Mar 16, 2011

Public Relations: Get People Talking with Online Link Development

Link development, before search engines polluted the process into a currency for search engine rankings, was all about promotion. Links were simply a natural side effect of promoting your website. And one of the most tried and true methods of promotion is PR (as in Public Relations, not Pagerank).

“The American Heritage Dictionary defines PR as “the art or science of establishing and promoting a favorable relationship with the public. A public relations firm does this mainly by promoting favorable news.” – Wikipedia

Link development is essentially an online PR campaign that promotes favorable content to the public (who are also known as the linkerati) in an attempt to foster goodwill (which, if we’re lucky, results in links as well).

How To Get The Attention of Those Who Link
Identifying the linkerati is pretty easy. But knowing that you need to get links from bloggers and people in the limelight is pretty obvious. The real question is not who needs to take notice of you, but how to get them to actually do it. And since know we’re all tired of hearing untested theory, I’m also going to give you actual examples of how to catch the attention of the linkerati, which a successful site needs.

Develop Your List
Developing a list of the Linkerati isn’t hard, but actually sitting down and doing it can be a little time consuming. Create a spreadsheet and start entering data such as:

  • website addresses
  • contact information (phone, physical address, or any combination available to you)
  • specific editor names (when applicable; especially needed for larger sites) and contact information
  • the angle the particular writer or site tends to take on your topic (e.g., do they usually only pick up breaking news or do they also give light to time saving tips or how to guides)
  • columns for the date last contacted
  • response received
  • times they’ve linked to you (think positively!)

Scour your niche for the most respected A, B, and C list bloggers you can find, along with online and offline news writers and columnists. Look for writers who are already interested in your topic or link to your competitors. Once you’ve created the list, you’ll be able to actually use it. If you’re lucky, eventually a percentage of that list will turn into “friends of the site” and become your network within the niche.

Make Contact
Don’t wait until you need something to start reaching out to and introducing yourself to the linkerati. Send out personalized emails introducing yourself and your site and tell them you’d appreciate any feedback or suggestions they might have. The point is not to get anything or any links at this point. You’re simply letting them know you’re alive.

For the linkerati without traditional contact methods (some bloggers don’t welcome email contact) or even publication methods (top forum posters would be an example), start getting involved in the conversations they’re involved in. The best way to a hermit blogger’s or top forum poster’s heart is to become a contributing and non-obnoxious member of a society they care enough about to create or take part in every day.

Create Something Worth Discussing

People hear the term linkbait and too often think of “99 ways to save money on your student loans” (no doubt a problem inexperienced and ignorant marketers have encouraged with spam). Linkbait is essentially any good “take notice” title that is promoted well, either by the content creator or by evangelists (paid or unpaid) of the site. Linkbait, done professionally and done right, is content worth talking about.

1-2-3 Punch Time

If you’ve followed the above steps, you’ll have a list of the linkerati in your niche, have already been in contact with them without trying to pitch them, and will have a piece of killer content you’re ready to market. Scan your linkerati list, and start contacting each one. Wash, rinse, and repeat as many times as it takes to get them to notice you. Chances are, even if they don’t link to THIS story, they might at least sign up for your feed or remember your brand name for when they do find a reason to link to you.

Keep In Mind:
1. Do not send these people an email about every standard post you write.
2. Once you get their attention or see they’re reading your feed, tone down the “Hey I’ve got a great story you can link to” email and step up the “relationship building” emails that have nothing to do with your specific stories.
3. If you fail to get a specific linkerati’s attention after several tries, it may be time to start custom tailoring an article aimed directly to them if you really want that link.

It Really Works: Real Life Examples

I do a lot of PR networking of the linkerati. I wait until one of my clients has something of extreme value to contact the whole list, and we sometimes create special pieces to attract a few of the linkerati with a stronger scent being wafted in their direction. And I've had a lot of success.

After begging repeatedly to get a link from the main page of a site linking to a client's competitors, we did an article about the topic of that site — really long and in depth — and made sure they knew about the feature where we (honestly, integrity to your audience is most important) gave them a great review when we talked about their site within it. Two days later, the site put up a quote from our article on their main page with a link to the article. The best part is that it’s huge because they want people to see we loved them and while it is to a subpage, it brings us a lot more traffic than a link shoved at the bottom of their homepage.

After 14 emails over a 6 month period to a specific blogger, I created a piece with an angle like the ones he most often picks up on his site. It took a few hours to create, but he picked up the story, subscribed to our feed, and has since linked to us three additional times without any effort on our part.

I'm in the habit of sending “Way to go!” emails to the linkerati in the when they do a particularly great post. As a result, I've been invited to guest host a podcast with a very large blog within. In addition to being exposed to a ton of new potential subscribers and listeners, the page accompanying the podcast has several links to pages on this blog.

After receiving the third press release I had put out for an 18-month-old site (we make our linkerati list aware of press releases in the same way we would linkbait), a top offline niche publication contacted us to offer one of the company executives a column in their publication. The offline publication has an online companion, so in addition to having our site put in front of 60,000 offline subscribers every month, the online version contains links to the clients website (to both deep and main pages) as well.

With a little bit of effort, patience, time, and a public relations strategy (and, of course, a quality site), you can build links that are traffic driving, timeless, and algorithm resistant.