Proactive link building and link earning are two different concepts. In fact, whilst link bait may be conceptually closer to link earning than link building, they are still very different beast. To set the record straight, link bait is often considered to be the underhand brother of link earning whereas link building is more often than not associated with the ‘harder sell’ links and more often than not more closely associated with link spam than its two other cousins.
To reiterate the basic concept of links from an SEO perspective a high quality and relevant link acts as a vote of confidence or vote from the link building website. The fact that it must be a high quality and relevant website is a completely different conversation to be had!
The central factor in both link building and link earning campaigns is the production of high quality content that is of genuine value to the user. Without great content creation, neither campaign will be as successful as they could be. For years SEOs have focussed on proactively contacting websites in order to solicit content to them which can be used on their website, in return the website would provide a backlink. Over the past few years with multiple Google updates placing more emphasis on high quality content and heavy penalisation of spammy links there has been a shift away from link building to what is considered to be a more organic form of increasing your backlink portfolio. Enter link earning.
In short, link earning is the practice of producing such high quality and valuable content on your own site that other websites will naturally link to this content. You rarely hear SEOs embarking on a ‘link earning campaign’. Instead they refer to it as content creation but a major aim behind this content creation is to earn links. There are a number of benefits that make link earning a more attractive option than link building:
Ever since Google’s infamous Penguin was released into the wild in early 2012 there has been a significant crackdown on spammy link building. This has led to a significant shift in how SEOs consider their role in the marketing ecosystem, to such an extent that certain terminology has changed with many SEOs now referring to themselves as inbound marketers rather than SEOs. The Penguin Update has also led to SEOs (or inbound marketers) looking to garner the most organic links possible. Proactive link building is not organic by its very nature: you are controlling the types of links that are pointing to your site. On the other hand, if you are earning links through great content your links should be occurring more naturally. Therefore, in theory the only websites that would organically link to your content would be highly relevant. Furthermore, the websites would only link to your content if it is of genuine value to their users. As a result, earned links are less likely to fall foul of Google’s Penguin.
Variety of anchor text
External anchor text can be a poisoned chalice. It has historically been an incredibly powerful tool for SEOs to target certain search terms but comes with considerable risk. The chances of exactly the same (non branded) anchor text occurring on multiple sites is reasonably low and can therefore be a spam signal for Google. Regardless of the risk, many SEOs cannot resist the powerful temptation of exact match external anchor text which can in turn lead to them exposing a website to possible penalties. It is this attempt to control your backlink portfolio that can lead SEOs into troubled waters. Link earning on the other hand leaves the choice entirely in the hands of a separate webmaster. Any anchor text used will be what said webmaster deems as the most appropriate and useful within the context of their webpage, decreasing the possibility of spammy anchor text.
Retain onsite content
Onsite content is a valuable tool in an SEOs arsenal. It is a useful method of demonstrating authority on a subject which is an essential function in a website’s ability to rank for relevant search queries. The issue with link building is that in order to gain high quality links you need to solicit high quality content to other websites. This is awesome content that will be contributing to another website’s authority rather than your own. Of course you do gain a backlink and therefore association with that content, so it is not all bad. However, content that successfully earns links is the best of both worlds. Not only do you manage to retain your best content on your own website, but you also gain links because of this content. Win win. In addition to this, if your awesome content is being hosted on another website you potentially receive less credit and brand awareness than if it is hosted on your own website. Obviously this depends on the reach of your own website compared with the website you have targeted for link building, but you get the point.
Multiple links from one piece of content
As a follow on from retaining onsite content, a major issue faced by a lot of websites/businesses is the fact that you are restricted on the amount of time you can dedicate to content creation. Time is a commodity that we are all trying to buy back and great content creation takes a considerable amount of resources. If you are then soliciting this content to another website you may only gain one backlink from the time invested in producing the content. However, if you use it on your own site and the content is so good that it naturally earns links from other websites you can turbocharge the effect of the time spent on content creation. One piece of great content can earn multiple links whereas a piece of content solicited to a third party website may only result in one backlink.
An honest appraisal of content
Clearly earning links via content creation can be incredibly useful. However, the concept of link earning can also be of high value to webmasters and marketers alike. It provides a very honest appraisal of your content creation strategy and whether it is providing value. You may have read ‘providing genuine value’ many many times on the Yellowball site and that is because we consider it to be fundamental to any successful SEO campaign. If your content is earning links then it demonstrates that it is of value to others and can highlight trends which you can capitalise on. Conversely if your content is not earning backlinks then it can help identify issues in an inbound marketing strategy such as lack of quality or ineffective marketing of said content.
Whilst you may not embark on a link earning campaign it is a concept that has gained considerable popularity and should always be a consideration when producing content. Furthermore, it is a concept that will help you more accurately assess the effectiveness of your marketing as a whole. Having awesome content is all well and good, but if you don’t spread the word about it you are unlikely to earn links. Just another reason why search engine optimisation is not just about keywords and links. A great SEO campaign will require all other facets of marketing and the concept of link earning will demonstrate how well you are utilising other marketing departments.