How to Build Links With Content Marketing
by Brian Dean · Updated Nov. 12, 2018
Today you’re going to learn EXACTLY how to build links with content.
This is the exact process I’ve used to build backlinks from sites like Inc:
And authority marketing blogs (like Shopify):
Once you have an idea of what this process is like, you can take things a step further with these actionable techniques for getting more traffic from Google that I’ve put together.
Let’s get started…
- Step #1: Find What Works
- Step #2: Choose a Content Format
- Step #3: Create Your (Awesome) Content
- Step #4: Promote Your Content
- Step #5: Build Links
- Step #6: Putting It All Together
Step #1: Find What Works
When it comes to content marketing, you have two options:
Option 1: Create content that MIGHT work
Option 2: Create content that’s already PROVEN to work
Guess which option is better 🙂
For example, here’s one of my most successful pieces of content (ever):
To date, this post has generated over 19k backlinks from 3k domains:
How did I come up with the idea for this post?
I found content in my industry that already did really well…
…and wrote my content based on that.
Simple. Yet effective.
With that, here’s how to find proven content in your industry.
First, do a Google search for topics that you want to write about.
Why is this important?
Well, as you might already know, you need links to crack Google’s first page.
If you see something on the first page of Google, you KNOW that it’s got lots of links pointing to it.
For example, let’s say you run a digital marketing blog. And you wanted to write something about SEO.
Well, you’d search for keywords like:
- SEO techniques
- SEO tips
- Higher Google rankings
- SEO best practices
Then, jot down what the first page results have in common.
For example, I notice that 7 of the results for “SEO tips” are lists of 5-20 tips.
So if you wanted to create a piece of content about SEO tips, a list post that contains 5-20 tips would work best.
Next, find pages that get linked to the most.
You’ll need a link building tool for this step.
I personally use Semrush. But feel free to use any other tool.
Anyway, here’s how this process works:
Just grab a competitor’s site. And pop it into the tool:
Next, take a look at which pages on their site have the most links pointing to it.
(In Semrush you can find this feature under “Backlink Analytics > Indexed Pages”.)
Then, take a look at which pages have generated the most links… and see what they have in common.
For example, in this case, you can see that most of the pages in the top 10 are ultimate guides or industry studies:
So within 2 minutes, you found a handful of topics PROVEN to get links.
Pretty cool, right?
Finally, find highly-shared content
There are two ways to do this:
- The manual approach
- Use a tool (like BuzzSumo)
I’ll walk you through both approaches right now.
The manual approach is pretty simple:
Just go to one of your competitor’s blogs. And take a look at the last 10-20 posts in their feed.
Most blogs have a counter that shows you how many times the post has been shared.
All you need to do is jot down the posts that have the most shares.
These aren’t just proven topics and content formats. They’re proven topics and content formats that are working right now.
(Which makes this step especially powerful)
The manual approach has its place. But if you want to scale this process I recommend trying BuzzSumo.
You can either pop a competing blog into the tool and see it’s most-shared stuff…
…or search with a keyword.
Either way, you’ll get a list of content that people have shared on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and more.
Pro Tip: By default BuzzSumo sorts the results by most total shares. But if there’s one social network that’s super important for your industry, sort the results based on shares on that particular site.
For example, my blog is in the tech space, so it’s important that my content gets shared on Twitter. That’s why I always sort the results by Twitter shares.
And once you’ve done that it’s time to…
Step #2: Choose a Content Format
Now that you have an idea of what’s already working in your niche, it’s time to start creating content.
You DON’T want to open up a blank Google Doc and start typing like a madman.
(Even though that’s what most people do)
Instead, you want to choose your format FIRST… then start writing.
With that, here are 4 content formats that tend to work GREAT for link building:
Format #1: Ultimate Guides
People LOVE linking to ultimate guides.
Ultimate guides put everything you need to know about a topic in one place.
For example, I published this ultimate guide to Google Rankbrain earlier this year.
