So today is April 1, which usually means we’ll try to feed you some stupid joke that will just make you roll your eyes when you realize the date.
Not this time, internet.
Brian kicked things off on Monday with three ways to get links that you haven’t heard 20 million times from people whose websites have no links. Plus he gets a little snarky, which you never want to miss.
On Tuesday, our friend Jon Nastor showed us how we can actually get listeners for our podcasts. It’s a useful thing to know, since the #1 question on the minds of new podcasters is: “For the love of all that is holy and good, is anyone ever going to hear this thing?”
And on Wednesday, Loren Baker helped you figure out why your site is slower than a slug on Xanax … and how to fix it. Seriously, there’s moss growing on that thing.
Moving to the podcasts: On The Showrunner, Jerod Morris and Jon Nastor discussed sponsorships and affiliate marketing. On Copyblogger FM, I considered the fine balance between being precise with usage and grammar … and just being an annoying jerk. And on Unemployable, Brian Clark talked conversion optimization with Talia Wolf. “Conversion optimization” is another way of saying, “People will actually buy what you are selling,” so don’t miss that conversation.
That’s it for this week … enjoy the goodies, and watch out for April Foolery!
Chief Content Officer, Rainmaker Digital
Catch up on this week’s content
by Brian Clark
by Jon Nastor
by Loren Baker
by Sonia Simone
by Brian Clark
by Kelton Reid
by Jerod Morris & Jon Nastor
“Link building” is something I’ve never done in my 19 years of publishing online. In other words, I’ve never spent any time whatsoever emailing strangers and trying to convince them to link to my content.
I have, however, been on the receiving end of many link-building requests. And they’ve never worked on me.
Now, I know there are smart people who work on behalf of clients to get links through these outreach initiatives. Strangely, I’ve never received a link request from a smart person.
It’s usually just dopey people using bad email scripts and automation that some clown sold them on. They don’t even bother to modify the language, so you see the same lame emails over and over.
Outside of receiving compensation for a link (which I would never accept and is just a bad idea in general these days), I don’t see why any online publisher would agree to these requests. What’s in it for us?
So, if you’re looking to get links to your site for all the benefits that come with it (including enhanced search rankings), maybe you should try a different approach.
Let’s look at three that might work for you.
1. Guest posting
Not a new approach, certainly. But guest writing for relevant and respected publications remains one of the best ways to gain exposure to an audience that builds your own. And of course you’ll want, at minimum, a bio link back to your site in exchange for your content contribution.
Now, you may remember that Google at one point spoke out against guest posting for SEO. Yes, spammy sites submitting spam to other spammy sites in exchange for links is not smart — but that’s not what we’re talking about.
I’m also not necessarily talking about content farms like Forbes and Business Insider, although if that’s where your desired audience is, go for it. You’ll likely have better luck, however, with beloved niche publications that cater to the people you’re after.
What you’re looking for is a place that you can contribute on a regular basis, rather than a one-shot. Not only will the audience begin to get familiar with you after repeat appearances, the publisher will value and trust you, which can lead to coveted in-content links to relevant resources on your site rather than just the bio link.
What if a publisher doesn’t allow links back to your site? Move on. It’s not just about SEO — if a reader is interested in seeing more of your work, they should be able to simply click a link to do so. That’s how the web works.
If you’re limited to a bio link, see if you can point to something more valuable than your home page. A free guide or course that gets people onto your email list is the primary goal ahead of SEO.
2. Podcast interviews
The explosion of podcasting, especially the interview format, is a potential boon for exposure and links. In short, podcasters need a constant supply of guests, and you should position yourself as a viable option.
The links appear in the show notes, and this can be a great way to get citations to your home page, your valuable opt-in content, and your most valuable articles. But you have to find a way to get on the show in the first place.
This may be more doable than you think, because as I said, podcasters need a constant supply of fresh guests. And take it from me — we’re looking for new and interesting people outside of the typical echo chamber that exists in every niche.
For example, recently Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers introduced me to Talia Wolf, someone I was unfamiliar with. I trust and respect Joanna, so I checked out Talia. Next thing you know, I’m interviewing Talia (her episode of Unemployable comes out tomorrow) and I ended up linking to three of her articles as well as a page that contains her free conversion optimization resources.
The key, of course, is to do great work that reflects you know what you’re talking about. Then do your research:
- Find relevant podcasts.
- Take the time to understand the show, its audience, and its host.
- Send a friendly note explaining why you would be a solid interview.
