Blog: SEO
Hands typing on keyboard

Create Great Content and You’ll Get Links: Truth or Fiction?

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

If you’ve studied SEO for any length of time, there’s no doubt you’ve heard this phrase before.

“Create great content and you’ll get back links naturally.”

Is there any truth to the fact that great content will earn links on its own, or is that a fallacy?

If you feel frustrated by the effort you’ve put into creating quality content for your website, only to receive no back links at all, you’re not alone. Many people have gone through the same experience.

We’ll look at why “publish it and you’ll get links” is an inadequate SEO strategy, and what you can do to speed up the link building process.

If you’re frustrated by the fact that you have a great content but it’s not getting links, what are some steps you can take to speed up the process?

You Won’t Get Links at All Without Great Content

This should go without saying, but you won’t convince anyone to link to your content if it isn’t best-in-class.

Whether it’s a blog article, video, PDF, or podcast episode, people will judge your content before they read, watch, or listen to it.

Before expecting people to link to a resource on your website, be sure to evaluate it objectively.

It’s easy to get “too close” to your own material and believe that it is really “world-class” when it still has room for improvement. Refrain from judging the quality of your content on length alone. Sure, you can build “skyscraper content” that has a longer word count than what’s ranking on page one of Google, but that doesn’t make it “better”.

These are the specific questions you should ask yourself before doing any sort of link outreach. Don’t be afraid to get a second or third opinion.

  • Is the design of my website in the same league as the top-ranking sites for this category?
  • Do the pages ranking for this search phrase have complementary elements? Such as illustrations, videos, graphics, charts, or tables? How does my page compare to theirs?
  • Does this piece of content answer the same questions and concerns as the results on page one of Google? What other questions can I address?
  • Is there any information that is incomplete or outdated on the current top-ranking pages? How can my content bridge that gap in information to deliver up-to-date info?
  • If an celebrity in my niche found this content, would they be hesitant to share it with their audience? If so, why?

If you answer these questions truthfully, from an objective viewpoint, building links will be that much easier.

An unpleasant truth: sharing your content on social media is not enough to get people to build links to it.

Whenever Blogs Link To You, It’s Intentional

There’s a few observations I have when it comes to what content gets a disproportionate amount of back links and what doesn’t.

Beating the Competition in Back Links

First, it may not take a ton of back links to move the needle in your category. Moving up the rankings is a combination of different factors.

  • The raw content, usually what people mean when they say “quality content”. If you’re talking about written content, like a blog post or resource page, this is the text that Googlebot crawls and parses for semantic meaning.
  • The presentation of the content, aka design and user experience. Design plays a role in SEO, because content that is well-designed gets better engagement, and encourages people want to keep reading. Time on page and scroll depth tend to increase when the page and the website are professionally designed.
  • The link profile of the website and the page. When you get links from a site in your business category, that is a signal to Google that your content deserves a boost. As we’ll talk about in a minute, website administrators are generally picky about what sites they link to.
  • Overall reputation of your site, and the category Google believes your site belongs in. What’s the track record of your site in regard to content? Is your website all over the board, or is its subject matter tightly defined? How do people feel about your site and your business? Do you have good reviews or negative reviews?

Links are one factor of many, albeit, back links are an important factor.

If the top-ranking sites in your category only have 100 sites linking to them, moving up the search rankings will be easier than if the rankings leaders have 10,000 sites linking to them.

The More People You Know That Run Websites, the Easier Link Building Will Be

Most of the people who preach “Create great content and you’ll naturally get links” are marketers and web designers. This means their network is chock-full of people who publish content on websites, in the same category as they do.

Where it gets difficult to link-build is, oh, pretty much any other competitive industry. It’s not as easy to walk up to your fiercest business rivals and ask for a link to your site, because it will help your SEO.

What you should do is leverage the business alliances that you do have. When you have business partners that you already refer people to, it makes it easier to acquire back links, because you already have a desire to see each other succeed.

Good places to start with foundational links include:

  • Find complementary businesses with “Strategic Partners” lists or logo links on their website.
  • Are you a distributor for a product line? Make sure a link to your website is on the Distributors page of the partner company.
  • Does your local Chamber or Commerce allow for guest content? Sometimes they will call this Members News or Member Press Releases. Not every Chamber does this, but if yours does, this can be a powerful signal for local SEO.
  • Many of the industrial directories and marketplaces will let you publish guest content as part of their Premium packages. It’s worth asking around, and finding out which ones allow followed links back to your site.

When you publish useful content, like a blog post, reach out to some of your strategic partners, and see if they will link to it as a reference. Sometimes, it only takes few of these links are enough to start seeing SEO progress.

The Better the Content Looks, the Easier It Is To Build Links

Reaching out to your colleagues and allies for links is one thing, convincing strangers to link to your content is another.

The more professional your website looks, the better your individual pages look, the easier it will be to build links, with both friends and strangers.

Content that is formatted and presented in a way that causes zero friction, and looks appealing, tends to have better on-page signals.

Avoid making articles that are a “wall of text”. Break up your blog posts into quickly-scanned sections using headlines, images, blockquotes, illustrations, table data, videos, or other elements that give variety at regular intervals.

Check the legibility and contrast of your font. If the text color is too pale, or too small, it makes the page difficult to read.

