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Loren Baker: Hi, this is Loren Baker. You’re listening to another episode of Search & Deploy here on the Rainmaker.FM Network. Search & Deploy is brought to you by Rainmaker and by Foundation Digital, a boutique content, marketing, SEO, and outreach firm run by yours truly, along with Greg Boser and Dax Herrera.
Today, we’re going to be diving a little bit into linking — which, along with technical site changes and what not, is one of the building blocks of SEO, if not the bread and butter of SEO as a whole.
Linking is some pretty controversial stuff. SEOs, over time, have developed many ways to build links. Some good, some bad. Some permanent, some temporary, but at the end of the day, creative — which to each his own, whether or not it works, or whether or not Google will crack down on it.
What I want to talk about from a linking perspective and really discuss today in detail is what I see still going on in the world of SEO.
I’ve been running over some data from some link audits, competitive link analysis, for the past week or so. It’s really interesting to see what competitors in the same space are doing to not only get links on the root domain value to the home page that builds up overall trust and authority, trust flow if you use Majestic SEO, but also some of the techniques that people are using to build links down to the page level, the money page level, or even back to the blog post.
Still surprised to see that there are still some, not really shady, but amateur ways to build links down to the page level and seeing that some of it works. But like I said before, there are temporary ways to build link value to a website for SEO purposes, and there are more so permanent.
Proof from the Past: Why Speaking to an Audience Has Always Helped with Link Building, Search, and Building Engaged Audiences
Loren Baker: Today, I want to get into something that’s been pretty dear to my heart for the past 15 years or however long I’ve been in this industry — content marketing. When I started out as a digital marketer back in ’98, ’99, whatever year that was, there was no Google at the time. When I was working on client accounts, we were trying to figure out ways to get traffic to websites, outside of just search results.
Search engines at the time were like Alta Vista, Go.com, Excite, and stuff like that. A lot of the determining factors in how you ranked were really on-page and content on the site. What we would do was we would find fan pages, Geocities pages, email newsletters of different groups on the web that were loyalists — the same kind of product or target market that our clients would have.
We would provide content to them, ask for links, and asked to contribute an article to their email newsletter, get a link back to the client. At the end of the day, those efforts were done in order to drive traffic. When Google entered the picture, what I saw from that was that the links that were obtained years previously were becoming of high value from an SEO perspective.
So let me talk about a scenario on a story. I used to do online marketing for a check company. Back between the Great Depression and the ’90s, there was a thing called personal checks. Basically, when you went to the supermarket, when you went to pay, you would write the amount that you wanted to pay on a piece of paper and sign your name. You would be able to pay that way instead of just running your debit card through the machine. Well, checks were kind of boring because they were one piece of paper.
So I worked for a company that printed checks with licensed characters and materials. There would be WWF checks, NASCAR checks, model train checks for people that were into model trains, superhero checks, stuff like that to give people real personality when they were in the supermarket line paying for their groceries.
What we did was a lot of affinity group marketing. I would go and find Geocities fan pages and newsletters of fans of the WWF, or really getting granular and fans of the Iron Sheik, fans of Hulk Hogan, or fans of Andre the Giant. I would write them an email asking if they would look at these checks, if they’ve ever used them, and if they felt that their fan base would like them, could they give us a link from their fan page or send something out to their email newsletter, yada, yada, yada.
Again, this was in the infancy of the web, so what would happen was I would typically get an email response back in the course of a day, if not hour, if not group of minutes, saying, “Wow! Thank you so much for writing us. This is awesome. I really want to share your product with our fans that find AndretheGiantRules.geocities.com or whatever.” Actually, it wasn’t even sub-domains then. It was like Geocities.com/Tilda/AndretheGiantRules/whatever.
Typically, they would link in their navigation, write an article, or like I said, put out an email newsletter — really, really highly targeted stuff and the kind of links that Google originally wanted to build the web from, from a quality perspective, from a trust perspective, from a “Hey, all of these influencers are talking about this site. Therefore, it must be important” perspective.
When they would link, they would use the words ‘NASCAR checks’ or ‘WWF checks.’ Ultimately, that helped with those exact match queries as well. Then Google came along, introduced page rank. That basically killed everything, put together a marketplace for links. People were buying links, selling links, spamming links, setting up networks of fake sites that would build links to one specific page — all kinds of stuff was going on.
