Posted by Tom_C
I’m no business guru. I’ve never run or owned a business. But from what I’ve overheard from smart people who do run businesses, developing a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is crucial to succeeding. It’s the essence of being remarkable which is what Seth Godin talks about a lot. It’s one of the first questions that I ask clients when they come on board – "What’s your USP? Tell me why you’re better than your competitors".
Listening to clients tell you why they’re better than the competition is a little like getting a client to sell their product to you for CRO (as the Conversion Rate Experts talk about in their SEOmoz case study). The answer to this question will often surprise you and start you thinking of all kinds of juicy ways that you can go about gaining links.
So this is one way of getting link building techniques. But once you have this information about a businesses USP there are other ways to leverage it. And that’s what I want to talk about in this post.
Negotiating Partnerships For Links
Ok, so the stage is set – you’ve figured out what it is that makes your company (or website) better or different from your competitors. You’ve figured out your USP. Now, you need to package that USP up and exchange it for links. Let’s take a really basic example; a successful blogger like Glenn Allsopp. He figured out that one of his USPs was writing kick-ass pieces of content. So he decided to do some guest posting (please read his awesome guide to guest posting). When you boil it down, all a guest post is at the end of the day is a little mini-partnership between two bloggers.
Let’s look at a slightly bigger picture example. Let’s say you’re running a website with data on local pubs and bars. Let’s call this website BeerMoz.com. Now they look hard at the competition and figure out that more or less everyone has the same data, but their USP is in packaging up the data in nice Web 2.0 ways while their competitors are stuck in Web 1.0 swamps. One of the consequences is that BeerMoz has some kick-ass widgets. These widgets let you see the top rated pubs and bars in your area. Awesome linkbuilding-sauce. However, they don’t just stop there, here’s the clever part – Beermoz take their widgets and create partnerships with other local data providers.
What does this partnership look like? Well it looks a little like regular users embedding a widget only it’s done on a much larger scale. Take a camping website (say TentMoz.com) who has local data on campsites, they’re interested in jazzing up their campsite pages by displaying the best pubs to drink in nearby. This data is provided by BeerMoz and there’s a link back to BeerMoz via their widget.
This one partnership nets BeerMoz hundreds if not thousands of links. Admittedly it’s only from one domain so the value of those links tails off but they’re still great links to have – ideally to inner pages too (if the widget is set up correctly to point at individual pubs).
While it’s not going to bring any classical SEO benefit, consider Twitter’s partnerships with Google and Bing. These are exactly the kinds of deals that (done with anyone not a search engine) nets you some really strong links.
How To Find The Partnerships
Once you’ve come up with the concept, finding a website to partner with can often take just a little extra creative thinking. Often a good place to explore are those people who compete with you in the rankings but are not direct business competitors. For example, look at the people who rank for "SEO Tools" – you’ve got a mixture of sites actually offering their own SEO Tools but also blogs writing about SEO tools.
The hard part, however, is often getting to talk to the right people at the company once you’ve identified them. This is where having some business development experience comes in very handy. This stage of getting to talk to the right people, saying the right things and bargaining like a pro is something that business development people are very good at and I strongly recommend that you consider giving a little bit of SEO training to one of these people rather than trying to teach these skills to an SEO.
If you’re struggling however, consider reading a sales book to get some ideas of how best to speak to the right people and say the things they want to hear. Also – consider using LinkedIn as a resource to find contacts or get introductions at a company that you’re aiming for. Leveraging your personal network for an introduction can be the most effective way of getting a warm lead in these situations – twitter has saved my bacon more than once. Mmmm bacon.
Closing The Deal
Once you’re into the detail of negotiating the partnership there’s a few tips and things to bear in mind. Firstly, remember that you likely have more assets than the one you’re offering. For example, consider throwing into the negotiations some free exposure in your email newsletter or some twitter love for some of their content. Try and figure out what it is that drives their online presence and offer them something that helps it.
Here’s a story that my Dad loves to tell – many years ago (likely pre-internet!) he had a small dingy (like a small boat if dingy doesn’t translate to the US folks) and was trying to sell it. He advertised in the local paper for a few months at a really reasonable price but got zero responses. It appeared people just weren’t interested. Frustrated he decided to advertise again, but this time with a price tag several times what he was advertising it at before. Instantly he had several enquiries and sold it almost over night.
What we can learn about this story is that often attaching a price tag to something makes it’s perceived value go up. If you think about it, there’s no real reason for this to be true but nevertheless it’s how us simple predictable humans work. So why not open these negotiations by trying to SELL them your USP? If your USP is genuinely valuable then there’s no reason that you can’t sell it to them. Couch it in terms of licensing, or syndication of data. As discussions progress you can gradually start to talk about removing the price tag if they’ll only link to you in return for giving them this data. Boom! They see what you’re offering as valuable, they think they’re getting a steal and you get your links. (BTW – I wonder if this is technically buying links? I’m sure Google would never penalise you for it but it’s an interesting hypothetical example…)
Reciprocal Linking Isn’t Dead
If you’re struggling to really stand out from the crowd or don’t have a USP to talk of then firstly you have bigger problems than not enough links!! But secondly, consider reciprocal linking. Yes, yes I know I’ll probably get shouted at in the comments but reciprocal linking done between trusted sites on a manual level from pages without large numbers of external links is a GOOD THING. There, I said it. So consider negotiating some reciprocal links from strong sites. A few things to bear in mind:
- You want to carefully consider what you’re offering and to who you offer it. There’s only so many of these that you want to put in place so make sure they’re high quality.
- Don’t link to their pages which link to yours. Try and spread it around a little.
- Try not to create site-wide links. These are generally a bad idea. A smaller number of strong links will trump sitewide links every time.
What experiences have you had using partnerships for link building? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.