One question is on just about every SEO’s mind as we confront the New Year: “What strategy will protect me from updates in the future?” Finding the right balance between sustainability and immediate impact is hard work. How do we move forward?
It’s our opinion that we need to start shifting gears in this industry. Links are important, crucial even, but sustainability means brand comes first. Some will argue that branding is impossible for small businesses, and others will claim that we’re stepping outside the bounds of SEO.
That doesn’t concern us.
We’re concerned with results for our clients, and labels have never done much of anything when it comes to making that happen. Here’s our strategy for broadening link building into brand building in order to maximize results.
1. Put the Focus on Brand Recognition
When we build links, there’s one criteria we want to meet with every single one of them. We want to get people saying, “Oh yeah, I remember those guys.” And that means:
- We focus on channels with traffic
- We get our content on all the most popular channels in our niche
- We use our brand name frequently enough that it sinks in
- When possible, we choose a brand name that’s unique and easy to remember, rather than descriptive or keyword-centric
- We send a consistent message with our content, our design, our logo, our bios, our material, and so on
- We make enough of an impact that people will want to hear from us again
2. Use Press Releases for Exposure
As you may have already heard, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web spam team, recently said that links from press releases won’t help you get exposure in the search engines. Some are calling nonsense on this, while others are saying that press releases are now officially obsolete.
We’ve always felt that press releases had little or no value as a direct source of links, but we still feel that they can be very valuable when handled correctly. A press release can get your brand and certain pieces of content in front of a large audience.
Bloggers and other media personalities frequent the legitimate press release sites (that’s why it’s called a press release, after all). This can be a great way to attract the attention of influencers who can send links your way, as well as get some viral activity in motion. Focus on using press releases to build brand awareness, rather than on building links directly.
3. Comment Marketing for Familiarity
Comments as a source of links are useless. None of the well-known sites allow do-follow links in the comment section, and Google’s algorithms are focused on locating a site’s main body content, and using those links as the strongest signals.
We focus on contributing to conversations on sites where the comment sections are active, the niche is right, and the traffic potential is high. We use the brand name, not the keywords. We try to write comments the way we write guest posts, aiming to be as helpful as possible so that people take notice. We also use comments as an opportunity to build relationships with other influencers, who often contribute in the comments.
4. Forum Marketing
We approach this in much the same way we approach comments. Some of the most influential people on the web frequent forums, and it’s a great place to connect with your industry’s community. It’s also a constant source of information about what people want to know the most, what they are most interested in, and what kinds of content are most likely to attract attention.
5. Q&A Sites
The same goes for these. We’re especially big fans of Quora, since the questions never close up and it’s much more permissible to mention you or your client’s site. But don’t just seek out questions that your blog posts can answer directly. Get involved and offer answers as helpful as blog posts in and of themselves.
Of course you want to drop a link, but not for the search engines. Q&A sites only offer no-followed links, so there’s no direct search impact. Instead, use it to build exposure and get the name out. And, once again, be sure to use your brand name to build familiarity. Answers on Q&A sites often show up prominently in the search results, because of their domain authority. This makes them an excellent source of traffic which can lead to social sharing, occasional links, and eventually search engine benefits.
6. Guest Blogging for Traffic
There is a tendency to rely excessively on guest posts, which is one reason we recently shared 7 alternative link building methods here on Search Engine Journal, but when done properly, guest posts can still be incredible sources of traffic, brand awareness, and search engine authority.
The key is to focus on high-impact blogs, the real noise-makers in the industry that anybody who’s in the know has heard of. No, not every single guest post needs to go to a blog like this, but we recommend that a large portion of them do.
Don’t get upset about rejection. More than anything else, the key is to just keep trying and improving your content. Pour just as much into your guest posts as you would for a post on your own site, if not more.
7. Infographics as Proof of Authority
We all know infographics are a great way to build links, but they are a tremendous branding opportunity as well. A really solid infographic gets shared across the web and expands your reach. It helps you reach audiences that don’t read too often, and they are very friendly to social networks. They drive a great deal of traffic when executed properly. You can take our infographic about Google’s updates in 2012 as an example.
Perhaps most importantly, they give your brand an air of legitimacy and professionalism that makes you more noteworthy in the eyes of potential consumers, as well as online influencers like power tweeters and bloggers. Infographics prove that you have resources because not anybody put one together that looks right.
8. Content Marketing With a Unique Selling Proposition
Hopefully we’re not saying anything new by suggesting that content marketing is one of the most promising roads forward for SEOs, and I’m sure everybody has heard that content needs to be “unique.”
But, as we mentioned over at ProBlogger, original content isn’t the same thing as “not plagiarized” content. We discussed a few “brain hacks” you can use to boost your creativity when it comes to post ideas, and we recommend you use them.
The key here is to treat each piece of content as though it were a product, and to seek out its “unique selling proposition,” so to speak. It’s not necessarily that your content can’t be a little redundant or copy other sources (ideally with citation). Instead, it’s that your content ought to meet a set of needs that isn’t met by any other prominent piece of content on the web.
9. The Rise of Co-Citation
Rand predicts that co-citation is replacing anchor text, and we have several internal reasons to believe he’s onto something. For those who haven’t heard yet, co-citation occurs when a brand tends to be mentioned on the same pages and in close proximity to keywords.
Google also has similar tools, like Google Correlate, which can spot statistical relationships between keywords, and of course Google also has access to search queries, which will often combine keywords with brands.
All of this is going to make branding especially important this year. If you can get people talking about your brand, it’s going to have a positive effect on your rankings, even in the absence of links.
10. Leveraging Past Success
This is one of the biggest reasons we’re recommending a shift toward brand building this year. When you focus on big, bold, branded marketing efforts, you can keep leveraging the results.
If a big expensive infographic flops, you can still point to it in your future outreach as an example of the quality of work you do. If a guest post at The New York Times doesn’t drive too much traffic or make as strong an impact on rankings as you expected, you can still say you were featured in The New York times and leverage this as social proof.
If your efforts aren’t branded, you can never leverage them for future success. You can’t brag to your customers that you spun thousands of artic les or use low quality guest posts as an example of the kind of work you can put together during future outreach.
There’s no question that Google favors brands in the search results, sometimes to a fault, and that it generally has commercial incentives to keep things that way. We also believe that marketing efforts are typically unjustifiable if brand building isn’t a part of the effort. Marketing without branding is always short term, whether it’s spam or keyword-centric PPC.
We hope you’ll join us by broadening link building into a brand-building effort. We’re looking forward to your thoughts in the comments, and we’d love it if you passed this along. Thanks for reading.