Mention “link building” to an experienced SEO pro and don't be surprised if they look a little wary. After all, building inbound links—an activity that can be heavily rewarded by Google's algorithms—is as notorious as the territory of black hat SEO operators that pay for links, trade links and otherwise try to trick Google.
But this is not a good idea.
According to Google's webmaster guidelines, any “links intended to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme.” Examples of such schemes including buying or selling links, exchanging products or links, trading links, linking to spammers or unrelated sites and using automated programs to create links to your site. Any of these can be punished with a loss of search ranking.
That was one issue Jennifer Clancy, marketing manager at ID Wholesaler, and her team didn't have to worry about.
ID Wholesaler is a niche b-to-b company that sells ID cards used throughout corporate America and the medical industry. It's not a high-profile product, so good SEO is an important component of the marketing effort. Unfortunately, as of last year, the company ranked 22nd for the important search term “ID badge lanyards,” and was listed on the third page of search results—a no man's land by Google search standards.
Hoping to increase the company's visibility by building inbound links, Clancy's team hit upon a clever idea: Appeal to the large audience of people for whom lanyards are a passionate interest and hobby.
“We had some meetings and brainstormed, and the idea sparked,” Clancy said. “I had bumped into some people on Twitter and Pinterest who designed custom lanyards. They were crafters and beaders. So we came up with the idea of a contest aimed at the custom lanyard audience.”
This audience wasn't exactly interested in corporate IDs, but it was a much larger audience with greater linking power than Clancy's traditional target market. So ID Wholesaler announced a contest: $300 for the best custom lanyard and $150 for second place. The company set up a custom Facebook page where beaders could share their entries with their own personal networks to solicit votes. ID Wholesaler also built a minisite on its corporate website to host the entries as well as a Twitter account and a small investment in Google ads. Finally, ID Wholesaler provided a contest badge to each entrant they could place on their own website and social media pages. The badge linked back to ID Wholesaler's minisite. The total investment was “a few thousand dollars,” according to Clancy.
And the response? “We were blown away,” Clancy said.
The contest brought in 87 entries which, in turn, generated 7,450 votes as contestants promoted their own lanyards and almost 1,000 Facebook “likes.” As a result, the company's ranking for the keywords “ID badge lanyards” jumped to No. 2 on Google and the number of inbounds linked surged, while traffic related to the keyword “lanyard” jumped 90%.
In designing the campaign, Clancy and the marketing team at ID Wholesaler followed many of the methods that Derek Edmond, managing partner of KoMarketing Associates, recommended on his blog, Search Engine Watch. They encouraged traffic from legitimate referral sites, focused on contextual and relevant keywords, and reached out to related markets.
“The best links, like sales, are won over time,” Edmond said on his blog.
As for ID Wholesaler, it is already looking forward to next year's contest and considering additional ones.