By Paul Shapiro published July 10, 2014

Wake a Sleeping Giant for Content Marketing SEO: Your Employees

link-builder-org-chartLately, I’ve been thinking a lot about missed SEO and link-building opportunities for corporate websites, to aid in content marketing efforts.

Leveraging your employees has been touted as the biggest missed opportunity in social media, but could the same be said about SEO vis-à-vis link building and content creation?

Put another way, shouldn’t businesses be using their employees’ personal and professional networks as an opportunity to build links and help promote their business?

For instance, when I write content on my personal blog, I could link that to my company’s website. And every time I need to explain a concept online (in a blog comment or on Quora, for example) that has already been expertly explained on my company’s blog, I should link out to that great content. This strategy builds my reputation and helps my company with its online presence through linked, relevant content.

Inbound links are the bread and butter of SEO and provide two avenues that help grow your content marketing efforts:

  1. They are easily the most important factor that search engines use to determine which website should be ranked.
  2. A well-placed link is an excellent source of qualified web traffic on its own, even without the added SEO value.

The social media marketing world already has a set of systems and web applications to assist with the process of utilizing employee resources. Let’s explore how that works, and how it might pertain to SEO.

How social media does it

Before we explore how we can use our employees’ resources for SEO, let’s examine how it works with social media. If you aren’t a celebrity, big brand, or someone with pre-established authority, it may be difficult to accrue a following on the various social networks. Without an audience, a business is unable to effectively communicate its marketing message and get the results it desires.

You could spend major $$$ on social advertising to assist you with this, but there are also other, less expensive and more effective ways — and they’re already on the payroll.

The premise of services like GaggleAMP, Triberr, and EveryoneSocial is to utilize employee resources (or in the case of Triberr, your “tribe”) as a source of cumulative audience and influence. For example, GaggleAMP incentivizes and enables employees to share content across their social channels on behalf of their employer. The business then reaps the benefits of employees’ social audience, increasing the business’ own reach.

If you consider your business as a whole, comprising a sum of its employees who can be united with a common purpose, you have a real force to leverage. Each employee has his or her own sphere of influence and audience, on or off of social media, which can be combined to benefit your company. But can this idea be expanded to work for SEO? Let’s explore.

Okay, how might this be applied to SEO and link building?

One of the most difficult parts of link building is scaling the process. Pooling your personnel, instead of relying on a portion of a small marketing team, is advantageous, helping to do a greater quantity of work without relying on scaling the tactics. And since link building is more effective if treated as relationship building, utilizing all your employees (each having their own set of relationships) is particularly helpful.

Unfortunately, I believe getting employees engaged in social media is a much easier task than with SEO or link building. After all, most employees already have social accounts that they are proficient in using, while most people working outside of internet marketing may not fully understand what link building is, how it’s done well, or how it benefits anyone.

Employees do have a way to participate, though. They have ideas, networks, and personal blogs that, with minimal effort, can be used as a tool to help the company build links. Corporate employee training on this practice, as well as a well-defined incentive program (including gamification) would be required to begin.

How this might help with SEO and content marketing

Employees can also help with SEO beyond link building, through content creation and ideation:

  • Your employees can contribute by creating content for your corporate blog.
  • Your design team can produce an infographic for the company website — the kind of content that people love.
  • Employees can also contribute to smaller, micro-content pieces. This could be in the form of answering an industry question by having each of them suggest one or two tactics. These few sentences get strung together into something larger, as shown in the AARP post below. This way, the time investment for your employees is significantly less but the content’s impact greater than the sum of the parts.

2 women-aarp expert-ambassador

  • Similarly, they may want to contribute advice to a website section such as a FAQ, providing small bits of text that can be valuable to consumers.

Pro tip: MyBlogU is a new service that helps with the creation of this type of content, allowing for collaborative sourcing of interview-type posts and more. Easy content is always welcomed in the world of content marketing and SEO.

Your company’s employees are experts in their field and they have ideas to share. Providing a platform to share these ideas brings your company to the forefront of discourse on the topic, improves rankings based on applicable content, and honors employees for their talent.

