Link Building is Relationship Building

If you’re not using social media to promote your firm, you’re missing out on a fair bit of business. Even if you aren’t personally using social media, you could be building links online without knowing it. If you want those links to reveal positive things about your business, you’re going to have to put in some work.

Julie Joyce, writing for Search Engine Journal, offered a couple of scenarios to illustrate this point. Say you’re going on vacation and looking for a bed-and-breakfast in which to stay. If you’re as sophisticated as most searchers today, you’ve learned that the first listing you hit didn’t necessarily get there because it’s the best of the lot. So you click around for some reviews, perhaps at sites such as Yelp. You find a place with mostly positive reviews and relatively few negative reviews, so you book your stay.

In our example, you thoroughly enjoy yourself. The food is yummy, your room is comfortable and home-like, the service is friendly and efficient, and the owner points you to some sightseeing gems you might have missed otherwise. You’re so delighted that you write a glowing review in your blog, and link to the bed-and-breakfast’s web page from your post.

What just happened? The business certainly didn’t ask you for a link, but you gave it one anyway. As Joyce puts it, “They’ve done nothing but provide good service in order to get positive mentions, which led me to them, which led them to a link.”

There’s a deeper message here. You will probably get links of one kind or another whether you want them or not, based on the kinds of relationships you have with your customers. You want those links to reflect positive relationships. After all, when was the last time you decided to patronize a business because you saw that it had more NEGATIVE reviews than positive ones?

But what can you do if you get negative reviews? Well, if you hear about them, you can actually become proactive and fix whatever problems the customer raised. You’ll be surprised at how effective this can be. I’ll talk about that more in a bit, but first, let’s look at how you can get more active online.

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You probably have profiles on several social networks. If you are going to use social media, you need to be willing to keep your pages updated regularly. If a visitor shows up and sees that you haven’t posted for months, they may not take you or your business seriously. So be prepared to put in a little time.

That said, Joyce recommends listing your business on six social media sites, at least as you’re starting to build your online presence. These are Google Places, Bing Local, Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Give yourself some time to get a handle on how the sites work, how much activity each site typically expects (they’re all different), and so forth.

So that’s the first step to building your company’s social presence online. The second step is to actually see what people are saying about your business, and respond to it. Fortunately, that’s not as hard as it sounds. You don’t need to track down every blog and review site that mentions your company; there are automated tools that will do that for you. Google Alerts is just one example, but there are others.

Now, how do you respond to what people say about your company? If it’s negative, start by taking a few deep breaths. Don’t get defensive. You can actually turn a negative review around if you treat the poster with respect. Ask what happened, listen, find out what you can do to make amends, and then do it. This can go a long way.

Don’t believe me? Check out this survey summary. It explains that one-third of those surveyed who received a reply from a retailer after a negative holiday shopping experience actually took the negative review down and posted a positive one. How’s that for turning a frown upside down?

Don’t neglect to respond to positive reviews, either. A positive review is like a gift – and didn’t your mother teach you to respond to gifts with thank-you notes? They’re not outdated; in fact, in the age of the Internet, they can help build customer loyalty.

I’ve hardly mentioned link building in this entire piece, so you’re probably wondering where that comes in. It’s happening with everything you’re doing online. You’re not asking for links; you’re earning them. You’re not building links; you’re building relationships. The links are a natural side effect. This, rather than link dropping on someone’s blog, is the way you’re supposed to build links online.

Is it a lot of work? It can be. But it’s not optional any longer. How would you feel if a negative review of your business came up as one of the top ten results in Google for your name? At the very least, you’d be concerned about the customers you’re losing. And if you don’t address a negative review, it could start showing up in several places.

For example, Joyce mentioned posting a negative review of her former pediatrician in early December last year. “As of today, no one from the office has responded to my review. It’s the first one that pops up for them on Yelp, and it’s in the top 10 in Google for their name,” she observed. Furthermore, “They also have a Yellow Pages review ranked at number one in Google with both positive and negative reviews. Again, no responses to the reviews. Their Google Places listing is pulling in the Yellow Pages reviews, also. Bottom line: they’ve lost several chances to respond to both positive and negative input, which will get them nowhere with today’s focus on customer service and feedback.”
EGOL, one of the most respected members in the SEO Chat forums, regularly notes that behind every link is a person. If you want to build that link, you need to build a relationship with that person. At its best, that is what social media really is all about. Good luck!

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