Think Link Building Only Happens Online? It’s All Over Print.

There is an assumption that content designed for financial gain is a new phenomenon, but print is full of examples of what would constitute as link building in an online context. And for the most part, it’s still good journalism.
  • One need only look at current publications to see that we are in a new age of widespread offline SEO.
  • To the reader browsing for ideas for the weekend, it won’t matter that it’s sponsored by railway company Thameslink.
  • ...proof that companies can work with editorial teams to create content that doesn’t just benefit both sides’ economic interest but also culminates in a rewarding and richer reader experience.

When people first learn about the link building aspect of SEO—creating content that appears editorial but is designed to contain a highly strategic linked mention to a client’s site—their immediate response tends to be: “So you’re tricking people into thinking this is real journalism when actually it’s an advertisement?”

And then either: “That’s genius!”

OR: “That’s a grotesque violation of your readers’ trust. How can I ever believe anything that’s online again?” You can actually hear the glass shattering.

But their assumption—that content designed for financial gain is a new phenomenon, brought about by Google and the SEO industry it spawned—is an incorrect one.

Content marketing has existed in print as advertorials for as long as print has existed.

One need only look at current publications to see that we are in a new age of widespread offline SEO.

This week’s Time Out commuter magazine is replete with examples of what in an online context would be considered (rather obvious) link building.

We’ve written elsewhere how content marketing can actually make for better content online.

The same appears to apply to print.

Paging through the week’s Time Out reveals:

An area profile of Croydon, describing the culture of the neighbourhood, listing eateries, places to shop and discussing its accessibility to public transport, is placed inside a subtly branded frame indicating it is sponsored by property listings company rightmove.co.uk. They’ve limited their sales voice to a small footnote at the end of the article concerning property and rent.

time-out-rightmove-feature

To someone looking for affordable areas to buy or rent, this feature will be genuinely useful. Without Rightmove’s sponsorship they may not have considered this an option. Both parties benefit.

Property companies in particular lend themselves well to this form of native advertising and Rightmove specifically have taken over a considerable number of pages in this edition of Time Out, including a subsequent feature on Art Deco buildings in London. This feature is entirely free from commercial messaging, listing only a selection of iconic buildings taken from a recently released book on the subject.

time-out-rightmove-area-feature

A few pages later, another feature, this one listing suggestions for day trips and weekend getaways less than and hour from London by train. To the reader browsing for ideas for the weekend, it won’t matter that it’s sponsored by railway company Thameslink. The descriptions are helpful and humorous regardless.

time-out-thameslink-feature

The same applies to another feature in much the same style by Chiltern Railways:

time-out-chiltern-feature

With so much genuinely interesting and useful content paid for directly with advertising revenue, it almost comes as a surprise that a feature on London’s night tube, listing pubs that are open after 12, is not in fact sponsored by Transport for London.

time-out-night-tube-feature

For anyone concerned that the reader experience is under threat from content marketing need only turn to examples like Time Out for proof that companies can work with editorial teams to create content that doesn’t just benefit both sides’ economic interest but also culminates in a rewarding and richer reader experience.

This happy symbiosis won’t be appropriate or beneficial in all contexts, but at least for readers, it’s not all bad news.