Link Building vs. Content Marketing

Content marketing is the new way of link building if not the new link building by itself. That’s the popular notion shared among SEOs and digital marketing experts worldwide. But how true is this and what’s Google’s take on this? Last time I checked quality content alone can’t make your blog or website pages rank, it’s the backlinks (Through the process of link building) to that particular content that enables it to rank high in search engine result pages (SERPs). Common sense dictates that for a quality content to be found and shared, it must be ranked high in search results. So how will that quality content get ranked high in search results without any link building efforts or if it does not have any quality backlinks to it? The argument here is that since the inception of the Penguin 2.0 update, site owners have been discouraged from acquiring links in an unnatural manner.
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For digital marketers that do things by the book and hate the link schemes or any other form of buying links to improve PageRank, it is quite a catch 22 situation. But what is mostly disturbing and confusing is that content marketing is disguised as the new link building. There is no denying that quality content that triggers sharing can build links naturally, but in contrast quality and relevant backlinks can make that content rank high in search results, making it reach influential people in the industry that will share it and in turn build links natural. This implies that you have to rank first before that quality content can reach the target audience and to rank you need quality backlinks. So which backlinks are the most important in this case, pre-backlinks that makes the content rank initially before it can be shared or the post-backlinks that comes as a result of the content ranking high and reaching the relevant audience who will share it?

The above scenario shows two factors that are very closely related when coming to the new way of link building post Penguin 2.0 update and content marketing, the decision on which of the two is more important is still not very clear to the majority of SEO professionals. The fact of the matter is quality content is the best way to build natural links as Matt Cutts explain in this video, but for that quality content to be found it has to rank initially and reach the targeted audience. Social signals have an effect on the performance of the content in the search results, but social signals do not have the same big impact as the quality and relevant backlinks. There a lot of thin content pages in search results ranking very high due to the fact that they have quality and authority backlinks pointing to them, outranking quality content pages that do not have quality backlinks.

The only way content marketing can hold it on its own as a ranking factor is to make sure that it is independent of backlinks. At the moment it is in the mix of the rankings factors because it is believed that quality content will trigger sharing and build links naturally. So it is still under the umbrella of the backlinks factor. Quality content alone without link building is a recipe for failure if you want your content to reach the target audience. Content has to be part of any SEO strategy in this age of the Penguin, but the quality, relevance and authority backlinks will always be the number one ranking factor, at least for the foreseeable future.

You can dispute my theory in the comments below. Let’s have a conversation about this burning issue that’s making life difficult for many SEO professionals.