Don’t be shy; it’s just a (well-written) email, and podcasters want you to convince them to be their next guest. Or get someone who knows both your work and the host to recommend you. There are even podcast interview booking agencies cropping up that will do the outreach for you.
3. Tribal content
In the early days of Copyblogger, it was all about creating hugely valuable tutorial content that naturally attracted links. It’s harder these days, because most people tend to share that type of content on social channels rather than blog about it like back in the day.
You can still make it happen, though, with the right content and the right relationships with other publishers in your niche. It hinges on leveraging the powerful influence principle of unity, or our tribal affiliations with like-minded people.
Tribal content is all about resonating strongly with people who believe the way you do on a particular issue.
Rather than just “you’re one of us,” it’s more effective when it’s “you’re different like we’re different.”
For example, one of our prime tribal themes involves the dangers of digital sharecropping, or publishing content exclusively on digital land that you don’t own and control. We didn’t coin the term (Nicholas Carr did), but often when the topic comes up, there will be a mention of Copyblogger.
It works the other way, too. Whenever I see a solid piece of content that warns against digital sharecropping, I share it on social. And there’s a good chance I’ll link to it as outside support the next time we talk about the topic. You know, like this and this.
If there is an important worldview within your niche or industry that other online publishers share, it’s likely important that they make the case to their audiences. With tribal content, you’re providing an important message that supports part of their editorial strategy as well as your own.
That’s how the truly powerful links to your site happen. So start making a list of unifying concepts that you share with others in your arena, and make sure your relationships with those publishers are solid before you unleash your epic tribal content.
Wait … I was wrong
Now that I think about it, one link-building email almost worked on me. It was one of those cookie-cutter templates asking me to swap out a link in the web archive of my personal development newsletter Further.
When you curate content as I do with Further, linking to other people’s stuff is what it’s all about. So I took a look at the suggested resource, and it was surprisingly good.
I wrote back to say I wasn’t going to replace the old link, but I would include her resource in the next issue. Unfortunately, this person didn’t respond over the next several days.
What I got instead, just a day before publication, was the next automated email in her sequence, asking me if I had seen the original email that I had already replied to. Deleted that email, deleted the link to her resource in the draft issue, and included something else instead.
Which brings us to an important principle in both link building and life:
Don’t be a dope.
We’ve been telling you there’s no great secret to search optimization, but that’s kind of a lie, isn’t it?
There is one not-so-secret ingredient that makes SEO work. It also makes social sharing work. Referrals, too.
I won’t be mysterious about it — it’s links. Links make the web go around. They’re why it’s called a web in the first place.
When good websites link to you, those links are votes of confidence. Get enough votes and you win.
The hard part? Getting enough of the right links, from the right people. To do that, you need two things:
- Great stuff to link to
- Relationships with solid web publishers
We hammer you endlessly with advice on #1. Today I’m going to talk a little bit about #2.
The most valuable asset you have
When you’re online, publishing content and interacting with your fellow humans, you develop a collection of what we can call assets.
But there’s one asset that’s more valuable than any of those — your reputation.
Do people know who you are? And if they do, do they want to spend more time with you?
If the answer to either question is largely No, you have a problem.
Reputations are built with content, but maintained with relationships. If you publish good work and you are a good, honorable, and trustworthy human being, your reputation will grow.
But before you can have relationships, you have to get connected in the first place.
Who are your content crushes?
There is only one reason you should initiate a relationship with a content publisher — you genuinely enjoy their work.
Don’t try to connect with web publishers because they have giant audiences or massive influence. Connect with the ones you have a “content crush” on — the ones building something you find exciting and juicy.
Some of these folks will probably have large audiences, because exciting work tends to attract a crowd. Some will have tiny audiences. Some have sites that are growing. Some have sites that are more active or less active.
You’re not going to try to become these folks. That would be weird and insulting. But you might try to find a place for yourself in their ecosystem.
What is it about their work that turns you on? Is it their values? Their approach to the topic? Their voice? Some combination of all of those?
When you take in a lot of exciting work, your own work becomes more exciting. Not because you’re copying, but because you’re inspired by different approaches to your subject.
Don’t suck up — just be nice
If your content crushes are decent human beings, they’re going to be a bit weirded out if you immediately head over to their site and start “squeeing all over your shoes,” to use Pace Smith’s fine phrase.
People who make content share all of the insecurities, preoccupations, and problems any of us have. Good people don’t like to be treated like deities.
So instead of making your content crushes into gods, geek out with them over your topic.
The subjects we write about make dandy subjects for good conversations. Talk about their post structure, the visual detail of those YouTube tutorials, or the epic over-the-topness of that last rant.
