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Building Links with Brand Evangelists

by Jon Cooper
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In the last week, I’ve been hearing things like “So, what DOES Google like in terms of links?” and “Everyone is telling me to build links naturally, but no one is showing me how!”

Ask and you shall receive.

Enter the brand evangelist. He or she is no different than the rest of us. They wake up every morning, go to work, and eat three square meals a day. They go online and read the industry blogs that you read, follow the industry leaders on Twitter that you follow, and in general, they do a lot of the things that you do.

But there’s one thing that separates them from the rest: They like your brand. No, actually, they really like your brand. 

They’re a rare breed for some, but that doesn’t matter. You don’t need many of them to be successful. And unfortunately, a lot of them sometimes get tossed aside and become second thoughts, when in reality, they’re your pathway to an endless supply of big, juicy links.

For those who don’t know what I mean when I say “brand evangelist”, they’re people who not only like your brand, but they tell others about it. In a world where there are over 180 million blogs, those kind words usually turn into links. Lots of them.

Before we go into much detail about identifying your brand evangelists, nurturing them, or creating new ones, lets first talk about why you want them.

If you’ve ever built links and grinded out entire outreach campaigns in the trenches, you know that quality, white hat links are not easy to come by. So when a natural link comes along (a link you did not actively pursue), your heart flutters knowing you just got a great link with zero effort. And these, my friends, are the most scalable links out there.

Entire online communities are built on natural links from brand evangelists. I HATE to use this example, because so many do, but since it’s a relevant site that we all know, take (sigh…) SEOmoz. They have an arsenal of brand evangelists. Heck, I’m one. Just like at how many times I linked to a post on their site in my link building resources post. It’s almost unreal. And the thing is I’m not the only one who does this.

Look at SEOgadget. Richard Baxter is a phenomenal SEO, and he doesn’t need any help convincing prospective clients to pursue his services (no matter how much he thinks ;)), but he uses the SEOmoz badge in the top right on every single one of his pages anyways. OK, it might be there as a trust signal, but cmon, he wouldn’t have placed it if he didn’t think SEOmoz was awesome.

So think about it. Getting a group of people, no matter how small, who absolutely love your brand can seriously pay off. They don’t even have to be authorities like Richard, because you know why? They’re not just going to link to you once. They’re going to link to you again, and again, and again.

They’re going to link to you in their next post on that subject. And when that guest post goes up a few weeks from now, they’ll probably link to something of yours. And if they see a struggling member in one of their favorite forums having issues with a problem that your content can solve, you bet your bottom dollar they’ll drop a reference.

It’s almost like having a group of link building machines working day & night, flying right under Google’s radar, because you know why? This is what Google wants. They want this type of linking, so embrace it.

Alright, enough prophetic talk on why brand evangelists are the best things since sliced bread. Let’s discuss what you really want to know: how to get them.

It’s not even about content

I said it! Making a brand evangelist out of a reader doesn’t have anything to do with this “great content” mantra that we hear way too many times. Sure, you need to have some decent content, it can’t be total crap (if your own mother won’t share it, then you’re in trouble), but as long as you’d reference it yourself, you’re good to go.

So here’s how to transform them from reader to brand evangelist: pursue the hell out of them once they show interest. Even just a hint. Really, it doesn’t take much. If they leave a comment on your blog, there’s your in. If they tweet multiple posts of yours, then Bingo, you’re golden.

It’s what you do after that action that makes all the difference.

Since we all love long lists of actionable tips, here are some things to do after that initial interest is shown:

A)   Find out where they hang out, and make sure you become known. If they have a blog, start leaving comments on all of their posts. Put that RSS in your Reader and make them think you’re a ninja when you’re commenting just minutes after their posts went live.

B)   Actively promote them. Yep, do to them what you want done to you. Crazy how this idea of reciprocation works, right? If you think they’re the bomb, they’ll think you’re the bomb. Send a few links their way in an upcoming post. Share their posts, and make sure you tag them in the shares so they take notice (i.e. on Twitter say “by @example” or on Google+ tag them with the + symbol).

