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Link Bait: Giving It Away Online to Get Traffic

Every small business yearns for "link love" -- links from other websites that can bring traffic to your site and raise your company's visibility. One way to get it is to offer "link bait" -- free products or samples, software, or coupons.
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‘Tis better to give than to receive. That's the philosophy behind a new marketing approach that puts a new spin on the old promotional giveaway by tying the giveaways to website visits and using them as 'link bait' -- a means to attract links from blog sites and other third parties.

It can be a highly effective strategy. When Logos Bible Software, an electronic book platform and research tool for religious texts, began offering books from the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series, the company wanted a high profile for its new offerings. So it began giving away one of the volumes -- the Matthew, Mark commentary -- on its website. (The company's Libronix reader and search platform has always been a free download; customers traditionally pay for texts.)

'We turned it into an event,' says Dan Pritchett, vice president of marketing and business development. Because the giveaway was touted as a limited-time offer, something Pritchett always recommends, bloggers and others reacted quickly, posting items about the free book. 'Hundreds of people linked to it,' he says. Ultimately, 9,425 people took advantage of the free download. 'It was one of the most successful programs we've ever done.'

But while offering an attractive giveaway is likely to earn you lots of links, it won't necessarily help you meet you business objectives. Deciding what specific effect you want to achieve is an important first step that will help you determine exactly how to structure your giveaway promotion. Here are some choices to consider:

Build a better mailing list: Rather than simply offering a free download, Logos gave out a coupon that would allow users to 'purchase' the book from its site for a price of $0, after inputting their names and e-mail addresses. 'We got almost 10,000 people to update their information with us, whether they were already customers or not,' Pritchett says. 'Most gave us permission to contact them, so those are people we can go after with marketing e-mails now. We can try to sell them the rest of the series.'

Associate with a trusted brand: PayCycle, Inc., an on-demand payroll service, was looking for a way to both build visibility and educate prospective customers on the sometimes intimidating subject of payroll management. Commissioning Payroll for Dummies from the Dummies series publisher seemed the most logical choice. 'We considered other options, but there was a big advantage from associating ourselves with the Dummies brand, which is so well known and trusted,' explains Jane Willis, vice president of branded business. 'They stand for accessibility in complicated topics, which is exactly what we were trying to accomplish.'

Maximize links: Logos launched the Matthew, Mark giveaway with a blog post describing the book and the series in detail, and explaining how to download the free Libronix software. This allowed Logos to get 'two links for the price of one,' Pritchett explains. 'We asked people to link to both the blog post and the book.'

Create viral marketing: Logos' next free giveaway will be the first issue of the company's new Bible Study Magazine. 'One way we're promoting the magazine is by offering a free review copy to anyone who can review it anywhere. If you have a blog, a church bulletin, a newsletter, a Facebook page where you'll post about it, we'll send you a copy,' Pritchett says. Thus far, he says, about 160 people have requested free copies. 'We have Google alerts set up, and reviews are coming in every day.'

Improve search ranking: An added value of having many web pages link to yours is that it improves your site's search engine ranking. To get the most search engine optimization out of a link, Pritchett says, it pays to have the right 'anchor text' -- the actual blue underlined text where the hyperlink resides. Search engine software uses anchor text to determine the relevancy of a linked page to a particular keyword search, so a blog post that links from 'click here for your free magazine' is less valuable than one that links from 'Bible Study Magazine.' Taking no chances, Logos is offering suggestions for anchor text to bloggers and others who might link to its freebies.

Start a long-term relationship with customers: 'The plan is to mail other things over time, and invite prospective customers to our webinar series,' Willis notes. The invitation-only webinars cover a variety of business topics that don't necessarily relate to payroll; one recent offering taught attendees how to create a public relations campaign with little financial outlay. 'The intent is to reward existing customers and keep them loyal, and give prospective customers a taste of the service they would have with us,' she says.

Pre-sell a new product: When Logos was preparing to launch its first Mac platform, the company knew it needed to engage with Apple users, a group that had never been customers before. So Logos created a simple widget for the Mac platform where users could enter a Bible verse number, and the widget would display the verse. This time, the company allowed the widget to be distributed widely, and to be downloaded directly from shareware and freeware sites, without requiring a coupon or contact information. 'Inside the widget itself was code that checked our server every day to see if we'd released the Mac software yet,' Pritchett says. 'As soon as we did, the graphic on the widget changed to an ad for our new application.'

Thanks to the widget, that announcement went out to a lot of people. 'Because it was free, it was picked up by hundreds of sites,' Pritchett says. 'It's been downloaded about 50,000 times.'

Last updated: Mar 1, 2009

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, 'The Geek Gap'

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Like this post? Sign up here for a once-a-week email and you'll never miss her columns.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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