Link building has changed a lot, and is going to continue to change in the coming months. Over the last few years we’ve seen a huge shift in the tactics that work to promote your site. If you think about it, the web has moved from what was a very self-promotional way of marketing your site that would quickly get you listed at the top for your major search terms.
A few years ago, it was possible to consistently build your own links to your own sites and get results quickly. This was always a flawed plan. How can any self-promotional marketing tactic work indefinitely? Imagine if we used the same marketing tactic offline to try to gets results.
Old School Link Building
Automate the placement of several text links on websites with no traffic to your site with direct anchor texts of the services you provide.
Offline Equivalent: Placing advertisements of the services provided in any place free of charge where barely anyone, let alone a relevant audience, would see it. If we all used this marketing tactic we would in theory be placing advertising material anywhere we could that was free of charge, this would ultimately be in places completely irrelevant and worst of all in places where nobody would see it.
Would this tactic work in the real world? No. This is exactly why Google have been on an aggressive mission to make sure these spammy tactics do not work and that they actually promote good companies that advertise well.
Real Link Building
Now let’s flip this and look at real link building and see how it compares to the offline marketing equivalent:
By analyzing the audience you currently have or want to target, you share content and knowledge they are likely to share on their own sites and social channels.
Offline Equivalent: The offline equivalent of this would be nearly identical. You target your audience, engage with them to show and advertise the knowledge you have around the services you provide. This will ultimately lead to you being known as a true professional in your niche and people will talk to other people and refer their friends on as they are impressed with the knowledge you have provided.
When you look at the offline equivalent of real link building you can see that regardless of whether these tactics are used both digitally or offline, they both grow the brand organically. This is what Google is looking for and will devalue any other attempt to get around this.
Now that the point has made been made on how and why it is so important to play by Google’s rules, I want to move onto the main topic of this article which is the one a lot of small businesses struggle with. It is a well-known topic and is better examined by asking a question:
“I know I need to share my knowledge and content with the world to gain links. But how do I get my content seen when the larger brands dominate the SERPs?”
This is a very good question and one even Google struggles to answer. It is often difficult to compete online with the larger brands. Smaller business are often misled into using spammy link building tactics to get by. It is a tricky situation and I have seen many smaller brands who have put a lot of effort into creating sharable content, only to feel like spammy link building is the only way to get their content seen and generate links.
We have all seen this most recently with guest posting. Guest posting is one of the easier ways to artificially build links to your site, yet it has gotten out of hand as people are setting up sites purely designed to accept guest posts. Of course, Google begin to step in as we saw from Matt Cutt’s blog post on the subject. But even Matt Cutts is sympathizing with the smaller brands trying to gain traction online, as he realizes challenging times lie ahead for them. Cutts tweeted on the 21st of January (just after his announcement on Guest Posting abuse) mentioning he feels for the new smaller guys trying to get visibility online.
@jslsimpson the temptation is sometimes there. I sympathize for new or small sites trying to get started on the web though.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) January 21, 2014
So what is the answer for smaller businesses?
Start involving paid advertisement and content curation into your marketing plan. This will enable you to cover all the bases, drive traffic, and generate links more organically without attemptting to game Google.
Start With Good Content
I know this has been said many times before but it all starts with creating great content. Not just good content, but great content that shows you are a thought leader, your brand is trustworthy, and you can solve your customer’s problems. The first step on this path is to create a content calendar, outlining what you want to write about, for which platform, and when. This helps you focus your efforts, and ensures that you have a good flow of strong content to engage the audience you will soon create. A good way to help create a structured content calendar is to analyze what you social audience is sharing. There is a recent post on Social Media Today that covers this in more detail.
Once you’re in the swing of things and creating great content, the key step is to drive traffic to that content. By getting new audiences engaging in the content you are producing, you are building a positive atmosphere around your brand – your new audience will see the content, share it, and ideally link to you if they are site owners. This will only happen if you can drive the most relevant audience possible to your content.
Content Curation Sites to Leverage Content
There are some great ways to do this, including getting involved in content curation platforms and by using hyper-targeted advertising. Content curation platforms like Inbound.org for instance, allows you to place a (usually no-follow) link to your content for the purpose of driving traffic. If you find the right content curation platforms for your niche, you can drive relevant traffic to your content for free. Ultimately people will share good content – if they feel they’ve learned from it, or that it will make them look good in sharing. Sharing may include social sharing, links, and citations in blog posts– all valuable for increasing your online presence.
There are only a few good content curators on the web. Inbound.org is the obvious one for marketers. However it is worth looking at Linkedin Groups and Google Plus Communities to be able to post your content within relevant groups to get traction.
Use Paid Advertising to Promote Your Successful Content
We have discussed content curation tools and how they can help promote your content for free. Doing this will give you direct insight into exactly what content is performing well. The next step is to take content that has performed well organically using the curation tools and further promote it with paid advertising.
There are a few options here, but we’d recommend a combination of Google AdWords, Facebook advertising and Twitter advertising at first to see what works, and then potentially testing the waters with LinkedIn advertising and Bing later on.
This isn’t the place to tell you how to do AdWords, there are plenty of great blogs out there like PPC Hero to get you started, but our key recommendation when running an AdWords campaign for this purpose is to be creative with your copy and keywords. Of course you want to find new customers, but it may be possible to generate slightly cheaper traffic by thinking of the conversion slightly differently. Instead of targeting the sale or lead, think of your conversion as brand engagement or link gained – this will lead you to different ad groups and keywords, and a new way to look at your AdWords metrics for these campaigns.
Facebook makes it easier to target at a much more granular level in many respects. You’re able to target based on business ownership status, age, location, gender, and interests to name just a few, allowing you to finely target your potential brand advocate, or interested blogger. Twitter is largely the same, allowing you to target based on what keywords users talk about, or who they follow – again, allowing you to get smart with finding your new audience.
Naturally, there are a number of other tactics to consider, from email marketing, to display, and everything in between. However, we’ve been most successful generating social shares and links for smaller clients’ content by using the paid approach above, particularly through Facebook.
Which ever channel you use, we’d also recommend a re-engagement strategy to keep your brand front of mind, leaving your new audience more likely to share your content and link to you when they come to creating their next pieces of content. You are now able to retarget your website users by their on-site activity through Facebook as well as through the Google Display Network, meaning that you can remind your users of your brand pretty much wherever they go online.
Small Brands Need to Think Smarter to Get Their Content Noticed
In summary, content marketing is exploding and small businesses need to get smart to get ahead. Relying on old tactics and quick fixes will no longer work. It’s time to invest in a data driven content strategy and place a real value on your content. Push your content out to the right audiences and create new natural reach by generating social shares and link placements. It’s all about getting the right content in front of the right people, and with Google and Facebook, every business now has an arsenal of tools at their disposal to do this effectively.