, Moz, Buffer, Google, and Quicksprout. Why? Because they all have something to enrich the content that you’re reading right now.
Note: If you don’t want to pass link juice to a competitor, you can use a link with the “nofollow” attribute. This qualifier allows you to link to the content, which is great for users, but it doesn’t pass the value to that site.
6. Link internally
In all the confusion and complexity of linking, it’s easy to forget one powerful linking technique: internal linking.
What is internal linking? Simply put, internal linking is creating a link from one page of your website to another, like this:
In the illustration above by Wikiweb, each “post” is linked to another “post” and from another “post.” Those posts are most likely evergreen pages or blog articles.
Internal links are different from menu links. Menu links are part of the structure of the site as a whole, and usually lead users to main pages. Internal linking in this discussion refers to actual text links within the content.
Anytime you create an article for your website, you should be linking it to and from other articles within your website.
Internal linking won’t pass authority to your site like an inbound link from, say, The New York Times, might. However, it will strengthen your site structure and integrity. Here’s what happens when you create internal links:
- Helps users access additional content
- Improves dwell time
- Reduces bounce rate
- Distributes page authority throughout the site
- Enhances the crawlability of the site
- Increases the indexation of all pages, including deep internal pages
- Increases overall page views across the site
If those terms are Greek to you, don’t sweat it. Here’s the big idea: Internal linking is awesome.
As an example of this, at the beginning of this article, I linked to Joe’s article. Why? First, it was relevant to my discussion. Second, I did it because it’s a strategic internal linking technique. That single link with the anchor text, “As Joe Pulizzi has explained,” has created a strengthening element to the website as a whole.
My blog, Quicksprout, uses this technique. As long as I have relevant content in another post on the site, I may drop in a link so that users can get more information. Here’s a recent example from one of my articles:
I started this article by reminding us of the goals of content marketing. Now, I want to bring it back to that goal-focused effort.
Remember why you’re doing this. It’s for customers. Make your content for readers, for users, for real people.
Linking is an important part of the content marketing universe, but let’s keep the big picture in mind, too.
Is linking a part of your content marketing strategy?
Want to expand your SEO insight? Check out Content Marketing Institute’s SEO content hub for more content focused on how to elevate your search engine rankings and relevance.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute