Functionalism is a concept that first intrigued me when I studied Anthropology in college, as I really responded to the idea that people do certain things for certain individual reasons that matter only to them, reasons that may seem crazy to outsiders, but that truly do make up a necessary part of someone’s culture.
It’s one of those “not sure why I do this, but it works for me” kind of things. For example, I work from home a lot. I have peace and quiet and I get more done here than at the office. It’s functional for me. It may irritate my staff, but hey, it works for me.
Online marketing is no different. There really is no one-size-fits-all approach outside of the absolute basics. Yes, you should indeed have a well-optimized site in terms of SEO, you should grab your social media profiles (even if for no other reason than to keep someone else from using them poorly), and you should build links to your site. However, how we do these things is variable depending upon a variety of factors.
For example, there’s been a lot of talk recently about how big brands seem impervious to many algorithmic updates and clampdowns. It’s well known that certain niches violate Google’s paid-link guidelines, but they aren’t getting penalized or banned. We hear about how Google possibly has a whitelist/exemption list for sites that shouldn’t be affected by algorithm changes. In short, the rules are not the same across the board.
Thus, when you’re building links, you need to figure out what will work for your site and your niche, as you share the same “culture.”
1. Look At Others In Your Niche
Where are they getting links? Take a look at your closest competitors (both rankings-wise and business-wise, as these can obviously differ) and see what types of sites link to them.
Are there a lot of spam sites linking in? Are the backlink profiles full of .edu and .gov sites? What about news and media sites?
What types of links are they? Are the profiles mainly made up of sitewides such as sidebar and footer links? Do they have mostly homepage links, or are the profiles full of good deep links as well? What about image links and nofollows?
How do their anchors break down in terms of primary, long-tail, brand, URL, and noise percentages? These are the five most common categories that I use when doing a backlink analysis of anchor text, but depending upon the niche, I sometimes use Local, Foreign Language, etc.
Do your competitors typically show a very high percentage of primary keywords? Are they doing well for brand and URL links? Looking at these in terms of percentages can give you an idea of how anchors are commonly used for your industry.
What’s their rate of link growth? I cannot say enough good things about Majestic’s Backlink History tool. Throw in your competitors’ URLs and see what their link graphs look like. Are they doing the recommended slow and steady climb, are there massive link spikes here and there, or is it a flat line?
Do they have directory listings, and if so, which directories? If they all have DMOZ listings and you don’t, maybe you should try to get one. If none of them have any of the higher-end paid directory listings, you might be able to get away with not bothering. You might be able to find some good niche directories that list your competitors, as well.
Are they getting obviously paid links? This is a tricky one, as I know that not all paid links are obviously paid links. However, many paid links make it glaringly obvious that they’ve been purchased. I’d advise that even if your competitors are getting away with having very spammy paid links, you don’t try it though.
2. Evaluate Risk Tolerance
Figure out your tolerance for risk if you’re going to pay for links or do anything else that violates Google’s guidelines.
If all of your competitors are (most likely) buying links and it’s working, maybe you can get away with it too. Maybe not though, so make sure you understand exactly what you’re risking by violating Google’s guidelines.
You could be penalized or banned, and if that would sink your business, you have to decide whether buying links is worth it. There are many other safer ways of building links if you’re in most industries.
3. Find Your Target Demographic
Not every industry is well-suited to being promoted on Twitter and Facebook. You can certainly grab those accounts and use them, but you need to figure out where to spend your time. If you are a local hair salon with last-minute deals to promote, maybe you’re better off spending more time on Foursquare than Facebook. Social media can be incredibly helpful for many niches, but it’s not perfect for everyone.
It takes a lot of time to do social media well, so if the people you target don’t use these services, perhaps you should focus on creating more good content, sending out email newsletters, posting videos to Youtube, and being active in a niche forum.
Again, check to see what your competitors are doing in the various social media platforms. If none of them use Twitter, you can either sit back and relax for a bit, or you can be the first to use it. If everyone uses Twitter and you don’t, it’s probably time to start.
The same holds true for the other social media sites. (Note: Ignite Social Media has an excellent roundup on all the various social media demographics for 2010. )
4. Approach Your Link Plan Wisely
Above all else, don’t buy into the idea that the newest link building tactic is right for you, or that you have to take every link building recommendation to heart.
Don’t think that if you’re selling surety bonds, you need to approach online marketing in the exact same way as if you’re selling street art iphone cases. A cool infographic may get client X loads of links, but may do almost nothing for you. Remember that there are many ways of getting your name out there, both online and offline.
Stock Image from Shutterstock, used under license.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.