How to target link prospects when they’re most receptive

We’re all pitching bloggers and publishers to secure links for ourselves and our clients, but more often than not we have the conversation when we want the link not when that individual is actively seeking links. Today I want to a technique you can use to¬† engage and gain visibility with other content creators at the very moment they are doing research (when the chance of a link is heightened). Spend a little less time begging for links this month and read on…

Before we get started, this probably isn’t going to earn you links to your homepage and you are going to need to produce exemplary content which has a reason to exist beyond just “my competitor has a page about this”. Let me take you back to Wil Reynold’s MozCon presentation where he devised a 30 second real company shit (#RCS) test… if your domain or your clients was plugged into Open Site Explorer and the ‘Top Pages’ tab opened, how quickly did the number of links to each page drop off? Not a scientific ratio of deep links vs homepage links but just a quick visual check that any SEO would be able to perform.

It’s certainly a quick way to identify sites that have a lazy or aggressive SEO company right? They’d only build links to the money pages. Genuine companies and websites would attract links across their website to all that useful, informative content they are producing or the charitable project they’re backing. As Google grows increasingly sophisticated, don’t you think it would be a good idea to perhaps get your act together?

I’m not trying to get holier than thou, this post isabout helping you attract those kinds of links, the natural ones (if those exist?) that help to cement your position as a worthwhile business in your space. My aim is to help you capture your link prospect at The Moment – the one that matters, the one where they’re most receptive and likely to link.

How to engage with content creators when they’re in research mode

Find underserved search queries in your market

The idea is that you are looking for search queries in your market where the current results are wholly underwhelming. The search query is…

  • Underserved from a research perspective
  • Underserved from a customer perspective

(Generally speaking if one group is underserved then so will the other be, but always consider from both angles because if you can strike two (or more) birds with one stone e.g. cover a market (for brand visibility), connect the customer purchase path (to aid conversions) and secure links all with the same piece of content then all the better.)

By “underserved” I either mean the content is of a low standard and/or it doesn’t serve the needs of a customer in need of information or a blogger in need of a page to reference.

How do we do this?

It is a manual process but as with any non-automated link building, the end result is usually worth the hard work.

Pull together your list

You have to start by generating a list of queries that you might be able to target.

  • Think questions – the common things customers want to know
  • Think Industry lexicon/jargon – a dictionary for your industry
  • Think concepts – explanations and guides
  • Think big industry news – opportunity for a write-up or counter-argument
  • Think comparisons of leading products or leading brands
  • Think myths & misconceptions – that you could clarify that everyone searches for e.g. is retargeting the same as remarketing?

Don’t forget images! – many niches are completely missing good quality photos and the same mediocre ones get inserted into blog posts time and time again due to the lack of options. I’m fully aware that images don’t always get the attribution they should but if nothing else you are giving yourself one heck of a target list for some reverse-image-search-linkbuilding.

At this stage, keyword research tools like Keyword Eye, Google Keyword Tool and Ubersuggest are your friend. Utilise also any of your favourite social monitoring services (I like Raven Tools) to try to capture and understand the kinds of things the market is looking for – this will help you uncover fresh search queries to consider.

You will also find a familiarity with the market a real advantage so talking to clients (and really getting to know them) will prove valuable.

Here’s an example of a well-served query

Search “How do ISAs work?” in Google.co.uk

Only 260 exact match local searches but still a worthwhile term if you were looking to be an authority in the lucrative ISAs market.

The very first result is this guide – a very comprehensive explanation of exactly what an ISA is and how it works.

If you are a customer looking for an ISA and you wanted more information – this guide would serve you well.

If you are a blogger putting together an article which touches on ISAs and you wanted to give your readers an explanation of how ISAs work – you’d likely be happy to link out to this guide.

Here’s an example of an underserved query

Head to Google.com and search “what is outsourcing?”.

Around the world, 5,400 (according to Google’s keyword tool at least) search that term every month and yet the first result is a 400 word article from a content farm that offers little more than a brief introduction, a load of ads, a few auto-populated videos and hundreds of comments from random individuals. This is the page that Panda forgot!

If you were in the outsourcing business you’d definitely want to be visible for this term. The very query that could lead someone down the purchasing path towards your organisation. The rest of the results are OK but unlike in the example query above there isn’t a clear winner that you can confidently say “Customers will love this” and “Bloggers will feel happy linking to this”.