C)   Do something awesome & unexpected. If the first two weren’t already that, then do something cool & outside of the box that they don’t see coming. Appsumo sent me a box of cookies for writing up a quick review post in October. I’ve sent out free t-shirts to a couple of my readers (which, now thinking about it, I need to do a lot more of). Heck, send them a handwritten thank you note. I guarantee that $3 letter is going to be worth 10 times its weight in future links.

D)   Interact with them personally. Whether it’s emailing them thanks and continuing that conversation in your inbox for a couple of weeks or picking up that archaic device we call a phone, it means a lot when you know that you have someone’s full attention.

At this point, they now really like you. Congratulations! You’ve only won half the battle. The other half is making them want to promote you. And in order to do this, you need to provide them with something great to promote.

You can’t expect someone to share a post like this (don’t laugh, it was one of my first posts. Actually, laugh). But, if they really liked you, they’d go out of their way to share something like this. And that’s exactly what they’d begin to do.

But again, it doesn’t have to be amazing. Lets look at the previous example of SEOmoz. I’m going to say it – a lot of their content isn’t amazing. It’s pretty good. But the important reason is that I know about it, and I know about it because I’ve grown to like them & shown interest. I’ve grown used to them & their brand, and as a result, I cite them a lot in my posts. As for other SEO blogs that might be just as good, I’m just not familiar with their content. And that’s become I’m nothing close to a brand evangelist for them; for SEOmoz, on the other hand, I pretty much am (if I got the chance to interview their CEO, you damn well know I’m going to like them a lot more).

Understand though that some brand evangelists are in fact worthless. I know, it goes against what I said at the top, but think about it. If they have absolutely no presence online, then they have no potential of giving you any of the benefits that a decent brand evangelist would provide – you know, links in blogrolls, posts, forum discussions, and social mentions.

So before you throw hours of your time and possibly money at someone showing interest in your brand, see if they’re worth it. It goes back to the whole concept of ROI. Do they have a platform to give me any of the benefits I want out of a brand evangelist? Do they have any influence on social media or any specialized communities? If not, then think about moving on.

But don’t discard people so easily. A lot of my blog’s brand evangelists aren’t big name bloggers like Aaron Wall or Wil Reynolds. They’re guys like Cleo Kirkland, Peter Attia, Kane Jamison, and Gaz Copeland. And you know what? I owe them my life (well maybe not my life, but you get the idea). They’re responsible for so much of my success that I can’t begin to think what life would be like without their help.

LAST POINT: Not every benefit of the brand evangelist is direct. A lot of times their small mentions of you or your brand can lead to bigger & better mentions & links down the road. They plant seeds all the time that you don’t know about, and a lot of times they can’t be measured. But know that once you’re blessed enough to have them on your side, you’ll be able to see those small things. Whether they’re upvoting a post of yours on a social site, following up a forum post with a link to you with something like “that’s an awesome link, glad you posted it”, or anything else, they all matter. A lot.

Conclusion

So hopefully by now you know that a brand evangelist is a great example of all the talk surrounding things like “build natural links” or “build relationships”. If you’re truly lucky, you’ll eventually have a couple brand evangelists in your community, because in a lot of cases, they’ll do a better job of spreading your brand’s message than you could ever possibly do.

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 121 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper+ is an SEO consultant based out of Gainesville, FL who specializes in link building. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter.

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16 Comments
  1. Courtney Cox says:

    Thanks for the post, Jon. I’m definitely going to have to send a few boxes of cookies when I get home…

  2. Eric Scism says:

    I think people forget how important a hand written note can be. I always make sure to send my clients a hand written note after I complete a job for them. That will make them an evangelist for you for sure. It takes maybe 5 minutes to write and doesn’t cost that much, but it’s a great human interaction that is often over looked.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      That’s a great habit to have Eric, and I need to embrace it more myself! I think the minute we start showing people that we’re real and that we give a crap, they’ll be much more likely to buy into us. Few people really do that these days.

