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Linkbranding – A Linkbuilder’s Marketing Mindset

John Doherty —  April 19, 2012
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Linkbuilding is always a hot topic in the industry, with people wanting to know how to build more and better links faster while putting in less time. Linkbuilders have historically just thought about “how can I get more links with better anchor text”? It doesn’t matter where you get the links from, in their estimation. Rather, it matters that you get the right anchor text.

I think this is the wrong way to look at linkbuilding. At the very least, it’s shortsighted and doesn’t give you the full impact that thinking about linkbuilding in a different way could. I call this type of linkbuilding linkbranding.

Since I came up with the term linkbranding, I’m also responsible for coming up with the definition, right? So here’s my attempt:

Linkbranding is focused on acquiring links from high-quality sites that have attracted your ideal audience. These links will not only become stronger by virtue of being a linkable asset for that site, but will also gain social mentions and will pass referral traffic. The goal of linkbranding is to use other websites to brand yourself as a thought leader.

From Link Recommendation to Link Collaboration

In linkbuilding up to now, links have been counted as votes and thus recommendations by other websites. This still exists, but does not necessarily further your brand. Sure, your company may then be seen as being affiliated with, or vouched for by, the other website, but it is a more passive recommendation. Here, I am really talking about sidebar links and mentions on links pages.

Linkbuilding today has changed. We are moving away from link-begging, asking for someone to recommend us, and towards link acquisition of a different kind, which seems to involve more work (as you are creating high-quality materials, either on your site or as a guest article on another site), but when we take a look at the amount of time put into begging for links and the amount of time put into creating content that could receive a high return, I think the content is a better investment.

So we move away from this passive link recommendation mindset to a more active link collaboration mindset. With the goal of this content being to build not only a link to your site, but also to be shared wider and to help the website where the content was placed to get more traffic, what we end up doing is effectively co-marketing the content together. Both parties win.

And, since this high-quality content often must be pitched, actively agreed upon by the two parties, and vouched for socially, it is normally thought leadership content that the target site is hosting, thus allowing you to build your brand based off of their audience.

The Shift

I began thinking about this because the SEO industry is growing up and we are maturing into veritable marketers. We are beginning to care about personas, about brand message, and about our audience once they hit the website. We’re concerned about the search engine bots and organic traffic still (those are measurements of the success of our work), but we are no longer limited to that.

The Linkbranding Process

The linkbranding process will differ slightly from the typical guest posting or content creation/placement in that we start from a different place. Instead of simply thinking

“Where can I get a link from?”,

we ask

“Where does my audience hang out online?”

Personas and Brainstorming

We start by building our company’s customer personas. Once we think about who our best customer is, then we must brainstorm the kind of content that they enjoy. Can we create that? Ideally, we are thinking how we can attract these customers to our site.

Brainstorming also involves thinking about, or finding out, where our customers hang out online. Of course, you can use tools like Facebook Insights to see who is looking at your page and then do an analysis of their profiles if you can to see what else they might be interested in. Or, come up with a list of websites where you think they hang out, then go research and qualify these potential prospects.

Qualify Prospects

Linkbranding qualification is more complicated than simple linkbuilding qualifying. In typical linkbuilding, we look at:

  • The strength of the site;
  • The strength of the page we want a link from (if applicable);
  • Can we get anchor text;
  • Have they linked to sites like mine before;

With linkbranding, we still take all of this into account (ultimately we’re about links, right?), but now we also have to qualify:

  • The site’s community and possibility for engaged new users;
  • Get an idea for their traffic stats (something like SearchMetrics Essentials will show you their SERP visibility over time);
  • Qualify their social channels and the chance for amplification through those.

The first one to qualify is their Twitter account. First, you must find the Twitter account. You can do this manually, by going to the site and searching for a button, or simply input the site below and click the “Go!” button. It will open the Top Domains tab for that site in OpenSiteExplorer. One of the top should be Twitter if they have one.

Use this URL: http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/domains?site=SITE%2F

To find the number of Facebook likes (hence the popularity of their site), use this: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?href=website.com

Those should get you started.

