(note: I thought I was really clever coming up with this title, but evidently Brian Solis used it in this post in 2009 to illustrate a similar issue)
Danny Sullivan's epic rant at SMX Advanced hit home with me, because "link building" is something my company has been struggling with as an organization. The entire practice is geared around building links for "SEO value" - which is completely disconnected from the original function of a link. Instead of providing additional information to users or acting as a reference, many links placed for "link building" have only a vague connection to the content in which they're embedded.
Companies that do "real" marketing and PR, companies that have a defined brand, don't have to worry (as much) about link building as, say, a site like OnlineAutoInsurance.org. These brands don't have to worry about generating links that "look" natural -- their links ARE natural.
With that in mind, I have seven tips for using PR strategies for "link building":
1) PR does not mean “press release”. If this is what your idea of using “PR” for link building looks like, you’re doing it wrong:
While this is an SEO strategy that may have worked in the past, this press release offers absolutely no value to journalists (its theoretical audience). Instead, it’s syndicated to news wires and sites. Does this generate links? Sure. But do these links actually drive any SEO value?
2) Instead, provide something of original and of value that your target audience (print journalist? Bloggers? Etc.) might actually be interested in. Think of a headline that a news organization or blogger would use, and then provide original data that could fit into this story.
High value content could be original data you have access to from running your business, a consumer research study you commissioned, an original analysis of publicly available data, a human interest story, etc. Offer something that can form the basis of an interesting news article (no one is going to republish your press release as-is).
3) Talk about something BESIDES your product that’s newsworthy. Certainly there’s something interesting about your company that is unrelated to your core product or service – do your employees do volunteer work? Does your company sponsor sports teams or scholarships? Do you donate to charity, host knowledge exchanges or meet-ups, or speak at industry conferences or events? Contests or giveaways? These are all potential link building opportunities by themselves – extend their value further by pitching them as news stories to publications and bloggers.
4) Hire a PR staffer or agency. Even in the digital age, much of the PR world is relationship-based. If you don’t have time to cultivate those relationships, your chances of getting plum placements in traditional press are significantly lower. A PR agency can help ensure your story pitch gets into the hands of someone who actually wants to see it.
5) Can’t afford to hire a dedicated PR staff member or agency? Do it yourself. Many in the media are on platforms like Twitter, Quora, Google+ and will source story ideas, data, and quotes through them. Follow them on these platforms and watch for when they ask questions and provide relevant (not salesy) answers.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is also an excellent source to match reporters and bloggers looking for sources with knowledgeable people ready to contribute.
6) Be controversial (or just ridiculous). While not appropriate for every brand, being intentionally (or unintentionally) controversial can generate significant media coverage. When Kenneth Cole’s twitter feed made light of the uprising in Egypt, he received a flood of media attention, articles, mentions and, yes, links.
7) Complete the circle. Leverage your promotions, partnerships, contests, and earned media coverage further, by involving your social media channels and site. Followers are more apt to re-post impartial coverage from third parties vs. a brand’s own promotional content.
While many of the examples used in this post showcase established brands, the tactics here can just as easily be applied to smaller or unknown brands -- they just may require additional footwork to get the traction they need to be effective.
Create content of value (original data, research, interviews), not mindless press releases, and get it in front of people who will find it interesting (reporters, trade groups, legislators, etc). If you can't afford a dedicated PR staff member or agency, make use of the many free tools and platforms available to get your message out. The links will follow.