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The Challenge of Enterprise Link-Building in a Content Marketing World

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It's no secret that there have been a lot of changes in the SEO industry over the last couple years that have dramatically changed the way that companies approach link-building. It's been pretty clear to most SEO professionals for a long time, even before we knew what a Google Penguin was, that link-building at the enterprise level (and really at every level) would have to go beyond old-school tactics like directory submissions, blog and forum comments, and other tactics that many folks historically used to create low-value links from a search engine perspective.

But as search algorithms have advanced and are becoming increasing adept at filtering out this "link noise," it has become apparent that most scalable link acquisition should be centered on high-quality content marketing activities that produce a return on investment (ROI) or accomplish a core business goal regardless of how many links they produce. This can be a difficult process to execute effectively, especially in an enterprise environment.

The basic outline of this type of content marketing process with an eye toward attracting links goes something like this:

  • Content Ideation
  • Content Creation
  • Content Marketing

Now, granted for most folks this is an oversimplification, but for the purposes of this article it allows us to identify the most important steps in the process, what the major obstacles are for execution, and some potential solutions for the problems that enterprise companies have in execution.

Content Ideation

This is a critically important step because it's the foundation of the campaign. It answers the question: "What are we going to produce that people will link to because it has such a high value to our customers or audience?" Additionally, this new content needs to be focused on meeting our own business objectives and be consistent with our brand image. In other words, if you are McAfee Internet Security, you most likely are not going to produce a document about the top 10 most effective ways to set up a phishing site, even though it would get a ton of links. Conversely, you might produce a document that details the most common ways that phishing sites are fooling people and how to best protect yourself. It's very important that you consider all the ramifications of the content ideas that you are considering, especially from a brand perspective.

One of the biggest challenges in working with (or for) enterprise companies is suggesting content ideas that will be approved by all relevant members of the digital marketing food chain. Typically these folks include corporate branding, the business unit that you are suggesting the content for, the individual owner of the page or content segment that the new content would apply to, social media, and of course any executives that might have veto power or who control budget to fund such an initiative. It is critical that you identify all potential stakeholders in the entire content marketing process prior to even starting the content ideation process to understand the feasibility of conducting such a campaign, as well as identify any issues or road blocks that might exist. As with anything enterprise, collaboration and stakeholder buy-in are crucial for success.

During this process you may find that there are already plans to produce content that might be suitable for attracting the kinds of links you are targeting. If this is the case, you can shift the focus of your efforts to ensure that content gets marketed in such a way that it has the highest potential for generating the kind of visibility that attracts links.

However, most often you will find that the majority of content that is being produced is really focused on marketing products or services and is not necessarily the type of content that is going to attract many new links. Typically (although not always), the kind of content that attracts links is content that solves problems, provides some utility, or provides a unique thought leadership perspective. Again, this is a huge oversimplification. However, it illustrates the point that the majority of the content that is being produced for products and services at the enterprise level is typically not the kind of content that attracts links, even though the pages that detail those products or services are the pages that companies want to attract links to.

Therefore, in order to identify potential content ideas that will attract links, it's important to do your homework. A good place to start is in the social media sphere. Reading industry leading blogs to see what topics are getting the most traction and viewing those topics through the eyes of your company (or your client) can produce a number of excellent ideas. Bouncing those ideas off your social media team and especially your own bloggers is an important next step. This will give you a clearer picture of the type of content you should be creating (or are capable of producing) as well as increase the likelihood that your ideas will be appreciated and approved by those teams. Additionally, applying some competitive backlink analysis to similar content that ranks in search engines can give you additional audience perspective as well as some potential targets for your content marketing activities.

One of the big challenges with content that attracts links for enterprise companies is that it isn’t always focused on the end consumer. For example, sometimes it is more specific to thought leadership versus marketing or customer acquisition. Or it may be applicable to a wider group of people than the company’s traditional target audience. Getting buy-off on the production of such content typically requires some education as to the potential benefit that the content will provide to executive stakeholders who may not recognize the value in SEO terms. This is why it’s very important to have SEO education for executive stakeholders be part of your ongoing SEO program.

There are many ways to identify good content marketing opportunities. For enterprise companies, the most effective ones typically involve a great deal of collaboration and solid, in-depth research.

Content Creation

Once you have a good idea that you think will resonate with your target audience, provide value, and hopefully attract some relevant backlinks, the content then needs to be created. And this is where the hard part usually is at the enterprise level.

The first two questions that typically get asked are: Who is going to create the content and who is paying for it? In many cases, enterprise organizations will not allow an SEO agency to create content for them. They either want everything produced in-house or they have a different agency that handles content. Therefore, you will most often need to interface with a number of different teams to get the content created. Understanding who is paying for the content production and who will be producing it or who has the capability to produce it is another critical step in executing a content marketing campaign with SEO overtones. That's why it's extremely important to understand these dynamics in the planning and scoping stages of a program, so that it doesn't take anyone by surprise and it's a planned for expense regardless of who is doing the work.

