Forums Are So Much More Than Signature Links

Yesterday, while I was in Hancock Fabrics, a woman standing in front of me told the cashier she loved the store’s discussion forum. She said it helped her more than once and turned to it whenever she had a problem or was looking for ideas. What made the conversation interesting was the fact the woman in front of me was 72 years young.

So much for the idea older people aren’t online and forums are a dying breed.

When you talk about forums and link building, most people focus on signature links or attracting links through repeated brand and reputation exposure. Signature links tend to be weak algorithmically, they’ve been abused almost to the point of no return and add little to your link reputation.

Building links through brand and reputation management takes time so it’s not considered a proactive link building tactic. If signature links are basically worthless and brand attraction takes a while, how else can you use a forum to attract links?  There are a couple of things you can do. Let’s talk about two: running membership based link promotions and developing networks.

Special promotions

With the economy the way it is, we’re finding more forum owners open to the idea of renting their membership lists for special promotions.  The process helps defray administrative and hosting costs and brings special offers and perks to forum members.  It helps to be an active member of the forum, but we’ve also found opportunities in sites we’re not members of.  Most forums don’t make their rental policies public so you’ll have to do a little digging to find them. Start with their Privacy pages and look for phrases like:

  • Third Party Use
  • Third Party Sharing
  • Partner Site Email Communications
  • Third Party Vendor

These phrases usually preface general guidelines and explain how the forum works with partners and third party offers. If you find one of the phrases the forum may be open to potential partnerships. If they don’t or emphatically say they’ll never resell a member’s email, move on.

Finding forums isn’t hard — you probably already know about most of them from your niche.  If you don’t, here’s two sites to start with:  Board Reader and Board Tracker.   You can also do a little utility linking and search on your “keywords” + “forum” to find them.

Once you’ve negotiated with the forum owners, you’re ready to develop the promotion.  I’ve found the success of the campaign is dependent on the quality of the offer: free shipping, deep discounts and even free tee shirts in exchange for an inbound link works well.  I’ve know I’ve said this a hundred times but I have to say it again, I am always amazed at what people will do for a Beefy T!

From a housekeeping standpoint, I break the mailing lists into sections, stagger the anchor text links and point them to  optimized pages within the site. I always add a “send this to a friend” link hoping this viral element will extend the reach of the promotion outside the forum membership walls.

Another little housekeeping tip I’ll mention (because I learned the hard way) pertains to the email list you’re renting and permission based marketing.  Ask the forum owner to put your rental agreement in writing so you’re covered if an email issue/complaint comes up.  It’s also a good idea to let the forum membership know why you’re emailing and how you got their address; make an email introduction from the forum owner part of your initial negotiation.  If you do, your open rates will skyrocket and so will your promotion.

Developing networks

Another way to use the forums as a link resource is to identify the moderators and top posters as part of a selective network.

Approach them for reviews or beta testing of your products.  Don’t make participation contingent upon a link, but do encourage blogging or mentioning your service in the forum at the conclusion of the campaign.   Your goal here is to not only build links, but to build advocates.  If they like your products and don’t feel pressured, they’ll blog about it or link to your site in the forum.  Not only will this produce links, but also traffic from niche relevant customers.

Forums may be Web 1.0 but they’re not dead yet.  They present a sense of calm community not found on busy self-centric sites such as Facebook and MySpace.  Forum members are loyal, giving and passionate about a topic, attributes which make them ideal marketing partners, learning centers and social communities. Find a forum and get involved, you’ll find the experience worth more than just signature links.

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.

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