Build Links? Build Relationships.

Excerpts from my latest article at Practical eCommerce: “SEO: Build Relationships, Not Links.”

Once upon a time when the Internet was new, interesting and relevant websites were difficult to find. Link building was easy in those days. It was often just a matter of letting webmasters know that your site existed and they could link to it. Things have changed in the last couple of decades.

Webmasters today are jaded. They’re bombarded with requests for links, offers to receive hundreds of links for one low price, and comment spam, among other things. Approaching a blogger or site owner today out of the blue with a request for a link is akin to this guy walking up to you on the street and asking for $50. Chances are you’ll run away faster than he can flash his 100 watt smile.

In this new social era of Internet marketing, to get a link you’ll need to build a relationship. Relationship building as part of search engine optimization is a difficult concept for ecommerce sites to understand. Imagine bragging your weekly status report about a Facebook thread that included three back-and-forth replies from a relevant and influential blogger. Ten years ago your boss probably would have told you to go do some real work. If your primary goal is building links, building that relationship on is “real work,” and that Facebook thread is relationship gold.

Read the article in full at Practical eCommerce »

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

Purina’s “We Are Cat People” Campaign the Cat’s Meow

Purina Cat Chow tapped into both my love for my cats and my vanity with it’s “We Are Cat People” Twitter campaign. That’s a potent combination! They invited people to tweet the reasons why they are cat people, and selected some of those tweets to appear in Times Square. That was pretty neat already, but I was surprised to see that they also took a photo of the billboard and tweeted it back to the submitter. Now THAT is a recipe for increasing engagement! Here’s how it looked:

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

Custom gTLDs: ICANN but Should I?

Internet governing body ICANN approved custom gTLDs yesterday, making it possible for sites with too much cash looking to be too cutting edge to blow $185,000 per gTLD + $25,000 annually on vanity TLDs and domains like, or pepsi.cola.

With such a steep price tag only the very rich will be able to afford these custom gTLDs, AKA generic top level domains, which will hopefully minimize their release into the wild. I have three major concerns:

  1. Usability: Internet users are entrenched in their .com ways, or their .ca or ways. Whatever the primary TLD is for a country, the majority of internet users will try to append it to whatever URL offered them. Trying to get users to your supercool new hot.wings domain? They’re probably going to stick .com on the end of that and end up somewhere else.
  2. Brand: For big brands, the only ones who could reasonably afford this vanity service, why oh why would you risk confusing customers and prospects with the scenario above? Most brands are still trying to master marketing and transactions on their primary .com web site. Adding a vanity TLD to the mix sounds like an expensive recipe for #fail.
  3. Trademark Violations: If any word can be applied for as a gTLD, brands will have a harder time protecting against trademark violations. For example, with Nike’s brand strength it should pretty easy to prevent anyone but Nike from registering .nike as a gTLD. But would it be permissible for me to apply for the .shoes gTLD and then put domains on it for,, etc. Afterall, has the right to create a subdomain on their own domain. Should the laws be different if the domain is nike and the TLD is .shoes instead of .com? ICANN’s site makes reference to this thorny area:

ICANN does not accept reservations or pre-registrations based on trademarks. But registries will be required to operate sunrise or intellectual property claims services for the protection of trademarks.

The registry operator must implement, at a minimum, a Sunrise period and a Trademark Claims service during the start-up phases for registration in the TLD, as provided in the registry agreement. These mechanisms will be supported by the established Trademark Clearinghouse as indicated by ICANN. The Sunrise period allows eligible rightsholders an early opportunity to register names in the TLD. The Trademark Claims service provides notice to potential registrants of existing trademark rights, as well as notice to rightsholders of relevant names registered. Registry operators may continue offering the Trademark Claims service after the relevant start-up phases have concluded.
gTLD Applicant Guidebook (PDF)

Let’s get back to the branding and usability questions, though, because that’s where the “SHOULD a company do this?” question comes into play. Let’s say for example that Pizza Hut registers hot.wings because they really REALLY want to underscore that they have wings in addition to pizza, and they are the default name in hot wings just as they are a leader in the American pizza world. This, as indicated by a super-amazing-awesome-cutting-edge microsite dedicated to the explosive awesomeness of their hot wings and their ownership of a spicy new custom generic TLD. They’ll have to train their audience not to add the .com, but it won’t work, customers will .com anyway. Which means these customers primed for an explosive microsite reward would instead see:
So Pizza Hut would also have to purchase, create a “hot” subdomain, and 301 redirect it over to hot.wings. If they don’t, their customers will get lord-knows-what kind of experience on someone else’s domain, especially when the owner of realizes what’s happening and decides to take advantage of the free traffic to promote something else. Or just this …

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

Comment Spam Outing on TechCrunch

Personal Note: You may know that I am the SEO Manager for Groupon, a competitor/co-opetioner with some of the sites mentioned here. I found this example reading group buying industry news, not in an effort to spread stories about other sites in Groupon’s space. I would have felt compelled to post this perfect example of good and bad commenting even if it had been a story completely unrelated to my employer’s industry simply because it is related to the SEO industry.

