The Guide to Finding Content Ideas That Will Naturally Earn Links

I’m going to tell you something I probably shouldn’t.

You can earn links with your content…without doing any outreach.

I know. This is a strange message to get from someone who works at BuzzStream. (We’ll see for how much longer. Have mercy, Paul!)

But it’s true. And now, you’re about to learn the step by step process for finding content ideas that will naturally earn links, courtesy of Dan Shure, owner of Evolving SEO, and host of Experts on the Wire.

During our webinar on linkable content types with Dan, we covered multiple tactics, best practices, and tools that can help you solve the issue of finding the right topics for your content.

Here’s all of the context behind it, the step by step process from the webinar (demonstrated on three example websites), and links to resources like the webinar recording, Dan’s notes, and his recommended reading.

What is a linkable content idea?

Right now, tons of people are googling for stats, data, and facts to bolster their content. Heck, you may have done it once or twice yourself when putting together a blog post, social media post, or outreach email template.

The best part about these searches is that the people searching want to link to a source. They want to cite a third party to add authority to their message.

That means if you answer their question, provide them with the stat or fact they need, and they find you in their search, they’ll hand you a link. No proactive outreach needed (though you should keep up your outreach efforts in other areas, of course). The links come to you.

Now, there are two requirements needed on your end before you create this kind of naturally linkable content:

  • A focus on which “intent to link” keywords you’ll be targeting (which we’ll talk more about in a moment)
  • A good chance of ranking for those keywords (That is, taking into account your site, domain authority, industry, brand, and your competition, do you stand a chance? Be honest.)


What does “naturally linkable” content look like?

Naturally linkable content is like what you’d find on Wikipedia. It’s facts, stats, and data. Not so much opinion pieces or step-by-step how-to guides.

Think of it as something an industry publication would create, as oppose to something you would find on the blog of a service provider or ecommerce store. Ask yourself, “Is this something a company that publishes surveys on my industry would create?” If yes, then that’s likely a naturally linkable content idea.

The linkable content publishing paradigm

Your publishing paradigm when aiming for linkable content types is far different from the publishing paradigm you would have when writing for a typical blog, and that’s because your audience is different. Your audience aren’t your customers or your usual readers. Your audience is instead:

  • Writers
  • Bloggers
  • Reporters
  • Editors
  • Basically, the people who need sources and statistics to reference while creating their own content

To clarify, one article you might write under the normal publishing paradigm might look something like “5 Little Known Uses for Chocolate,” while an article under the linkable content publishing paradigm might look like, “104 Statistics on Chocolate Consumption in the US.”

Note: It’s okay to ease up on obsessing about getting links

With this process, you’re going to increase traffic, awareness, and link serendipity. Just like if you wanted to meet new people, you might go to a happy hour or coffee shop, or create a profile on a dating site to increase your odds, going through this process for creating naturally linkable content will increase the odds someone will link to you.

However, you may not always get the number of links you’re expecting with every piece of content you create, and that’s okay. You’ll still benefit in other ways.

5 ways to generate linkable content ideas

Here are five ways you can find content ideas that will naturally earn links. You’ll see most of these tactics in action in the examples below, but here’s the high-level overview beforehand.

1. Start with your content competitors

Find your content competitors (you’ll see how to do that in the first example below), examine their content, then see where and from which keywords do they get their links. From there, you can determine where you can get links.

2. Use know “intent to link” keywords

“Intent to link” keywords are keywords that suggest the searcher is looking for a specific piece of data they can include in their own content. Examples of intent to link keywords include:

  • Stats
  • Definition
  • Facts
  • “How many” or “number of”


3. Use Google Image Search

As you know, people are looking to link to an image for their articles. If you rank in image search, you can get attribution, so it’s worth looking through who’s ranking in image search currently for keywords you’d like to target. You’ll see more of this in our third example.

4. Use fancy Google searches

Google operators are a gift, so don’t ignore them. You can use parameters like inurl:pdf to look for prior studies or content that has garnered links, then improve upon it to nab that traffic for yourself. This is another tactic you’ll see in our third example.

5. Use stubborn, creative persistence

Sometimes tried and true tactics won’t work. Sometimes you’ll need to trust the fact there are content ideas out there for you, even when things are looking scarce. Just don’t give up!

Now that we have all of the background we need, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of the process for finding linkable content types with our three examples.

Example 1: is a point-of-sale software for florists, and their domain authority is 42. Let’s see how we can apply our process to finding linkable content types they could write about.

