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February 25, 2013
Creating Content to Boost Offsite Signals

This article is a continuation of last week's discussion on creating content to boost offsite signals. For the first part, go here

Videos area a great way to explain your service, keep visitors on your site longer, and explain to them how your product works. Here we're going to discuss their use for building external signals. 

Let's take, for example, a tuxedo site. I use this as the example because I end up reinforcing the signals of one every single year; the “how” is outlined below with examples of how they could do even better.
Thinking outside the box, what would be one of the more common questions asked of a tuxedo sales website? The answer (confirmed by video marketing guru Greg Jarboe in an interview with me last year on Webcology) is how to tie a bow tie. Greg confirmed when I used this as an example of a query I perform every year when it's time to look respectable at a charity event that it's one of the top queries as a “how to” on YouTube.
Were they a client of ours I would suggest that they create an easy-to-follow video and upload it to YouTube. Remembering that this isn't Field Of Dreams, I would then suggest that the video be embedded into the client's site. Not uploaded as a separate video but the YouTube video embedded into the site so views are included in YouTube's rating/ranking system. The page it's included on should have a brief description of what the video is about to add relevancy between the video and the content of the page. No keyword stuffing, just a brief description, perhaps a couple hundred words.
The next step is going to cost a little bit, but not much: You’ll want to publish the video to Facebook (promoted post, of course) as well and have it included at grad time in the “AdWords for video.” Here's the long and short: YouTube is a Google property and your profile is connected to your website (or certainly should be). Reinforcing that your videos are valuable content and working to get their views and rating higher sends the signal to Google that you provide good content. This will help your video rank on YouTube (the second largest search engine after Google) and the connection of good quality content will be made with your main URL.
Something to note, however: When I refer to Facebook promoted posts I don't mean promote your YouTube video link — I'm referring to promoting the page you placed the video link on your own site. This will get you the dual benefit of increasing your video views on Google and increasing the Likes on your site directly.
Once that's completed, you may well want to follow the same path as with the written content and visit sites and discussions where the question is being asked “how” and include a link to your video (page on your site). Again, don't be lazy! Write a bit that personalizes the message, include exceptions or comments about what the discussion is about, etc. I noted above but it’s worth repeating: The sites you're looking to acquire links on are as important to their owners as yours is to you. Provide good content for their visitors and your efforts will be rewarded; be lazy and the only links you'll get are the ones you don't want (or at least the one's Google won't reward you for).

From the context of external SEO signals there are essentially two types of images:

