Finding your link building ‘hook’

Content marketing is the new link building. Apparently.

Since Google’s Penguin update hit with a bang in 2012, the SEO approach to outreach has changed significantly. The ‘create great content’ message that Google had been pushing for a long time finally began to materialise, as people in the SEO industry switched focus onto producing content at greater volumes for clients and campaigns.

This is where a bit of a problem can emerge though. It’s all well and good creating content that should appeal to your audience, or content which is well designed, but when it comes to content marketing and using content to attract links and shares online, you need a hook or an angle. Why would someone share your content? Who will link to this?

The convergence of SEO and PR

There’s a good set of slides that Pete Campbell presented recently, explaining how PR tactics have improved his content marketing. There’s a lot of things we as SEOs can learn from the way PR has been done since before ‘link building’ was even a thing, particularly crafting a story that will interest your audience, and then ‘selling that story in’ to the people you want to share it.

The main secret is having a hook. An angle. A reason for people to care.

James Carson said it well in a recent post of his on Econsultancy:

No matter how good your content is, you always need a good trending hook to get the best returns. Spending ages on a piece of stock content without a wider public interest in the subject matter is a wasted effort.

This is an approach I’ve been very keen on for a while now. When working with clients, we have to be mindful of budgets, expectations, and overall KPIs. As SEOs, we can’t spend the entire month’s budget on something we hope will perform well online. We need assurances. We need to maximise our chances of it performing as well as possible. This is why the hook is so important.

The Hook

Not that kind of hook

Scenario A:

It’s Tuesday morning. Your client is an online DIY retailer, and you’ve decided to create a piece of content around workplace safety, which ties in perfectly to the range of safety equipment your client offers. You figure you’ll publish the piece sometime next week, and it has strong potential to outreach to health & safety websites, DIY bloggers, and others.

This all looks good in theory. There is clear relevance to the client, and there is an obvious target audience to promote to. But is that enough?

Scenario B:

Exactly the same as scenario A, however this time, you have identified that it’s National Workplace Safety Awareness Day next week.

Bingo. You have your hook.


Hi Jerry,
As it's National Workplace Safety Awareness Day coming up on Thursday, I thought I'd send over this guide we have just published around workplace safety regulations...

Taking the approach in this scenario, you are adding value to a topic of relevance that they are likely going to be talking about already (providing you have done your homework).

Finding the content hook

Putting it bluntly, having the right idea and a clear target audience isn’t always enough. You need that little bit extra to ensure you have the best chance of being successful with your content.

In keeping with the example above, the piece of content from scenario A may have been sufficient enough to get a bunch of links and shares from relevant people on the web. Wouldn’t you want that extra piece of security though? The extra reason why someone might care about your content, and might want to share it with their own networks?

To make your content work, you obviously have to have a strong idea. But that strong idea can be amplified considerably if you are able to find an additional reason or cause for people to care.

The process in action

Two weeks ago in Berlin we picked up an EU Search Award in the Best Use of PR in a Search Campaign category. This was reward for our work in the summer of last year, commemorating 100 years since the start of World War 1.

We started out in advance by having a topic (WW1), and we had a clear idea of the audience(s) we wanted to target. For the idea, we decided on a colourised set of images, taken from black-and-white archives between 1914-1918.

WW1 in colour for The Open University

We were extremely confident of our content idea and the approach we were taking, but the key driver behind the success of this campaign was the hook – 100 years since WW1. This was an event that we knew would have wide-spread interest across the history websites/blogs we were targeting, but also in the press worldwide.

During outreach, we opened with a clear reason for people to care. It was 100 years since the war, and we had unearthed a series of rare photos – with added colour – to commemorate the occasion.

This resulted in links to our piece in 21 countries, and over 100 pieces of international coverage.

The Metro - WW1 Centenary coverage

Adding value to the conversation

The biggest shortcut you can have in terms of content marketing is when you are adding genuine value to a conversation that is already happening, or one which is about to begin.

It can be extremely difficult to encourage someone to promote a piece of content completely out of the blue. If you tie in the topic to their existing content agenda, then you are going to improve your chances ten-fold. The key is to stay aligned to the conversation. Understand what’s happening and when. Identify the topics of relevance and how you can genuinely contribute.

Build it and they will come?

I just wanted to end on something I very much agree with from Paddy Moogan’s latest Moz article:

I really dislike the stance that some marketers take when it comes to content promotion—build great content and links will come.

Unfortunately this is something that does tend to happen quite frequently. A lot of man hours goes into producing beautifully functional content, but then there’s been a clear disconnect in the amplification side of things.

Common mistakes include:

    A) Having an undefined idea of who the content is targeting
    B) Being too aggressive in asking people to share content
    C) Spending too little (or zero) time on actual amplification
    D) A combination of the above

Amplification is necessary if you want your content to perform to its maximum ability. Unless you are publishing to an extremely popular site or platform, you should be looking to find relevant people within your audience to share your work with.

Having the right hook can ensure you improve your results even further.


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