You want to increase the number of online searchers who find their way to your website. The only solution is strong SEO or a paid search campaign, right?
While those aren’t bad ideas, there are other ways to accomplish the exact same search goal – and it won’t cost you a dime.
I’m talking about a search marketing tactic I have deemed (in my own mind) “Organic Referrals.”
In essence, organic referrals are marketing tactics that drive traffic through a search page, without involving pay-per-click ads OR ranking your website through quality SEO.
Instead of these traditional search traffic drivers, the strategy of organic referrals involves promoting your website’s STRONG content on sites that are already ranking well for your targeted search term.
In short, you’re letting another website do the heavy SEO lifting, and then jumping on their shoulders, with a tasty flavor of Gatorade or perhaps a beloved tune on your lips so they’re not angry with you.
How exactly do you do this and what on earth am I really talking about?
Organic Referral Traffic
In the world of Google Analytics metrics, organic and referral cover two entirely separate sources of traffic.
On one side of the ring you have organic: any instance where a visitor clicked your website’s natural search result (unless of course they were on an iPhone using iOS 6).
On the other side of the ring you have referrals: any instance of another website or social network sending visitors to your site. This can include everything from a Facebook share to another blogger linking to your post.
Organic Referrals attempt to combine the best of both worlds. You identify another strong website (traditionally a referral source of traffic) that is ranking well for one of your targeted search terms in organic search.
Nine times out of ten, this means you produce an awesome piece of content (repeat: It has to be AWESOME) and share it on a related forum or Q & A site.
So You’re Just Spamming Forums? Some Innovator
I know, I know: Shoving links to your website into forums or Q & A sites is no better than spamming blog comments. It’s ineffective and outdated and terrible SEO advice!!!
That’s the general thinking and consensus we see around this strategy now, and with good reason. In a desperate attempt to build links, many cheap-trick SEOs greatly abused this tactic, to limited or minimal gain.
But here’s where that thinking starts to fail: When you’ve actually produced a great answer to an expressed need on one of these forums. An example:
Example of Organic Referrals in Action
Over on the comic book blog, I recently stumbled into this exact situation.
I’d put in a lot of hours on a piece of content, and was researching how that content was ranking for some related keywords. During the research, I noticed that a Sci Fi forum on StackExchange.com ranked consistently well for variations of my target keyword phrase.
When I clicked through to the question, I quickly gathered that no one had answered it yet. And that I was confident my piece of content would truly provide value to the questioner.
So I answered the question. Here’s what happened:
The Traffic Impact of Organic Referrals
The graph below won’t wow you with traffic prowess (just ask my wife), but what it does clearly show is that my site has seen consistent traffic from this source since I answered one question a week ago.
There are a few numbers that jump out to me, but the biggest two are:
- This answered question accounts for 3.5% of total site traffic.
- The average visit duration is a mind-numbing 41 minutes.
Not a bad boost in traffic for a few minutes of helping someone out in a forum.
Again, you won’t see a huge spike in traffic the way you might for a featured post on Reddit or a huge retweet from a key influencer.
With organic referrals, though, that’s not really what you’re looking for. Ideally, this traffic should provide as consistent a flow as the ranking of the original source dictates. Of course, visitors have to jump an additional hoop compared to pure organic visits (reading both the question and the answer and THEN clicking the link in this case), but this sort of traffic will have a lot more in common with organic trends.
The upside there is that you don’t need to bank on the traffic drying up when the initial surge is over either.
This is NOT Link-Building
This needs to be said again. One enormous misconception that can convert organic referral marketing into spam is treating this as link-building.
Don’t treat this like link-building.
For starters, most forums or Q &A sites worth a lick of salt (at what point was value measured in licks of salt? Is there any way we can go back to that financial standard?) are using nofollow tags on all the links you include.
And secondly, if you’re “building links” through forums or communities, the real people involved are going to find you out and probably kick you out. And then they’ll come for your family and make them watch Fantastic Four II or something truly heinous.
How to Include A Link to Your Content in a Forum
I won’t go into the literal ‘how’ (you can probably figure out how to copy and paste a link), but given the perceived spammish-ness of this tactic, it’s worth addressing how you to cleanly enter a discussion.
The first, and most ideal way to go about this is to engage with the community before you share your content.
Full disclosure: I didn’t do this with the StackExchange example above, and there are occasions where you can get away with skipping this step.
BUT – with large, blooming communities like Reddit, you’re going to have a hard time having success without making some effort to engage with the community. You have to at least understand how the community works, too (for example, what’s a subreddit, and what will determine whether anyone even sees your link?). End of the day, the content you’re sharing will make or break your success, but connecting with an audience that knows, or at least recognizes you, can be hugely rewarding.
With that in mind, there are a couple options when it comes to cleanly linking within a group discussion:
- Short & Sweet – You just quickly link to your content with a quick “Try this!”
The problem with short & sweet is that it’s likely to be viewed as SPAMMITY SPAM SPAM. That’s just the expectation of online browsing now. When I see a link in the comments of a website, 98% of the time I assume it’s spam. And the other 2%, I’m literally drunk and only find out it’s spam after clicking like an idiot.
- Answer the Question First – Yes, without sending traffic to your site.
I prefer this option, and it’s the one I utilized in the example above. Technically speaking, I provided enough information that the questioner does not need to click my link to get an answer.
This was intentional – When you enter the fray to answer a question like this, your actual aim should be to help people out. Again – you’re identifying a need and providing a resource.
When you just provide a link, even if it’s great content, I think a lot of times people will assume you are promoting and helping yourself. Which you are. You shameless, arrogant capitalist.
This is more passable when you promote yourself as a tangential part of of helping someone else. Now everybody wins and we can join hands together in the great universal church of online peace.
Wrap it Up!
In reality, organic referrals are nothing new. In most ways it’s just good ol’ fashioned marketing that happens to take place in the search results.
Although PPC and SEO get all the search love, it’s important for bloggers or small website owners to recognize that the answer to eyeballs and pageviews isn’t always outranking the competition.
You know what they say: When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. And when you can’t join ’em, find a forum that hasn’t closed responses yet.