Influencer Marketing for SEO: How to work with influencers for better content and higher search rankings

By Andy Crestodina

It’s big and growing fast. Influencer marketing is a mega-trend and it’s no surprise. Driving traffic from search and social isn’t getting easier. Clickthrough rates from SEO are falling. Social and email are more crowded and competitive than ever.

But there’s hope. A faster, less expensive way to reach your audience: influencer marketing.

Organic influencer marketing is about connecting and collaborating with people who have already built the audience you want to reach.

It’s a shortcut.

This explains the rise in its popularity. But it’s widely misunderstood. Lots of marketers are still looking for social media benefits, when the real upside (and fun) is in combining influencer marketing with SEO.

Influencer marketing for social media vs. search

There’s a cognitive bias built into all of us that makes us overvalue the things we can easily see. It’s called the availability heuristic. And when it comes to marketing metrics, there is nothing more visible than social media stats.

Everywhere in digital we see the number of followers, likes and shares, it’s no wonder we pay so much attention to them. That person has a big following. If they would share my content…

But what if a big account did share your stuff?

We recently shared the story of a social media account with 1M followers that shared an article of ours. It was a small thrill, I’ll admit.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m honored to get any love or attention from this influential brand. But there wasn’t really a big marketing outcome from this social media post. It was around 150 visits.

Yet this is exactly the kind of thing that social media marketers and influencer relationship managers are hoping for. Some are even paying for this kind of outcome, hiring influencers to create social posts just like this one, hoping for brand awareness.

So let’s find a more effective way to combine influencer marketing with other digital channels.

How influencer collaboration affects SEO

Here is the short version. There are two main search ranking factors: authority (inbound links) and relevance (content and keywords).

So links are important.

  • Why does a link appear? Because someone found something worth linking to.
  • What type of content attracts links? Original research.
  • Who makes these links? Content creators.

Content creators are influential over your search rankings.

Of course, not all links are created equal. Some are worth much more than others. Understanding Domain Authority is key to search engine optimization. If this concept is new to you, read this and then come back.

Of course, not all content attracts links. Some content is much more link-worthy than others. Publishing original research is the key to attracting links. If this idea is new to you, read this article by Michele Linn of Mantis Research.

Influencers who create content

Not all influencers are content creators. Really, only a small percentage of influencers create content. This is the 1% rule.

So when we’re looking for SEO benefits from our influencer collaboration, we need to focus on that small percentage of people who create content, especially those who create content for authoritative websites.

There are all kinds of content creators. Of course, there are the bloggers and editors, journalists and columnists. These are the people who create, publish and promote every day.

  • Editors of the publications your audience subscribes to
  • Writers of the articles your audience reads
  • Podcasters of the shows your audience listens to
  • Organizers of the events your audience attends

They have the attention of your audience and they create content and links. Bloggers link out from articles, podcasters links link out from show notes, event producers link out from event sites.

If you’ve done any kind of digital PR or blogger relations, this will sound very familiar.

What about social media influencers? Maybe not. Not all social influencers create website content. Many of them don’t publish on websites. Links from their social media posts don’t count.

They’re big on Instagram, but do they have a blog with good Domain Authority? If not, there’s no SEO benefit to collaborating with this influencer.

Eventually, you realize that different types of collaborations have very different outcomes…

Identify, connect

You may already know a lot of the influencers in your category. But there are dozens or hundreds you’ve probably never heard of.

Here’s a tool that will help you find the influencers who can help your SEO: Buzzsumo. It sits right in the intersection between search and social. Here’s how to find the 1% fast using Buzzsumo:

  1. Filter the influencer search for “bloggers” and “journalists”
  2. Search for your topic or business category
  3. Sort the results by Domain Authority

Related: How to Find Influencers In Any Niche

See anyone you didn’t know already? Great. Now that you’ve identified the influencers who affect SEO, what’s the best way to engage them?

First, we’re going to interact a bit on social media, using social as a networking tool. Follow, subscribe, share and comment. Add your own POV. Show thoughtfulness and gratitude.

Want to level-up your influencer marketing? Try some of these more modern networking tricks.

  • After interacting a bit online, try “real-time voice communications.” That’s right. Pick up the phone! A quick phone conversation will strengthen the connection to anyone in your network.
  • Instead of sending a thank you email, try using the “forgotten inbox.” That’s right. Send a physical thank you note. Very few marketers do it.
  • No time to lick a stamp? Write a note and take a selfie. Send it to their email address as an attachment. It’s more personal, less expected.

