Link Building Outside the Box

If you’ve used traditional link building strategies and find yourself running out of ideas, maybe it’s time to do a little brainstorming. To help you get started, this article will clue you in to some underused but powerful ideas for generating buzz and traffic for your web site. Feel free to mix and match or use them as jumping-off points.

I owe a lot of the ideas I’m about to describe to Kim Roach at Zany Pixel. Roach wrote an amazing article on unusual link building strategies. I won’t have room to examine them all here, so I urge you to pay a visit to the site. You may come away with just the idea you need to really kick-start your traffic.

My first idea, however, comes from Hamlet Batista. He advocates giving something away. Giving goodies away is a time-honored tradition when it comes to marketing, from the little prizes in cereal boxes to the swag-filled days before the first dot-com bust. But how is giving something away going to get you links? It depends on how you do it.

Say you run a content-based site that features reviews. If you’ve just run a really good review of something – a restaurant perhaps, or a video game, or an electronic device – why not contact the manufacturer (or game designer, or restaurant owner) and let them know? They’ll be delighted to hear about the good review…and if you suggest that they accept a virtual “badge” or “trophy” that links back to the good review on your site, you will more than likely get a very nice one-way link.

This idea can be adapted in a variety of ways. Here’s a spin for not-for-profit educational organizations: in addition to all the educational data you provide on your site, include a number of tests. Let visitors take the tests. If they score particularly high, give them a virtual “award” at the end of the test that they can post to their blog. It gives your site another link, and gets the word out to the blog’s readers. True, not everyone who is online has a blog, but they’re common enough these days to make this worthwhile.

You know about Blogger and WordPress and LiveJournal, of course, and then there are the blogs on social networking sites that aren’t quite as blog-focused. But did you know that you could start a blog on eBay? I didn’t either, but here’s the home page for eBay Blogs.

If you think nobody would use eBay Blogs for anything more than getting the word out about the latest items they’ve posted for sale, think again. SEO expert Jim Boykin started an eBay blog. He has only one entry, but it’s very informative for anyone who is trying to sell goods on eBay and is looking for an edge. The entry links back to his main blog, so anyone who’s really interested can find out a lot more. It’s worth noting, by the way, that eBay apparently doesn’t force bloggers to use the rel=”nofollow” tag. Just keep your desired keywords/anchor text in mind and get to work.

I talked about giving virtual trophies away earlier. Trophies tend to imply contests of some kind, and holding a contest in your blog is a great way to attract traffic and links. There are even specific sites set up where you can promote your blogging contest. Roach lists no fewer than 15 sites, including Contest Blogger, The Prize Blog, SYC and My Blog Contests.

Don’t underestimate the potential benefits of running a contest on your blog. Ben Cook wrote an article a few months ago in which he explained the benefits of the contest he’d just finished running in his blog. The contest’s explicit purpose was building links to help push his site up in the SERPs. Thanks to the contest, he got his site ranked as high as fourth for his chosen key phrase in Yahoo. At the time he wrote the article, he’d settled down to 46th in Google and 37th in Yahoo for the phrase, but that gave him a good base to build on. The contest also brought hundreds of visitors to his site at a time when it was less than three months old.

If you want to inspire some interesting responses and conversation along with those links, try to think of a way to make the contest just a little off-beat. Make your contestants work, but not too hard. Photo contests seem more likely to go viral and inspire lots of entries than other kinds of contests, perhaps because digital photography has made it so easy these days. Encourage your entrant to send in a short description along with the photo – search engines can’t see images without something in the alt tag, but they can crawl any other text you put on the page, so this way you get relevant text along with the image.

Some link building ideas work best for particular kinds of sites or businesses. For instance, if you’re one of the many people out there who are running or involved with a startup, you might want to give Killer Startups a look. The site reviews 30 Internet startups every working day, and lets its users vote on which ones they think will be successful. You can submit your startup for review using their slightly lengthy form; in addition to links, it’s possible that you’ll attract an investor.

If you have tried using social media optimization, you already know that creating resource lists for sites like Digg can get you links and traffic. But there’s another kind of site you might want to look at. It’s typified by The List Universe. The entire site is devoted to lists, such as “15 Lousy Video Games That Should Never Have Been Made.” As with other social networking sites, you have to register, but here’s a link to their submission form. The site also has its own forums. As with any social networking site, make sure the content you provide adds real value to the community; you don’t want to be perceived as a spammer.

Do you think you have a really cool site? You might want to submit it to Cool Site of the Day then. This site specializes in reviewing the most interesting sites around the web that they can find. It’s a great chance for you to get a link – and hopefully lots of visitors as the site’s readers stop by to check you out. Cool Site of the Day has inspired imitators; the Sci Fi channel features a Cool Site in its newsletter, for instance. So if you’re not sure your own site is “cool” enough, you might be able to find a site that does the same thing as “Cool Site,” but covers your own field.

Of course, one of the coolest aspects of Cool Site of the Day is that it’s just well-known enough to have the kind of “ripple effect” you see for Digg. Journalists looking for something to put together quickly may check out the Cool Site of the Day and write it up. And since it’s on the Internet, the journalist could be anywhere in the world. Roach mentioned that sites featured on Cool Site of the Day have turned up on the BBC News website, USA Today, and other media outlets.

You probably have a blog for your company, but do you do a podcast? “But that’s so much trouble!” you say. Actually, it might be less trouble than you think. Odiogo.com offers a free service that lets you turn your blog or any textual content into an audio format. Once you have a podcast, you can submit it to all of the podcast directories. Like magic, you’ve gained lots of new, legitimate links.

Do you sell software? Is it available for download only from your web site? You can do better than that. You don’t have to give your software away, but you can create a demo version of it and turn it into a Portable Application Description (PAD) file. Here’s an article that explains what they are and why you’d want to use them. There are even free tools that will create PAD files for you. Once you have a PAD file, you can submit it to more than 1,000 download web sites, spreading the word far and wide about your cool software. They will link back to your site for the actual download.

Maybe, like me, you write content rather than code. Do you have an ebook under your belt? You’re in luck. There are a ton of ebook directories out there as well, and you’ll want to submit your work to these directories. Some examples are ebook2u, Wisdom ebooks and Published.com; there are many others.

Above all, remember that you’re dealing with the Internet. If you have an idea, someone else may already be doing it on the web. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, but other times it may work in your favor to help you promote your site. Good luck! 

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