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Link Earning vs Link Building: Why Building a Brand is a Better Long-Term Option

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I think we can all agree that link building sucks. 

It’s a giant pain in the ass, and it can sometimes be all this work for very little in return. 

In this article, I’ll show you a better way to build links.

Well, as you can guess from the title, you won’t build these links; you’ll earn them. 

Why Link Earning is a Better Long-Term Solution

While there’s nothing wrong with link building, it is an incredibly tedious task for very little reward. 

Constantly messaging websites begging for a link. 

You have to:

  • Find the opportunity
  • Create content for the opportunity
  • Research for the opportunity
  • Perform outreach for the opportunity

And after all that, your link isn’t even guaranteed. 

Link building is still an effective tactic for SEO, but there is another way to build links without having to spend hours doing so.

With link earning, you’re putting your brand in a position to earn links naturally without begging for them. 

The links come to you; you’ve earned them. 

It’s almost like SEO, in a sense. 

You perform your initial optimizations and then watch your work compound over time. 

With link earning, there are a few ways to set this up. 
You can:

  • Create link magnets: Statistic, trend, and thought-leadership style articles
  • Spend time building your brand: More long-term, but link building will follow with your efforts
  • Research your own data: Research your own data and then use your own distribution channels to get visibility for it.

I don’t think I need to go too much into “why.” 

But, by focusing on link earning over link building, you’ll not only build better links, but you’ll also spend less time and money on link building tasks like guest posting. 

Now, here’s where I’ll correct myself. 

There are two different types of guest posts. 

There are the obvious ones created just for SEO.

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And then there are the ones created to build actual thought leadership.

Andrew Holland is a great example of this. 

He is the director of SEO at JBH, but you can find his thought leadership everywhere, including Search Engine Journal and Marketing Week

Andrew isn’t focused on building links; he’s focused on building his brand.

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So he’s:

This article is a testament to his brand-building too. 

He has a well-known personal brand that I’m actively writing about right now. 

And sure enough, he’s earned brand coverage and a link from me. 

So that’s what my point is here: focus on building your brand first, and the links will follow.

How to Earn Your Links Instead of Building Them

If you want to earn these links instead of going through the manual process, here are a few things to keep in mind. 

Just a note that these tips are more long-term focused. 

Meaning, for these to work, there are no shortcuts. 

Unfortunately, brand building is just about the only channel that takes longer than SEO. 

Just General Brand Building – Make It Easy to Be Covered

This is really where you’ll want to shift your attention. 

Brand building is hard. 

And it takes time. 

But all good things come to those who wait. 

If you’re consistent with the time and energy you put into building your brand, not only will you have an easier time earning links, but marketing will just become easier in general. 

Isn’t that marketing’s goal too? 

Positioning your brand in front of the right people and building brand recognition with them. 

For my SEOs, you instantly know who Ahrefs and SEMrush are. 

For my B2B marketers, you know what HubSpot is and what they do.

Obviously getting to HubSpot’s level is easier said than done, but the main point I’m making is that you have an easier time choosing these products based on brand recognition alone.

If you walk into a store to buy soda, chances are you’re going to buy Dr.

Pepper over the knock-off Dr. Bob.

That’s just the power that brand recognition has.

Yes, non-branded traffic is great, but branded traffic usually comes with a higher conversion rate. 

They’re more familiar with your brand, they’re familiar with your product, and if your marketing strategy was successful, they’ll have a positive association with your brand too. 

Okay so I won’t be annoying and only tell you “what you should do,” I’ll also show a few ways on how you can build your brand. 

You can:

  • Be featured on podcasts 
  • Be featured on webinars
  • Speak at conferences
  • Sponsor conferences (when the budget is ready)
  • Host industry events 
  • Post thought leadership on social media
  • Post on well known-publications
  • Grow your email audience 
  • Post engaging content on your website

There’s a lot to consider here, but really it boils down to being heard and putting yourself out there. 

Most times being the loudest person in the room is annoying, but if you’re the loudest person in the room who’s also providing helpful information, you’ll find it much easier to grow your brand and community. 

Again there are no shortcuts here; the main thing you have to execute is consistency and quality. 

Just focus on those two for everything you produce and the rest will fall into place. 

As Rand Fishkin said, go where your clients are

Being the loudest person in the room (where they are) and providing them with helpful information consistently. 

A common mistake most make with this is that they think they need to “sell” with their content. 

Yes, ideally you want your content to bring in leads, but for you to successfully build a brand (and earn links) you have to show them what they want to see, not what you think they want to see. 

Be a valuable, trusted, and helpful resource, and the community will grow itself. 

And using Andrew Holland as an example again, if you do a search for his name, you’ll find tons and tons of media he’s been featured on.

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Whether it’s an article, podcast, or even the books he’s written, he’s constantly putting his name out there.

Not only does this boost recognition of his name and position him in front of new audiences, but links basically come naturally from these engagements.

So brand building is his main focus, and the links come naturally from it. 

It’s killing two birds with one stone basically.

Research Your Own Data 

Now this is a tactic that can be a short-term and long-term win. 

Short-term, meaning you can distribute your data through social and email and have people cover it organically. 

Sometimes HubSpot will send me industry reports jam-packed with data that I then use to update some of my older articles. 

As you can see in the example below, HubSpot has 2 reports from 2024.

1 has 2,000+ unique domains linking to it, and the other has almost 9,000.

Now, their data is well researched, don’t get me wrong.

But most of that benefit comes from how well-known their brand is. 

Researching your own data is also a solid long-term strategy as it helps build your brand over time.

Which will eventually turn into earned links. 

Not only this but everyone is always rehashing the same information in their statistics articles. 

You can become one of those rehashed articles (rehashed with a link of course) and become a reliable source for different kinds of information. 

The more you’re cited, the more brand reach you’ll have. 

Self-published research is much more likely to keep your audience engaged rather than reusing data that’s already out there.

Not that there’s anything wrong with statistic roundups either.

I think it’s just more effective when you can leverage your own data rather than just rehashing everything that’s already out there. 

Especially with AI content being everywhere.

Uniqueness and originality are poised to win big. 

Create Link Magnets Articles So You Can Build Links With Your Feet Up 

This will likely be the easiest way for you to earn links without doing much. 

You can create statistic articles that people can find through search and use as a citation. 

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Even better if you can leverage your self-researched data for this section.
It will help:

  • Get your research in front of more visitors
  • Make your content more unique (not just rehashing everything)
  • Could result in you ranking better (information gain score

Trend articles work well for earning links too.

It’s your chance to publish thought leadership that other articles may cover.

So if you’re a CEO/founder of a MedTech product, you can write about different trends you expect to see in the healthcare industry.

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Just know that your personal brand matters as much as your company brand. 

If not more.

For your thought leadership content to work, it has to come from a thought leader, not a faceless writer.

Put Brand Building in the Front Seat and Links Will Follow

If you want to earn links naturally, the best way forward is to focus on building your brand first. 

Just focus on getting your brand name out there, and the rest will fall into place. 

Become a name that’s hard to ignore. 

Become the loudest person in the room, but please don’t do it in real life.

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