|Linking strategies for niche sites
Mike Druttman, Content and Linking Strategies
Why is it that so many web sites seem to be going nowhere? Companies and businesses spend a lot of resources building sites - only to have them just sitting in a corner of the Internet. We think it's high time to get those web sites moving, recruiting visitors and generating leads.
Today, around 15 years or so years after people started with the Internet, it’s hard to find a business that doesn’t have a web site of some kind. “Everybody's on the Web, so we have to be too”, they say. In many cases, such companies are appealing to 'niche' audiences - specific groups of people with specialist knowledge and interest in what the company has to offer.
In theory, it's a logical step. The web site gives the business an ideal platform for offering a wide range of information, and it can be updated at a moment's notice. It also has the ability to travel far and wide on the Internet in search of new customers. In practice however, having a corporate web site is still largely a cosmetic exercise - like creating an 'electronic' version of a business card or company profile. It is far from realizing its true potential.
Assuming that the web site has enough content to make it appeal strongly to its target audiences (a large assumption), the missing piece of the puzzle will be Web Site Marketing, and especially Linking. What is all this about?
Do I or don't I go for Web Marketing?
Web Site Marketing involves all the tasks required after a site is published on the Web. It goes beyond sending your domain name (the URL) to all your business associates and printing it on all your literature. It means grabbing the initiative, taking the offensive. You have to start pushing your web site into all the right places - both via the Search Engines and especially outside them, (Linking) where the greatest opportunities are to be found. How can you do this? Well, there are two main choices.
You can either do the work yourself (but be prepared to set aside a significant part of each workday for reading and learning about this field on the Web) or you can hire a web marketing professional who has already made this commitment and knows the ropes. Oh yes, there's a third way - deciding not to act at all and just leaving your web site to the mercies of individual promotional effort (yours, your marketing people, your colleagues etc). But of course here you should appreciate that most likely you'll remain at the same level as everyone else who just 'exists' on the Web.
It's a fair bet that someone in your business community will be exploiting Web Marketing techniques in order to get the lion's share of attention from potential customers - those same customers who could have been offering you their business opportunities. I remember seeing a statistic somewhere that 95% of reader attention is captured by 5% of the web sites. Sounds logical and reasonably accurate for our times.
OK, I need Web Site Marketing. What now?
Hopefully, when you were building your web site, you also reviewed the need for Keyword phrases. These are the essential 'signposts' that guide people to your area of expertise. The usual practice is for someone in your organization (or your outsourced experts) to come up with a short-list of two or three word descriptions that sum up your business. Since I am involved in Web Site Marketing, I might choose 'Web Marketing' (broad), 'Search Engine Optimization' (narrower) and 'Linking Strategies' (narrower still).
For each of your chosen Keyword phrases, some intensive work is then needed to ensure that your web site will appear quite high up in the Search Engine results. There are many factors that determine who comes first and who follows behind. It involves degree of linking from other sites, relevancy of topic, the correct seeding of keywords in the web site, the way that the site is constructed and how much care has been taken in submitting your site. Note that manual submissions have a greater success rate than automated, robotic submissions. Note too that the growing trend towards payment for inclusion in Search Engines is making the whole process more complex. For example, when is it worth paying for submission, and when not? Could a well-placed banner help you?
If you take all the correct steps, after a few months your web site should be prominent in most of the leading search engines for your keywords. You can afford to smile - now people can find you, not just your competitors! But there's still a problem with all this. Vital though Search Engine Ranking is, it still comprises only a small part of the whole Web Marketing effort. To truly succeed, you need to linking to the right places - and those places will NOT be at the Search Engine level, but deeper down within your professional environment on the Web.
Linking - getting to the places that count
This is an activity that builds inbound links to your site from a number of target sites on the Internet with high relevance to your line of business. A company making pipe repair clamps for water mains, for example, would want links to the sites of municipal engineers' associations around the world, or to specialist portals dealing with water maintenance-related issues. Linking means looking in depth at your content, features and intended audience, and then searching and identifying the best and most appropriate outlets to submit your site information to and get linked.
A leading name in the Linking field is Eric Ward (www.netpost.com) who initiated this concept way back in 1994 when the Internet itself was still at the beginning. He has amassed a lot of experience here. What kind of contacts does he refer to for 'niche' web sites?
- Industry/topic-specific search engines
- Industry/topic-specific Announce sites
- Industry/topic-specific directories
- Industry/topic-specific human-reviewed directories and guides
- Online specialist web zines (web magazines)
- Online Web news sites
- Industry/topic-specific newsgroups and more
Another strong resource is Ken McGaffin of www.linkingmatters.com
As you can see, a whole world of contacts exists beyond general Search Engines! But finding your way to these places, and being able to sort out the 'useful' from the 'time-wasters' requires skill and dedication. It demands constant effort, plus the ability to dig, track and evaluate. Perhaps most importantly, it means putting yourself in your client's shoes and using marketing/ intuitive thinking to identify the target sites that can make the real difference. It also relies on having access to an extensive database of Internet resources. Building up such a database takes time and experience.
Some Tips about Linking
Here are some ideas that will help you to understand why Linking is such an important activity if you REALLY want to exploit the potential of the Web:
Join, don't displace - there are many businesses that rank highly in the Search Engines and are well-linked. Trying to shift them off their hard-won perch can be very tough. Check out if they are direct competitors to you. If not, try to get linked to them - "He who does not ask, cannot get".
Make it easy to link to you - create a special Links Page on your site. Better still, add a detailed link-instructions page.
Go below the top levels - Exploit the information that you have in your web site by going beyond the Home page. Go deeper and link other parts of your site to particular Web guides and specific search engines. For example, your PDF files can be linked to special search engines for this purpose - likewise for software downloads, images, and headline news.
Planning a linking campaign
Having come this far, I hope that you can now appreciate why Web Site Linking can greatly increase the numbers of people who reach your 'niche' web site by one route or another. If you are appealing to a broader public, these principles are just as relevant, if not more so! With the help of a Linking specialist, you can locate top-quality sites for inbound linking, approach each one for links back to your site, and continuously track what is happening with each of these target sites. Remember that linking to many parts of the Web will collectively deliver more leads than any of these parts can do individually.
These are the steps that will expose you to the TRUE POWER of the Internet.
About the author
Mike Druttman is a senior copywriter with great experience in Business Writing and Marketing Communications. He is still fascinated by the power of words and the voyage of discovery that accompanies each new client project. He’s based in Israel. His website is www.futureweb.ws