Given the ample warning and increased transparency Google provided in advance of Penguin 2.0, it surprises me that B2B search marketers still blew up the forums about being penalized for link spam after it hit.
There’s no reason webmasters should not have cleaned up their act before the rollout (the exception being a recently acquired client that already had a bad link profile). Yet, some B2B marketers continue to build spammy links. Can you honestly picture a manufacturer of pipes or a custom fabrication shop creating enough online dialogue that 100 sites per month would link to them legitimately?
I’ve been working in the B2B space for years now, and I’ve learned over the last few years that building links should not even be among your top priorities. I won’t deny that link building is still an important and viable tactic, but I do think too much emphasis is placed on it considering the direction Google has been turning lately.
Build up your online brand awareness, not links. Create high-quality content and develop a strong PR and social campaign to connect relevant audiences to your content. High-quality links will be built in the process — links for which you will never have to worry about being penalized. In fact, Google recently updated the rankings article within their webmaster guidelines to substantiate this theory.
Over the last couple years, I have shifted my focus from link building to building quality websites meant for users, creating thought leadership, and integrating PR and social media with content marketing to build links. In the B2B space, I’ve found competition in search to be very light — it’s seldom you come across a B2B space where most top competitors have optimized sites.
By making usability the main focus of SEO strategies and only building high-quality links, I have seen the following results across numerous websites:
The following short-term link and brand building strategies can be done within a couple months and will deliver quick results and link profile growth.
Sometimes, finding ideal link and brand building opportunities can be as simple as finding sources already mentioning your brand, but not providing a link. This strategy will build links on relevant sites already talking about your brand, and will drive referral traffic from relevant audiences.
This tactic is as simple as finding the sites and asking them for a link. Do a Yahoo search with the following parameters -site:yourwebsite.com “your brand name” -link:yourwebsite.com.
The one great thing about B2B is very few competitors do any form of SEO, which means the links your competitors have acquired over the years will most likely be from legitimate sources that are highly relevant to your site as well. Check out your competitor’s backlinks and look for opportunities there.
Parent Company Links
In many cases, B2B companies are owned by a parent company. If a bigger entity has ownership of your company, contact them for a link on their site.
Affiliates & Partnerships
This next one can be a good tactic, but can also be disastrous if done in excess. If your company is affiliated or partnered with a few other companies whose websites feature content relevant to your business/industry, doing link requests on a small scale can be helpful. However, if the websites are only loosely affiliated, or their content is irrelevant, this may not be a good tactic.
I’m sure I don’t need to mention this, but exchanging links on a large scale is always a bad idea. This tactic should only be used for a handful of sites — if you do this with 100 different sites, it may have a negative impact.
Organizations & Associations
Joining organizations related to your industry will result in links on membership pages. Becoming heavily involved with these groups will also create speaking opportunities, partnerships and a place to promote thought leadership material.
Much like with affiliates and partnerships, don’t overdo it with the linking and keep the memberships highly relevant to your industry.
If you think I’m going to talk about blog guest posting on a massive scale here, you are terribly mistaken. Guest posting is a great link building tactic, but it should only be done in reasonable amounts and only in highly relevant publications.
If you are providing unique content to authoritative publications and using G+ authorship, you will build powerful links. Keep these links very simple by only placing one link in the author bio. If you write for lower quality sites, some Joe Schmoe blogger, or a site that is only loosely relevant, you won’t be helping your brand or linking strategy.
Build Blog Relationships
Small-time blogs do still have use for link building. Instead of wasting your efforts on a guest post, build relationships with the bloggers. Create dialogue with them using social media and engage them in your brand.
Over time, they may be influenced to share your content and thought leadership with their audiences, which will further amplify your brand and content to relevant sites that would be likely to link to you.
This is probably the most highly-debated topic when it comes to link building, which is why I place very little emphasis on it. Take care of your local listings and submit to the basic three directories — business.com, Best of the Web, and Yahoo business directory.
Other than that, unless a directory is 100% relevant to your business, contains real content, links only to companies similar to yours, and will actually generate referrals and leads, don’t waste your time or money with them.
Press Release Distribution
This is another highly-debated topic. Over the last year, I have heard several webmasters claiming they still are seeing some value to press release distribution, despite Google’s Matt Cutts suggesting that it provides little or no ranking value.
You can always try your luck and money with services like PR Web, but you will see a lot more value by syndicating press releases with relevant industry news sources rather than a PR syndication site that links to sites across hundreds of industries.
Press releases should never be done in excess. Only send them out when you have something important and newsworthy to say that people will actually care about.
Trade Shows & Speaking Engagements
I don’t think there’s much to say here. Attending or speaking at industry events is one of the oldest link building tactics in the book and is still quite viable. You won’t always get a link, but you will still get your brand name out there.
The following long-term link building strategies can be carried out for an indefinite period of time, and may or may not result in links. However, they will build a strong online brand presence and establish you as a thought leader in your industry.
Creating Linkable Assets
White papers, videos, podcasts, brochures, webinars and other educational resources create great link bait, which can be disseminated through social, PR and blog programs to reach relevant audiences (including publications that may be influenced to link to your content).
Build Online Tools
A company in the construction materials industry providing a concrete mix calculator on their website has created valuable, link-worthy content. A building code compliance consultant creating a building code finder has also produced an appealing tool worth linking to. Even something as simple as a glossary of industry terms is great link bait worth promoting through social and PR networks.
Start A Blog
I’m sure I don’t need to go into much detail here about how valuable a blog is for SEO. In the B2B world, nobody cares about your boring products used for boring things. But if you have a well-managed blog that can actually make your boring industry appealing to people, you will pick up links over time. The blog also serves as a centerpiece for housing thought leadership and other assets.
Below is a diagram that shows what can happen when you disseminate your content through social media channels, resulting in brand awareness, inbound links, search visibility and targeted traffic.
Once you have all those articles, thought leadership pieces, assets, blog posts, and industry relationships built, use your social and PR program to amplify your company message. Social promotion of content will result in an engagement in online dialogue by relevant audiences. Those audiences will share your content with their audiences, which will create brand awareness, inbound links, search visibility and targeted traffic.