Mike Essex

Using Free Stuff to Leverage SEO and Online Brand Building

5th Apr 2011 SEO Blog 13 minutes to read

In an environment where paid links are destroying major companies, and where everyone is sceptical of online brand conversations, there is no better solution for building an online debate about your business than by giving something away. Whether that be physical products, your time, prizes or your expertise, every business can help generate online buzz with freebies. In this article I take a look at some of the best examples, and how you can emulate these in your business.
First up I’ll focus on Koozai and what we do. Each of our search specialists have time allocated to become active members of the digital marketing community. Whether that be writing blog posts, engaging with other bloggers, using Twitter to help people or sharing content. We allocate a lot of time which could be used for client work to help others who need advice.

For example Koozai_Alec built a Keyword Research Tool in February. We spent countless hours getting the code right, and developed a really unique tool that gave us a key advantage. Within 24 hours it was available to download for free on our blog. Why? Because in the digital marketing industry it’s common to share tools and help others out. This helps us gain a reputation online and is a fair trade for all the tools we’ve been given for free. koozai_Anna regularly does the same too, with free Analytics filters and tools.

That’s just one example, and in the last month alone we have given more free tips and tools away than in the previous six months combined. In return our link profile has grown, our Twitter followers have increased and we’ve been featured in publications that before wouldn’t have spoken to us. So as you read the tips below, remember that although you are giving something away, you should get something in return.

Reviews (Give Away: Products)
This is the most classic example. If you want to get real public opinion on your product then you need to make sure it is in the hands of the public as soon as possible. People are reluctant to buy products without reading a review, so as soon as you have a working product together, give it away and ask for a review in return.

However, people don’t have to give you a good review. So make sure you are 100% happy with your product first, and that you contact customers who seem to already have a good opinion of your niche. Search online for bloggers in your area by using Follower Wonk which scans Twitter profiles, and then engage with them. If you can get a good blog to review your product, it will begin to rank against the product name, and will be an excellent sales tool.

Follower Wonk

Follower Wonk: Find people in your niche via Twitter and engage with them.

Also don’t assume no one will review your products. I can guarantee there is a blogger who will talk about anything, and some bloggers will review any product you send them. Plus if you can get a link back to your own site it helps people buy direct, shows a sign of approval from the blogger and has SEO benefit.

Positive Buzz (Give Away: Products)
Engaging with bloggers is one thing, but you can also connect with other people via social networks. Interflora did this fantastically well by asking people who had had a bad day if they would like free flowers. If people responded they then sent out the flowers. Interflora asked if they would like flowers to cheer them up and this spread like social wildfire.

For the cost of a few bouquets, Interflora gave their brand a positive image over night. People started tweeting messages deliberately to get seen by Interflora, which led to thousands of social mentions, with no extra work required from the company. Not only does this spread the brand to the followers of these Twitter users, it also gives more social signals to the search engines that Interflora is an important brand. Not bad for a few flowers.

Interflora give away free flowers

Interflora give away free flowers to help build their brand perception online.

Information (Give Away: Time)
Wikipedia doesn’t just rank well because it has a lot of content, it also gets great listings because they are a heavily linked to website. The more great content you can write and give away – especially that people can’t get elsewhere – the more people will want to share that content to help other people out.

So if you can share your time and write down interesting information in your niche, it acts as excellent link bait. If I’m searching for something online and I find it on a site, I’ll usually tweet it. If it’s relevant to something I’m writing online, I’ll give them a link. If it helps a friend out I’ll email it them and they could share the word too.

Searches are either for commercial reasons (which we’ve covered with the reviews) or for information. Why not serve the needs of both people? If you sell the most boring product in the world then even better. There aren’t enough people writing about really technical products. Anyone can write a content farm article about general content, but if you sell a product that is complex people can’t fake that kind of content. Listen to your niche, and give them what they want. They’ll thank you (and link to you) for it.

Expert Opinion (Give Away: Company Knowledge)
Alongside general information people are also seeking experts. If people want money saving advice, they go to Martin Lewis, because he has positioned himself as an expert in this field. He did this simply by writing good content on a regular basis that challenged the perceived view of his marketplace.

Money Saving Expert

Martin Lewis brands himself as a Money Saving Expert and gives away free tips based on this expertise to build his website readership.

I did this too with my article on eBook Content Farms. I spotted something which annoyed me about Amazon and I wrote about it. Turned out a lot of other writers cared about it too, and the article was followed up by more than twenty separate blogs. Twenty sites that would normally have no interest in a digital marketing blog linked to the post – that’s twenty free links from entirely new (and unlikely) sources.

In 2010 we only spoke about SEO and PPC. Now we cover a wider spectrum of topics, and are able to provide more information in all streams of digital marketing. We did this by asking our team “What do you know” and by giving everyone a topic to master. So gather your team around, and get them writing about their own experience in your niche.

Turn everyone on your team in to an expert. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t great writers, that part can be taught. The goal is to unlock the potential of your team so they can become experts. Sure you are giving away their time and losing potential time you could sell, but the marketplace buzz, is worth it.

Do Something BIG (Give Away: Money!)
If giving your product away isn’t enough for you, then how about holding a big event? Get lots of people from your industry together and launch a product.

Brighton SEO was a free SEO conference held at the start of April. It gathered hundreds of professionals in the SEO niche together and gave them a platform to share their views. Most marketing conferences are more than £250 so this free platform was great for the community.

The bill was picked up by Linkdex (and a few others), who don’t do SEO conferences. Instead they make great link building tools, and by sponsoring the conference they were able to spread awareness of their tools and talk to people at the event, building their contact list. Better yet they got mentioned a lot at the event and on promotional materials. Even I’ve given them a nice push and a link just now, so clearly it works.


