The battle between link building vs. content marketing continues. It is a love-hate situation. Are you a fan of content marketing, link building or both?
Us, as SEO people, we’ve always asked intriguing questions and tried to dig up dirt to find out new interesting things, new facts, new discoveries, and correlations between the SEO factors and new rankings possibilities. Today is the day for a new discovery. We’ll see what the search results will provide us. We performed a lot of searches for pharma, gambling and skincare keywords.
After analyzing the results for the keyword research, content analysis and link audit, we’ve come to the realization that the top-ranking content has some various metrics where high-quality content might be more valuable than link; on the other hand, on specific keywords and niches, link counts more.
The case study was performed on 31 URLs and 12 keywords from niches such as gambling, viagra & penis enlargement, weight loss and acne & blemish treatments. We looked into more sensitive topics to see exactly what is the fluctuation and what type of content ranks on the first page. You can see the main results below.
Analyzed Metrics for the Case Studies
Optimized Content Values More Than the Number of Links for Top-Ranking Content for “Buy Viagra Online”
Search Results with Qualitative Content & Low Influence Pages for Most of the “Weight Loss” Keyword Types
Lots of Results with Quality Content and No Links for “Acne Treatment” Related Keywords
Content Performance Overwrites Top-Ranking Results for “Online Gambling” Queries
It is not a comprehensive research, but it opens some valid questions that could help us and many others on further investigation for a more in-depth study.
Torture data long enough, and it will confess.
We’ve previously made a research about the impact of content on rankings since lots of SEO experts say that content values more. Results show that content does impact rankings and has a high effect. We wanted to make the research more granular and find out if that applies to niches where black hat had a glorious past, such as viagra, gambling, weight loss medication.
1. Analyzed Metrics for the Case Studies
For all the analyzed case studies we used the cognitiveSEO’s toolset. We started by searching for keywords using the Keyword Tool and Content Assistant and then looked for links metrics on Site Explorer.
The metrics we investigated are:
Webpage position on the search engine results page: using the Keyword Tool we looked at the position each website ranked for.
Content Performance Score (CS): The Keyword Tool displays a content score for each page by scraping and analyzing the content, where you can see on a scale from 0 [low] to 100 how relevant and optimized this content is for the analyzed keyword.
Page performance shows you, on a scale from 0 (low) to 100, how authoritative a page is, based on the incoming links pointing to that page.
Page influence predicts the ability for a specific page to rank in search engines, using levels such as No influence, Low influence, Good influence, Average influence, and High influence.
Number of referring domains: Site explorer shows the number of domains that link to a certain webpage.
Number of links displays the number of links that a page has.
Based on the data gathered for each keyword research made, we were able to spot some similarities that led us to some interesting insights. For each page, we followed the content metrics versus the links metrics, which helped us understand whether content or links are more valuable or whether there is a constant connection between those two for some particular keywords and niches.
We made a list including the keyword, the URL and the metrics described above. We looked only at the search results from the first page of Google.
On top of that, we monitored the results on a period of two weeks to see if there are any changes and all the search results kept their place with minor changes. We started looking on July 2nd, 2019.
2. Optimized Content Values More Than the Number of Links for Top-Ranking Content for “Buy Viagra Online”
One of the first keywords that we searched for was “buy Viagra online”. You’ve probably received a lot of spam with the phrase “buy Viagra online” from websites that used all sorts of tricks to get higher rankings in SERP. Looking into the search results on Keyword Tool we could see that we had 4 results with high content scores and low page performance score. A low page performance score means a few links pointing to those pages or very low-quality links.
If you take a look at the screenshot below, you can see the results. We didn’t take into consideration the first result because the domain name contains the keyword “viagra”, it is a high authority page and automatically pages from that domain will push the pages to rank higher on SERP.
If we look at the first highlighted URLs, we can see both pages have a high content performance score of 95 and 93 and very low page performance score of 19 and 0. And the number of links is 22 for the first blog post and 0 for the second one.
Looking at the results we could see lots of pages that had a high content performance score compared to the average CS for “buy Viagra online” since it is quite a competitive market and there are lots of searches for this keyword phrase (10K – 50K monthly volume).
