May 17, 2006

What Is Online Marketing? - Part 4 of 6: Getting Links By Richard Hoy | printable version

Last week, we covered search engine and directory registration. This week we're going to talk about a broader, but related, topic - how to get links to your site from other sites.

Before I go into the details, though, here is some background information to help you understand where I’m coming from.

A long time ago, online marketers used to do a thing called a reciprocal linking campaign (or just “linking campaign” for short). The idea was to search out related sites and ask them to add a link to your site if you, in turn, posted a link to their site.

This was (and still is) important because links from one web site help readers of that web site find new web sites, much in the same way a book review in a newspaper helps build awareness of the book with the readers of that newspaper.

More importantly, though, links from a web site imply endorsement of the site to which it is linking. Search engines use this concept of implied endorsement to judge the value of a web site.

What this means, in practical terms, is that if a bunch of web sites link to your site, the search engines will say to themselves: "Hey, everyone is linking to this one web site, so it must be important. We had better make sure it is well-indexed." I should also point out that the quality, rather than quantity, of the web sites linking to your web site impacts this judgment, too. It is more powerful to have a few high-quality sites link to your site versus getting links from lots of low-quality sites.

Back in the egalitarian days of the Internet, reciprocal linking campaigns consisted mostly of finding sites willing to link to you and then just sending an email asking for the link. It worked pretty well, as most everyone back then was eager to help. But those days have been gone for a long time. People just don’t link to strange sites anymore without good reason.

Today, to do an effective linking campaign, you need to tackle the problem differently. The way to do that is to redefine the concept of a link.

So what is a link? It is really just one web site talking to its readers about another web site. How do you get other sites to talk about you? Here are some ways:

Pitching The Online Media

There is a distinct set of online media authorities that are analogous to television, radio, newspaper, and magazine news sources you find in the mainstream, off-line world. Herein lies an important fact that traditional publicists are only now beginning to realize, even though it has been obvious for some time to anyone experienced in promoting online projects. Online media has far more impact that their off-line counterparts when it comes to promoting a web site or other online project.

In other words, getting a link in a story running on Wired.com will send far more people to your web site than the same story in the print version of Wired Magazine. The reason for this is obvious when you think about it - the link is right there, ready to click on, in the online version of the story. In the print version, people have to put down what they are reading, go to their computer, and enter a URL - something few, if any, people actually do.

It's important, in fact I would argue more important, to find the online media relevant to your specific effort and approach them before approaching any traditional media outlets.

How does one find these online media sources? Here are some starting points:

Online News Sites -

The best way to find online news sites is to use Yahoo!'s directory section. Just drill down by subject until you find the listings for the news sites under that subject. For example, to find major political news sites, you'd go here:

http://dir.yahoo.com/Government/Politics/News_and_Media/

Blogs -

I've already written extensively about blogs, so if you don't know what they are, read this introductory article.

To find blogs to approach, use these blog-specific search engines: Technorati and Feedster.

There is also a new phenomenon called blog carnivals, which are events where a person acting as an organizer takes links to articles written on a particular subject from other bloggers and organizes those links into a single, master document on the subject. This master document is then published on one specific day as feature on the carnival organizer's blog.

Blog carnivals are only open to people who have existing blogs, but they often take submissions from anyone who has something substantive to say on a subject.

To find a schedule of blog carnivals, go to the blog carnival index.

Podcasts -

A podcast is kind of like TIVO, but for radio. People create and record audio programs with their own equipment, then put them on the Internet as a downloadable audio file. But unlike live radio, you don’t have to be listening at the time the program is recorded. (That is what makes it like TIVO.).

Home-grown programs have been around for nearly two years now. But the phenomenon exploded about a year ago because Apple made podcasts part of the iTunes music store. So, now millions of people are getting exposed to this format and lots of mainstream media programs are putting their shows in podcast form, too.

Here is a directory of podcasts programs:

http://www.podshow.com/directories.html

You can promote your site, book or project by finding the creators of these podcasts and pitching interview ideas.

Developing a Unique Resource

Remember, back in part one of this series, I wrote that a core truth of marketing online is to be: "...a good, honest source of information for the audience you are trying to attract..."? One way to get other sites to talk about you is to organize and offer information in a way no one else is.

Here is an example. Back when we were traveling for extended periods in our RV, we developed a site called WirelessTrips.com. Part of that site consisted of a directory of WiFi-enabled RV parks, plotted on an interactive map so you could easily see where they were in relationship to your direction of travel.