Pro Tip: You might have noticed that my guide is custom designed. In my experience, a cool-looking guide makes it stand out… and boosts your content’s perceived value. Both of which result in more links.
Sure, it got a decent amount of social shares and comments:
But more important than that, lots of people linked to it:
And when you dig deep into those links, you can see that most people link to me because my guide is THE go-to resource on Google RankBrain.
That’s the power of Ultimate Guides.
The question is:
What should your ultimate guide be about?
That’s easy: one of the topics you found in step #1.
And now it’s time for our second proven content format:
Format #2: Detailed Case Studies
Let’s face it:
Most of the content out there is rehashed garbage written by people who have never actually done anything.
Enter: the humble case study.
A case study works well for two main reasons:
- It instantly stands out from lame “5 Tips for X” posts
- A case study gives bloggers something to link to (more on that later)
Let’s look at a real life example.
One of the first posts I published on the Backlinko blog was called: “Link Building Case Study: How I Increased My Search Traffic by 110% in 14 Days”.
As you might have guessed, this post is a case study.
Not only did this case study help show that I knew my stuff, but it’s been a link MAGNET since day 1.
And that wasn’t a fluke.
The very next year I published this case study:
And that case study has been linked to 3,000 times:
(Not as good as my first case study. But 3k links is nothing to sneeze at)
Pro Tip: Make sure to highlight a single “Hero Stat” in your case study. For example, the Hero Stat in my second case study was: “785% more conversions”. Sure enough, when you look at the backlinks to my case study, most of them cite that specific stat:
Format #3: Studies and Surveys
I’ll be honest:
Studies and surveys are NOT easy to pull off.
That said, when done right, they’re one of the best ways to build links at scale.
In fact, BuzzSumo found that 74% of marketers cite “more website traffic” as a result of publishing data from studies and surveys:
And another 49% agreed that this type of content is great for getting backlinks.
With that, let’s look at an example from my blog.
Last year I did a large scale study of YouTube Ranking factors.
This study involved scraping over a million videos… running scripts, analyzing data, making charts, and more.
(I told you this wasn’t easy)
But in the end, this post did 100x better than your average blog post.
In fact, it’s racked up over 2 thousand backlinks in just over a year:
Not too shabby.
Format #4: Visual Assets
A visual asset can be just about any type of visual content, including:
You get the idea 🙂
The reason that visual assets work well is this:
Visual content is VERY easy to embed inside of blog posts.
And whenever someone uses your visual asset in their post, they link back to you:
Let’s look at two quick examples…
First, this infographic I published a while ago.
Since then, dozens of bloggers have used it to explain how to create content that goes viral.
In fact, some people even created entire posts just to talk about the tips from my infographic:
Fortunately, you don’t need to create a fancy infographic to get links from visual assets.
In fact, simple visuals can work even better.
For example, I recently had a designer whip up this visual.
As you can see, it’s nice… but nothing fancy.
(Especially compared to a infographic)
But this visual works because it makes it easy to understand a complicated idea.
And because of that, bloggers use my visual when they want to explain long tail keywords vs. head terms.
As you can see, I get a nice “Image source” link when they do:
Now that you picked a content format, it’s time for the fun stuff:
Writing an awesome piece of content.
Step #3: Create Your (Awesome) Content
Over the years I’ve learned a handful of strategies for writing awesome content.
(These secrets have helped me generate thousands of high quality backlinks)
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite content strategies:
Strategy #1: Write LONG Content
Yup, this goes against conventional wisdom.
But the data is clear:
Longer content performs better than short content.
An analysis of 100 million articles found that long-form content (3k+ words) gets 50% more social media shares than blog posts that are <1000 words.
Also: longer content ranks better in Google.
To be clear:
I’m not saying you should pad your content with fluff.
Instead, cover EVERYTHING there is to know about your topic.
For example, this guide to ranking YouTube videos is 3,194 words.
And when you read the post, you quickly realize that there’s ZERO fluff.
It’s 100% actionable strategies and techniques:
It’s long for the simple reason that I cover pretty much EVERYTHING you need to know about YouTube SEO on that page.
