“Great content” is palpable. Easy to understand, identifiable instantly by the trained eye, and communicatable with a refreshing consistency when engaging with clients and upper management alike. But the idea is not congruent, necessarily, with obtaining links, and often times the intersection of “great” and “link magnet” is not nearly as harmonious as we might hope.
Surely, the correlation is there. Great content correlates with a bundle of links — but it does not create them. When we understand this, we comprehend it, and we move to act upon it, we can begin creating great content that creates lots of links – and not just something we’re okay with having hosted on our websites.
Linkable Asset Classes
Linkable assets, for the sophisticated link builders who know better, are not as simple as their normally characterized definition implies. There are clear delimiters that make each linkable asset different, making some more attractive for obtaining links than others, beyond the pure “greatness” we often characterize as the only true differentiable quality. For the purposes of this exercise, we will define the most important, differentiating “class” as a zero sum environment where pain points occur. Right below that, is the asset class of non-zero sum environments where pain points exist, and the worst – but still potentially potent, asset class, is a non-zero sum environment where no pain point exists at all.
- Non Zero-Sum Environments
- Non Zero-Sum Environments Where No Pain Point Exists
- Non Zero-Sum Environments Where Pain Points Exist
- Zero-Sum Environments with Pain Points
Link Building in Zero-Sum Environments
The most important characteristics of these classes are the two main conditions – zero-sum and non zero-sum. A zero-sum environment has a winner and a loser. The players at work take a portion of the pie, and the superior competitor ends up taking the lion’s share of the spoils.
A superior linkable asset comes strongly into play – and wins – in such environments. The less potent linkable asset classes are those that aim for non-zero-sum solutions, providing “greatness” in areas where greatness simply isn’t needed. This is because there are not people actively looking for those solutions, and when they are, their attention is divided, providing less benefit to each individual solution.
In the zero-sum linkable asset arena, there is a specific pain point that a great solution aims to fill. Zero sum conditions also mean that the solution is singular – we often only need one service to fill that need, and because of it, being a 2nd place – even slightly worse solution – means that you often end up with 0% of the benefit.
If we imagine this in a way we care – obtaining links back to our website – it means that every time a webmaster has a potential linking opportunity, it is likely the referring party will point to the 1st solution, and the 1st solution only – because they only need one rank checker, or one way to add links to their backlink profile – or one solution for something that fills the need for a niche-benefit solution.
Conditions That Support Zero-Sum Environments
Few environments where linkable assets compete against each other are truly zero-sum, as they are waging war in non-even playing fields, such as luck of the draw outreach, marketing power, random discovery, and the personality of the people linking. However, certain realities lean towards zero-sum conditions being a large player in how links are partitioned, that we can remember and leverage when thinking about ways to create assets that succeed in our own competitive environments.
Psychological Conditioning and Event Priming
The way our situation is framed often creates or does not create a zero-sum condition. In certain events where a webmaster or person capable of citation can pick a winner or a loser or multiple winners, they move towards a pure winner rather than multiple victors. Some examples of these are:
- Pain point framing by inquiring parties – When someone asks you “where should I start as a beginning SEO?” – that sentence will mean, to many people, that you want a singular asset. Here, we clearly point to the Beginning Guide to SEO, because it is the “winner” in that asset category. In a second scenario, the beginner asks “give me some resources to read, I’m just starting out”. The request is plural, and thus the linking environment becomes splintered. For webmasters, if we are creating a post for beginning whatever, it is likely we will point to multiple resources. However, if the article instead is all over the place, such as this one – the random citation will create a singular winner (the SEOMoz Beginner’s Guide).
- Environments that create resource constraints – On Twitter, we are limited to 140 characters. Because of this and the need to not appear spammy, we often lean towards brevity, which will cause 1A, 1B, 1C solutions to very frequently be narrowed down to only one. As this spirals out to other webmasters who control the ability to cite with a hyperlink, the reward will be left to the solely mentioned party.
- Personality characteristics – Some people simply link out tons. Others do not link out at all, or place their weight deeply on resources within certain sector. This causes the link graph to sliver downwards, leaving the benefit of being first immensely greater than coming up second.
Linkable Assets Where Numbers Solve Problems
Numbers are deeply rooted in most things, but for those where their implementation is more obvious, our minds as hyperlinkers tend to weigh more strongly on creating a win-lose environment – because a “calculator” can only create one answer — or so we imagine — so these kinds of implementations mean we sometimes only need one solution to write our canvas. These can be things like Retirement Calculators, rank checkers, keyword volume tools, or keyword difficulty webapps.
Here, the benefit of coming up first is titanic, because we identify with linkable assets just as we do most mathematical equations – there is only one answer. So, the marginal benefit of being one half-bit better than the second place solution, whether in marketing or content offerings, is immense.
Search Engines as a Barometer for Links
Although being number one is the ultimate goal for our money keywords, being number one for secondary keywords that fulfill pain points can be even more valuable. This entrenchment where there is a clear division of the spoils (first gets the majority of the traffic), creates a reality where users, when searching for specific areas of pain (e.g. [CRM software]), will frequently end up linking to the first resource on the list, whether or not it is the superior provision. However, since Google has done an increasingly good job of separating the wheat from the chaff, this is very often the case.
