Lee Odden

Content vs Links

Lee Odden     Link Building, Online Marketing, SEO

There’s a long standing debate in the search marketing industry about links versus content. Which is better?

On the one hand there’s the perspective that if you create great content, people will link to you naturally. That’s true, but it’s a bit misleading.

On the other hand there are those that say links are the answer. You can get pages to rank well based purely on links. Again, that’s entirely possible, but such a statement does not give you all the facts.

When I read or hear people ask whether links or content are better, I liken such a question to asking, “What’s better, air or water?”. Links and content are both necessary for competitive search marketing efforts. Emphasizing one over the other depends on the situation. Excelling at both is the ideal.

The thing to understand about optimizing for search engines is that there are many ways to solve the visibility or ranking problem. There is no “one right way” to SEO. There are fundamental concepts that persist as being true, such as the need for a site to be crawler friendly and all content reachable via links, a logical site structure with relevant content and the need for inbound links from relevant sources. What differs over time and as the search engines update ranking methodologies is the execution.

The links attracted by great distribution of quality content creates a very desirable link “footprint” that is rewarded by search engines. To think this will happen naturally in any reasonable amount of time is shortsighted. To try and create the link footprint automatically is easily detected by search engines as manipulation. Unless you’re in the MFA and “churn and burn” business, automated linking solutions have no place in a search marketing program.

If you create great content and no one knows about it to link to it, you’re spinning your wheels. A combination of content as well as social networking, link networking, public relations and gaining editorial visibility as well as viral and individual link solicitations will all work together synergistically. Building a community of consumers of your content as well as relationships with the media in your industry is the distribution network necessary to gain the most link value out of creating great content.

PoorSo SoOKGoodAwesome (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. What

  2. Avatar Peter Davis says

    I think that the thing that makes so many SEOs believe that links are king is that there are a lot of them that can and do rank crappy content (or even no content pages) just by getting enough links.

  3. Good point Chris and I agree. It’s not just content you need though, it’s content worth linking to. 🙂

  4. Avatar chris dohman says

    bingo!, it should not be a case of links vs content at the expense of the other. to be most effective you need both.

    but people some times need to apply an order to things and create priorities so they ask the question of which is better. the list of priorities give direction and a process of doing things, sometimes even the order may not matter so much as long as it all gets done. but without the process and direction one can flounder getting nowhere.

    so what is the order?
    1. content
    2. links

    you need to have a piece of content in order to have a link to it. it can be as simple as writing one article then going out and getting one link. then write a couple pieces and get a couple more links. from here, take turns giving periods of time to each process and things will take off.


  5. It’s like taking a TV commercial and asking, “So, what should we focus on? Developing the proper message or determining which networks to put it on?”

  6. >>It

  7. Chris,

    Well adressed…

    “so what is the order?
    1. content
    2. links”

    It’s the old the classic chicken/egg analogy…

    Which came first?
    1. Chicken
    2. Egg

    … but this leads to the question, which is the egg and which is the chicken? Maybe this should be the focal point of discussion?

  8. Air or water?
    For some small websites with 10-20 pages no other way as links.
    Not enought content to has natural links even for PR3 or 4…

  9. Fair point, maybe my analogy needed a bit of raining on. I think I was trying to say it’s hard to have one without the other… for any real success.

  10. Avatar Israel Rothman says

    The correct, exact answer is that the strongest link in is created when somebody credible subscribes to your feed: and this happens only when they respect your content. Quality content production and dissemination is the key to placement, and sales.

  11. Here is the problem with the link thing. Suppose you have a site that is intended to sell a product. You can write the finest article you want about the product, why it should be purchased, etc, but there is no way that anyone will read the article unless they happen to stumble on the site first. And the one to write the article is usually the owner of the site, who may not have any idea about how to get people to read his article, much less link to it. So unless you are in the bloging business, and work these things on a day to day basis, the routine sales site may be the best in the world, but promoting links to it to get the search engines to give higher ratings cannot happen in the real world.

