Making A Case for Contentless Link Building

by Jon Cooper

Trust me, I’ve seen content work, and I use it all the time in link building. I’m not saying content is irrelevant when it comes to links (stating that would be pure insanity).

However, we all need to take a step back and think about what we’re breathing in as practically the gospel. Joel Klettke talked about this on Twitter recently:




So, instead of writing another post about how amazing content is like every other big business SEO blog, I’m going to make a case for contentless link building (Even though Joel talked more about spam, I’ll make this as white hat as possible), but first, you need to understand why content is the talk of the town.

What content is for link building at the core

What content is for websites is a alue proposition. It gives people a reason to link. That leads us to two different thoughts:

  • Content isn’t THE value proposition, rather just A value proposition
  • Content is relatively new to link building because value proposition is new. This implies that we used to build links without providing a value proposition.

Therefore, there are two ways you can build links without content:

1. Providing an entirely different value proposition
2. Obtaining links that do not require a value proposition

Let’s start with #2 first.

Value Proposition-less Link Building

Building links to a site that has nothing to offer leads to obtaining links that any website can get. The more people get a type of link that doesn’t require a value proposition, the more likely it is to be called spam.

So, we have to pursue easily obtainable links that aren’t popularly sought after. To make things simple, lets start with the links that ARE popularly sought after:

• Article submissions
• Directory submissions
• Social Bookmarking
• Blog commenting
• Forum posting
• Etc., etc.

But, just because these types of links are heavily sought after, it doesn’t mean that we can exempt them altogether. Rather, we just have to pursue these types of links from sites that aren’t widely used for link building purposes, and ones that are more quality assured.

For example, we wouldn’t want a blog comment link on a page with 1,000+ other comments, regardless if it were a highly authoritative blog. We also wouldn’t want a link from a free directory with a million other links. I know this sounds simple and elementary, but bare with me.

The second route you could go is pursuing types of links that aren’t heavily sought after. All this means is finding new types of sites to get links from. For example, when Pinterest was in its infancy, it was a perfect place to get easy links that had value. Now, after it’s been talked & blogged about, the value has diminished (Pinterest even made the links NF).

As you can see, this type of link building relies on the fact that you’re creative and always looking outside the box for linking opportunities. You have to be quick on your feet, and keep most of your goldmines to yourself.

Alternative Value Proposition Link Building

As I said above, content is but one value proposition. Here are a few other quick examples:

Product quality – The more satisfied customers you have, the greater likelihood you’ll get talked about across the Web. Take Kifaru for example. They offer some of the highest quality outdoor gear in the business, and as a result, they get talked about (and linked to) by their customers.

Community – If your website offers a wide range of members or fellow customers to communicate with, then you’ve got something of value. Private forums are a great example.

Design – If you’ve got an eye opening design, your visitors will be much more likely to look into you and your business, and as a result, your likelihood for attracting links increases. Code Quest is a great example; I tweeted about them the moment I saw them (a tweet’s not a link, but one of my followers could’ve easily seen it and linked to it).

These are just a few. There are a variety of other value propositions you could offer your web visitors.


This is just the white hat side of things. I could easily delve into some grey/black hat ways to get links without content (actually, that’s exactly what grey/black hat mostly is), but I’m not trying to force you to turn to the dark side; rather, I just want you to think about what we all sometimes blindly accept.


This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 129 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper is a link builder based out of Gainesville, FL. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter @PointBlankSEO.

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  1. Ian Rogers says:

    Nice one Jon.

    I deal with a lot of local businesses (Places), where most of their content is super boring. So I think a good alt value prop would be physical location. I’ve gotten some links from some other businesses around them simply because they are in the same geographical area. It has nothing to do with their content.

  2. Joel K says:

    How delightfully unexpected!

    I just want to clarify: What I WASN’T saying is that we should perpetuate in spam, rather, what I was trying to draw attention to is that spam still works – in droves.

    We’re excited about content as an industry – we should be. At the same time, let’s not act like there aren’t other sustainable, legitimate forms of link acquisition out there.

    Well done, Cooper.

  3. Gaz Copeland says:

    Interesting post Jon. I think when you say “content” most people automatically think “words” but there are so many other way’s to build content without writing 2,000 words. It’s still content captain, but not as we know it. I (ironically) wrote a post about it 🙂

  4. Dave says:

    Or a combination of nice pictures (check the embed call to action) & out of the box descritpion & active community can do the job as well…. ask photojojo.com/store/ and check their backlinkprofile 🙂


  5. This is an excellent post Jon. We (myself included) all too often just follow the rest of the sheep without thinking about what we are doing and testing the effectiveness of the methods we’re using never mind coming up with alternatives and thinking outside the box!

  6. Kevin says:

    Here’s a recent article on Non-Content based linking in case you missed it.

  7. Marc says:

    Thanks Jon – it’s so refreshing to read stuff from someone who doesn’t have their head in the clouds. I’m so sick of hearing the same BS from all the same SEO bloggers.


  8. Kevin Ekmark says:

    You literally read my mind about building a post out of Joel’s tweets… I guess I can go ahead and just delete my screen shots because you nailed it.

  9. Anthony Pensabene says:

    Yo Jon, good luck this fall.. don’t use too much time on the webz..