Using Pain Points as a Success Multiplier in Zero-Sum Environments
Many linkable assets are created for entertainment purposes, and not purely to solve a problem. Because of this, they are inherently weighted towards temporary success, because they often exist only in moments in time, do not get repeat use, and are not frequently cited or evoked by other interested parties.
With linkable assets that are pain points, the issue is often reoccurring, and the pain point is often so immense that is willing to be paid for – such as for an application – or in the purposes of SEOs benefit, linked to, in spots where there is not a monetary transaction to be had. This differs from entertainment, non zero sum content, where we can see how the constant reward of these assets, extremely temporal (and fleeting) in nature, means that the impact is often felt temporarily, and because of the reality that long-term ability to be linked to creates a favor over short-term ability, there is an inherent strength and built-in superiority to the linkable assets that solve pain points.
It is possible for zero-sum environments to not exist for linkable assets where pain points do. This occurs with knowledge acquisition – often the concepts are broad and not definitive, so the answers are spread across many blogs and resource centers. This also diverges links, creating few conditions where any zero-sum parables are applicable. The pain point is still real, but since there is not a definitive winner, the links tend to spread out, and do not converge universally on the best asset.
So, to create links in droves, we must create linkable assets that are the best possible solution for a pain point where zero sum conditions exist.
Putting Theory to Practice
It’s quite possible that a few of you are still lost in the application of this concept. So, let me offer a few examples of how many of the characteristics apply, and highly influence where links go.
To use an example we’re all familiar with, I can point to SEOMoz. Here, they have built out several great linkable assets. Because of their promotion push, almost all receive links, and when analyzing them from a design perspective, most are comparable in what went into their implementation and promotion. However, the links they received were not equatable. Although it is not to say they shouldn’t have been made, these examples offer clarity where the clear pain point and zero sum implementation shows impact on the linkjuice bottom line.
Remember, this is not a test that holds up to mathematical rigor, as obviously temporal and other miscellaneous factors could have created a line between success and failure. However, the gap between external links of each asset should be a potentially influencing nod towards the theories explained in this post.
Dr. Pete recently put up a history of Google updates on SEOMoz. It’s a great piece of content. Helpful, informative. However, its use is basically entertainment. Yeah, maybe we can historically look at Analytics for some little informational tidbit, but mostly, it’s there as a history book – which isn’t really a pain point, and which really doesn’t make it applicable to a zero sum environment – even though it’s clearly the best asset in its class, it just doesn’t apply in this instance.
Compare this to the Beginner’s Guide to SEO and Search Engine Ranking Factors, which are definitely pain points, and have more zero-sum parables than other knowledge assets. Although knowledge based, the concept of “beginner’s knowledge” is more finite, and many SEOs would agree that most of it can be encapsulated somewhere like this. These have been refreshed and have been around a lot longer than the Google update guide, but the differential in links should make the points obvious.
If one would like a less-refreshed SEOMoz asset, or one with less marketing push than the rankings guide with tons of contributors, we can point to the Web Developer’s SEO Cheat Sheet. Although not as gargantuan (or leveraging a mass of other marketers like the search ranking factors) as the other SEOMoz assets, it is still a pain point, and is by far the best asset of its class, so for anyone who has seen it, it is often cited. These verbal citations also frequently turn into links.
Examples from the SERPs
In the competitive ether, it’s easy to find applications where a number one who exists within these conditions, solves a pain point, and is the purely best solution destroys the competition. Since the previously mentioned random marketing conditions (such as having an entrenched, long term position at #1 in the SERPs, or having a pre-built marketing engine) can skew results, I use examples where clear applications show how this can apply. Here are just a few search results to wrap your brain around to apply how being 1st – whether imagined or through competitive advantages like marketing power and entrenchment in the SERPs – creates a large divide between one and two, and more importantly, a huge number of links to that page and domain. You will need SEOMoz’s SERP overlay to get a true picture, and I suggest you look at linking root domains as the definitive metric for evaluation. In not every case is the number one result the clear winner, either, at least from the perspective of driving pure linkjuice back to the domain.
A Concept To Practice – Not A Golden Ticket To Dominance
If you start errantly looking to the SERPs or link profiles for backup of these concepts, you may be dismayed. It’s not as black as white as simply being the best asset, or simply existing in a correct asset class. Marketing and duration of existence play heavy factors as well, which is why it is often helpful to look at inward marketing success of different assets to truly tell the story of where and how these theories created success multipliers on top of other efforts. Even then it can be a bit confusing, as it is definitely possible – or even likely, that you have many linkable assets in the non-zero sum, non-pain point area as the most successful linkable assets for your domain. This concept is not the golden ticket for your link building, and shouldn’t be imagined as such.
There are superior linkable asset classes, ones that will drive more links over time as compared to others, especially if conditionally framed in a vacuum. We should weigh the ability for certain linkable asset classes to drive more links based on said classes when deciding when and where to spend our efforts. When we do this, we can improve our decision making, skills and return when building assets for our websites, and then effectively dominate over time.