One of the most important tenets of link building is establishing the authority of your site through content and tools. One outstanding example of this is Citizen Sports Network. The company originally started by operating a site known as PROTRADE.
PROTRADE offers visitors the chance to participate in a stock market for sports. Users can buy and sell sports players on the market. Much like Wall Street, the price goes up for players in demand, and down for those who aren't in demand.
Ultimately, fans can compete in the stock market, and win by doing a superior job of knowing their players and what's going on with them. The whole concept ties in closely to the principles that drive fantasy sports leagues, and is further enhanced by an online community. PROTRADE is a cool, fun site, and it continues to operate as part of the Citizen Sports Network.
How Things Began to Evolve
The company began experimenting with Facebook applications in the second half of 2007. The apps were an immediate hit. PROTRADE was so pleasantly surprised by the results that they changed the focus of the company to working on those applications.
This has worked swimmingly well for the company, resulting in a whole family of applications that they market today. This includes fantasy football apps, March Madness apps, and team specific apps for about 700 teams across all kinds of sports.
The subscriber numbers are impressive, with 350,000 people playing fantasy football, 150,000 participating in March Madness, and between 6 and 7 million people using one or more of the team-specific apps.
From an advertising perspective, young sports fans are an extremely attractive demographic as well. This audience isn't consuming media in the same way it did 20 years ago. It's invaluable for advertisers to reach this audience in an environment where they're truly engaged.
The Link Building Impact
The irony of this is that the company didn't do this as part of a broader link building strategy. When it was first launched, it was focused on building communities within Facebook and other social media environments (they also have apps for OpenSocial and MySpace).
But it has also had a whale of an impact from a link building perspective. The PROTRADE site has more than 20,000 links, and the Citizen Sports Network site has more than 40,000 links (as reported by Yahoo). And some of the links are very powerful: MLB.com, ESPN.com, Techcruch.com, code.google.com, Battelle Media, and many others.
A link portfolio this strong can only happen as a result of establishing your site (or applications) as authoritative for a given topic. In the case of Citizen Sports Network, it has resulted from building compelling interactive applications, and delivering those through a large community (Facebook) with an extremely well targeted demographic (young sports fans).
This campaign was designed to, and does, stand on its own. This alone deserves recognition as a truly interesting business story, where the founders had the vision to experiment with the idea, and then embrace it as fully as they did. You can think of this as a story about how a business built a new brand in today's Web environment.
And, from a link building perspective, Citizen Sports Network still illustrates the point. Demonstrate the authority or compelling nature of your content and tools, let the world know about them, and the links will come. It's as close as you'll ever get to the dream, "if you build it, they will come."