I’ve worked in SEO in highly-competitive niches for 15 years — 7 of those in link building and 5 in crowd marketing. In that time, I’ve seen plenty of praise for and prejudice against crowd marketing. So I decided to gather all my practical experience and use cases and build a comprehensive guide on crowd marketing — with definitions, best practices and life examples. I’ll be totally open. Don’t expect the names of big brands (confidentiality above all here, right?), but do expect the raw truth on this unique promotion method.
Let’s start with the basics.
Crowd Marketing: What it is and what it is not
Crowd marketing is a methodology of promoting brands through direct contact with their target audience on forums and forum-like platforms. We, at Natural Links, prefer working with industry-specific forums. One needs to participate in organic discussions on topics associated with the brand’s value proposition. When done properly, crowd marketing raises the clients’ brand awareness and creates thousands of safe, natural backlinks that grow organic traffic.
Why do we at Natural Links call those links generated by crowd marketing activities “natural”? That is because crowd marketing content looks exactly like content from a real user who shares an opinion about the product or service, gives advice and wants to discuss it with peers.
At this stage, we can break the first and most common stereotype: “Crowd marketing is spam.” Numbers and images speak better than words, so let’s refer to images here.
This is a natural link as part of crowd marketing:
It is posted in a relevant discussion from a trusted account with traction, history and likes.
And this is spam you’ve heard all those rumors about:
This one is posted from an empty account, written in broken English, in a thread dedicated to a completely irrelevant topic.
So, to dot the i’s and cross the t’s: this article is about the first one — real crowd marketing and natural links.
How does crowd marketing work?
Google updates such as BERT result in a high ranking of high-quality articles with natural language. The company’s public representatives keep stating that Google rewards great content above all. However, content alone is not enough, as links are still crucial for ranking. Search engines favor smooth growth, a structured anchor list and a natural-looking link profile. So, well-thought-out crowd marketing can help with many marketing and SEO tasks.
Crowd marketing for general promotion:
- Increases product visibility and pushes up the demand;
- Grows brand awareness and shapes its perception;
- Attracts additional traffic and potential leads to websites.
Crowd marketing for search engine optimization:
- Shapes the balanced link profile for the target website;
- Creates the correct anchor list with anchors on heavy-weighted outreach links and non-anchor natural links;
- Brings in pure natural links with no bots or automatic posters — only real human communication.
Who needs crowd marketing?
I could say everyone who has a site needs crowd marketing — and that would not even be a lie. Still, that would be too easy. I especially focus on several business categories.
- New products on the market, or well-known products with regular launches.
- When the new product is planned to enter the market, the customers do not know the product yet and do not search for it – except for the new iPhone, of course. Crowd marketing can introduce a new offer to the target customers.
- Industries censored by Google.
- As we all can witness, Google transforms into the largest censor in the world. The largest search engine bans websites, topics, and whole industries. The list of prohibited content grows day by day. Now it includes not only counterfeit goods or adult content, but also gambling, politics, healthcare, and even alcohol. Thus, the long list of business niches moves beyond the official Google ads and collects traffic with crowd links.
- Brands that can face sanctions of SEs.
- Even the most lawful website in the white niche can get the ban for SEO strategy mistakes. For example, an aggressive link building strategy can get the main commercial web-site manually filtered out. Crowd links can be used to water down the negative impact of more “heavy” link building activities like PBNs, and mitigate the risks.
How to choose web resources for crowd marketing
If you got to this point in the article, you already understand that it’s important to do quality crowd marketing. So what stands behind this “quality”? First, the hygiene of resources selected for your crowd marketing – all the spammy and dirty items should be immediately washed out. Second, you can use only resources available for comments – websites, social networks, forums, and blogs.
There are several types of popular resources you can comment on:
- Review sites
- Social platforms/communities
- Thematic forums
- Q&A services
- Comments on relevant websites
What about standalone blogs? Some crowd marketers use them for link posting, but I think it is a cheat. There are a few standalone blogs with strong moderation and live discussions in the comments. The rest 99% are dead. Not worth an effort for sure.
Web resources for crowd marketing: Selection criteria
- Traffic! Crowd marketing is not only a link; it is also brand awareness and additional traffic via this link. Every click on the link increases its weight for the search engine — but it is impossible with the low traffic on the site.
- How to check: SimilarWeb
- Choose websites with 20k+ unique visitors
- Relevance. It seems plain, so let us just remind: a link from a relevant themed site is better for search engines and people. The skill of finding the appropriate resources for link posting distinguishes the skilled crowd marketer from junior.
- How to check: manually
- Just look through the link profile for site names and domains.
- Metrics. The most important metrics are TF (Trust Flow) and Domain Authority (DA). Good TF starts at 10, for Domain Authority (DA), the recommended industry average in 40-50, and of course, the higher the better. Now the webmasters also check the domain rating (DR) by Ahrefs, which evaluates the external links’ quality and quantity. DA and DR are almost similar, but it is reasonable to use both and compare.
- How to check: Ahrefs, Moz, Majestic
- Moderation. Even if the metrics are high, many spam links on the website decrease its value and weight, so moderation is one more important point to think of. I can mention 3 types of moderated websites:
- Not moderated (with manual and automated spam here and there).
- Mildly moderated (no obviously spammed threads but spam is sometimes appearing).
- Strictly moderated (no spam links at all).
- Quality crowd marketing has nothing to do with the 1st category. It is 80% based on the heavily moderated resources, while mildly moderated ones cover no more than 20%
- How to check: devote some time for the research on the forum, find moderators, check for spam links.
Bonus for those who read till the end: Real use cases for Crowd Marketing
As a co-founder of Natural Links, I see examples of wise crowd marketing on a daily basis. So I could not miss a chance to furnish out this guide with some success stories. Alas! Our strict confidentiality policy does not allow us to disclose the names of our clients. However, we can still show you something of interest.
Here is the traffic graph of our client in the finance (PDL) niche. We started cooperation from the very first day of the website release, bringing the client from zero to more than 13K visitors per month — all in just 1 year. Was it magic? No. Only a reasonable tech assignment and a smooth growth of the backlink profile from 20-50 crowd links a month to 500-1000 crowd links a month.
Here’s a graph from our other client in the dating category.
Which outcome did they get from 18 months of quality crowd marketing?
- Organic traffic multiplied x2.5 within 1 year.
- No major impact of the May 2020 Google update on the client’s business.
- Traffic indicators keep showing stable gradual growth.
What was their secret? Nothing magical again. It was a strategy of 3 tiers for crowd marketing.
- Tier 1 crowd links — increasing and diversifying the backlinks profile of the commercial site.
- Tier 2 crowd links — growing the backlink profile and positions of the non-commercial sites managed by the client.
- Tier 3 crowd links — strengthening the positions of the third-party websites linking to the client’s non-commercial sites.
Crowd marketing deserves its place among the effective SEO and promotion practices and when it’s done thoughtfully it really works! It can be a secret sauce for your SEO strategy. Make the link profile natural and balanced, increase the website ranking, increase organic traffic and as a result bring new clients. There is no need to be afraid of crowd marketing — though you definitely need to do it right.