When Google appeared on the scene two decades ago, it quickly outshone popular search engines such as AltaVista, Infoseek and Lycos for two primary reasons.

First, most search services were caught up in what would prove to be a fatal fad: turning their home pages into a “portal” for the internet while neglecting their core function of providing the best search experience possible. Second, and perhaps more important, Google pioneered the concept of using links as a powerful means of evaluating the quality of web pages through its PageRank algorithm.

The idea was both elegant and relatively simple: links were very similar to citations in academic literature — essentially a way for the author of one web page to endorse or “vote” for another web page. Lots of links pointing to a page suggested that a page was of higher quality than a page with few links pointing to it. Links from authoritative pages were even better. Using PageRank, Google’s search proved so much better than its competitors that it quickly blew them out of the water.

SEOs quickly realized that they needed to focus on Google, and the craft of link building became an essential component of search engine optimization. In the early days, link builders simply asked other website owners to link to their site, and those requests were commonly granted, especially if a reciprocal link was offered in return.

Today, link building remains an essential part of an SEO’s efforts to gain optimal search engine visibility. But in the age of fake news, content skeptics and corporate policies governing what can and can’t be done on most high-quality websites, link building has become a much more difficult task.

Lisa Barone, CMO at digital agency Overit, has been building links and writing about the process for years. These days, her primary emphasis is not so much on outreach and asking for links as it is on creating content that stands out — to get it placed, to attract links and to ultimately drive people back to a client’s business. She’ll be sharing her process for creating a content-based link building plan at our SMX East conference in New York City next month.

Lisa describes her process as having four essential parts:

Setting goals for content. “None of us have the resources to create content with the ‘hope’ someone will post it. Nor do we have the time to create content with the ‘hope’ it provides a measurable return to the business. You need to use business goals to identify opportunities for content themes and content type with examples.”

Identifying (and obsessing over) core topic themes. “Understanding our goals for the content allows us to break out the themes for the content we will place. We must prioritize the content that will help us achieve our goals, while also resonating with our audiences. Keyword research tools can help identify and segment topics based on user interest and how they align with business needs. This allows us to create a data-backed strategy to guide our content/link building efforts around objectives and keywords.”

Seeking out host content gaps. “Performing a content gap analysis on larger link opportunities allows you to identify what content the site already has, what works, what’s missing and where you can build upon existing efforts. This helps your content get placed by showing the host site you’re paying attention, while also helping you to target your content more specifically for shares and conversion.”

Creating linkable content. “Getting content placed is one thing; creating something people want to share is another. To be successful, the content you create must be worthy of links and set up to be spread. Linkable content is content that contains elements such as a strong hook, original research, compelling visuals (videos, charts, infographics, memes) and [that] comes with resources baked in.”

Link building today goes far beyond simply securing a link to influence search engine rankings. A comprehensive link-building plan requires matching the content creation/link-building process to business goals, designing the content assets most likely to be shared and focusing on outreach efforts most likely to convert to sales.

If you’re interested in learning more from Lisa and other experts in the field, be sure to attend our SMX East conference in New York City October 23-25, 2018.

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