Many reporters would like you to believe there is a firm wall between content and advertising, but often they merge…particularly for niche or trade related publications. When my wife was getting started in business and wanted to promote her first website, a trade magazine kept trying to push her for an ad and she kept saying no, preferring to invest in SEO. The following month, the trade magazine published what amounted to a public relations driven smear piece against some companies with similar business models to my wife’s company, while promoting a few of the largest brands in the space – who just happened to be big advertisers.
This same sort of advertising blend amongst media and advertisers is popular in virtually every media format. Television stations run fake news. Some magazine ads are designed to look like editorial content because that converts better. Popular online media sites ranging from WebMD (example) to the Wall Street Journal (example) publish ads on their site that lead to special advertising sections. If you miss the small “sponsored resource” disclaimer, you might think you are reading editorial content. Some ads even start off with a free editorial quiz that leads to an ad at the end (example). [Editor's note: this column may have a sponsor disclosure as determined by the publisher, and is not necessarily endorsed by the author.]
When I started writing online, some niche publications would not give me the time of day until I gave them some ad dollars, at which point in time I suddenly became an expert. And another set of people ignored me until Danny Sullivan linked to an article I wrote in late 2003. After he linked to my site, a lot of other people trusted me (somewhat) because they saw him cite me.
If your first entrance into the world of marketing is SEO, then it is easy to get taken back by how sausage-like media business models are. Google’s search guidelines for webmasters present an oversimplified view of the web because it suits their business model to do so. In such a world, a large percent of sites that rank violate their guidelines because to some degree that is where the competitive line is. Either you rank or you do not.
What separates the type of companies that can violate guidelines and rank vs those that get immediately punished is often how much other marketing they do and the relative size of their footprint. If a site is promoted through nothing but spammy techniques, then Google is not going to have much sympathy. But if a site is strong on the brand front, strong on the public relations front, and strong on the editorial front, and strong on the organic links front then it gets more room to fudge with the guidelines.
About a year ago, Todd Malicoat wrote an article about how brand size plays a role in SEO. If you are brand new to the web you might not have the money to invest in brand building, but you still can build a strong foundation by investing in a strong web design and a strong domain name. It is hard to build a brand or get many organic links until you have a way to drive traffic to your website. Below I have listed 7 compelling (and relatively inexpensive) ways you can invest in pulling links (and other credibility signals) into your website.
- Create featured content. Every page of your site should not have the same cost. Some pages of featured content should be much deeper than your typical content such that people think they are so much better than everything else that they feel the articles are citation-worthy.
- Outbound links. When creating featured content, one of the best ways to help it spread to the right audience is to reference some of the thought leaders in that space directly in the content. That enables you to pitch them without seeming like you are pitching them.
- Advertise on non-commercial keywords. Many non-commercial keywords are cheap because they have little to no direct business value. But some of them are often associated with ideas that are often talked about in the media. If you can create featured content and then advertise it on Google for about a dime a click, that can pull in a lot of links. One of our sites got links from the New York Times and the Washington Post using this technique.
- Buy ads on sites that rank. Some sites that rank are not owned by people who know much about business. Some of them will want unbelievable prices for ads, whereas some others will sell ads for about 5% of the market rate. Buy the deals and skip the overpriced stuff.
- PRLeads. If you have a smaller website and can not afford traditional forms of advertising or a big PR firm, then you can try to get quotes in the media by subscribing to PR Leads. It costs about $100 a month and you get to list topics where you would be a good fit for a quote. Media members ask for quotes via email and you respond to the ones that you might be able to get quoted in. After you are quoted, you can their logos on your site in an “as seen in” section.
- Clean user experience. Some ad driven sites are able to get momentum quicker if they do not run ads on their site until after they start building an audience. Run ads too aggressively, too early and it might turn people off, plus if a site has little to no audience then it won’t make much money from ads. But if you build a lot of links and momentum first, it is much easier to make money from ad based business models.
- Free samples. A decent link can cost $50 to $500. Many products and services sell for less than that. And some products (like software) have virtually 0 cost to distribute. So if you can find out a way to get your product or service in the hands of thought leaders, then that will typically have a much better return on investment than traditional advertising does. If you mostly run an ad driven media site, then writing guest articles for other sites that have your target audience is a great way to get exposure in front of the right people.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.