June 2002: Volume 44, Number 6
Creative Marketing: Develop a Web Link Strategy for Your Website -- and Get More Electronic Leads
by David H. Martin
Whether you’re a water treatment dealer, distributor or a manufacturer, your company website will one day likely become the hub of your integrated marketing program. Maybe sooner than you think.
To get the most out of your website, without spending a bundle on banner ads, it pays to look into the world of free reciprocal links to other websites that make sense to you. While search engines are one proven way to generate traffic to websites, their reach is international. For dealers or distributors who sell in a local region, reciprocal links to other websites can be better targeted to their needs. How do you trade links? How do you select and approach likely trade link partners? Would you like to improve your rank on some search engines? You need to develop a strategy.
Not without risks
As in the print world, there are a variety of advertising and web promotion techniques available to you. Linking to other websites is a well-known but little used tool that can produce significant traffic for your website as long as it’s done properly.
Link popularity is becoming an increasingly important criterion for better search engine ranking. The better your popularity, the better your ranking. You may be thinking you’ll lose traffic to your website if you link to other websites. Sure, that can and will happen; but you should gain as many or more new visitors, ones that would not have otherwise visited your site.
Understanding how to link to other sites is as important as any advertising you do. The time and energy you put into developing links to your business can pay off for weeks, months, even years to come!
Know what you want to accomplish. Decide what primary category your website will fit into and what secondary or peripheral sites will complement it. Once you’ve decided your focus, you’ll be well on your way to using reciprocal linking strategies successfully.
Maybe you want to trade web-generated sales leads with a non-competitive home improvement company in your market area? Then propose a reciprocal interlink between your two sites. You’ll both benefit from the arrangement, without hurting each other.
Do you want to offer valuable consumer product information from recognized third-party certification bodies? Then link with the websites of water treatment and bottled water associations, perhaps giving preference to ones with which you’re already affiliated. By doing so, you’ll benefit from the “borrowed credibility” factor that only independent associations and certification bodies can offer.
Staying in the water
Focus on industry-related services. Experts agree you need to focus on websites that relate to “third-party water treatment information” or at least “non-competitive home improvement” resources. But you also need to “avoid linking with broad-based websites” that might only clutter-up your website. I’m talking about avoiding links with sites that provide general news, weather and sports. There are plenty of powerful “portal” sites (such as Yahoo to name one) that provide information of broader interest. Linking with them, however, flies in the face of current web user research that shows most people who visit a business site are “destination driven.” That is, they’re there for a specific purpose—to evaluate your business’ potential for selling, installing and servicing water improvement products or bottled water. Why tempt them to impulsively vacate your site to check the score of their favorite pro sports team or a stock market update? (They may forget to return to your site.)
While it’s true the World Wide Web reaches people all over the globe and people who use it have many diverse interests, you only want to address people located in your geographic marketing area who are shopping for water-related products. Dealers and distributors may help their cause by linking with primary original equipment manufacturer (OEM) websites, to offer visitors additional in-depth product information. But use caution before you “link” because those same manufacturers’ sites might contain “dealer locator” sections that can make it easy for website visitors to price shop other dealers in your area who sell the same equipment. Do you want to risk handing your prospects a shopping list containing the names of primary competitors? (This could encourage undercutting your prices.)
Also be careful about linking with the websites of charities, religious or political organizations. That’s not to say don’t do it, but evaluate them closely. Some are sure to be controversial, if not offensive to some visitors. Avoid unnecessary turn-offs.
Narrow the field
Develop a list of primary and secondary websites to target. The purpose of this list is to rank the possible link websites you feel will be of most benefit to your business. The first six you list should be the “most important,” or perhaps the “least risky.” These are your primary “website link targets.” The remaining sites on your list will be ones that might deliver more trouble than sales prospects. Contact these only if some of your primary sites turn down your request to link.
When assembling this list, it’s important to judge each site on its ability to help you achieve your objectives as aforementioned.
Discover who’s already linking to your website. You can find out very quickly by going online to www.linkpopularity.com. This is a free resource and usually it doesn’t take more than 2-3 minutes to check your website links. You may find that you have several links back to you that you didn’t know about, some you like and maybe one or two that you would rather not have. Another thing you might want to do to help narrow your focus on potential web-link partners is to view a comparison of your site’s link popularity to your competitors’ and other popular websites at www.marketleap.com/publinkpop/
Establish a framework
Before you start contacting webmasters, you should set up your Main Links page on your website. On this page you are going to describe how a webmaster can add their link to your Links Page. You can title this Favorite Links, Personal Links or something similar. That’s to let visitors know you have a Quality Links Page available.
You need to give careful thought to how you want this organized and presented. Your Main Links Page should have several categories from which visitors can choose. Each category should link to a separate page on your site where the category links can be viewed. Remember to set each link so that it “opens in a new window” when a visitor clicks on it, so they won’t leave your site altogether and forget to come back.
On this page you’ll invite your visitors to “apply for the privilege of linking” to you. Why should they have to apply? Because you want to screen their website to be sure it doesn’t directly compete with yours and that it also complements yours in some way.
You also want to indicate to your visitors that a reciprocal link back from their website is a requirement for obtaining a link on your web page. Those who are serious about reciprocal linking will understand and be willing to place a link on their page.
Making the link
It’s time to contact some webmas-ters. Start with your primary list of six link-partner prospects; ones that you feel would best complement your site. If you feel you might have overlooked some good candidates, the simplest way to come up with a larger list is to go to one of the major search engines. Enter a phrase that describes compatible websites (e.g., “water associations”) and let the search engine bring up a list.
Next, send a short email to the webmaster, introducing yourself and stating why you think a reciprocal web link program would make sense for both parties. The resulting dialogue will soon determine if there is, indeed, mutual interest in linking your sites.
Do you need permission before adding their site to your Quality Links page? Not technically, but it’s recommended you immediately email the site’s webmaster to inform them. In the same email, respectfully request that they link back to your website. Some will choose to link back. Some won’t. If they won’t, you have the option of deleting your link to their site.
Implementing a reciprocal linking strategy takes time and effort—and isn’t without risks. But as part of your integrated marketing strategy, it can be a powerful way for you to develop relevant, targeted traffic to your web pages as well as to help improve your website’s overall position in the search engines. Perhaps it’s free, requiring only your careful effort.
The author would like to thank Peter Bowers, vice president of Design Communications Inc., of Chicago, for his assistance with this article.
About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or website: www.lenzimartin.com