Content marketing is undoubtedly one of the most powerful ways to attract attention and build links in the modern era, but by no means is it the only option, nor is it necessarily always the best choice. In fact, placing too much emphasis on content can actually distract from what we should be doing most: approaching the unique needs of each client and niche.

With that in mind, we’ve put together five approaches to link building that aren’t designed around “content,” at least not in the traditional sense. Let’s get started.

Tactic #1: Build a Community

To be fair, this approach gets quite a bit of attention from the SEO community nowadays, and isn’t exactly a “neglected” strategy. That said, few online marketers have quite mastered this one, and it’s definitely worth talking about.

I won’t spend too much time talking about how you should engage your audience on Facebook and Twitter, ask and answer questions on forums or Q&A sites, and generally just get involved in “the conversation.” Hopefully you’ve heard all of it already. Instead, I’m going to talk about two of the more neglected parts of community building: reaching out to influencers, and building native communities.


Tactic #2: Tools That Trump Content

Before I start a flame war here, I’m not arguing that tools aren’t “content.” Google certainly sees them that way, and when a tool suits the user’s purpose better than a blog post, it’s even the optimal kind of content.

That said, content marketers rarely talk about tools, and SEOs and inbound marketers in general tend to think the same way. To us, content = blog posts, infographics, videos, and white papers. Tools tend to be the last thing that comes to mind, and that’s a mistake.

Just look at the most linked to sites on the web. Tools are everywhere. Most of the top sites on the web are most accurately described as tools or communities (usually both). They aren’t content sites like the Huffington Post or Cracked (though those are great examples of content done right).

Tools can be incredible community building assets, as we already mentioned with Wikipedia, Cheezburger, and QuickMeme. Not to mention, you know, Facebook, YouTube and WordPress.

A tool may also serve a searcher’s purpose better than traditional content. Sometimes a specialized calculator or an app is going to be more useful than a blog post (though certainly not always). Polls and other interactive media are also underutilized.

Tactic #3: Gamification

In 2011, over 70 percent of Forbes Global 2000 companies planned to implement gamification in some way. The fascination with gamification may have been driven by Zynga’s rapid rise to power. Its subsequent fall from grace seems to have hampered the trend, and you don’t see as much talk about gamification as you used to.

Part of that was failed design. Most companies that employed gamification put all of the focus on rewards system, and it became little more than an extension of existing ideas like company loyalty programs.

Perhaps Jane McGonigal was right to distance herself from the word gamification, and push the phrase “gameful design” instead.

Granted, forum point systems and badges (like Reddit karma) can do a great deal to compel users to come back, but the concept of the reward system got pushed so hard that marketers lost sight of the “fun” part of gaming. It was all about building compulsion loops that may have kept people coming back for a while, but eventually burnt them out, much like Zynga did.

To truly embrace gamification (or, perhaps, “gameful design”) you need to put the focus ongameplay. The video game industry has been larger than the movie industry for quite some time, and it’s not because of the badges and points (which very few gamers care about). It’s because the game itself is rewarding.

A genuinely gamified web presence doesn’t compel users to come back with points and badges for referrals. It creates a fun and interactive experience. The UI itself is fun to interact with.

Take Perrier’s Secret Place as an example. This is a literal online game that puts you on a hunt for clues to find a “secret” Perrier bottle. Finding the bottle does get you a chance to win a trip, but the itself is fun to play.

You don’t necessarily need to take things as far as designing a full-fledged game, but an understanding of game mechanics and gameplay is vital if you want to create a truly gamified experience. Rewards and badges alone can certainly lead to some success, but a truly captivating experience is what’s going to pull in the serious links.