How to Do Unintentional Link Building

During a Portuguese video chat earlier this month, Google’s Diogo Botelho made some confusing remarks about links. He said that webmasters should never ask for links. Originally, the statement was translated as, “webmasters should not buy, sell, exchange or ask for links.” The part about not even asking for links created quite a stir in the SEO community. Google later clarified that webmasters shouldn’t “Buy, sell or ask for links that may violate our linking webmaster guidelines.”

Google Webmaster Guidelines says, “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.” The big problem: the word “intended” is still part of that statement.

Some would say that those who engage in content marketing intend to get a link. But you can argue that content marketing, PR and other digital marketing activities are not, in and of themselves, an attempt to get a link or manipulate rankings. They’re promotion. And sure, you hope to get a link out of it, but that’s very different from scheming to get a link.

In my last post, I wrote that Google’s policy gives well-known brands an advantage because they can get links simply by posting (often very mediocre) content on their websites, while small businesses with no brand awareness cannot. In the comments on that post, R. Rogerson wrote, “Come on Adam, Show your stuff … why don’t you show people how they can get links – instead of further instilling the false concept that they cannot?”

First, a correction. The point of the post was, “Small businesses are not going to get links just by virtue of having good content” and “Small business owners have to do something to start the ball rolling, and that something is content marketing.” That – content marketing – is exactly what every small business has to do. Let’s take a look at some content marketing activities and other actions that are geared toward promotion and brand building, but do have the potential to get a link.


Guest Blogging Got a Bad Rap

Though Matt Cutts wrote, “If you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop … if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging, you’re hanging out with really bad company,” people who guest post on respected sites like Search Engine Watch are not in bad company. Guest blogging is about brand-building and tapping into an audience of people who are interested in your industry. If you can get in front of someone else’s audience, like Search Engine Watch, and show you’re knowledgeable about your industry, people will check out your website.

When they get to your website, they will find all of that interesting content that you’ve posted. Maybe they’ll link to it, maybe not. Maybe they’ll follow you on Twitter and other social properties, and possibly link to something you put out there in the future. As our friend R. Rogerson wrote in one of his many comments, “Why the blazes do you think Adam’s getting stuff published on this site? For his own karma? Out of the kindness of his heart to plead your case to Google? Hell no! It’s attention – it’s brand building – it’s link baiting.”

Can’t argue with that. And due to the ambiguous Google guidelines, we have to pretend we write for Search Engine Watch without any intention of getting links? Huh? Why can’t we be honest? Google created this incentive system, anyway.

Outreach that Puts Audience First

Outreach to local newspapers, building community relationships and networking with others in your industry can get publicity that doesn’t contain a single link. That’s OK. Some of the best PR doesn’t have a direct link. Exhibit A: HubShout was featured in the Business section of The Washington Post. That’s huge! But, no link. No links in write-ups in Falls Church News Press and Rochester Business Journal either. That kind of publicity spreads awareness of your brand and gets Tweets, Facebook shares, and sometimes phone calls and new clients. All of that publicity has the possibility of a link somewhere down the line, but it’s not the only reason for taking the time to be interviewed, or to participate in a community event.


The Kind of Content that Gets Shared

Create valuable, shareable, great, outstanding, useful, educational, quality, content. What exactly does that look like? Someone with an established brand and a huge following – Seth Godin, for example – just puts things out there and people link to it. That doesn’t happen for most people. Here are a few things that can get you noticed and help you start to build your brand:

  • Original Research. Run a survey, conduct a focus group or compile a list of statistics from research done by others. Write an interesting summary to accompany the collection of data. Share it on social media and pitch it to others who may want to share it and link to it.
  • Infographics. Of all the content we produce, infographics are, by far, our most shared and linked asset. Infographics sometimes require original research, or:
  • Make it Ten Times Better. Add significant value to someone else’s content or research. Improve something that’s already been done. Create an infographic out of it. If you find a high-ranking research report that was done two years ago, create a similar report with information that’s relevant now. If you find a study on a topic that’s ranking well, create a similar report that’s more fine-tuned to a particular niche. As Rand Fishkin said, “I’m going to pursue content in areas where I believe I can create something 10 times better than the best result out there.” That is excellent advice. We have these same discussions at HubShout.

All That Hard Work and Then…Nothing?

When you invest your time into creating content and you post it on your website, despite what Google says, it won’t be found, shared and linked to. It’s not going to happen, unless you’re a well-known brand. And unless you’ve already built a social media following, nothing is going to happen there, either. Spend the money to promote your post or Tweet. People will share it. The threshold to Tweet is very low. The amount of content people share and promote on social media is very high.

There is value in Tweets and social media shares. In a recent survey conducted by TrustRadius, 80 percent of respondents indicated that “engagement” – likes, shares, comments, followers – is the most important metric for social media campaigns. And the most common goals of social media programs are brand awareness, website traffic, and audience reach. When you’re sharing your content on social media and paying to promote it, engagement is what you’re going for. If you’re content is really good, you’ll get a link. A link is truly a measure of how good your content is.


The road to a link is usually very long and winding and sometimes, you don’t quite arrive at your destination. But all the stops along the way are worthwhile. You connect with new people and sometimes take a detour that leads to new opportunities. Keep at it, put serious effort into improving upon the content that’s ranking on page one, and don’t pass up any opportunity to share and promote your content. Who knows – someday, when you least expect it, even months later, you might get a link out of it. Not that you intended for that to happen.

Related reading

Study: How to use domain authority for digital PR and content marketing
Digital marketing strategy guide for B2B industrial manufacturers
Google China
What defines high-quality links in 2019 and how to get them