Step 1: Jot down a list of broad topics you could potentially write about

First thing’s first, we brainstorm a list of topics related to what we do that writers might be interested in getting stats about.

These topics can be your products, or (more likely) ideas around your products. If you’re just getting started and want to kickstart the process, use BuzzSumo’s Bloomberry to find tangential topics to your products. It finds questions around the web that include your query, and then sorts them by words that occur with it.

For example, we could search flowers in Bloomberry for, and get a list.

Now there’s a lot more to this list than what you see above. (In fact, my fingers cramped from scrolling.)

The plus side is that I can glance down this list and get a bunch of ideas, which could be particularly handy if I were short on time, or unfamiliar with the industry. In this case, some ideas for general topics would be wedding, seeds, bloom, garden, roses, and bees. (Not the bees! Just kidding. We’ll be using the bees.)

Step 2: Find content competitors or similar pieces of content

Once we have our list of topic ideas generated, it’s time to find our content competitors. One way to do that is to take any of the topics you’ve brainstormed, then search “[topic] facts.”

In this case, we’ll use bees as our example.

Now we can scan through the results page and see who’s ranking for this search, and how we stack up to them.

In this case, with’s domain authority of 42, we can see that some of the websites ranking on the first page for “bee facts” have domain authorities that aren’t much higher, or in same cases even lower, than theirs. This means we don’t need to dig too much deeper into the long tail to find something we could write on and naturally get links.

Another aspect to note is that a lot of the pages that are coming up in these search results have a good number of linking domains, and the number of linking domains is pretty similar across the board. It’s not too likely that all of these websites did outreach and ended up with about the same number of backlinks. Instead, this is a good indicator that this topic is naturally linkable, and that your content competitors have benefited from that.

Step 3: See what keywords your content competitors are ranking for, and find the long tail

From here, we open up our spreadsheet template, figure out what keywords our content competitors are ranking for, and take note of the promising ones.

(To download a copy of this spreadsheet template, see the Resources section at the bottom of this post.)

First, we’ll choose one one of our content competitors who looks fairly successful (which is something you can judge by looking at the number of linking domains.) From here, we can plug its URL into SEMrush, and see what keywords this page is already ranking for.

This is a pretty substantial list, so we’ll filter it down by difficulty to rank to find potential long tail keywords we can target. Let’s say we only want to see keywords with a difficulty lower than 55 and see where that gets us.

Now we can see some longer tail keywords cropping up, so we know we’re on the right path.

Out of this list, “how much honey dies a bee make” jumps out at us. And that’s because any long tail keyword that includes “how many” or “how much” or any other phrase indicating that the searcher is looking for a specific number or stat, is exactly the kind of keyword we’re looking for. After all, these keywords are more likely to garner us links from writers looking to strengthen their content.

Step 4: Take note of the content that ranks for the long tail

So, as we determined, “how much honey does a bee make” looks like a good lead. But we need to dig deeper to make sure it’s a keyword we can actually rank for. Let’s give it a search in the ol’ Google machine.

Again, we’re seeing some lower-authority sites ranking, which means this is a keyword we’ll want to target. With that, we’ll add it to our spreadsheet, as well as its search volume.

This keyword has 320 searches a month, which is a good amount and makes us like it even more as a potential target keyword.

(Side note: If you do come across a long tail keyword that seems like it has high intent to link and you stand a good chance against the competition, but it only has 10 searches a month, don’t toss it. There can be more traffic in the long tail that you haven’t discovered yet.)

As far as filling in the “intent to link” column, we’re going to go with “high” because of how many links we see to the “bee facts” content.

We’ll also rank this “medium to high” when it comes to its potential to rank, because there are low authority sites that are ranking, and because there isn’t much content that directly answers the question.

After that, we add the URL of an example article so we can have context when we come back and start writing, and we’re done. (With that keyword anyway, for now.)

In summary, we found topic that seemed promising (“bees facts”), dug into some keywords, and zoned in on long tail keywords with high intent to link, a good amount of traffic, and a decent potential for our site to rank for it.

Now before we move onto our second example website, let’s look at an additional long tail keyword related to our topic of “bee facts.” In this case, let’s look at “how fast do bees fly.”

The rich snippet card are the top of the page indicates that this is a fact people are searching for and want to know the answer to. It’s not hard to imagine that reporters, bloggers, and writers (AKA your link audience) will see your site as more authoritative and cite your page as their source if you can snag this snippet.

If you’d like to learn more about optimizing for rich snippets, check out the Resources section of this post to see Dan’s recommended reading.

