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Like so much in life, you get what you give. This is especially true when it comes to link earning.
Think about it: if every company got on Twitter or Facebook and only posted promotional copy about their own products or services, it wouldn’t be social media; it would a forum of old time carnival barkers, each shouting over the other trying to get users to visit their tent.
Social media is about sharing, and sharing requires a certain amount of generosity. If you want thought leaders, bloggers, or customers to link to your content, you need to be willing to give something, too.
So what can you give away that will make others want to reciprocate by linking to you?
The most obvious action you can take toward link earning is to promote others’ content in your own copy. This benefits you in two ways: you improve the quality of your own content by using examples from others’ posts, and you promote other people’s content in the hope that they will see it and reciprocate by linking back to you.
Let’s say you are a company that sells fashion accessories and you want to promote your new line of summer hats for men and women. You might write a post that mentions vacation destinations where customers will need or want to wear your hats. One post could be “The Ten Best Summer Hotel Deals in Coastal Maine,” in which you link to various hotels’ websites. You are promoting your hats, but also giving added value to your readers by offering a handy list of hotels to check out in a popular summer vacation destination. It doesn’t hurt you to promote other businesses with whom you are not in direct competition; in fact, it could help you in that they could turn around and mention your hats in a post about, say, the “Top Five Accessories to Pack on Summer Vacation.”
Even if the hotels don’t reciprocate directly by turning around and writing a social media or blog post that includes a link to your new hat line, they’ll want to let their customers know about your shout out. When they share your content with others or thank you for the mention, they’ll include a link back to your content for all their followers to see.
Think of it like being the host of a party introducing unacquainted friends to one another. A good host will lead the introductions by telling each person some complimentary thing about the other.
“Jenna, this is Larry. Larry is a handyman and a master at fixing things; if you ever have an appliance fail, he’s the one to call. Larry, this is Jenna. Jenna is a professional party planner—in fact, she helped me pick the awesome menu for this party.”
You’ve accomplished a few things with your introduction. You’ve brought two people together who didn’t know each other before your party, you promoted their talents to one another, and with your sincere praise you likely raised your own profile in their eyes. When it’s their turn to introduce you to someone, don’t be surprised if they don’t ape your behavior by talking YOU up to others.
And so it goes online. Good social graces are not just beneficial when hosting a party or networking—they are also beneficial in social media. Sharing glowing reviews about another business, as well as articles and findings by other writers can raise both their social profile and yours. So don’t be afraid to spread the love; you may be surprised by how much gratitude (and link earning) you receive in kind.
In addition to “giving away” mentions of other people’s products or services, another tactic for link earning is to physically give away stuff. Contests and free giveaways are a great link earning technique. People love free stuff, and if you’re giving away more than one of something or offering multiple chances to win, people will often reward you by sharing a link to your giveaway with their friends or followers.
If you want to provide an extra incentive for people to share, offer additional entries to people who spread the link to others.
A good time to try out a giveaway is before or during a product launch. When introducing a new product, you want to get it into people’s hands quickly with the hope that you’ll receive positive word-of-mouth as a reward.
For example, Amazon and Good Reads both offer early reader programs, where publishers sign on to give away multiple advance reading copies of new books to get readers buzzing about them online. Book bloggers are often the first to receive free copies of new books—publishers are counting on these top bloggers to spread the word to their followers, and having a free copy of the book (or multiple copies so the blogger can give some away) is an incentive for the blogger to review or mention the book and include a link to the publisher’s website.
A couple of things to keep in mind with these sorts of product giveaways:
1. Be transparent: If you offer a free product or service to a blogger or other online reviewer in exchange for a review and you want to use that review in your future promotional copy, the blogger must be informed of this and grant you their permission in writing. The blogger or reviewer is also required to mention in their review that he or she received the item from you for free.
2. Keep it legal: Many companies have run into trouble with online giveaway because they didn’t take the time to research and understand the rules.
For instance, are you running a sweepstakes, contest, or lottery? Different rules and regulations govern each and it’s important that you familiarize yourself with these rules—in particular if you are offering something of considerable monetary value or without running the content on the basis of merit (i.e.: “answer this trivia question correctly and win a free Nalgene bottle with our company logo.”)
Are you asking people to like your page on Facebook, re-tweet the giveaway details, and/or create a special pinboard of your products on Pinterest in return for a “free” item? You might be verging on what the law calls “consideration,” or something of value that an entrant must give to win a prize.
This legal grey area led to the leather goods company Cole Haan receiving a warning from the FTC recently. According to marketing blogger Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, “To enter, the company asked people to create a Pinterest board called “Wandering Sole,” then pin 5 photos using the hashtag #wanderingsoles. They did not ask people to explain that their posts were created for a chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree. Consequently, the hundreds of Pinterest posts hashtagged #wanderingsoles were undisclosed endorsements, according to the FTC.”
By no means are we discouraging companies from offering free products or trial periods—these freebies generate legitimate link earning and all kinds of goodwill among customers. Just make sure you’re going about it legally.
Hollywood is notorious for including cameos in popular movies and TV shows. Sometimes these cameos are funny and entertaining and sometimes they leave you scratching your head (like when musicians appear on sitcoms as themselves for no apparent reason than to plug their new single.)
Obviously the point of cameos is to promote the person making the surprise entrance and (hopefully) to enhance the program on which they’re appearing. You can employ this same strategy with guest bloggers.
Guest blogging in other people’s website is a well known practice to build links in SEO community as you are free to include backlinks to your own site in your content as long as they are relevant. But what few people realize is that offering the chance for others to guest post in your own website can be just as useful. When you invite a blogger to write a post on your company’s blog, Guest bloggers tend to advertise to their followers that they will be doing a guest blog and will include a link to your site on their blog to promote their post.
In addition to link earning, the benefit to you is fresh content and the chance to expose your brand to that blogger’s loyal followers. The relationship forged with other writers can also go a long way. Just remember not overdo it and be sure to select only good quality writers.
Free images carry a lot of currency on the web. Websites and blogs are constantly searching for free images they can legally use on their site.
Try offering a free image with the stipulation that anyone who uses the image has to include a photo credit and a link back to your website or blog. Most people are willing to strike that deal and it’s actually a pretty good one for both parties. Since web-quality images are lower resolution than print-ready pictures, you don’t need to supply high quality images. They get their free image and you get free exposure—a win-win.
You needn’t limit yourself to just free images: infographics, inspiring quotes, and funny memes are also great resources to share (and another relatively painless method of link earning.)
If you want people to like you, you don’t go up to them and brag about yourself or immediately ask them to give you something. Instead, you look at what you can do for them: listen to their stories, ask them questions, offer sincere compliments about them in front of others.
If you want people to share links to your content, you need to show that you’re willing to reciprocate. You don’t get followers in a vacuum, and there’s no link earning when you make it all about me, me, me. So look at what you can do to please or reward other companies, bloggers, artists, and customers and soon you’ll be inspiring the same generosity in them.
So, what else do you think you can give away to make others more likely to link to you?
Updated: 20 October 2017