Influencer marketing can help you cut through the noise and reach your target market more effectively. But to maximize the impact influencers can have on your brand, you need to build them into your SEO linking strategy.
Sure, getting your product on a celebrity’s Instagram, blog or YouTube page can be a thrill, and the likes, shares, and increased brand awareness that flow from that are great. But will that little bump really translate into more traffic and sales in the long term?
If you’re not leveraging influencers as part of your strategy to build your SEO rankings with quality links to your site, then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Here’s how to do it.
SEO: Not as Complicated as it Seems
To understand how influencers can help you with your SEO linking strategy, you first need to understand a few things about SEO.
Many people think of SEO as a complex, esoteric discipline. Nothing could be further from the truth! While there are definitely plenty of technical elements to consider, when you boil SEO down to the basics, the steps to achieving high rankings are abundantly clear.
There are really three central pillars to any successful SEO strategy: good content, intuitive site architecture, and relevant, high-quality links pointing to your site.
When it comes to doling out rankings for top search results, links remain one of the most important metrics Google uses to determine if you’re worthy. The problem is, link building can be tedious and time-consuming work. Traditionally, it involves submitting guest content or manually emailing hundreds of websites, asking for links.
Sounds awful, right?
Well, it doesn’t have to be that way! If you’re smart, you can leverage influencers to do most of the work for you by using this secret formula to create viral, link-worthy content.
Get Some Buzz: Start by Creating Link-Worthy Content
If you want links, the first thing you need is link-worthy content. However, great content is not enough on its own. You also need some way of getting that content in front of powerful people like bloggers, journalists, and assignment editors who can create a buzz around it.
While many people think that going viral is totally random, the truth is, a lot of viral content gets a little “push.” In fact, one empirical study found that viral content that is strategically seeded among high-profile people was eight times more likely to be successful.
To start, let’s take a look at how you can create a link-worthy piece of content.
Thinking Outside the Box
Many brands have in-house marketing teams that are skilled at creating engaging content for particular audiences. When you’re specifically looking to create something that will go viral, however, you need to start thinking outside the box. This may mean working with an independent creative—such as a YouTube celebrity or Instagram influencer—to come up with a truly remarkable idea.
For example, someone who I’ve recommended to several clients is Deva Dalporto of the MyLifeSuckers YouTube channel. Deva is a master at creating viral parodies of pop songs and relatable comedy sketches. Her videos frequently gain traction online, receiving millions of views and even landing coverage on mainstream news sites like CNN and Fox News.
Working with a high-profile influencer like this can be expensive, so it’s important that they are a good fit for your campaign. Whether you spend $100 or $100,000 on your influencer, you want to make sure that they deliver the goods. Later on we’ll cover how to find an influencer that’s suitable for your brand and budget.
The Viral Formula
Whether you hire someone or not, you’re still going to be involved in the process of developing and selecting content ideas. A “viral formula” may sound like an oxymoron, since there is a wildcard element to any content that goes viral.
While there is some truth to that, there is a formula you can follow to ensure you have the greatest possible chance of going viral. I want to emphasize here that this formula is about maximizing your chances of going viral. I can’t guarantee that it will work every time as it relies on your ability to create remarkable, buzz-worthy content that people will want to share.
1. Focus on the Hook
Going viral isn’t just about coming up with a great idea. It’s about coming up with a great idea and then adding a “hook” that makes it exceptional. For example, say you run a website on numerology. You could create a video called “How to Calculate Your Life Path Number,” featuring an expert and some slick graphics. If you uploaded a video like this to YouTube, it might even do pretty well. But it’s not really all that remarkable.
Try to come up with an unusual concept that will grab people’s attention. For example, something like “How to Calculate Your Life Path Number: Explained Using Donuts” will really stick out when scrolling through a list of samey-sounding titles. Add some colorful graphics, and the unlikely combination of elements is sure to pique people’s curiosity enough to click.
2. Let Your Imagination Run Wild
At this stage, you don’t want to limit yourself. Organize a brainstorming session and go crazy. Just see what kind of bizarre and outlandish ideas you can come up with, and then write them all down in a list. It doesn’t matter if you don’t use all of them, the goal here is just to push yourself out of your comfort zone to see if you can create something attention grabbing. The more “out there,” edgier, geekier, or more lowbrow it is, the more likely it will cut through the noise and create a buzz.
