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Link Building vs. Content Marketing: A False Dichotomy

A thai pizzaMy last post (before Michael’s last week) was a bit of a rant about how Conversion Rate Optimization wasn’t exclusive with, or even competing with, SEO. It was all true, but it also led me to start thinking about false dichotomies. If you aren’t familiar with the term, a false dichotomy is any time someone presents you with two options and asks you to choose between them, but there’s no reason you can’t pick both, or pick a third option that isn’t presented. So if a friend said, “Hey, should we go out for pizza or Thai?” you might reply, “Mexican,” because his choice was a false dichotomy. (You might also point out that Thai pizzas are totally a thing.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about false dichotomies in Internet marketing, and I’ve been reading a bunch of articles about the future of the industry — you know, end of the year prediction/retrospective-type stuff — and I realized that there’s a completely B.S. fight going on in the SEO world. On one side, you have people who are saying “Link building is dead! Content marketing is the only way forward!” On the other, you have people who are totally building links like madmen and smirking into their lattes about how the Content Marketing people have fallen for Google’s propaganda.

But the truth is that, like CRO and SEO, link building vs. content marketing is a false dichotomy. The point of content marketing is to get links by creating content that’s so good, people want to link to it. The point of link building — now that we’ve mercifully killed the days of automated “ten thousand links overnight” garbage — is to point out to people who would already otherwise want to that you have a page worth linking to.

These are not mutually exclusive ideas, people. A solid content marketing plan enables a huge amount of link building to happen. So much so that a good marketing plan is to invest upwards of 4-8x as much time building quality links to each piece of quality content as you put into creating the content in the first place.

You can solidly optimize this process by deliberately crafting your content with specific link-building goals in mind. Sit the whole team down, sketch out several dozen high-profile websites in your industry, and figure out what kind of content each one is most likely to link to. Create the content, and have your linkbuilding team perform outreach, get the main link built, and then seek out a dozen or more other links from similar sites. Start over targeting the next site on the list.


There’s absolutely no reason you should worry about whether to build links or create content — because the answer is always “Both!”


(Thanks to Stuart Spivack on Flickr for the use of that stunning pic!)

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