Increasing link popularity is important in search engine optimization, and effective linking can give a real boost to your search result rankings.
But there are other important benefits to link popularity that rarely get mentioned. As a result, they’re not often incorporated into the planning of link campaigns, but they should be! This article will explore the reasons why.
Some benefits may seem obvious, others not. But put them together and you’ll be able to create a comprehensive linking strategy that’s focused on delivering business results.
You’ll be able to make a compelling business case for all the hard work and effort that has to go into a successful link campaign, and you’ll have a much higher likelihood of success.
So what are these "other benefits"? An effective linking strategy can:
- Create a detailed map of your industry online
- Create trust in your brand
- Attract qualified leads
- Create value for your customers
- Attract even more links
- Establish your company in a virtual community
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Create a Detailed Map of your Industry Online
Understanding the business environment in which you work is fundamental to your success, yet how many of us have a true picture of our industry’s online representation?
Rather than conducting research to ‘find potential link targets’, conduct research in order to understand the online marketplace — and your place within it. This knowledge in itself can bring substantial benefit to your business.
For instance, if you sell environmental services, you need to know where to find out about existing and proposed legislation, you need to know about the latest research, the hot topics, and the debates that may be raging. If, on the other hand, you sell luxury chocolates, you’ll need to know the sites were quality gifts are reviewed and recommended, as well as the sites that chocoholics visit.
Understanding the marketplace means gathering information and resources, sifting through them and drawing sound conclusions. Within your industry online, you need to first identify:
- the major portals – what resources do they have? Do they publish breaking news? Do they carry feature articles on companies like yours? Do they have a directory of suppliers? How much traffic do they get? How often are they updated?
- email newsletters – many of the portals will either provide email newsletters themselves, or carry lists of other newsletters. Sign up for them and scan the content. What opportunities exist for your company or service?
- ezines – these may be independent online magazines or affiliated with a print magazine. What type of content do they carry? Do they have searchable archives?
- business blogs – a blog or ‘Weblog’ is a frequently updated Web journal. The best are great sources of breaking news and links to great material. Google has just purchased Blogger.com, a move that’s sure to herald a growth in business blogging during 2003 (see Blogs4business for more).
- forums and discussion groups – what forums exist in your industry? How active are they? Who takes part? And what issues are discussed?
Spend a few weeks trawling these sites, reading the newsletters, and watching or taking part in discussions. You’ll quickly get a picture of the important sites, the type of content they carry, how often they’re updated, and which are first for breaking news.
Next step: classify the sites you’ve identified. Some will be great sources of industry knowledge, some may be great for recruitment, others great for customers to find out about products. Draw up a full list, together with brief comments about each. This will be a very important document to share with your staff or Web developers — they will find it useful for all sorts of reasons!
Now, look at your own position within the online marketplace. How often is your business or site mentioned? How often are your competitors mentioned? What could you do to improve your visibility? And what business objectives could you achieve if you were more active?
Create Trust in your Brand
Creating trust in a brand can be a major problem for sites that have just been launched, and for small to medium sized companies who have little budget for brand building.
But a business is often known by the company it keeps, and a well-linked site builds trust.
If respected industry portals or newsletters carry a link to your site, they pass on a degree of status. If you are mentioned in all the right places, prospects will come across your name again and again. This repeated exposure builds awareness and strengthens your brand.
Attract Qualified Leads
Following links is one of the most popular ways for people to find new sites.
According to research from Georgia Tech, 85% of people find new sites by following a link — this compares well against figures of 87% for search engines and 38% for email. Linking can be one of the best ways to attract new business. According to the Seybold Group, 50% of Amazon’s new customers arrive through links from other sites.
Every link from an external site is another opportunity for a qualified lead to find and arrive at your site. The more links you have, the more qualified traffic you can attract.
Look at the sites you identified and classified in your research. Which sites offer the best potential for capturing prospects, and what will you have to do to persuade them to link to you? What competitive selling messages are people likely to meet? How can you strengthen the impact of your own message?
The key to this process is to be aware of the value you offer, and to present that value through your link text in a way that attracts customers. It’s not an easy task, but it’s not impossible, either.
