How to Build Links that Convert
Visitors referred to your website via links are no different to visitors referred from a search engine.
We optimise commercial pages to within an inch of their lives, but do we pay the same amount of intention to the pages we build links to?
Because it’s no longer practical to measure the quality of a linking website solely using Domain Authority or any other metric, we might grade the quality of a website by its author’s social following, for example. When we do this we’re really judging that website’s ability to drive traffic to our own rather than the ranking benefit that single link might provide. We should also be paying attention to what that traffic is likely to do.
This is not to suggest that it is easy – or even sensible – to build links to commercial pages. Realistically it’s hard to justify why a blogger or journalist would link to your landing page instead of a competitor’s. Unless you’re a fashion brand launching a new line, or you have extremely interesting or quirky products, it’s unlikely that you’ll get much traction when you’re building links during business as usual.
It’s obviously possible to acquire links through blogging, guest posting, outreach and more, but more and more link building at scale is done using creative content.
Build links, get money
It’s relatively easy to convert a visitor from a blog post (depending on what you’re asking them to do).
Internal links to relevant pages and a call to action at the bottom of the article is oversimplifying it a little, but when the content you create is purely text based you can give your readers the option to move through the site without diluting the message you want to convey.
This is much more difficult to do creatively, for a couple of reasons:
- There is usually less text, which means a creative piece – though more expensive – generally has a shorter shelf life than a blog post. As there is less text the page will be relevant for fewer terms and so will get less search traffic further down the line than a blog post might, regardless of the number of links it has acquired.
- More (and more forceful) sales message in a creative piece will generally reduce its shareability and the likelihood that it will acquire links.
If the content itself is not the primary reason for you to want a user on the page, they won’t buy it. Hosting a creative on a commercial page or suggesting in any way that it’s part of your sales funnel will seriously impair its impact. Generally speaking users won’t share commercial pages, and it probably won’t get linked to with anywhere near the frequency that it could.
A good example of converting content is UK cosmetic surgery company Transform’s Brits, Boobs & Botox campaign.
The reasons it works:
- The data supplies a hook for journalists and bloggers who are looking for a story, but it also acts as social proof for the users who have clicked a link and ended up on the page. If visitors are considering a cosmetic procedure they can see exactly how many people have used the company in the past.
- Case studies provide a soft call to action. By filtering the map to show a particular procedure in a particular area the visitor has shown some interest – whatever they intend to do with that information. Transform presents a case study of a current or past customer who has already undergone the same journey.
- There’s a local interest as people want to see how their home town compares to others – this is great for human interest, but also for local press and publications who can also be approached to link to Transform’s location pages where applicable.
- The stories that journalists might want to cover were anticipated and press releases were prepared with more data, trend breakdowns over time and other key stats. Journalists are incredibly busy and right from the first outreach email or phone call you have to be prepared to answer the question ‘why should I care?’
4 rules for creating content that converts
When it comes to link strategy SEOs are still the right people for the job. PR – and traditional PR practitioners – are becoming invaluable in campaigns that deliver search rankings, but SEO specialists are best placed to determine the objectives for a search campaign and to ensure these are met – even if that is a link building campaign.
If the objective is to convert at least some of the visitors who come through via the links you build, it pays to bear these things in mind:
- Be on brand.
- Accept that not every visitor to a piece of content has any interest in the products that you’re trying to sell
- Don’t be pushy.
- Target your outreach.
Creating content that is completely unrelated to what your business does, just for the sake of links, is less likely to improve search rankings.
Let me qualify this: if you’re being written about or talked about in the context of what your business is all about then those links are more valuable. Creative that shows your stats, your data or your expertise means that bloggers and journalists – the people who will link to you – will write about what you do as well as what you have created.
Going viral exposes your content to a much wider audience than you would normally have earned. On Moz.com I wrote about a blog post that gained 100k Pageviews in two days – I don’t think any of those 100k visitors converted, but the links I gained improved search rankings to such an extent that there’s no doubt that blog post contributed a serious amount to the bottom line.
When reporting on campaign success Assisted Conversions are just as important as Direct or last click. Your creative provides an introduction, creative can’t always close.
It’s important to set expectations around creative. If you’re measuring the success of your project on the conversions and revenue it drives, don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t get thousands of shares too.
Using ‘buy now’ as a CTA in content is generally ill advised, but this is even truer for creative content.
A visitor reading a blog post knows what to expect. Further down the page there will be more words – maybe there will be a sales message but this is easily skipped over.
Watching a video, playing a game or clicking through an interactive tool is a different story – there is some trepidation, even excitement, about what is going to happen. Maybe there’s a leader board or an expected payoff that encourages a user to say with you to the end. Obvious sales tactics are going to turn off a user before they have finished.
Your creative is your entry point. Think of it as the very top of your funnel, the first resource in your ZMOT. Very few users are prepared to dial you or part with their data at that point. A soft call to action – find out more, see more of this on our YouTube channel – is a strong starting point.
You need to convince visitors to care before you convince them to buy.
If you have any hope of converting your referral traffic you should know who is likely to click through. A piece of content can be placed on a huge site like Mashable or Buzzfeed with the potential to drive vast amounts of traffic, but unless your product is relevant to their readers they will not convert.
So the highest Domain Authority, the site with the most social followers and the site with the best search rankings are not the goal here. It’s about finding the sites your audience reads.
There are too many methods to finding your audience to detail here, but using paid tools like Hitwise; Demographics and Interest reports in Google Analytics (free); and a bunch of other tried and tested techniques Mike King lays down here are a great start.
It’s no longer a case of finding more and more sites that will link to you – it’s a case of finding the right sites that will refer your customers on.
It’s time to stop considering content marketing campaigns just as pages to acquire links to and start optimising those pages as a step in the process of acquiring customers.