Is your linking strategy really working to your advantage? Learn how to optimize your approach and grow your site traffic with insight from leading experts, including linking strategist Eric Ward, social-media whiz Amber Naslund, Netconcepts President and CEO Stephan Spencer, and Blue Fountain Media CEO Gabriel Shaoolian.
Linking strategy is about doing whatever it takes—buying, swapping, going after as many reciprocals as possible—to maximize your presence on the vast expanse that is the World Wide Web, all of which will ultimately lead to increased site traffic and improved search engine rank, right?
Sure, years ago, it was beneficial to appear all over the map, but things have definitely evolved. Web surfers have better things to do than aimlessly click on any link that crosses their paths; besides, off-target traffic never does much for the bottom line anyway.
And search engines? They, too, have become more sophisticated, determining rank in part through the quality and context of each link and penalizing sites that participate in link farms, create irrelevant links pages, or engage in other dubious ploys.
"The best links to have are those that are naturally occurring and earned by merit," observes Eric Ward, a linking-strategy consultant, speaker, and coach who has helped the likes of Amazon.com, Microsoft.com, Yahoo.com, and PBS.org optimize their approaches.
To help you optimize your own approach and earn those "best links," we've assembled the following list of tips, derived from the advice of Ward himself as well as that of social media blogger/speaker Amber Naslund, Netconcepts President and CEO Stephan Spencer, and Blue Fountain Media CEO Gabriel Shaoolian.
1. Create link bait
Link bait, Spencer explains, is "high-quality, valuable content that people find so useful they are compelled to link to it from their sites," whether because it's useful, interesting, humorous, or controversial.
2. Make your content sharable
From bookmarks to buttons to widgets, there are a variety of options to include with your content that allow users to independently spread your good word to alternate Web venues, such as blogs and social-networking sites.
"Don't assume that everyone wants to 'Stumble' your content, but make it an option... Get it into the flow of the social-media world so it has a chance to migrate and be found by others," says Ward, referring to the advantages of broader awareness that can thereby be gained in addition to link value.
3. Use social media to get the word out and drive traffic to your site
Don't just post your new content to your site; rather, also promote its existence through linked posts on networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
Amber Naslund identifies Twitter as the second largest source of traffic for her site AltitudeBranding.com, but she also notes that in social media traffic generation needs to be a secondary consideration. "Your goal has to be about authentically wanting to be part of these communities in the first place," she says. "Site traffic becomes the benefit, not the goal itself."
"Be weary of social expectations. People on Twitter and LinkedIn are sensitive to others' just showing up and dropping links to their stuff...You have to be an active contributor to the community before you can develop trust," Naslund continues, adding that she spends a good 85-90% of her time on Twitter conversing with people about topics unrelated to her site. Doing so has helped her to establish "social capital," which in turn has led to others' "retweeting" her content and clicking through to her site.
4. Build rapport with bloggers
Bloggers provide another effective vehicle for generating awareness, and traffic, for your content and site. But just as in the physical world (and perhaps even more so), it takes a little networking and relationship building to get any sort of mention in a prestigious industry blog.
"Bloggers aren't journalists and don't want to be treated as journalists," says Naslund. "Instead of being pitched to, they want to see you reading and interacting on their site."
To get their attention, she suggests, comment on their posts without pushing your product or dropping links to your site, and add value to the conversation taking place among their communities of readers.
5. Strategically target sites that are relevant to your business, industry, vertical, or niche
To gain rank on the search engines, it's important to link to not only quality (non-spamming) sites and blogs but also those considered "right" for your site: i.e., those that will benefit your end users.
To identify the appropriate sites and blogs, start by doing a search using tools such as Technorati and Google Blog Search. Ward also suggests seeking out sites and social media venues that are frequented by your target market and figuring out how to work your way into that flow.
Furthermore, if you have a business that is more regional in nature, Ward says, it's important to go after sites that similarly target—and are trusted by—your geographic location, such as those for area television and radio stations, regional Web guides, or local influencers.
6. Donate to charity
Rather than purchase links on community sites, Blue Fountain Media CEO Gabriel Shaoolian suggests, make "donations to charities, which often have high-quality domains and add a link to the donor somewhere on their Web sites."
You might also generate some additional goodwill—and, unlike paid links, your link will remain posted long after the donation is made.
7. (Once again...) launch a blog
"Blogs can be incredibly huge drivers for traffic in general," says Naslund. Plus, she continues, "Bloggers link to other bloggers, and rarely link to other websites, e-commerce sites, or brochure ware."
Still, Naslund maintains, other bloggers will want to see interesting content and good blogger etiquette before considering whether to link to your blog. So instead of another online advertisement, she suggests thinking a level or two above your own brand for developing content that is relevant yet engaging.
Her example pertains to a bar owner who writes about the entertainment industry or tips on how to host a great house party, rather than promoting in-house specials or the bar itself.
8. Mention respected blogs and other Web sites in your posts
Referenced parties will often relish in, and even promote, the fact that they've been featured or quoted. As a result, they might link to your content directly or even reciprocate the favor.
9. Add an RSS feed to your blog
You need to have an RSS feed for your blog in order to have a listing in Google Blog Search, which will help your blog gain rank and boost your blended search results, according to Spencer.
An RSS feed will also allow your headlines, accompanied by direct links to your content, to be syndicated to other Web sites and reach an audience of bloggers who may not have been otherwise exposed, says Spencer.
You might also accelerate the process by submitting your RSS feed to designated feed search engines, such as Feedster.
10. Write a guest post
Don't have enough bandwidth to start your own blog? Try generating content for someone else's, but (in case you haven't noticed the general theme here) make sure that your post is both relevant and helpful to the community that blog serves.
In the same vein, Naslund suggests getting involved with local community or industry organizations, such as the American Marketing Association, and contributing to their content resources, thereby leveraging their traffic to create visibility for you and your site.
Check out Facebook Success Stories (FREE for Premium Members) to learn how some firms have used Facebook to increase Web site traffic by 20 percent or more! Premium Plus Members may also enjoy viewing Link Building for Online Publicity, Buzz and SEO: What's New and What's Tried and True in the MarketingProfs Seminar Library. We hope these resources help you increase traffic to your Web site.
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