B2B Marketers: Are You Buying Links or Building Links?

Building BlocksI recently attended a networking event discussing the myths and misconceptions about paid links for search engine optimization (SEO). The presenter posed a compelling argument about how paid links can augment an SEO campaign, focused in three key areas of context.

  1. The general perception that Google isn’t effective at catching paid links (for example, JCPenney was not penalized until an article from The New York Times called out the issue),
  2. The perceived industry consensus about the use of paid links (referencing an SEOptimise survey from September 2011, polling SEOs on whether they do or would buy links),
  3. Google’s subjective definition constituting the “buying links” or participating in “link schemes” designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank.

Throughout the discussion, I watched as audience members with varying degrees of experience nodded, smirked, and furrowed their brows. With Google’s own webmaster guidelines indicating that site owners shouldn’t “participate in link schemes designed to increase [a] site’s ranking or PageRank,” how do you know if you’re participating in a so-called “link scheme” or simply building links to better your SEO efforts?

This is the potential problem.

With only limited experience and understanding of SEO, the arguments in support of paid links purely for SEO may seem compelling to the relatively uninformed. The temptation is to react to such significant results, without considering counter arguments or further exploring background and relevance to one’s own position.

And so the question arises: Is your engagement with an SEO firm the same as “participating in a link scheme” designed to increase rankings in search results? Or are your link building efforts working in tandem with your overall marketing strategy, building purposeful relationships with a keyword strategy in mind?

To determine the answer, ask yourself the following questions:

Does your B2B SEO Professional Understand Your Brand and Marketing Strategy Around it?

Good SEO professionals understand how search marketing strategies work in-line with your brand’s target markets and marketing strategy. Examples of marketing strategy-specific questions your SEO should be asking include:

  • What are the goals of the website?
  • How and what types of leads are acquired from the site?
  • What types of content strategies are meant to drive traffic and generate interest in the organization or organization’s solutions?
  • What sort of publishers, bloggers, and news outlets are prominent and/or influential in the industry?

Once answered, how does the SEO team integrate this knowledge into their SEO campaigns and overall link building initiatives?

How often and how thoroughly is your SEO evaluating site reporting tools and benchmarks?

We’re not just looking for keyword rankings from search engines. A good B2B SEO link building strategy incorporates the following potential benchmarks:

  • Traffic from referral sites
  • Leads or lead opportunities from referral sites
  • Reach to either the direct market or related markets
  • Keyword and contextual relevance

For example, a recent infographic we launched combined a series of social media promotions and direct requests to media outlets for visibility. More than 80 different sites have sent referral traffic to our client, and more than half of those sites are using SEO-friendly backlinks with keyword strategy-specific anchor text.

Does your SEO work with the marketing team and their priorities and strengths (or weaknesses)?

An organization with a sound marketing strategy shouldn’t need to participate in link schemes to acquire search engine visibility. B2B search engine marketers should be able to find opportunities to acquire links through a range of B2B marketing initiatives across the organization. Examples include:

  • Events and conference participation
  • Optimization and distribution of content marketing assets
  • Blogger and site owner outreach in coordination with marketing communications and PR teams
  • Social networking strategy

Link building and keyword strategy can be scaled across the B2B organization for maximum effectiveness. It just takes awareness and communication from the SEO team on the potential value and opportunity.

Does your SEO educate and explain the pros and cons of a competitive link strategy?

Just because the competition happens to be using ill-advised SEO tactics to gain visibility in Google search results does not mean your organization should as well.

A good B2B SEO uses resources like Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer, and other link building and SEO tools not just to evaluate a competitive inbound link strategy as well as to understand how a questionable set of inbound links may impact an overall site’s performance in search engines.

Just because a sample set of a competitor’s links appears suspect does not mean their entire inbound link profile is questionable.

More importantly, an SEO must be able to clearly articulate and define the risks for engaging in suspect link practices. The SEO should also be able to educate the organization on search engine algorithmic changes and how they may impact inbound links and keyword visibility.

B2B Link Building as Part of the B2B Marketing Strategy

The competent B2B internet marketer realizes that the link building process draws many parallels to the lead nurturing process. The best links, like sales, are won over time, with a well-planned content marketing strategy and relationship building initiatives (such as social media participation).

B2B link building is not what Google would refer to as a “link scheme.” Rather than simply purchasing links to drive keyword and traffic results, B2B link building should add to the overall marketing strategy, taking into account each of the above questions to foster an effective, holistic solution for the client.

What’s your opinion about the use of paid links as a component of an SEO strategy? I would love to continue the discussion via comments below.

Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/ilbusca

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