It’s easy to be the top 1% of influencer marketers. Just do what 99% of people don’t do.

Kim Kosaka, Marketing Director, Alexa

“If the objective is to improve search authority by earning links, I recommend prioritizing micro-influencers with high domain relevance over mega-influencers with high domain authority. You are likely to have a better response rate with micro-influencers because they are often rising stars who are eager to engage with others.”

5 ways to collaborate with influencers

Once we’ve had a conversation or two, we’re going to offer to include the influencers in our content.

We’re going to start by offering something, not asking for anything. We’re going to give before we hope to get. We’re going to include them in our content before we expect them to include us in their content.

We’re going to offer to collaborate because collaboration is the key to organic influencer marketing. Here are the five main types of collaborative content marketing.

  1. The simple mention

You can add a quote from them into your content, and then once the article is live, let them know. This isn’t a bad idea, but it’s a missed opportunity. It wasn’t really a collaboration.

  1. Contributor quotes

While you’re writing, reach out to the influencer and ask if they’d like to be included in the piece. Ask for a short quote. Be specific about the topic and the deadline. Make it easy for them.

Your hope is to add their insights to yours, include their face, name and link.

  1. Expert roundups

You might be tired of roundups of marketers, but there are hundreds of other industries where roundups are rarely published. And roundups don’t have to be lists of 84 experts answering one question copied and pasted into a super tall page.

Pick a handful of experts, email each of them a handful of questions, then write an article that summarizes their views. Add your analysis. Add value. Think like a journalist.

  1. Guest blogging

Ask them if they’d be interested in contributing an article for you. Or offer to write something useful for their audience.

If you’re pitching, remember that these people are busy. The average editor get’s pitched an average of 10x per day. Built a relationship first. Then pitch politely and with patience.

Guest blogging is so popular partly because of the SEO benefits. Guest posts inevitably link back to the author’s site, in the author bio if not in the article itself.

  1. Deep dive interview

Often easier than a guest post, ask if they wouldn’t mind answering a few questions. This could be an email interview or if they’d prefer, record a video call. Edit and post the video. Transcribe, edit and summarize for the associated article.

If you’re patient, generous and considerate, you should be able to build a relationship and collaborate with just about anyone.

Collaboration is good for search optimization and social media

Content optimized for search includes keywords. Content optimized for social includes people.

People who collaborated on the piece are very likely to help share and promote it.

An ally in creating content is an ally in promoting content.

Every article should include people, faces and names. Because single POV content is much harder to promote.

Put yourself out there

Our long term goal is to eventually be included in and linked to from their content. This should happen naturally and organically if you simply focus on helping others, just like so many things in life.

Consider the advice of a famously generous influencer and thought leader, John Ramton.

John Rampton, Founder, Calendar

“1 out of 10 people you help …will help you back.

1 out of 100 people you help …will turn into a financial relationship.

1 out of 10,000 people you help …will turn into a multi-million dollar relationship.”

You get what you give.

But a little nudge never hurt…

It’s very helpful to remind people that you’re open to collaboration too. Here’s a way to increase the chance of getting featured in the content of influencers. When emailing or messaging a content creator, type this simple sentence at the end of the message:

If you’d ever like to collaborate on anything at all, don’t hesitate to reach out!

When they read this, they’ll pause and think about the possibilities. If they have a podcast, they may consider having you on the show. If they run a Twitter chat, they might consider you as a guest. They might need a contributor quote for an article.

I’ve typed it so often that now I use a text expander to type it for me. Now whenever I use a simple keyboard shortcut, that magical sentence appears.

For me, this signoff has led to contributor quotes, podcast interviews, email interviews, webinars and guest blogging opportunities. And each of those included the kinds of links and mentions that power our search rankings.

Social is temporary. Search is forever.

Or at least search much more durable. One high ranking page is better than a thousand shares. That’s why links are better than likes.

Relationships, and therefore influencer marketing, are the key to making it happen.

Networking + Relationships + Collaboration =

Mentions + Links + Authority =

Ranking potential

It’s critical to understand this, but then put your efforts into networking, collaboration and helping others. Measure the improvements to your ranking and traffic. But the benefits to your relationships is immeasurable.

The best outcome of influencer marketing is friendship.

There is more where this came from…

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