Linkdex sponsored a conference in their niche. They built their client list and raised brand awareness.

Sneak Peaks (Give Away: Products)
Using the tools above you’ll build a pretty good community, but now you really need to give them something extra to seal the deal. Look at your core product and try to find a way to distil it down to an alternate that you can give away as a preview.


We offer free SEO reports, to prove we can help clients get the best out of their campaign. SEOmoz give away free products, and a 30 day trial to encourage people to subscribe to their Pro service. Even if your product isn’t digital, give away free samples to get people interested, or offer product loans and 30 day money-back guarantees to tempt a purchase in a safer way.

SEOmoz free trial

With a free trial and free tools it couldn’t be easier to try SEOmoz’s tools.

Don’t forget that everyone who you give a trial to, a product loan or free sample is still a possible person that can review your product or help spread the word. Get contact details wherever you can, and ask people to help you out. In fact there’s also the option of….


Feedback (Give Away: Products)
If you don’t feel your product is ready for market, then you can always give your product away to gain people’s opinions. As with reviews this can be bloggers, or other people in your niche.

You can do this even before you have a product. For example, if you are following up a successful product, then search online for brand conversations about it. Invite these people to help you design the next product in the series. This is a great ego boost for those people, and you’ll gain useful insight from people who already like what you do.

In addition this feedback tends to be surprisingly frank. If you’re tired of company ‘Yes men’ and want opinions from the people who really pay your wages, then get them involved as soon as possible. If you’re worried about any secrets escaping from this access then Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s) are your friend.

Competitions (Give Away: Products)
Most days Tetley tweet a competition that offers a year’s supply of tea if you re-tweet a message. I’ve never tried their tea, but I enter whenever I see it. Why? Because my friends tweeted it, I want to feel a part of the movement, and it seems like a good prize. I’m more aware of their brand than ever before, and they haven’t had to give me anything. Competitions are a fantastic way of building a buzz.

Tetley Tea

Tetley Tea give away a years supply of tea to build awareness on Twitter

In his presentation at the Distilled Link Building Seminar, Wil Reynolds of SEER Interactive, stressed that by giving stuff away you can easily create this kind of buzz for any brand. Wil hired a ‘Mummy Blogger’ so he would know what the community liked, and he found giving away any bit of old inventory that his client had, could generate brand awareness.So raid your stock rooms, and get rid of anything you no longer need.

You can post these competitions on your own site, competition directories, via social media or (if the prize is good) on major blogs and magazine websites. Even old stock can be useful. For example, if you no longer sell something in old packaging, people may still want to win the prize as a memento. Just don’t try that one with food, or you’ll get coverage for the wrong reasons.

Brand Advocates (Give Away: All of the Above)
A lot of these methods are about building brand advocates. People love free stuff. They love to get products for free, but they also love content and insights in to companies and their products. As I stressed earlier you can be a major brand everyone loves, or sell a boring product, people will still want to learn about it. If they don’t then you probably should change your product.

London 2012

The London 2012 olympics are seeking volunteers. Free entry in return for your help on the day.

I’m not suggesting every company give away all their products, or that you spend more time writing than making stock or helping clients, but you can get a lot of brand buzz by setting aside a small amount of time to these methods. Start small and see what you can generate. Give away a product to a blogger who you like the look of. If they do a review you like, then find other ways to work with them and to get them engaged in your brand. The more of the above items you can use on the one person, the stronger an advocate of your brand they will be.


The BIG Example
When I’m stuck for a video game to buy I turn to a handful of companies whose products I reviewed on a personal blog in my youth. Here’s a rundown of how Capcom helped get me on board using the above methods.

Capcom logo

Capcom do all of these things (and more)

Review: They emailed me out of the blue asking if I wanted to review their product. I was thrilled (and flattered) so I agreed. The product was great, they got a good review and extra sales.

Positive Buzz: Capcom liked my review so they shared it with others. I got extra traffic and they helped spread awareness of my positive comments.

Information: I also covered video game news on my site. Capcom have a secure login area for PR contacts to access and get information. I felt privileged to get access in the first place, and would give extra coverage to their products whenever they added something new.

Expert Opinion: From time to time Capcom would offer interviews with their game developers. This was great exclusive content for my site, and provided and expert opinion that couldn’t be imitated.

Do Something BIG: Capcom hold regular press conferences to reveal new releases. They sponsor events too, such as tournaments for their Street Fighter series. If I wanted a new fighting game I would immediately turn to them, as their brand was so associated with this genre.

Sneak Peaks: Capcom give demonstrations of their games to audiences at trade shows around the world. I attended a few of these in the UK, and it was exciting to play something that wouldn’t be released for three to six months. When it was released for real, this hype made me want it more. I also talked about the products on my blog, giving other people chance to get excited.

Feedback: Early builds of their games are given to some of the key reporters in the video game industry. Previews of the games are then written, which can directly affect the final game development.

Brand Advocates: All of these factors made me a key fan of Capcom’s. Every new release they had I would promote and be excited for. Not only was I heavily promoting the games to people who read my content, but they too could then also spread the word.

I hope I’ve helped dispel some of the negative views around the word ‘FREE’. When you forget about people who want ‘something for nothing’ you’ll find a world of people who want to engage with brands and are very keen to offer you something in return. If you want to build your brand online, try giving something away today.

What are your views on free stuff? Do you feel it is a good brand builder, or that it makes customers expect more than most brands can give? Perhaps you’ve tried some of these methods, or I’ve missed something out. Whatever your thoughts, please share them in the comments below. I will read every comment and reply where I can.

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