On Page SEO can only take you so far. The other, significantly larger slice of SEO relies on the quality of inbound links to your website from other domains. Google and other search engines monitor the authority of websites based on a number of factors (how many pages they have, how many people visit the site, etc.) and a part of this authority is then distributed to outside domains through outbound links.
If your website is on the receiving end of and outbound link (which would be an inbound link, from your perspective), that's usually good news (provided that the domain linking to you is authoritative and the reason for linking is relevant). As you can imagine, it's tough to build these links on your own because the process is mostly out of your control. It's like fishing (here we go again with the analogies!)-- you can throw your bait out to a bunch of fish, but you can't make them bite. The key is having the right type of bait.
So now we arrive at this week's Question MARK-eting challenge from Antoine, who asks: "Link Building....oye vey! Where do I start without having to hire some guy in India to build me [expletive removed for the young-uns] links?" The simple answer is "link bait." The more complex answer is explaining link bait and how one should go about using it. My employer HubSpot posted a fantastic blog post (written by Pamela Vaughn) about link bait and how to use it as a tactic when building inbound links. It was published a little under a year ago so it's still very relevant, but I'll take my own spin on link bait, why it's important and ultimately how to use it.
What is Link Bait?
In a nutshell, link bait is essentially content that is effective for attracting inbound links to your website. The key here is the "effective" part. You're not likely to get individuals to read or share your content if it's not effective. A killer piece of content that could potentially be a great piece of link bait can fall flat if the subject matter is unremarkable, its title is "meh" or if you fail to promote it effectively.
Why is it Important?
Let us count the ways:
- Better search rankings - More inbound links from effective link bait means better search rankings. Respect the authority.
- More referral traffic - More inbound links brings over more site traffic from different audiences. Equally awesome as point #1.
- Conversion opportunities - More web traffic = More opportunities to convert website visitors into leads. Website leads are good!
It's pretty beneficial, to say the least. So how does one become the Ernest Hemingway (from a fishing and writing perspective) of link bait? Here's a three step process I go through when trying to develop a juicy piece of content:
1. Construct Remarkable Content
Yeah, yeah--easier said than done. But always take a look at your piece of content and think about the core reason for its creation. Are you publishing it for the sake of getting piece of content up (i.e. your weekly offering to the search engine gods) or are you publishing it because there's something you want to say?
Has it been written about before or is it a new perspective that's original?
Oftentimes if it's the latter example of each case, you'll have a much easier time getting people to read and ultimately share the content. Nobody wants to share a blog article about inbound linking strategies that's been written about at least a hundred times before. Oh, wait... Well, I've got a pretty good title, you gotta give me that, right? Which brings me to the next point in this process:
2. Create a Title that Gets Noticed
Your piece of content could be Pulitzer Prize worthy but get no readership (and ultimately no inbound links) if the title sucks. In today's online distribution channels (social media, RSS feeds, email, etc.), your content's title is what makes or breaks a readers willingness to actually click on the link and read it. A compelling title makes all the difference in a link building strategy, so spend some time on how you can make it punchy. A couple of quick tips for titling a post that I try to follow:
- Incongruity: Like the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, this tactic usually gets the target reader's attention. A title like "Want meatier website leads? First, you gotta try the ToFu. Seriously" can work wonders in getting a viewers attention. Oh what's that? It's my blog post? Sorry, couldn't find any examples of this outside my Chrome browser window, so I stuck with something close to home. You should read it if you get a chance!
- Edginess: Go negative in a blog title, using words like "suck", "fail", "lose", etc. It's not recommended that you try to use all three simultaneously though. My personal favorite of recent memory is "9 Reasons Why Your Email Marketing Campaign WILL Fail." If the reader's a marketer who is (at some point) leading an email campaign, they better read up, because that blog post title just called them out.
- Numbers: People love top ten lists, the seven pitfalls, three signs that your blog post title sucks (see what I did there? Mixed and matched the edginess with the numbers). I'm not sure if any studies have been done on this, but my best guess is that numbers give a finite sense of mystery-- you know exactly how many to expect, the question that remains now is, what are they?
- Thumbnail Picture: Think of including a picture that will help the post get noticed on LinkedIn and Facebook. The thumbnail image can always be used to hook people (sort of like Ben Stiller, in my picture above!)
So, if you've written a good piece of content and your title is enough to raise some eyebrows (and potentially raise some Facebook "likes") the next step is to think through a promotion strategy. Don't just post the link to all available messaging channels and wait for the inbound links to pile up. To get the most bang for your link bait buck, you'll want to dedicate some time to each available publishing channel, weighing the abilities of each and adjusting your message accordingly:
3. Craft the correct promotional messages
Social Media channels and email both present great opportunities to get your link bait out into the deep blue internet sea. But in order to leverage each channel correctly, you'll need to think through the features of each one to get the most out of your publishing efforts.
- Twitter: Keep the tweet punchy and (obviously) under 120 characters, as the link to the content will take up at least 20. I usually find tweets with intriguing questions get retweeted most frequently. You can usually get away with the title, but create some context to the tweet as well. So, for example, I might tweet this post as: "Struggling to build Inbound Links? Learn How to Get Hooked on Fishing for Link Bait: LINK TO BLOG POST!" In terms of frequency, I'd recommend pushing out the same piece of content about 2-3 times in a week to ensure it gets seen enough by your followers.
- Facebook: Unlike Twitter, Facebook has the unique functionality to pull in the thumbnail image to the news feed. A Facebook post also shows up higher in people's news feeds when it acquires more likes and comments. So, encourage opening commenting when you post the article, possibly an open ended question to foster discussion. For posting frequency, I always recommend one post on Facebook-- putting up in your news feed multiple times looks spammy.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn is very similar to Facebook, although I'm not quite sure how the news feed algorithm works for people in your Network. Nevertheless, I recommend including an eye-popping thumbnail and a thought-provoking open ended question to entice a conversation.
- Email: Lastly, always think of ways to push your content out via email. Whether it be through an newsletter or just a quick promotional reminder, think of how you can leverage email to let your connections know about that juicy piece of link bait you just threw out into the Internet ocean.
An important thing to note about the promotion strategies above: acquiring social links back to the content doesn't count towards inbound SEO authority. Think of them as a means to getting the inbound links. People will need to link back from their actual domains, as social postings of the content are "no-follow" links (i.e. links that don't pass SEO authority). Think of social postings as the nibbles to the link bait and an actual inbound link as the bite that snags the fish, hook line and sinker.
Following those three steps should help you better position your content to be shared and linked back to. I always recommend creating content the honest way rather than paying some dude (or dude-ette) to do it for you. More often than not, those techniques tend to be shady and not worthwhile. Eventually, the search engine gods will smite you, and all that hard earned cash that went towards an outsourced link builder could've been better invested in creating link bait.
How do you get inbound links to your site (if you're trying to). If you aren't why not?