Content Marketing

Building Hub Links: a 5 Point Strategy Guide for Creative SEOs

I generally fall on the creative side of online marketing rather than the overly technical. I think it’s in part because of the “audience sense” I developed at WebProNews, where some days I was the editor of JavaProNews and others I had to write SEM content for our million or so subscribers. Give me your profitable keywords and I’m off thinking of articles, blog posts and email newsletters that will appeal to your target demographic. It’s because I’m so creative that I’ve always enjoyed my marketing conversations with my good friend, the uber-analytical, technical and data-driven Ben Wills.

It was Ben who introduced me to the back link analysis processes that have become the foundation for my content creation and link building efforts these days. This post is an outline of my methods for the more creative SEOs out there – the article marketers and bloggers seeking to build powerful, business sustaining links – who have perhaps overlooked some crucial publishers and communities to target with awesome content.

1) Know and Target Your Most Profitable Keywords
2) Conduct a Link Hub Research Dig
3) Sort By PR and Links Out (Co-Citations)
4) Determine Your Strategic Options: Social Media, Directories, Blogs, Publishers, Forums
5) GO! GO! GO!

1) Know and Target Your 3 (for now) Most Profitable Keywords
This link building process begins – as your online marketing efforts always should – with your most profitable keywords. It’s likely that these are your most competitive keywords too – the words you used in your URL, the titles of your site pages and in the link text of the articles you’ve been writing and distributing and links and PPC ads you’ve been buying.

The process I outline here can certainly stretch to encompass ALL of your keywords, from the top of the big head to the very tippy-tip of your long tail. I’m not adept at managing and manipulating such enormous amounts of data and for my purposes I find that limitations – like digging in on only a couple of the most important keywords – give me far more traction and forward momentum.

I say know and target 3 keywords because this will give you plenty of data to start a two-three week project at a couple hours or so a day. Target more if you want, but if you lean on the creative side like me it’s important to maintain momentum on projects. Aiming at just 3, or 2 or even 1, will simplify the process for your first run through and will get you to spend more time focusing on the important hub sites in the communities that influence rankings for your target keywords.

2) Conduct a Link Hub Research Dig
This is an exciting part for me because of the tool I use to support my dig. Nothing beats hands-on rankings investigations, but these won’t show you as efficiently whose links are actually affecting rankings right now.

I use a for-pay windows-based program on my wife’s computer for my hub digs. Before plunking down your hard-earned cash for a hub finder I’d suggest working with Aaron Wall’s hub finder, currently housed on his LinkHounds site.

Hub Finder on LinkHounds.

I’m not as familiar with Wall’s hub finder as the tool I use, but in conducting a search on his I found it did help identify the sites that link out to more than one of the top 10 sites for your search term.

It has several posted mirrors in case Wall’s has reached its maximum queries:

When I search for hub site potential link partners I “open up the flood gates” and investigate the maximum listings for my tool (top 30 sites for a term) and the minimum number of links to sites in the top 30 (which is 2). This means I’ve got tons of back link data for those top 30 sites and will see the hubs that helped these top sites achieve those rankings.

I’d suggest that you conduct as wide a search as possible at first with whatever tool you’re using. Over time you can narrow down your searches as you experiment to find that sweet spot for the term or niche you’re developing links in.

3) Sort By PR and Links Out (Co-Citations)
So once you’ve got 100,200 or even 1,000 sites in your spread sheet you can start analyzing and organizing them.

First I list my sites by PR – though this metric alone is NOT an indicator of a good link – and then by number of “co-citations,” which is how many of the top 30 sites for my keyword this given site links to. All the sites that didn’t return PR get cut. Depending on how many sites I’m analyzing, sites with PRs of 1, 2, or even 3 get cut too. I can hear Mike Grehan slapping his forehead as I type these words, but hey. When you’re faced with analyzing 1,000 sites and you’re spending your clients’ money on your time you’ve got to draw lines using some kind of metric πŸ™‚

The other important metric of course is how many of the top sites each of these hub sites link to. If there’s a low-PR site that happens to link to a bunch of the top sites then there’s a reasonable chance that this site would be a good one to get a link from. Further, if we’re talking about an uncompetitive keyword then there’s more reason to throw the PR metric out the window as a starting guide.

Once you’ve trimmed the list at the bottom you can trim it at the top too by cutting out Google Answers and all the DMOZ clones out there. You’ll find lots of unreachable-for-now type of sites like CNN and others that you needn’t worry yourself with at this stage of the game. A link from a major site would be awesome, but for now you should focus on the easily attainable!

4) Determine Your Strategic Direction: Content Creation, Link Requests, Link Purchases, Content Distribution
By this time you should start seeing some interesting link possibilities emerge. For one thing social media sites will start to appear – you’ll start to see the ones that may have some bearing on the keyword(s) you’re trying to rank for. Give these their own list and make time to set up profiles in them and see about finding a few friends within them.

