Building Links by Building Trust

While I've gotten so excited about adding promotions to this column, don't think that I've forgotten how to link build. It's still a passion of mine, no doubt.

You know how when you got your Wii, you just had to play with it until you got your fill? You still play with it, of course. But now you're also open to getting back in touch with your Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

That's how I feel about promotions. I'm still really excited about them and I have a lot of interesting ideas to come for the promotion section of this column. But now it's time to spend a little more time back in the link building world.

I want to share one idea that you can act on right this very minute to help you with your link building. It can be completely free or, if you really want to trick the idea out, it might cost you $5 a month.

This idea could radically change your business and how you think about your clients or customers.

This idea might actually be the tool you need to push through the rest of this recession.

This idea might represent how business is run for the remainder of the 21st century.

Pretty exciting, huh?

Are you ready for it?

Hold on to your hats.

Drum roll, please!

Here it is: Get a Ning account.

Ning is a private social network. It's a place that's all your own, where you can invite your customers and prospects to engage in a conversation with you about a topic of your choosing.

If you own a restaurant, you could have a Ning community about healthy eating in restaurants or places to go after dinner in your community.

If you're an accountant for small businesses, you could have a Ning community about changes in the tax code that affect your clients.

If you're Web designer, you could have a Ning community that looks at good and bad designs of companies that fit your target market.

The trick is to make it a topic that's interesting to your target audience. You don't want to be all things to all people. In fact, often the more focused you are, the better the community will be.

But you also don't want to have a community about something people don't care about. Namely, don't create a community all about your products and services. I'm sorry to say, but only you care about those. Start with a topic that addresses a need and then, when appropriate and not too often, remind the community that you offer a product that might help in a particular situation.

Ning makes it incredibly easy to set up a community. You should be able to set one up in about 10 minutes. Then you're pretty much open for business.

You can include things like:

  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Blogs
  • Forums
  • Groups
  • Notes

You can allow your community to be completely open so anyone can join it. Or you can make it completely private so only you are able to let people into it. Or you can do something in the middle.

This is all completely free. There are, however, a few premium services that you might find interesting.

For $4.95 per month you can point your domain name to your Ning community. For $24.95 per month you can make your social network on Ning advertising free or, alternatively, run your own advertising. There are several others, but these are the two you should consider.

I especially recommend pointing your domain name to your Ning community. That way, you'll be branded nicely as your own site and get all the link juice!

See, I told you I hadn't forgotten about links.

The absolute best way to get links to your site is to have something valuable to link to. A community where you're helping people with issues or concerns they have is the prime example of "something valuable."

Once your community starts flowing (which won't be easy, incidentally; you'll have to ask people to join your community and be a major contributor yourself), you'll be able to easily go out to resource sites within your industry and ask them to link to your new Ning community. They will likely be more than happy to do so because you're adding value to the entire business community, not just your bottom line.

Look at how some of these Ning communities are benefiting from a link point of view:

These are all very niche sites discussing very specific topics. But they're getting a lot of people raving about their sites and giving them links for it.

How does this radically change your business, push you through the recession and make you a hip, new 21st century business? John Gerzema, "The Brand Bubble" author, gave us some insight during his Search Engine Strategies New York keynote presentation.

Gerzema said that businesses around the world are being hit by a major "trust virus." People don't trust anyone anymore. Consumers are now looking very closely to see which companies will offer them meaningful value in their lives. That's precisely where your Ning community comes in.

About the author

Sage Lewis started his online marketing company, SageRock.com, in 1999 during a time when most Internet companies were failing. SageRock, however, has thrived under Lewis’ direction -- growing an average of 30% every year, while also being recognized as one of the top ten search engine optimization firms in the U.S. by a third-party resource in the industry, Marketing Sherpa.

Regarded as a web marketing expert, Lewis speaks regularly to business organizations like NEOSA and COSE, serves as a resource for press about industry trends, and teaches a recurring class on search engine optimization at Cleveland State University.

Lewis has created a unique company culture that values the individual employee and client, and he has built SageRock around one principle, “The concern, respect and empathy for the individual people we come in contact with at SageRock is our single core value.”

Lewis lives in Akron with his wife, Rocky, and son, Indiana.

Read more of Sage Lewis's columns at ClickZ.