  12. Avatar Israel Rothman says

    Exactly, Vernon, here is a related port this morning.

  13. Sorry for the wrong answer earlier.

    Contents is the hard way to earn the SE attention. Links is much more better way. I have a friend who achieve PR4 in less than a month and all she did was had it linked from other highly rank sites (a bunch of them).

    Anyhow, lots of link without great contents means shit also. No one will bother to come back to read craps.

  14. Nicely put Lee.

    The algo has certainly matured from where it once was, thats for sure. And thank god too!

    The bigger the challenge, the bigger the pie for those prepared to put in the legwork for the know how. 🙂


  15. Avatar Israel Rothman says

    It is about the creation and dissemination of real data under creative commons copyright linked back to you.

  16. There has to a be proper balance of everything. Links, content, search engine optimization etc…a blog/site is like a human body everything needs to be functional to work as one.

  17. Someone above said link footprints are rewared by search engines, and do not necessarily reflect the quality or even existence of content.

    A better analogy air vs. water would be gossip vs. truth. Truth (content) is what we need, but gossip (linking) is what we get.

    In the search for truth (content) gossip (links) lead to wild goose chases.

    Gossip is commercially viable, whereas truth can break the bank.

    The dismal science of economics reigns in link-land.

  18. i prefer to content

  19. OK, Joko, that sounds like a wordy way to say that the truth rings a bell: and I agree. Comment spam may get you a blink – but actual valuable content gets you subscribers.

  20. You Said:

    When I read or hear people ask whether links or content are better, I liken such a question to asking, “What’s better, air or water?”.

    And you said it very well. Indeed links are like air and content is like water. You can live a few days without water but few minutes with no air 😉

  21. Could any one give me some advice on my medical uniform website http://www.escrubz.com? I have been trying to get a better search engine position and ranking. What do you think I should do?

  22. Good article. I was hoping for a definite answer of ‘build your links’ or ‘concentrate on your content’, but the equal importance of the two areas makes perfect sense. (‘Content’ being original content and not duplicated.)

    Links sought should also be quality, targetted links and not quantity, poor links.…I’ve previously opted for the quantity links and it’s done me absolutley no favours at all!
    Hours/ days/ weeks of submissions on my part, over a 3 month period and my google PR stayed exactly the same. Then I’m hearing about 3 month old blogs (mine’s 2 years old) having a PR increase from 0 – 4, due to original content and good quality links.

    How gutted am I? Back to the drawing board I guess….


  1. Peter T Davis » Wikipedia nofollows is best thing since sliced bread says:

    […] It’s the old Links vs. Content debate. […]

  2. […] I wish I had been bookmarking all the discussion along the way, because there have been a lot of key insights. However, I think Lee Odden summarizes the consensus quite clearly today: If you create great content and no one knows about it to link to it, you

  3. […] In the past I’ve written about the content versus links debate where SEOs seem to fall on one side or the other when assigning the majority of importance for search engine rankings. What’s missing from that conversation is the need for a distribution network. […]

  4. […] Toprankblog.com Content vs Links 5 Tips for Content Distribution Networks Link Building for Blogs Interview with Eric Ward of URLwire […]

  5. SEO is not Rocket Science » Online Marketing Blog - Social Media Optimization, Paid Search & SEO says:

    […] I guess this depends on who you ask.  I would say that 90% of your ranking is from inbound links. In fact, I have achieved number one placement for very competitive keywords for a site built entirely in flash; so basically there was no content on the web page other than the meta tags.  Lee Odden summarizes this argument quite well; basically stating that “Links and content are both necessary for competitive search marketing efforts. Emphasizing one over the other depends on the situation. Excelling at both is the ideal.” […]

  6. […] Content vs. Links (Online Marketing Blog) […]

  7. […] topic about your site and attract links. The bottom line recommendation with link building is to create content worth linking to. But then you need to tell other web sites about it or they won’t know to link to you. […]