The terms “content marketing” and “link building” describe discrete marketing activities with distinct scope, strategies, and purposes. They are not the same thing. But that does not mean you cannot employ both in the same way that you might use email and content marketing together or use display advertising and content marketing together.
A pair of definitions will help make it clear how link building and content marketing differ.
Content marketing is the act of creating, publishing, and distributing content, like articles or videos, with the purpose of attracting, engaging, and retaining customers. When done well, content marketing is a customer-centric approach to growth and profit. It seeks to serve, help, inform, and entertain. At its core is reciprocity.
In contrast, link building is a form of search engine optimization aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of inbound links to a specific web page in an effort to improve that page’s ranking position on a search engine results’ page.
In spite of their differences, tactically there are similar or related activities within each.
Both a content marketing campaign and a link-building campaign might have you write an article. Both might have you post content on social media, and both a content marketing campaign and a link building campaign might have you look at customer behavior.
The difference is in the purpose, the goal, and the relationship. If you will forgive the somewhat crass analogy, the difference between content marketing and link building is something like the difference between kissing your sister or brother and kissing your husband or wife. At a tactical level, both acts are kissing, but very few folks would say that kissing your sister is exactly the same thing as kissing your wife.
When to Use Link Building
A business’s goals, capabilities, and position in the marketplace will impact how it views the interaction or relationship between these two marketing activities. How a company uses these approaches depends on what that company wishes to accomplish.
Link building, to oversimplify, is primarily interested in introductions. As a marketing tool, link building’s purpose is to influence search engine algorithms. It seeks to convince search engines that a particular page is important in the context of a relevant search. SEO practitioners know that inbound links are used in some way as a measure of page popularity or value. So encouraging a large number of good quality links will impact how well a page ranks.
Link-building tactics include the following.
- Developing compelling and useful content.
- Discovering directories that offer follow links.
- Using press releases and pitches to encourage articles.
- Guest blogging or submitting articles for publication.
- Building relationships with bloggers and website owners.
- Adding posts to social networks that offer follow links.
- Contributing to forums and content communities.
- Newsjacking — injecting your own ideas into breaking issues — in social media.
- Developing microsites and landing pages.
- Research to learn which words and phrases are used on search engines.
The thought is that if a web page can rank well on a search engine results page, it is likely to get a greater number of clicks, thereby introducing a relatively greater number of potential customers to your business.
It is this focus on new customer introductions that makes link building specifically and SEO more generally popular with new businesses or businesses that by nature have almost no opportunity for repeat sales. These companies need fresh customers.
When to Use Content Marketing
Content marketing focuses on lasting relationships. Remember the triple purpose of attracting, engaging, and retaining customers. Content marketing often requires research to identify needs and wants of those prospects and customers. Then, a marketer can create content to:
- Solve problems and help people make better decisions;
- Introduce people or build communities;
- Make others money;
- Makes other people successful.
Focusing on things that are fundamentally useful, content marketing elevates a company’s reputation, making its website a place consumers return to. Businesses that sell relatively complicated products or that have the opportunity to sell to a customer repeatedly will often favor content marketing, since it tends to keep customers coming back.
Content marketing and link building can complement each other. A link building campaign that successfully elevates some pages in search results and thereby generates more page traffic could introduce potential customers to a business’s content and keep a person coming back. Similarly, a company with a good reputation for providing useful content might, first, stand out on a search engine results page as a trusted site and, second, have its content shared and referenced, ultimately increasing the number and quality of inbound links.
Link building and content marketing are not the same thing. Rather they are distinct but related marketing tools, each meant to help your business accomplish a particular goal. Used well, both should help your ecommerce company succeed.