Most webmasters have two goals for their online businesses: to be financially successful and to be self-sustaining. Ideally, webmasters want to be fully established and top of mind so the business they have supplies all the business they need. A sweet scenario if you can get it, but the reality is, you have to work long and hard for that type of self-sustaining business. One way to start the flow is to work on attracting a steady stream of referrals.

For those of us hard at work building links, we’d like nothing more than to have a steady stream of referral links. With them, we’d rank well, enjoy optimum visibility, and become a dominate authority in our niche. Again, a great concept, but is it possible? It is, especially if you can capitalize on securing links from authority sites within your industry. Basically, all of your current link marketing can be used to focus on getting an inbound stream of referral links; there’s no need to start a separate or new campaign. You can make referral links a key part of your link building plan by focusing on competitive, client, and network initiatives.

Referrals from Competitors and Associates

At first glance, it may not seem businesses in the same niche would be a good source of links. Most people automatically assume competitors will never agree to a referral link. For big business this is probably true — you don’t see Toyota linking to Honda or Anheuser-Busch to Miller Beer. Their established brands make the big boys self-sustaining, but for the rest of us, this usually isn’t the case. Referral links between competitors and associates happen frequently and can work well in two situations:

  • Sharing excess work. Small business owners are challenged with what to do when a sudden burst of business hits them. Instead of turning work away, you can refer the excess business out to trusted colleagues who will, in turn, do the same for you.

    The key word here is trusted. If you’re going to host a link on your site and refer your clients to another firm, they should be an established company (authority site) with a good reputation (ranks well). Keep both of these issues in mind when choosing a trusted partner; whom you link to says a lot about who you are, both algorithmically and professionally.

  • Referring specialties. People with specialty services tend to be successful but often find themselves needing to refer business out that doesn’t fit their expertise. Look for businesses in your industry that specialize in a particular niche other than your own and work to create a mutual referral.

At this point you’re probably reading this and thinking, “Sounds like a reciprocal link campaign to me, and everyone knows they don’t work anymore.”

Well, yes and no.

You’re right about the first part — it can be considered a reciprocal link campaign if both sites agree to exchange referral links. But as to the second part, “they don’t work anymore,” well, that’s not always true. Reciprocal links work just fine from both an algorithmic and business standpoint if you work within the confines of your industry.

In some cases, these types of links provide more ranking impact than your directory, run of site, article, social media, and paid links do, simply because they sit on thematically related sites. In the case of referral links, you’re also swapping links with authority sites because you want to be associated with a well known/highly ranked business. You’re probably already using referral links to some extent, especially if you have a blog.

The power behind reciprocal links has always been the control you have over what the link says (its anchor) and where it points. If you’re negotiating a business referral from a well ranked, high profile industry site, you have what so many webmasters want – an authority link.

It’s not impossible to secure links from competitors and associates if you approach them with a referral partnership that outlines what you can do to enhance their business by referring you. Begging for links is so 2005, but referral partnerships are so “now.”

Referrals from Clients and Customer

Without a doubt, your most reliable source of referral links can be from your customers. They can sing your praises more effectively and with greater impact than any other medium. After all, they have firsthand experience about your products.

Realistically, it might be impossible to ensure a positive experience for all of your customers, but it should be a goal you strive for. Customer evangelists can’t wait to suggest a known source when they hear about someone needing a service like yours. They’re just too happy to suggest you because ultimately, it makes them look and feel good to do so.

This is equally true with link building. My blogroll is filled with sites I know provide good, reliable information and services. When I blog or write an article, I’ll link out to products I’ve used and know work. While a single link may not provide a dramatic influence, many similar links from other brand evangelists can. In business, as in life, the more you give, the more you get.

It’s important to let your customers know you want referral links. Oftentimes, getting them is just a matter of asking. Include a call to action in all your correspondence that says something like “I get the majority of my business from referrals. Can you add our link to your site?”

You might also consider offering an incentive in the form of future discounts — a free t-shirt or shipping for those that do link to you. You’ll be surprised at who links back to you from these small gestures.

If link baiting is part of your link building mix, write an article telling potential customers when they need your business. For example, if you’re in the pest control field, write a series titled “You Need an Exterminator When…” Create several articles highlighting different scenarios requiring an exterminator, make them fun as well as informative, include photos and video, and they’ll attract links and eyeballs.

Network Referrals

How you can secure referral links through other people and/or their networks? Read on.

  • It’s a good idea to ask how your customers heard about you. Not only can you track your advertising dollars, but it enables you to thank those sending you new business. The simple gesture of saying thanks can open doors and pave the way to negotiating new referral links.
  • Create a referral incentive program for your customers. This is an affiliate referral program without the affiliate link. Everyone is blogging these days, so you’ll find a lot of your customers have blogs and blogrolls of their own. Develop an incentive program and encourage your customers to offer it to anyone visiting their blogs. With the viral nature of the web, a good incentive will take on a life of its own.
  • Ask your more trusted referral partners if they’ll agree to give you their mailing list in exchange for product giveaways or joint promotions.
  • Join your industry association and use their membership lists to create a limited time “new member” promotion. Contact participating businesses and offer a permanent promotional discount in exchange for a link.

Becoming a self-sustaining business doesn’t happen overnight, but it does become easier when you’re an established player in your industry. Make your customers brand evangelists by giving them the tools and incentives to promote your site. And partner with the authority sites in your niche by showing them what you can do to enhance their business by referring you. Once you do, the referral links will come.

Debra Mastaler offers link training and custom link building campaigns through her Williamsburg Virginia based firm Alliance-Link. She is also the author of the link building blog The Link Spiel. The Link Week column appears on Tuesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column

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About The Author: of LinkSpiel.com and Alliance-Link is based in Fairfax Station Virginia and offers link marketing consultations and content partner services.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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