Lee Odden

SEO Mindshift: Link Building As Online PR & Social Promotion

Lee Odden     Online Marketing

link building marketing PRWhether Google and social media sites like Twitter exist as platforms for discovery or not, links are votes that can create awareness and send traffic to whatever it is that you’re promoting online: website, blog, YouTube Channel, Facebook Fan Page or Pinterest Board. The internet is made of such connections and with the social web, even more so.

One of the core principles of optimization is to make the connection between your brand’s content and a particular destination or audience, easier. Creating, optimizing and promoting content and media that inspires people to share does exactly that.

But what are the best tactics for link building? Isn’t Google Penguin putting the hammer down on many SEO focused link building schemes? Do links even matter anymore, now that social shares are being debated as the new electricity of the web?

To help answer those questions, I’m going to share some insights to provide some context for an effective approach that is risk free, relevant, and high impact for building links and attention to a new website or social destination.

One of the most important things to realize about modern, sustainable link building is to stop thinking of it simply as a SEO tactic. While Google’s PageRank algorithm has inspired a whole industry of SEOs specializing in building links to client web pages for better rankings in search results, the tactics come and go. For example, buying links was promoted as a good idea by a lot of companies and consultants for a while, but now, not so much, especially with Google.

Do you like being a hamster? Viewing links only as a SEO tactic can mean chasing after loopholes like a hamster on an exercise wheel. Rather than ask, “What’s the best link building tactic?”, ask, “How will we market our website?” and think about how you can optimize those marketing and PR efforts to also result in link acquisition. In my book (literally) the smart approach is to view links as a by product of online marketing and PR vs, looking at online marketing and PR as means to get links.

Practical Online PR for links example: With the book website for Optimize, we launched a brand new website built on WordPress with a new domain name. This presented a substantial challenge, because a book about optimization (including SEO) using a single word like “optimize” with over 100 million competing search results in Google, would be expected to do well in search. Imagine being presented with the task of achieving top placement with a new domain for a very competitive single keyword with little budget and a short timeframe. Run fast, right?

“Optimize” is optimized. Currently the keyword “optimize” drives the most organic search traffic to OptimizeBook.com and on both Google and Bing, the book site appears in the top 3 pretty consistently with 113m and 80m competing search results respectively.

That visibility was achieved entirely through online promotion and PR, not just SEO link building tactics. We did leverage some links from this blog, but the vast majority of links to OptimizeBook.com came as a result of publicity. We created something relevant, timely and worth sharing and reached out to publications in need of such content or stories. In fact, through email and other online promotion as well as creating awareness through social channels, many of our best online media opportunities came to us with no pitching at all.

Online PR and social promotion (not just guest blog posts) are probably the most powerful means for promoting a website that also attracts substantial, high authority web links and social shares. The amazing thing about Online PR is that most companies are unaware of its impact. In our recent Integrated Online Marketing survey with over 220 respondents, Online PR ranked at the bottom on every dimension in terms of popular tactics, measurable tactics and tactics for future investment.

Despite that low set of scores from online marketers in general, our clients with TopRank Online Marketing that are using Online PR see significantly greater industry awareness, social media visibility and search engine placement. So much so that, we’re hiring more Online PR staff right now, so check out the opening.

I know it seems like semantics, to focus on website promotion (ads, social, email) and online PR first, then optimize for links vs. using links as the goal with promotion and online PR as tactics. But when it comes to a more effective strategy and better business outcomes, that change of perspective and approach has had a substantial impact on our own ability to attract new business as well as for many of our top clients.

Here are some of the questions we asked in our survey. Please let us know where you stand:  

How important is it to your online marketing mix? How effective has Online PR been for your digital marketing efforts? How measurable do you find Online PR compared to other tactics? Do you plan on investing more or less in Online PR in the future?


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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. It’s interesting to think of online PR and social promotion as the alternative to link-building. I think because of the latest Google updates doing these forms of promotion would be a great alternative to buying links.

  2. Avatar williamsmith8529 says

    I do agree with your link building scheme Lee and hey tedd will you please conform me once how goggle panda 3.9 reacting on website and how its behaving

  3. interesting and a great read

  4. …don’t really aggree that people are turning away from buying links. I am working for a company that deals with link building (teliad) and offers just about any SEO service out there and we’ve been experiencing quite a boost (especially in outsourcing link building to us) in the number of requests we got in the aftermath of panda and penguin…

    • We’ve never had to buy links, we earn them. But you say you don’t think people are turning away from buying links and that your company does link building? Does that mean your agency (teliad) is helping clients buy links? Google will be interested in that I think.

  5. Hello from the trenches. Excuse my bootprints on the nice carpet. My experience here is that the “PR” activities for many companies are done by the people often least qualified to discuss / manage the social channel. “Our PR department is often followed by words like “press releases” or “clip books.” It is then up to me (after I scream a bit about not being consulted for optimization of said releases) to try to demonstrate that these artificial injections of discounted links are of low value. Or, even less well received that the social channel is where they should be sending their time. I wake in a cold sweat sometimes when, in my nightmares the CEO says “well, just paste the press release on Facebook and quit complaining.”

    • This is true Scott and it’s the reason many companies hire consultants like you and agencies like TopRank who have been integrating SEO and PR for over 10 years 🙂

  6. It seems whenever marketers suggests there is an evolution in SEO and SEM tactics, it is met with a backlash. After much research, application and conversation with marketing experts – I’m with you Lee: SEO is not ‘dead,’ but our perspective and techniques must evolve to keep up with Google, our audiences’ needs and achieve desired results.

    • Thanks Erin, you’ve described the essence of what optimization really is: a continuous evolution of refinement of performance.

      Those who limit their understanding of SEO and SEM to temporal set of tactics will inevitably become obsolete. Maybe it is those non-innovators that make the most noise when people say SEO is dead. 🙂

  7. I am quite new to online marketing but have found that most people push the ‘mathematics’ of online marketing and ranking – almost like some mathematical formula. Your article seems to put into perspective the fact that making ‘friends’ online and basically just putting yourself/your product out there is a much better tactic. Am I understanding it correctly?

  8. Instead of worrying about the search engine spiders, think about target audience members and where they are spending their time online. Work to build links on those sites. Not only will it help your link portfolio, but it will also help generate traffic to your site.