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Link Building Gems from User Behavior Patterns

Written by David Harry   
Monday, 01 February 2010 16:41

(the following is a guest post from Jennifer Van Iderstyne)

Depending on who you talk to, people are either highly predictable, or completely unpredictable.  Delving into the topic, will only get you entrenched in a centuries old debate of scientists, philosophers, religions and bar room drunks. No matter which side of the predictability of man argument you stand on, no one can deny the role of probability and predictability on internet marketing and the evolution of the web.

I mean after all, as we watch the growing predilection of search engines toward customized and personalized SERPS, what are those results based on if not, predictability? The tendency of internet users to be predictable in their likes dislikes and habits, is an internet marketer’s greatest weapon. We depend on those habits, we live and die with them, and when we are lucky we can be inspired by them.

I wish I was about to reveal some grand secret regarding the ability to predict behaviors but alas, I don’t have that information. In fact, if I did, I wouldn’t be sharing it. I’d be busy releasing the latest wave of sickly viral YouTube videos featuring veterans rapping about urban fashion and dancing bananas.

Instead, I want to share a story of an experience that really stuck with me. From a time when looking through a site’s back links led me to a discovery. A revelation which taught me about predicting what could work in the future, based on something that was already happening.

SEO and behavioural observations

Dealing with unexpected linkage

So this site, we’ll call it, the names have been changed to protect the innocent of course, was getting links in a way they never really planned. This unexpected pattern, in a way, sort of epitomizes the entropic chaos that is the web. People are going to use your site, your products, your content, and your images in whatever manner they see fit, regardless of what you wanted or intended. And you basically have 3 choices for dealing with it, block it, ignore it, or use it to your advantage.

Blocking It

The best reason to block any unpredicted kind of behavior is if it’s damaging. If scrapers are being credited as the owners of your content, if people are unfairly or maliciously disparaging your products, your company name or your employees these are battles worth fighting.  Combating them might mean investing the resources into fixing your SEO problems or sucking it up and re-writing your original content so that it is once again original.  

It may also mean some internal re-structuring or strenuous reputation management. Whatever the required fix may be, there are certain practices you want to ward off.

Ignoring It

Ignoring anything in regards to interaction with your site is a bad idea in general. Most of your back links, your analytics and your traffic can provide some level of insight into what’s working and what isn’t.

Focusing solely on a specific kind of information is usually a mistake because it means that you will inevitably miss something useful. And in some cases you may miss a glowing neon sign about how to get links.

Using It

The third, and most savvy, option is to use what people are already doing and turn it to your benefit. That is, at least in part, the essence of using social media for business purposes. Finding places where people are naturally discussing your product, service or company and becoming part of the natural flow of information. It’s also possible to leverage platforms which people enjoy using, like social networking sites, to gain attention and build trust.

The entire social media for business movement isn’t really a revolutionary methodology it is simply an example of intelligently capitalizing on existing behaviors.

Finding linking oportunities; go with the flow

Anyway, back to Basically, during a fairly routine back link analysis, I discovered that somewhere in the 3-400’s of their back links the links were coming from forums, blogs and personal websites. Meh, that’s nothing special right? Except that I noticed that it was their product images that were being linked to and used as part of the conversation. Now the knee jerk reaction to this might be, “Hey! You oughta pay royalties for using those pictures buddy”, with an angry fist shake, naturally. But PrettyStuff was getting back links out of the deal so, there had to be a way to use this, right?

It was like I was petting the cat too hard in winter. I felt a tiny electric shock and thought “OMG, what if we made it easier for people to do this?”  The images could be presented in a way which was intended for people to take and utilize them on their own.  And of course, instead of having the links go to image files they could be turned into keyword optimized deep links.  This realization opened up a whole vein of link building that the company had never considered before. One which had infinite potential for growth, because there is nothing people love more than being given what they want faster and easier than they had it before. I mean… just look at the microwave. 

I recently read a great article about identifying how you are getting links and re-creating those results which talks about how to examine, analyze and replicate results. When you’ve exhausted the process of replication, try inspiration. What is happening that could be improved, augmented or dare I say it, catapulted to link bait status?

I think that there are a few key lessons to learn from all this:

  • First of all it is crucial to know, and monitor any behaviors which are resulting in links. By familiarizing yourself with ALL the ways people are utilizing your site, you can make people’s natural inclinations work to your advantage.
  • Second, it’s just not enough to stop at your top 100 or so links, sometimes the real gems are deep, deep in your back links where you need a pick and a helmet light to find them. But if there’s gold in them thar’ hills it’s worth the dig. 
  • Oh and DON’T take a user generated behavior and bastardize it…it will only piss people off, cough *twitter re-tweet function* cough, cough.
  • Finally, it’s important to always stay open to what you find. Look at each discovery with a creative eye. For each back link determine, the who, what, where and why. Try to understand the thought process that resulted in that link being given. Use that information to brainstorm new ways of making it happen more frequently and perhaps in a stronger way.

For PrettyStuff, it was their pretty pictures that were secretly attracting links unbeknownst to anyone. And when someone really goes looking for it they may find something from their own website generating the same kind of unpredicted behavior. All it take is one little thing which has somehow taken on a life of its own. So I guess the only question now is; do you know what your “pretty pictures” are?

If you have stories like this of how an anomaly can be turned into a major link building effort we’d love to hear them!

Jennifer Van IderstyneAbout the Author;

Jennifer Van Iderstyne is the Online Marketing Director for Search Slingshot an internet marketing company based out of Albany, NY specializing in SEO Reporting and consulting. Be sure to Follow on Twitter!

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