Google has made it pretty clear that buying tweets on social media or using blackhat tactics to up your apparent social media rankings is a big no-no. However, new businesses or those who are still trying to build website traffic may wonder how to get buzz going about their website on places like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest without violating Google's rules or getting penalized.
This is a very gray area and you must proceed with caution as paying for links on social media or linking too often to the same sites can create issues. However, if you want some initial buzz and want to team up with some like-minded (and similarly or higher than you ranked) business owners, then setting up a networking group where you cross-promote for a limited time can be beneficial for everyone.
Make sure you cross promote with integrity. Don't take people into your networking group who offer a product or information that you don't feel 100% confident in. Remember that you are going to be sending your customers to this site through your tweets, posts and pins. Do you want to put your name behind it?
Building a Network of Like-Minded People
Your first step is to find a group of at least five to ten like-minded people to form your networking group.
- Business owners who are active on multiple social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest)
- People with multiple connections so the groups can be easily switched up or you can pull in one another's contacts for more social media shares
- Businesses that complement yours but are not in direct competition such as a clothing company and a jewelery company
Once you have a list of people you think would be a good fit for your business, write an introductory letter and contact each of them. Ideally, these will be people you know or have done business with, because you want people who will follow through. Your intro letter should explain:
- The group is short-term (more on this in a bit when we talk about Penguin)
- The group is closed to a select number of people
- The group will help promote each other on social media in a natural way and not with blackhat tactics
Send your invitation letter and choose your people carefully. Remember that they will be promoting your brand. You don't want someone who has cursing or inflammatory comments on their Twitter feed tweeting about your product. You want businesses that are professional and have a separate business account, but also keep stellar personal accounts.
Using the Group to Cross-Promote
Now, this is the tricky part of this proposition. Google frowns on anything that falsely tries to pump up your site ranking or make you look more popular on social media than you truly are. You want to steer away from simply posting a link to an article because that person is in your networking group. Instead, use the network to brainstorm ideas with one another. What can each of you offer to the other that provides value to customers? Information is a good place to start.
Let's go back to that sample above. Let's say you own an online clothing retail store. You team up with a network of people and one is an online custom jewelry maker. The perfect information for your readers is how to match jewelry to a particular style of outfit. Your jewelry friend writes an article on this topic. The article can be posted to the jewelry blog or your own blog and then you shout out about it on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Some things to keep in mind:
No spammy articles
The jeweler should focus on what styles of jewelry go with a particular clothing style and not try to sell her own jewelry. The only place her jewelry should be mentioned is in the bio and then it should not say anything like “buy this type of jewelry at her site” or anything along those lines. You are offering “free” and valuable info to your readers, not trying to hard sale.
Make sure the article is well-written and free of grammatical errors
Work together to edit any published materials to be sure of this. Google does penalize for poorly written content.
Don't overdo it
Just because one article that is tweeted out is successful doesn't mean you should tweet every article your networking partner writes. In fact, Google has started to look more closely at how many different sites you link to and who backlink to you. Too many from the same source or to the same source can set off alarm bells that you are using blackhat tactics and could impact your site's rank with Google.
Team up to do a contest as a networking group. You can set up a page on Facebook or create a separate website for your group. Have users retweet info from each site on different days (or post, share or pin) and enter them in a contest to win a prize you all pitch in together to offer. The better the prize, the more entries you'll have.
Online Workshops or TeleSeminars
Team up to offer online workshops or teleseminars. Offer the workshop for free if the customer shares the event on social media. In a teleseminar, you can talk about your business a bit more without the worries of being penalized by Google. However, don't overdo it. No one likes a spammy conference call, either.
Think Outside the Big Three
The big three players in the social media game by growth and buzz are Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. According to Craig Smith, who analyzed the numbers visiting these three sites in May 2013, there are now 1.11 billion users on Facebook, 500 million on Twitter and 48.7 million on Pinterest. These numbers vary from study to study, but if you listen to the buzz around the water cooler, you'll discover that this lines up with what people are talking about. Everyone seems to be on Facebook, but many are tweeting and Pinterest is growing in popularity.
Outside The Big Three: Key Statistics
As a networking group, you'll want to target these three at first. However, don't forget the other big players out there, many with even more users.
You'll notice that some of these social sharing sites are not focused around articles. Flickr offers photographs and Slideshare offers presentations. By expanding your social media reach to these sites, you will also come up with material that is unique and unlike anything else out there. On Flickr, the clothing store might offer a photograph of an outfit they put together right down to shoes and jewelry.
Mailing List Sharing
Do you or your networking partners have an online newsletter or traditional mailing list? Take the opportunity to promote one another. You will reach customers you otherwise would never reach. Here is one example of something a business owner could do. Let's say that one of the networking partners, a service business that creates unique poems for special events, is offering a contest to give away a free poem for anyone who tweets about their contest.
Each person in the network would send a note within the newsletter asking customers to give a tweet out about the contest and by doing so they will be entered to win a free poem. While not every customer will be interested in sharing the event on social media, some will. When using this method, allow everyone to take a turn utilizing the lists to keep things fair.
Watch Out for Attacking Penguins
Penguins are on the loose and ready to attack – one penguin anyway. Google's Penguin updates are expected to get smarter and savvier at catching any trickery on the part of website owners. That is why it is important that you focus on building excellent content together as a network of business owners rather than playing backlinking games. I would even dare to suggest that you not link to one another at all other than by sharing a tweet about an article on the other's site.
Because you don't want to get penalized if Google believes you are each promoting one another's sites without reason, it is best that your networking group is short lived. Cover a few items that you cross promote with one another and then walk away from the group. Don't worry, though, you can always form a new group with new like-minded business owners.