Online Expansion: How to Fill Your Sales Funnel
Creating interesting, engaging, and valuable content with a digital content marketing strategy has three primary goals:
- Engaging your audience – If you’re producing content that you’re audience cares about, they’re going to engage with your brand and that’s good.
- Establishing yourself as an authority – Since you (the expert) are going to be producing all the content, people will come to see you as an authority in your space. That means they’ll trust you and eventually buy from you.
- Drawing in “natural” links – “natural” or “editorial” links are the good, high-quality links that bring you long term rankings improvements. It’s the kind that any quality SEO or online marketing firm goes after.
Unlike votes, all links are not created equal. The best links are relevant links from high authority websites. A link from the New York Times may be worth 10,000 links from low quality sources. A lot of less-than-noble SEO companies will advertise the number of links they can build you, but not the quality.
There’s two ways to build links. The first is to do in a way that’s manipulative. There are a lot of ways to do this that I won’t go into here. All of these methods have one thing in common, they’re created not to actually bring visitors to the site, but to manipulate search engine algorithms. A lot of these tactics have stopped working, but many still do. The search engineers at companies like Google and Bing know this and have publicly stated that it is their goal to stop it. That means any investment you make into these types of link tactics are short term, unless of course your SEO people are smarter than the folks over at Google. (Note: Your SEO people aren’t smarter than Google.)
The other way to build links is the way we talked about above: creating valuable content and drawing in “natural links.” When you’re just getting started though, you need to get your content in front of the people that will give you those “natural” links.
“If you build it, they will come”
-Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams
“If you build it, they might come, but they’ll come a lot faster and in bigger numbers if you promote it properly”
So our version hasn’t exactly caught on quite as well as the Field of Dreams version, but when it comes to online marketing and SEO, it’s sure a lot more applicable. The first step to successful long-term SEO is creating quality content. The next step though is getting that content out into the world.
Get Exposure – Get that content out there
Now you’re producing content, it’s well-targeted towards you’re ideal customer persona, but nothing’s happening. If you followed our advice and targeted long tail searches with your blog posts, the traffic should start to come. However, it’s going to start out at more of a trickle than a flood.
To accelerate that process, you need to not only keep pumping out high-quality content on your own site, you need to do it on other people’s sites. WHAT!?! That’s write (pun intended), you need to start offering to write for other people, for FREE! Content may be king, but it’s also expensive and time consuming to produce. That means webmasters or bloggers with large followings are constantly having to come up with new ideas and produce more content. You can help them out by writing for them. In doing so, you’ll get an opportunity to speak to their whole following, something that may have taken them years to build up, get a new link in the process, and build your own audience of potential leads.
Find the Influencers
Go back to the influencer persona you created in our post about digital content marketing. You should have a pretty clear idea of what the influencers in your industry look like. Now you need to go find them. Open up a document or spreadsheet and get ready. I recommend you set it up like this:
As we go through the next few steps. Record all the available information in your spreadsheet.
If someone is a major influencer in a field, there all but certain to be on at least one if not multiple social media platforms. Search relevant industry terms on Facebook and Followerwonk. Most of the time these people will have their own sites. Add their info into your document or spreadsheet.
“Best of” Lists
Try searching for “Best [insert your industry keywords here] blogs.” “Best of” lists are notoriously popular among bloggers so someone may have already done a lot of the research for you.
Industry Blog Rolls
Another good way to find a lot of these people is to look through industry blog rolls. A lot of people in the same industry will link to other relevant industry players. As you go through the other steps, keep an eye out for any of these and record anyone that would be relevant to your company
At this point you should have a decent list of players in your industry. Now it’s time to talk to them. You don’t want to go spamming every important person in your industry with emails soliciting them to let you write for their blog. Start by commenting on their site and engaging them via social media. This could mean sharing posts via facebook or retweeting their posts. Your focus should be building up the relationship first.
By creating relationships with other major industry players, you’ll naturally increase your opportunities to get links. We’ll focus on two of the most popular and successful link building methods here: Link Bait and Guest Posting.
“Linkbait” is any piece of content on your site that naturally attracts links. It can be an interview, an eBook, or a useful tool. Once you’ve started developing relationships with people in your industry, try asking them if there’s any sort of content they think is really missing or would be valuable to their audience. By working with the industry leaders to produce your content, you guarantee success instead of just guessing at what you think would be valuable.
Another good way to get ideas for link bait is to refere back to your competitor research. What were the most linked to pages on their sites? Can you improve on it? If you can, make a better version and contact all the people that already linked to your competitor’s resource. Would they be willing to link to yours now? I’m betting they would be.
When you feel the time is right, you can offer to write a post for other websites or blogs. Commonly known as guest posting, this your opportunity to get a high-quality, relevant link back to your site and more importantly, speak to an audience about your business. The first step is to get to know the webmaster or blogger. Once you feel you’ve established a good relationship, see if they would be interested in letting you write or produce something for their audience.
Look at some of their most popular posts and get an idea of what sort of content their audience responds to and offer to produce something in line with that. This shows them that you really understand their audience and will make them much more likely to agree to your request.
It’s important not to be overly self-promotional here. Focus on providing value to the audience and you’ll be amazed at how many of them naturally find their way back to your site.
Start out with some of the smaller fish as you’re getting your feet wet and then move up the ladder in your industry vertical. Focus on building relationships and you’ll soon see all the SEO benefits that come along with it. When you establish relationships with other online publishers and share their content, they’ll start doing the same for you. You’ll both get greater exposure and grow your audiences. Create win-win situations and you’ll see how willing people are to let you speak with their audience.
Though this is applicable for almost all industries, there are some zero-sum industries where working with other players in your vertical just isn’t feasible. In that case, look for related industries where you can reach out. An example might be a cupcake shop whose competitors aren’t interested in working with them. If a large portion of their sales are to churches and schools, they could look to those industries for outreach opportunities. I bet that a How to Throw the Perfect Cupcake Party article would be welcomed by plenty of those busy, birthday-planning mommy bloggers out there.
- Create a list of influencers, including their websites, in your industry (or a related industry if your vertical is zero-sum)
- Design a plan of who you’ll reach out to first and how you’ll reach out to them
Epilogue – Review, Test, Optimize and Repeat
Once you’ve got your content production on autopilot (or at least made a habit out of it), and you’ve reached out and grown your following, it’s time to start all over again. This time though, you’ve got more information. Look through comments on your blog, YouTube videos, or podcasts and see what people are saying. What do they like? What do they want more of? Less of? What pieces of content got the most shares, likes, tweets, and +1s? Audience feedback lets you write about things you already know your audience is interested in instead of just guessing what they might be interested in.
Try out some new ideas, write some edgier articles, or expand in to new mediums like video or audio. Did it work? Great, do more of it! If not, try something else. The key is to keep going and keep improving.