It was a great time to be in link building. It was probably a great time to be working on the Google Webmaster spam team. Once the crackdown came, it was a great time to have been in traditional link building or content marketing. I’ve said this before in podcast. Content marketing is nothing new to SEO. It’s the foundation of SEO at the end of the day, along with technical and link building.
Content on your site that speaks to an audience has always helped to get engaged audiences to a website. It’s helped to get conversions. It’s helped to get rankings and traffic from search engines. Content that you put out there on third-party sites, that you get in front of influencers, or you send through an email has always driven targeted traffic to the site. It’s always resulted in links.
Getting the Respect SEO Deserves and Making Sure Your SEO Strategy Isn’t Shortsighted
Loren Baker: Today, I want to go over what I see as being the ultimate way to go about content marketing from an SEO perspective, really getting into goals, ways to work together, and what not. Again, let’s back up a little bit. When I was going though a lot of this link analysis, what I was seeing is that not only the site that I’m going to be working on and a lot of other competitors were putting together really short-sighted content marketing, not even campaigns, but like bumps in the night, so to speak.
I’m looking at one site and there was one infographic put together, hosted on the site blog, and that infographic had one link to it. It was full of great data. It was full of great detail, but it had one link going to it and maybe one or two social shares only from the site’s Twitter account.
That infographic was actually really great material. It wasn’t probably designed in the best way possible. But what I could see from this was that someone put it together, didn’t tell anybody — which is probably the case — got it hosted on the blog, and then really half-assed it from there. Got one link from one crappy site, and then let it go.
You see a lot of that in the world of content marketing for SEO. It seems to be 95 percent miss and 5 percent hit. I think a lot of that really has to do with how SEO has always been treated within companies. Site owners typically do a much better job of getting their stuff out there and getting promoted and shared, but a lot of the time, traditionally, SEO has been viewed as something that is outside of the traditional digital marketing mix.
I’ve been to meetings where I’ve had all people at the table — whether it’s been advertising affiliates, email, what not — and basically every single idea that the SEO brought to the table, every single case, or every single piece of data was shot down. It was not seen as being sustainable to the company at large.
A lot of the time, the ability to actually get success from an SEO perspective is whether or not you have the respect in the room. Say you’re putting together a content marketing campaign with the goals of links and you’re the SEO. One thing you have to think about is that content that a brand or website puts out of there represents that brand or website in so many different ways.
You’re talking about branded content that you’re going to put out and try to promote on social media, try to promote through blogger outreach, try to get links from, try to get on different social voting sites, try to get on different image-sharing sites. If you haven’t taken the time or your agency hasn’t taken the time to sit back, look at the big picture and the education involved with doing so, then you’re practicing shortsighted content marketing, an attempt to get SEO value.
What you really have to do is look at the big picture. When this content goes out there, if it’s shared in the way that you want it to be shared, you really want to get SEO rankings, links, and organic traffic. That’s key.
The Importance of Building Conversation With Your Content
Loren Baker: Also, things to think about — is that content also going to build conversation? Is it going to build social conversation? If that content that you’re throwing out there or putting together for an SEO goal, if that’s shared on your brand or your site’s Facebook wall/timeline — I just dated myself — is that content going to lead to Likes, to shares, and to comments? Positive comments or negative comments? How well does that content represent the brand in social media?
If that content represents that brand in an incredibly well light, then, ultimately, that content can lend to brand advocacy. ‘Brand advocacy’ in social is my fancy word for shares, or Retweets, or Pins. If that content speaks to your audience, then your audience is going to share that content. The more Pins, the more shares, the more Retweets, means the more influence. It’s also an indicator of SEO value at the end of the day.
Let’s get one thing straight. Social signals do not necessarily help SEO. If you get more Likes, if you get a lot of Tweets, if you get a lot of Pins, that’s nice, but those specific numbers in metrics are not helpful from an SEO perspective. What is helpful from an SEO perspective is the ability to drive targeted traffic back to your site and your landing page.
