The Standard

Journalism & link building: How content marketing became an art form

Journalism & link building: How content marketing became an art form

This is branded content.

The internet has made defining certain terms difficult, as more and more fields have begun to require that those looking to get into them have a jack-of-all-trades approach to employability.

Any digital editor is expected to have web development skills and a strong understanding of search engine optimisation, any artist must have a strong background in graphic design; it can be hard to focus your efforts as much as we have in the past.

One career that has been affected by this in an interesting way is that of the journalist.

Though it still holds a defined image in our minds, the role of the journalist can be a little more difficult to define in the online world, which shares similarities with the work of bloggers, copywriters, and any good link building company, among many other fields.

That last point is where the blending of writing roles becomes interesting as, for any trained journalist that happens to find themselves in the marketing sphere, link building knowledge is eventually going to become essential.

But what is link building? How does it overlap with the journalistic field? And what can each learn from the other in an age where the term "content is king" has become somewhat ubiquitous?

What is link building, and why should you care?

The internet, when broken down to its core components, is a web of links connecting content of various kinds.

For search engines, this is one of the major ways that categorisation of websites is possible, as it allows for algorithms to break down the commonalities between those links and provide authoritative results based on their relevance.

In short, good websites that have links from good websites in their field tells the search engine that those websites are authoritative and trusted by their peers.

This type of linking occurs naturally, as writers link to relevant pages, blogs and sites as resources for their own information.

However, for those that don't currently have a presence, this type of natural exposure can be very difficult to come by.

So, websites will actively reach out to other sites themselves and gather links by various means. This process, referred to as link building, allows websites to show search engines that people are talking about them, thereby allowing them improved rankings over time.

What does this have to do with journalism?

Pretty much the moment that people online realised how the algorithms of Google and other search engines worked, they immediately set to work on exploiting it. From spamming links in forums to creating dense walls of keywords linking back to a site to boost its rankings, there were dozens of unscrupulous methods in which people were increasing the presence of their websites, known now as "black hat SEO".

Because of this, search engines began adjusting their algorithms to account for new factors, including the quality and clarity of the context surrounding these links.

So, for those that were forcing keywords into gibberish for links, the golden age of black hat SEO quickly came to a close.

However, given that people continued to search for loopholes that would allow them to cheat the system, search engines had to continue releasing updates to combat low-quality or spammy sites getting prioritised.

This has led to a point where, in the present day, high-quality, authoritative content has never been more relevant or valuable.

How journalists ended up in the marketing world

Those that may have at one stage survived off of spam have been instead forced to work with journalists and trained digital writers to craft online content that provides value to readers and not just their site.

Because of this, marketers began courting aspiring journalists and those with blogging experience to write their link building articles and on-site blogs, rather than relying on their experience in optimisation.

This, coupled with a historical lack of paying journalism jobs at a time when anyone can start up a blog online and start writing, led many who would have otherwise worked for journals, magazines and newspapers in the past to upskill and become content marketing savvy.

Journalists, bringing a background of writing, research and informed opinions with them to the marketing world, transformed the face of content marketing.

Marketing efforts that once would have been a series of desperate attempts to brute-force rankings were now finding themselves in the very publications those in writing fields often aspired to, creating an ever-higher expectation for quality and consistency.

What can we learn from this?

As people within the world of digital, it's important to understand just how important quality and user experience is, even in fields that once didn't require it.

Even areas that currently allow for spam may one day turn to penalise you for those actions that are being taken now.

As more and more digital marketing and link building companies begin hiring editors and in-house writers in an effort to assure the future of their marketing strategies, it's easy to see that things will continue to change and the bar will continue to rise for those looking to compete.

Staying diligent and providing consistent quality in your marketing efforts will allow you to future-proof your online presence, and as a journalist, learning the skills required to assist businesses in this will future-proof your career viability in the coming years. Good luck.