Content serves a variety of roles in the online marketing sphere. It's an authority establisher, getting more people to see and trust your brand, it's a sales engine, encouraging more people to buy your products and services, and it's a rank builder, helping your website rank higher in Google and Bing. Even in that last function, content serves multiple roles--it exists as a page that Google can index and rank, it contributes to the overall authority and relevance of your domain, and it can earn inbound links that serve as third-party indicators of your domain's perceived trust, relevance, and authority.
Inbound links are vital to the success of your SEO strategy, but earning them through the strength of your content alone can be painfully frustrating, though this is what Google recommends. Most successful link building strategies strike a balance between attracting links naturally from the strength of your on-site content and tactically building external links on other websites through guest posts and contributions of other forms of content; the latter is reliable but time consuming, and the former lives or dies by the quality of your content and reach of your audience. Develop a piece worth sharing and you could earn hundreds of authoritative links, but fail to meet that threshold and you could end up with nothing.
Creating content that attracts links on its own merits requires slightly different attention than content solely focused on earning conversions, or solely developed to build your brand's reputation. Ideally, you'll be able to craft a balance that serves all of content's possible marketing functions, but to start getting more links, you'll have to focus on the following strategies at a minimum.
1. Be Original
This is the first rule, and it applies to almost every possible use for content in the online marketing world. You have to be original, or you might as well save your effort. There's no need to duplicate a piece of content that's already been published--potential readers will see your brand as derivative or repetitive for the redundancy. You don't have to invent a new subject, but if you use an old subject, you have to approach it in new and dynamic ways.
Going along with the "originality" theme, if you want your piece to get links, you have to offer information, insights, or opinions that no one has offered before. This usually manifests as original research, such as data from a survey or experimental results. Remember, people linking to your piece will do so to validate their own references to this data. Make sure your information is accurate, significant, and uniquely available through your piece alone.
2. Surprise People
It helps if your piece surprises people in some way (perhaps through a new revelation or a shocking set of data), for several reasons. First, the sense of surprise naturally makes people share your content more, resulting in a wider reach and a higher inbound link potential. Second, it naturally makes your content more linkable. Consider a third party source who wants to write about your surprising claim--they'll likely cite you to prove they aren't making things up! You also open the door to rebuttals and counterarguments--which are almost always a good thing for your brand's visibility.
3. Include an Emotional Appeal
Try to make your content more emotionally relevant by including elements of fear, elation, sadness, sympathy, or outrage. Strong emotions make people more likely to share content, and more shares lead to more visibility and eventually more links. Plus, your emotional charge will make your piece more compelling and more memorable (which is handy for long-term link returns on your investment).
4. Be as Detailed as Possible
Include lots of details in your piece--the more the better. That means including primary research, secondary research, citing outside sources, including screenshots and videos to illustrate your points when appropriate, and providing examples to clarify your ideas. This is going to help you attract links in several ways. First, you'll provide more raw information that people can cite, increasing the possibility that your piece will be relevant to someone. Second, you'll make your piece more interesting and engaging for readers. Finally, your piece will serve as a more thorough guide on its subjet, making your piece a more attractive source for subsequent follow-up or rebuttal pieces.
5. Syndicate Effectively
No matter how good your content is, odds are low that people will be able to find it without a bit of help. Even if your piece is highly sharable, with the potential to go viral, someone still needs to introduce it to that initial audience of sharers--and that someone is you. When you first publish your content, push it out on as many social channels as are relevant to your brand, and don't stop there. Get your team members, partners, and affiliates to share it out as well. Then, put your piece in circulation with an ongoing syndication program to revitalize interest in it. For more ideas on ways to syndicate your content, see The Ultimate Tactical Checklist for Promoting Your Next Blog Post.
Even after reading this guide and committing yourself to improving the linkability of your content, don't expect your results to turn around overnight. It's going to take you some time to figure out what works best for your audience and your brand, and some practice to get the hang of these tactics. Eventually, you'll be writing breakout pieces regularly, and you won't have to worry about the strength or risk of your link building campaign.