We’ve talked about what backlinks are and why they’re important, as well as what makes up a high quality link. Today, we’re going to talk about the role of content in link building. Content and link building are inseparable. And while many of us may get this in theory, we don’t put it into practice.

People will often start with keyword research and create their content. They’ll hit the publish button and then realise they need links to rank for the topics. So they look at who’s linking to the top ranking pages for their main topics. Export backlink profiles, filter prospects by metrics, and then perhaps send a gazillion emails hoping for a 0.5% link acquisition rate. The reason behind this is that “Link building is a numbers game. You gotta keep sending those emails.” 

Now, assuming you’re not paying for links or doing link exchanges at scale, your content should dictate your outreach pitches. Your content is actually what gives you a good reason to contact someone and ask for a link. It sets the tone for your first conversation around a common interest or belief.

A disclaimer: it’s not that link building isn’t a numbers game. But the 0.5% link acquisition rate doesn’t have to be this painful or spammy. And it’s not that paying for links or doing link exchanges are ineffective, they are just against Google’s terms of service and so we don’t practice that.

Why does your content matter?

Alright, now let’s dig deeper into the content aspect. Your content type matters in terms of success rates. As a general rule of thumb, informational content like how-tos, tutorials and data studies are going to be easier to get links to than product pages, affiliate posts, or anything commercial for that matter.

That’s because there are a lot more opportunities to create value in informational content. And again, “value” should be tied to your pitch angles. Commercial content is tougher to insert value, especially for things like product pages, where the only party receiving “value” is the recipient of the link. We won’t expand on baking value into informational content right now (stay tuned for that article!), because first, we need to understand what makes people link to pages. Actually, seeing as a link is essentially an author sharing information through their website with web visitors, it’s easiest if we ask “Why do people share the things they share?”

For example, a friend might share the latest news article or recipe because they recently had a conversation about it. Parents share things with kids to sometimes pass down nuggets of wisdom. Kids often share things with adults seeking wisdom or expressing a complaint. In all of these examples, there’s a relationship. Now, if we put this in the context of link building, why does an author share another person’s page via a hyperlink with their readers who are mostly anonymous strangers? While there’s no set list of reasons, here are some common ones.

#1. They link to pages to reference or support their point.

role of content in link building

Statistics are probably the most common. For example, if we look at this anchors report and SEO statistics page, you’ll see that nearly all of the links are a result of specific stats that were mentioned.

#2. They reference something they don’t need or want to expand on.

role of content in link building

For example, teamwork.com wrote this guide on SEO project management. And under the heading “What is SEO project management,” they say, “An SEO campaign encompasses various tasks such as technical SEO, a content audit, keyword research, etc. And for each area of SEO, they’ve linked to a guide. For a topic like SEO project management, there’s no point in expanding on these techniques because it’s easier to direct readers to a place where they can learn more if they want to.

#3. It makes them look good.

People often link to things like high profile mentions because it helps them build credibility and social proof with visitors.

For example, this site has an “in the press” page where most links are from listicles on things they value and/or make them look good. So things like “best gift sets” is saying, “See, our product is awesome”. Or “Top native owned businesses” tells us a bit about their values and roots. In fact, creating pages that mention and portray a person or company in a positive way is a link building tactic on its own, often referred to as ego bait. Basically, SEOs create content like this where they mention influential people which often “baits” people into linking to them. It doesn’t always work for mega lists, but it has worked exceptionally well for Inc’s list of the Inc 5000. 


Inc. Magazine publishes a list of the top 5000 most successful companies in the US annually. And as a result, they earn hundreds or even thousands of links every single year. And if we look at the backlinks for their 2021 list, you’ll see that tons of these links are from homepages where companies are showing off their award.

#4. There’s a relationship whether it’s explicit or implicit.

Implicit relationships are usually content super fans. And while it’s tough to build a content fan base, they’re super effective in link building because they trust what’s written on a site without a shadow of a doubt. When they guest post, they frequently link to you. When they go on podcast interviews, they frequently mention your content which often gets linked to in show notes.

Explicit relationships on the other hand are your online friends who you talk shop with. And what often creates these professional relationships is respect and admiration for each other’s work. As a result, you want to link to each others’ content whether that’s on your own site or on other people’s sites.

This is one of the most powerful link building advantages you can have because the bottomline is that you want to help each other succeed. 

Now, a few commonalities with most of these reasons are:

a) people link to things to prove that they’re not making stuff up

b) they link to things to add credibility to themselves or their companies

c) they link to things they trust.

These are three main things you need to consider when you’re reaching out for links. Because if you go in with your own agenda to satisfy your needs and only your needs, then your intentions will be quite clear. And your chances of getting a link without paying for it, will be very slim.

Now, this might seem all meta and unfortunately, knowing why people link usually won’t be enough to get you links. It’s just foundational for your outreach pitches. And this list is far from exhaustive. You need to dig into the data. And the best place to start is by analysing how similar pages got their links. Because by understanding the “how,” you’re able to infer the “why” which also helps to form your angles of attack for your link outreach pitches.

So in the next lesson, we’re going to talk about competitor analysis, specifically analysing how similar pages got their links. And this will give you a good gauge whether a target’s links are replicable for your own content with your own link building campaigns!