This is a guest post by Advanced Link Building Expert Roger Montti.
Propaganda Link Building
What if what we understand about link building overlooks opportunities to grow our businesses?
The premise of this post:
Link Building is an activity engaged for the purpose of increasing search engine ranking. Links and discussions of The Algorithm go hand in hand. And when The Algorithm is invoked in connection with building links, it almost always means we’re talking about ranking in the SERPs. Links and Ranking.
The Moz Beginners Guide to SEO leaves no doubt: “Links aren’t everything in SEO, but search professionals attribute a large portion of the engines’ algorithms to link-based factors.”. Wikipedia defines it as: “In the field of search engine optimization, link building describes actions aimed at increasing the number and quality of inbound links to a page.”
The link building portion of SearchEngineLand’s SEO Guide is titled: Link Building & Ranking In Search Engines, where the author states: “…links remain the most important external signal for search rankings.” It’s clear that link building is an SEO activity with the goal of increasing search engine rankings. The common expectation for link building is a rise in PageRank and better search engine rankings. I believe it. Danny Sullivan’s SearchEngineLand believes it. The author of the Moz Beginners Guide to SEO believes it. The only problem with this notion is that it is not entirely true.
Hammer Meet Nail – Propaganda Link Building
As in the parable of the blind man who touches an elephants trunk and declares that the elephant resembles a snake, we too are unable to see all the good things link building can do for us by restricting our perspective to the trunk of the elephant, or in this case, limiting link building to the context of SEO. Link building has value outside of SEO, it has a function beyond search rankings. An example of this is a B2B business I consulted for about ten years ago.
Their web marketing channel was small and the owner desired to increase it. Standard SEO is to identify keyword phrases, build links to rank for those phrases, then remember to be modest when everyone praises your genius. The problem with this approach was that the amount of keyword queries available to rank for was limited and trivial. I know this to be true because the PPC data (across Overture and Google) matched the keyword inventory estimates. Nevertheless we built the links, increased the rankings to positions 1 and 2 then moved on. Plan B: Throw away the hammer and nails.
The reason there were few queries was that this was a niche product. My solution was to identify who was making the purchases as well as researching and influencing that purchase. Then I identified the sites where they could be reached online. For this case the product buyers and decision makers were IT people who didn’t know the business and business people who didn’t know IT.
The business people were further fragmented into various levels of decisions makers and influencers. This meant a multi-prong approach for reaching them. The plan was simple: Build awareness and mindshare so that when someone asked how to get a “nail through piece of wood” someone else was there to say they heard of a software “hammer” that could get that done.
Plan B in action
Tech and IT people were fairly easy to target. We focused on all the major software download directories. We created several keyword optimized files (XML files called PAD Files) and uploaded them. Links. Done. Then we approached .org technology clubs, associations and groups and acquired links there. Done. We identified major online technology magazines and made the CEO available for interviews (and links).
We split our targets between Top Level Domains, i.e. we segmented our approach to technology sites on .net, .org, .us., .gov, .edu and .com domains. Then I repeated the process for sites related to this particular business niche. We created links. But not for ranking benefit, we did it because there was not enough traffic volume. There was essentially little to no benefit to ranking. But here is the interesting part: The web channel sales increased month over month to the point where the web channel overtook all the other sales channels and became the prime growth engine for the company.
Another example of how propaganda link building can grow a business without SEO.
Venganza! How one man turned outrage into a payday (i.e. how link building grew a company without their organic rankings or SEO being a huge influencer.)
Venganza.org, better known as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is a site created as an outraged response to an anti-evolution theory of creation. The author never intended to make money. In fact, he had no intentions. Yet the site unintentionally became wildly popular, at one time ranking a PageRank 7. Now here is the important part to keep in mind: Venganza.org amassed thousands upon thousands of links for zero SEO benefit. It was all traffic, mindshare and awareness. I interviewed the founder of the site in 2005 and here is his anti-SEO strategy:
“I’ve done zero “promotion.” Promotion is fake. None of the site was planned, it has evolved over the months. Same with the… t-shirts, etc. None of that stuff was my idea. People asked for it, so I put it up. I can remember telling a friend that I would be shocked if one person bought a t-shirt. Now there have been around 20k sold.”
“Yesterday was the highest-traffic day yet, with 3.5 million hits (most of those hits were hotlinked images)… A lot of people go out of their way to stop hotlinking. I go out of my to allow it – going so far as paying for the extra bandwidth to let people steal my stuff. Why? It’s all part of the propaganda machine. It would be easy enough to prevent people from hotlinking FSM images. But I WANT people to see my propaganda, so why not allow it?
It’s like advertising, requiring zero effort by me. I am paying for about 40GB in bandwidth every day in just hijacked images – and it’s totally worth it, because now the Flying Spaghetti Monster is everywhere.”
I love it when someone figures out a way to make thousands of dollars online totally outside of the SEO box. And you shoud love it too! It’s proof that there are other ways of accomplishing online marketing outside of the context of standard SEO practice. He was most emphatic about wanting people to see his “propaganda” and so should you. Building links is a critical part of getting people to see your propaganda. Are hotlinked images bandwidth theft or a means for spreading your propaganda? It depends on your perspective.
What is the point of this story and what should you get from this?
Standard SEO considerations such as PageRank, no-follow attributes on links, redirected links, unlinked URLs do not apply to the propaganda link building. I refer to it as mindshare and awareness building. But maybe the Propaganda Link Building is a better description of a link building technique that defies most SEO considerations. Link building can accomplish more than just ranking better in search engines. Link building creates traffic, creates awareness, creates mindshare and drives sales. Don’t allow SEO to limit your perspective on what link building can do. Don’t sweat that your link has a no-follow on it. Don’t sweat that your link has a no-follow on it. You can play by Google’s rules and still come out ahead with more traffic and sales. Now that the industry is running scared, stop and consider how best to take advantage of the opportunities to step out of the SEO mindset and discover ways to build traffic outside of search rankings. It worked for the B2B with no considerable keyword traffic as well as for the anti-anti-evolution website. It can work for you too!
Roger Montti is an independent web publisher, moderator of the Link Building Forum at WebmasterWorld.com since 2003, a founder of a popular web community and a winner of a BusinessWeek Magazine Best of the Web Award. Roger publishes an Advanced Link Building Newsletter available at MartiniBuster.com/newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @martinibuster.