Opposition in All Things, Links vs Content
Everything in life has its opposites. There is light and dark, hot and cold, black and white, and of course links and content. Even years after the debate began, the debate still continues. Before I uncover some insight into the answer to links versus content, let me give some background.
When search engines came into being, it was all about content. We still see a lot of companies going off of 1990s philosophies of search engine optimization, focusing solely on meta tags (keywords and description), page titles, header tags, and even using hidden text and links. Google came into being (and was actually named BackRub first) and changed the face of search forever by giving weight to “citations” or links. So now instead of a top 10 results page full of pages that had lots of the keyword you used listed, the top 10 would be full of pages that others linked to using the keyword you just used.
Over time Google has evolved and has hundreds of factors that contribute to its algorithm. The top 2 factors, according to search marketing experts, are (1) Keyword use in Title Tag and (2) Anchor Text of Inbound Link. Obviously there are other important factors, such as who is doing the linking, and the context of the link, and so on. But obviously the title of the page still has importance too.
The Keywords Hold the Answer
So, is it content or is it links? The answer lies in the keyword. Is your keyword in the short tail or the long tail? Now before I explain, let me cover short and long tail keywords, to make sure everyone is up to speed.
Long tail keyword is by far a more common term versus short tail keywords, mainly because “short tail keywords” really just means “keywords”. Look at the graph below, you’ll see the left hand side is where the more common keywords are. They are more popular, more used, and also more competitive in most niches. As an example, short tail keywords would be like “home mortgage”, “home loan”, or “loan rates”. Short tail keywords are typically one, two, or three word keyphrases. The right hand side, the “tail”, contains lots of keywords with less popularity, less traffic, and the landscape is typically less competitive. As an example, long tail keywords would be like “home mortgage provo utah”, “30 year fixed home loan”, or “credit union loan rates”. Long tail keywords are usually three, four, five, even six keywords long.
Finding out if your keyword is long or short-tail is pretty simple. Most you can just look at, count the words, or ask a friend. For others, if you really want to be more certain, you can consult a keyword research tool (SoloSEO happens to have a pretty good keyword research tool!)
Putting It All Together, and Doing Something About It
Back to links vs content, as promised. Hopefully I’m not oversimplifying here, but long-tail keywords can get top rankings (yes, even top 10) based on content alone. Contributions from internal linking structure, title tags, header tags, and so forth are all bundled into “content”. On the links side, links help you rank for short-tail keywords, the more popular and competitive keywords. The better your linking strategy, the better your ranking. I recently posted about anchor text of inbound links, and this gives several examples of sites that have very few if any instances of a keyword that they rank in the top 3 for.
Practically speaking, a good place to start is to organize your keyword list into short and long-tail keywords. For your long-tail keywords, order unique content or write articles for your site/blog. For your short-tail keywords, identify the top 5 keywords you want to rank for and analyze your competitors in that search field. Then pursue a link building/buying strategy that will get you there.