Although all of those specific numbers may not help, if you are putting out a piece of content that speaks directly to your audience, that content is hosted on the site and there is a reason for the targeted person to click over to the site — and then there’s different ways for the person to interact or a different navigational path or funnel that can be started with that content — then that page is going to have a much better bounce rate. It’s going to have much better time on site. It’s going to have much more interaction and human traffic signals that, in the grand scheme of things, should lead to better SEO.
Also, having your brand out there in front of a lot of targeted eyeballs is not a bad thing, either. What this really means is that, when you’re putting together a content marketing plan, you need to bring most people to the table, especially if you’re the SEO wanting to get this content through. Again, I’m not talking about individual site owners or what-not, although you can put together an imaginary board of marketers in your head that this should appeal to.
What I’m really talking about is the larger company, or even the smaller company or maybe even the publicly traded company. Who are the stakeholders that you should bring to the table when you’re planning your content marketing, and how does it help you?
Press Releases, Getting Your Content Out There, and Paid Media — And Why It All Matters So Much
Loren Baker: We’ve already talked about social media and branding. The SEO person, the social media person, brings the PR person to the table. Most press releases or digital press release distribution systems — which are different than wires because I remember when PR Web launched. It was a cutting edge thing at the time, “Hey instead of sending your press release through fax, send it through email, and put it on the web.”
When you upload a press release to something like PR Web, it gives you the option to upload an image. If you’re taking the time to put together images, or infographics, or ecards, or infograms, or Twitter cards for a content piece or campaign, why not sync up with the PR team? See what kind of data they’ve put together with studies. See what kind of announcements they can make.
If your piece of content is interesting enough, it should warrant the ability to put together a release, or support of release in the grander scheme of things. Upload that image to the digital release, getting it out there. So talk to PR, paid media. If you’re putting out your content and it’s building organic social brand advocacy and it’s ready for prime time in terms of outreach.
Talk to the paid media person. Chances are, from a paid media perspective — what I’m talking about here is the person who’s running AdWords — it’s the person who’s running Facebook advertising, Twitter advertising, and possibly they’re running the paid Outbrain account, who knows — talk to them about how your content can support their goals. There’s a couple of ways that this can be done.
First of all, if something has been proven to work organically on Facebook, then a boost, a little push — whether it’s 100 bucks or a 1,000 bucks — to a very targeted group, the same group that’s interacting organically on that work, can lead to paid amplification, or social amplification. This is really where the traffic numbers scale. You can also get that work in front of the influencers that may link to you.
Basically, if you see something working and it’s driving a hundred Likes organically, boosting it can turn that hundred into a thousand, into 10,000 — can drive traffic through the roof. Then say if you’re going back to a page that has something integrated like a quiz, email signup, or whatever, there’s other on-site metrics, so talk to the paid media person, communications.
Why Newsletters Should Be an Integral Part of Your Communication
Loren Baker: Typically, what falls under communications that’s incredibly important for content marketing campaigns are email newsletters. If you’re fans of other Rainmaker.FM shows, you probably hear about the power of email and getting your message to the end user and their intimate inbox all the time. Go through your email newsletter lists, if you have one. Go through the email newsletter lists of a site that you’re managing or the place that you work. I bet you that in that list are influencers from your space.
Let’s look at an example, so Zappos. Zappos probably has a list of millions and millions and millions of customers that have purchased shoes — running shoes, climbing shoes, cross training shoes, workout shoes.
Say, for example, Zappos is putting together a content piece, maybe it’s an ebook, ‘The Ultimate Guide to Shoes for CrossFit’ or ‘The Ultimate Guide to Shoes’ based upon any kind of exercise that you’re doing. Basically a book talking about different exercises or events and the kind of shoes you should wear, and that book is doing well. The infographics that support that ebook are doing well. The content and blog posts that surround that ebook are doing well.
Well, you’ve exhausted Facebook. You’ve exhausted outreach, or maybe you haven’t even started yet. Look at the email newsletter. That email newsletter is full of people that buy shoes. Most people buy shoes. There are some folks that are barefoot and walk around in sandals, flip flops, but for the most part, you’re hitting everyone.
