It’s not a matter of which you should focus on, but which you should focus on first! Although the approach for link building and content marketing are on very different sides of the spectrum, they are both very valuable and if done properly, will increase your rankings on search engines. Search Engine Optimization used to be heavily focused on link building but was manipulated by abusers and turned into a spam fest – hence Penguin 2.0 (aimed at targeting web spam). Links are still determining factors to where you rank, but Google and other search engines have added in other factors – including content quality and the weight of the links you receive.
Links are directly related to your website authority online. Imagine you go to a conference to learn about Corporate Leadership and there are two sessions booked at the same time and you must choose which to attend. One is led by John Maxwell, and the other by a young entrepreneur you have never heard of. The vast majority is packing the seats of John Maxwell’s speech simply because of his earned authority in the art of leadership. Even if the other speaker has better content and a better presentation, they are likely to miss out simply for not having gained trust in the industry yet.
Backlinks are word of mouth for the digital world. Just like outside the digital realm, the feedback you get from someone only holds the weight that the person does. For example, if you have a friend that always recommends places to you that provide a less than exciting experience, you likely will not let his word of mouth recommendations hold much weight. The same is true online – sites that link to yours should be trustworthy and credible so their “digital word of mouth” holds weight with search engines. This factor alone is why link building strategies have adapted to a quality over quantity focus. Simply put, spammy websites link to spammy websites and trustworthy websites link to trustworthy website.
Link building and content work hand in hand. If you produce quality content that answers people’s questions, people will link to it over time, which is obviously the most natural way to gain a link. Quality content is a much easier strategy that is also more measurable and less likely to take hits with google algorithm updates. Pushing out your content will start conversations and give you a good idea of how people take to it almost immediately, where as link building is something that takes a lot of time and can be difficult to determine which links are actually benefiting you. Content, when done properly can position you as the expert in your field and will help you build a following not only with customers but with other companies online who will deem you worthy of links.
Content can gain you links where links will not gain you content! We recommend your Search Engine Strategy start with a focus on creating relevant, unique content that truly benefits your audience. Don’t write content with rankings in mind – write with the desire to educate and build a following. Your strategy should ALSO include natural ways to gain quality links and build up your website authority.
If you are at a loss on where to start, we have an excellent SEO department that works directly with our content management team to tackle both elements for you. We would love the opportunity to help you grow with SEO.