Acquire

Finally, we set out to acquire the link in the same way we have done so before, by building a relationship, getting the idea approved or the pitch accepted, and then helping push the content live. The one key difference with linkbranding is that you should ask your point of contact if they would be willing to share the article out over their social channels. Most people are not adverse to this, but something they don’t even think about it! Simply asking them nicely will get you a long ways.


What do you think of this idea of linkbranding? Is it a bunch of hot air, or does it seem viable? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

John Doherty

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I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

17 responses to Linkbranding – A Linkbuilder’s Marketing Mindset

  1. Man, this could not be any more of a match for what what we do (with some awesome extra takeaways). Thanks for the post, John!

    • You hit the nail on the head with this one, John! I’m definitely going to take a lot of your recommendations on my link-building– err, branding efforts.

      “Where does my audience hang out online?”- that, right there, is where everyone engaging in social media and SEO should start. Bravo!

  2. Very cool John. I wonder if I can’t copyright ‘linkbranding’… :)

    I think the connection between this and AuthorRank is straightforward – in the future as search engines get smarter and look more at behavior and identity, techniques like this will replace link begging. (Which does not altogether upset me.)

    In terms of SEO for today (where unfortuately Google isn’t as good as depreciating low quality links as they could be), linkbranding has at least one really important benefit: These links create second-degree links. Often a pick-up on Mashable or another large blog will lead to lots of follow up links.

    • I hope you’re right, Matt. I hope this helps to do away with link-begging, which I have always hated doing. And you are absolutely right about the second-degree links, which will often lead to more links when they cite your site as the original source. Another reason to build relationships, because that is often how we get these big placements.

      Thanks for the thoughts!

  3. Couldn’t agree any more, totally ties in with a lot of hot topics this year and it’s something that I’ve started trying to implement in my team.

    As well as using this kind of method of understanding your audience more and finding link prospects; it can also be used to find the perfect types of content (ie what your audience shares most, images, videos etc.) and the topic they’re most likely to share (ie if you’re a finance company, your customers may be more likely to share business advice rather than financial advise -as it ties in with their day-to-day more).

    Really cool post though. Good call coining the term too :D

    – Matt -

  4. This was an awesome article John. I took away so much and will definately be back to read it again as I am sure i missed a few things. I will also take your recommendations and try to improve my link building. I love the whole concept of Linkbranding, it is going to be fun implementing some of your strategies.

    Thanks again for the information John and I look forward to your next article.

    Jamie Haslett

    • Hey John, I wanted to say congratulations dude, Rank #1 for Marketing Mindset. So I guess that is the social proof for the fact that the whole link branding works, and it works well. I will have to try much harder to implement your strategy.

      You should seriously think about holding a free webinar on your tactics, tons of people would come for that.

      Again, way to go John.

      Jamie

  5. Love the forward thinking here, looking toward the evolution of SEO rather than the current state of affairs. This way of thinking also protects against algorithm updates because you’re legitimately engaging with your community more and more rather than simply “building links” for SEO. Linkbranding prepares you for potential changes in the algorithm such as an increased impact of social or the depreciation of certain link types (that Matt alluded to).

    Definitely going to be using that term in the future too..thanks again!

  6. Man, I swear you are stalking me – I just talked through this process with a client yesterday! If there’s one important thing I’ve understood to take link building strategy to that ever-desired “next level”, this would be it. Continue to build links but make those links become more valuable beyond SEO (relationships, direct traffic, etc.).

    It is difficult to seek more and more value out of links but I enjoy the challenge! Part of that challenge is managing the client’s expectations because they tend to see link value from the completely opposite spectrum (conversions -> leads -> direct traffic -> brand awareness/authority -> keyword visibility -> SEO), where as SEOs may, IMO, look at links the opposite way (SEO -> keyword visibility -> client brand awareness -> possible traffic -> leads -> conversions). The other fun challenge is how this strategy changes if taking an unbranded approach.

    Great post, John!

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