The Type of Content That People Love to Link To

There’s one category of content that is easier to build links to than any other type: tutorials, how-to’s, and educational content.

If you’re solving a common problem, or showing people how to do something, it’s going to be easier to gain links, and build traction to that page.

A good example of a site that has good “how-to’s” is WikiHow. They go out of their way to produce really detailed, professional looking content. Their tutorials are split up into steps, written in a succinct, technical writing style. Each step has an illustration, photo, or short autoplay video demonstrating what to do in that step. Even though there are ads on this site, the design is clean and legible.

Whatever the writing style for your site, consider more tutorial and educational content. Many people struggle with things you may take for granted, or they simply want to find a guide that walks them through a process.

Find Your Own Content Voice

What many industrial websites struggle with is finding a writing voice that doesn’t seem too dry, technical, or forced. It takes time to develop a writing style that feels natural, and sounds like you’re having a conversation with that person who is reading your site. It’s worth keeping at it, and creating content consistently, to get more comfortable writing, or talking in front of a camera or microphone.

One thing I do to create written content is simply speak into the Voice Recorder on my phone, and start there. Another thing I’m doing currently is recording videos daily, then creating written content from those ideas.

Content creation is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more defined it becomes.

Sometimes it’s easier to articulate your thoughts and insights in a “rough draft” audio or video form before turning into written content.

Match the Search Intent of Page One of Google

We beat this drum a lot on this website, but matching the pattern of content for a given keyword phrase will help you rank better.

It’s easier to go “with the grain” of the search results, than to try and go against that grain.

Even if you acquire tons of back links to a given page, if the content doesn’t fit the pattern of what Google is already ranking for that keyword phrase, it still may not rank well.

Here’s an example: if you’re trying to rank for something like “air conditioning repair in Houston Texas”, most of page one of Google will be Yelp landing pages, Home Advisor landing pages, and the remaining spots will be individual HVAC businesses, either their home page or a service page.

Trying to rank a blog post for that term won’t work.

Here’s another example: let’s say you’re trying to rank for the phrase “cloud computing” but the page you’re trying to rank is a sales page for your cloud computing services.

Look at what’s ranking on page one for that phrase.

It’s all articles on What is cloud computing? or Wikipedia-style articles on cloud computing. Not a single sales page to be seen.

I wanted to point this out, because if you get the search intent mismatched, it might not matter how many links you build to your target page, it still won’t rank on page one.

Using HARO to Submit Link Pitches

HARO, or Help a Reporter Out is a free service that you can sign up for as a contributor. Three times a day each weekday, you’ll get an email with different writers looking for input from experts in different fields.

These are time-sensitive requests for short blurbs of specific information for the given story that they are writing. If your “pitch” is selected and used in the story, you usually receive a link back to your website.

This method of link-building is completely “white-hat”, but is a bit time-intensive. You must look at each list of pitch requests, and see which fit your particular expertise. There may be many days where you don’t see anything that you could give expert insight on. Also, the quicker you are to respond, the more likely you are to be selected.

HARO link building is more akin to farming than hunting (cultivating links vs. straight up asking for links), although it is a steady way to acquire valuable links to your content.

Link Building is a Long Game, Built on Industry Relationships

The most valuable links you will receive come from websites in the same category as yours. This is known as topical relevance.

People in your professional network will be responsible for overseeing these industry-related websites. So the relationships you foster with your colleagues will have an influence on your long-term link-building abilities.

For more insight on this concept, check out Episode 26 of the Smart Web Creators podcast with Davinder Singh Kainth and Brendan Hufford. In this episode, Brendan elaborates on how links tend to be granted to industry peers who you’ve developed a friendship with over time.

Have an Emotional Connection with Your Audience

There’s a common characteristic of content that gets shared, linked to, and referenced. That characteristic is an emotional hook.

Your content should resonate with people on some gut level. Merely having statistically correct content isn’t quite enough to be memorable. You must have something that resonates with the audience on a personal level, or they won’t finish reading the article or watching the video.

This could be something as simple as a personal story, an anecdote, or describing a common scenario.

Connecting with your target customers at a visceral level through content and storytelling is the key to successful content marketing.


Build it and they will come only works in the movies. It takes some effort to do link outreach and get the back links you need to succeed at SEO.

How you present your content visually is just as important as the message itself. Well-designed pages do better over the long haul than average looking content.

Lastly, your relationships in your industry will benefit you, if you cultivate them. There’s only so many people in the world that oversee publishing on company websites. Forming strategic alliances and friendships is the long game worth investing in, when it comes to link building.

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

4 comments on “Create Great Content and You’ll Get Links: Truth or Fiction?

  1. Great article John. In-depth and very informative. It’s hard to be specific on how much your articles have helped me to succeed in my small niche but they have. Keep them coming, my friend. Thx!

  2. Hey John:

    Excellent post with good information. Your research and hard-work are truly appreciated. You have presented each alternative impressively along with crucial information that is easy enough to understand.

    I personally agree with your last point. If we connect with our reader’s emotion, then it will increase the percentage of link building.

    After reading this complete post, I got ideas and have also boosted my knowledge. Fabulous work and keep sharing similar posts.

    Eventually thanks for sharing your knowledge and such an engaging post.


Join the Conversation

Your email address will be kept private. Required fields marked *.