Usually the best choice for creating content that has a high propensity to attract links is to let the experts create it. And oftentimes these experts are not marketing folks. The standard for quality and depth of content for link acquisition campaigns is much higher than the kind of company-centric marketing content that is found on most product and services landing pages. The content needs to provide exceptional value to end users and typically has to dive much deeper than marketing content usually does. Additionally, if your authors have industry credibility, your odds of success are much greater. Understanding the availability of such experts within an enterprise organization to produce content is another key step in the planning process. And communicating the necessity of having these authors create the content to the necessary stakeholders well in advance of the project is equally as important.

Content Marketing

There are a number of channels that can be leveraged in order to effectively market the newly created content, including PR, social media, paid search, display, and others. At a minimum, the content should be announced through all relevant social media channels, should have an initial blog post announcement with a follow-up blog post a few days later, and should be prominently linked to from any relevant pages of the company’s website. This is especially true for blog and forum posts about related topics. If the content is high enough quality, a press release is also a good idea. If you can secure a paid search or display advertising budget to promote the content, that can also be very effective. The content should be announced in any newsletter type publications the company has, as well as featured at any events your company might be exhibiting or speaking at. All of these things are typical ways that companies go about marketing this type of content.

There are other tactics that are not as common but that are also highly effective. Producing video content that complements and links to the new content (assuming that the content for the campaign is not a video) can provide greater visibility, especially in video search results and video sites like YouTube, which is the second largest search engine in the world.

Leveraging personal relationships with like-minded industry professionals, especially bloggers, is a very effective tactic that is commonly under-utilized in enterprise environments. Assuming that your content is exceptional, having your blogging team reach out to their contacts and ask for a peer review or an opinion on the new content can very often lead to excellent suggestions on how to improve it, as well as links. Bloggers are always looking for something to write about. When you provide bloggers with exceptional content, they typically want to write about it and share it with their audience. Obviously you don't want to directly solicit folks for links. But if your content is good enough and gets shared through a large network of industry professionals, the links will happen. Giving bloggers advance copies of your content and publishing dates for when it will go live can increase the likelihood that they will be inclined to write about it.

Be wary of contacting people out of the blue with these types of requests, as it can easily be perceived as spam (especially via email). It's always best to leverage personal relationships whenever possible. This is why it's so important for corporate bloggers to participate on other blogs and involve themselves in meaningful industry conversations outside of their own site. One important aspect about social media that is often overlooked in enterprise organizations is the importance of being social and developing quality relationships over time with people who respect your knowledge and contribution to the industry as well as their blog. There are many benefits both to individual bloggers and the company as a whole for cultivating these kinds of relationships, one of which is the ability to share content to a receptive audience.

This type of social sharing should extend beyond just company bloggers, although they should be the priority. But anyone in the company who is active in social media should be encouraged to share the campaign content with their networks. As illustrated by the six degrees of separation from actor Kevin Bacon phenomenon, you never know who your friend's friends are.

Another tactic that has proven effective is creating a build-up and a buzz prior to launch with a landing page and signup form for notification when the content goes live. Typically the content must be exceptional for this kind of approach to get traction, but it does tend to work well with content that includes primary research, especially if your company has a strong brand. This works very well with quarterly and annual reports or even one-time studies. The extra lead time allows for additional promotion through social media channels and is useful in creating perceived value.

All of these different tactics require a multichannel digital marketing approach for optimal results. In an enterprise company, this requires a great deal of collaboration and coordination among the various teams that manage each digital marketing channel. It also requires considerable advance planning.

Conclusion

This article is less about the tactics involved with creating and marketing content as it is about underscoring the challenges of orchestrating such a campaign for enterprise level companies. With all of the planning and collaboration that is necessary to execute this kind of content marketing strategy, it becomes fairly obvious that links alone cannot be the sole KPI on which the campaign is judged or in most cases it will be very hard to justify the expense and the resources necessary to execute it. A campaign must also be designed to accomplish business goals like connecting with influencers, branding objectives including demand generation, and driving more direct traffic to the site. Developing, tracking, and reporting KPIs in addition to links is essential to show value and position yourself for similar endeavors in the future.

It is also imperative that the SEO objectives and the potential benefits be clearly communicated to all stakeholders. The potential impact to SEO performance needs to be clearly articulated so that it can be considered as part of the justification for the program and the justification for similar activities in the future.

Effective planning and collaboration are critical for success in enterprise companies. Understanding the company dynamics, how all of the pieces fit together, and who the players are is an essential first step before any content marketing initiative. Bringing all the necessary team members together to execute an initial campaign can be quite challenging, but once the company gets into a regular cadence of these content marketing initiatives, the rewards can go far beyond SEO and link-building.


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