The Disconnect Between Content & Natural Links

by Jon Cooper

There are two types of link builders: ones who love content for building links naturally, and ones who think it’s complete BS. As a blogger who lets his content build links for him, and as a site owner with a library of content that hasn’t attracted a single natural, quality link, I’m on both sides of the coin.

The reason I can be on both sides is because:

Link building with content is completely niche dependent. [tweet this]


It’s so true, yet when so many people see a list of link building tactics, they think that every single one of them can be applied to them. If it can’t, then they think that particular one is complete garbage.

So before I go any further, remember that every situation and industry is completely different than the next. While one thing can be applied to one niche, it might not be applicable to another. 

Analyzing your niche

Since link building with content is completely dependent on your niche, you need to find out your niche’s link happiness rate, or the rate at which niche related sites naturally link out to others.

Here are some indications of a high link happiness rate in your niche:

A lot of quality content is produced on a regular basis – This is obvious; the more quality content (and not Textbroker type content) that is produced, the more opportunity there is for getting linked to.

There are a lot of blogs & forums – This shows that there’s more discussion in your niche. If more people are talking, then there’s a higher likelihood that your content could get referenced.

The ratio of external to internal links on blogs is high – Is your niche full of link whores? I say this because there are some industries with a lot of content, but the webmasters & bloggers only link to themselves.

Side note: If this is the case, then there’s a way around this: get them to guest post on your blog. Do whatever you have to do to make it happen. If they only link to their own stuff, try & get it some of it on your website.

The social activity is high – Although social doesn’t directly correlate to links, it’s a quality indicator that shows that there’s genuine conversation by actual people in your industry.

There are established industry thought leaders (with consensus) – I say with consensus because there might be some “leaders” that think of themselves as a thought leader, but everyone else in your niche doesn’t think so.

Again, no direct cause & effect here, but if someone’s killing it in your niche as a thought leader, then it means you have the possibility of becoming one over time.

There are established authors & personas – Do you see faces & names or labelless content? Do you see rel=author being implemented by actual people, or no one at all? The more people centric your niche is, the less amount of close minded SEOs there are.

The level of excitement of the niche is high – Do people actually like writing & talking about your niche? Are there industry conferences (like Malofiej in data viz) where people get to share their thoughts & show off their work? If people get excited about the context of your niche, then they’d be more willing to link out to something cool & interesting.

A low barrier of entry to understanding the content – Does it take a rocket scientist to breakdown what you’re talking about, or can the average person understand what you’re talking about?

Side note: If you use a lot of industry jargon, make sure you help the newbies in your audience understand it. If it’s linking to an article all about the term, or if it means pausing & describing what that term means or even putting it in parenthesis, do it (a glossary in your site’s navigation is another kick ass idea).

Low amounts of link spam – All niches have spam, but in terms of relativity, just how many websites depend on link spam to rank? 5 out of 10 websites ranking without link spam is much better than 9 out of 10. This shows that there’s a lot of opportunity to actually do it the Google approved way.

The disconnect

As much as there is a disconnect between understanding if your niche can actually produce natural links, that’s the not the disconnect the title is referring to.

The disconnect is understanding that natural links don’t come from a “build it and they will come” mentality. [tweet this]


Eventually, it does mean that the Publish button equals links, but that not only takes time, it takes a crap load of hard work BEYOND the content (as seen in my new “Deceiving Rand” meme).

Original photo attribution.

It means identifying, stalking, and continuously impressing influencers.

It means finding the people you want to have as brand evangelists and going all out for them.

It means understanding that natural links come from a sense of trust of knowing what you’re linking to is quality, and that this trust takes A LOT of time to build up, just like your audience.

Photo attribution.

It means that you have to do something that sets yourself apart from the competition, because no one will do anything for you unless there’s a reason behind it.

It means understanding that people are behind links, and that you’re catering to their content needs.

Closing thoughts

You’re right, maybe in your niche it’s near impossible to build links naturally. If that’s the case, then scratch it off the list & move on. But just because it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else in a different situation.

If you’ve analyzed your niche and found that there is opportunity, don’t forget to spend as much time on your content as you do with people.

What are your thoughts? What did I miss? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. They serve me no purpose other than getting to know you personally & helping us all gain more knowledge & understanding on this topic.

Lastly, subscribe to my blog via RSS.

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.

