Link building is about great content and finding ways to get the word out about it so that people can find it. The important thing to remember is you need to have a clear content strategy that leads to people find your content and giving you links. I wrote this post on SEJ about alternatives to guest blogging without having to guest post. Here are three more advanced link building strategies you can use to get people to share images or content and help drive backlinks without any link requests.
Use Sponsorships to Drive Traffic And Work as Link Bait.
Sponsorships sound scary! Well maybe not scary, but they sound expensive which is usually a turn off. So let’s throw giant event sponsorships and other expensive things out the door and get more realistic. If you’re a small business, a blogger, or don’t have the $20K to have your brand plastered on a huge sign, you can still gain exposure and generate the links you need. I’ll start with an example that I used at a tradeshow for getting leads that turned into backlinks and then give you a couple of examples that you can use that are easy and affordable.
Affiliate Summit is one of the only tradeshows I say is a must-attend. Each show has a huge themed costume party thrown by ShareaSale. If you’ve met me before, or been to a ShareaSale party at Affiliate Summit, you know it’s all about the costumes and I don’t like to underdress.
A couple years ago the theme was Masquerade. It gave me an idea to turn an awesome costume into a full-blown marketing campaign. In addition to the goal of driving leads for my company and bringing in new affiliates for my clients, it ended up becoming link bait for a standalone landing page URL.
I bought a fun costume and added a sash with a URL, jewelry, and created a character for it. I then created a name for the character and gave her business cards with the URL on them. I also created a tagline for her that makes sense to affiliate industry veterans and would generate questions for new people in the industry. Once I had the costume on, sash and business cards in gear, proper attitude for the character and the right comfy shoes, I was ready with my marketing and what became a linkbait campaign.
I started walking through the Paris Casino in Las Vegas and people instantly started stopping me for photos or calling out the name on the sash. That’s when I knew it was a winning campaign, since people got the name they could remember by reading the sash. Getting people to notice me wasn’t the hard part. The challenge was making sure my sash with my URL was in every photo.
During the party tons of affiliates, merchants, network reps, vendors, bloggers, and everyone in between came up for photos with me. I made sure I didn’t drink so I could always focus on the angle of the cameras and so that the URL showed almost perfectly when someone was taking a picture.
Because I made sure the URL was always visible, as the images were shared around the web, Facebook and Twitter, people used the photos in their show wrap-ups, they linked to the URL and others mentioned it during podcast reviews. Now people could find the site since they knew how to properly reference the costume and character.
These links helped me to rank for some long tail keywords and the links and social shares also drove in nearly 2K visitors from the show and social media sites. I still actually get some backlinks from the photos when people do their favorite recaps from the show. Many of the links are high quality and very targeted since they are from sites within the niche the URL is dedicated to. I also still get some sign ups for the programs I manage that are listed on the landing page.
So how can you use a similar tactic without having to wear an insane costume or embarrassing yourself? Use other forms of sponsorships to drive backlinks.
How to Use Sponsorships to Drive Backlinks
Find a beach town or small town on the way to a ski, camping, or resort area with year round events like pet parades, film festivals or even concerts and races. Look for towns along the main routes that traffic has to go through with broadband access. Some of the things to look for include stores that have websites and/or blogs (even Twitter and Facebook icons on their signs and windows), stadiums or recreational parks.
Once you find these areas, write down the towns’ names and look for their big local events, or the local events that people drive through the towns to get to.
In Washington DC we have tons of small beach towns that DC, Philly, Richmond, Baltimore and other cities flock to year round. Many of these small towns are heavily Christian and sponsoring their town’s Christmas tree with $500 to $1,000 in donations can gain a lot of buzz. The local stores and communities will be thankful and often write about it or mention it on their sites and blogs.
Local organizations and groups like schools or the government committee responsible are normally happy to mention you donated the decorations or sponsorship and there is also a good chance you’ll now get backlinks from them. These can easily be .gov, .edu and backlinks from retail stores which are usually high quality as well.
As people decorate the tree or take pictures during a lighting ceremony, you will find tweets and other posts help send the search engines social signals. Even if you aren’t going for the backlinks, this is a great way to build a customer base and a loyal following without spending a ton of money. Because the town is online, you have also helped to build a new customer base that can shop for your products and talk about you.
If your products aren’t always available in these small towns (i.e. large fish tanks, ceiling tiles, and modern home decor, designer clothing, etc…) they have to shop online anyways and now they have a place to shop at that supports their local community.
As you see the links come in or mentions of your store, offer the locals a discount for living there and now the mentions of you store from sites can turn into backlinks and social media shares because the site or blog owners need to show people how to find you.
These sponsorships help communities (you could donate food, create a centerpiece in the town square like a decorated holiday tree or even set up a scholarship for one lucky student to go to school, etc…) and can help you to feel good about yourself for doing something nice. If you do it the right way and follow up, you may also be able to get backlinks and traffic coming to your site that shops and helps to grow your business.