However, in’s case, the website cited in the rich snippet has a domain authority of 75, so we may need to hold off on targeting it until we’ve increased our own domain authority of 42.

Additionally, don’t forget to leverage auto-suggest as a way of finding more long tail keywords.

As you can see, auto-suggest is uncovering a treasure trove of long tail keywords that, at a glance, seem like they have high intent to link and merit further digging.

Example 2: is the website for an international training organization for human service professionals. Their domain authority is 53. Let’s apply our process here and see what we can find.

Step 1: Jot down a list of broad topics you could potentially write about

First thing’s first, we’ve got to brainstorm some general topics and use them as a starting point. Here are the topics we’ve come up with for this website by scanning their website and getting familiar with their industry:

  • Dementia
  • Behavior management
  • Bullying
  • Mental health
  • Autism
  • Social worker

If you’re looking for another resource that can help you brainstorm topics, check out Moz’s Keyword Explorer.

Start by searching a topic in the search bar.

Then go to Keyword Suggestions, and select “based on closely related topic” from the Display keyword suggestion that dropdown, and set the Group Keywords dropdown to yes with medium lexical similarity.

And just like that, you now have a list of tangential topics to help you further brainstorm. Pair Moz Keyword Explorer with Bloomberry like we covered earlier, and you’ll have no issues at all building a list of topics from which you can base your content competitor and keyword research.

Step 2: Find content competitors or similar pieces of content

To find content competitors for, we’ll search one of the topics we generated in Google and look for sites that publish a lot of content and have a high domain authority.

Off the bat, fits the bill.

Now we’ll plug into SEMrush, then go to Pages to find the topics that are driving the most traffic to their website.

As we’re browsing this list, here’s where some intuition comes in. We want to see if any of the topics are linkable. One that jumps out in this case is this /myths-facts/ URL since, as we discussed, stats and data are exactly what the people like.

Step 3: See what keywords your content competitors are ranking for, and find the long tail

From here, we want to look for keywords that are driving traffic to this /myths-facts/ URL, then see if there are any long tail keywords that they happen to be ranking for that we could poach.

In this case, let’s look at the keyword “mental health and violence.” They address this topic in their larger article, but you could potentially take some of this traffic by crafting a piece specifically about this keyword.

Before we decide to go for this keyword, however, we need to see who else is ranking for it currently, and what their domain authority looks like.

From the looks of this list, this keyword is pretty competitive. Yes, there are a few lower domain authority sites sprinkled in the results, but most are highly trusted. So after examining this keyword, we can pretty safely say this isn’t a good fit because our chances of ranking for it are pretty low.

On the other hand, the long tail keyword “myths and facts of mental illness” looks like a much better candidate.

Now at a glance, 10 searches a month sounds pretty pitiful. However, Dan has done content targeting long tail keywords that have 10 searches a month, published it, and is now driving 1,000 visits a month to that website because of all the related long tail keywords it also ranks for, so a seemingly small search volume doesn’t need to deter us.

Looking at our results page, we can see quite a few lower domain authority sites ranking for this keyword. So filling in our spreadsheet, we’d say the intent to link is pretty high (given the nature of the keyword itself), and we have a pretty good chance at ranking.

Example 3: is a custom-branded candy store, offering the ability to personalize the wrapping on a variety of candies for a number of occasions. Their domain authority is 23, and they’re in a highly competitive market, so this one’s going to be interesting.

Before the webinar, Dan generated his broad list of topic ideas for this website, then compiled his list of potential content competitors. However, he found that none of them were regularly publishing content. (Though you can see his list in his notes if you’re curious.)

While he was scratching his head thinking of how else he could approach generating topic ideas for this website, some advice from Wil Reynolds at SEER Interactive from a MozCon or two ago came back to him: Try searching for your topic, and then “inurl:pdf.” So that’s where we’ll start with version B of our process.

Step 1: Search “in url:pdf” to find topic ideas and content competitors

In this case, we’ve searched chocolate “inurl:pdf”. From here, we select the verbatim setting so we don’t get flooded with local results, and now we see a list of sites that are writing about chocolate. In this list, we found a map of where cocoa is grown all over the world.

Pretty cool, right? But it’s even better than that. This pdf has 15 linking root domains, so we know it’s earning some links. Now we can plug this URL into SEMrush and see what keywords are driving traffic to this pdf.

As we can see, there’s a a lot of good keywords here. A lot of them look like they might have high intent to link. If we check out one of these keywords in Google, let’s say “cocoa growing countries map,” we can further gauge whether this might be a good keyword to target.

