The EVE Framework of Content-Led Link-Building

A post-ChatGPT world will be awash with copycat content.

And backlinks (and other off-page ranking factors) may become even more important for Google as a means to differentiate between similar content.

Adapting to this dynamic will be a top priority for businesses.

But getting backlinks is hard. Outreach specialists cost money, while link placement rates are ever lower.

Manually acquiring even a single high-quality backlink may end up costing well over a thousand dollars, breaking down the economics of the entire process. Companies need content that generates backlinks passively (or at least with minimal outreach efforts). 

Enter the EVE framework.

We argue that people link to content that makes them (and their readers) feel Educated, Validated, and Empowered. And applying this framework to your content-led organic link-building efforts can help yield better results.


The EVE Framework


What Is the EVE Framework?

The EVE framework is a way to understand and classify various motives people have for linking to content. It’s based on the idea that educating, validating, and empowering your audience (and their readers) is vital for growing backlinks organically.

The framework helps marketers avoid a common trap: being too tactical.

Focusing solely on tactics has downsides. A certain type of content (e.g., infographics) or outreach activity (e.g., templatized cold emails) may work for a while in attracting backlinks but then suffer diminishing returns as everyone adopts the same playbook. Marketers then chase the next tactic without reflecting on what made the previous one work.

We propose putting on a strategic lens and asking: what are the principles that underpin winning tactics, and what incentives do people actually respond to?

Knowing the core motivation of your audience enables you to go beyond existing link-building tactics. You get to experiment with new types and forms of content.

Each of the three core incentives we argue people respond to lends itself well to different types of content. And each type of content can serve different purposes, depending on whether your link-building audience is other marketers, journalists, or someone else entirely.


Education: Become Smarter

We live in a world of information abundance. And yet, much of this information is noise, and finding a piece of content that truly educates is increasingly harder. 

This trend, which author David Perell refers to as “The Paradox of Abundance,” means that great educational content gets to stand out. And what stands out will be linked to and referenced. 

There are many types of educational content, and each adds value in a different way:  

  • Original studies — research efforts that result in new information
  • Data analysis — analysis of public or proprietary data that yields new insights
  • “Definitive” guides — coverage of important topics in a systematic way
  • Statistics pages — a curation of up-to-date statistics that saves research time
  • Listicles — a content structure that simplifies a huge number of details and examples
  • Infographics — helpful visuals of specific concepts, figures, or processes

Providing great educational content makes your link-building audience feel smart, informed, and appreciated. They get a piece of content worth referencing and can end their search journey. And that audience wants their readers to feel the same way, which is yet another incentive to link to your piece. 

Take, for instance, the business intelligence platform CB Insights. This company is well-known for its in-depth coverage of various tech-related topics. Its most referenced pieces are: 

Content Referring domains
The Top 12 Reasons Startups Fail 5,291
The Complete List Of Unicorn Companies 4,593
AI 100: The most promising artificial intelligence startups of 2022 957
State of Venture Q1’22 Report 954
State of Fintech Q1’22 Report 922

All of these pieces educate their readers on a given topic. They provide helpful content written in a simple way that makes people feel smart. 

Exploring anchor texts tells us more about motivations for linking. For the piece The Top 12 Reasons Startups Fail, here are some of the anchor texts:

Anchor text  The number of referring domains using it
“42%” 107
“35%” 60
“42% of startups fail” 46
“failure to raise new capital” 39
“why startups fail” 36

These examples indicate that people link to this piece mostly when citing specific statistics and reasons why startups fail or can’t raise new capital. CB Insights educated its readers on this topic, and they are now referencing this piece as a source of helpful insights their readers should explore too.


Validation: Feel Supported or Challenged

People have opinions on whatever the new thing is at the moment. In a professional context, that thing can be a new SaaS tool, an exciting problem-solving framework, or a theory that challenges accepted wisdom.

Sharing strong opinions on these things across blogs, social media, and other channels brings likes, shares, and comments. This dynamic can also translate into backlinks in several ways. 

For one, having credible opinions is hard. Not only does it require an existing authority in the industry, but one should also reference other experts who directly or indirectly support some of the underlying points.

In other words, one needs to validate their strong opinion by linking to other supporting strong opinions. These supporting opinions could be yours. On the flip side, someone might disagree with your opinions and want to rebuke them, but even in that case, they need to link to your piece. 

