Linking The Unlinkable: When Digg Won’t Work

When we talk about creating viral link building campaigns, we almost always speak in terms of volume of links from blogs or the number of visits generated from social media sites like Digg or Netscape.

In the case of “how to” articles such as this one, we also tend to use easy examples, if we use examples at all.

The reality is that the majority of people that approach you for such campaigns have pretty ordinary sites at best. They rarely if ever have sexy technology sites already popular with the digerati.

So can viral link building link the unlinkable? Sure it can, but the rules, and goals need to be adapted, as they do with every campaign. Keep in mind that while this is written for those who work with clients to generate publicity, it’s equally applicable to anyone doing their own publicity in house for an "unlinkable" site.

Quality, Not Quantity

Far too much emphasis is put on quantity of links and visits when what we should really be talking about is quality. After all, the ultimate point of such campaigns is rarely raw traffic right? The ultimate goal is almost always increased sales.

By concentrating on the quality of links, their placement, their social or academic weight and the quality of the traffic they generate, you can create campaigns that achieve both improved search rankings and increased conversion rates more easily.

You can link the unlinkable.

If you haven’t done so already, put Digg to one side. Viral link building does not start and end with the manic hordes of the digitally unwashed. Digg has its uses, and in truth it’s a great site. But when dealing with non-tech linking, it’s the wrong tool for the job.

What you want is for every site in your peculiar little niche, every blog, and every specialized social network, wiki and resource page to link to you with great anchor text and where possible, a recommendation or endorsement of the value of your content.

Easier said than done of course, but that’s the goal.

The more unlinkable the site, the harder you have to work. Whereas it’s sometimes appropriate to walk away from a proposed project until other factors have been addressed, you can still help most people by just going the extra mile, and then going a bit further even than that.

Some of the things that can make a site difficult for people to want to link to include:

  • The subject matter is highly industrial/academic/uninteresting
  • There are few other sites in the same niche
  • The site is a brand new player in a very cliquey sector — the other kids wont play with you.

To get links to these kinds of sites, you have to work smart. The shotgun social media approach will not work well.

Strategies & Examples

So, we’ve done plenty of waffling on about how hard it is and how much work it is haven’t we? Good. It is hard, but it’s not impossible so let’s talk strategy. In my 2007 Guide to Linkbaiting, I mentioned three different approaches to viral link building:

  1. Textual
  2. Tool / Resource
  3. Widget

For unlinkable sites, textual link attractors are simply not enough in most cases, and widgets are very likely overkill, as your target group is relatively small. The two best strategies are:

  1. The extended textual resource, and
  2. The on site tool / utility

The Extended Textual Resource

Let’s say that your client is an industrial, environmentally friendly pesticides manufacturer whose target market is the agricultural community and government food agencies. (Caveat: I have no clue about this field, It’s just an example.)

Here are three examples of the kind of extended textual resources you might help create:

  1. An exhaustive list of environmentally harmful pesticides and their environmentally friendly equivalents. Include a color coded map of the country to represent market penetration — red for unfriendly, green for friendly. List states, or customers that support your alternatives, use social pressure and the “green link” to gain attention for the resource.
  2. Pick one state, county or government department and write a publicly accessible report on how that entity could “clean up its act”. Be helpful and supportive, and above all, very, very local. Focus tightly on this one small area and essentially map out how they could totally turn around their environment damaging practices and save money. The good news is that the company probably already does things like this as part of their sales process. You just have to take it online and seed its promotion.
  3. Take 7 very common foods and list the traces of harmful pesticides found in them. By pointing out some ugly truths about things we all eat everyday and evangelizing the benefits of a less harmful pesticides policy, this could quickly go viral amongst the green bloggers. Similar posts have almost certainly been made, as it’s an obvious one, so do your homework first!

With all of the above, one key factor to bear in mind is that just “writing a post” is not good enough. If your client is not prepared to spend the time and money it takes to produce absolutely stunning work, then your best bet is to decline the job. Photographs, charts, verifiable facts and figures are all key elements of this type of textual data and without them, you’re sunk.