It is a huge win for everyone if done correctly and for the right reasons.
Using Email Campaigns And Gates to Build Backlinks.
One thing you never want to do is use a gate and require a backlink as a way to access content. This is a definite way to get a huge slap from a search engine and a way to prevent people from finding your content. In case you’ve never used gates, here is what they are.
Gates block your content until a person completes an action to unlock it. It can be anything from like our Facebook page to view or enter a contest or even to share your content on Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Some people may use them to ask visitors to pay $5 via Paypal to access other bullet points or infographic. They are a great way to get readers and visitors to do something to benefit your site or drive traffic.
So if you cannot tell someone to link to you, how do you use emails and gates to drive backlinks? Simple: have something of quality that makes them want to share, or include the main thing that they wanted as the share with a reference back to your site.
Gates on a Page:
By having an infographic, an image or something else that is unique to your site and the main focus of your content, you can watermark it with your URL so people know where and how to source it. If you use infographics with links in them (even though Matt Cutts has been clear they do not like this unless you use a no-follow) you can have that as the item to uncover with the gate. By getting this information uncovered and shared, you can now gain exposure to people’s followings.
If they tag their shares and comments right, or you pre-fill the copy for the share for them, you may get the attention of bloggers, journalists or other people who have the ability to give you a backlink. That is one of the added benefits of using a gate on content that is easy to link to. It has the ability to show people with websites the way you want it to be linked to without actually giving specific instructions which helps them appear natural.
The trick is having something valuable under the gate so you don’t anger, annoy, and lose a reader. If it is generic, not really that interesting or something that exists everywhere else already, you could annoy the user and cause them to not open a gate again.
It is still up to the person, but you can use a gate to get the content in front of them and their friends, fans and followers. Then the viewers can decide to give you a link or not. You can also use this with email campaigns for newsletters where a small part is only available through a gate. You do need to be careful not to do it too often as it can create a bad user experience for your subscribers and make them want to opt out or no longer subscribe to you.
Gates Before a Landing Page:
Using gates when someone clicks from the email can be tricky. There are a ton of ways to do it, but it can also create a horrible user experience for the end-user. Here are three possible ways you can make the gate less of an obstacle and more fun for the end-user.
- Create a game. The person clicks on the gate and goes to a random game before they see the landing page, product or deal. The game can spit out a coupon code to save them on their purchase at random or the more questions they get right, the higher the discount they can get. It could be a spinning wheel, answering questions about your store or brand (this can help with backlinks), or by guessing which box has the better code. This can also cause your subscribers to share your emails and help you grow your list.
- Have all of your products on sale on the landing page, but have a few surprise sale items that can only be seen if the person unlocks the gate. You can ask them to Tweet the page for the first item, share on Facebook, for the second and Pin to Pinterest for the third. This helps get you exposure and extra links coming in from these sites. If a blogger or journalist finds it, they may even write about it. It’s also a great way to get in front of deal Bloggers.
- Have the gate open before they hit the page and let them know that if they share they get an extra deal, or they can click-through and still get what they wanted. This is important because you don’t want to prevent a sale by making the end-user do something. Always have a click-through option to get to the main messaging of your email campaign.
So how do these lead to backlinks? If one or two deal bloggers or mommy bloggers missed the email or weren’t on the list but come across the share, they may add it to their sites. Not only will you get those links, but all of the other mommy and deal bloggers in their network will now see them, potentially giving you a ton of new backlinks and helping to drive new customers to your site.
Use Your Customer Service Team to Help Build Links
Your customer service team is always talking to happy and upset customers. They are the face of your company and they can help to generate some amazing PR and backlinks for you. The only thing you have to do is to train them and add it to their routine.
When your customer service reps have a very happy customer or someone who says they have a blog or large following on social media, add a section for this to your customer service scripts to ask for a share or mention your company, only if they are a happy customer. The person actually did shop with you and had a good experience so why not ask for the mention?
Other times they had a bad experience and your customer service team turned it into a good one. If the person mentions that they have a website, why not ask them for a mention or review of the service. You don’t have to say link back to the company’s website, but chances are the person will.
The main goal of this isn’t backlinks, but to get exposure to their readers, followers, and fans. Happy customers are the best possible people to have talking about you because they had a good experience with your company and now their friends, family and followers will know you are a trustworthy source for whatever product or service you sell. The added benefits are the social shares and signals as well as possible backlinks that they may give you.
People are still wondering how to build backlinks if you cannot guest post, spin articles, leave blog comments, participate on forums, submit to directories, etc… The truth is that you can still easily get high quality backlinks without having to spend a ton of money. You need to go back to traditional marketing and ask people to share your site or content, use sponsorships, or asking a customer to tell their friends about you. Using these tactics, you can build natural backlinks easily and without having to spend a ton of money.
All images via Shutterstock and http://www.flickr.com/photos/affiliate Owner: Shawn Collins.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!