People are very brand loyal about their shoes. If they’re wearing Jordans, they love basketball. They love the image of wearing Jordans. If they’re wearing five-toe running shoes, they love running. They’re passionate. If that list is marked up with attributes based upon their buying behavior, then you can target an infographic on running shoes to people that have purchased running shoes. You can target an infographic on sandals to people that have purchased sandals. You can target a piece around dancing shoes to people that have bought dancing shoes. It’s that simple. Or you can just go for the whole shebang.
Chances also are that there are lots of fashion bloggers, shoe bloggers, and social media influencers on that list as well. This goes back to brand advocacy. If you’re hitting people that have a Facebook account, have a Twitter account, have a Pinterest account with great content in your email newsletter, chances are they’re going to share that content. They’re going to click. They’re going to share that content.
Let’s say 20 percent of people that have clicked on that content piece from the newsletter share it. If that newsletter has 10 million people, 10 percent open and click, talking about a million, 20 percent could be 200,000 shares. That goes up and that goes down from a scaling perspective — the numbers are all over the place — but that puts it into perspective.
Also, if 1 percent or .01 percent of those subscribers are bloggers, you’re getting in front of bloggers via a much more trusted voice and in a targeted way than you may from an outreach campaign, so think about that. I really, really push distributing targeted content through email, existing newsletters, existing targeted newsletters with clients. That’s one of the first conversations I have is, “Can we get into the newsletter? How can we get this piece into the newsletter?” If you do it seasonally, if you do it in a targeted perspective, it can be great work.
Supporting Ebooks with Other Types of Content — How to Get More Mileage from Your Content
Loren Baker: We’ve talked about PR. We’ve talked about branding. We’ve talked about social media. We’ve talked about communications. Get all those people at the table when you’re putting together your content campaign. Keep in mind, I call this a ‘campaign.’ I don’t call this ‘when you’re putting together your plan for your infographic.’ Why? Because one infographic by itself is doomed for failure. Even if it works, even if it blows up, what do you have to follow up with that?
Chances are if you put out one infographic, then it’s not going to work by itself. If it does, well, where do you start next? You wait for three months for your next one to be put together? Put together campaigns. I’ve talked about this before. There are various forms of content that all can be integrated together, all have the same design aspects, and all can have the same messaging.
Talking about ebooks, they’re full of information. We all have seen ebooks or white papers, lots of digestible information, lots of graphs, lots of numbers, lots of stories. Blog posts that support that ebook — there’s no reason why a 10-page ebook cannot be supported by 10 different blog posts on your blog that get in front of your readers, that then reference that ebook.
Infographics, each of those blog posts could have an infographic that’s made of content, data, and stories that come from that ebook. Again, all of these pieces can funnel in. The great thing about infographics is that bloggers love to share them. If you can get them on some of the great sites out there, like DesignTAXI, yourVisuallyInfographic Journal, maybe even share it on Imgur, which is the image-sharing preference site of Reddit — it’s not owned by Reddit, but developed by a Redditer — then that’s all great. It all funnels back, not only from a link perspective, but from a user experience perspective.
Infograms, taking chunks of that infographic, where people don’t have the time to scroll, not only giving it to bloggers to be able to put it in their blog posts if they want to, but to share on social media.
Why You Cannot Afford to Forget About Video
Loren Baker: Then don’t forget video. If you go to Copyblogger’s content marketing page, you’ll see a great example of a kinetic typography video that tells a story of content marketing. Videos can be produced pretty easily. There are a lot of different tools and groups out there. There are a lot of different service offerings with explainer videos or kinetic topography, or animation. The great thing about including video in your overall campaign planning is that, first of all, everyone processes information in different ways.
When I was in third grade, instead of reading the Red Badge of Courage, I went to the comic book shop and bought the comic version of the Red Badge of Courage. I read the comic book. I liked the comic book, and I got a B on my test. If I had read the Red Badge of Courage, the entire book, being a 7 year old, I guess, 7 or 8 year old, probably wouldn’t have finished the book, probably wouldn’t have gotten the story down. I just process the information better in comic book format.
I also process information better in video format. I made a habit of this when I was in college. When I was reading Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message. It’s a difficult book to get through in some ways. There was a lot of discussion in class about it, but I went to the local library and I started checking out VHS cassettes of Marshall McLuhan interviews and different PBS specials on The Medium is the Message — and I got it. It took me a while, but I got it. It was actually a living, breathing example, The Medium is the Message, same message, different medium.
