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Ken McGaffin

Think First, Link Later: Creativity in SEO

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Increasingly, the only type of links worth going after are top quality links. However, these are difficult to get; your content and pitch must be top notch. To produce top notch work, you need to get creative, but there is a world of difference between using a creative technique and being truly creative.

How do you get creative? Say you were writing an article on the subject ‘Creativity in SEO’ and you wanted to help people be more creative in their work. As a single writer, you might expect to jot down ten ideas on the subject in as many minutes.

Pull in a colleague to brainstorm and you’d likely reach twenty pretty easily, while with a team, you’d get to 50-100 with little effort. It would then not be a big deal to write an article on ‘57 ways to stimulate creativity in SEO’.

So you’d have an article and a big list, but would you have been creative?

Probably not.

The psychology of such list articles is interesting:

  • They’re easy to scan and read.
  • A number in the title makes it hard to ignore - especially a big one like 57.
  • People who don’t know the topic will be open to learning something.
  • People who do know the subject will be tempted to open just to see if writer knows as much as they do, or if there is genuinely new and interesting information within.
  • Some readers might add them to their own ‘to-do-soon’ lists.

We’ve all done such articles many times, but the article format itself is not particularly creative and is unlikely to inspire real creativity. A list of ‘ways to be creative’ is unlikely to have the necessary impact to inspire others to be really creative.

So has the writing exercise then been a waste of time? Again, probably not. If we’ve done a reasonable job of writing, we may well attract a lot of readers, tweets and shares, and maybe even a bunch of decent quality links.

However, we’re unlikely to reach our objective of helping readers really get creative.

A more creative approach might be to hone in one particular idea, like ‘think first, link later’. In this approach, you put the bulk of the effort into creating the idea or the content.

One great creative example hit the headlines as I started to this article. Nick Usborne sent me a link to a breaking news story about Amazon's new ‘Prime Air' service - a new delivery service that delivered the purchased goods by drone. The promise was to that have your order in your hands within 30 minutes hitting the ‘Buy' button.

Here is the video announcement:

There are a lot of great things about this promotion and it demonstrates that a lot of thinking went into it before Amazon launched. Here are five great lessons:

  1. The effort went into the creation of the idea and accompanying video. The end result was so good that media coverage, social shares and links will almost look after themselves.
  2. Released on Cyber Monday, the story is strongly seasonal but it doesn’t mention Cyber Monday by name - it gives a story that is relevant to it.
  3. The story did indeed attract major media coverage as is broke together with many social shares - many blog posts will surely follow. From a link building point of view it was a work of genius.
  4. The story highlights what will become a core service from the Amazon brand - Prime Air delivery - and even though it hasn't launched yet, the promotion was timed to coincide with a holiday shopping need on everyone's mind: shipping.
  5. Finally - and possibly one of the most important lessons - the video itself did not appear to be a big-budget production. It is of a good standard - but one that most of us could reach with a little practice.

It clearly demonstrates the value of ‘think first, link later’. Furthermore, you can better understand the story’s impact by doing a link analysis over the next few weeks and months.

You can learn a lot about creativity by dissecting ideas like this. They won’t give you 57 ways to do anything. But by carefully dissecting the story and watching how it spreads, you’ll be able to get deep creative insights and inspiration.

Editor's Note: Updated article to reflect that Amazon Prime Air still requires FAA approval.


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