Eric Ward is the godfather of link building (just ask Jeff Bezos, who hired Eric to help launch Amazon). I've been learning from him since I started in the SEO industry back in 2001, and continue learning from him to this day through his LinkMoses Private Link Building Newsletter. Big thanks to Eric for helping continue the BizDev link building interview series that started with Ken McGaffin last month!
In this series I'm working to stretch my brain - and yours, dear link builder - into thinking more deeply about link building and its importance to business. Thanks for taking the time to learn with me.
Garrett French: How do you or have you defined or described BizDev link building in the past?
Eric Ward: BizDev link building for me means I'm pursuing relationships and proposing ideas that are not purely driven by search rank. Rankings don't have to enter into it at all. And a link is often not the only thing I'm after with BizDev link building. It's often simply a byproduct.
My favorite question to ask of any link opportunity is, "Would this link be helpful to me if there were no search engines?" If the answer is yes, then you're more on the BizDev side of link building, which is where much of your linking strategy should be.
GF: Please share a scenario - real or imagined - that illustrates BizDev style link building.
EW: Real scenario. http://www.1-800-bakery.com just became the first bakery in the U.S. to put scannable QR codes on baked cookies. Target market is businesses looking for a clever, memorable way to get a URL or QR code in front of people.
One client decides to use the QR code to encourage downloads of a mobile app. The edible cookie actually has the QR code that when scanned by a mobile device's QR code reader will prompt them to download the app. The conversion rate was insanely high. Close to 30 percent of people given the free cookie downloaded the app, and then of course ate the cookie, which happens to be delicious. This had nothing to do with SEO, but as a BizDev idea, it was gold.
GF:Now please share one more - I think the stories do the best job of making the concept pop.
EW: Some companies think BizDev link building is getting a link from the local chamber of commerce. That's silly. See this article from SEL about link link marketing that really speaks directly to the idea of BizDev linking.
GF: Do you ever approach link building from a purely SEO perspective?
EW: Only if the client's site has an obvious expertise and caliber of content that would lead me to feel it could succeed. If it's a generic product site, no. Does the web really need another poker superstore that sells the same 67,000 products as 25 other poker stores do? No. But bring me passionately written subject specific expertise, and I'll get it ranked. No problem.
GF: What is your process for discovering or identifying potential business development link opportunities?
EW: Identifying and developing strategic relationships between companies where a link is part of the process is my single largest source of consulting revenue, so I don't want to give away the farm. Here's an easy one. Ask the client to give you a list of every organization (national or local) they are members of, contributed to, partnered with, donated services to, hired from, or gave products to. I'm amazed at how many companies miss out on these BizDev link opportunities that are right in front of them.
That said, the best BizDev opps are site specific. You can't cookie cutter this. If you run a bunch of wineries then partnering with a bunch of bed and breakfasts makes great sense on many levels, online and offline, links included, of course.
GF: Are there business types/sizes or site types best suited to this approach?
EW: In my opinion it's not so much the size of the business, but their willingness to get involved in the process. Some large companies just want to throw money at it, never go near a keyboard, and hope at some point they will rank first. It doesn't happen that way.
People are wasting small fortunes running down rabbit holes chasing links. For me, it's about creativity and participation. If you have that, regardless of company size, you can succeed.
GF: Are there business types ill-suited to BizDev link building?
EW: My guess is it would be difficult for a company that engages in international espionage to find a lot of partners who are eager to swap links (Dr. Evil voice.."or is it?"). The easy answer here is to say that any company can benefit from BizDev link building, but honestly, there are some types of businesses that are going to have a very hard time attracting partners.
GF: Who should be in charge of BizDev-style link building?
EW: Most likely someone from the public relations or corporate communications department, with a bit of input from the SEO team. They key is not to view BizDev links as something to manipulate Google with. Go easy on the seasoning. Anchor text is not our goal here.
GF: Why is the practice of link building so naturally related to business development opportunity finding?
EW: I think it's because so many of these companies and organizations existed before, but now they have websites or Facebook pages or Google profiles. So the roofer and the plumber and the landscaper and the builder who used to just refer clients to each other by word of mouth and call that BizDev can augment and enhance it because the web enables it. The connections were there already in the physical world, it's a matter of recognizing how to migrate them the online world in the form of links.
GF: How would you train someone to spot business-development opportunities?
EW: I think it's best to train them by actually showing them the process. I do Link Dev Bootcamps where I try to teach people to see things through the lens of "linking potentials." But until we get on the keyboard and screenshare and actually do it, it's all very abstract for them. Then, after a few real site case examples, the light comes on and they see how fun this type of link building really is.