I contacted several sites to let them know about the directory. Because of the nature of the directory, I was able to contact sites that reached several different audiences. One obvious group were those sites that catered to RVers. But because of the way we implemented the mapping interface of the directory, I also was able to approach sites that had a more technical audiences who were interested in the programming side of the project.

The directory became the stepping stone into other parts of the site. So, it isn't just about getting a link to the front page. It's about using a single part of the site to draw people in and explore the rest of what you have to offer.

Fostering Amazon Affiliate Deals

The basic strategy here, and it really only applies to online book promotion, is to find Amazon Affiliate stores that contain books on the same subject as the one you are promoting, and make a request that they add your book to their store.

Here's a quick side note here to explain an Amazon Affiliate, for those who don’t know. Amazon.com provides a program whereby sites can list books in Amazon.com’s inventory and get a cut of any sales that result. No one outside of Amazon.com knows for sure how many affiliate stores exist, but the estimate is in the hundreds of thousands. So there are plenty of prospects to choose from.

The big question, of course, is how does one go about finding Amazon Affiliates to approach? There is no public list (at least that I’m aware of). But here is a way to get at this information.

Enter this into the advanced search screen of Google:

In the blank labeled: with all of the words, enter these words (include quotes):

“In association with Amazon.com", bookstore, (KEYWORDS DESCRIBING YOUR BOOK.)

Then go to the heading labeled: Domain, change the pull-down menu value from only to don’t, then enter “amazon.com” in the blank.

What this does:

It tells Google: “Find pages that have the keywords “amazon.com", “bookstore” and (YOUR KEYWORDS), but don’t show me anything from amazon.com itself.”

You should get, among other things, a list of Amazon Affiliate bookstores that have books on subjects similar to your book.

For example, let’s say your book is about birds. Entering the following:

“In association with Amazon.com", “bookstore", “birds”

and

“Don’t return results from the site or domain: amazon.com”

Will yield results like this:

http://www.parrotparrot.com/bookstore/
http://www.surfbirds.com/Book%20Store/bkstoreindex.shtml
http://www.hikingwebsite.com/stores/books/

You then approach these people. Tell them your book is listed on Amazon.com. Ask them if they will put a link to your book in their store.

Some variations on the search:

+ substitute: “In association with Amazon.com” in the search string with just: “amazon.com".

+ try the search with a variety of keywords related to your book, not just one or two.

Some caveats:

1.) Not every result will be a bookstore, or a site you’ll want to deal with. You’re going to get a lot of junk and duplicate sites. You’ll need to pick through the rubble to find the gems.

2.) You might need to send the store owner a review copy before he or she agrees to add your book. Personally, I think this is a better use of review copies. The likelihood that someone will actually look at it is much higher. Most review copies sent to traditional book reviewers end up in the garbage. And, some web site owners won't mind if you send them the electronic version of your book to review, provided you ask permission first.

3.) These instructions call for using Google as your search tool. You’ll get more refined results if you use metasearch software - basically software that sends the search query to multiple search engines at once and deletes the duplicates before showing you the results. The best tool for Windows PCs I’ve found for doing this is Arelis. It is actually a tool specifically for doing traditional linking campaigns, but it can be easily adapted for this specific purpose. Unfortunately, there isn’t as good a tool for the Mac crowd (of which I am now part). The best tool I’ve found so far for the Mac is DEVONAgent.

This strategy is much better than simply asking a bunch of sites to link to your book. You are helping people make more money and improve their bookstores versus asking for a free link. Plus, it is easy. Adding an additional book to their store is trivial since the book is likely already in Amazon.com’s database.

I hope I've given you some "out-of-the-box" thinking regarding getting links that both get you attention and stay true to the altruistic foundation of the Internet - sharing information.

Next week, we'll build on this idea of information sharing by talking about how to find and participate in (as well as organize your own) online discussions.

Articles In The Series:

After years of making other people money in exchange for vague promises of Internet-based wealth, Richard Hoy struck out on his own in the Spring of 2000. Together with his wife, they formed BookLocker - a company that provides a low-cost, turn-key publishing and sales environment for independent authors. In addition, the company owns WritersWeekly.com, offering freelance job listings, new paying markets and more every Wednesday.

Feel free to direct any comments on this article to: richard-at-booklocker.com

 




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