SEO-training your team

Depending on the industry you work in, the level of training required for this system to work will likely vary. But in order to undertake a successful SEO-by-employee strategy, it’s important that the contributors all understand SEO and link-building basics, as well as those tactics that are considered to be spammy.

Let’s assume your company’s employees are not familiar with link building or its effect on the corporate website and content marketing efforts. In this scenario, a formal, structured training program may be necessary to teach about web traffic and SEO basics, as well as what link building is and how it is used within the industry. Think like a lay person here when devising a training program! What seems obvious to content marketers and SEOs may not be as clear to others.

Following a general introduction, the trainer would need to explain the rules of what is allowed, what might trigger a penalty from the search engines, and what could be considered outright spam. As any digital marketer knows, this is murky ground that we all struggle to understand; so in order to avoid jeopardizing your corporate site at the hands of less-knowledgeable employees, create a very structured document outlining dozens of examples of what would be an effective tactic and what is not permissible.

Some prohibited tactics to review include:

  • Buying links
  • Blog comment spam
  • Link exchanges
  • Bulk commenting on unrelated blog posts
  • Bulk submitting of links to social bookmarking sites

Pro tip: As an added resource, I’d feel comfortable recommending that companies base their entire link-building training process around Paddy Moogan’s link building bible. It’s one of the best written and most extensive publications on the topic. It also clearly outlines what is acceptable and what isn’t.

Link building tactics to involve your team on

Here are some common link-building tactics I recommend for strengthening your SEO through the efforts of your team:

  • Link to employee bios: Publish employee bios on your company website. It’s easy content to create and can help you obtain more visits to your website. Then, each time an employee is interviewed, has conference materials published online, or posts content on relevant issues to outside blogs, there is an opportunity to link back to their corporate bio, thus building relevant links for your corporate website. This makes particular sense for those in the C-suite or at director-level positions.
  • Take advantage of guest blogging opportunities: Guest blogging should be primarily about building authority for your employees, not about links. But if you treat guest blogging as a means of authority building (i.e., a part of your content marketing arsenal), you can gain the benefit without having to worry about penalization from the search engines. This tactic makes particular sense for employees who are interested in expanding their personal brand, like to write, or are subject-matter experts. Expanding an employee’s personal brand is an incentive in itself. Your company can even help acquire guest posting opportunities.
  • Make use of your employees’ social media presence: If you get your employees to help share company content through their social media accounts, with a system like GaggleAMP, or even just through general encouragement, you’ll extend the reach of your website content exponentially, which can help increase your search ranking. Remember to only encourage sharing with social media accounts that maintain professional personas.
  • Connect personal blogs and websites: In some cases, employees might control their own websites but may not be aware of how linking to their employer can help the company grow (or that this is a practice the company encourages). Of course not every employee would be willing to do this, since many people wish to separate their personal and business lives.  Therefore, it would be important to incentivize a tactic such as this, perhaps more than others. A prize for the most referring traffic is one possible incentive (more on this in the next section).
  • Build partnerships to address broken links: This could be performed in a casual manner, by any employee. If they are browsing the web and they discover a 404 page on an external website, and your company happens to have a similar resource, they can reach out and suggest swapping the broken link for your company’s, thereby marketing your content.
  • Get links from your customers: When your sales team is collecting information from potential customers, have them inquire about the possibility of linking your company’s website to theirs. This provides you with the information about which of your customers would have the capability of linking to you in the future. You might even establish a separate email list, and send emails encouraging linking to your business if they have found certain information useful.
  • General public relations: Let your public relations team or agency know that links are of interest to you, and ask them to share any back-links they’ve brought in through their efforts (e.g., from good press coverage).
  • Looking for brand mentions without a link: This is another one which can be done casually by just about anyone; if your employees find any unlinked mentions of your company, they can reach out and attempt reclamation. Just make sure that you are not duplicating efforts on this one, so the publishers don’t become inundated with requests from your company.

