Cyrus Shepard recently discussed the growing importance of natural links, stressing that the less control you have over the anchor text, the more useful a link is. In the video, he recommended using press releases and guest posts to draw exposure to “linkable assets,” rather than using them to build links directly. This is an incredibly effective strategy, but it begs the question: “Just what is a linkable asset, and how can I get my hands on one?”
Software tools and services naturally attract links simply because the links are incredibly useful for the end user. The SEOmoz top 500 list states that the third most linked to page on the entire internet is the Adobe Flash install page. It’s simple to understand why. The tool is so important that many websites don’t even work properly without it.
In fact, a simple browse through the top 500 list makes it very clear that tools make up a huge percentage of the links on the web. The W3 markup validation service, WordPress, GoDaddy, Google itself, and other utilities that power the web completely dominate the list of most linked content on the web.
Do not underestimate the power of tools. It is absolutely worth your time to hire a developer and get a working piece of software on your site. In particular, your tool should solve a need that hasn’t already been met by somebody else on the web.
Think about your target keywords, and the associated problems that those searchers are trying to solve. Brainstorm software ideas that will help your users solve the problem. Very few things on the web attract more links than software tools.
What do hugely successful sites like Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Cheezburger, Quickmeme, Blogger, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Flickr have in common? They have all become successful by making it simple and easy for normal people to express themselves and make something of their own online.
As with tools, you might need to hire a developer in order to get this to work. However, in this case, it’s not necessarily a prerequisite. Crowdsourcing comes in many different forms, and not all of them require software development.
One of the easiest ways to crowdsource online activity is to set up a forum. It’s fairly easy, and free, to set up a forum using phpBB, an open-source forum platform that you can install on your site. This ancient SitePoint article still does the job if you want to learn how.
The truly hard part of getting a forum going is the community building. A forum with no users doesn’t do anybody any good. You need to choose a topic that no other forum exists exclusively for. You will be posting about 80 percent of the content during the first several months. Promote the forum by answering questions on Quora and other forums. Advertise the forum on Facebook and other social communities in order to get things rolling. It takes quite a bit of work, but once you have built a community the forum starts to promote itself.
Other kinds of crowdsourcing include:
- Polls and quizzes
- Comment activity
- Meme generators
- Crowdsourced content (think YouTube, Imgur)
While most of these are more difficult to set up than forums, they are even better ways to build engagement and attention, and certainly attract natural links.
Videos, especially if they are helpful (as opposed to self-promotional), are incredibly useful assets that people love to link to and share.
If you’re fairly tight on budget, it’s possible to create videos from images and audio without too much trouble. Check out what Digital Inspiration has to say about transforming a slide-show into a video. The process isn’t too time consuming. However, we do recommend working with a graphic designer and perhaps an audio expert in order to make sure everything is high quality.
Another option is to work with Go!Animate, a fairly low cost tool that you can use to construct animated videos without too much effort or investment. A business account costs $50 per month.
You may also opt to do a “talking head” video where you speak directly to your audience. There was a time when these kinds of videos seemed cheesy, but YouTube has given them mainstream appeal. Check out what ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse has to say about making these videos in a professional way. These work best for instructive videos.
Finally, if you really want to produce a video with the potential to go viral, it’s worth considering hiring a professional. You don’t necessarily need to hire an ad agency or spend huge sums of money. You might want to consider hiring somebody who has already made a viral video on YouTube. If that environment doesn’t seem professional enough, try browsing through Vimeo, where videos tend to be more professional than YouTube.
In order to get the links you deserve, you’ll want to host the video on your own site, as opposed to YouTube. This is not necessarily an either/or situation, and undoubtedly there’s a lot of free exposure to gain from YouTube, but the SEO benefits just aren’t there in comparison.
If your video sees any kind of viral success, there’s a good chance it will exceed your bandwidth or hurt the performance of your site. In order to keep the SEO value and host the video elsewhere, you’ll want to take advantage of a video hosting service like Wistia in order to make sure things run smoothly.
This is a bit of a vague title, and that’s somewhat intentional. Many SEOs will recommend that you create an “award list,” a “top 20 list,” or something along those lines. These can be very powerful, but I think there’s a risk of being too restrictive in our thinking if we limit it to awards. There are other ways to go about mentioning influencers and attracting links from them as a result. To show you how it’s possible for a medium tier website to pull this off, here are a few examples from relatively unknown sites:
- A list of contributions or quotes from experts in the field, like this list of science misconceptions from science experts
- Interviews with industry experts, like this interview with Guy Kawasaki
- Simple mentions of influencers in tweets or blog posts, like this one that got retweeted by Rand Fishkin:
— Maptia (@Maptia) February 14, 2013
The key is to create a high value piece of content and involve influencers one way or another. It might be by giving them an award, but it could just as easily be by asking them a question for research purposes, interviewing them, mentioning them, asking if it’s the type of content they’d be interested in, and so on.
In short, if you create a piece of web content that is an extension of your relationships with online influencers, it is likely to attract links from those influencers, and serve as a linkable asset to others down the road.
This is only a sample of myriad of ways to create a linkable asset, but it should give you an idea of what we mean when we talk about creating things that will attract links on their own. Linkable assets give users something to do, involve somebody they can relate with, or meet a need that nobody else has met successfully.
Think this was helpful? Pass it along if you did, and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.