What content do you have on your site? How attractive is that content to potential link targets? How attractive is your content to users of their sites?
If you run an environmental consultancy, a self-assessment tool or a white paper will be attractive. If you sell chocolates, an article on seasonal gifts or daily recipes could be attractive. ‘Content’ could be an online sales facility, an online service, a self-assessment tool, an instant quotation, a white paper, tips on using your products, a problem solving article – even a comprehensive set of links for your industry.
If you feel your site lacks content, you’ll have to create it. Without good content, other worthwhile sites will simply not link to you.
Look at the information and expertise within your company. How much of that could be turned into valuable content? Rework the material for the Web or employ a professional writer to do the work for you (and check out this excellent free writing guide from Kathy Henning).
Look at your most attractive content. Make sure it’s easily accessible from your home page. Look at the titles and descriptions. Do they really do a selling job for you? Sites that link to you are likely to use your own titles and descriptions. If these are not benefit-rich and customer focused, you’re wasting a major opportunity.
Which of these is the most attractive?
APEX Environmental Consultancy – Company Profile
Welcome to the Website of APEX Environmental Consultancy. This site provides a guide to the wealth of experience we have accumulated over 25 years…
APEX – Europe’s Leading Environmental Consultancy
Covering risk management, environmental monitoring, planning and design with offices in London, Paris and DÃ¼sseldorf.
The second might just get the vote!
Provide Value for your Customers
You can provide value by sharing, guiding and directing your customers to useful resources.
You can’t just have inbound links, you must also direct people to valuable external resources. This should not be confused with reciprocal linking — ‘if you link to me, I’ll link to you’ — which is worthless. Link to external resources because they are useful, not because they happen to link back to you.
Many sites refuse to provide external links because they feel they will lose customers. But you are much more likely to lose customers if you stand on the sidelines and miss the opportunity to help them. Customers will already be searching online — much better that they should get information through you than having to search themselves.
You need to be confident enough in your own offering to be able to offer links to external sources. You can, for instance, direct your prospects and customers to content that they’ll find to be of value, and which will help them in their buying decisions.
So the environmental consultant may want to link to state regulations, industry debates, published research and reports; the chocolate retailer may choose to link to entertaining articles, reviews of their own products, or shopping guides.
The material you collected in your research of your industry is valuable material. How much of that could you productively share with your prospects or customers?
Attract Even More Links
If your site is well-linked, then the probability of attracting further links increases.
This happens for a number of reasons:
- you’ll feature high in search engines rankings, so more people will find your site,
- more webmasters will be exposed to your material and
- your PageRank on Google will be relatively high, making you more attractive to link to.
There is a simple power law at work — "the rich get richer", or "links attract links".
Of course, the ideal situation is where your content or services are considered so good that people link to you without even being asked. Put an effective linking strategy in place and over time it will gain its own momentum and each new link created will become a source of new prospects for your business.
Such a power law has implications for your competitive standing. If a competitor has more relevant links than you, then the gap between you is sure to grow — unless you take some affirmative action.
Establish your Company in a Virtual Community
Every industry has a virtual community online. Some may be under-developed, others busy hubs with hundreds or thousands of visitors every day, and lots of business being done. An effective linking strategy helps you become part of that virtual community.
If you’re an active member of that community, you’ll be able to enjoy all the benefits that I’ve talked about. You will:
- get to hear industry news as it breaks
- be able to spot trends and opportunities
- build networks and strategic partnerships
- have ready access to customer opinion
- have your company recognized and valued
Reap the Rewards of Your Linking Strategy
A linking strategy is difficult, and demands a lot of work and persistence in order to be successful. Yet, ultimately linking is what the Web is all about. You will come up against obstacles and frustrations, but in the process you’ll learn a huge amount.
Companies who recognize the importance of linking and incorporate it into their thinking will be the ones to prosper and survive.
Ken McGaffin is Chief Marketing Officer with Wordtracker, an online tool that helps webmasters identify keywords and phrases that are relevant to their business and most likely to be used as queries by search engine visitors. He writes regularly about link building and online public relations on McGaffin.com.