Back in February, in light of John Mueller's not-so-positive commentary on link building, I wrote that links and link building are not dead! Of course, the old SEO witchcraft that some still practice today has to end. However, I did insist that content-driven link earning is the way to go for a future-proof SEO strategy. We are approaching the last month of 2015 and a few recent opinion pieces from reputable SEO publications suggest that some of the shine of content marketing for SEO may have worn off. Let's revisit the subject by delving into one of the core articles.
Andrew Dennis of Page One Power argues (very well, I might add) that social media-driven content marketing campaigns without prominent backlink KPIs are bound to fail. Relying on the findings of the comprehensive content marketing study from Moz and BuzzSumo, Dennis concludes that strong social media shares and engagement rarely translates into backlinks. There are a couple of issues with Dennis's approach - but having said that, I don't disagree with him on everything.
Some agencies and SEO influencers have bought into the idea that content is Suleiman the Magnificent and link building is the walking dead (excuse the puns). They have started hiring junior staff for off-page SEO roles with little link building experience. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of digital and the current SEO landscape. Without "strategic promotion" of content, as Dennis puts it, content will rarely deliver enough backlinks to achieve SEO KPIs. In that sense, I would agree with Dennis.
Having said that, I have a bone of contention with some things. Although his title is "Content Marketing Specialist", he practices manual link building in order to get results. His organisation seems to feel obliged to hide his "manual link building" behind a content marketing veil. With regards to the Moz study, the only sound conclusion that can be drawn is that influencers share and link for different reasons. I do not see why a great piece of content would not get links when it is supported by smart influencer outreach. I see and hear about great examples of such campaigns every day.
To wrap up, I am standing behind my idea that link building can be baked into content marketing campaigns without turning the campaigns into a series of old school tit for tat negotiations that would make Matt Cutts cry. My position is not far from Andrew Dennis's approach. The only difference is that I would build off-page SEO activity around great content rather than acting like content is an afterthought or a necessary evil for link building.