We get plenty of “soft tips” about creating content that attracts links. I think many times SEOs are too vague with this recommendation. Seasoned content marketers have created an art form developing compelling, (trans)actionable content. They’re interested in an emotional response. For them a link has little to do with a search engine algorithm.

Since we’re encroaching on their discipline more everyday, we should be taking the right cues from them.

That's Just Your Opinion, ManYour opinion can be an ingredient in your strategy. You know this, but how are you employing it? In the same way humor, a “how-to” video, or a common customer service response could supplement a great piece for users, and could “attract” links, so could promoting your position. You have the opportunity to be unique and write something that hasn’t been rehashed to death. More importantly, you have the opportunity to elicit a response that could result in SEO-helping comments through social, local, and general search algorithms.

When I worked for a public company we had a huge legal and PR team that monitored every piece of content we wanted to put out. A simple press release took months. Most of us are not against those kinds of obstacles, so we should use that to our advantage. I consider the lack of red tape a blessing with my small and medium-sized clients. Currently I’m working in the green space – we have a lot of opinions; my company wasn’t afraid to take a stance. By vocalizing, and handing out these opinions like band fliers in front of a venue, we’ve been able to get a good amount of exposure which resulted in links. But we weren’t just spouting opinions out to see what would stick; we used data, an understanding of the audience and the space, and a strategic publication method.

I’ve worked in a lot of different niches through my time with agencies and consulting. Every niche has things they believe in.

Let’s use my blog as an example. I blog for fun and to experiment. I’m not particularly using this site to get clients, become famous, make money, get free stuff, etc. But let’s suppose I was trying to promote a service. The content I’ve posted so far has been shared well on Twitter, G+, and has landed on a couple decent sites like Search Engine Land and SEOmoz’s Top 10. Overall though, I haven’t written anything that earned me a great number of links. For the 3,000 social clicks I’ve gotten in the last 6 months, I have about 10 new editorial links from sites that are responding to something I wrote. If I were really trying to earn links, I’d be failing with otherwise good content. I’d be raising my eyebrow at the recommendations of “write good content and the links will come.”

Why Am I Not Attracting Links?

In this SEO niche, there’s a few things that could be at play. To perform better, I’d have to start looking at the realities. Here’s a few assumptions off the top of my head – ideally I’d want to really research these. In the meantime take them with a grain of salt:

  • Impressions: We have a lot of content in this industry. There is a lot of noise in the signal, so I’d have to work harder to get my content seen.
  • Popularity: We have cliques. Some SEOs and websites are more popular than others (sometimes from public speaking or alliances with big names), thus their content – even despite occasional low value – can get hyped and linked more easily. Regular people have to work much harder.
  • Target: We have a big subculture with many subsets of specialization. Most SEOs and bloggers don’t focus on one particular part of SEO, This leads to less opportunities for inspiring a topic.
  • Perception: I don’t write long, technical posts. I’m convinced most people don’t read them all the way through, so I like to drop my point and move on. But I think long posts are perceived as “epic” and people want to tie themselves to it.

What Should I Do?

If I wanted to go with this strategy, and built around the four assumptions above, I should start kicking out my space in the mosh pit with steel-toed python boots. I should post strong opinions but do it with integrity, keeping the four assumptions in mind. I should absolutely mean what I say, and not be afraid of negative replies – the web owns your brand and you’re going to get stung if you deserve… despite your best efforts to control your perception.

For this example, here’s something I could write a whole post on.

Rankings Are Still Important As A Performance Metric

I remember first hearing that rankings didn’t matter in 2007. The concept being that Google and other search engines are personalizing their algorithms too heavily to use rank as a KPI. The alternative is to just report traffic or keyword conversions. I remember a bunch of big name SEOs trying to inculcate us.

I think this is misguided.

Most of our data is directional – from Google’s estimated search queries, to Google’s showing ”about 661 results” in SERPs instead of the real number, to OSE/Majestic/Ahrefs link counts or PageRank emulation. We rely on traffic data from Hitwise or Compete, which is often very far from the real numbers. Even the impression and click count from Webmaster Tools is directional.

I think it’s perfectly fine for marketers to continue aligning directional ranking data with other directional metrics. I pull my rank reports daily through Microsite Masters, append with daily traffic, and trend. It gives me a fantastic keyword-level heartbeat which leads a huge part of my optimization efforts. Granted, there are other optimizations or strategy inspiration to be found solely with other KPIs, but discounting rankings is absurd.

If it’s simply a matter of not using them for reporting, because they’re only directional and not useful to a client or boss, with a quick education on what personalization really is, ranking reports can be your best friend.

Now I truly believe this, and would hope this could get me links. This could elicit emotions and links at the same time. But I’d have to get it out there. We know the traditional, sometimes “noisy” ways, but my favorite is to go direct to influencers. The beauty with this kind of content is how easy it opens doors. I’d find influencers on Twitter (Klout and Crowdbooster can help here), or I’d drop this in the right LinkedIn groups, or cite it on Q&A sites like Quora. I’d push this platform and ask for the perspective of my peers. Many times it comes in the form of a comment in the post, but sometimes it comes as a blog post enriched with a link.

At the end of the day we’d have some branding, some buzz-building, gotten some links, and opened the door for future opportunities and serendipity.

Bottom line: for commercial purposes, certain opinions create link-worthy content, as long as they’re crafted to the right audience. From a marketing standpoint, consider keeping your other irrelevant opinions to yourself so you’re not contributing white noise. It’s quite possible you work in an industry that wants to stay neutral in all things. Maybe you work for a mill and supply cut wood for a living, and don’t need to post op-ed stuff for your brand, but with a little creativity, you can also benefit from sharing your opinion for SEO purposes.