You’ll also see directories that appear to have bearing on the rankings for your keyword too. Mark these down as potential submission points and places to potentially buy a link. Some sites sell links and even regular banner ads. If it’s a niche site it could well be worth buying some actual advertising!

Finally, the blogs, forums and other relevant and influential content publishers will emerge, and these are the sites that I focus on with my creative efforts.

For me, the content sites, blogs and forums are a creative revelation on a number of different levels. As a writer these sites show me what kinds of content will earn me publication on their sites, or links from their sites. They’re also a sneak peek at what kinds of content are most relevant to this demographic (as sliced by the target keyword). Whether I’m creating content and requesting links or creating content and requesting publication with link attribution, this list of sites helps me understand what kinds of content (how-tos, opinion, entertainment) work in this space.

Further, these hub sites are often focal points for communities, or are even forums. This kind of a link dig is an awesome starting point for beginning your “conversation marketing” and community outreach because it reveals the influential community sites for a given keyword.

5) GO! GO! GO!
Write articles! Submit to publishers! Write tailored, custom link requests! Conduct interviews for targeted link exchanges! Buy links! Go! Go! Go!

It’s easy to get caught in the analysis paralysis of link digging. It’s exciting to find 100 potential sites to link to you. Excitement is great but I’ve had a hard time getting grocery stores to let me exchange it for their food. The point of this hub identification exercise is to better target your link building efforts on the sites that will make a difference to your rankings. Good luck, God bless, build links!

6) Oh Yes, By the Way…
I’m currently seeking link building clients πŸ™‚ Shoot me an email: or call me at (919) 696 4225 to discuss!

Email Newsletter Development Assist by Nielsen Norman

I cut my teeth in the email newsletter world over at webpronews. I started in on some email newsletter template wireframing today for a Bold client and got that good ole’ marketing-geeky feeling over the executive summary on Email Newsletter Usability from Nielsen Norman. Here are the points that made their way into my “design concepts” list for the project:

  • “The positive aspect of this emotional relationship is that newsletters can create much more of a bond between users and a company than a website can.”
  • “The most frequent complaint in our study was about newsletters that arrived too often. And, when we let them vent, the most frequent advice our study participants had for newsletter creators was to Β“keep it brief.Β””
  • “The dominant mode of dealing with email newsletters is to skim them: thatΒ’s what happened to 69% of the newsletters in our most recent study.”
  • “All of the following four reasons were given by more than 40% of users: * Informs of work-related news or company actions (mentioned by two-thirds of users)
    * Reports prices/sales
    * Informs about personal interests/hobbies
    * Informs about events/deadlines/important dates”
  • “It is the job of the newsletter publisher to convince users that the newsletter will be simple, useful, and easy to deal with.”
  • So yeah, I doubt your skull cracked from reading any of these findings but they served me well in my design process and served as a great refresher for lessons I got many moons ago. Thanks Nielsen Norman for rocking on with your bad selves.

    Word Dorks Thrill at 3 Letter Word Wiktionary Beta Launch

    All those rumors you’ve been hearing about me are true. I DID start compiling a three letter word dictionary whose words are defined using only three letter words. (And oh yeah I married the best roller girl in the world and moved to Philly, Lansdowne to be precise.)

    This collaborative dictionary revels in its self referential glory and the silly way that three letter words can be strung together to create meaning sometimes and nonsense that seems like it has meaning other times. It’s my way of weaving together the word dorks in my life, so if you’re up for it check out the project and shoot me an email… my guess is you have my email address if you happen to be reading this blog πŸ˜‰

    >> Learn more about the 3 letter word dictionary.

    >> Check out the 3 letter word dictionary wiki itself (beta – only the “A” section is done)

    (and yes, I’m still working with Bold Interactive even though I moved to Philly…)

    Connect the Dots for an Incredible Community Marketing Post

    Imagine an incredible, articulate and mind blowing article patching all of these posts together in a way that increases their aggregate value πŸ˜€

    That’s what I would have written if I wasn’t going out to get sushi tonight with my lady to celebrate her first paid gig doing roller derby training (she’s buying) and the successful (and BUSY) month Adam and I are having.