And because my content is super in-depth, bloggers link to it when they talk about YouTube SEO:
Strategy #2: Make Your Content LOOK Good
I’ve mentioned this a few times before.
But it bears repeating:
Visually appealing content attracts more links.
There are a few ways to do this:
First, you can go crazy and create a custom designed page… like this ultimate guide:
The downside of this approach is that it’s VERY tricky to pull off. You need to hire a pro designer to design the page.
And a coder to add this special page to your site.
(Why? Most custom designs don’t play nice with WordPress)
The upside is that your content looks REALLY cool… which increases the odds that people will link to it.
If you want something simpler, sprinkle a few visuals in a normal blog post.
This spices things up without breaking the bank.
For example, I used a nice-looking banner to separate each section of this post:
This was 10x easier than a custom-designed guide. And it still looks really cool.
Strategy #3: Publish ACTIONABLE Content
Whether you write about food or fashion, the same rule applies:
People want to read ACTIONABLE content.
Sure, opinion content has its place.
But if you want people to read and share your stuff, it needs to be insanely actionable.
That means using lots of:
- Step-by-step techniques
- Screenshots and visuals
- Real life examples
- Video tutorials and animated GIFs
- Tips that are easy to use
For example, let’s take another look at my YouTube SEO guide.
This guide is overflowing with actionable techniques:
And easy tips that only take a few minutes to execute:
Strategy #4: Make Your Content EASY to Read
This might sound like common sense.
But I’m SHOCKED at how many people publish stuff like this:
Who the heck would actually read that giant wall of text?
Fortunately, readable content is a CINCH.
All you need to do is follow these 3 simple rules:
First, use 1-2 sentence paragraphs.
Everything I write follows this rule.
And it helps readability A LOT.
Next, break up your content into sections.
Sections make your content easy to follow.
(And makes it more “skimmable”)
Here’s an example:
Third, use 15-17px font.
Hard to read=won’t read.
And if your font is anything less than 15px, people are NOT going to read it.
So make sure your body font is at least 15px.
With that, it’s time for step #4…
Step #4: Promote Your Content
When most people think content for link building, they think “link attraction” (hands off link building that starts and ends with you hitting publish).
Even though that’s a strategy we all aim for (who doesn’t want links to build themselves?), that’s not how to use content for link building.
So, what’s the strategy?
Strategically promoting your content.
Promote Your Content On Social Media
Yes, the ultimate goal is to turn your content into backlinks.
But first, you need to get eyeballs on your content.
Why is this important?
Because it helps establish social proof.
For example, take this post from my blog:
This post has 1031 comments and over 19 thousand social shares:
Which gives my content MASSIVE social proof.
And when people see that my content is super popular, they’re MUCH more likely to link to it.
As you might expect, one of the best ways to get eyeballs on your content is to share it on social media.
For example, I recently shared my post “Voice Search: The Definitive Guide” on LinkedIn:
Over 40k people saw that post:
(Many of which clicked through to the article… and ultimately shared it with their peeps)
LinkedIn is my favorite place to promote B2B content right now.
But in general, the more places that you share your content, the better.
Send Your Content to Newsletter Subscribers
Your email newsletter is an AMAZING way to promote and amplify your content.
For example, I recently sent out this tweet to promote my voice search guide.
That tweet got 410 clicks.
I also sent out an email to my subscribers.
And that email got 6.2 thousand clicks.
So yeah, if you’re serious about content marketing, you need to build your email list.
Then, just send them a quick heads up about your latest content:
Facebook Boosted Posts
Yup, traffic from Facebook is WAY down.
But that doesn’t mean you should avoid Facebook altogether.
In fact, boosted posts are still working REALLY well.
Let me show you a real life example…
A few months ago I launched this guide to using the Google Search Console.
So I created a compelling Facebook post that outlined why my guide was worth reading:
I also boosted it. Specifically, I had Facebook show my post to people that visited my site over the last 30 days.
