Holiday SEO Success Without Paid Links or Penalties

Most enterprise search marketers know it’s best to tactfully execute a link campaign in the months preceding a major holiday. But why risk potentially getting into trouble when some strategies can help bring new traffic, links, and support your search engine optimization (SEO)?

The New York Times only recently has pounced upon outing these link schemes publicly — the irony being that newspapers are many years behind in acknowledging this practice. SEW’s own Frank Watson even went so far as to suggest that the Times is guilty of link baiting with its outing articles.

Businesses still using these link tactics should be looking for other creative (i.e., social) ways to promote offers as well.

My mother always used to say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” The same is true of your SEO strategy.

Let’s examine a typical holiday that many online e-commerce sites try to capitalize on: Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day Online Potential

Gaming Google Flowers Mother's DayThe potential reward for companies that perform well organically on Mother’s Day is quite significant. According to Forbes, there are about 90 million mothers in the U.S. Therefore, there are potentially 90 million revenue-based or lead generation opportunities.

Most good SEO marketing plans will always use multiple online marketing tactics to drive visibility and traffic for a holiday event. Some SEO marketing plans will just use a single channel strategy that could get a site in trouble.

Relying on one standalone or repetitive tactic could wind up getting your company or brand penalized or temporarily banned by the search engine. Beyond this, being one dimensional in tactical execution is very easy to recognize as well.

What’s the Solution? A Mix of Social and SEO

Look for multiple online avenues to promote your message by using SEO and leveraging social media fans and brand influencers to promote your campaign. Create interesting social content that fans, followers, and other social influencers will want to share.

Interactive or infographic related pieces about Mother’s Day on popular topics, such as “The Top 5 Mother’s Day Gift Ideas of 2011,” “The 10 Worst Things to Give Mom on Mother’s Day,” or “The Most Famous Mothers of the Last 100 Years” have great viral potential.

Next, develop a strategy to promote these pieces for a couple weeks prior to Mother’s Day.

Ask brand followers or enthusiasts if they would like to share an interesting Mother’s Day piece you created. Most of the time, websites are looking for interesting pieces to share with their site visitors to build up brand awareness, traffic, and potential viral links to your site.

Examples of Success

SEO success without buying links? It can be done. For example:

  • launched a viral video campaign on Mother’s Day 2010 to help improve membership to its organization. They allowed people to create customized videos through their site to share with their mothers. The campaign was wildly successful and improved their viewership from 187,000 subscribers to more than 1 million.
  • (an online deal site) promoted an infographic over this past holiday that presented 18 facts about Mother’s Day. The piece received 86 inbound links, 144 Diggs on, and 25 retweets on Twitter.
  • blog presented a clever piece about Mother’s Day. One particularly interesting highlight of the piece mentioned the fact that 48 percent of the people on Facebook say they are friends with their mother. The result: the piece received more than 1,964 backlinks. In less than a week since Mother’s Day this site received close 2,000 links. Why? Good compelling, interesting content.

Link Building the Right Way

Beyond the viral aspect mentioned above, work with your content team to build out relationships with online media outlets that are authority sites in your market. There are many online sites out there that need good content for a common annual event like Mother’s Day.

If you have the resources available, create good content or industry related articles (trends or behaviors) that you can share with these sites. There is a strong possibility you will receive valuable backlinks by engaging in this approach. Further, these types of pieces also tend to be very good content that is less likely prone to scrutiny.

Avoid taking shortcuts with short-term schemes (lots of links to a small number of pages) that will only get you in trouble and look obvious. Avoid using tactics like links in footers, multiple links in the content on the same source page (see:’s trip to Google’s penalty box).


The real formula for success is to really think about the resources you have to share valuable content with other sites to obtain relevant links in return. Avoid shortcuts and tactics that will be easily exposed to others.

If the newspaper folks are calling you out, then everyone will see your pratfalls.

Be creative. Think of new and interesting ways to get links and traffic using other means like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and social news sites (good content pieces, infographics, interactive pieces).

In the end, you will find you will get better links, more diversified links, and will be less prone to search engine penalties.

Note: Michael Martin, senior SEO strategist at Covario, also contributed to the writing of this column.

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