The Onsite Tool Or Utility

It’s tricky to use examples, as they don’t really apply to most people reading the article, but I wanted to demonstrate a point: That almost nothing is unlinkable. With that in mind, do try to adapt and think about these examples in the context of your client’s sites.

Here are three onsite tools or utility examples for our theoretical, link challenged, environment friendly pesticides manufacturer.

  1. Use the Google Maps API to create a dynamically updated map of the country/region where when a reader clicks/hovers over an area, data on that areas usage of harmful pesticides is generated. Highlight areas where green chemicals are being used.
  2. The calculator. Calculators of all sorts have been around since we were first able to script, but there’s a reason they still work: They’re useful. Why not build a tool to calculate the projected environmental impact continued use of chemical X will have on an area of land – display the results in context with the green alternative. There are literally dozens of variations on the calculator theme, it just depends on the data you have available and your imagination as to what you can achieve with it.
  3. Create a simple form using categories and tiered dropdown navigation to recommend foods using green pesticides only – for example, I choose canned foods, then I further choose beans. Then the page suggests various brands that are considered environmentally sound.

Again, just to be 100 percent clear: I have done no research into this particular area. The ideas above are just examples off the top of my head to demonstrate the point that virtually nothing is unlinkable. If there are any pesticide manufacturers out there shaking their heads in dismay at the inaccuracy of my suggestions, my apologies :)

Now that you can see that nothing is impossible, it just leaves us with one last job in creating highly linkable content from highly unlinkable subject matter: seeding and promoting that content.

That’s a topic I’ll cover in a future article for Search Engine Land.

For now, if you have questions, do drop them in the comments below. If you’d like to throw out more unlinkable examples, I’ll be happy to suggest ways you might make them linkable.

Nick Wilson is a contributing writer for Search Engine Land and the CEO and senior strategist for Clickinfluence, a dedicated social media marketing agency.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: General | Social Media Marketing


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  • SEOrefugee

    Nick, loved the article. This has been one of the things I struggle most with as most of the content I create for my own sites is very linkable. However, other sites are not so lucky.

    If you’re willing, I’d love to suggest the somewhat unlinkable example of a product or service for professionals (Realtors or Lawyers for example). I know the topic is a bit vague but that’s as specific as I can get. I’ve got a few ideas such as the “7 common mistakes” and “Top 10 Tips for…”. but those only cover 1 of the 2 tactics you mention. Any more suggestions?

  • Gurtie

    There are real difficulties with creating this type of stuff – the two major ones I find is that, unless its a field I happen to know a lot about (and strangely agricultural pesticides I *can* do) I have to rely hugely on the client both to suggest/confirm a bait which will work, and to provide/create the data. That can be painful.

    The other main one, which is more fundamental still, is pursuading the client its a worthwhile project, given the time, energy and money which has to be spent to devise and produce something worth doing.

    Sometimes they’re into major research time even to come up with some initial ideas. There are instances where while its *possible* to go viral the money (and time) may be better spent elsewhere. If handing out leaflets gets you more business and being the local radio expert on your subject gets you a link and blog coverage each time they interview you, do you really want/need to create a green pesticides food chart which needs two days of data gathering and updating each quarter just to get 20 links in the next 2 years?

    On the flip side, when you do get something good, it tends to attract really high quality links. If you’re the only site in the country with a user friendly colour coded map of something hard to describe without pictures, then teachers and reporters will love you.

  • Nick Wilson

    >>lawyers or realtors

    If you want them to buy some kind of service or product, then it’s tough when the product is unknown, but you should think whether you want the wider public, those interested in law, real estate issues, or lawyers and realtors specifically to link to you. Your strategy depends on the details of the project.

    Gurtie, I agree entirey. There just isnt any such thing as a “one size fits all” solution…

  • Marjie T.

    Great article! This is something I’ve had a lot of difficulty with and this gives me some great ideas. Can’t wait for your next article!

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