Off-Site SEO: From Link Building To Content Marketing To... Marketing

Off-Site SEO: From Link Building To Content Marketing To... Marketing

Google’s policies on link-building puts pressure on operators and affiliates to come up with innovative content-marketing ideas. Matteo Monari looks at how these can be successful link-baiting campaigns.

Published 4th August 2015

During the past 20 years, Google’s improvements have pushed webmasters worldwide to improve their link-building techniques in order to survive. In this article we will see how this evolution has progressively subverted the traditional link-building approach, to the point that links can now almost be seen more as a key performance indicator (KPI) of traditional marketing initiatives than as a component of SEO - even in the gambling world.

From link-building to link-baits and content marketing

The traditional taxonomy of marketing activities sees search engine optimization as one of the disciplines of online marketing, as also are search engine advertising and social media marketing and content marketing. The same approach sees link building as a part of SEO, sometimes involving content marketing initiatives. Content marketing though can also be seen as partially external to purely online initiatives (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Content marketing, link building and SEO as components of online marketing

As an example, even paper-made in-flight promotional magazines by major airlines are essentially content marketing. Among typical link-building activities, we can find:

  • Directory submissions
  • Link exchanges
  • Link pyramids
  • Link purchases
  • Article directories
  • Widgets’ distribution
  • Link-baits
  • Guest blogging

...the last three of which are essentially content marketing initiatives (see Figure 2).

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Figure 2: Overlap between link building and content marketing

Over the years though, Google’s guidelines and algorithms have progressively rendered several of these techniques obsolete. Despite being the secret ingredient of Google’s algorithm since it was created back in 1996, recommendations against “link schemes” have essentially remained part of Google’s guidelines for all of this time . Google has also been very vocal regarding the risks of aggressive link-building methods, writing about them on its blogs , releasing forms to out link-buyers, declaring war on paid links when presenting at industry events and releasing declarations to some of the reference websites for webmasters worldwide5 . Google’s increasingly harsh war on link-building combined with improvements in its algorithm - above all the release of the Penguin algorithm in 20126 - led to a significant reduction in link acquisitions based on the most artificial methods, including article directories, link pyramids, exchanges and purchases. This pushed webmasters towards undertaking content marketing based link-building initiatives like guest blogging, widgets and distribution of infographics via Digital PR. In the most recent years, Google has further extended this harsh approach towards link-building, also scrutinising methods previously considered “white hat”, such as infographics , widgets’ distribution and guest blogging , essentially leaving pure content marketing initiatives and digital PR as the only available link-building methods for webmasters not willing to risk breaching Google’s guidelines. It is therefore far from coincidental that since 2013 content marketing-related searches outnumber by far those about link-building techniques, which have been in decline since 2011 (see Figure 3).

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Figure 3: Link building and content marketing popularity as search terms  

Content marketing in the gambling world

Considering how competitive the gambling world is when it comes to SEO, content marketing initiatives in this niche are often considered nigh on impossible, unpractical or useless since - as I have heard more than one gambling-focused SEO declare - “there are no such things as spontaneous links in the gambling world”. This, however, is a misconception. In fact, it is possible to find many content marketing initiatives in this world, several of which have been very successful. Their forms include interactive mini-sites, downloadable white papers and interactive tests. A few successful examples follow. For 2014’s World Cup, Italian betting site launched an interactive dashboard allowing users to compare key World Championship players in terms of skill, statistics and track records. The initiative earned the site more than 150 links from more than 50 different sites across the sports, tech, news and marketing fields (see Figure 4). 

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Figure 4: A detail of Betclic’s Top Players dashboard

For the same event, this operator also produced and released an exclusive downloadable guide dissecting the strategy of each team involved in the World Cup, with special commentary from their Arrigo Sacchi, former coach of Italy’s national football team11. This complementary content marketing initiative earned the site a further 2000 links from 42 different websites (see Figure 5).

