How to Build Links With Content Marketing
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How to Build Links With Content Marketing

Brian Dean

Written by Brian Dean

How to Build Links With Content Marketing

Today you’re going to learn EXACTLY how to build links with content.

In fact:

This is the exact process I’ve used to build backlinks from sites like Inc:

Inc. Backlink


Techcrunch backlink

And authority marketing blogs (like Shopify):

Shopify backlink

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

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):

Google Ranking Factors – Post

To date, this post has generated over 19k backlinks from 3k domains:

Google Ranking Factors post Ahrefs

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.

You need links to get on page 1 of Google

Which means:

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.

"SEO tips" SERPs – Highlighting lists of 5 to 20 items

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:

Semrush – Input website

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:

Semrush – Indexed pages – Backlinko

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:

  1. The manual approach
  2. 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.

Blog feed

Most blogs have a counter that shows you how many times the post has been shared.

Blog post share counter

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…

Backlinko – BuzzSumo

…or search with a keyword.

BuzzSumo – Search with a keyword

Either way, you’ll get a list of content that people have shared on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and more.

BuzzSumo – Content shared across various social media

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.

BuzzSumo – Sort by network

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.

BuzzSumo Backlinko results sorted 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.

That said:

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.

Google RankBrain Guide

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:

RankBrain post shares and comments

But more important than that, lots of people linked to it:

RankBrain post – Backlinks

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.

RankBrain guide link

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:

  1. It instantly stands out from lame “5 Tips for X” posts
  2. 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”.

Skyscraper Technique post

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.

Skyscraper Technique – Referring domains

And that wasn’t a fluke.

The very next year I published this case study:

Increase Conversions post

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:

Increase conversions backlink

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:

More website traffic from publishing studies and surveys

And another 49% agreed that this type of content is great for getting backlinks.

Getting backlinks from publishing studies and surveys

With that, let’s look at an example from my blog.

Last year I did a large scale study of YouTube Ranking factors.

YouTube Ranking Factors study

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:

YouTube Ranking Factors study – Backlinks

Not too shabby.

Format #4: Visual Assets

A visual asset can be just about any type of visual content, including:

  • Charts
  • Infographics
  • Illustrations
  • Visualizations
  • Videos

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:

Entrepreneur – Visual asset link

Let’s look at two quick examples…

First, this infographic I published a while ago.

Viral Content infographic

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.

Backlinko simple 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.

Infographic used in another site's post

As you can see, I get a nice “Image source” link when they do:

Infographic attribution – Closeup

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.

Average shares by content length

Also: longer content ranks better in Google.

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.

How to Rank YouTube Videos post

And when you read the post, you quickly realize that there’s ZERO fluff.

It’s 100% actionable strategies and techniques:

How to Rank YouTube Videos post – 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:

YouTube SEO post mentioned by bloggers

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:

Keyword Research – 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:

Use section separation graphics

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:

YouTube SEO Guide – Actionable techniques


YouTube SEO Guide – Examples

And easy tips that only take a few minutes to execute:

YouTube SEO guide – Easy tips

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:

Wall of text

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.

Self explanatory.

Everything I write follows this rule.

Backlinko – Short paragraphs example

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:

Backlinko – Sections 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.

Here’s how:

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:

SEO Tools post

This post has 1031 comments and over 19 thousand social shares:

SEO Tools – Post comments and 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:

Backlinko – Voice Search LinkedIn post

Over 40k people saw that post:

Backlinko – Voice search post viewers

(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.

Backlinko – Voice search tweet

That tweet got 410 clicks.

Backlinko – Voice search tweet clicks

I also sent out an email to my subscribers.

And that email got 6.2 thousand clicks.

Backlinko – Voice search email 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:

Backlinko – Voice search newsletter

Facebook Boosted Posts

Yup, traffic from Facebook is WAY down.

Facebook traffic 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.

Google Search Console guide

So I created a compelling Facebook post that outlined why my guide was worth reading:

Google Search Console Guide – Facebook post

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.

Google Search Console Guide – Facebook post reach

It gets better:

I only paid 76 cents per click.

