Within the link-building era, life was simpler for an SEO professional. Everything was straightforward and the equation was simple – getting x number of links (let's say submitting your site to dozens of Web directories) equated with a certain ranking in search results.
A lot of search experts acknowledged that even though links aren't everything when it comes to search engine optimization, they carry a lot of weight in the search engine's ranking formula. From the need for better ranking results people developed lots of techniques to build links, either manually or automatically.
As you can see in the picture above, the overall interest shift from link building to content marketing is rather clear. Google wasn't too happy with the fact people were focused on desperately gathering links for their sites and forgot the fact that they should be focused on offering real value in order to earn those links.
With Penguin and manual penalties, Google started annihilating these shady techniques one by one. Even so, a few manual link-building techniques still work. The transition is more of a mentality transition from the concept of constructing link profiles to investing time and effort into growing them organically.
Why Link Earning?
While everybody's proclaiming that "content is king" and how link earning will change the face of SEO forever, it becomes pretty clear that very few know exactly how to get there. In all the hype and all the enthusiasm over the next trend, people are more confused than ever as to how are they going to transition from the old ways to the new.
I can't recount how many times I've read about quality over quantity, without seeing some reasonable and graspable meaning for it.
It's obvious that the mentality of creating relevant and meaningful content helps, both you and the community. But how do you end up to earn links?
Everybody expects relevant results from Google. Having irrelevant or shady sites ranking in the top of the search results helps neither you, the visitor, nor Google the search engine. This is one reason why Google works hard to improve their algorithms in order to rank those that deserve to be there.
If you aren't fully committed to this new method of obtaining organic inbound links, you should ask yourself how you would feel if you knew Google's Matt Cutts was looking at your site's links.
If you have any second thoughts about showing any of your links to Cutts, that means your site might be in trouble sooner or later.
Key Differences Between Link Building and Link Earning
Link building and link earning really aren't two different concepts – they are two sides of the same coin. Link earning is higher on the evolution ladder than link building, because you actually have to prove to be more resourceful and offer helpful information to the searcher.
One key difference between these two concepts is that link building is based on your obvious intent of finding websites that would place a link to your site, voided by relevance or value. On the other hand, link earning starts with a brainstorming and creative thinking process.
Figuring out your content strategy and putting ideas on paper should be your first step. You need to keep in mind that real value is relative to your target audience and to other websites or influencers that will want to share your content.
3 Link Earning Tactics
We've written a lot about earning and building links and how they differentiate from one another and why you should choose link earning as a way to increase your link portfolio. Now it's time to show you some methods that you should start to apply in order to earn those organic links.
1. Amazing Content
This is the most conceptually simple, yet hard to implement, efficient link-earning technique. You can dodge it or ignore it.
The creation of amazing content is absolutely vital to earning links. You should conceive this amazing content to not only provide usefulness to readers but also to be shareable.
Once you build something searchers are finding useful on your site, be sure they will gladly help you spread out the word and link back to you. Amazing and engaging content can prove to be very efficient if done properly, as it will spread like fire on sites, blogs, and social media platforms, without a too much of a manual hassle.
2. Engaging Contests
Another good link-earning idea would be to create engagement within the community through contests and giveaways. Host contests on your site and then promote it online. Networking with influencers and website owners and ask them to pass on the information to their readers.
You could say asking other website owners to post information on their site on your behalf would seem like an unnatural link building technique, but it's not the case. It's an experience from which everybody gets to earn something. Especially you, since you're going to have a lot of coverage, which will generate many organic links.
3. Awesome Free Resources
The most compelling reason for people to start talking about you and share links that point to your site would be freebies. Nobody will pass the occasion to get some useful free resources. And by resources I mean some form of content or an app that is not very hard to produce and users may find very useful.
If you want to be successful with this technique, you need to really understand your target audience's needs.
For the moment, Google still ranks sites with shady link profiles. In my opinion it is only a matter of time until the SERPs are cleaner and sites that use shady link-building techniques can't rank well. There are various creative ways in which you can make link building work for you without putting your site at danger of being penalized.
Webmasters should tend to focus less on manual link building and more on delivering awesome content and community help!
Overall you'll have a lot more to earn if you invest a lot more of your time to earning links and dishing out information that people actually want to link to. Besides getting links you'll also raise your brand awareness and you're going to consolidate a strong position in your niche. You'll get ranking, new visitors, and a social presence!
What's your take?
At SES London (9-11 Feb) you'll get an overview of the latest tools, tips, and tactics in Paid, Owned, Earned, Integrated Media and Business Intelligence to streamline your marketing campaigns in 2015. Register by 31 October to take advantage of Early Bird Rates.