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Buy Cycle Link Building: A Content Marketing Guide for Link Strategists

french-garrett
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Content marketers know that informative, high-utility content converts readers into customers along a distinct buy cycle. Link strategists know that promoting informative, high-utility content can earn links that drive SERP rankings. Let's look at some ways that content marketers and link builders can play nicely together.

Needs Awareness Content

At the beginning of the buy cycle your prospective customer has just "stepped in the mud." They have recognized (or suspect, or accepted) that they have a need, a pain, a problem, a disease, an issue, a concern, a dirty shoe, etc. Many will go online -- to social networks and search engines -- to learn more about their newly discovered need.

Address this stage on and off site with self diagnosis-oriented content that educates prospects on effectively understanding the scope of their issue and provides them with tools for deeper, more precise analysis.

Following from the "stepped in the mud" metaphor, let's imagine our company sells shoe cleaning supplies for consumers. You'd guide the prospect toward asking questions such as:

  • How much mud is there?
  • What material is my shoe made of?
  • What chemicals can I use to safely clean my shoe?
  • Is this really mud?

Next, we create some high-utility content such as PDF guides to identifying types of mud, as well as some guides to identifying the most common shoe materials. We also create a worst-case scenario infographic that educates people on identifying edge-case gunk such as oil, gum and worse.

Lastly, we interview industry experts and niche celebrities who have "stepped in mud" and ask them questions surrounding their needs-recognition moment.

Promoting Your Needs-Awareness Content

  1. Search for existing needs-awareness content pieces, pull backlinks and count domain co-citations. The domains that link the most frequently to needs-awareness content could make great outreach prospects.
  2. Ask our industry/niche celebrities to promote the group interview we conducted with them.
  3. Reach out to our niche media and ask them to place a unique guest post that also includes the worst-case scenario infographic.
  4. Participate in niche Q/A sites to help others properly diagnose their needs (and drop links when appropriate and/or requested).

Measure the number and type of mentions earned along with direct referral traffic conversions at the top of your funnel.

Solution Research Content

Once the prospective customer has "self-diagnosed" their need, they often begin looking for a solution. Again, many people (think of them as researchers at this stage) turn to social networks and search engines to learn how to solve their problem.

Your job is to make sure that your solution-oriented content contains language used by your targeted researchers, and that it's awesome enough to get shared on its merit alone (though you will definitely be promoting it). So it's time to begin building out content around the various solutions to the problem.

Let's continue with our "stepped in the mud" company. Now we're creating downloadable PDFs on effectively and safely cleaning the different materials shoes are made of.

We made a shoe cleaning checklist that includes product suggestions for an emergency cleaning kit. We're recommending techniques and tactics for getting great deals on shoes, assuming they are ruined. We conducted a group interview with shoe bloggers asking them their techniques. We've even make some membership-only videos that demonstrate how to get shoes "clean enough" without any products at all.

Promoting Your Solution Research Content

  1. Your needs-awareness content can be one of your strongest promoters for your solutions content. Look for natural and obvious ways to nudge people along the path towards solving their problem (and buying from you) with a link to your solution content.
  2. Reach out to shoe bloggers and request that they share the group interview they participated in.
  3. Participate in niche Q&A sites and appropriate comment-threads on blog posts to help others properly diagnose their needs (and drop links when appropriate and/or requested).
  4. Find all the cleaning, shoe, and fashion bloggers who consistently write regular roundups. Pitch your solution research content.

Measure the number and type of mentions earned along with direct referral traffic conversions one rung down your funnel. Now you're potentially turning visitors into subscribers, and capturing email addresses with your incredibly tempting PDFs and membership-only content.

Consideration and Comparison Content

In the course of needs and solution research, your prospective customers received a number of recommendations both directly and indirectly. They know about your brand now because you created great content and promoted it to niche media publishers, forums, and Q&A sites all along the early stages of the buy cycle. They know about your competitors too though and now they're starting to do some comparisons.

Now we're going to start seeing a bit more brand questions and queries from our prospective audience. Searches like: [Your Brand Name”, [Brand Name review”, [how does Brand Name work”, [Brand Name vs. Brand Name”, and [solution category A vs. solution category B”.

There are a number of ways to intersect with queries at this stage using content that enables consideration and comparison.

Obviously any off site content will ideally have your brand name in it -- stuff like product/service reviews and subject-matter expert interviews so that your brand SERPs look great and demonstrate a high level of involvement with your niche media.

On site, we're looking for content such as category solution comparisons -- for "Stepped in the Mud, LLC" this could be comparisons between chemicals and cleaning methods. For more linkability/shareability onsite, look for ways to engage with your niche celebrities by asking them about their preferred solutions.

Promoting Your Consideration/Comparison Content

  1. Review prospects are fairly easy to find -- just search for competitors' reviews. You can also search using niche-publisher discovery terms plus the word "review." Remember, the best review prospects are your existing customers! Your in-house list could become your top review generator.
  2. Finding offsite interview prospects for your internal subject matter experts is fairly simple too. Build a list of competitor brand names, niche celebrities, and search for them in combination with the word "interview."
  3. Since you already know your niche celebrities, reach out to them with a survey on their solutions to the core pain you solve. If necessary avoid mentioning brand names and focus more on broad approaches (unless you're in the brave and intelligent 20 percent of your industry.

Purchase-Inducing Content

By now your prospects have diagnosed their problems, understand their next steps, and compared options with your branded content. They've gotten the education required to deeply understand the value of what you sell. Nice work, "Stepped in the Mud, LLC!"

Now it's time to seal the deal with a purchase. Your site is already a conversion steel trap, right? So your conversion rate optimizer should definitely be involved at this point and let you know the main pages on your site that seem to turn visitors into customers.

Some fantastic purchase-driving content includes items such as testimonials, reviews, niche celebrity how-tos that focus on your products and (with extreme caution) coupons.

Promoting Your Purchase-Inducing Content

  1. Review prospects, as mentioned in the Consideration + Comparison section above, are best sourced from existing customers and niche publisher that consistently publish reviews. Bonus points of course if you can land a great review from an influential niche celebrity!
  2. Is there a way to get niche celebrities to write fully disclosed use-cases for your products? Can you trade product or even affiliate commissions for this? Then promote this content to the celebrity's fans on Twitter, and on sites that are fans of the celebrity.
  3. Coupons and discounts represent a slippery pricing slope... I search for "Brand Name Coupons" the instant I see that little input box for a discount code -- and it's always after I've decided to purchase at the advertised price. Oops! If you're going to have discounts my thinking is to create a task that the buyer must complete in order to get the discount -- either a tweet, a mention somewhere, etc. Another thought in this direction: consider only giving coupon codes out to niche publishers and designing contests to win them.

So, Wait... What Exactly Are We Building Here?

We're building referral traffic to content that educates prospects all along your buy cycle. The content for each stage must lead to and enable conversions such as links, shares/tweets, email address capture, new member sign ups, Twitter follows, Facebook likes, PDF downloads, webinar sign ups and more, all of which lead up to the purchase and continued customer engagement.

Now, go get 'em!


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