If you’ll be at SES New York next week, you’ll notice that there’s a session called Screw Link Building, It’s Called Relationship Building.”
Featuring Erin Everhart and Jo Turnbull and moderated by Kris Jones, this session goes along nicely with a topic I had in mind for a column about the basics of relationship building.
Considering the timing, I’ve asked Everhart and Turnbull to answer a few questions on relationship building, link building, and SEO.
|Jo Turnbull is founder of SEO Jo Blogs and a blogger for State of Search. She is the organizer of Search London, which holds events every two months featuring key search professionals in the industry.||Erin Everhart is the director of web and social media marketing at 352 Media Group and a columnist for Search Engine Land.|
The Idea & History Behind the Concept of Relationship Building
“Relationship building” became a popular phrase fairly recently, but mostly so after all the high-profile link penalties and algorithm changes of the past couple of years. From a link building perspective, this is something that has always been important, but almost in a more offline than online sort of way.
With the rise of social media, that’s changed, so relationship building is becoming a more critical part of many aspects of SEO and SEM. It can lead to links of course, but it can lead to traffic and conversions, too, which is just as good as a link in many cases.
Realtionship building can lead to increased social signals for something that you produce. It can also lead to something good happening months down the road, something that you won’t even be able to measure.
In my mind, when people talk about relationship building, they’re still talking about link building. Many times, they’re talking about building a relationship with a popular blogger who will hopefully talk about a product (and link to it).
As Everhart says below, yes, we usually do want a link out of this (or something else like visibility, social mentions, etc.). That doesn’t mean that you should abandon all niceties and only pursue people for a link or a tweet of course, nor does it mean that you should take and never give back yourself. It’s like a friendship, remember.
Selling this service is tricky, as you’ll see from their answers. It’s one of those “we know what is is and we know it’s important but we can’t tell you how much it will cost” kind of services.
Will we start to see relationship building agencies pop up? Many people are naturally very gifted at building a relationship but many aren’t, so will those guys decide to outsource this as a proper service?
It’s been said that we’ll see people using better writers to write content so that they’ll have a better Google+ profile, so I don’t imagine this will be any different. After all, if you’re online, you can be anyone you want, really. That prospect defeats the whole purpose of relationship building, but then again, much of what we do as online marketers gets abused.
What’s the typical goal of relationship building?
EE: The goal is in the name itself: to build relationships. Of course I’m like every other SEO and say that I want a link out of it, but rarely do I go into it with that at the forefront of my mind because when I do, it just feels inauthentic. (Don’t get me wrong: I do want the link.) So, my goal is to connect with a person and figure out how we could work together for the betterment of everyone involved: me, my client, their website, their readers, whoever.
JT: There are many goals such as building a long lasting partnership, increasing market share, targeting new customers, helping to drive business sales and drive business leads. However in terms of SEO, the typical goal is to increase online visibility of a website (or rankings) and also drive more traffic.
How can you measure its success?
EE: This is really tricky because there’s no real quantifiable way to measure it. Sure you could take the domain authority of the site multiple by the linking root domains and divide it by the time spent on building that relationship, but let’s be honest: that’s ridiculous. We do keep a database of relationships we’ve built that we’re able to go back to when we feel we have something they’d be interested in so my success is if I can feel comfortable adding them to that list.
JT: It depends what the KPIs are set by you and the client. If the KPI is to drive more traffic and you have done so, congratulations, you have met the objectives. However, we all know it is not as simple as that. Clients are still focusing on rankings and if you have not increased in rankings then you will fail to meet that KPI. Instead of focusing on what you can’t control, work with the client to set KPIs which you can control such as traffic, referral traffic, increased customer base/members to a community.
Relationship building is a concept that’s being widely applied to guest posts. How can we apply this same idea to other forms of link building?
EE: Broken link building is an obvious one for me. You’re trying to make the web a better place and you’re hoping to connect with other webmaster who want to do the same. Think about product reviews, giveaways, content marketing (that isn’t guest blogging). It all ultimately boils down to the same thing: You want to connect with someone to figure out how to help people.
JT: I would look at the way partnerships and sponsorships are formed. It takes time to build a good partnership together. Working agency side, you may be working on one client looking to set up a partnership with a sporting event in the country. If you know one of your colleagues is also working with this partnership, you can complement it.
What are the key aspects of relationship building?
