Link building has changed a lot these past few years, especially this year when Google has rolled out its anti-link spam update – better known as the Penguin update.
These changes have given birth to an era where different ideologies in marketing are being integrated to SEO. Search engines are constantly evolving, and our approach should too.
Keyword-focused link building is long gone (in most cases), wherein the only way to win in search is to authentically build a brand as an authority.
I’ve been saying this a lot lately, and will certainly do it again here. Start applying branding principles to make the most out of your link acquisition campaigns. Brand building is the new link building.
Here’s a good question every link marketer should ask themselves every time they try to build links:
Would this content placement, interaction or idea surrounding the link be eventually helpful in solidifying our brand values and equity?
Strong brands are winning the web (social/search), and that’s a challenge that link builders have to accept. Link building is getting bigger, in which it encompasses different practices and approaches to achieve maximum results.
It has become more of a branding and traffic/lead generation tool these days (and not just for search engine optimization). Seeing link building in that point of view will help you more in getting the rankings you think you deserve.
Google is getting more complex every day, and the capability to understand how links are being utilized over the web can simply throw ton of ideas on how they should be weighing links.
Link building is Brand building
Branding is about committing to the core principles that a company believes in, such as championing a cause, leveraging thought-leadership and/or USP.
Here’s a very insightful slide presentation from Paul Isakson, explaining how brand building has evolved over time:
Imagine if we can all assimilate that mindset on how we build links. People and search engines would certainly find the commitment worthy of being shared and seen.
When you know how you want people to see your brand, you’ll resist shortcuts and spammy tactics just to get the job done.
As what Paul has mentioned on his presentation, define who you are and what you stand for, and then commit to it. Let the brand identity that you are aiming to project lead how you communicate your brand’s ideas.
People are more to trust people than the brand itself. It’s easier to convey a brand’s message when it’s coming from the people behind the brand, because people will more likely listen.
Invest on developing personalities who can carry the brand’s flag, because real people are more apt when it comes to building awareness, shaping brand identity and in reinforcing perception.
This is where thought-leadership is also built, gradually, which is a strong factor that can set the brand in a better market position.
Here’s a great sample, Leo Widrich, co-founder of Bufferapp, has been really active in guest blogging when they were just starting to promote Bufferapp.
The strategy didn’t just propel their business’ to reach 100,000 customers, it also allowed Leo to become one of the most credible social media practitioners in the industry.
Of course, that end-result is adding more value to the brand, and it’s certainly opening more opportunities for them (links, mentions, followers, customers, loyalists, etc…)
Try to build someone up who can continuously provide solutions to your market’s common problems through the content they’ll be distributing across the web. Few advantages that this strategy can bring to your link acquisition campaigns:
- The more your brand ambassador(s) publish content on different sites as well as reach out and interact with other people in your industry, the more they can build relationships, which is very important, especially in link building, nowadays.
- It’s also a great way to establish the brand in different sectors of the industry, as ambassadors get to build strong authorship (which is also one of the strongest signals that search engines look into in gauging trust and credibility).
- It will be easier to penetrate popular industry publications with strict editorials, as the value proposition they add along their contributions is apparent, such as the ambassador’s expertise and following/readership.
Update – 3-14-13
Hey readers! – It’s Anthony Pensabene of SkyrocketSEO. While penning a post in real time, I reached back into the Kaiser cannon to add some insight here, discussing a tactic I use to build authority and good associations with advocates. Enjoy!
Relationships/associations are very important for businesses, because it allows brands to look more credible, especially when they are associated with other high quality brands in its industry.
And in our time, the best way to show off these associations is through the content we provide to our own audience. That’s why inviting industry peers to contribute content to your own site is very powerful when used as a branding/marketing strategy (and a win/win for both parties).
Known advantages of utilizing associations for your campaign’s content production:
- The site will be able to collect and send out more trust signals as it strengthens its author portfolio (particularly if authorship markups will be implemented).
- Acquiring natural links, new followers/readers/leads, and social mentions from both parties’ network as the content gets promoted on both ends.
- Strong brand impression as new visitors get to see other trusted entities contribute/collaborate content with your brand.