And that got my post in front of thousands of targeted peeps.
It gets better:
I only paid 76 cents per click.
(The average CPC in my niche is between $3 and $10).
Step #5: Build Links
There are 4 link building strategies that I use to build links to my content.
And I’m going to walk you through each of them right now.
Strategy #1: Link Roundups
This is the link building strategy I use to get links to brand new content.
Because it has a VERY high conversion rate.
In fact, here’s a backlink that I got from a link roundup a while ago:
All it took to get that link was a simple, friendly email.
(More on that in a bit)
To get links from roundups, you need to…
First, find link roundups in your industry or niche.
A Google search for “topic” + roundup usually does the trick.
Not all blogs call their link roundups a “roundup”.
So you want to use search strings that cast a wide net:
- “Topic” + best articles of the week
- “Topic” + best posts [year]
- “Topic” + monthly roundup
Then, let the site owner know that you published something that might be worth mentioning in their next roundup.
I just stumbled on your [Saturday Roundup] this afternoon. Good stuff!
I’m just reaching out because I recently published a content marketing case study that might be a good fit: [Your Webpage]
Either way, keep up the awesome work 😀
[Your First Name]
And if your content fits the bill, most bloggers will be happy to feature your content in their roundup:
Pro Tip: Roundups tend to feature VERY recently content. So make sure that you do your outreach right after your post goes live. Most bloggers won’t include old content in their roundups.
Strategy #2: Build Links From Dead Links
Here’s how this strategy works:
First, find pages that have dead (404) pages on them.
You can use a tool like Semrush:
Or check a bunch of pages manually with Check My Links.
Once you find a dead link, email the person that runs the site to let them know about it.
Subject: Problem with [Their Site’s Name]
Are you still updating your site?
I was searching for content on [Topic] when I came across your excellent page: [Page Title or URL].
However, I noticed a few links didn’t seem to be working:
[URLs of broken links]
Also, I recently published [Brief Content Pitch]. It may make a good replacement for the [Point Out a Specific Broken Link].
Either way, I hope this helped you out 🙂
(As you can see, you also want to pitch your content in that same email)
And because you’re not straight up begging for a link, your conversion rate with this approach tends to be REALLY good.
Strategy #3: Guestographics
This strategy only works if you created an infographic.
But if you DO have an awesome infographic, this is basically a link building cheat code.
I walk you through the entire process in this short video:
Strategy #4: Resource Page Link Building
In my experience Resource Page Link Building doesn’t convert quite as well as the other 3 strategies I just told you about.
But it’s still pretty darn good.
To use this strategy, you need to find pages where people curate (and link to) awesome content.
Here’s an example:
(As you can see, a resource page is kind of like a roundup. But instead of just linking to content from the last week or month, it links to the best content ever published in that industry)
And once you find a resource page that would be even better with a link to your content, go ahead and make your case.
Subject: Question about [Their Website]
I was Googling around for content about [Topic] this morning, when I came across your excellent resource page: [URL].
I just wanted to say that your page helped me a ton. I would have never found the [Resource They Link To] without it.
It’s funny: I recently published a guide on [Topic] last month. It’s [Brief Description].
Here it is in case you’d like to check it out: [URL].
Also, my guide might make a nice addition to your page.
Either way, thanks for putting together your list of resources. And have a great day!
Step #6: Putting It All Together
Let’s wrap things up with a step-by-step case study.
This case study will help you see how the strategies you just learned about work in the real world.
Specifically, you’ll see how I used the process in this guide to hit the #1 spot in Google for “list building”.
So go ahead and check out the new video:
You can do so much more with content than just creating it and hoping that it will net you some links.
Instead, find tangible examples of people showing interest in your content BEFORE you create it, then once you have something awesome, conduct outreach asking them for a link.
They’ve already showed they’ll link to it!
Understand that this strategy is based off hustle. You have to push yourself to continuously look for these content ideas, find them then actually ACT on them, and finally work your butt off to tap into every opportunity i that’s worth your time.
Leave them in the comments below.