Link Building for the Reflective Marketer

OMG, Batgirl! Link building is, like, so dead you’ll never want to place your own links again. Whatever is a Web marketer to do?

We’re not sure but we believe that some people may now be afraid to link out to other Websites. This whole “links are dead” frenzy appears to be picking up momentum (except on black hat SEO forums, where link placement is Business As usual).

Web Spammers are not the brightest monkeys in the jungle but they can be a hard-working lot who persevere (as a group), whereas regular marketers (or semi-regular marketers) often give up in disgust and despair.

Web marketing does require effort, and planning, and strategy, and all that cool geeky stuff SEO bloggers almost like to talk about. Mostly they just talk about links and spammy tools but there are some hidden gems in the conventional SEO arsenal of bloggy advice columns.

Let’s take a look at several options, shall we?

Reflective Marketing Through Email

So, as everyone should know by now, Reflective Marketing is the practice of driving traffic to your site through secondary channels. As I have described it in the past, your primary traffic channel tends to be Web search so your secondary channels include things like email, social media, referrals from non-search sites, etc.

Email marketers have been telling you for years to embed good referrals in your newsletters, post-sale thank emails, and just about every email you send out. That includes good referral links in your signatures, too.

If you don’t have your own newsletter you can look for newsletters that sell ads. But, frankly, it’s not that hard for a Website to set up a newsletter. There are plenty of plugins and subscription services out there to help you do this.

And there is no reason why you cannot build a newsletter on one site that occasionally promotes another site you own. I’m not saying you should use your “Sunday Candy Bar Recipes” newsletter to promote your “RV Rental” affiliate site — I’m just saying that you should think about giving yourself a little sponsorship.

But don’t invest all your effort in spammy upselling. The ROI on those efforts for most people is much lower than the “gurus” would have you believe. Why? Because people hate to be constantly upsold.

Reflective Marketing Through Discount Referrals

The Federal Trade Commission and the search engines don’t want you to “buy” referrals. That is, you’re not allowed to give people any financial incentives for referring customers to your site without full disclosure — and the search engines don’t want those referrals to double up as index-influencing links.

One option still available to you is to provide popular bloggers with special discount codes they can publish on their Websites. Now, discount codes have been spammed to death on the Web so you may want to go the extra mile and ensure that the discounts only work for people who come directly to your site from the blogs to which you issue the discount codes.

So if you offer discount codes to 10 bloggers, they can each offer their visitors special deals. If you run an affiliate program and the bloggers are paid commissions, make sure you comply with disclosure rules. Otherwise, just accept the referral traffic (and don’t worry about the bloggers using “rel=’nofollow'” on their links — ASK THEM TO DO IT).

If you combine a discount code with a special news tip (say, a private distribution “press release” aka “blog release”) such that the blogger breaks a news story about your business, you create extra value to encourage the blogger to write about you and send people to your site. Just remember to create a special discount code for each blog, and give each blog something unique in the news you distribute.

Lazy PR sends the same exact information to every blogger. Smart bloggers ignore this kind of promotional strategy.

Social Media Referrals

Mention social media to corporate marketing communities and they talk about Facebook. Mention Facebook to people who track referral conversions and they laugh in your face.

Some companies seem to do well on Facebook, especially if they use Facebook as the publishing platform for their Websites (even just microsites). But in social media marketing what happens on Facebook largely goes ignored — especially as Facebook is constantly changing the service.

Social media referrals — as far as reflective marketing is concerned — only count when they send converting traffic to your Website. Your Website is NOT a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Pinterest board, etc.

Social media campaigns work best when they are driven from your Website rather than from your social media accounts. That is, you can Tweet, LIKE, and Pin your own stuff all you wish but that doesn’t add up to much (unless you have hundreds of thousands or millions of followers). The power in social lies with the people who help you, not with your own accounts.

Making it easy for people to share and promote your content on social media is important. Giving them a reason to share and promote your content on social media is even more important. Some companies have experimented with incentivizing social media shares. The search engines probably don’t care about social media shares at this point but remember to abide by lawful disclosure rules.

Press Releases Are Not Dead

Press releases seldom attract much attention from the news media. If you really want media attention you either need to engage in direct outreach or you should work with a publicist.

But if you’re going to distribute press releases on the Internet, use services that people actually read so that they can help drive traffic to your site.

It is better to write a custom press release for each service you use. You don’t have to worry about identifying the right audience personas. Instead, think of the different angles that make your news appealing and create content for each of them.

Let the links use “rel=’nofollow'” so that you don’t have to worry about search engine review. You want the traffic from the reflective channel, anyway.

It would be better if we called these press release campaigns what they are: advertorial campaigns. A self-published press release is a pseudo-news story that you want people to read. It should be interesting, informative, and engaging.

Most companies still do a poor job of writing interesting press releases. You just need to be matter-of-fact, not proud, and you need to cut to the chase as quickly as possible, rather than extolling your own virtues for several paragraphs.

Reflective Marketing Ignores Search

The key takeaway here is think of how to build your non-search referral traffic; dwelling on the restrictions that search engines impose on your links inhibits your marketing. You need to be creative, entertaining, informative, and engaging.

Your goal is to make other Websites better resources for your own business. Helping them helps you. It’s a very Jerry Maguiresque philosophy but it nonetheless works.

By creating real value on other Websites that stimulates interest in your own Websites you build a larger market for your business.

Relying only on search to build your business is a self-limiting strategy. You won’t be happy when you run into a problem with that one channel.

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4 comments for “Link Building for the Reflective Marketer

  1. August 20, 2013 at 3:43 am

    link building is very important part of SEO, but you need a good quality numbers of backlinks to boost your overall link reputation.

  2. August 26, 2013 at 6:42 am

    You wrote: “As I have described it in the past, your primary traffic channel tends to be Web search so your secondary channels include things like email, social media, referrals from non-search sites, etc.”

    Are you referring to start-ups here or established sites? Both? Any particular types of site, eg blogs, forums, e-commerce? I would have thought that the primary source of traffic would vary accordingly. To be fair, you did say “tends”. :-)

    I’d not heard the term “reflective marketing” before I found your blog today, so thanks for the heads up on that. However, there are many people who’ve been saying for a long time not to depend on organic search traffic because it’s too unreliable.

    If the SEs deign to send you some traffic, then it’s a bonus. It’s often more cost effective and more rewarding to spend your time and money on other methods of traffic building, so I was glad to see an intelligent post about this instead of the usual blind obsession with ranking high on Google as though it is the be all and end all of SEO and traffic building.

    • August 30, 2013 at 1:25 am

      Not necessarily startups. You can build traffic from, say, press release services that receive a lot of traffic (such as those services that are indexed in Google News and Bing News). Any high-traffic non-search site where you can establish a legitimate and credible presence works.

      “Reflective marketing” is really just a description of how you build traffic outside your normal channels, from resources that also draw traffic from your normal channels. When search is your primary channel, using other Websites that receive most of their traffic from search allows you to “reflect” visitors off of those sites and onto yours.

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