Comment spam is one of the lowest forms of “link building.” Yet people continue to do it because it’s easy, because they think it works and because they don’t understand that many comment sections aren’t crawlable even if the links are followed. But sometimes comment spammers get outed, like in the comments on this TechCrunch post about the partnership between BuyWithMe and SCVNGR. I grabbed a couple of screen shots in case the thread is deleted to illustrate this example (click them to enlarge).

What’s wrong with these comments? If they are from real people with real opinions, nothing. But the same users allegedly posted these comments on multiple posts on the TechCrunch, leaving links to UrbanSpoils on each. Other readers recognized the tactic and called him/them out on it. Personally, I can’t find any duplicate comments from these users, but I didn’t look very long either. The point remains: Comment spam at your peril — is the link inserted valuable enough to risk the scorn of the other readers and commenters? My answer is no. And in this case at least, certainly not. Here’s why:

  • comments are fed into posts using JavaScript. The comment spam isn’t even crawlable in this instance (see cache). So if the goal was to seed links into posts to improve link popularity, #fail.
  • If the intent was to gain click-through traffic from other readers, it’s possible that some clicks were achieved before the outing. Afterwards, I would doubt that many clicked, at least not with the intent to transact. But only the log files know for sure. Still, I call this a #fail.
  • And lastly, even any positive brand recognition that positive comment mentions would have generated have very likely been more than negated by the tongue lashing from other commenters. So #fail.

Not all commenting is spam, of course. When you legitimately have something of value to add to a conversation and when you disclose your identity if you have a self-interest, then comment away. On the very same post, the co-founder of SayLocal comments, disclosing his identity and self-interest. You’ll note that no one flames his comment. It may be just as self-interested, but he has given us the ability to judge his comment honestly.

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

My Geeky Valentine: Candy Heart Link Bait

The folks at Necco developed a sweet link bait campaign for Valentine’s Day to celebrate the introduction of new social messages like “TWEET ME” and “TEXT ME” — design your own Sweethearts conversation hearts.

This fun little bit of link bait gives you the power to say whatever you want in your candy heart conversation! Feeling romantic? Bitter? Sad? Witty? Sweet? No problem, say it with digital candy in public on Twitter or in private via e-mail.

Dear search geeks, here’s a sample Valentine for you and our favorite search engines. Try it yourself; the app is available free for the iPhone as well as at the campaign’s microsite.

From a link building standpoint, Sweethearts is putting a lot of effort into generating buzz for the app and the launch of the new candy messages on their Sweethearts Twitter profile and their Sweethearts Facebook profile. Nicely done, Sweethearts — good interaction with fans and frequent but not overly repetitive tweets and posts about the app and the launch.

The piece I see missing is consistent cross channel promotion. There’s a blog / Twitter contest that doesn’t mention the app and some strong news articles focused on the new candy messages that may or may not mention the app but don’t include links to it. So there’s a some promotion of the candy and the new messages happening, but it’s not being tied consistently together to also promote the link bait outside of Twitter and Facebook. In addition, there’s no mention of the app on the official Necco Sweethearts product page, or the games page, or the news page. The Necco homepage does have a large image feature and link, but that’s the sole mention as far as I can see.

The app is one piece of the launch’s promotional campaign, but it’s an inconsistently mentioned piece. From a link building standpoint, the app represents sweet link bait. But it needs promotion to succeed as link bait. Without promotion, link bait is like a tree falling in the woods. If no one sees it fall or stumbles over it later, it may as well not exist. Which means it won’t drive the quantity of links that it could with stronger promotion. Stronger ties with press relations, online marketing for the site, e-mail campaigns and other marketing channels would strengthen consistency of promotion for the app and naturally generate more links.

I only stumbled over the app as I was tweeting something else. I happened to notice the small suggested app link on my Twitter homepage and clicked it because I love Sweethearts. They were my favorite Valentine’s candy as a kid. The Twitter link is a boon, but it rotates with 15-20 other links. It’s not a persistent, visible presence to drive eyeballs or link juice to the app’s microsite.

Maybe the app wasn’t designed as a link building tactic. That seems likely since it has no links to pass link popularity in to any other Necco or Sweethearts web content or social profiles. I find that extremely surprising. The app developer gets a link, iTunes gets a link for the iPhone app store, but Sweethearts doesn’t link to its own site or profiles. OK, perhaps SEO and link building weren’t taken into account at the beginning. But since Necco has already spent the resources to dream up and develop the app, why not link back to the primary Necco site, promote the app more strongly with the promotion they’re already doing for the new messages launch, and get more buzz and link popularity for the campaign’s cost?

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.