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In a recent blog post, marketer and author Seth Godin discussed the futility of using the Internet for mass marketing. Platforms like TV take generic products — Godin used Jell-O as an example — and attempt to sell them to everyone. Online, there is no everyone. Instead, there are thousands, even millions of niche markets.

Trying to turn the Internet into TV, Godin argues, is a waste of time. Unfortunately, too many companies try to blast their marketing messages to the masses instead of using the Web for what it’s good for: building niche communities around common interests. The best inbound links come from building business relationships rooted in online community. The same activities that build links can also boost your income.

1. Start Conversations

Inbound links are referrals to your business from people you’ve connected with online. They start when someone reads your content or has a conversation with you on Twitter. Because they can see that you were knowledgeable, they decide to refer other people to your company. Like word-of-mouth referrals, inbound links have a way of building momentum over time.

The best way to meet people — and start earning inbound links — is to initiate conversations. Try these tactics to begin building relationships online.

Pick the Right Social Networks

Choose one of two social networks that are a good fit for your content. For example, if you sell something with a lot of visual appeal, start posting on Instagram, Pinterest, or Tumblr.

Also, start posting where potential customers hang out. If you think LinkedIn could be a source of referrals, start posting and commenting on LinkedIn.

Talk to People in Your Social Networks

Small business owners rarely have enough time or personnel to go around. As a result, they prefer to delegate social media to someone else.

It’s fine to delegate content curation and have someone come up with basic posts for you. However, if you’re not participating in the conversation, you’re missing the point of social media.

Start Conversations in Forums and on Good Blogs

Participating in forums and blog comments sections isn’t about dropping your links. It’s about meeting people, discussing your ideas, and getting your company on their radars.

Instead of dropping links in your comments, become someone to whom other participants want to link. You’ll get far better inbound links that are more likely to turn into referrals.

2. Improve Your Content

Good content isn’t just fluff that earns likes and shares. The best content helps people solve the same problems that your business helps them solve. If you own a roofing company, for example, you could create an infographic or comparison chart that helps people decide between different types of roofing material. Your content helps them make a decision that naturally leads to the next step: choosing a roofing company to install the roof using the materials that they chose.

In addition to getting people to share content on social media, try offering it to reputable industry sites that publish links to resources like your content. A roofing manufacturer, for instance, might link to your roofing material infographic on a resource page. The inbound link exposes your content to a larger audience. It becomes a referral that sends customers to your website and ultimately to your business.

3. Expand Your Reach

Once you’ve built some relationships and improved your content, start amplifying your online presence. Publishing guest blog posts or getting a column on a community blog builds both inbound links and readership.

Also, don’t just think online; community partnerships can become great sources of inbound links. Sponsoring local events or building partnerships with a local business earns both local referrals and inbound links.

A lot of people think that reaching out to a huge influencer is the best way to get on the map and snag a valuable link to their content. In reality, steady relationship building with medium-sized influencers — who appreciate the attention and are more apt to share your links —could be better for your SEO strategy, at least in the beginning.

4. One Link at a Time

People want SEO to be a fast boost to their business. In reality, getting valuable links takes time and continuous effort. When you build relationships while building links, business grows steadily along with your search ranking. Your business will already be thriving by the time you rank on Google.

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