Now, instead of going to the library to check out a video or instead of going to the comic book store to buy the Red Badge of Courage, which most kids will do, go to YouTube and search for those. Having that information available in video format really opens things up, not only to YouTube and the other similar channels out there, but also to video uploads on your Facebook account, Instagram, and Vine.
In the same example where an infographic looks at one group of information from your larger ebook, think of your finer Instagram videos as looking at a small segment of information. We’re talking, what, 16 seconds of information, seven seconds of information, from your video. What can you put in video format to hook the user?
In terms of once you have your content strategized, you’ve defined your goals, you’ve brought everyone to the table to put it together, how do you then put it out there to get links? At the end of the day, that’s what SEO’s care about. We care about traffic. We care about social, too. I’m not really an SEO. I’m a digital marketer that has a very good understanding of SEO. I think of SEO as being one of the pillars of digital marketing, but this is a search show.
So we’ve put together our content. We want to get links, and we want to make everyone else happy in social, and in PR, and in communications. If they’re happy, they’ll share the content, too — which means that we’ll get much better value and maybe get some extra links from it.
How to Leverage Influencers (and Why You Want To)
Loren Baker: What are some of the first steps? We talked about influencers and bloggers previously, but really blogger outreach can be a show of its own. It could be a year of shows on their own. What I would say is that, not only from an outreach perspective should you target publishers while you’re in the final stages of putting together your content — maybe even offering someone an exclusive or an embargo on that piece of content, that study — but also while you’re putting together the content campaign, maybe there’s some influencers that you can leverage to get them in the content.
If you’re thinking about an ebook, ebooks are usually full of quotes. You’re putting together an ebook or a series of articles, why not email 10 of the most influential bloggers in your industry — talking about shoes, so email a bunch of influential shoe bloggers — and ask them their tips. Not even shoe bloggers, like say you’re doing something on working out, you know Tim Ferriss, say “Hey, Tim Ferriss, what are the best shoes to utilize in my 10-minute a day workout, 4-minute a day workout?” — whatever it is. “Hey, yada, yada, what are the best shoes that you would utilize for dancing, dance blogger?” “Hey mountain climbing blogger, what do you suggest?”
So, ultimately, what you have are not only quotes from great influencers that help really build the trust of your content, but also people that you’re going to reach out to once you publish because you’ve really stroked their ego. They’re definitely going to share that on social media. There’s a very high chance that they will share that on their blog as well.
Leverage the relationships that you have with bloggers. Not only does this add trust and value to your piece, but it also means that you can create something amazing for them that also helps build their status, trust, loyalty amongst their audience as well. It’s a very lucrative way to put together content and leverage your audience.
If you are a Zappos or if you are a larger brand, the chances are you have a very, very large email newsletter list, social media list, whatever, that you can share that blogger’s content on as well. If you do have a blogger from CNET or the Huffington Post, or maybe even a smaller blog, maybe even Search Engine Journal covers you, share that amongst your member base. Not only do you make that blogger happy by getting their post out there in front of your audience, but you also really give a lot of street cred to your own brand, showing your audience that there’s great bloggers and great people writing about you.
When you’re distributing, say you put together an infographic as part of the campaign. I discussed INJUR and Visually. Don’t forget SlideShare. Imgur, Visually, SlideShare, InfographicJournal.com, and DesignTAXI are the kinds of sites that people visit, especially bloggers and influencers visit, when they’re looking for great content to support a story that they’re doing or to share on their blog.
Remember when it used to be getting to the front page of Digg, you would get a lot of traffic and a lot of bloggers writing about you. If you get to the front page of Reddit now, you’ll probably get a lot of traffic. If it’s newsworthy, you’ll probably get a lot of bloggers writing about you. Well, those same bloggers are going to these other more visual networks as well to find great information to share.
Really work on getting your infographics or infograms submitted to these networks. Then, also, like I said, if you’re putting together video, YouTube, Visually are some great ones to focus on. Again, get in front of your established customers. Email newsletter, full of industry bloggers, influencers, social influencers, yada, yada, yada. Social media, those people that follow your brand on social are going to share and spread your message. Press releases, any kind of publicity is great. Get it out there, and ad re-targeting.