3. Selection and Prioritization
Once you’ve created a pretty solid list of ideas, you’ll want to sort through them and see which ones are viable, and select the best two or three to develop into articles or videos. Remember, you’re just looking for one killer idea, but it doesn’t matter if you came up with dozens. Don’t waste them! You can use them to create content for your blog or other projects.
4. Craft an Amazing Headline
When developing your content, keep focused on the fact that you want people to share it. No matter what you’re creating—article, blog post, video—you’ll need a killer headline to grab people’s attention.
In fact, coming up with a great headline is as important as the content itself!
A good place to look for inspiration is sites like Buzzfeed, Upworthy, ViralNova, Distractify, BoredPanda, or Thought Catalog.
One formula that works well is: number + adjective + key phrase
For example: “11 Insane Airbnbs that You Can Actually Stay In” or “9 XXXL Burgers in America That Are Sure to Satisfy.”
You can also use a headline analyzer like CoSchedule, or check out this Buzzsumo study on the best-performing headlines on social media in 2017.
Seeding Your Content for Virality
As I mentioned earlier, while a great idea is essential, you’ll also need to work on giving your content a little “push” to help it go viral. To do this, you’ll need to develop relationships with influencers on social sites like Reddit and Pinterest who can help you “seed” your content. If you already know someone like this, great. If not, you’ll most likely have to pay someone to do it.
While viral content can certainly generate traffic for your site, right now we are focused on links. The aim is to target people like journalists, bloggers, assignment editors, social media personalities, and others who trawl subreddits or Pinterest pages for content ideas.
If your content gets picked up by one of these people and they post about it through their channels, it can quickly spark interest and pick up the high velocity of shares it needs to go viral.
So first you’re going to partner up with influencers on these social sites, which offer a unique ability to produce viral hits, and then with any luck these high-value content producers will spot what you’ve created and link to it—providing a huge boost to your SEO rankings in the process.
How to Find Influencers That Will Seed Your Content
While sites like Reddit and Pinterest may not seem as “mainstream” as Facebook or Twitter, they are really the viral content generation engines of the internet, and many big trends spend time germinating here before they hit the mainstream.
Of course, simply setting up an account and posting your content on one of these sites is not enough. Becoming a powerful influencer is hard work. It takes dedication to posting topical, interesting content daily. When we talk about “seeding” content, we mean hiring an influential user to post your content. These types of influencers are typically dedicated to one site, so if you want to target multiple sites, you will most likely have to hire one influencer to post your content on each.
In the past, people also used sites like Digg and StumbleUpon for seeding content, but Digg is not worth the effort these days, and StumbleUpon recently announced that it is shutting down.
Most people are at least somewhat familiar with Reddit and maybe even browse it casually. If you’re using it to seed content, you’ll need a deeper understanding of how the site works.
When searching for a Reddit influencer, you’ll need to look closely at their “karma” score and their posting habits. Every time a post is “upvoted” (the Reddit equivalent of a “like”), it boosts a Reddit user’s karma. If a post is downvoted until its score dips below zero, then the user’s karma score will also go down.
If you’re going to pay someone to post your content, you’ll want to make sure that their post karma justifies the cost. You’ll also want to check that they’ve been posting regularly, and that they post in subreddits relevant to your niche. To be considered a Reddit “power user,” you need to have a karma score of over 100,000. The rates these users charge can vary, but you’re generally looking at upwards of $75 per hour. You may also be able to negotiate a one-off payment.
If you can, get your reddit influencer to give you examples of previous posts they’ve worked on that went viral, and check how many upvotes and comments they achieved. If they post on topics unrelated to your content, that could be an issue as they may not have the same level of credibility within the communities you want to target.
One other thing to note is that there is a thriving black market in secondhand reddit accounts. Since selling an account is against Reddit’s terms of service (and rather risky!), I would advise against it. It is possible, however, to hire someone to help build your own post karma and develop an influential account.
Pinterest is another site that is ideal for seeding content, since it has a user base of influential individuals in various niches. Like Reddit, you will probably need to hire someone to post your content.