Then, there are people who strongly believe in a certain opinion or idea. But they don’t have time for writing, and linking to an existing piece of content that backs up their ideas is easier. 

Lastly, not every topic requires strong opinions. Sometimes it’s just a matter of personal preferences on how to approach a problem, and whoever validates my preference is likely to be referenced. 

There are different types of content that validate opinions:

  • Thought leadership — earned secrets, counter-narrative opinions, and personal narrative content can inspire others and invite them to share their perspective while referencing or rebuking yours 
  • Awards and rankings — giving awards to people or including them in “best of” rankings validates their work, making it more likely they’ll link to such an award

Take Animalz’ blog as an example. Our content often revolves around opinions that some readers feel validate theirs and thus prompts them to share and link back. This trend is reflected in our most backlinked blog posts:

Animalz blog posts Referring domains
BLUF: The Military Standard That Can Make Your Writing More Powerful 206
The Animalz Content Marketing Benchmark Report 2021 154
The Winner Doesn’t Take It All: ‘Information Gain’ and the New Future of SEO 115
Copycat Content: SEO Tools Got Us Here, Humans Will Get Us Out 91
Your Blog Is Not a Publication 90

Exploring anchor texts can tell us a bit more about how our content has been used to validate the opinions of others. Let’s take the piece Your Blog Is Not a Publication as an example. 

Anchor and backlink Validation angle
“… done a good job of explaining this in their post, Your Blog Is Not A Publication.” Content Harmony endorses The Content Library approach and links to the Animalz piece on this topic.
“The content marketing agency Animalz has a great analogy: create libraries, not publications …” Databox suggests readers build content libraries and quotes an expert who links to our piece on this topic. 
“Think about it as if you’re setting up a library on your blog.” SpyFu urges readers to think of their blogs as libraries and uses our piece to back up their advice.
“This strategy also aligns with Jimmy Daly’s standpoint that your blog is not a publication …” Supermetrics says their search-first approach to content aligns with our “content library” concept.
“… framework allows you to think of your blog as a library of information rather than a publication.” AdvanceB2B uses the “content library” concept to back up its “topic clusters” content framework. 

These examples show that validation of opinions takes different forms. But the essence remains unchanged: people link to content that backs up their opinions and proposals, lending some of its authority to make their takes more authoritative.


Empowerment: Get Faster

Everyone wants to think smarter, execute faster, and do more with less. While content alone can’t make all of this happen, it can add value and be a tool of empowerment. 

There are various content assets that help readers save time and solve problems. Site owners are incentivized to link to these assets and be seen by readers as adding value, even if that means pointing to another site. And the tool owner gets to win backlinks and achieve their marketing goals. 

There are various content assets that empower readers:

  • Quizzes & surveys — a list of questions that help readers learn about themselves or about their employees, customers, or other audiences, such as:
  • Templates — ready-made templates that enable users to get value out of a product fast and for free, such as:


Many of these content assets tend to attract a lot of backlinks. The popularity of the company behind a specific asset also plays a role in how popular and authoritative the asset becomes. 

Content asset Referring domains
Shopify’s business name generator  4,114
Miro’s Templates Library  2,920
Animalz’ Revive content decay analyzer  543
Empire Flippers’ online business valuation calculator  313
Madison Reed’s hair color quiz  298
Ahrefs’ “How to Use Ahrefs: 11 Actionable Use Cases for Beginners 169

Let’s also explore the context in which some of these tools are mentioned, such as Empire Flippers’ online business valuation calculator. The most common anchor text, used by 61 referring domains, is “automated valuation tool that gives a free estimate.”

Site owners want their readers to know this tool: 

  • Saves time by being automated
  • Costs nothing, as it’s free
  • Empowers them by providing valuations

People are likely grateful to sites that have helped them discover this tool, and a backlink is a small “price” to pay for that.


Build Backlinks on Autopilot

High-quality backlinks are an SEO moat even AI can’t cross. As long as this dynamic is in place, backlinks will remain a crucial ranking factor that Google uses for differentiating between similar content. 

And while link-building may take many forms, the EVE framework offers a nuanced yet simple path forward. Thinking in terms of linking motives, not just tactics, is a more sustainable way to build backlinks. 

After all, content that educates, validates, and empowers benefits everyone, from readers to site owners. And that sort of a win-win situation creates a self-reinforcing loop that brings backlinks, traffic, and leads for years to come.