    I haven’t been at my bloglines for a week or so – here’s what’s notable to me. Oh yeah – I haven’t actually READ any of these closely yet… this is as close to a non-post as I’ll try to come here on conversations monetized ;P

    On Stacking Mad Cash
    How to Get Started as a Domainer: 28 Tips, Techniques and Resources
    I Secretly Want To Be AΒ…
    Domainer’s Magazine
    Frank Schilling’s Seven Mile: My Favorite Domainer Blog
    The Absolute Fastest Way To Make Money Online

    Why the Age of Your Domain Name is Important for SEO
    Blue Hat Technique #17 – Keyword Fluffing
    66 Ways to Build Links in 2007 (very excited about thoroughly reading this one)

    Social/Community Marketing
    Can Twitter Serve as Highly Targeted Marketing Tool?
    YouTube Case Study: Widget marketing comes of age
    User Community and ROI
    New research: participants vs. lurkers (from one of my new favorite blogs…)
    Social Media Now: The Consumer Lesson of Twittermania
    Disposable Camera Model for Community Growth
    Lego MMO Revealed

    Mmmm… sashimi! Bye πŸ™‚

    Creating Linkable Content through Group Interviews, Contests and Surveys

    If you’re responsible for link-worthy website copy your antenna should be up at all times for methods to create content that will incite your “linkerati” to link to you.

    Here are my favorite tactics for creating content and links – some of which I’ve tested, some of which I’ve observed in action.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Build Community First, Monetize Last

    A video of a Stanford presentation by two of the founders of Threadless got me challenging my assumptions for community marketing this morning.

    Based on watching this I recognize that what I wrote about here: The Community Correspondent: a Guide to Creating Link Worthy Content Through Forum Participation is more about skimming off the top of a community rather than building community.

    Further, because I’ve not created incentive for community building in this particular project I will have to continually work outside of the system to keep generating content myself. It’s hard work writing massive articles – it’s going the long way around to generate community-oriented content (but still a great place to start learning…).

    The Threadless founders focused on having fun and building applications that they would want to use and that resonated with their friends.

    This feels alien to me, as someone who’s always looked for ways to help others monetize their own projects, but it brings back a recurring dream of mine – the idea of creating hundreds of little seeds and spreading them to the winds just to see what happens. The idea of a concept a day for a year – concepts folded quickly and launched like paper airplanes.

    When I interviewed Garrett Camp of Stumble Upon for SEJ (SU Defined and Marketing with SU) I found a similar approach – they built for their community first and STILL don’t give a big crap about monetization. They funded themselves for a good bit and paid bills through donations in the early stages.

    If your site/business can motivate people to DONATE to you then you’re probably on the right track.

    This video is 45 minutes long. I got a nice kick in the pants from it and I hope you do too.

    Thanks to exploding-boy I learned how to turn of the obnoxious visual editor and embed this video directly for you πŸ™‚ – Turn Off WordPress 2.0 Visual Editor

    I spotted this video on Karl Long’s TCritic.

    The Community Correspondent: a Guide to Creating Link Worthy Content Through Forum Participation

    My primary marketing project right now is an affiliate site with a known brand that targets a passionate hobbyist and professional community. Many amongst this community are active in the roughly 10 online forums of sizes ranging from 700 to ~17,000 members.

    Over the past two months through my strategic participation in two of these forums I’ve generated brand awareness, created content that’s won valuable links from important sites and blogs in the space, increased targeted organic search traffic to our site and developed an unexpected fondness for the community as a whole.

    In researching to round out my thinking on this piece I found Jake McKee’s blog, CommunityGuy. He worked with online communities that formed around his employer, Lego. My approach to community is directly in line with his, but my primary intention was to create a sustainable and community-centric content stream to help thicken a formerly thin affiliate site.

    In Lessons in Branded Content Creation Through Community Participation I wrote about what I learned from recent forum criticisms. This article covers with far more depth the approach to community interaction that I’ve taken for this project, with an emphasis on sustainability through aligning the content creation process with my community’s values.

    Here’s what’s covered:
    1) Forum Content Distributor vs. Forum Correspondent
    2) Guidelines for Gaining a Workable Level of Acceptance
    3) Your Value Proposition to Forum Participants
    4) Getting the Conversation Rolling
    5) The Unexpected Benefits
    6) The Continued Dangers
    7) Six Closing Remarks

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Lessons in Branded Content Creation Through Community Participation

    I’m learning some great lessons on branded content creation and distribution right now thanks to my work with Adam Schultz and Bold Interactive and I wanted to submit them to you for use in your work and for your feedback.

    These lessons became crystallized, back lit and tightly focused today after I posted in a forum that has been a key source of knowledge, traffic, community acceptance and links thus far. Though I’ve been very successful developing content here in the past I recognized today that false steps can open the banana can faster than a hungry monkey.

    One key difference is that I opened a forum thread to DISTRIBUTE content rather than to ask a question and start to GENERATE content. I did ask a question at the end of the thread, but my intention was partly to get a quick shot of traffic which in my rear view mirror now looks like a bad idea.

    But only because I didn’t follow my new rules πŸ™‚

    Read the rest of this entry »