Make it a game; have incentives

At the heart of getting employees to contribute to your content marketing and link-building efforts in any of these ways should be a well-designed incentive system.

You can assign points to each link built, all with different weights. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to assign weight according to a link-value metric like toolbar PageRank or Domain Authority (as might initially make sense to establish as a KPI), but it can be a factor. Not everyone is going to have equal skills or assets that they contribute. Therefore, it makes greater sense to assign weights according to the difficulty of the task and the quality of the link (e.g., perhaps based on referral traffic, as a secondary measure). After all, these employees are likely non-marketers.

As far as incentives go, each point they’ve earned might help increase an employee’s year-end bonus, or be equal to an entry to a raffle for a nice prize. You could find a way to recognize a link-builder-of-the-month, or display some sort of leaderboard — both non-monetary systems of establishing merits and providing a way to monitor success across the company.

A system for tracking built links is also imperative so that work doesn’t overlap and so proper credit is awarded. You can establish a collaborative spreadsheet or have successes sent to a centralized email address that gets managed by the marketing team.

However you decide to manage your incentives, the goal should be the same: to encourage employees to create SEO content and be able to identify which methods are bringing success — and which employees are using them.

Tertiary benefits: Your employees

Although the marketing and website benefits for involving employees in your SEO efforts are clear, there are also soft benefits you can achieve through these efforts, such as helping to build your employees’ skill sets and industry influence.

Here are a number of other ways your company and its employees can benefit from team participation in a strategic SEO content program:

  • Building links takes certain skills, and it’s useful to know who has them. HR can identify employees who are proficient with web technology, for example. Perhaps the receptionist has some skills that have gone unrealized and would benefit the company (and boost job satisfaction) to an even greater extent.
  • It helps your business identify people who might be well-suited for sales and PR roles: There are some clear parallels between skills required to build links and sales and PR talents.
  • It helps you identify your most passionate, motivated employees. Link-building secretary or mailroom clerk today, skilled marketing professional tomorrow.
  • It creates company thought leaders: Your employees can make a name for themselves on the internet by producing content and expanding their personal brand — which, in turn, can be leveraged to reflect positively on your organization.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the pros and cons of getting employees involved in SEO and link building to increase your content marketing success. Have you implemented such a program? Please share your ideas below.

Want more insight on ways to involve your team in your content marketing and SEO efforts? Make plans today to attend Content Marketing World September 6-9, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Register and use code BLOG100 to save an additional $100.

Author: Paul Shapiro

Paul Shapiro is a search marketer who loves to take both a technical and creative approach to SEO. He spends his days as an Organic Search Director for Catalyst in Boston, and his nights writing on his blog. Any additional spare time is spent watching 70's horror movies. Start a conversation with Paul on Twitter @fighto.

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  • victorpan

    So… how do you plan to get past legal risks? When personal life becomes business, let’s be reminded that the corporation would be prone to lawsuits as the employee is an agent representing the business.

    • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

      Hey Victor, thanks for commenting. I think the lines between business and personal life have become more and more skewed over the years. I look to social media as an example here, as the practice of using your employees as a means of promotion is already fairly well-established. BIG BIG companies like IBM are doing this with social media. In fact, I think for the purpose of SEO and Content Marketing, the lines are less skewed. These people aren’t required to use personal accounts for promotion and what they’d like to do can be up to their discretion. One distinction between the two practices is the learning curve of course, which is why I would recommend firm policy and a set of training.

      • http://thatdavidhopkins.com David Hopkins

        I agree. However, there is a double standard here. Employees are expected to post “nice stuff” about the company, but risk being fired if they are critical of the company on social media. Figuring out how to encourage employees to aid with SEO efforts without feeling anyone like a tool is key.

        • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

          I think this is an issue of our modern world and is just something that we will all ultimately deal with and that company culture is key. You need to give your employees some freedom and not invoke fear. I’ll pay a shout-out to the Moz guys who I feel have clearly defined their company’s values in a way that would allow for this to thrive: http://moz.com/about/tagfee

  • Brian

    Dear link building “expert.” You forgot the end of your <a href…. check your bio.

