What came first – the chicken or the links?

Wait. No.

That’s not right.

The content or the links!

It’s a question we get asked a lot and one we wrestle with fairly often. The trouble is, both content and links are very important for any SEO strategy.

Links send readers to your site and a lot of good content will grow your audience and ultimately drive conversions. But which one do you choose to focus on first?

Ideally, you’d focus on both. But if you don’t have the time or the manpower, you have to choose one to start with first.

Content creation or link building?

It’s difficult to build a lot of links and create useful content at the same time, especially if you’re a small business or a one-person enterprise.

We’ll take a look at both strategies, the pros and cons of both, and maybe by the end of this post, we’ll have a concrete answer. (Spoiler alert: we will.)

Content vs. Links

Two strategies go head-to-head in a bloodthirsty battle. Which will the SEOs choose as their #1 strategy?

Content vs. Links
Content creation vs. link building has never been so fluffy Gif credit

If you already have an opinion on content creation or link building, read with an open mind. Both have qualities that are worthy of your consideration.

Content First

Okay, content should come first because it’s naturally valuable. It is the foundation on which you build your long-term strategy. And if that content is good and evergreen, oh man, that’s good. Really good.

You want to establish yourself as an authority and for people to keep coming back to your content. Reap the rewards!

It’s what people in The Biz call “cornerstone content.” That content acts as a representative of your site. It’s the content people will link to all the time because it’s always useful and relevant. 

Starting with content provides instant value.

That’s a pretty obvious criticism of the link-first strategy. If you start by going hard on the link strategy without any real content, you don’t have a reason for anyone to link to your site.

But if you create amazing content that people want to read, you give people a good reason to care, to keep coming back, and to share your site with other people. 

People love good content that provides value and goes in depth. Everyone says that no one reads on the internet anymore. They just skim. 

But the people that do read? They want useful content they can share with other people.

If you create that kind of content, you’ll have a solid foundation for your site’s future.

Good content sets people a-sharing.

The power of social proof is strong, y’all.

Think about the last thing you bought online. Did you buy it without looking at the reviews? Or checking to see if a friend had bought it first and if they liked it?

Or maybe you were even tempted to look up the product because you’d seen a review of it.

It’s the same thing with websites. You’re going to trust a website that is linked to from another website or person you trust. 

If you can create content that makes people hyped to share it, then it’ll be easier for you to get links back to your site.

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Links First

The other school of thought says that you should build your link strategy first because they give you an audience.

There are several pros to this approach:

Your content is useless without an audience.

I’m sorry, but it’s true! Even if you put hours and hours of work into creating wonderful content for your site, it’s no good unless someone is reading it.

If a tree posted a blog post in the forest and no one was there to read it, did it really happen?

An audience is what brings your content to life. The right backlinks network can expose your site to thousands of people you could never have reached on your own.

Just publishing the content won’t do that all by itself, unfortunately. In the case of content marketing, “build it and they will come” is a cliché that doesn’t apply.

Links also help with your SEO.

You can definitely focus on SEO while you’re creating content. Making sure your content is SEO-friendly and making it comprehensive are two ways you can do that.

But link building is a more scalable strategy. You can link to the same content all the time, but you can only publish the same post once. Instead of creating new content constantly without any links, you can update your old content. This will show Google fresh content without you having to make brand new posts all the time.

Link building can establish you as an authority by association.

Remember social proof? Say someone visits a site they like and sees it linking to your content. They’re going to think automatically that your site is an authority on that topic.

It’s like getting a shoutout from an important influencer in your niche. It’d be like if Neil Patel or Brian Dean linked to us. Or if Tony Hawk ran a website and linked to an up-and-coming skateboarder.

Or if a leader in the bad analogies and not relevant references worlds linked to this post. That’d be huge!

But what do the search engines say?

Because that’s what this is all about, right? What the search engines want and how you can “game the system” and get them to like you?

The real question we’ve been dancing around this entire post is “which do search engines care about more, content or links?” And we can even narrow that question further:

On-page SEO or off-page SEO?

Well, according to this extensive list of ranking factors from Backlinko, it would seem that Google cares most about factors other than content. And on this steps to a Google-friendly site page written by Google, they talk a lot about links too!

If you only look at that page, you’re probably convinced that links matter most.

But if you look a little closer at that Google-friendly site page, you’ll notice the very first thing they talked about is:

Give the people good content
The single most important thing to do.

It seems like their #1 Google-Friendliness Factor is high-quality content that contains useful information.

That’s because Google’s primary mission is to help their users find the best content to answer their queries (and to drive SEOs insane). Links are great and very necessary, but ultimately, links lead to your content. 

If you don’t have content, those links are going to a site with little to no value.

Think about it like this:

Would you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to advertise an ice cream shop just to send people to an empty storefront?

You have to have the store first before you start running those ads.

The Takeaway

I think the decision is pretty clear at this point. 

Ideally, you would work on both content and links.

But if you absolutely have to pick just one, start by building your content. It’s the backbone of every successful marketing campaign.

I know it can be intimidating or demoralizing to create a bunch of content without having a vast audience. But if you create content that shines, it’ll be easier to grow your website and audience with links later.

Digital Strike can help you form a long-term SEO strategy made to fit your specific business challenges. Contact us for a free consultation

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