When you talk about the work, it’s interesting. When you talk about the topic, it’s engaging. When you talk about how awesome and amazing and godlike the person is, it’s just awkward.
We’ve all done the awkward squee thing. I certainly have. Try not to be embarrassed about what you might have done in the past — just move forward with a different approach in mind.
One thing about our content crushes is that a lot of them teach, either part-time or full-time.
Maybe they’re running a workshop or speaking at a conference. You won’t be able to make every one, but I bet you can make one or two a year. Meeting people in real life makes an impression that can’t be duplicated online, as much as I might love my cozy digital reality.
But we’re digital denizens, and online connections are an important part of how we connect. See if your content crush offers online classes somewhere. If they do, try to attend. You’ll get a much closer look at why their work looks like it does … and it can be a great place to share your own experience, to polish your craft, and maybe even show off a little.
Seek social playgrounds
As a writer, I admire the evocative, nimble, and hilarious writing of Gary Shteyngart.
I also admire Salman Rushdie’s multilayered verbal embroidery.
And one memorable afternoon on Twitter, I got to watch the pair of them play a game of writing handball, tossing tweets back and forth in a dizzying rush, playing with language at a sublime level.
Oh yeah, I fangirled. (Quietly.)
Social media sites make marvelous playgrounds for creative folks. Lots of writers love the compression and immediacy of Twitter. Visual artists naturally make homes on Pinterest and Instagram, but don’t overlook a more niche playground like Sktchy.
And good old Facebook has thriving groups for nearly any endeavor you can think of, from Activism to Zentangle.
Where do your content crushes go to play? You can go there, too. Often, you can even play in the same sandbox. Maybe you’ll make a connection with your content crush, and maybe you won’t. Either way, you’ll expand your ecosystem and find other rich relationships.
Which brings us to an important point:
An ecosystem is not made of two people
“Be kind to everyone on the way up; you’ll meet the same people on the way down.” – playwright Wilson Mizner
If you have a secret fantasy of you and your content crush sailing off into the sunset together, I won’t judge you. We’ve all been there.
But trying to connect only with that person, and ignoring everyone else in the room, is obnoxious. As you work on building relationships with your content crushes, you’re also building relationships with all the other folks in the ecosystem — and that’s often where you find the greatest value.
- You’re connecting with their support teams. (Do not underestimate the value of this.)
- You’re connecting with other students.
- You’re connecting with the other writers or experts they work with.
Maybe you aren’t a brilliant expert in your own right … yet. That’s fine. Getting really good at your chosen content form is a matter of lots of deliberate practice.
Working (and playing) within a creative ecosystem makes that practice a lot more deliberate, and a lot more inspired. And as you grow, you’ll meet other folks to share your obsessions with. The relationships with those folks are part of your wealth.
Avoid these relationship killers
I would think all of these would go without saying, but … I have to tell you, people surprise me every day.
Relationships take time to build, but they can collapse in an instant. Wise relationship habits will help you keep the friendships that you form.
- If someone in your ecosystem does something that bugs you, bring it up with them privately rather than bitching about it on Twitter.
- Also avoid “Vaguebooking” — complaining on Facebook without naming names.
- When you do get the chance to work with folks, meet your deadlines and keep your promises.
- Don’t offer other sites second-rate work. Publish excellent material, everywhere you publish.
- Don’t gossip. Trust me, it always, always gets back to the person you’re trashing.
- If you do or say something that isn’t great (it happens), be brave, own up to it, and do what you can to make it right. Hiding from your mistakes just makes them worse.
You already know all of this, I’m sure, but reminders can be useful.
Circling back to SEO
So — now that you have a rich ecosystem of friends, acquaintances, and connections who are publishing content about your subject, you’ll just email them 10 or 15 times a week asking for links, right?
Yeah, you know that’s not the answer.
I don’t think you have to wait around hoping your content masterpiece will get noticed. But not everything you create is a masterpiece, either.
It’s fine to let your ecosystem know what you’re working on. It’s fine to point people to your content, as long as that isn’t all you do. You don’t want to be a self-promotional bore, but you also don’t want to be so polite that no one has the faintest idea what you do. Keep it balanced.
Remember, relationships are wonderful, but they’re just one side of the equation. If you don’t have something on your own site that’s truly worth linking to, you won’t get good links.
No one understands how to do this quite like Copyblogger’s founder, Brian Clark. And he’s going to be writing more specifically about exactly that on Monday. So stay tuned …
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