Relax - I send out free emails full of
cutting edge link building tips.
  1. BabyWolf says:

    In my country, people keep copying my content then remove all links in it content and no link back to us. That’s suck! >”<

  2. Nate Dame says:

    Couldn’t agree more Jon. We often have to look “beyond the niche” to find communities with a high link happiness rate, and it usually works well. You just have to be sure the community is fairly related to your niche. But I think it is important to look beyond your niche if your niche truly does not present any natural link opportunities.

    BTW, I like the fact that you are trying to coin a phrase here, but “link happiness rate” might need some work ;). Now that I think of it, can’t really come up with any alternatives, so maybe that’s it!

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Nate! Whenever I find a community with a low link happiness rate, I do as you said and look for the nearest, most relevant one with a high rate.

      Yeah, I know.. Maybe “natural rate of linking”?

  3. “If they only link to their own stuff, try & get it some of it on your website.”

    I’ve been doing that recently for an affiliate site. The conversion rate on those outreach emails are insane if you word it correctly.

    And your graph is spot on, most people don’t push through the initial struggle to get to the real results. Seth Godin’s The Dip is an excellent little book on the subject.

  4. Brian says:

    Ha! Funny Rand meme. If only it were that easy.

    Good post btw, generalized strategies rarely work when applied to specific scenarios.

  5. Ross Kelly says:

    I have to agree with tapping into online communities and identifying key influencers as part of a natural link building strategy. It isn’t easy to win over such influencers unless your are providing content that is truly original and useful to the community, and worthy of being shared by others. This usually means that you have to have expertise in your niche and be creative at the same time. Certainly not impossible, especially if you are in a niche that offers plenty of scope. Cheers!

  6. Greg Smith says:

    Great post and excellent explanation of “reaching outside the box!”

  7. Ronny says:

    Thanks for the post !! I discovered my niche has a poor happiness quotient, most of the top ranks are spammed for and blogs and forums are non-existant…I guess time to exit the niche.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      That doesn’t mean you should exit, it just means:

      A) Content in that niche doesn’t yield as high rewards as others
      B) You should look for similar niches with higher rate and build content for them. I.e. an insurance site creating small business content.

  8. I keep on trying to get this across to people.

    The concept of “Build it and they shall come” is a complete crock.

    Your site can;
    * be the best looking
    * be the most accessible
    * be the most user friendly
    * be the most user-focused
    * have the best tools
    * have the fastest load times
    * have the most interesting content
    * have the most useful content
    * have the most accurate content
    * have the best writen content
    * have the best video content
    * have the best images/photos

    You will NOT rank!

    Not for any major terms.
    Not for any real volume of traffic.

    Google will nort rank you highly based on the quality of your content to the point where you rank high enough to do any real good.

    So you are left with 2 choices.
    1) You Market – slowly, surely, you promote your site in the the right places, you purchase adverts – and gain traffic and traction … and acquire links naturally.
    2) You build Links – you target a few terms, a specific audience, slap up a few links, buy a few links … and get ranked for those terms … then get links naturally from that traffic.

    Option (1) is technically the “correct” method as far as G is concerned.
    Yet it can take Months on end – and most businesses don’t have the time/patience.
    So people opt for (2).

    So can people stop posting such lame things like “just make good content”,
    and stop promoting the pathetic lie of “build it and they shall come”.
    Instead, be realistic, be helpful and post useful, relevant and informative comments/ideas – such as how to find the market that will link, how to convert SM players to your cause, how to butt kiss your way up the rankings, how to identify worthy non-competiing sites for linking with etc. etc. etc.

    Oh, and does anyone else love the way that all of a sudden a huge % of “SEO Pros” are waving the “good content” flag all of a sudden?

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Yes, yes, and YES! Can’t really disagree on any of those points.

      Thanks Lyndon, that comment was awesome! Just added you to my circles.

  9. jarrod says:

    Great post as always. The field of dreams approach is almost never enough. At the very least you need some starter fluid to get the engine turning over the first few times. Was that too many metaphors?

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Nope, totally understood; you need to be more assertive in the beginning, and as time goes on, you can back off as your community helps get exposure for you.

      Did I get it right? 🙂

  10. AJ Kohn says:

    I’m not sure I can agree with the idea that there are niches where natural links don’t exist. The beauty of the Internet is that there’s pretty much a community for every crazy little niche. Now, it might not be a huge one but you can find enthusiasts on nearly every subject online.