Point being is that links are fantastic, but bringing all of this to the table when you’re putting together a marketing campaign, doesn’t also mean that you’ll get more links. It means you’ll get more on-site interaction.
Building Content That Builds Links Now and in the Future
Loren Baker: The final component of this being you get more content for people in the future to be able to process and reference. That’s really the most important part of all of this.
If I’m generating an infographic for the purpose of getting some links, like I said, I might hit it out of the park, one swing, first swing, rookie just made it to the big show. One swing, out of the park, and then maybe I twist my ankle on the way around the bases, and I’m done. But at least I hit it out of the park that time. You can either try to hit it out of the ballpark in one swing, and then what happens if you whiff, and miss?
Really think about these campaigns as being not only something that you can build numerous pieces of content around, but make sure that your goals are defined and spanned out if you do have an on-site blogger, someone that can write about content that supports your overall goals from a branding, PR, SEO, and whatnot perspective continuously, the voice of your blog.
Also, what I like to do and what turns into that residual traffic, sharing, and links even after taking that swing at the plate is making sure that you have a centralized hub, one page of content on your site, or a section of content on your site that is the absolutely best content around that subject matter available. That content can be written, of course, whether it’s a blog post or a series of articles or pages that are nested within one section, but also make sure that all of this content that you’ve put together and syndicated is included in there.
So on the same page that I’m reading your story, your data, or your study, embed your infographic and make it available to bloggers who want to share that. Embed your video that you’ve put together for YouTube. Making it not only playable, but enhancing the time spent on that page when people are viewing the video and making it shareable.
If you’ve put together a presentation — whether it’s PowerPoint or an ebook, to support that content, put that on SlideShare and embed that SlideShare presentation. Again, not only keeping people on that page and engaging on that page, but all the SlideShare views translate over SlideShare. The more views you get on the SlideShare, the more popular you’re going to become. The next thing you know, you’re marketed on SlideShare as well.
Also embedding Tweets, people that have written great stuff about your content, there’s no better social proof than a testimonial coming from someone’s Twitter account. Embed Instagrams of your content.
Really treat that part of your site, that story, that blog post, that page, as being the gem, the hub that, over time, more and more people will find this. More and more influencers will link to it. More and more people will share it — and making sure that everything that you’ve done, all of your efforts are back on the mother ship. They’re back on that page that supports all of your goals from the branding, PR, social media, SEO perspective and turns into residual value that continues to stack success on top of success on top of success.
What you’ll find is that not only will you start ranking in search and bringing in those links, but that content you put together should really stand on its own two legs. Even though the time that you’ve invested in that initial push and that initial outreach, it’s time well spent.
Not only did you get those links in the beginning and get that interaction in the beginning, but those links and interaction led to, were basically the foundation of that content piece that you’re continuing to build, and build, and build, and build upon until the day when someone searches Google for motorcycle insurance and you’re ranking in the top 10, the top five.
Why? Because you’re not just driving users to a transactional page where they can put in their zip code and get a quote, but you’re driving users to the most richest hub on the web about motorcycle insurance. Then, chances are if you’re ranking for that, you’re going to rank for things like ‘best motorcycle insurance,’ or ‘motorcycle insurance for people with sidecars,’ or ‘does motorcycle insurance cover passengers,’ or ‘do I need to wear a seatbelt,’ or yada, yada, yada.
All of those rankings, the long tail, will lead to more and more views over time. Then your share ratio of users that visit your site, or page, or blog post and share it should stay over time, so you’re building upon great content and making everything better, the world a better place.
Again, what I really wanted to go over today was not only looking at content marketing as a way just to build some links, but a way to build a specific part of your site that’s targeted with specific goals, that’s going to get link value in the beginning, but in the interim, you should be able to sit back and watch that puppy grow. That is good, smart content marketing. That has also been the bedrock of SEO from day one.
Thanks again. Loren Baker of Search & Deploy. If you have any questions, feel free to leave comments on the Search & Deploy page for this podcast on Rainmaker.FM.