  3. Dan Tabaran says:

    To be honest I just read a post about me. Everywhere I see a debate about SEO , I never miss the opportunity to use your words and link back to pointblankseo.com :)

  4. Anthony Pensabene says:

    Jon, I am a JC evangelist; however, for readers, I would like to point out, just like getting attention from seasoned vets, there’s a genuine and commercial way to garner attention from supporters. Networking and inner-industry elbow rubbing is great…but I champion brands I genuinely feel are creating value. I celebrate personalities of people I feel are genuine and want to establish reciprocal relations for the right reasons (help one another contribute and grow as professionals). I don’t want to be ‘fooled’…regardless of how ‘popular’ someone is. I need/desire feigned online support about as much as I seek it offline…I don’t.

    I think all of these insights are great; but, I hope people connect with readers and cohorts for good-intended purposes. I know we’re all ‘marketers'; but more importantly, we’re people.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Anthony! I agree about creating real value, but I feel like too many “great” blogs keep saying that (i.e. “content is king!”). I just wanted to prove that it can be done without it, but on a side note, creating value and doing something amazing makes this whole process 10x easier.

  5. Really enjoy your conversational writing style, Jon.
    (Let’s just say we’re two peas in a pod). :)

    You call them “Brand Evangelists” …

    And I call them “Ambassadors” and “Cheer Leaders”.

    But no matter what endearing title we give them …
    They’re a godsend!

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Melanie! :)

      Funny you mentioned ambassadors. I actually wrote it titled “Building links with Brand Ambassadors” and wrote it using that instead of evangelists. I changed it at the last possible second because when I googled Brand Ambassador, I noticed it’s something entirely different (sort of like paying someone to go to talk about your brand instead of them doing it freely and because they like it). I guess that’s why I went with evangelists.

  6. Tommy Walker says:

    Every now and again, I try to do a free “Ask Me Anything” Q&A for my readership as a way to say “Thank You” and so far it’s done pretty well.

    Beyond that, it’s wicked important, because there are a lot more “little guys” out there than the big influential people. And all the big influential people were built on the back of the little guy, so it’s really important to treat them right.

    Sad part is, most people lose sight of that once they get too big.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Tommy! That’s a great idea. I did that once a few months ago, and I think I need to definitely do it again :)

      Seeing one of my favorite blogs becoming self promotional, I can totally agree. We tend to lose sight of things once we start becoming successful (I’ve dedicated every inch of myself to not forget any person who’s helped me on my way to success, if I do end up reaching it), which really does in fact suck.

      Thanks for stopping by Tommy!

  7. Brett Snyder says:

    Took me a while to read this (it’s been an open tab for days) but was definitely better late than never! It’s also great to see your own brand evangelists like Anthony commenting on this post and Ross Hudgens helping to push this in social media to put your money where your mouth is here.

    I think the other aspect that maybe wasn’t touched on as directly here (though you definitely touched on it) is how you can use your brand evangelists’ networks to increase your mentions. Interview opportunities, speaking gigs, solicited guest posts (where they ask you for content)….all of these can come out of letting your brand evangelists work for you but you gotta lay the foundation first.

    Great post as always my friend!

  8. Nice article. I like the tips you gave on how to find Brand Evangelists (funny title and preacher boy). By taking the time to do kind personal gestures in a impersonal society is a great way to get people promoting your website and services. We mail out free decals and offer free SEO reports to those we deemed worthy. As you said not all brand evangelists are worthy. Great article!

  9. TJM says:

    Wish it was that easy in my industry. In SEO everyone ‘gets’ it but in our non trendy industry (furniture) the only evangelising we get is from nutters who newver bought from us writing about how crap we are. Still, its a great post & maybe we can find a way to create Brand Evangelists.

  10. Great article Jon!
    Brand evangelists online social interaction is the most powerful marketing tool any brand can have. It’s a smart world for any company to explore and develop!
    Got inspired to write my own http://blog.mobitto.com/brand-evangelist-concept/

    Keep writing! :)

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