Link Building vs. Link Baiting vs. Genuine Buzz

Link Building Mar 1, 2007

Established SEO-wisdom says you have to build links to your site for SEO. Newer SEO-wisdom says that you have to bait people to link to your site. My question to you is how hard did Steve Jobs have to work to get everyone to link to Apple on the iPhone? Creating products that are insanely great is a viable alternative to manipulative SEO techniques. Of course, this is manipulation of another sort. But if you can create genuine buzz around a new category of product that fulfills a real need, the urgency to perform SEO goes down. You don’t have to ask for a single link. People link to you, naturally.

The question is how viable is this, really? Well, for a typical affiliate marketer with undifferentiated products, it’s very difficult. But if your affiliate niche is exciting enough to create your own online identity, perhaps as an eStore, then it’s quite doable. And if you have a genuinely unique and differentiated product that has any sort of consumer appeal, it’s easier still. That’s exactly what we’re doing with HitTail. Sure, we’re making a product that reduces the need for such glitzy online marketing, but it does help. We can each be our own little master showman, like Steve Jobs.

HitTail for example, fills a unique niche that no one else has moved into. It defies traditional wisdom that says anything that’s like analytics software needs to be filled with charts and graphs. Instead, we jumped right for the jugular of simplicity by issuing explicit writing suggestions. We lay out a general formula for increasing your natural search traffic, provide proof and testimony, and let our users do the rest. I tapped some old friends in the SEO circles, made a neat demo. I made sure we didn’t intersect with competitors, and that the concept was understandable in the context of current marketing trends. And friends I never met, like Larry Chase are doing the rest.

Let me tell you about Larry Chase, and why link baiting isn’t necessary. Within any industry, there are a few very well connected people. These are the hubs in what makes the six-degrees-of-separation and small-world theory work. It’s also what makes the public relations companies and real journalism work. Larry Chase runs a Marketing Resource Directory with an enormous mailing list. Everybody in marketing gets on it sooner or later, including myself. He mails infrequently enough to not be annoying, and with content of enough value that you deliberately stay subscribed. He hit the exact right balance. And that makes him a very well-connected person.

So, it’s with cautious measure that he puts his reputation on the line by distributing an email regarding SEO techniques that actually work and are safe to advocate. He’s not going to list things that can get you banned. Number one on this good list is HitTail. Why? We never asked him to look at it. He somehow discovered it on his own, or through people he trusts. He may have found us by searching on long tail SEO, or one of the other phrases I targeted. But I didn’t ask him, and only know him by reputation. It’s probably the cross-validating buzz that’s taking place in SEO-circles that sold him or his writer.

So, what am I doing talking about this buzz-driven alternative to HitTail right on the HitTail site? It’s because I don’t want to give a skewed view of online marketing. Long tail keyword targeting is only part of the formula, and it’s a long, slow build. The fast-track is powered by the buzz-engine, and is the reason I hitched my apple wagon to Connors’ star. HitTail’s been chosen by BusinessWeek as one of the best ideas of 2006, has been mentioned on John Battelle’s Search Blog, has been covered by CNET and TechCrunch, and most recently in Larry Chase’s newsletter. Oh yeah, we’re up for PRWeek’s PR Innovation of the Year.

Developing a genuinely new product that an old group of friends would surely like was a necessary first step. Even this first step that I did on my own required me tapping people I knew, to suspend their no-linking/no-promotion policies for a moment. But reaching that next level required a systematic process of one success leading naturally to the next, in a way that in hindsight seems almost planned. It is educating me why not all Web 2.0 startups catch on, even if they’ve got great products, and why the “who-you-know” network backs up, facilitates and enhances the “what-you-know” techie in us. Sure, we can’t all be Steve Jobs, but with the right product and the right support, we can get our slice of the pie.

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