Ok, I'll admit it - I'm addicted to the TV show Friends. It's one of my favorite shows of all time, and I've probably watched the entire series on DVD at least 30 times. (And that's a conservative guess.) The show still makes me laugh, even when I watch it over and over again.

Recently, I had an epiphany, and realized that there is a lot you can learn about link building from this show. I'm sure you're asking, "What exactly does a TV show have to do with search engine marketing?" Well, a lot more than you might think.

One of the things I noticed during my 25th or 26th time watching the series through, was  there were subtle references to specific brands and products. I'm usually pretty quick to catch things like this, but I'd never noticed it before. Off the top of my head, some examples include IKEA, Pottery Barn, and Williams Sonoma. After I started paying attention, I noticed that there were 2-3 of these per episode.

Having lived in southern California for over ten years, I've got a few friends who are actors, and I know a thing or two about the TV and film industry. Rarely will they give away free references to specific brands. They usually get sponsors to pay for these subtle contextual placements. The writers are clever though, and are able to sneak in these references without you noticing it most of the time. Later on, you find yourself subconsciously desiring that item mentioned in the show. I'll give an example, and I think this is when I first started paying attention to these brand references.

On one episode, Joey was eating a Three Musketeers bar. I rarely eat candy bars, but later that day, I found myself really wanting a Three Musketeers bar. I thought, "Where the heck did that come from?" I realized it was from the contextual advertising in the show, and it had worked brilliantly. It was subtle enough to not hinder the plot, and yet strong enough to stick in your head - the perfect balance. I've seen this done in TV shows and movies before, but few are this well executed.

Ok, here's where it relates to search engine marketing.

You probably know that building links into your site is one of the most important things you can do in your efforts to improve your site's ranking. A lot of people struggle with this process, especially at the beginning. Many questions also arise as to where the link should be placed on the site you are trying to get linked from, along with what kind of sites should you get links from, and what those links should look like.

Let me help you simplify this and eliminate some of those questions.

In a TV show, when a brand is mentioned, it can be compared to when a website links out to another site - it's a brand reference. Whether or not the link is paid or given voluntarily, it is a tiny little ad for the other site. Friends is such a great example because these reference are subtle, natural, and contextual - they are simply part of the conversation.

The most valuable links you can acquire for your site will look like this too. They should be subtle, natural, and contextual - part of the conversation. (This is also a great model for how we should link out to other sites.)

On the flip side of the coin, think of the last time you saw a TV show or movie where there was some contextual advertising that just stuck out like a sore thumb - it's tacky and a turn-off. When I see those I make a mental note, "Do not buy x brand product." Seriously - I'll actually boycott a product if the advertising is that obnoxious.

Well, guess what...search engines and users feel the same way about websites. Search engines place the most value on links that seem natural and relevant, and so do site visitors. To get the most value out of the inbound links you acquire for your site, go for the natural contextual ones.

There's obviously a lot more that goes into link building, but this should help you have an easier time deciding what kinds of links to pursue.

So, the next time you're trying to figure out what kind of links to get, just think of the TV show Friends.

April 30, 2008

Scott is the CEO and founder of Red Sand Marketing, a San Diego SEO and web design firm. A dynamic mix of marketer, designer, and developer, he thrives on all aspects of internet marketing and web development. Having been involved in search engine optimization and web design since 1996, he and his team consistently achieve top search engine rankings for clients in competitive markets, and have won multiple web design awards along the way.


Great analogy, Scott. Who doesn't love the show Friends? If they don't love it then at least they've heard of it and can apply what you're talking about.

Nice post Scott. I'm a huge closet friends fan myself. (Whoops, I guess the cat's out of the bag!) I have noticed the subtle product plugs in the show and agree with you that they truly are beautifully written into the script. I hope all the sites that link to me in the future read this article.

Great analogy! This comparison of TV/movie product placement to linking is a great way of looking at building links into content.

Taking it a step further: since you are a major Friends fan, is it possible you were more likely to go buy that Three Musketeers than if you had seen it in some show you didn't like? Even though we recognize it as product placement, we may be more likely to jump on the bandwagon anyway when it comes from a show/website we like and trust. We're probably a little more forgiving and willing to buy/click.

This also may be why paid advertising such as banners aren't as effective as hard-won links. Banners are glaringly paid product placement (like the movies you mentioned) in an increasingly anti-advertising world. But when it comes in the form of the subtle link that the website writer seems to be promoting, we're more likely to follow.

Interesting concept.

Better than unagi! Great analogy.

@Rachel, @Mike, @Jackie, @Lilly: Thanks! Glad you liked the post. :)

@Mike: There's a couple things you can do to help the process along: 1) You can look for sites that link naturally like this. 2) You can have conversations with those who link to you and those who you'd like to link to you, and let them know what you'd prefer the links to look like. This one works best if you've built up some kind of relationship with them.

@Jackie: That is a brilliant point...I probably was much more likely to buy the Three Musketeers bar because of the trust factor. That would absolutely apply to websites as well. Nice. :)

@Lilly: ROTFL! Now I have to come up with a blog post idea on Unagi. :) Hmmm...

Nice post, wonderful analogy. Will store this info in my brain sometime soon :).

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Search Engine Guide > Scott Allen > What We Can Learn About Link Building from the TV Show Friends