Here is a prime opportunity to create a guide which not only demonstrates your expertise in the business of outsourcing (a huge industry) to your customers but there are so many bloggers out there talking about outsourcing – wouldn’t you like your explanation to be the one they are referencing when they want their readers to get the facts on the topic?

The opportunities are there

This is not a massively high-volume thing. You’ll want to target more than one search query obviously but even if I could impart an automated way to find thousands of queries where the quality of content was low and search volume high (I sadly am not able to do this) – very few organisations would be able to dedicate the resources to create the volume and calibre of content that this would require.

Not to mention the false positives that an automated system or tool would create. Internally we compared Google reading levels with our own opinions of whether a keyword was an opportunity or not and the disparity was huge. If you set aside the frequent inaccuracies of Google’s reading level metric for a moment, in some markets the lack of advanced level content might represent an opportunity but in others it might represent that a query is already well served. Building classifiers like that into a tool or script is beyond my coding abilities.

Create the content

You have your underserved search queries that you want to target, now you need to create the content that’s going to do that query proud.

Simple enough but since we’re trying to get links as well as serve customers on their quest for information, we need to consider the intent and “state of mind” of a content creator performing that query for research.

Carefully match the content to the query. If we look back at our list of potential types of queries:

  • Questions – will simple answers suffice or is there a need to produce a detailed tutorial post, or shoot a video even.
  • Industry lexicon – most industries have a glossary of some shape or another so can you make yours stand-out by offering greater coverage of words or more useful entries e.g. adding context to a definition, highlighting examples or even having something fun like a trivia question on the page.
  • Concepts – these will often require a detailed guide or even a visualisation
  • Industry news – could you produce a quick fact sheet, offer a summary, include a detailed analysis of the event, visualise data in an infographic?
  • Myths & misconceptions – would a blog post work well?
  • Comparisons of leading products or leading brands – quick fact charts, tables, user reviews, infographics and interviews with an impartial expert

It sounds incredibly simple but I frequently come across phrase-content mismatches where something would have been better as a video or a concept required more of a detailed explanation than a mere definition.

But wait!

This isn’t just about the links. Adam Audette captured my sentiment exactly when he said that SEO should be invisble, and this very much applies here because you don’t need to be overtly selling the idea of linking to your resource or even producing the content in such a way to overtly bait the bloggers at the expense of the overall usefulness of the piece – you’ve already heightened your chances of scoring that link by picking the moment you’re visible to them, don’t push it too far.

In my last post, I touched on how content assets that bring home the links can also bring in the customers – if that asset is properly put together then these things are one and the same because don’t forget that publishers in your market are likely to have the same audience as you but they just have a slightly different offering for them (a blog instead of your product or service).

You are serving the same people so by and large it should be a close relationship between what readers want, the info customers want and what you’re producing.

In essence, if you put together a guide that offers serious value to your prospective customers, it will also likely offer serious value to a blog’s audience and therefore likely to be at some point referenced when that blogger is writing something around the topic.

Passively and proactively promote it

A well structured site allows for link equity to be naturally funneled to pages like this so if you are working on a authoritative website then there is every possibility that the strength of domain alone will give you visibility almost instantly.

If not then a bit of proactive promotion will be required in order to seed the content and get it to the point of visibility where it then becomes useful to you. Guest posts are our preferred method of proactively earning links to increase the visibility of content assets because they allow you to get the resource out there as well as earn the links that give you the search visibility.

In our experience of this, there’s no need to get too aggressive with proactive promotion. If you can push the content on to the first page of results then you will see results. This is because the kinds of links you want are from sites that actually give a shit about editorial standards so we’ve found the content creators are often in meticulous research mode so they won’t just pick the top result and link to it, they want something which gives them and their readers what they need.

As Google gets better at understanding how “good” the user found your content to be, proactively promotion over time may not even be necessary.

To augment the visibility and increase the number of links that the content acquires it is worth considering a paid promotional campaign using Zemanta which for a fee highlights your content to web publishers from within their publishing dashboard. Cool stuff!

The beauty of this technique being executed properly is that benefits compound – links lead to visibility which lead to further links ad infinitum.

PS. I promise this will be the last time I mention Wil’s presentation in a blog post :-)

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