    • Brian

      a href. check your bio

      • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

        If only I could edit the post myself :) It certainly wasn’t something I did and I have alerted CMI. Thanks.

  • Michael Idinopulos

    Great article on a great topic! As far as tools go, also check out PeopleLinx (disclosure: you guessed it, I worked at PeopleLinx).

    • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

      PeopleLinx seems to work in very well to this picture :)

      • Michael Idinopulos

        Exactly! Great minds think alike…

  • Michelle Pagliarulo

    Great post Paul! This topic is really interesting to me because I think a lot of employees are still “afraid” to connect their business lives to their personal lives. But you’re absolutely right about companies needing to take advantage of their own employees in terms of linking opportunities as best as they can. Bottom line – they should at least try, even if the efforts aren’t successful.

    • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

      Thanks Michelle. I think it’s clear that this won’t work for every company, but I can also see some where this might work very well and is worth perusing (or at least thinking about).

  • http://www.jontavarez.com/ Jonathan Tavarez

    Hey Paul! Really enjoyed this post. Gave me some fresh ideas. Thank you!

    • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

      Thanks man! You’ve inadvertently made my day as that was one of my initial intentions :)

  • Susan Tam

    Paul, this is a really great post to help employers and employees leverage that social connection and utilize link building tactics! I think there is a good amount of employees out there who do not want to mix their personal social media presence profiles with professional but you provide good tips to help increase efforts!

  • Susan Zaney

    Paul, thanks for the good, but more importantly, specific implementable ideas! I think that there is an opportunity to leverage your employees for content creation too. A new iPad app called Knovio (and yes, I work for KnowledgeVision, the company that created the app) allows anyone in the company to create video presentations as a subject matter expert. We have an ongoing internal contest to win an “Emmy” and cash, and I as the marketer, can choose to repurpose the presentations as content. The presentation transcripts can help with SEO efforts too.

  • http://www.ripenn.com/ Josh Sturgeon

    Hey Paul – great post. As digital marketing matures, I think we’ll continue to see it “bleed” across multiple departments. That’s one of the things we are trying to achieve with Ripenn…crowdsourcing ideas for new content across the organization.

    Sales should be heard: they overcome client objections every day. Customer Service should be heard: they talk to real customers every day. As marketers, we need to hear those voices to do our job better. Or, as you point out, every employee is also a potential publisher, which can improve SEO from a linking or social standpoint. I think the key to incentivizing this level of participation is definitely through gamification or building a personal brand. As CMO of a large company, I might even consider buying employees their own domain name and setting up WordPress to help jumpstart the process!

    • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

      Thanks Josh. Rippen sounds great and really love the idea of buying employees domains with WordPress installed. The cost of investment is pretty low and highly beneficial.

  • http://www.technofare.com/ Harish Bali

    hi Paul

    I got attracted to read this post by the catchy headline- Sleepy employees. Well you have set the direction right on how to make the best use of employees to get online visibility on content. we all love to be on social media and it all about channelizing the effort and time.

    Good post with relevant examples, i could pick up some ideas for myself. thanks

  • Vedarth Deshpande

    Great post!

  • Jitendra Padmashali

    Nice post, Search Engines have continued to get better at delivering high-quality, contextually-relevant search results.Content marketers that want to keep up need to ditch stilted practices, like worrying about how to rank for long-tail keyword phrases, and take a broader view of what’s important.

  • Karen Biala

    Thanks for sharing this! Your article was a good read and a very timely one since my office recently had a workshop on blogging. I’m sure the workshop was motivated by many of the points that you discussed (i.e., boosting traffic to the agency’s website, empowering employees to get involved, etc.). I hope to be a contributor in the near future and to spread our office’s messages about food and nutrition in a way that positively impacts the public’s health.

    • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

      Hey Karen! I hope things are going well for you in DC. It’s really cool that your office is interested in blogging and expanding it’s online presence. I think the public health industry could potentially make a lot of head way online.