Both SEOmoz and Search Engine Land have been successful at this form of branding strategy, seeing that they allow their associates to regularly publish high-quality content on their sites (like being associated with the industry’s other top brands such as SEER Interactive, SEOGadget, Distilled and BlueGlass).
Another strategy that you can do, if in case some of your peers or target influencers are busy to write new content for your site’s blog, is to ask them to republish some of their old content (that is really relevant to your audience).
Here’s an example: in 2007, Rand Fishkin wrote an article about strategies on how to grow a blog’s audience (which he has updated early this year).
I also remember 2 years ago, the original post from 2007 was republished as a guest post (with permission) on a social media blog – see the post here.
Republished post in 2010
Republished post links back to the original content
The impact to a brand of having someone as influential as Rand Fishkin to do a guest post on its blog is definitely beneficial, in terms of branding perspectives.
I’ve also encountered this strategy, but I was the one on the other end (and seem to work well in referring new traffic). Since I allowed a Brazilian SEO blog republish some of my evergreen posts and be offered in a different language.
A US-based tech VC firm also asked me recently if they can republish two of my blog posts on their blog (since the posts are something that their audience are really interested in). You can see the post here and here.
So as a publisher, why would we allow you to republish our content, when people can just read ours? Here are a few pointers on doing a pitch for content republication:
- If your site targets a different audience and already have established readership/following. Your pitch will have higher chances for approval (ex: your audience are startup owners who’re interested in SEO).
- If your readers speak a different language. Translating our content is a very enticing proposition.
- Pick older posts and offer it to a different audience (ex: old but evergreen SEO content and share it to social media practitioners).
When you’re doing link acquisition, it’s imperative that you always think if the effort will push the brand to the unique position it wants to occupy in its target market.
That’s why targeting the right sites and publications – where your target audience really are – is as important as the quality of the message you’re trying to communicate.
Always put a place for your brand’s unique value proposition on your content and interactions. The more people see you as an authority in solving a particular problem in your industry, the more that they’ll trust and go to you.
Links should be used as passageways for people who really care about what your brand is committed on doing. Make it easier for them to find you. Acquire links from sites that you’d really get click-through visitors (sites that have your audience).
Strong brand messaging on relevant authority sites, that’s the key to get the links that influence brand perception and search optimization.
Aim for long-term growth through link development by building useful pages or getting links from useful pages that people will constantly find and consume. Don’t build links just for the sake of volume (or just to make your report look great).
Useful content can continuously attract visitors (through search and other referring websites), which means getting links or being visible through these pages will allow you to:
- Get constant traffic/leads to your site
- Attract more possible linkers and followers
- Continually build awareness and brand impression
So how can you inject this principle to your link building campaigns? Here are a few samples:
- Acquire links from pages that are already ranking for informational keywords, because they get visitors that can easily be engaged. Interact and add value/useful information on the discussion, because this is certainly a good opportunity to make your brand stand out (ex: popular Quora threads, discussion on an industry forum, or a popular blog post).
- Create useful and evergreen content that your target market searches for and host it on high DA (domain authority) publications or UGC sites. Published content on these types of sites can easily rank for both competitive and long-tail keywords (like pages from Slideshare, Youtube, etc…), which can help you continuously build brand awareness and generate traffic.
A brand is a progressive story, and content (distribution and interactions) as well as link development are efficient platforms you can use to communicate the progress of the brand’s story.
Quality, Authenticity and Consistency in messaging
The quality of the content you produce/distribute and the interactions you make can reflect the quality of the products/services you offer.
Treat every interaction and content as your own product. Always be at your best when contributing and participating on discussions on other sites.
It’s also important to be selective with the channels and topics you choose to disseminate branded content (content and interactions that somehow demonstrate your brand’s unique selling point and field of expertise).
The more you focus on bringing quality to your content distribution campaign – and being consistent with it – the more you can develop a strong and positive customer/market perception. That’s where you can control how people collectively see the brand’s values and personality.
TL;DR – Build a strong brand presence online to win at search. Search engines will obviously continue to favour brands.
And the best way to align content and link development efforts with the core values of the brand is to have a clear definition of how you want your brand to be seen by people.
For more live samples, I highly recommend to check out Justin Briggs’ case studies on building high-powered links and Wil Reynolds’ post on how they do RCS.