    The small ones might even be easier since there are fewer people in that community. Because it’s not just about hitting publish and letting natural links flow to you.

    As you mention, first there’s the idea of time. It takes a long time (usually) to establish yourself in a community. You need to build a track record before people take you seriously and think you’re an upstanding citizen.

    And you still have to engage with that community by sharing stuff from others, commenting on their posts (and linking to your own when appropriate), and using other forums to build your profile (i.e. – Quora, StackOverflow, Ravelry) as appropriate.

    The level of social engagement can also play a factor in how quickly things happen so you really need to understand what social networks that vertical uses and do a bit of influencer identification and marketing.

    Finally, you still have to market your own stuff. Send it out through all of your social networks. Submit it to sites in your industry. You could even spend a bit and promote it on StumbleUpon or another highly-targeted PPC platform.

    Are some verticals more difficult than others? Sure. And in those cases maybe some aren’t willing to wait or put in the effort (which can be substantial) until those links (and traffic) show up.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      In the cases of those really small niches, I don’t think the time & cost vs. reward is worth waiting for things to happen, if they ever do.

      Yeah, there are some plumbing enthusiasts out there, but only a small number of them are tech savvy to have sites, and there’s no guarentee you get more than even 20% of them to link to you, so yes, I agree, you can get natural links in some small niches, but if the returns aren’t worthwhile, then the investment of your time & resources aren’t either.

      • BrewSEO says:

        I have to agree with AJ on this one. If you want to build natural links on a plumbing website, you just have to create something that every plumber (or even the DIY plumbers) will find useful.

        For example, create a diagnostic tool that will help DIY plumbers price out their next project. If you make a “cost of material” calculator, then you’d be able to promote it like crazy through DIY blogs, and Mommy bloggers. Here is an example of a tool that I found a few seconds ago with a simple Google search, http://bit.ly/LIj0d5 .

        This is just one example, but I think it’s possible to come up with a scalable Link Bait idea for any niche.

  11. All depends on your definition of “natural”.

    If you take a Purist view – then any activity you take to acquire a link is unnatural.
    It means you have intentionally acted in a manner to obtain a link.
    You can easily include Marketing in that big old barrel.

    Taking the less Purist view (and the one that most will accept), marketing is fine, and hoping that those who you market too will link to you.

    Yet the problem is, in some niches – it is nigh impossible even via marketing.
    Most of your audience do Not have websites, blogs or online-profiles.
    Infact, in some cases, the only real channels are competitors, suppliers and major industry players – and getting links off them is hard work.
    Things like .edu and .gov are also out of reach for some (even with PR stunts).

    Thus why I call BS when people say “just make good content” – it is over generalised and of little real use to most people.
    Instead, people should be saying;
    Just make good content, push and promote it as much as possible, interact with others as much as you can, budget for marketing whenever possible … and hope a bit too.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Exactly, the issue is that not enough of the targeted audience for your content has sites, and the ones that do are usually competitors. Couldn’t agree more.

      Thanks Lyndon! (again :D)

  12. Hi Jon,

    I would say that this is my first visit to your blog and i am really in love with your blog. 😉
    I was looking for all the posts and thinking that on which post should I comment? Lol
    You have written a good Article explaining content and natural links. After penguin Update, Every one has too look on his natural linking. I would say that it is much better that if the links are attained from Content. Content means unique content.

    Hope i will learn more from you. 😉



  13. Riisager says:

    Content is King, Links are God

  14. Dreamaxess says:

    I appreciate such depth, true when it comes to link building there is no one size fits all and I like the fact that only 5 out of 10 ranking sites are possibly link spam powered so there is room for those that have what it takes to do things the Google way, thanks again

  15. xseovn says:

    i read all article, i don’t understand clear about natural link, only with great content ?

  16. Mark says:

    I haven’t seen any niche where its impossible to get natural link, rather the competition is stiffer in some niche compare to others so you need to do more.

  17. Vince Lin says:

    Nice graphic there. Just before hitting gold, inches away, is where most people throw in the towel.

  18. Peter says:

    Nice points. While there are definitely some niches which are easier to build links with naturally, I think that creativity can open up your options and allow you to stay interesting even with a niche that doesn’t lend itself to excitement.
    Too many people try to write specifically about what they’re link building for. I think you can always go outside your particular focus and write about other interesting things so long as it’s somewhat related and would draw a similar crowd.

The Disconnect Between Content & Natural Links - Point Blank SEO