Ever since Google started counting them, links have been treasured by marketers. Like prospectors panning gold in the mountain streams of California in the 1840s, digital marketers climb over each other for the shiny internet nugget known as the hyperlink.

But the gold rush is over, right? Now that Google has gotten more sophisticated isn’t link building less important? Digital marketers have moved on from that tactic, haven’t they? Google’s all grown up now, isn’t it?

The reports of Google’s maturity are greatly exaggerated. The search engine still factors links in their algorithm to determine search results, which isn’t all bad, but the way they are pursued by most marketers is ineffective. Getting links and getting lots of them can increase the likelihood that your website will appear on almighty page one of the search engine. And we know that if something works, people will imitate it. There are people who build their entire business model and copying everyone else.

There’s a better way. It’s called Link Baking and it’s the most effective method to create content and earn links.

Notice I use the word “earn,” which is important.

Here’s a short aside for something relevant:

Link building is sweat plus creativity. — Matt Cutts, head of Google webspam

It’s better to earn something than to have it given to you. — Every good parent

Mr. Cutts made that statement in 2013 and while it’s been ignored by many, he’s given us a useful algorithm:
sweat + creativity = link

I’d go into more detail: sweat (link baking and research) + creativity (good content) = endorsement (link + traffic)

After all, a hyperlink to your content is an endorsement of the content as having some value or at least being relevant. It also serves as a way to send traffic to your website, which by the way most SEO specialists ignore.

Wouldn’t you rather earn links than beg and plead for them?

How do I become a Link Baker?

  1. Approach each piece of content with the mindset of “How much can I add to this?” This means reaching out to people who are part of the content before you make the content. It means planning, it means thinking about how you can make your content include as many relevant voices as possible. It means fostering relationships with people. It means getting your hands dirty.
  2. Allow the ingredients to gel. Listen to the folks you’re including in your content and shape the content based on their input. This doesn’t mean you can’t follow your own instincts, it just means be open to going in new directions if the content leads you.
  3. Identify the audience that will enjoy this content and make sure your content will entertain them and/or help them with a problem. Ask yourself, “What would this content have to be like for the audience to have no choice but to tell someone else about it?”
  4. Create the content with thoughtfulness and creativity.

No rolling pins and just four steps. Were you expecting more?

If you do steps #1 and #2 well, your “partners” and “subjects” in the content will ask you to tell them when it’s published so they can share it and link to it. No link asking here, we’re earning links through good relationships.

If you perform steps #3 and #4 properly, your content will earn traffic.

This method has worked for me time and time and time again. It’s a great method to use because it’s successful both short and long term. You can get traffic and earned links the day you press publish, and you will earn long term rewards because your link will not be based on a reciprocal digital “what’s in it for me” relationship, but on a human relationship.

Here’s more information that will help you decide whether you want to be a link baker or a link builder.

Methods that help you be a good Link Baker

  • Thinking about what your content will do for others.
  • Developing relationships with people in your market.
  • Maintaining a healthy profile in your market by contributing to discussions in your industry and community.
  • Creating good content every time.
  • Planning and researching your content and identifying partners and audiences that would like it before you make it.
  • Asking yourself “How can this content be better?”
  • Asking “Who is the most established expert in this area and how can I get their message into my content?”

Tactics that stand in the way of Link Baking

  • Thinking about what your content will do for you.
  • Viewing content as something you “order” and mass produce.
  • Thinking about which websites and audiences would like, share, or link to your content after it’s been published.
  • Having bad intentions with your content (example: “If I write this blog post I bet I can get these influencers to react in a contrary way and share it.”)
  • Outsourcing content to someone who works in a “silo” and creates content without doing the groundwork to connect with the subject.
  • Relying on spreadsheets and algorithms and numbers to determine who should be involved in your content.
  • Sending spam emails to websites asking them to link to your content.