A while back I attended a meeting of a business group I belong to, we meet three times a year to talk about on and offline marketing trends.
Three of us in the group own SEO firms, the other members are marketing directors, public relations officers and sales managers from large and small companies scattered throughout Virginia.
Everyone has a specific expertise they bring to table, we use our get-togethers to share that expertise as well as other marketing ideas and insights.
While the group “gets” SEO and understands the importance of a strong online presence, not all are “experts” or even well versed. When we have meetings devoted to online marketing they are well attended and get lively since the three SEO companies leading the discussion don’t all share a similar colored hat. This particular meeting was devoted to discussing what’s new in SEO/SEM as well as recent events (Panda updates, G+1, etc) so almost all of our 35 members were there. A lot of information was shared but the one topic that sparked the most debate (of course) centered around link building and what people were doing to attract links.
The group talked mainly about the success they were having with content related tactics, the use of microsites and other things. A couple people shared their success stories using reciprocal links, press releases and directories which surprised me since you don’t hear a lot of chatter about these methods anymore. I thought is was interesting some of the more marketing savvy people in the group admitted to using older, less sexy tactics as a way to attract links. Were they just being lazy or was there an angle here I wasn’t aware of?
As I drove home I started thinking about our discussions. There’s nothing wrong with the old tactics, they work just fine but like a lot of things, become stale and boring unless updated and used. Was there a way to take an old tactic and pair it with something new like microsites? Was it possible to take a much maligned technique like reciprocal linking and give it a little boost? Does article marketing still work? Yes, yes and I think it does. Here’s a couple of ways you can update old favorites for new links.
Overview: Article marketing is a great way to distribute link embedded content, you control the content, the keyword anchors and where they point.
Standard way: Write an article (or ten) on a specific topic and distribute each to various outlets. Each article is a one-time opportunity, can be promoted via social media and reprinted with permission. They are usually 400 – 500 words long but are not known for winning a Pulitzer.
Bump: Write an article (or ten) on a specific subject but write them to be part of an on-going series. Each article should be written so it builds momentum and pushes a reader to the next piece. At the end of the series, bundle the articles into an ebook and place on your site/others for download. If you want to give the ebook away, look at Scribd plus these ebook directories as distribution points. If you’re planning to charge a fee, check out this article and the list of businesses who will help you publish your ebook.
Once the book is up, issue a press release announcing it’s sale/availability and where to find it. Point the link in the release to the internal page of your site hosting the book and/or the sales landing page. Press releases are a great way to point links to internal pages.
eBooks make great podcast content and podcasts make great link bait!. Use a tool like Audacity (more here) to create the podcast and then upload to a list of podcast directories and iTunes. There’s no link popularity to be gained from iTunes but the exposure is awesome which can lead to links.
Last thing about ebooks… once you publish an e/book, you are an author. Congratulations! This means you can add yourself to the expert directories (there are many and mostly dofollow) which will go a long way to boosting your credibility and reputation. (Search on “expert directories” to find sources).
The power behind reciprocal linking isn’t in the number of link partners you acquire, it’s in the control you have over the anchor text used and where it points.
Standard way: Sometimes the only way to get a link is give one but between legal, competitive and the fear of Google God, this little tactic has taken a back seat to the more popular content generation techniques. Don’t go overboard if you use it, Google has gone from saying “don’t link excessively” to “don’t link randomly” so keep it to a minimum and only partner with the very best like-minded sites. If you’re interested in learning how to secure links from brands using recip links, read on.
Bump: Getting links from well ranked sites has always been tricky, well ranked usually means brands and brands won’t link with competitors. Here’s an angle to get around that obstacle.
If you have microsites (or can develop one/some) using them as your reciprocal linking base may eliminate legal and competitive issues for many. Go after sites you want links from and/or those who wouldn’t link with you in the past because they viewed you as a competitor. Offer space on your microsites in exchange for a link on theirs. Since your microsites refer traffic and link to your main site, you will benefit from the exposure and link popularity. Here’s a little story to help explain the process:
Site A is a well known site, it’s a national brand who’s been around a long time. Search on almost any travel related keyword and the site pops up.
You own Site B, also a travel site and while it’s a good one, you are not a brand. Site A knows you’re a small fry but still won’t link to you; small or not they view you as a competitor. You’ve tried to woo them for a couple years but they won’t swap, sell or host your link embedded content in exchange for the same. You grew tired of trying, dubbed them Buttheads and moved on.
One day you decide to develop a new microsite as a way to expand your brand and build on a couple of profitable keywords. Your new microsite is about travel insurance which happens to be a topic Site A doesn’t sell or talk about. Even though you’ve written Site A off as Buttheads, you decide to try again and see if they’ll host a link to your killer new insurance content. You know you only have one shot with these guys so you decide to go all out and offer Site A a link on your homepage if they agree to a swap.
< Narrator interruption >
Years ago when I was doing a lot of reciprocal linking, I’d get brands to agree to swap if we hosted an advertisement on our clients home page so this part of the story is based on experience. I found most brands cared less about link popularity and craved exposure so they usually agreed to my terms. (which was to place our text link on one of their internal category pages in exchange for an image ad on our main page).
From this link builders point of view, the only way giving up real estate on your home page is a good idea is if the brand’s internal page hosting your link ranks well for a number of your keyword terms. It’s fine if the page is simply indexed or ranking for a different set of keywords but if it ranks well for your keyword phrases? MAKE THE SWAP!
If the page isn’t indexed or doesn’t rank well for any terms you’re associated with, I would not pursue it. Brands already have an advantage over smaller and newer sites, no sense in sending more link juice or traffic if there is no return for you.
Site A decides an advertisement on the main page of a little but up-and-coming travel insurance site wouldn’t hurt them so they decide to make the trade. We stop referring to Site A as Buttheads and start calling them ‘partner” which sounds infinitely better and does wonders for our online reputation.
While the brand placed an ad on the home page of a contextually relevant site the real winner here is the new travel insurance site because…
1. It got a keyword rich anchor text link embedded in a paragraph of content on the resource page of national brand (Site A)
2. That link is pointing to the home page of the travel insurance site.
3. Site A’s resource page is ten years old and ranks between 2 – 5 for a couple of travel terms
4. Site A’s resource page shows a decent amount of green fairy dust.
5. It feels good to use a brand for a change instead of always bending over for them ;)
The next time I do a little linking, I’m dusting off my old “swap with me” link templates and hunting for brands. So much for the old standards being less sexy, who’s your momma now?