If you’re a regular reader here at Calvin Ayre, you may have come across Paul Reilly’s post last October. Back then Paul was pretty aggressively advocating the use of paid links to climb to page one for profitable, transactional keywords, especially in the iGaming industry. He insisted that “If you Google a high volume, transactional phrase; you can count on the top 10 sites, to be buying links.” and claimed that there was no way to get to the top of the game without using paid links.
A prophet of doom
At the end of his tirade, he left us with a very telling word of warning. Using paid links, he chided, is “very f****** dangerous”. Roll on five months, sit back and watch May 2014’s Payday Loan 2.0 algorithm updates rip through the spammiest online businesses in the most spam-affected online industries (lending, personal injury claims, insurance and, yes, iGaming). Big iGaming players like William Hill were hammered by updates and by individually leveled penalties, all thanks to their spammy backlink practices and content.
The day of reckoning
While Paul Reilly is correct when he states that Google currently struggles to differentiate between carefully placed paid links and organic links, he neglects to mention one thing: Google’s algorithms and practices are constantly evolving and improving, becoming more and more sophisticated every day.
It may be a game of cat and mouse at the moment, and there may be paid link purchasers on page one for valuable iGaming keywords, but many have now fallen by the algorithmic wayside. In their place, we’re finally starting to see the “good” guys are starting to climb the search engine results page ladder as a result of earning links editorially, rather than paid for. How do I know this? Because I’ve made it there myself, using content marketing, not paid link building. But more about that later.
On borrowed time
In the meantime, here’s my take: If you’re building paid links right now, yes, there’s no doubt you’re probably going to see faster improvement and better rankings than white hat competitors. However, know that your days are numbered. It may be in 5 months, it might be in a couple of years, but ultimately you’re going to get hit with a penalty which knocks you off the face of the internet and potentially lose you thousands, if not millions of pounds in revenue.
There’ll be no coming back from this. If you want to get back to where you were, you’ll need a whole new strategy and a cleansed backlink profile. Oh, and you’ll need years to make it work. Years your shiny, dogooder, quality-content-focused competitors now have on you. If you’re in this for the short haul, fine. Take care and you could last a while. But, if you’re building an online business you want to grow and grow, you need to do things right by Google. Depending on your future goals, this game is not about quick wins any longer.
Rise of the white hat
Paul’s article treats content marketing with derision, but it just so happens that, if you get this “wholesome” technique right, you really can make it to page one, with no need to jeopardise your site’s future with paid and spammy link building practices. As I mentioned, I’ve done just that for UK bingo portal Two Little Fleas. I don’t like to brag but, type the (very) valuable terms “no deposit bingo” and “new bingo sites” into Google and you’ll find Two Little Fleas, squeaky clean, without a spammy paid link to their name.
Editorially earned links are the only links pointing to Two Little Fleas, from huge domain authority websites including The Huffington Post and Metro.co.uk. All of these links have been earned through the implementation of creative content strategy. The biggest weapon in my content marketing arsenal? Creating content tailored around a target market’s interests, not a product or service. This gives your content widespread appeal and attracts the attention of top tier journos. If you’re one of the converted, here are 8 ways to do things the “right” way…
1. Be a crowd pleaser
Be that one great hit that everyone loves, don’t be the new material from the upcoming album that nobody’s heard or cares about. Be a goddamn glitter cannon if you have to be. What this all boils down to is giving your audience what they want, not giving them what you want them to buy. After all, who cares about that?
But in order to really know what they want, you have to really, really know who they are.
Great, thorough audience research is a whole other undertaking but, just for starters, plough some resources into working out who your typical customers are and drilling down to identify the key demographics amongst your clients (a close look at Google Analytics will help you get started, while Google Forms will help you create handy customer surveys for free). Next work out what they’re into (BuzzSumo is a great tool for finding out what’s hot amongst your demographic) and learn more about which online sources and social channels they like to use (Hitwise offers a handy way to do this). Whatever you do, just get up close and personal with your buyers so you can ultimately give them exactly what they want.
2. Define your content types and themes
IMHO, there are four distinct content types which really bring in the bacon (and by bacon I mean shares, links and sales). They include:
- Content which converts
- Content which informs
- Content which entertains
- Content which creates emotion
But before you make use of these types, start brainstorming clear themes based on the demographic data you’ve mined from your customers and your internal sources like Analytics (ask sales and support staff too – they’re usually customer-facing goldmines).
Next divide your themes (Money Saving, Celebrity Gossip, Food, Sport etc.) into the types outlined above. For instance a Buzzfeed style list on the theme of sport would entertain, a Mashable style roundup of the latest sporting news would inform, while a product video of your latest piece of sports kit would convert. You get the picture.
Once you’ve got this all established, you may want to consider setting up distinct hubs on your website for each content type, designed for your audience. In the case of Two Little Fleas we implemented a section for informative guides, a section for conversion-ready users looking for reviews and an entertainment blog.
3. Don’t be so self-centred
Cut out the “roll up, roll up” sales spiel and the heavy-handed pitches, Del Boy. It won’t serve you well when you’re trying to build powerful links with content marketing. Tailor your content around what you do and what your audience are interested in but remember: it’s not all about you with this lark.
4. Bring in the A-Team
You’re going to need to assemble the best content marketing crack team available to make this work. Hire in people who love what they do, have creative ideas and a bit of a nerdy streak. I like to use freelancer sites like People Per Hour to find the right folk, then put them through their paces before letting them and their keyboards loose on unique content.
5. Set a schedule
Make like a (non-malevolent) Rupert Murdoch and get all of your editorial ducks in a row. Brand your content types like they’re a TV series and make sure your visitors know exactly when they can expect the next “episode”. That way, if your readers like what they see, they’ll know when to come back for more. This is awesome for boosting return visits and brand awareness.
6. Become a formatting freak
It’s important to care about how your content looks. If you can’t be bothered to make your content look nice, why should your audience be bothered to read it? Add to this the fact that attention spans online are notoriously flighty and formatting turns out to be a few small changes which amount to a big deal.
Use regular subheadings to hold attention, write in small, digestible paragraphs, use plenty of visual stuff to keep visitors engaged and present everything clearly, neatly and consistently.
7. Accept that kittens are relevant to gambling
Understanding a little about content relevancy can be crucial to, not only being brave enough to leave your immediate subject area and create content about things your audience cares about, but also to persuading SEO clients and CEOs that what you’re doing is useful, even if it is about cats. So when someone asks “how is this relevant to our brand?” You say: “because we’re talking about related topics which our customers love.”
To show you exactly what I mean, here are some examples of how weird marriage proposals, Britain’s Got Talent and soap stars in their teens are relevant to the bingo crowd. Not only did all of these examples win authoritative links (without spammy practices or paid advertising), they’re also all firmly in a niche which interests the Two Little Fleas target demographic. Win-win.
Pete Campbell is the Director of Kaizen SEO, he’s work with businesses big and small to help improve their online visibility, is a speaker at digital marketing conferences and recent winner of Travolution’s ‘Rising Star of the Year’ award.