Linkbait, Social Networking, and Hardcore SEO

If you’ve completed the on-page optimization for your web site, it’s time to look at the off-page half of your work. With Google getting better at spotting paid links and reciprocal link exchanges, you’ll need something more natural to give you “link juice.” Then again, if you’re thinking only in terms of link juice, you just might be doing it wrong.

If you’ve been following my articles recently, you know that I’ve been writing about a recent post Michael Martinez made in his "SEO Theory and Analysis" blog. In that post, he gave a list of 20 hardcore SEO tips and explained each one.

I’m glad he explained them, because many of the tips seemed counter-intuitive. For example, why would you want to stop using keywords in your URLs? But actually doing each tip gives the student an education guaranteed to advance his or her skills as an SEO. You might not WANT to stop using keywords in your URLS, but it’s good to know HOW to do SEO without them. That way, if you’re ever in a position where you can’t use keywords in your URLs – due to a stubborn client, perhaps – you won’t be at a loss for ideas.

The tips in this article focus on the kinds of things you can do that don’t involve your site directly. Most of them require you to go off-site, to participate in some way on other sites and forums. Even the few that do involve your site will require you to do some active work off-site.

Don’t assume, however, that this article will show you how to get away with social networking spam. Martinez has a low opinion of that sort of thing. For example, his eighteenth tip tells readers to "Find a niche directory you have never heard of before that you feel is honestly listing unique, useful Web sites. Promote that niche directory through links and comments on your own sites until you see improvement in its Compete, Quantcast, and Alexa metrics." With this kind of promotion, what’s in it for you? There’s the bonus you gain by association of pointing people to a useful resource. But there’s also the little matter of learning what it takes "to become an influencer without cheating through social media Web site spam," according to Martinez.

Considering Martinez’s point, there are two things worth noting about social media web sites. First, social web sites are constantly changing; what’s hip today is passé next week. Second, the social rules are always in flux; it’s very easy to offend if you don’t know the territory, and online social surfers are ruthless when it comes to letting loose the flames. Most of them love to flame anyone who is being even remotely self-promotional; you’d be surprised how fast they can pick up on that. The point is that you can’t depend on social media as your only link juice builder, so you need to learn other tricks.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t participate in social media; you just do it a little differently. Take Martinez’s sixth tip: "Find 3 SEO forums that accept site review requests and write 20 reviews in each forum before you ever ask a question." There are actually two reasons to do this. The more important one is that it’s a good education. Taking a serious look at someone else’s site and providing constructive criticism will improve your analysis skills. That will serve you in good stead when you’re ready to turn those skills loose on your own web site.

But Martinez wants you to "Keep your ideas and opinions to yourself;" you should simply provide "your honest, gut-level reactions" to the sites you review. It’s much more educational than attacking forum members whose ideas you disagree with, or adding to a potential flame war. What’s more – and this is the second reason to write the reviews – you’ll look more professional. Forum members will respect you and value your opinion.

While you’re writing those reviews, you should also try to avoid being self-promotional. Let who you are and how you behave speak for you. If you get schlocky in user forums, it will do you far more harm than good. You’ll leave a bad impression in forum members’ minds, and that impression will attach itself to whatever you were trying to promote. Quietly writing those reviews before asking any questions will also give you time to read threads, lurk in the forums, and learn the rules of conduct by observation. (It goes without saying that if there are any stickies posted in the forum that contain forum rules, you should read them).

Martinez’s sixteenth tip speaks to the points of avoiding self-promotion and looking like a professional. He encourages his readers to "Create a forum signature that does not promote your Web site. Put it in every forum profile you have created." You don’t want forum members laughing at you like you’re some kind of idiot who doesn’t know what forums are really for (hint: it isn’t explicit self-promotion). Creating this signature will also teach you how to write concise yet compelling content. That’s a skill that will serve you well in other areas, too.

Martinez doesn’t let up as far as making you learn how to interact in social media without being self-promotional, however. For his tenth tip, he wants his readers to "Find 5 low-traffic blogs or forums that are consistently active and support them through comments, links, and referrals WITHOUT being self-promotional." Yes, it’s another chance to be both authentic and professional online, but there’s a lot more to learn from this experience.

One of the tips you’ll often see when it comes to creating a web site is the idea of building a user community. User forums provide user-generated content, fresh and lovely for the search engines. But how do you build a good user community? That’s what this tip is all about; if you practice it, you’ll learn how it happens. Specifically, "It teaches you just how hard it is to build a good community, and maybe you’ll appreciate what ‘good community’ really means before you act [foolish] in an SEO forum or blog and flame someone else for disagreeing with you," explains Martinez.

One hallmark of a good community is that its members provide useful resources for each other, which brings me to my favorite hardcore tip from Martinez: "Create a 1-page listing of 20 UNKNOWN Web sites you wish you had created. Post that page on your site." You should do it because you’ll now have a unique resource. You may think visitors won’t be interested in such a list, but you’d be wrong; as Martinez explains, "people are actually more interested in your opinion of OTHER people’s Web sites than your opinion of your own Web sites."

Incidentally, the rest of Martinez’s explanation for practicing this tip illustrates why you shouldn’t spend too much of your time in online communities: "Because if you haven’t found 20 sites you wish you had created that no one else has talked about in your regular Web communities, you need to spend less time with your buds and more time with the rest of the Web." The way to find original ideas is to go looking for them; much of the Internet may be schlock, but there are plenty of gems waiting to inspire you.

After all that emphasis on doing things without engaging in self-promotion, you might think that Martinez is totally anti-advertising. He isn’t, but you must learn how to do it right. That’s why his eleventh and twelfth tips are more or less companions to each other.

The key to successful advertising online is not to be loud and in-your-face. It is to be short, sweet, memorable, and smooth. So Martinez’s eleventh tip is to "Write 10 blocks of ad copy (no more than 25 words each) every week. Place them on the Web where they won’t offend anyone." This is one style of writing where you can never get too much practice. And as your audience and venues change, you can change what you’re writing to go right along with it.

Not sure where you can use such ads? Think about your AdWords campaigns. Better still, think about meta description tags. That might help you avoid using expressions that make consumers want to cry because they’ve seen them so many times, like "proudly announces," "best prices," and more. As Martinez urges, "Be informative. Be compelling. Be classy."

Martinez’s twelfth tip echoes this one, on a larger scale. "Write 1 full-page announcement about your Web site each week. Post it some place where it won’t offend anyone." A single page is about 250 to 400 words, depending on things like font size, headlines, etc. This is your chance to show that you know how to be informative without being pushy, and to think of what your reader wants without boring them with yet another ad. Martinez thinks it’s important for you to "spend some time promoting your site while you learn how to become a better search optimizer." There’s another reason to do this, of course, which applies to every hardcore SEO tip given out in this series: "practice makes perfect." Here’s hoping you enjoy perfecting your SEO skills!

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