If there's one thing we cannot get enough of in SEO it is links. We need to have them, need to get them, need to keep them. It was link exchange first, directory building later on and right now the drum beats "social media". Social media is it.
And that's true, more or less. Social media is the equivalent of real-world store's word of mouth. Thing is, you can't have word of mouth without something to talk about. Word of mouth, social media, is the vehicle, the means; it's not the ultimate end goal.
So what if we start link building from the other end? What if we don't say "get Digged", "be del.icio.us", "stumble upon"? What if we don't say "write and share articles".
In other words, what if we don't start at the end of the means but on the side of the target: the linker.
Why do people link?
This simple, obvious question intrigued me so as I'm apt to do, I mindmapped it. You can read along and follow your way through the map here or just continue reading.
I think the number one reason people on the web link from here to there is to point out examples, give access to information, share a superb resource, or validate anything by quoting from and linking to a specific document on the web.
It's the first answer that came to my mind when I wondered "why do I link" and on review it remains the number one. And when I say "link" I mean that liberally: on sites, forums, blogs, in email and on instant messengers. And the majority of people I communicate with, even the ones who love to forward a "forward this to 10 people or…" to me, also link heavily to information on the web. How do you transfer ownership of a domain? Link to a tutorial or FAQ. You bought a what? Link to a product image. Maybe also a link to an explanation or a definition. Into SEO? Have you lately bookmarked, emailed, IM-ed or otherwise shared or received a resource? A one-stop shop for your needs? A toolkit place?
Close to shock, disbelieve. You're flabbergasted. Items linked to (emailed, IM-ed, posted) for this reason often relate to devastating news. 9/11, the death of Lady Di. Imagine the web had been available to us when JFK was shot, or John Lennon. These days instead of laying it all out ourselves we simple write a subject line, maybe a short blurb and include a link. There! Wow! Can you believe it?!?!?!
Unexpected news, almost shocking, falls under this reason as well. "Matt Cutts caught running a Made For Adsense spam network!!!". Your friends have got to read this. "Adam Lasnik corporate spy for Yahoo!!!". Wham, that goes on your blog now. And how fast would the story, and links to proof it, spread if Web Master World were to be banned by Google? Exactly.
Controversy falls in this category too; "I can't believe she just said that!". "SEO is dead" – oh, really?! There you are discussing the article — with a link included, of course.
Close to astonishment is amazement. The wow-factor. It's simply amazing!
When tomorrow the invisibility cloak is a reality, amazement will spread the news by means of links, links, links.
But amazement is not limited to science or cool products. It can also be instilled by a smashing low price. iPods for one dollar. A lifetime of music downloads for $100, etc.
Another one that is a very important motivator. Jokes, sure. Sometimes linked, often copied-and-pasted.
A hilarious video clip? Have to see it. Have to forward it. Maybe embed it on your site. Mention it on the forum.
Entertainment, diversion, plays well here too. The Dancing Elves campaign was a good example. Anything that is funny or wacky and allows for a few minutes of diversion is good to be linked to. Is sure to create word of mouth.
Ownership is close to vanity. Someone gets a new laptop and writes about it, posts about it. The complete configuration or at least the base specifications — and a link to the product page, manufacturer, shop or product image. Same goes for cars, mobile phones, furniture, houses; anything.
And it's not just the things we own that we share. We also love to share what we will own or would like to own. "Look at this one, isn't it cute?", link. "These are more expensive but faster", link. "You saw that he has a new book out?", link.
Whole communities are based on ownership-linking. Freebies, free software, samples, coupons, discount programs, etc.
Well that's broad… Could include almost anything and certainly almost anything I've written so far in this post.
True, but I needed something to group a certain linking behaviour, a certain linking motivator.
You've seen them, the pages with cute butterflies and sweet flowers. And on the page there is a poem or dedication. Maybe a story about how a girl without shoes drew power from observing the carefree struggle of an ant. Something like that.
That page, that link, gets forwarded. IM-ed. Shared. Posted. "Oooooh"-ed.
Heartbreaking stories and anecdotes go here. Beautiful things like specially designed desktop wallpaper or templates for an email program.
Linking within reason
These reasons can broadly be grouped as utilitarian and emotional linking.
When you want people to link you have to consider the reason you give them to link. And in turn you have to figure out if that reason fits within the overall picture of your site, your company, your brand, your plan.
Although in the ends everything depends on the type of site and type of business that you run, broadly speaking I would say that considering the above reasons, utilitarian linking provides not only the strongest motivator; it is a lasting motivator. As long as your article, tutorial, product image, or whatever else it is that makes your link one to quote, stays up to date, only more and more people will link to it.
Given the number of people that want to link, need to link, to useful information, to a useful resource, I can't easily imagine a better linking strategy than providing those people exactly what they need.