Using Viral Email To Build Links


If you’ve been doing business online for any length of time chances are you have a database of opt-in email addresses from customers, vendors, newsletter signups etc.  Here’s a way to use those email addresses to increase your inbound links and spark a viral marketing campaign.

The Set Up.

I get a copy of the Washington Post delivered to the house every Sunday.  I’ve been getting it for many years and renew my subscription via their website each January to ensure uninterrupted service.

Recently they sent  an email asking me to become a  Facebook Fan so I could connect with the Post no matter where I was.  I  like the Washington Post but not enough to take the time  to become a Facebook Fan so I ignored the message and went back to work.  Too bad for them, not only did they lose an opportunity to gain a new Fan but they also missed the opportunity to use the ad as a viral magnet for links and traffic.

Strike One.  A Fan I Am – Not.

Keep in mind I’m a long-time subscriber to the paper which means they have my full contact information on file as well as my subscription history.   If that email had been incentivized with an extension on my subscription or discount on classifieds I probably would have taken the time to become a Facebook Fan.  But, the incentive  to “connect to the Washington  Post by becoming a Facebook Fan” wasn’t enough motivation since I’m already connected through my subscription.  They should have come up with something better for current customers.  So, no new fan, strike one.

Strike Two.  Just Bad Links For You.

If I had designed the ad, I would have included an incentive to link as a way to stimulate the Facebook sign ups and increase my inbound links.  I doubt the Washington Post is concerned with their inbound link counts but since this is a link marketing blog  I’ll add this lesson to the mix:  if you’re going to email your customer base for any reason, look for ways to tie in a link building campaign. 

People link when there’s something in it for them so think about what you can offer in exchange for a link.  The Washington Post could have easily given me a 60 day extension on my subscription or a discount on classifieds in return for a link.   Granted, they may be targeting a small percentage of customers since not everyone has a website (gasp!) but  I’m betting there are a good number that do.   To add a simple link request and small incentive to an opt-in mailing list  takes no time or money and turns a simple email into a link marketing opportunity.  If you don’t ask you don’t recieve, strike two.

Viral Opportunity Lost

Of the three strikes, I think this was their biggest.  The Washington Post  lost an opportunity to attract links, build brand and drive traffic  when they didn’t add a viral element to the email.   Adding a simple line like “pass this along to friends and family”  and including  a small incentive is often all the encouragement people need.  Everything  needs a little push to get started, no push no links.  Strike three.

Use What You Have To Build Links

If you search on the term “email flyers” you’ll see a number of companies offering tools to create email ads, it’s not hard or expensive.   But unlike the Washington Post,  consider following some old tried and true sales and marketing points:

  • Include a  benefit statement.  Tell your prospects what’s in it for them if they execute what you’re asking
  • Offer an incentive.  Give them something special for going through the trouble of linking
  • Ask for the sale.  Ask for the link and suggest they pass the ad along
  • Take advantage of loyalty.  Use your email list or partner with another company in your niche and use theirs.

Keep the ad short, dangle an incentive to link and ask people to pass along the offer.   If you do, the links will come leaving you more time to read the paper.  Now that is a home run!