Unfortunately, the sites that are ranking for this keyword are pretty high in their domain authority, so this may not be a good fit either. However, one potential advantage you could have is specifically creating a thorough map. A lot of the top resources ranking currently don’t mention that they include a map, so by being super targeted and exploring the longtail for this keyword, you could end up ranking even with a lower domain authority.

Step 2: Use Google auto-fill + known “intent to link” keywords to find long tail keywords

The “inurl:pdf” tactic is a good one, but to find linkable content ideas for a lower domain authority site, it helps to dig even further. One way you can do that is by leveraging the known “intent to link” keywords we talked about earlier, like stats, definition, facts, “how many” or “number of,” then exploring what Google’s autofill has to say. In this case, let’s search for chocolate definition and see what comes up.

Not bad, but we’re looking for the long tail. To find that, we’ll place our cursor at the beginning of our search, then hit space, and see what new suggestions Google has for us.

Now we’re getting somewhere. As opposed to the specific definition of chocolate, we’re now seeing keywords related to definitions for different aspects of chocolate. Let’s look at “tempering chocolate definition” and see how stiff the competition is.

There are some high domain authority sites ranking to be sure, but there’s also websites ranking with lower domain authorities like 29 and even 8. This keyword would definitely be worth looking into, and this tactic of using Google’s suggestions seems to be a good fit for this particular website.

Step 3: Use Google Image Search to find content competitors

The last tactic we can use outside of our typical process would be leveraging Google image search. First, we’ll plug a general keyword into image search, then look at what Google suggests for the long tail.

Chocolate art sounds like a good one, so let’s take a peek at some of the results.

Now of course, we’re not get as much data for each image since we don’t get the Moz overlay, but we’re assuming people will need images of chocolate for their content.

To get an idea of who’s providing the images we see before us (and therefore ranking in image search), we can scan the top row, click on an image that looks like something we could provide or do, then check out the website it belongs to.

In this case, we’ll check out the chocolate box on the end of the top row.

Ah ha! This website is ranking for the keyword “chocolate art,” and it only has a domain authority of 37 (which, along is higher than’s domain authority of 23, isn’t out of reach.)

After scoping out a few more images on the results page, you can get a pretty clear picture of how competitive a keyword may be in image search, and use that to inform what you might be writing about in the future, what kinds of images to include in those pieces of content, or what kinds of photos you take of your products.


Q: How long should our linkable content pieces be?

A: There’s not set length. A lot of studies will tell you 1,500 words is what you need to rank, but it really depends on the question you’re asking. Take an inventory and analyze the existing pieces of content ranking, and see who’s successful, and how you can do better. Sometimes that means more content, and sometimes that means less content.

Q: For those of us who don’t have semrush, are there free tool alternatives?

A: You can sign up for a free account with SEMrush to get access to 10 searches per day and 10 results per search. (Get the rest of the details here.) Otherwise, ahrefs is a good alternative.

Q: How would you recommend a lower DA site target a high ranking website?

A: Two things here:

1. When you’re low authority, start by targeting low competition areas with low volume. You need to get started somewhere. Even if it’s just a super long tail keyword that’s popped up in autosuggest, go after it anyway. Wait three months, go into the search console and see what other long tail keywords pop up, add them into your piece and start .

2. Proactive link building can work in these cases, like doing outreach. (Get the basics of how to pitch here.) Paid Facebook ads for content can work. Also, try creating content with collaborators from the get-go so they’ll contribute to your piece, and then can help promote. As you do that, you’ll build your own authority.


Get the recording of the webinar here.

Get Dan’s notes here. Be sure to read through to the end for Dan’s major elements of link worthy content, but the high level view is you need to show credibility, limit sales-y stuff, and sell your work. If you put hours into researching stats for chocolate, tell your readers that. Read the notes for the rest.

Dan’s recommended reading for featured snippet optimization:

And my own recommendation if you’re getting started with featured snippets: Ahrefs’ Study Of 2 Million Featured Snippets: 10 Important Takeaways

To learn more about Dan the man himself, be sure to check out his work at Evolving SEO, or his podcast, Experts on the Wire.

1 comment

  • Hi Dan and Gracelyn

    I’ve just watched your webinar and read this post, and it’s all really useful, thank you.

    We’re talking about adding this technique for identifying intent-to-link keywords into our keyword research.

    I’d suggest PAA boxes are also a great source of intent-to-link keywords. We use Get Stat to find these opportunities for our clients and find it works well to drive highly relevant traffic as well as link opportunities.

    I’ve never used Bloomberry before, but will be doing now.

    Thanks again


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