Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Scalable Link Building Process Using Influencer Marketing

Effectiveness and consistency in link building has always been about the process you put in place at the very beginning of the campaign.
That’s why it’s very critical to align your link building efforts with the site’s overall brand strategy –particularly in knowing the influencers/publishers/brands you want your brand to be associated with (to create better signals and perceived value).
Link building is still very valuable in today’s (and even in tomorrow’s) digital marketing. Links are still a major ranking factor in Google’s search algorithm, and its importance won’t go away as long as people use it to navigate the web.

Note: Links as a ranking factor (for both domain and page-level) also topped the list of ranking factors with the highest correlation to better rankings in the recent Search Ranking Factors Correlation Study by Moz – where I’ve been one of the 150 industry professionals to take   part on the expert survey.
Few other reasons why building links is still very important (even if it’s not intended for SEO):
  • It allows websites to become more visible on industry-specific and other high-traffic websites
  • Links can also help drive traffic (and potential customers), especially when it’s coming from high-traffic and highly relevant web pages.
  • It helps build up a site’s brand reputation and authority or expertise in its field.
  • And links can help create stronger signals that can indicate relationships (which can be very valuable not just in SEO, but as well as in real marketing perspective).

Link Building as a Branding Tool

Many companies have invested in link building in the past for its immense value in SEO, when the truth is it has always been more effective when used in positioning a brand on the web.
Links can strongly imply relationships between entities. And how a brand is associated with other known entities will always be an indispensable signal used by both humans and search engines to determine which brands are credible and trustworthy.
I’ve always championed the importance of building relationship-based links (multiple links and mentions coming from high authority link sources), because it’s a real marketing practice.
But apparently, this approach is a long-term strategy – that fully requires different processes/tasks to be integrated into one – which many companies are sometimes a bit more cautious to spend their resources on.
Unfortunately, this is what your business needs if it wants to compete and survive over the web.

Influencer Marketing in Digital

Influencer Marketing is a practice/discipline that focuses on marketing products, services or content directly to an audience of key individuals/entities within a specific industry, instead of the target market as a whole.
Using link building (with influencer marketing in mind) to associate your site with key industry influencers is a strategic approach to put your brand in a better position in the marketplace.
But in order to make this concept of marketing become more actionable for your link building efforts, it’s important to first know what you want to achieve from this type of campaign. And this is where you start setting up realistic goals, such as:
  • Establishing content partnerships with industry-specific publishers that serve content to your target customers (ex: contributing content to their blogs on a regular basis or getting content from them to be published on your site).
  • Turning influencers into brand advocates – by getting organic mentions from key individuals/publications in your space and serving as amplifiers in spreading your content.
  • Increasing brand awareness in the community as influencers give more exposure to your brand (which can be measured through the amount of traffic and social followers they send down your way).
Listing your campaign’s objectives will help you decide which tasks to focus on – basically the processes that will drive the most results.

Identifying Influencers

Influencers are often the people/entities in your online space who have a massive market reach (via social media or web publishing), who also serve content to your potential customers.
They could be industry experts, educators, thought-leaders and/or even your indirect competitors who are well-connected and have impact in your industry’s online community.
There are so many tools and methods to help you identify influencers:
  • Social Media and Content research tools – like FollowerWonk and BuzzSumo
  • A simple Google Search of the “top blogs/tools/experts/companies in your industry”
  • Check the influencers who’re amplifying your competitors’ content promotion efforts (see their most shared/linked pages and people who’ve consistently shared their content).
Make a list of the influencers who you think you’ll have the best chance of collaborating with, since it’s very important to assess if you can actually add value to them (rather than only you benefiting from the partnership).

Step 1: Content Development (Curation)

Like everything else under the realm of inbound marketing, this strategy starts with content as well.
When our team started testing this approach for link building, we’ve thought the best way to create content targeted to multiple influencers is through content curation.
But we didn’t use the conventional way of ego-baiting (like the usual list-type or crowdsourced posts featuring influencers).
Instead, we used a journalistic approach for the content format, wherein we’ve illustrated how much we value their past works by using them as a reference to build our own content (think as if you’re writing for the NYTimes).
Here’s a quick sample of how you can format this type of content to bait your target influencers:

This is a very critical part for the entire process, since this is the one of the few ways you can showcase how your brand can offer more value to them once you start pitching for partnerships.  

Step 2: First Contact

Notifying the influencers you’ve mentioned and use as reference in your content is definitely a good reason for contact (which in our case had a better response rate compared to immediately pitching/inquiring for guest blogging opportunities).
Pro tip: Don’t ask them to share or link to your content. They’ll normally do it when they genuinely liked your content.

You can also reach out to them via social networks (like Twitter).

The main objective of this phase of the campaign is just to get your target influencers familiar with your brand (especially with how you produce and promote your content). Because it’ll be easier for them to decide if you’re worth the shot of getting exposure from their site (aside from the reason of reciprocating for the value you’ve offered them first).

Step 3: Establishing Content Partnerships

We’ve tested several approaches on the succeeding stages of this outreach process. But the key to really succeed with this link building system is the prospects’ familiarity with your brand.
The first one was being direct with what we want to establish for the next level of both entities’ relationship. For instance, inquiring for guest blogging opportunities.

The second approach is providing more options to work together. This may involve initiatives such as:
  • Doing an interview (and publishing it on your site).
  • Republishing a popular content from them (that will resonate well with your own audience).
  • Inviting them to write a guest blog on your site.
  • Becoming a columnist for their site’s blog
  • Cross-publishing some of your best work on their site (use rel=”canonical” when linking back to the original source of the content).
  • Offering to exclusively write about their upcoming events or product updates.
content partnerships

Securing and acquiring a single link from them is only the first step. The continuity of these partnerships is what will mostly drive the results in the long run in terms of branding, lead generation and in improving search visibility.
Lastly, be sure that both ends are benefiting from the partnership. Continue to create content that your target influencers will most likely read and share to their audience (read this for more tips on how to generate better content ideas).
If you have anything to add please do in the comments below. 
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