  • Images that provide information (i.e. infographics) and
  • Images that are attractive for their own standing (i.e. product images)
We'll briefly discuss uses and strategies for each here.
Information Graphics
Fortunately, with information-based graphics, the strategies are virtually identical to attracting signals for onsite content (as discussed above) with the exception that the target is generally, though not always, more industry-specific websites as opposed to general discussion arenas.
Looking at my own industry (SEO) I have posted a few, though not a ton, of infographics from third parties on our blog. While we have used them for clients as well, I can speak intimately as a picky website owner about what criteria I use and what syndication methods were effective to get in front of me. When infographics are developed (such as the release of new social media site market share data), the origin of the idea will provide a clear way to display either new research or information in an easy-to-understand breakdown of complex areas such as the evolution of the panda updates.
The first step before even creating the image is to determine the areas of highest interest in a related field. Rather than searching general sites via Google discussions, blogs, etc. you would instead look to the hubs in your industry and see what areas are being covered. The mission then is to find areas that haven't been covered in a way that an interested layman could understand (or a busy industry professional who doesn't have time to read a 30,000 word white-paper) and gather all the data you'll need to create a complete and compelling graphic.
This is where it gets interesting as design is “in the eye of the beholder.” Generally I recommend to hire someone to design and build the graphic who is either a professional at it or has little knowledge of the specific area. This may seem counter-intuitive and you may do a bang-up job yourself, but I've generally found that people who know the subject already don't tend to lay things out in a way that makes sense for someone who doesn't understand what they're looking at. Generally this is due to missing data that seems like general knowledge but isn't. Other times it's just a “not knowing your baby is ugly” scenario, where as the owner of an idea, you really like what you're doing and can't see that it's not actually attractive because you're too close to it.
The problem with distribution of infographics is that the layperson most likely isn't going to link to it, or even find it, in order to generate the social signals you need. So, to get traction you need to get in front of industry hubs that would be interested in a clear outline of a complex issue. To accomplish this, you have hopefully started the groundwork ahead of time by monitoring the social media discussions as well as directly visiting the websites of the industry leaders. Knowing that you're going to need the main industry hubs to help you in your efforts (and heck, they're a great source of information as well) you'd do well to visit the sites regularly, follow and friend the hub editors and authors early on, and communicate with them from the outset. When it's time to syndicate your infographic you already know where to go.
Now to be clear, if I sent a message to Jonathan Allan over at Search Engine Watch tomorrow and said, “Hey, just did an infographic I'd love you to link to on the history of search engines,” it likely wouldn't be well received in that there may be no relevancy. However, if I communicated ahead of time that I was working on one and asked if it was OK to use a couple articles from the SEW archives for some of the data (giving them credit, of course) as well as determining if there was a time that this would tie in well with an article they were already publishing, I've not only got a great source of information, I've increased the likelihood that it'll be mentioned in the article (or better, embedded).
Of course, you don't have to use just one source of information; you can use a few of the key hub sites, though in this case you'll have to rely on just one or two resources for timing (unless it's a perfectly timely piece that's being talked about everywhere) and hope the rest link to it simply because you've used them as a source.
From there I would publish the piece to infographic and image resources such as Pinterest and, once again, push it out with a promoted post. This should go wide and in your comment you should include a thanks to the key sources you used as this will be visible when the post appears and draw the eye of the viewer as they (at this point) aren't necessarily your friend but likely know the sources you're referencing.
Images For their Own Sake
Promoting images themselves to attract external signals can be fun but is generally the least effective method for attaining third-party signals to your site. For many types of sites it's a great way to get direct traffic, but if you're looking to simply boost the signals to your site and help boost its relevancy it's not quite as rewarding.
That said, for some types of sites it can work very well. The main strategy I would tend to use in this case is to use image hosting sites such as Pinterest to get my images in front of people and on crawlable pages. In case you're curious, yes, Pinterest posts are crawlable and when someone pins an image from your site to one of their boards, that image is a link to the source page. You can see an example of a cached page here (at least, valid at this writing).
Pinterest obviously isn't the only location to place your work, but it's definitely the most popular at this time.
Tip About Images: If you're posting your images on third-party sites it's very important to include your company or domain on the image (preferably with the copyright logo if you're the original source).
Tip About Pinterest: If you're interested in making the most of Pinterest as it's not just a source of third-party signals but also a great source of traffic for many types of sites, there's a great book that just got published by Jennifer Evans Cario available at Amazon on just this subject. I find the title “Pinterest Marketing: An Hour A Day” a bit misleading as the hour is during the learning process; while I was chatting with Jennifer about it she noted that she generally only spends about 10 minutes a day on Pinterest now that she has her activities down to an art form.

But Of Course There's More 
As I mentioned above, I can't possibly cover all the different ways that content can be used to develop external SEO signals to your site. I hope that I've given you some insight into some of the different types of strategies that can be used and hope even more that this gets your creative juices flowing and you develop some strategies I've never even thought of. Please feel free to let me know.  ;)

A few other quick ideas that I didn't get into detail on — I will leave you to ponder how to use them effectively:
  • Interviews with industry authorities
  • Helpful tools
  • Contests
  • Comic strips

To Close
While I'd tried to cover this area as thoroughly as space will allow, here I've only covered how to use content to develop external ranking signals. I hope that no one takes this to mean that these are the only ways to generate quality external ranking signals. Far from it.

In the end I personally prescribe to the principle that in SEO, diversity is security. The more varied the strategies I use, the more secure I will be. As the algorithm ebbs and flows, one thing is certain and that is that my rankings will ebb and flow with it. But with diversity I can sleep well knowing that no matter how things change, I will have something that Google favors, and while I may go from #1 to #7 and back, that's a lot better than going from #1 to page 7. I may be out of business before I have time for the return trip.

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Dave Davies is the CEO of Beanstalk Internet Marketing. Dave has been working as an SEO since 1999 and started Beanstalk in 2004. He writes and speaks regularly on the subject of Internet Marketing and hosts a weekly radio show on WebmasterRadio.fm. for more up-to-date tips and information on SEO and Internet Marketing.
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