Beside these, you can see some results that contain limping content triggered by the page with high influence and more qualitative links.
3. Search Results with Qualitative Content & Low Influence Pages for Most of the “Weight Loss” Keyword Types
In the same category of spammy black hat techniques were the pages optimized for keywords that contained “weight loss”. I performed keyword research for the following variants:
weight loss pills;
weight loss plan;
weight loss program;
weight loss diet.
Below you can see the results for all these searches. We highlighted the search results that had a good Content Score and low page performance score and fewer links.
For a deeper analysis, you can see a side-by-side comparison between the Content Score from Content Assistant tool and the number of links plus page performance from Site Explorer.
Through the results, we could find lots of websites with almost no Link Influence (under 18) and high Content Score (most of them have ~70). It is a competitive niche if we look at the monthly volume and the keyword difficulty (more than 63):
weight loss pills – 73 keyword difficulty, 50K – 100K monthly volume;
weight loss plan – 63 keyword difficulty, 1K – 5K monthly volume;
weight loss program – 65 keyword difficulty, 1K – 5K monthly volume;
weight loss diet – 66 keyword difficulty, 5K – 10K monthly volume.
Another thing that is quite intriguing is the fact that two of the highlighted pages for the last keywords (weight loss program and weight loss diet) rank first. And all the highlighted pages have a Content Score bigger than the average score.
4. Lots of Results with Quality Content and No Links for “Acne Treatment” Related Keywords
The following keyword research was for acne treatment and skincare treatment variables, such as:
coconut oil for acne;
argan oil for acne.
The results we had for all of these three searches were some of the most visible because, as it turns out for all of them, content had a strong impact on the rankings. For the first results, we could see a Content Score over 60 (above the average Content Score) and a low Link Influence. If you take a look at the next screenshot you can see the webpages that stood up due to content.
If we look at those four websites, we can see that they have lower domain performance than the rest of the websites that rank.
The last keyword “argan oil for acne” has even more results where the Content Score is higher than the average and the Link Influence has a low score (under 12). There are webpages with a Content Score of almost 70, 80 and 90. Since we saw so many results, I’ve highlighted 8 out of 13 results.
In this particular case, we can see exactly how much content values. Sometimes more than links. Out of curiosity, I’ve looked on those pages and all of them were blog posts with informative content and comments in some cases. Check out the side-by-side comparison below – content score vs link influence score & no. of links:
5. Content Performance Overwrites Top-Ranking Results for “Online Gambling” Queries
Gambling is a competitive market and there have been cases of black hat techniques for gambling websites, similar to the previous examples we’ve talked about. We’ve looked for variables such as:
Play Vegas slots online;
online gambling real money.
Looking at the results, we can see that for the first keyword, “online slots”, we have two webpages with almost the same content score ~90 and the Link performance is almost the same (29 and 31) and both have a small number of links (5 and 10 links). While looking at the Link Influence we always searched for the number of links and their value. Compared to the other results, those two websites have one of the highest Content Score and two of the lowest link influence levels.
The next keyword we searched, “play Vegas slots online”, followed the same pattern, a website with a content score over 90 and the lowest link influence.
The same situation applies even to the last keyword searched, “online gambling real money”, showing pages with a high content score (80-90), and a low link influence and few links, with low-quality value.
Check out how the websites look:
The purpose of these case studies was to spot any incongruence between ranking webpages in Google. The opposite direction of link building vs. content marketing can be very visible for more atypical keywords for gambling, skin treatment, pharma niches.
In the end, we wanted to find out which is more important, content or links and whether an optimized page with a low number of links values more or if an un-optimized page with a high number of links ranks better.
In particular issues, it seems that unique content can be more valuable than links, which can be a good sign to invest more in powerful content strategies as a smart inbound marketer. This doesn’t mean you should stop getting links and forget about them. Link still matter. So, if you have a strategy for link building, try to build links in the most natural way possible; the white hat techniques are the best option. Say no to buying links, exchange links or other black hat techniques to attract links because it was never a good solution for a high-performance domain.