Inbound vs Outbound: How Content Creation Trumps Link Building

As an online publisher I have been always creating content and building links even long before Google. Then almost 10 years ago I became an SEO and learned that you can actually skip part of the content creation process and get traffic from Google right away by creating keyword-optimized pages.

How did I start on the Web? In 1997 I started publishing poetry on poetry sites: I contacted them from the college library computers ( I didn’t even own a PC back then) as a student. I couldn’t even email them in many cases, as only some of the university computers had the UNIX mail client called PINE installed where I could access my mail. So I used their contact forms where possible to make them get back to me.

Later on I’ve found out about HTML and had my first homepage built in Notepad in 1998. The I published my poems and BAM! nothing happened.

After installing my first visitor counter I noticed that nobody would visit my bright yellow one page website.

So I started telling people online and offline about my site, I was so proud of myself that I told almost everybody I could find. I was a bit of a loner in college so there weren’t many people. Also it was a bit strange to show off my highly personal poems to people who might think I’m some kind of weirdo.

So I started focusing on other people publishing poetry online,

  • the websites I published earlier on
  • guest books
  • newsgroups on Usenet
  • Web rings
  • and the newly appearing online forums.

My favourite search engines back then were Infoseek and Webcrawler but I didn’t even consider them for optimization.

Fast forward 15 years and we’re here again where I started out on the Web publishing poetry in the late nineties.

Again you have to write first, then tell the people you know about it and then Google will notice along with other people you may no know yet. Today it’s much more difficult to skip the content creation again. For 10 years Google allowed you to thrive just by getting links.

Google’s business model is content though. They need it to wrap ads around it.

So they changed the search algorithm so that you need content to get traffic from Google. Well, link building still works somehow but by now it’s easier to create valuable content and tell interested people about it instead of just “tediously building links”. So in a way we made a full circle. It’s the nineties all over again.

Today we even have things called content marketing or inbound marketing. Inbound means that people come to us because our content, services and products are so outstanding that we do not have to employ offensive “outbound” tactics like banner ads or direct mails.

While SEO is both part of content marketing and inbound marketing even SEO itself changes to match these newer disciplines.

You rather do not build links these days, you get links by creating content that rocks and spreading the word through social media.

While link building is an often tedious process where you have to contact webmasters one by one, content creation is inherently scalable, not because you can create unlimited content – you can not – but because once you write an amazing piece people will share it by the dozens, hundreds or even thousands. So in the end you get numerous links with one effort instead of a few links from countless outreach emails.

Even modern outbound link building tactics like blogger outreach require time and effort meaning ultimately money. In many cases bloggers also require direct payment which contradicts the Google Webmaster Guidelines. At least you have to invest money for

  • products to test
  • give aways
  • sweepstakes
  • writers to provide guest posts.

With unique and compelling content it’s often the other way around, it spreads like wildfire from the start minutes to hours after publication.

Even modern outbound link building techniques like blogger outreach only benefit you indirectly.

Someone else writes about you and gets all the content and attention while you only get the link. Google might discount guest post links though. Then you have nothing of long term benefit left unless the blogger still likes you maybe writes in the future about you as well.

Creating exceptional content for your own blog or site makes your strategy future proof. The social media shares and the links will keep coming in the future. People will comment on your articles. You may update and even republish your old content. Or you may re-purpose it in an ebook, video or webinar.

These are just three ways inbound content building surpasses outbound link creation.

I replaced the building and creation parts because until now many links were directly or indirectly created by yourself while you built up a whole lot using content, not only a stable foundation of content instead of an empty site you also build relationships, reputation and trust.

People come to visit your site more often, remember you and return next time for more.

After reading a few articles or watching a few videos they like they start to think that you’re a great resource and ultimately trust you.

This is already branding as well, be it personal or for your company. People start to know you and your brand. They return directly to your site, you become more independent from social media and search but many more people start sharing your stories and of course Google notices this increased activity as well and rewards it.

You can’t possibly build as many links by manual link building. Also you won’t earn trust that way. Last but not least Google goes on to devalue links built artificially. Guest blogging links are probably next as having the same author link to his own site from 100 other sites doesn’t mean that this site is popular or trustworthy.

You can’t drop link building with blogger outreach etc. from the start.

You can phase it out gradually once your content gets the attention you need by itself. At first combining both techniques will result in the best possible visibility online. In the long term you have to focus on a scalable inbound content strategy that doesn’t rely on outbound link building.