    Yeah.. I like the way you broke down the pursuit in the beginning of the post.. right link building exists due to something.. because there are particular elements on the web.. people covet (for a number of reasons)..

    Your conclusions get more to the heart of providing quality..

    product quality makes me think of Wil’s preso at Mozcon

    Community, Jen’s

    And design, Jenny Lam’s (just a summary here)

    keep on link thinkin, Cooper. Be good.

  10. seoteky says:

    Great post Jon, pure and simple. Lets take another sample, the trust value towards a brand. Just like SEOmoz, they were able to build links without really asking, begging or buying it. That is because people trust them, trust Rand Fish, trust the community behind it. And when you get the trust and respect from other people, they will become your brand advocate and win links from them. Just like pointblankseo 🙂

  11. Those alternative value-proposition forms of link building don’t seem like link building to me. If you’re an SEO trying to get links for a client, you can’t put your hands directly on the design of a site, you can’t control the quality of your client’s product, and in most cases you can’t start running their community either. You can recommend all of those things but you won’t be able to provide metrics of success that tie back to what you did with your office hours like traditional link building will.

    Everyone jumps on the content bandwagon because it is relatively easy to implement and it is easy to measure the success of a campaign. There’s also minimal risk involved, unlike some of the pre-Penguin stuff and “no value prop” link building methods.

    As a link builder tasked with showing my work and convincing the higher ups to give me an adequate budget for content/value prop link building I can say things like:

    “I orchestrated the production of page X, I promoted it to sites A,B,C, we got Y links back, which lead to our site moving from rank 25 to rank 9 on the SERP for target keywords. We should build more pages like X so that we’ll see the same results and bring in revenue.”

    You can’t bring it all back to the link builder’s recommendation if you’re basing your strategies on the strength of your product or the community management skills. Sure, you’ll get a bunch of natural links out of that stuff but you can’t prove YOU built them. They might have just happened anyway because of how good every other part of the machine is, regardless of your recommendation.

    That’s the challenge.

  12. Jason Nelson says:

    Some good points Jon. There are a variety of ways to create linkable assets. I think building tools are an area of link building that doesn’t receive enough attention. I blogged about it recently in this post – http://www.ascentinternet.com/blog/seo/a-better-way-to-create-scalable-links/

  13. Joe S. says:

    Thanks for the great post Jon. I guess I can kill the notion that content is king. I am new to blogging and running my own website so all the research I have read suggest that I need to focus on content and content alone, and even more so after the Panda, Penguins and bears…. oh my! Updates. Very refreshing to read another point of view.


  14. As someone that is constantly testing variables in SEO I can without any doubt state that spam still works. In fact if you check out my link building tutorial you can see it in action for yourself http://www.matthewwoodward.co.uk/tutorials/the-ultimate-guide-to-tiered-link-building-part-1/

    Where content does have value though is for your site visitors. If the content you offer is poor then you are not going to capture the audience and inspire them to take action whether thats clicking an affiliate link or joining an email list.

    An effective SEO campaign will convert visitors into buyers/subscribers and you need high quality content to do that with.

    The actual link building/ranking side of things though, well do what you want =D

  15. Vince Lin says:

    In many industries there’s still the process of content migration onto the web – until we reach a saturation point for this, spam content will work.

    Google’s efforts in evaluating ranking based on user data will eventually curtail this, but until then…. a few more years of spam!

  16. Tony says:

    I still think guest posts are the best way to build links – you’re getting 1 way, dofollow, only-one-on-the-webpage links.

  17. Content itself can be broken down into –

    (1) – on-site content (needs to be of highest quality, like at this site).

    Because Google’s in-house or contracted manual review teams can pop in anytime to your site – they can easily check to see what kind of content you have (Panda). They can see real community engagement and social signals, in addition to the value you are providing. This is basic stuff and so anyone serious – needs to build stellar sites… unless you are going on the dark-side and purchasing throwaway EMDs and purely using them to rank via quick blackhat methods that are still working in some niches despite the birth of the Penguin baby (yes, low value links still works in many niches and i have seen this a lot). And Google cannot do a thing about it. They just have to tweak their algo to function differently across different niches as well as toss in an element of randomness to make the reverse engineering harder. OK. Got a bit carried off there. So, here is the other content type…

    (2) – off-site content (which can be of 2 types itself, depending on what it is being used for)

    (a) decent content for Guest Blog Posts
    (b) low grade content only written for the sole purpose of creating ultraspins (see vita vee’s stuff).

    The Guest Blog posts can drive contextual links from the same niche and content clusters, thereby giving some strong signals to Google. The ultraspins will general go onto Web2.0 properties that allow you to post contextual articles with links and each will pump down certain amounts of link juice. The problem with Google is that even with a manual review (or algorithmic) they cannot catch or easily detect the multiple areas you post the ultrapsins out to… and neither can they detect that you are engaiging in low quality gibberish thats spun to eternity. The algo infact, cannot figure out its spun content. So, right now you win and big blue loses. Not sure when the tables will turn!

  18. Allen says:

    Building a link and Building a Quality link that has value are two different things, and i think that the Google understand and differentiates very well. Its good of us and to our customer also if we place our link into the sites that relates to our business rather than post to other non sense sites that divert the client intentions and motives.

Making A Case for Contentless Link Building - Point Blank SEO