Link building is hard work.
Have you ever tried to get people to link to your pure commerce/commercial brochure-web site? You know how tough it is out there. The link economy has become so established, we've even got strategies built around the idea of never linking out. Once people perceive something to be valuable, they'll think twice about just handing it over for nothing.
So what is an SEO supposed to do?
The key to linking in an environment where there is high value placed on links is to think of linking less as a process, and more in terms of building relationships.
Here are a few linking ideas designed to reduce the pain and increase the effectiveness of your link building campaign.
Relationship Link Building 101
The first step in your link building strategy occurs before your site hits the web.
If you're thinking of launching a static brochure-ware site, and link building is part of your marketing strategy, think again.
There is less chance for relationship building.
Preferably, you want a site with plenty of potential for on-going community involvement and interaction.
News Sites. Social sites. Blogs. Frequently-updated information sites. Teaching sites. Advice sites. Q&A. Wikipedia-style sites. The static brochure website will still have a place, but those sites with higher levels of user engagement will trump it.
Produce Really, Really Interesting Content
Posting what everyone else is posting is not interesting.
Look at what everyone else is posting and take a new angle on the the topic. Don't just go one better, go ten better. Learn the lessons of The Purple Cow. Be worth remarking upon. People are hungry for unique, quality content.
They'll link to you if you have it.
If your competitors are spending ten minutes on their posts, you spend a day. Spend a whole week. Cover areas no one else is covering. Make your posts game-changing posts. You're going to need not one, but a consistent body of such posts. Think about the sites you link to. You need to aim to be better than those sites.
At very least, you need to offer a point of difference in order to be linkworthy.
If you're new, you're going to need friends. You're going to need influential friends.
A link out to sites run by influential people becomes an advertisement for your site in their referral logs. People will follow the links back to see who is talking about them, and if you're got an impressive set of articles/posts, you'll be on their radar in no time.
Most modern marketing is based on the idea of reciprocation. If you do something for others, without requesting something in return, most people feel they should reciprocate.
Give something valuable. Give wide. Give freely. Some of it will eventually come back.
Give nothing, and you're guaranteed that nothing will come back.
Lose The Ads
The less commercial you appear, the more likely you'll get linked to, especially from .edu and other authority information hubs. Few people want to link to sites plastered with advertising unless that site already has established authority.
You can introduce advertising once you've built up link authority.
Flattery Gets You Everywhere
Make people feel important. Make them look good. If you make them look good, they'll want to point that fact out to others. They'll do your marketing for you.
Look For Companies With "In The News" Pages
This tip flows on from flattery. Write about companies in a good light. To find companies that have "in the news" style pages, do a Google search for [your industry + "in the news"].
Use Meme Trackers
Write stories about fast-breaking events that have little competition but high interest levels. If the meme gets big enough, news sites will look around for content to quote, and, given a lack of competition, hopefully they'll quote yours.
Get Seen In The Community
Participate in answer sites, forums, article sites, Wikipedia, Squidoo, Amazon et al. Contribute something of real value. You'll get direct links in some cases, but at very least you'll raise awareness, which can translate into links down the line.
The Designer Angle
Get your site re-designed by a high profile designer who has a history of showcasing his/her work.
The cost of the design might be more than covered by the value of the inbound links and attention you receive, especially if the design is mentioned in trade bibles, like Smashing Magazine.
Less about relationships, but good tools to have in the box.
Trade links, ask for links, beg for links. Hey, it still works, although it's probably the least effective method, and most time consuming. Outsource this task, if you can.
List With Local Business Services
List with your Chamber of Commerce, Business Bureau's, Government Advisories, libraries, and other appropriate institutions.
Link baiting is when you write content with the specific aim of attracting links. It works, but you've got to be careful with your pitch. Get the tone wrong for your audience, and you'll put people off.
- Top Ten Lists
- Top Myths
- Top 100
- How To Do Something Exceptional With (Seemingly) No Effort
- Courting Controversy
- Be The First To Do Something
- Being Outrageous
Almost all press releases end up in the web equivalent of the wastepaper bin, but if you can provide a fresh, newsy angle, there is significant potential for links.
Try combining link bait strategies with press release strategies. A local angle works well for local news services, who are often starved of local news.
Keep the following criteria in mind when evaluating which web directories are worth your time.
- They appear in the SERPs
- Offer direct links - i.e they aren't routed through a script, or no-followed.
- High crawl frequency - check out the latest crawl date in Google cache. If the directory pages haven't been cached in months, chances are Google may regard them as low quality.
- Look for quality standards - Matt Cutts outlined Google's view of a good directory. Directories that stay closest to these guidelines are more likely to be around for the long haul.
- Beware of sitewide linking
For more detail, check out Web Directories...are They Relevant to SEO?
Share One Strategy
If you've reached this far, and thought "I know this stuff!" - great :)
How about sharing your single best link acquisition strategy with the community :)
The Future Of Linking
Links have been so important for so long now, but are things about to change?
In the dark, distant past - 1997 - the web was about publishing.
However, the web ecosystem is evolving into more of an interactive space, based on platforms.
As a result, we're seeing a different kind of website emerge - it is more "place" than "brochure". Think Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Blogs, et al. We're seeing more applications. We're seeing more cloud computing. The web is becoming a place where we truly interact, as opposed to simply publish.
Google's ranking models have, in the past, been based on publishing models - specifically, an academic citation model in the form of PageRank. This approach will become less effective at determining relevance as people move away from the publishing model and towards interaction and engagement.
Google realize this, of course. This is why I think Google will be adapting their model to monitor and gauge interaction. Interaction will become a new valuable metric as to a sites worth, which will flow into ranking.
In a recent post on The Official Googleblog, Google talked of how interaction will change how systems "think and react":
"As we're already seeing, people will interact with the cloud using a plethora of devices: PCs, mobile phones and PDAs, and games. But we'll also see a rush of new devices customized to particular applications, and more environmental sensors and actuators, all sending and receiving data via the cloud. The increasing number and diversity of interactions will not only direct more information to the cloud, they will also provide valuable information on how people and systems think and react..... As systems are allowed to learn from interactions at an individual level, they can provide results customized to an individuals situational needs: where they are located, what time of day it is, what they are doing. And translation and multi-modal systems will also be feasible, so people speaking one language can seamlessly interact with people and information in other languages."
Notice the frequency with which Google use the terms "interact".
I think this hints at the future direction of search and ranking. Google will increasingly shift from measuring external popularity metrics, such as linking, to measuring the level of interaction, if they are not already doing so.
There have been three recent developments that search marketers should be aware of:
- By default, IE8 sends your surfing habits to Microsoft
- Google retains a 2% sample of search suggest data
- Microsoft have released a research patent on BrowseRank, a system which determines relevancy by tracking usage data
This all points to the increasing role of engagement metrics.
In order to positioned well in the future, you'll need to think as much about the level and type of interaction on your site as you will as you will about link authority. This comes all the way back to my first point above - build a site with plenty of potential for relationship building.
Something to ponder :)