What was once a small social media site dominated by 20-something women looking for new recipes, the latest fashion trends, and ideas for weddings that might not even be in the near future has now become a great place for local businesses to get links and promote their products or services.

According to a new Shareaholic study, Pinterest now beats YouTube, Reddit, Google+, and LinkedIn for the amount of referral traffic it drives to websites.

Not bad for a site that is still invite-only.

So what does your business need to know to benefit from what Pinterest has to offer? The first thing you need to do is request an invite if you don’t already have a profile. While you can look at other “pins” (images that include a brief description as well as a link back to the image source) Pinterest users have added without having your own Pinterest profile, you won’t be able to upload any pins, which won’t present your business with any benefits now will it?

How should you look for an invite to Pinterest? Check with friends on other social networks that you use. If you’re on Facebook, it’s highly likely one of your friends is on Pinterest and can send you an invite. You can also check Google+ and Twitter to ask someone to send you an invite. You can sign up with either your Facebook or Twitter account and then later unlink them if you wish. However, for business purposes, you probably want to keep your profiles linked together.

Once you score an invite, you’ll be asked to create a username, enter your email address, and create a password for your Pinterest account. Your Facebook profile picture will default as your Pinterest profile photo, but you can change it at any time.

You can change your Pinterest settings to include more information about yourself, including your business’s website and your location. Include some of your keywords in your “About” section on Pinterest, and make sure you include links back to your website as well. You’ll also want to make sure you don’t hide your Pinterest profile from search engines (you’d have to physically change this setting if you want to hide your profile as profile settings default to making sure your profile is visible to search engines). You can also change your profile image to a photo of your business or your logo instead of your Facebook or Twitter profile picture.

Pinterest will then take you to a variety of subjects and ask you to pick a few things that interest you so it can suggest who you should follow. For this example, let’s say I’m a local restaurant. I’d select the “Food and Drink” category when selecting who to follow.

Pinterest will then automatically have your account follow people it thinks you might be interested in following. You can unfollow these people at any time, but it might do you well to see what others in your category are posting on Pinterest.

The next thing you’ll want to do is create what’s known as a board, which is how Pinterest users categorize their pins. For my fictitious restaurant, I’m going to start boards pertaining to things I offer in my restaurant, such as the wines we carry, our appetizers, entrees, and desserts.

There is an easy tool you can install that allows you to grab images online to create pins to add to your pinboards. You can also take screen shots or upload images from your computer to create your pins.

Once you have created your boards, start creating pins. These pins are why Pinterest is becoming such a large source of traffic for websites: It makes it easy for Pinterest users to go directly to the source of information for each image they see.

This is where things can get labor intensive on your end. You will want to create pins for each item that you want to link to on your website. For example, if your restaurant offers eight types of wine, take a photo of each type of wine and create a different pin for each wine on your wine list. If you feature two chardonnays, take a photo of each wine and upload them to your computer where you can create a pin.

To upload images from your computer, select the upload a pin option, add the image, and create a description of the image. You should try to include keywords or terms in all your pins so people know what exactly they are looking at. For example, if you offer chardonnay from Cupcake Vineyards, create a pin that says “Cupcake Vineyards chardonnay available at Amy’s Restaurant in Tampa, Florida.” You can then provide a link back to your full wine list in the individual pin so when people view that pin, they can easily see what other wine options are available at your restaurant.

You’ll want to do this with all your products, or in this case dishes, that your business offers, providing links off the pins for where Pinterest users can go for more information. For example, if your restaurant provides the following dish, take a photo of it, include a description of the dish, and place a link back to your menu that appears on your website.

Adding these pins will involve a lot of your time, but given the amount of traffic that Pinterest is now driving, it could be well worth the investment for your business. Take visually compelling photos of products or services you offer: If you own a yoga studio, take photos of instructors performing different poses and provide a link back to your class schedule. If you own a landscaping business, take photos of some of the lawns you’ve worked on and link to your services.

Aside from all the images of products or services you offer, create a board with pins from images in your area. For example, if my restaurant is based in Tampa, Florida, I’ll want to include iconic images from Tampa to create a local pinboard, which might include photos from the Bay, images from the Buccaneers and the Rays (local sports teams), and any other locally well-known images, such as a photo of the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City (a historic restaurant in downtown Tampa).

You don’t need to have everything available immediately, and you can add to your boards as you go, but to stay ahead of what the competition in your area might be doing, it’s best to start pinning right away. You can also search Pinterest for friends or business contacts that are on Pinterest and start following all their pin boards. Pinterest will display search results based on the terms used in pin descriptions, which is why it’s important you include your location and description of your services with all the pins you create.

Pinterest is growing enormously in popularity for marketers, and some are speculating that it might soon feature no follow links on its website, which could slash the SEO benefits it now provides. While the future of this social network is uncertain, there is one thing marketers know for sure: Right now, it’s driving tons of traffic to websites that are using it properly


Amy Moczynski is a marketing associate for digital marketing web design company 352 Media Group, managing all the small business SEO and social media services for its small business division. You can follow her on Twitter @amymoczynski.

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