Giving it away – Advanced Link-Building Strategies through Viral Marketing

by Hamlet Batista | September 22, 2007 | 23 Comments

trophy.jpgAs the Web keeps growing, search phrases become more competitive, and the demand for links increases, the art of link building becomes far more difficult. It’s that much more difficult if you only know traditional link-building tactics. As we move forward, it’s going to be increasingly important to think outside the box and use our creativity to come up with new link-building ideas. Fortunately, as a regular reader of my blog, you won’t have such a problem. 😉
David Hopkins, a loyal reader, asked me last week if I had some advanced link-building strategies up my sleeve. As a matter of fact I do and, as you know by now, when a loyal reader asks I deliver. I have been overwhelmed lately, but luckily Paul sent me an e-mail yesterday unwittingly reminding me about this topic. Here is what he wrote:

Hi Hamlet,
I was reading about mingle2.com on SEOMoz and I was wondering how did Mike [Matt] managed to have so many visitors in such a short period? High position on ‘free dating online’? What do you think?

Regards
Paul
The post he is referring to is the one in which Matt says he is leaving SEOmoz. I had read the post too and found the numbers truly amazing. I also read an interview that provides more background information about Matt’s phenomenal success, but instead of explaining how he did it (Matt explains this in the interview) I think it would be more useful to generalize the concept and provide a solid framework so that you can build off of the idea.
First of all, these link-building techniques are highly advanced and by that I mean that you need web development skills or access to a web developer friend, employee or contractor. The techniques are white hat, though, and there are two main strategies to get site owners to place links back to your site:

  • Giving away trophies
  • Giving away useful tools or dynamic content

Badges and Badgers

Most of us are competitive by nature. At work we have employee-of-the-month. In the Olympics we reach for the gold, silver and bronze. In each case it provides a sense of achievement and recognition. For link-building purposes, the best way to take advantage of this innately human trait is to have people prove their worth. ‘Rate’ them and provide them with a bragging badge with a link back to your site with the desired anchor text. 😉
This is precisely the technique Matt used. He created several interesting quizzes, let visitors take them, and provided them with a badge to place on their sites. Very clever! I call it the site owner badge.
You don’t need to test and provide badges exclusively about the ‘site owner.’ You can provide badges for a blog or web site instead. Offer a badge that gives the dollar value of the site, a ‘trustiness’ or privacy value, or a usability value, etc. I call this a site badge. The hacker-safe badge is a good example of this type of link-building technique. Think about anything that the site owner would be really proud of about his or her site.
Another badge you can provide is focused on the site owner’s visitors. Make them happy or proud and the site owner will be happy too. One example is showing the visitor what percentage of users come to the site from his country or city, or how many use the same operating system, browser, or screen resolution—anything. I call this one the visitors’ badge. A small image displaying a visitor’s country flag or an avatar providing a welcome back message are useful additions that a site owner will place prominently on the site. It provides something of value to his or her visitors, and if they are happy they will come back and the site owner will be happy too.
Badges don’t need to be static, as they are in Matt’s case. They can be dynamic too. The information provided can change with time and/or allow for some sort of interaction. A good example of this type of badge is the big blue Sphinn buttons on most SEM/SEO blogs. They not only provide the number of sphinns the post has, but also give you the ability to increase the vote count by clicking on them. You don’t need to set up a social networking site to make use of this technique. You can ‘rate’ a site owner based on his or her answers to a quiz, for example, and provide a badge with the score including a button to let his visitors agree or disagree with the score. Wouldn’t that be interesting? 🙂
Again, the only difference between static and dynamic badges is the changing information and the possibility for interaction. The same concepts about site, owner and visitor as explained above still apply here.
Giving away widgets

Every site owner has two main concerns when it comes to visitors: attracting more of them and retaining the existing ones. To retain existing visitors and improve the site’s ‘stickiness,’ site owners try to keep the site fresh with useful content. The easiest way to do this is including dynamic features to the site. Unfortunately, most site owners don’t have web development skills, and this is where our technique comes into play. The technique requires more work, but the link benefit is more direct.
Let’s call a widget any type of dynamic element that provides content or some useful service on a web site. The oldest type of widget I can remember is the hit counter and the stats counter. Look at the most popular stats counters on the Web and you will see that they are at least PageRank 8 and get thousands and thousands of links. Creating your own stats counter might not be the best use of your time, though. Let me offer some easier examples:

  • Metric converters: currencies, time, weight, etc.
  • Calculators: mortgage, time to get from one place to another, etc.
  • Games: Flash, AJAX or Java games. The site owner can place the game on the web site for visitors to play as well as a badge to show users’ high scores.
  • Search boxes: As an example, you could create a Google custom search engine for recipes and provide a widget for other site owners to display it.

I am sure there are many more widgets you can think of, offering them for free with a link back to your site.
Custom Widgets/API

Some site owners want more flexibility with how widgets blend in with their site. One way to do this is to let them change some visual elements via a CSS style sheet. The best way to provide them with the maximum flexibility is to provide an API to your dynamic code and let them render the content in a way that matches naturally with their site.
The most popular and most developer-friendly way to do this is to provide a REST API. Calling a REST API from a script is like a form submission that returns the results via an XML document. You n
ormally use HTTP GET and not HTTP POST, as in regular forms, though.
This technique is particularly useful if you are targeting a developer audience or high-end site owners that want more customization and can afford developers to integrate your custom widget into their site. The tricky part here is that you must have a license or terms of service agreement that says they must not remove the link back from your XML responses. As they are parsing the XML from a script they can easily strip it and you don’t want that, do you?
Viral Marketing

Well, I probably went a little bit too far with the ‘advanced’ aspect of my post, but I can tell you this custom widget via API technique is definitely effective, and has some other advantages that I plan to discuss in more detail in a future post.
Now, let me briefly explain how you can promote your giveaways.
The most obvious way to spread your ideavirus is to leverage social media sites. You can submit your content to Digg, Propeller, Sphinn, StumbleUpon, and so on. If the idea is good and appeals to such audiences, it will spread. Here are some tips to multiply the viral effect:

  • Right on the page where you provide the badge or tool include a ‘tell a friend’ feature with five spaces to place e-mails and names. They should be motivated enough to tell their friends about your cool giveaway.
  • Let influencers or sneezers know. They are key to make sure your ideavirus achieves maximum potential quickly.
  • Set up Google alerts to pick up on the conversations that results. Be prompt and courteous in your responses. Remember, your goal is to reinforce the value of your giveaway.

If you are giving away useful tools, consider my favorite place for such things: TheFreeSite. It is a giant catalog of all types of freebies. It is also useful to give you ideas of what people like to get for free.
I really hope that you will make good use of this information. If you can think of more examples and ideas, please share them in the comments section. I want to hear some success stories!

Hamlet Batista

Chief Executive Officer

“We kept putting more energy into getting SEO audits done to understand why we started to lose positions to smaller, newer companies, but we kept losing ground. We kept trying to SEO audit recommendations, but our programmers couldn’t go fast enough.

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