Content Link Efficacy: Understanding Why Great Content Fails

by on October 4, 2010 | posted in Linkable Asset Creation

In a perfect internet world, search engines would sort by strength of content. Their algorithm would be so strong they could detect good grammar and exquisite design and equally palpable shipping costs and products. Although Google’s acquisition of visual search specialist might signal they soon enough may be able to identify good fashion, it seems smart of us to assume that a direct move in this direction is not entirely imminent.

Instead, we are stuck in an alternate universe where we can only nudge great content into creating great rankings, instead of just assuming it does. In search, every vertical is different, and the ability we have to transfer great content into great search engine rankings scales dramatically depending on the website type. Note that although the potential for these sites scales accordingly, websites in other less-attractive categories can easily outweigh the more-attractive ones – they just don’t have the immense ceilings the others do.

Content link efficacy is the ability of great content to directly transfer into links – and how much a piece of content, when equally great on one site instead of another, differs in its ability to garner links, and therefore, great search engine rankings for its efforts. This post – and the following segmentation of website types – gives insight into why and how a particular vertical can boost or stop a great piece of content  from attracting a horde of links. We start at the most attractive, left side of the spectrum – social blogs – and end at the more frightful right side – those with social taboos.

1. Social, Fresh-Content Focused

These websites might not always identify themselves as traditional blogs, in the idea of written content, but they take on the identity of blogs because they are constantly updated, and frequently put out new content. What Pets Want has frequent pictures of cats. The constant stream of funny, hilarious pictures creates a mass of links. Similarly, the New York Times and TechCrunch put out several fresh news pieces throughout the day – much of which are so well written and newsworthy that it drives other bloggers to link to them in droves.

Since they have a constantly updated database of content that causes frequent return visits and continuous new discovery, they have the potential to continuously bring in links unlike any other content creator. A site like the New York Times could attract hundreds of deeplinks from one blog alone – and that kind of link potential makes them the most linkable kind of content host on the internet.

2. Social, Static

These are product websites that are social enough to be talked about, but lack the framework to constantly cause return visits and new content discovery. Most of these websites will have blogs, but due to their product-focus, sap much of the ability to create a true viral engine like the aforementioned social blogs. They can occasionally put out a good infographic or relevant post that will draw links, but even then, it’s nearly impossible for them to create the same link stream from new great content that social blogs do.

However, these social product websites are often ones that are talked about off the internet, and their websites’ themselves are good enough to attract numerous links for the great content they create – whether online or offline. Some big examples of this are Best Buy, Fry’s, or Sony. Internet e-commerce are similar – sites like Cafepress, Savings or Zappos are frequently linked to their for their great product offerings. University websites and web-app start-ups are other examples of this kind of website.

3. Socially Acceptable

Socially acceptable static websites are those with content that draws links most often due to their vertical relevance. They can create guides to say, build a house or sew a t-shirt, but that kind of content can only appeal to certain kind of users, and as such, they lack viral ability and have a smaller link ceiling than some of the above websites. The wider the user base, and the more likely they’re willing to talk about it with their friends, the stronger ability they have to garner links for great content creation.

As we reach the less desirable side of the website type flowchart, we approach an unfortunately low ceiling potential for links – even for the most amazing content. Say, for example, a personal finance site could create an algorithm that instantly gave you real-time price comparison for providers based on your given criteria. This would be amazing, right? But the likelihood that you’d gain links from more than only a few miscellaneous news sites outside of your niche would be pretty low. When we take even one step left into the “Social, Static” category and take a look at comparison travel sites, we can see that they attract hundreds of thousands of links based on their comparison engine alone.

Heck, it’s even possible said such an insurance comparison engine exists – I just don’t know because nobody has told me about it – for the very reasons that I don’t care, and I don’t feel it’s relevant enough to enough people for me to spread it to my contacts.

4. Taboo

These are the “nether regions” of the internet, in verticals like casinos, payday loans, or pornography. These kinds of sites can create the most amazing content in the world – and get absolutely no play from it. Certain sites have a certain “hush-hush” viarility, such as in pornography or casinos – where people will talk with their intimate friends about what’s good or what’s not – but this kind of knowledge paywall means that they are unlikely to go public with their favorites. This means the content creates no links, and that the search engines have little clue who has the best website – because few people are going public with their linking.

Because of that, content creation itself has very little to do with the winners in these niches – the victor often has manipulated (or used extreme creativity, depending on who you ask) their way into 95% percent of their link profile that probably had nothing to do with their on-page content – beside its reciprocal ability to fund link building effort.


So what are the takeaways from this for webmasters and SEOs? You should focus your time attention to where it matters most for your website. The more social and fresh-content focused you are, the more time you should exclusively spend building great content – both for search engine traffic and for website success in general. If your website is less social, you have to evaluate on whether or not your users will return to the site when deliberating over time spent dedicated to content creation on-page — at least as it pertains to link building.

The below chart is a decent approximation of how much time you, as an SEO, should spend focusing on each piece of the link acquisition puzzle. It’s by no means a scientific graph, but it’s a good gauge for how much you should focus on turning content into links over turning your cunning and manipulation ability into links – and, unfortunately, there’s a huge difference. I suggest you walk the tightrope between the two intelligently.

If you have aim to create a pornography or casino website, you still need great content to retain users– but it’s not the kind of content that will garner your links. As such, the designers of that part of the website should almost be completely detached from the SEO department.

On the other end, a site focused on mesothelioma or payday loans really requires nothing extraordinary as it comes to content – all it needs is something passable, some strong on-page SEO and a design that can convert users. Since most of these users are unlikely to return with any frequency, the on-page stuff is almost completely unnecessary.

Websites focused on Payday loans should be similar – the SEO department really shouldn’t even have to talk to the designers about great content creation – they should be focused on a website that converts users, and really, that’s all that it’ll take. The link builders should be out finding ways to manipulate links out of websites without regard to their website – this can be through business relationships, link directories, article directories, or, quite obviously, paid links. On the taboo web, manipulation is a link building way of life – whether through paid links or otherwise.

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