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Figure 5: Betclic’s downloadable guide to Brazil 2014

Apart from interactive and downloadable content, content marketing initiatives can also take the form of social media-friendly quizzes, tests and games. An example of such is Dailyesque’s test Which Professional Poker Player are You?, which with just 12 simple questions and an optimised sharing process, managed to get a handful of good links and - more significantly - more than 6.700 Facebook Likes and almost 900 Tweets (see Figure 6).

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Figure 6: Dailyesque’s interactive test Which Professional Poker Are You?

What is important to remember though, is that in all these cases content was of primary importance, but it was not the only factor that led to their success. As a matter of fact, the actual content of content marketing initiatives is just the key ingredient of a complex recipe, which starts with a thorough analysis of the target audience and ends with a carefully structured outreach campaign.

From content marketing to marketing

In the typical online marketing taxonomy we saw at the beginning of this article, we said link building is a component of SEO, which is in its turn a specific branch of online marketing. However, if we consider a link-building initiative to be any initiative that can attract links we can “stretch” the concept of link-building, extending it across the boundaries of SEO and even online marketing, turning link-building into a pure marketing activity and links into a marketing by-product (see Figure 7) activity.

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Figure 7: Link building as a cross-discipline activity: from online marketing to marketing

In other words, marketing initiatives for which their main purposes are typically to increase brand awareness, improve player retention or attract players can also be looked at as link-baits, and can turn out to be among the most successful types of link-building initiatives, even in the highly competitive gambling world. A successful example of marketinginitiative-turned-link-bait is Pokerstars’ Italian reality show La Casa degli Assi (Figure 8).

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Figure 8: Pokerstars’ La Casa degli Assi TV show

Apart from granting the poker room a prime spot on national TV and helping it broaden its reach, the TV show also earned the poker room thousands of links from hundreds of different websites. Moreover, it also allowed the poker room to kick-off further TV-fi related content distribution campaigns like the one centred on The Big Map of Reality Shows, a huge infographic mapping the world of European reality shows (Figure 9).

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Figure 9: Pokerstars’ Big Map of Reality Shows infographic

Another example of a marketing initiative with produced great results in terms of generating links is PokerListings’ Battle of Malta championship14 (Figure 10). The tournament - one of the very few promoted not by a poker room but by a poker affiliate - has earned the site thousands of links from more than 300 different sites, and has allowed this poker affiliate to activate cross-branding initiatives with high level partners like Lufthansa, which of course resulted in even more links pointing to the website. Even basic marketing initiatives like promotions or online tournaments can be turned into mid-level link-baits. An example is Lottomatica’s Casino Holdem Live Event, featuring the Italian poker pro Max Pescatori. A basic blogger outreach campaign enabled the event – the budget for which was entirely justified by its goals in terms of player acquisition - to gain links from 15 new websites for the poker room. This is of a much lower volume than the initiatives mentioned above, but still a significant and valuable “extra” for an initiative that had a completely different goal.

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Figure 10: PokerListings’ Battle of Malta poker tournament

A change of perspective in link building

As we have seen, Google’s increasingly strict policies on links made link building and content marketing almost synonymous. This means that webmasters around the world are now struggling to come up with innovative ideas for contentbased initiatives which can help them acquire more links than their competitors - thus improving their authority and trust in terms of SEO. This is happening also in the gambling world, where both operators and affiliates have recently increased their focus on link-bait campaigns, which in some cases allowed them to acquire significant amounts of links thanks to carefully executed outreach campaigns centred on content marketing initiatives. Link-baits, however, can also cross the boundaries of content marketing and turn into pure marketing initiatives. In the same way, marketing initiatives can with little to no effort be transformed into highly successful link-bait campaigns when combined with properly executed digital PR campaigns. In the long run, only the operators and affiliates who understand the link-building potential of their marketing initiatives will be able to prosper in the SEO game, so never underestimate the potential outcome in terms of links of any promotional activities you conduct for your site!