One thing to note on Pinterest is that a high follower count may not translate into a high level of influence on the site. Instead, when evaluating an influencer’s account, focus on the number of “repins” they get. Again, you’ll also want to make sure that the user is targeting a niche that’s relevant to your content. As with Reddit, you’re generally looking at at least $75 per hour to hire a Pinterest influencer.
It’s simple enough to track down users yourself, but you may want to approach a viral agency or SEO practitioner to handle the negotiations for you.
Preparing Your Site
Once you have all your ducks in a row and you’re ready to post your content, the final step is to prepare your site. Since the whole point of this exercise is to attract links to your site, you are going to need to host the content there. The simplest way to do this is to create a blog post or dedicated page and simply embed your video or audio.
The URL from your website should also be the link that all your influencers share. If you use video or audio, embed it in the page.
Do not share a link from YouTube or another third party site! If the content you created is hosted on a third party site and winds up going viral, it might be great for brand awareness, but it’s a fail for backlinks.
If your viral content is radically different from what you usually publish and you don’t want to include it on your website, don’t worry. In this case, I suggest you create a dedicated page on a separate section of the site away from your blog. You don’t even need to link to it from the main navigation. So it won’t be immediately visible to users.
Another thing to consider is whether your website can actually handle a surge in traffic. This is especially true if you run a smaller website on shared hosting. You might want to check with your web developer or hosting company that your site won’t crash or that you won’t run up an exorbitant excess bandwidth charge.
Publish and Seed Immediately
You want your content to be as fresh as possible, so coordinate with your influencers to seed immediately after publishing, and simultaneously post it to all your social channels. While content that is weeks, months or even years old can still go viral, most influencers want to be on the cutting edge of what’s happening, so they’ll be more interested in something that’s brand new.
You may also want to build anticipation among your own followers by hinting that something big is coming or even giving them a small teaser (be sure not to give anything substantial away however, as this could minimize the impact of your actual post).
Measuring Success of Your Viral Linking Strategy
Like every marketing campaign, once the fun stuff is over, it’s time to take a look at the results and see how you performed. The difference between using influencers for SEO, as opposed to other types of online marketing, is that you’re not just looking for traffic, shares, and brand mentions. You need people to actually link back to your site.
Therefore, the only thing that matters is the links you get to your content (and, of course, it’s more about the quality of those links than the quantity).
Getting this information is not as difficult as you might expect. There are several tools you can use to measure and evaluate backlinks. Personally, my favorite tools are Link Research Tools, Ahrefs, Majestic, SEMrush, and Moz Link Explorer.
Be sure to take a snapshot of all your various link metrics (such as Trust Flow, LRT Power*Trust, DR, Domain Authority, and Authority Score) before you start the campaign so you can make an accurate assessment of whether or not your efforts bore fruit.
As I mentioned earlier, when you’re analyzing the success of your SEO influencer marketing campaign, you’re looking for two things: how many links you got, and the quality of those links. If your post went viral but you only got a bunch of spammy links from low quality sites, then your campaign was not successful.
Solidify Relationships and Scale Your Campaigns
Link building isn’t a “one off.” It should be a regular activity that is incorporated into your SEO or marketing strategy. If you’re not regularly attracting high-quality links to your site, search engines will take this to mean that your content isn’t that interesting, and adjust your rankings accordingly.
Once you have a baseline for your link-building campaigns, you can start evaluating which influencers are the best fit for your brand. If someone worked out well, consider engaging them in a long-term relationship. This could result in more fruitful collaborations and reduced costs.
Developing strong relationships with prominent influencers can also help you when you need to call in a favor. Remember that influencers have their own projects and goals, and if you can ensure that they benefit from their relationship with you, then they’ll have more incentive to signal boost your content.
Combine Influencers and Viral Content for Your SEO Linking Strategy
It’s a mistake to think that viral content is completely random and non-replicable.
I’ve witnessed how a workable formula can help you maximize your chances of going viral. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t include influencers as part of your content strategy, especially if you care about SEO and organic traffic.
What are your experiences working with influencers? Have you developed your own “viral formula” or had success with a similar approach?