The recent announcement from Matt Cutts on guest blogging or contributing content to third-party websites in exchange for links will be scrutinized more than ever has left search marketers and social media strategists running around wondering what they can possibly do to earn credible links in 2014.

Over the last four years alone, Google’s head of web spam has deemed numerous popular linking strategies as no longer valuable and possibly dangerous to attempt.

Link Earning - Jason Corrigan SEO.jpgFrom infographics to social sharing, some of the most rewarding tactics for driving online authority and visibility are becoming concepts of the past as Google continues to move toward providing a complete digital environment that is shaped by social proof (tweets, likes, Google+1, comments, views, engagement behavior).

While these declarations from Cutts always draw a certain amount of controversy and criticism from the search marketing world as to the actual extent that Google will penalize such strategies; the fact remains that the form of a particular strategy does not carry as much consequence as the intention and tactic involved during implementation.

For SEOs and social media marketers who are looking for safe ways to gain credible links to drive online authority, visibility and traffic then check out Product-Focused Linking (PFL).

What is Product Focused Linking?

PFL campaigns act as exchanged partnerships where a host offers a receiver a particular item or reward in exchange for a link that directs back to the host’s online property.

While this definition lends itself to manipulation, the concept can be extremely rewarding and positive when used as an effort to support or bring about positive change in some tangible form.

Whether this positive form appears as video content that offers online consumers in-depth insight on the validity of a particular product or sees an established brand offer support to disaster relief organizations to drive positive PR; the intentions of the linking campaign always outweigh the vessel that is used to execute.

How To Execute A Phenomenal Product-Focused Linking Campaign From Experience

Step 1: Research Relevant Social Platforms To Connect With

I was working with a large retail brand at a time when contractually, their monthly deliverables and services had basically switched to autopilot.

At the same time discussions were taking place on where we could provide additional support to their digital marketing campaign, the strongest topical cyclone ever-recorded Typhoon Haiyan had just struck the Central Philippines, killing thousands and leaving almost four million people homeless.

Because of this, it was evident that we had an opportunity to provide support to people in need, while also being able to execute a positive linking strategy that could act as a catalyst for advancing the client’s visibility, authority and search listings.

So we decided to kick-off a PFL campaign that focused on offering the client’s durable, warm work clothes to various organizations and support groups that provide aide to those in need, specifically in Central Philippines. In exchange, we were looking to have pictures taken with each person who received the client’s clothing items and have those images posted online and linked to various relevant landing pages within the client’s site.

Using tools like GroupHigh and Open Site Explorer, I was able to research hundreds of blog categories and hosts that aligned with the client’s target audience, as well as concepts related to humanitarianism, community and volunteerism.

If you have not used GroupHigh yet, it is excellent for understanding the validity of a particular blogger or host as it allows you to understand a multitude of metrics that illustrate quality and reach.

The platform’s filtering options allow users to easily find sites that meet particular qualifications that include:

  • Domain score
  • Volume of backlinks
  • Social followers per platform
  • Social engagement and reaction
  • Content development frequency
  • Likeliness of responding to outreach requests
  • Contact information

I recommend compiling a list of at least a few hundred sources to try and connect with, as you are not going to be able to connect with every Webmaster or blogger you reach out to.

In my particular case, I compiled a list of sites and blogs that focused their content development efforts and subjects of discussion largely on topics that included terms: “American Red Cross,” “disaster relief,” “Philippines Support” Philippines Aide” and “Donating to the Philippines relief effort.”

Step 2: Outreach and Communication

Once you have your list of relevant third-party social hosts you want to connect with, it is critical that you draft a well-thought out letter of request. Your letter should include 101 e-mail marketing principles such as:

  • Direct the attention of the letter to a specific person or party
  • Be clear and concise in your message
  • Offer specific language and examples that illustrate relevance in relationship and understanding of their brand
  • Offer an incentive for following through on your request

Once you have made contact with what you feel is enough properties to connect with, make sure that your client and all receiving hosts understand the details and parameters surrounding the shipment of goods and the responsibilities each party is committed to for bringing the entire project to fruition.

You can make the process much easier for your contacts and conducive for gaining ideal results by providing them with specific copy, meta data and instructions for publishing.

Step 3: Monitor and Track Results

Just before you ship your products out to your third-party hosts, make sure you take note of your client’s backlink portfolio so you can understand the value of the campaign’s results.

Tools like Open Site Explorer are great for understanding any website’s interactions considering inbound links, percentage of anchor texts and total links acquired.

Once all goods have been sent out and your third-party hosts have replied by publishing content that links back to your client’s target landing pages, then begin tracking your results by reviewing Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools and other platforms like Open Site Explorer.

See how many new links your client acquires and what terms and landing pages each link supports. You should begin to see significant results after about three months considering the increase of visibility, traffic and volume of search listings for your client’s online environment.

Try It Out Yourself Before Jumping To Conclusions:

Before you go ahead and think that Matt Cutts is killing every popular solution for earning great links and before you regurgitate a million rehashed blogs you read online, try out some of these tactics for yourself.

It is the only way to truly understand how effective a particular social linking strategy is and at the end of the day, results are going to vary for each person who executes any strategy regardless of whether it is Product Focused Linking or a series of video testimonials.

This particular strategy has worked for me when I managed P&G’s Oral Care line and continues to provide substantial results in increasing visibility and search listings.

The consideration for whether Matt Cutts is going to penalize you or your clients for networking with relevant third-party hosts is never going to be an issue as long as you are working with quality partners and the results of your actions lead to a greater online experience for consumers.

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About Jason Corrigan

Jason Corrigan

Jason Corrigan is the Director of SEO at Cardinal Web Solutions in Norcross, GA who oversees the planning and execution of custom SEO and social strategies for medium sized businesses to Fortune 500 companies. He is a published author on Social SEO and has extensive marketing experience that ranges from journalism and content development to TV and Radio marketing/advertising.

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