EE: They’re the same aspects of what you’d want out of any personal relationship you have. Trust. Authenticity. Loyalty.
JT: Honesty, trust, transparency. All three are interlinked. It is important to be honest in any relationship, especially in the early stages. If there is no honesty, it is hard to build up trust. It is also important to be transparent so that from the beginning there are no secrets and the trust is build on a solid foundation.
How can we sell relationship building as a service to clients or management?
EE: It’s not really a service: It’s just the way that marketing and SEO is going. It’s a philosophy. I would never put it as a line item in a statement of work or purchase order, but I would talk through the client what it actually means and why it’s important. Why we believe in this above everything else.
JT: It can be hard to sell it in as a specific service as clients or management will be asking for a ROI and will want to set a key metric against it. However one way to sell in relationship building is that it forms part of the content marketing plan. In the content marketing plan you will explain that you are going to be engaging with key relevant partners in the field who will help to promote your brand. For example, if you are working with a local sports company, you may want to partner with a local charity who will be running the New York marathon. You could make co-branded t-shirts which would then be worn by runners. You could also have information on both websites about the sports/charity company and how you are raising money for a particular cause. Both companies could promote the event which would result in increased traffic and awareness to both sites.
What would you say to detractors who claim that the concept of relationship building is a bit too vague?
EE: How would you make a friend? That’s how you build relationships. It’s vague because there are literally dozens of way that you could approach it. You didn’t become friends with everyone in the exact same way but there’s one common theme in any friendship: common ground.
JT: I would say that it is a long-term strategy and should not be thought of as the same as turning off and on a PPC/display campaign (people sometimes compare SEO to PPC). I would tell detractors that over time relationship building will lead to attract more of the engaged customers who are loyal to the brand and in the end will stay with the product, tell their friends and may buy more or purchase the more expensive items as they trust the brand. Brands want loyal customers and who share their positive experience with the brand to others. These customers become brand advocates.
How can people best screw this up? What negative effects can a bad relationship have on a brand?
EE: You could screw it up just like you would screw up any friendship: by being a bad friend. Being disloyal. Being fake. Geez, take Applebee’s and their recent chaos in social media. They tarnished some relationships there and I would wager they’re paying for it in revenue because people just aren’t eating at Applebee’s anymore.
JT: People can screw this up by focusing too much on the result (e.g., driving traffic, sales, leads instead of working on building up the relationship). If they are not honest and open to begin with and are trying to just piggy back off the partners email list for example, then this will build up the relationship and they will be in a worse position than when they started. The brand as a result, will be seen in a poor light and therefore it will be harder to build up similar relationships with others in the same field.
Is getting links easier if you build these relationships through social methods?
EE: Absolutely. That’s where a lot of relationships start. Shoot, that’s where a lot of personal relationships start, too. (What’s the exact stat on relationships that begin online?) Plus, everyone is so overwhelmed with email that you’re more likely to get lost in the shuffle or mindlessly deleted on their quest for Inbox Zero.
JT: If you do not think about building the links then yes it may be easier. I think the fact that there is so much buzz around social means that everyone wants to get involved if they see a product/brand attracting attention online. Some people in the client’s company may not understand 100 percent about how best to use the social channels but they will understand an increase in Twitter followers, Facebook fans, Google + and this is sometimes quicker to achieve than just trying to increase rankings.
How can you stand out from the crowd when you’re building relationships, whether it’s on social media, through email, or in person?
EE: Right now, I think it’s pretty easy to do it because there’s still a lot of just plain shady and bad link building tactics being used. So when you come around and you’re real, it’s a breath of fresh air to whoever it is you’re talking to.
JT: I think you need to offer something different. Don’t just copy what others are doing. Try to be creative, which I can appreciate, is easier said than done. Even though we live in a world of email and online, it is the personal touch that stands out. If you can, meet people in person, sometimes the tone of the message can get lost in email or can come across wrong. I have built a lot of relationships this past year through meeting people in person and then we have also communicated via email, Twitter, Facebook. I would never underestimate the value of face to face contact.
Be genuine, be unique, and be nice. Yes, it may be a lot of work at times, as this is a different process than sending 100 emails offering $50 for a link or filling out 9,000 contact us forms. However, what you gain from it should make it worth putting in that extra effort, and you’ll also have the added plus of potential benefits in the future.