Everyone is looking for more quality links, especially in competitive fields. Links have always been fundamental to people finding Web sites. This dates back to the launch of the original Yahoo! (text link) directory back in 1996 – one only has to look to the Wayback Machine for proof.
Basic links were an important source of traffic long before Google and other algorithmic search engines started to use links as part of their ranking system. Text links could be considered the first form of online advertising. They are how people navigated the Web and found new sites. That is what made it so brilliant when Google and others made the decision to use links as part of their ranking system. Today, links not only influence search engine rankings, but drive valuable traffic.
The question everyone is faced with is how to obtain more quality links. One common stumbling block for people when trying to link-build is that they are often too focused on the ranking value of the link itself, and forget that links can drive traffic and exposure. With a simple change in mindset, it is easy to discover many opportunities to obtain links.
Good link development is just good marketing. Ask yourself how would you gain new customers if search engines did not exist? Simply by changing your mindset from "I need links" to "how can I market my Web site and gain links" will reveal many linkbuilding opportunities.
A good place to start for most businesses is to consider how you would grow your customer base in the offline world. After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel; it just needs to be modified a bit. Most would agree that referral business is typically the best type of new business. Often referrals are pre-qualified and are already sold on your product or service.
You are probably wondering how referrals relate to link development. Remember at the core of search engine ranking systems, links are akin to votes or endorsements. Just as referrals are endorsements in the offline world. Current customers are a great source of referrals (aka links). They can help you promote and grow your business, plus they are a source of links at the same time.
People are more than happy to promote a product or service from a company they trust and respect. All you have to do is ask for help. Let customers know you want to grow your business and want them to be a part of that. Everyone wants to be a part of something great.
The question becomes how to obtain these links from customers. A good place to start is to have your staff record all points of contact with customers throughout the week. Remember to include accounting, IT and other departments. They may have access to information that sales or customer representatives may overlook.
Below are two strategies among dozens that could be applied to obtain links from customers. Of course, some strategies will work better for some business models than others. That is why it is critical to figure out the best fit for your business model.
1. Utilize Best CustomersCreate a list of your best customers, or customers who are loyal to a particular brand you carry. Customer databases make this task easy. Then contact these customers by email, postal mail or phone. It will be especially beneficial if you've had the foresight to collect information such as the URL of their Web site or blog ahead of time. That way you can have a more targeted list.
Let these customers know you are trying to promote XYZ product/service and would like their help with a review or product mention. Several different types of links can be obtained, from a simple text link to a full review of your company, product or service. In the process you may find some "brand advocates," customers that are willing to proactively promote your company on a regular basis.
By utilizing customers for links, there is the opportunity for additional word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing, branding and traffic. As mentioned earlier, good link development is just good marketing.
TIP: Offer some form of incentive to entice customers to participate. This could be as simple as a discount off their next order or a gift certificate.
2. Inbound CallsTake advantage of customers calling you to place orders or ask questions. Have your customer service representatives ask them if they have a Web site or personal blog. If they do have a site, offer a discount or other incentive for a review. If you are concerned they will not post the review, tell them you can offer them a discount off their next order once the review is published.
The benefit of these methods of link building are an increased ability to obtain links, plus benefits from additional traffic, word-of-month (WOM) marketing and branding. It can also reveal some brand advocates for your company that can be used for ongoing promotions. In the process one may discover a customer who writes for a major publication or blog. This could lead to your product or service being reviewed on a major Web site.
Just think of the possibilities that could bring! And all it took was reaching out to current, or engaged customers and asking them to help you grow your business. We all know how scary it can be saying 'I love you' to someone for the first time, wondering if they will say it back. Customers are the first priority of any business, and if you've done a exemplary job of satisfying customers, they should be more than eager to let the world know about it, and will say happily 'I love what you did for me' with a link. Take the plunge and ask.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!