People Still Pay for Links, Not Vague Content Marketing Strategies

by Jon Cooper
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This is a bit of a rant, but it’s important. Comments are welcomed below. 

I wish I could see all the gasps from all the content purists looking at this headline.

But I just couldn’t hold back after the following quote from an article entitled ‘Why Content Marketing is the Only Link Building That Counts’ on Brafton:

“Content Marketing is marketing, link building is manipulation.”

So it seems as though link building is dead (again…), and that content marketing rules the Web.

The truth is, though, the “content marketing” fluff in this industry needs to have a reality check, not only for the sake of SEOs everywhere, but also because it’s doing small businesses an injustice.

From an industry blogging perspective

You’re right, I’m probably biased because I build links, and thus, all of my clients come to me wanting links, but from my point of view, links is still what it comes down to in SEO.

No, not as a business as a whole, but for SEO. We’re still SEOs writing about SEO on SEO blogs, so let’s stop avoiding what information the majority of readers (SEOs) want content written on: SEO.

No, not big budget, vaguely described content strategies that are there for the sole purpose of attracting those big budget clients, thus doing an injustice to 80%+ of their audience, but tips on how to rank in search engines. And if we honestly think “Google has it all figured out” and that “the days of building links are over”, then we’re not living in reality.

What people still pay for

Yes, a lot of people have bought into content marketing, but only because they want links out of it, because at the end of the day, links are still all that matter.

Yes, in SEO, links matter, not pretty content. Google is still an algorithmic machine, not a fleet of designers & bloggers meticulously judging different aspects of websites on a scale of 1 to 10. Google lets webmasters do that by giving them the signal of whether they linked or not.

At the end of the day, even the vast majority of those big budget clients that the content evangelists are trying to attract only care about links from an SEO perspective. Not social shares or those relationships you’ve now started to harness for a couple of tweets, but links. Links are still the foundation of Google, and SEO is still alive more than ever.

Why I don’t do much content marketing

As many people have realized, it’s not exactly a science of input & output; a lot of the content marketing we talk about provides difficult to measure results (if there ends up being any), and is nearly impossible with any audience (I’ve seen it done, but very rarely), yet so many have pounded into us that arbitrage is “what you get when you do great stuff.”

But for me, as both a consultant who needs to hit quality link goals (yep, and I love it) as well as making sure there’s ROI for my efforts on my own sites, it just doesn’t cut it.

Content marketing is what I do when I’ve done EVERYTHING else. There’s a time and place for it, but not for a small business owner with barely any links, no budget, and no audience. It doesn’t make any sense for them to do “content marketing” at that time for their business, but because all the experts are telling them that they have to do it, that’s where they turn to first.

They then get turned off to this SEO thing and end up paying a spammy company to take over.

I’m not saying telling everyone out there to do content marketing is on the same scale as the SEO companies ripping off their customers (and possibly doing more harm than good), but the point is a lot of what we recommend is misleading to business owners.

Rather, we need to be educating them on everything else that can be done to get the links they need before content marketing.

We should be talking more about making our websites look like legitimate businesses so when we conduct outreach to webmasters who curate relevant business or local listings, they’ll happily accept them and give us a link.

We should be talking more about doing meticulous competitor research so we can get every link we deserve & qualify for.

We should be talking more about how to help out webmasters in our industry that hold the power to link (i.e. broken link building).

We should be talking more about how to identify new link tactics & opportunities so we’re not playing by the same rules as the rest of their competition, who’s waiting head over heels for the next blog post to be written about “how to get links with tactic X”.

We should be talking more about things like fail-proof content (NOT known as content marketing) that makes sure any time spent creating content provides measurable returns ahead of time, allowing us to be smarter about the content we create that serves an SEO purpose.

Because the truth is, there’s so much low hanging fruit in SEO. We don’t have to jump on to the content marketing bandwagon because 7 experts told us it’s “the only way to get good links”.


As I said, there’s still a time & place for content marketing, but it should be a last linking resort.

So stop thinking the only way to get links is by “earning” them. Go out there and build them.

Small update: this post is another example of link building getting thrown under the bus. I encourage you to check out John-Henry‘s comment below it, as well as the responses to it.

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 119 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper+ is an SEO consultant based out of Gainesville, FL who specializes in link building. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Felipe Jose says:

    I agree with you, some people really think that links are ALL that matter and if you are familiarized with some of Ryan Deiss’ trainings you probably heard the following… A LINK IS A LINK! Brilliant! No… I am just kidding! But maybe the reason why people pay for links is because they don’t know how to structure a content marketing strategy. But this is not that simple…

  2. Rackins says:

    I agree that content marketing is not everyone, or rather not for every budget. Definitly not for small business, but rather for large companies with an actual SEO team tasked with different activities. They have the bandwith for it, while small business owner just want to get noticed. It’s just one of the ways, ressource expensive, to get links.

  3. Thomas Rudy says:

    Think you will get any links from this content?

  4. Daniel Law says:

    Great post. It was about time a credible link builder stepped up and talked about this.

    Like you mentioned Jon, it is funny seeing a lot of companies trying to rebrand themselves into inbound marketing and content marketing companies, but at the end of the day links are still what matters and links are ultimately what all these companies are still after.

  5. Ajay Prasad says:

    Amazing Post! I agree with your points. SEO is all about link building. Content undoubtedly plays an important role for link building. But it is through the content that link building is done.

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