Google Search Console Guide – Facebook post CPC

(The average CPC in my niche is between $3 and $10).

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:

Link Roundup backlink

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.

Roundup SERPs

That said:

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.

And if your content fits the bill, most bloggers will be happy to feature your content in their roundup:

Backlinko – Content in 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:

Semrush – Site audit

Or check a bunch of pages manually with Check My Links.

Check My Links

Once you find a dead link, email the person that runs the site to let them know about it.

(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:

Resource Guide 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.

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”.

"list building" SERPs

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.

Thoughts? Questions?

Leave them in the comments below.


  1. Hey Brian,

    Love your content! One question: everyone says I should write long content. And so I did, I wrote a massive 18k words guide to a topic in my industry.

    But then I started asking myself… Is there an upper limit? Could it be too long and thus hurting my rankings? I don’t know the ranks yet because Google just indexed it yesterday but my website has low DA so far.

    Anyway, what’s your take? Is there auch a thing as content that’s too long?

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi Bruno, there’s no specific limit. But you also want to keep UX in mind. 18k words is a lot to sift through.

      1. Thanks Brian, I’ll see what results I get a few months from now and if they’re not good enough, I’ll try to make it shorter without losing too much context. Again, thanks so much for your work.

        1. Halyna R Avatar Halyna Rsays:

          18k words are enough for an ebook. Why not have a shorter version on your website and then offer a more in-depth book for download? Just a thought I wanted to share. I’m still very new to all this. Just recently discovered Brian’s blog. 🙂

  2. Hey Brian,

    Really great stuff here. It’s amazing to me how simple some of the points mentioned here are, and yet many people continue to miss it or ignore it. Link building through content marketing is successful when properly executing these things:

    – Creating content that is worth linking to (truly better and beyond)
    – Creating content that you actually want to rank (makes sense for your audience and is well researched)
    – Well planned content promotion through outreach.

    When those are executed properly and diligently, the results can be overwhelmingly great!

    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      You’re welcome, Alex. And great points all around

  3. Brian, first of all thank you very much for this post. It is such an informative and content rich honestly.

    Just to let you know, after going through your posts about link building, we decided to split our marketing budget as 25% paid search, display ads and social media, and the 75% on link building by encouraging my team to learn more about link building using these helpful posts, however, I appreciate it if you guide me through any resources that you offer and I’ll be more than happy to subscribe.

    Again, thank you very much for the great content and efforts trying to make SEO clear to everyone and saving our pockets 🙂

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      You’re welcome, Ahmed. That ratio sounds good to me. Especially if some of that 75% goes into creating content that bloggers and journalists would want to link to.

  4. Hi Brian,
    Big fan. You’ve helped me out a lot.

    Quick question that I can’t find a definitive answer online for – You’ve mentioned to use internal links to spread link juice/equity around the site. If I have some commercial pages that I want to rank but difficult to get backlinks to, would creating one of these link-bait/viral type posts and then internally link back to the commercial pages be a good strategy?

    I have pages that are keyword optimized, but the content itself is not super “link-friendly”. I was thinking of writing some related content for backlinks.

    For example:

    -How to grow your construction business (keyword optimized – in depth guide on how to grow your construction business)


    -How to grow your construction business from $0 to $1 Million in one year

    The first post would be a general guide that has in-depth strategies. And the second might be a step by step guide with timelines, and specific directions to meet that $1 Million timeline. Essentially less keyword optimized and more UX optimized for linking and social.

    Also, if I create something like an infographic and get backlinks to it, does this help the entire domain as a whole in ranking?

    Sorry for the long comment. Hope you can answer this for me! Thanks.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi Daniel, exactly: that’s a great way to send authority to a commercial page.

  5. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the articles, I find them really useful when trying to build my organic traffic.

    I have some long form articles that perform really well for me (top ranking on Google) but others are entering the space and I want to make sure that I remain competitive. Does Google recognise / value regular updating of content or shall I continue building links to these pages?



    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi Jonny, you actually want to do both. But between the two, links are more important.

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