Going to seminars and reading blog posts on the latest link building techniques are both valid ways to enhance your skills as a link builder but the fact remains that one of, if not, the most powerful ways to improve your link building capabilities is to get to know your client better. Why? Because adopting a one size fits all approach to link building is rarely effective. How? Well it helps with things like content idea generation and finding link opportunities, it helps you identify opportunities and capitalise on them and it helps you to move ahead of other link builders and SEO consultants who may be working for your competitors.
I read a post by Distilled consultant John Doherty which talked about the benefits of an SEO Consultant “working on-site with their client” at least some of the time (read the post here), the post was excellent and made some very valid points which resonated with me. However as John himself acknowledged, it isn’t always possible and many people won’t do it not because they don’t care about the results they get for their clients (although sadly some people don’t) but probably because of the practical issues involved with doing this.
His post inspired this one because it made me think about all the different hacks and techniques we use to gain an intimate knowledge of a client’s business without working on-site with them or necessarily even being in contact with them.
In short, read John’s post if you are physically close to your clients, read mine if you’re not.
Let me just say that we as a business in particular face these challenges for two reasons; 1) The geographical spread of our client base and 2) The fact that in many cases our client isn’t the end client as we work through various agency partners on all sorts of projects.
You’ll likely never have the same level of knowledge as the client because living and breathing a business is very different to just being “involved” and doing a bit of reading and writing but you will gain an undeniable edge.
I will give you one recent example where market knowledge helped us to deliver a far better campaign for a client. We found a conversation in an industry forum with several bloggers in the space complaining to one another that “only those SEO types” were pitching a particular type of content (which, by the way, to the uninitiated would have seemed like perfectly acceptable content to pitch), we reworked our content angle and our pitch and I’m pleased to say we rose above all the other guest bloggers who were actively pitching content in the industry.
I’m not saying you’ll get this lucky with every client but overall we find this to be worthwhile: efficiency, morale and overall results – being more involved in an industry opens more doors within that industry.
Not to mention the fact that these tools and tricks are all automated or semi-automated so they are really low maintenance…
1) Sign up to an email digest
Most industries have email digests which allow you to subscribe to the news in the business. In some fast moving industries there are various journals and publications that put out daily digests which link to the key happenings in the industry. For other less fast-paced markets, most of the trade associations put out a newsletter style digest on a bi-weekly or even monthly basis.
Any kind you can find (provided it is from the authoritative source in the industry) is going to help you get to know the market better. You might be worried that a monthly email isn’t enough but in many situations you will find all the content ideas you need in just one industry newsletter because if the industry isn’t moving fast you probably don’t need to be producing content on a Goliath scale.
2) Create your own email digest
We usually find it best to create our own email digest rather than rely on the curation of somebody else. It is so easy to setup and is completely free to do using only RSSmix and Blogtrottr.
Find your feeds
Easier said than done of course because the crux of being successful at creating your own digest of an industry is to find the right sources of content.
Some good sources to fuel your feeds:
- Industry news websites – almost every industry has a dedicated news portal which is first to break the industry movements and announcements, locate these and grab their RSS feed.
- Google News feeds – Create specific query feeds by altering this URL https://news.google.com/news/feeds?um=1&ned=us&hl=en&q=google&output=rss (where ‘q’ is the search term, in this case ‘Google’… simply change for the market you are working in.)
- Google Alerts – you can set your Google Alerts to deliver to an RSS feed
- Trade association press feeds – find the core trade body for the client’s industry and find their press page, hopefully this will have an RSS feed option which you can grab to stay up to date with the industry beacon.
- Industry blogs – in many instances you may well be able to unearth the best industry blogs using an aggregation such as Alltop. Rarely will you find the best blogs by simply Googling “Industry + blog” (in our experience anyway). You can often increase your spread of the industry by going through genuine blogrolls – use this free tool from Buzzstream to quickly build out your list of potential blogs to follow.
- Stalk the industry journalists on Twitter – it seems like increasing numbers of journalists are now on Twitter so setup a list of the journalists in your industry or the larger market e.g. you are unlikely to find a writer who covers specifically travel insurance but you might find a journo who covers new relating to travel and similarly a journo who writes about personal finance. Combine all of them into one list and grab the RSS feed (using this tool from Sociable) to get a snapshot of the industry’s media.
The important point here is to filter the sources and identify the real cream of the industry to ensure you are getting more signal and less noise about what is happening in your industry.
Our weapon of choice for combining RSS feeds is RSSmix.com. It is really easy to use, it’s free and from what we’ve seen incredibly reliable.
Create the email/Feed into Google Reader
This step comes down to personal preference because some people like to get their digest delivered to their Google Reader whilst I personally prefer a quick email for me to scan through once a day. There are a few services out there which allow you to take an RSS feed and convert it into an email – we use Blogtrottr to do this.
3) Buy yourself a magazine
(This method will help you better understand the audience and customers of your client which indirectly will help you better understand your client’s business and industry).
If you are feeling old-school, have some time and a bit of budget then getting yourself a subscription to a magazine that your client’s audience read will almost certainly provide valuable. Even just grabbing one or two copies of magazines that target the same audience as your client is going after.
How do you identify the right magazines? Speak to the client, get their take on the right magazine. Alternatively if the client has a media budget and already does advertising then you may be able to reverse engineer the magazines that cater to the client’s audience because they client could already be advertising in them. Failing this, you’ll need to build a profile of the different customers that the client is targeting and then identify the magazines that appeal to this segment.
Writers and editors of leading offline publications go to great lengths to understand and serve their audience, not to mention the fact that they are really experienced at delivering a content product which people hand over money for (a magazine) time and time again.
The magazine(s) is to be studied and analysed rather than read because you can use it to:
- Develop content ideas
- Understand the issues/latest news which really matter to an audience
- Get headline ideas
4) Harvest a professional network
I talked about this in more detail in a guest post on Hitreach but a really good way to get to know a client better is to harvest their own professional network and see who they interact with, the blogs that they read and the contacts they have. In this case, you can do this to build up a picture of the landscape of the industry to see which publications are the worthwhile ones, unearth the forums that the insiders hang about it and so on.
How do you get to know your clients? Please add your thoughts in the comments below.