Google loves brands. Eric Schmidt once said, “Brands are the solution, not the problem...” This fundamental belief isn’t going to change anytime soon. Why do brands dominate Google? Because people love brands; brands are trusted; brands are not spam. As a small business owner, you might say to yourself, “That’s not fair! How is the little guy supposed to compete?” Well, the little guy competes by making his small business into a brand - by doing Real Company Shit.
Real Company Shit (hereafter referenced by its hashtag, #RCS) was coined by SEER Interactive’s CEO, Wil Reynolds, in an awesome presentation on link building. If you’re even remotely interested in SEO or marketing, take 20 minutes and watch this video.
When #RCS first started to make its way around the SEO community, I loved the ideas behind it, but also thought that it was a little unrealistic for small businesses. To a certain extent, some spammy SEO techniques still work (Wil admits as much in his video) which gives small companies less incentive to put in the extra effort and a lot of small businesses don’t have the resources to implement #RCS on a large scale.
So what’s a small business owner to do? You don’t have the budget for a Super Bowl commercial starring Ferris Bueller and you don’t have the influence to get word out about your amazing customer service like Zappos. The answer isn’t to spend money like the big boys, but rather to think creatively about your situation, use the resources you have at hand, work hard and yes, sometimes spend a little money.
Here are a few examples of #RCS that we’ve done at Pronto which have earned us some powerful links and a lot of brand recognition.
Real companies work with other companies
No business is an island. You depend on other companies to ensure that you can deliver your products and services in a timely, efficient and high quality manner. You might think the relationship with your partners is pretty simple - you pay them, they provide their services.
But you know what they really want in return? They want to be able to show their prospects and leads their awesomeness through testimonials, success stories and examples of people using their product in innovative ways.
Over the past several months, we’ve reached out to a few of our partners to let them know how awesome we think they are and to tell them about all the amazing things we’ve been doing with their products.
These outreach efforts resulted in case studies being written about Pronto with Zendesk, Campaign Monitor and Formstack. Those are some huge companies! Having them mention Pronto puts a lot of strength behind our brand and puts us in front of an audience that we would never have reached on our own.
Take a look at the companies you have strong partnerships with. Is there anything special about the way you use their product? What sets you apart from their other clients? If you can present a unique position to your partners, you’re much more likely to get a positive result.
When reaching out to your partners, don’t cold call or send a random email. Do some stalking first! Find their Community or Marketing Manager on Twitter or Linkedin. Tweet some love at them, and once you’re on their radar, send your pitch.
Real companies interact with the community
In the same way that your company has relationships with other businesses, it also has relationships with the people and community that surround it. Working closely with your community can help establish you as a trusted brand on the local market and the networking you’ll do can lead to some unexpected and amazing opportunities.
We probably won’t get any new clients from these events, but that’s short-sighted and not the point. The point is that we established ourselves as a fun, smart and hardworking startup in Bangkok. We won’t get new clients right now, but the connections we’ve made might lead to some talented new team members, which will lead to better products and services, and way down the road, that will lead to more clients.
Look for active groups in your niche in the local community. Join them and offer to host an event for them. Can’t find a group in your vertical? Start one!
Real companies become experts and spread their knowledge
Work takes up such a huge portion of our lives that it’s hard not to become an expert. When I started at Pronto, I knew absolutely nothing about SEO, so I created an account at SEOmoz. I read a lot of blog articles and asked A LOT of questions.
Over the years, I’ve learned quite a bit. I’m still far from what I would consider an SEO expert, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m asking fewer questions (although I still ask plenty) and am now helping to answer the questions of others.
But I didn’t keep this knowledge buried in the SEOmoz Q&A forums (which are quite handy, by the way). As I’ve learned more and done some of my own research, I’ve shared my knowledge with a wider audience through the Pronto Blog and through guest authoring articles on popular SEO blogs.
Here’s an example of an article I wrote for Search Engine People. It was shared on Twitter 113 times and was even retweeted by @GoogleAnalytics to their 150,000 followers. The most popular articles on the Pronto Blog don’t get even a fraction of that kind of exposure.
The key here is to not fall into the trap of guest posting for the sake of link building. That’s worth repeating: don’t look at links as the endgame. Write because you have something worth sharing. Yes, we got a great link from that Search Engine People article, but more importantly, they offered me a position as a regular contributor which will lead to more links and more brand authority down the road.
Now imagine if every expert at your company was doing the same thing I’m doing. Think of the audience you would be reaching; think of the brand trust and authority you would be building. Imagine this scenario:
Potential Client: Do you guys really know what you are doing?
You: Yes, here are 10 examples of articles our team has written for top industry blogs.
Real companies help others
I’ve hinted at this already. Just being a good and responsible person (or company) can do wonders for your brand. Helping others can come in many different forms. It might be answering questions on a forum (like I did with SEOmoz) or giving groups a place to host their events (like we did with Barcamp Bangkok and WP Dev Night). We’ve also sponsored off-site events like 3 Day Startup. We’re putting effort and money into making the Bangkok startup community a better place.
These don’t necessarily need to be things in your vertical either. We already have plans to sponsor a school in Northern Thailand through the Kharma Foundation. Maybe our next sponsorship will be for Alex’s hockey team or maybe we’ll organize a volunteer day at a local charity. Karma is a real thing on the Internet and good deeds have a way of coming back to help you and your brand.
Brand Authority vs. Link Authority
Yes, we’ve earned links through all the examples listed above. Actually, some of the most powerful links to our domain were earned through #RCS. Yes, our Domain Authority has grown substantially in the last few months and our search traffic has increased as well, but what I think is more exciting is the rate at which our referral traffic has increased.
We've seen an almost 90% increase in referral traffic in the last 5 months. This tells me that the links we’ve built through #RCS don’t just help with SEO - they have a direct impact on traffic to our site. These are visitors that have heard about our brand through another site and are actually interested in learning more about Pronto because we do Real Company Shit.
Yes, links are important (and they will be for a long time), but they are just a stepping stone on the path to building your brand. Don’t lose sight of that ultimate goal. It’s when you focus on shortcutting the small steps, like using spammy link building tactics, that you get in trouble with search engines. If you stay focused on strengthening your brand by doing Real Company Shit, you’ll never have to worry about a Google algorithm update ever again.