Pinterest Optimization: A Marketer’s Guide

by Esoos Bobnar on March 20, 2012

In case it’s still new to you, Pinterest is a hugely popular social media site based almost entirely around images (and to a lesser extent videos). You create “boards”, “pin” images to them, and other users can follow your boards and re-pin, “like” or comment on your pins.

Why Use Pinterest?

Pinterest is blowing up right now, with nearly 12 million monthly users. It’s the fastest growing social media site on the web, with Shareaholic estimating that Pinterest already drives more referral traffic than Google Plus, LinkedIn and YouTube combined! For many sites (including our own clients) it’s even sending more traffic than Twitter. Here’s a chart from showing the number of Pinterest visitors exploding over the past few months:

And because it’s a relatively new platform, it’s still fairly easy to build up a large following…if you use it right.

Who’s On Pinterest (and Should You Be?)

Who’s on Pinterest? Women. Okay, not just women, but they’re a huge part of the userbase. 68.2% of Pinterest users are women, and 50% of users have children. And you’ll find that those users love topics like:

  • Fashion
  • Food
  • Fitness
  • Crafts
  • Parenting
  • Teaching
  • Toys
  • Home Decor / Interior Design
  • Weddings and other events
  • Holidays
  • Travel

If your business fits any of those niches, or any other niche that has a strong visual element, then you could easily pick up a huge following on Pinterest. On the other hand, if you’re an insurance agency or an accountant, then this may not be the social media platform for you.

Setting Up Your Pinterest Profile

Pinterest is currently invite-only. However, it only takes about a day to receive your invite after requesting it, or you can have someone who’s already using the site invite you and get started right away. Feel free to leave a comment with your email address on this post or drop me a message at [esoos at kuabay dot com] and I’ll be happy to send you an invite.

Once you’ve signed up, it’s time to choose a profile name and custom URL using your settings panel. Your custom URL will be the Pinterest domain name followed by your username, such as:

Since Pinterest is still fairly new, there are still a decent number of good usernames/URLs available, but they’re going fast.

Your Pinterest profile name (different from your Pinterest username) will be the same as your first and last name. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get around the first and last name requirement. If you’re a business and your business name isn’t two words, then you’ll need to be creative. For example, if your business name is one word, many businesses will use that word as their first name and the word “(Official)” as their last name, such as does.

Businesses with single word names could also try other creative approaches to the “first name, last name” limitation. For example, grocery delivery service Peapod uses the profile name Peapod Delivers. You will see a few businesses with single-word profile names, but those businesses were early adopters whose profile names were “grandfathered in” before Pinterest began requiring first and last names.

If your business is three words or more, put the first word in the first name field and the remaining words in the last name field, as with Broke and Healthy’s page.

Next, using the settings panel, include a short paragraph describing yourself or your business or organization in the “About” description, include an optional location if your business is regional, and add a link to your site in the “website” field.

An SEO sidenote: the link back to your site is followed by search engines, so there is some link building benefit there. However, it’s certainly possible that Pinterest may add a nofollow tag to these links soon if there’s too much spam. Pinterest has been experimenting with nofollow links in individual pins, but only seems to apply them sporadically. As of now, most links in pins are still free of the nofollow tag.

Set the Facebook and Twitter toggles to “On” to link your Pinterest profile to your Facebook and Twitter profiles and have your pins sent out to those profiles. Pinterest will also let you find all your Facebook friends who are on Pinterest and give you the option to connect with them. This is an easy way to immediately jumpstart your Pinterest following.

Leave “Visibility” set to “Off” so your page gets crawled by search engines. Upload a profile image, click “Save Profile” and you should be ready to get started.

Getting Started with Pinterest

Pinterest is an almost-entirely visual experience, so pinning eye-catching, high-quality images is essential. One of your top goals as a marketer is to get traffic back to your website, and one of the best ways to do that is to get repinned so your pin spreads out to as many other boards as possible. The more boards your post gets pinned on, the more people will see it, and the more traffic you’ll get to your site.

Pinterest starts you out with a default set of boards featuring names like “For the Home” and “Books Worth Reading”. If these boards aren’t relevant to your business, you can delete or rename them and replace them with your own boards. Boards with a specific focus are more likely to attract like-minded pinners than boards that are overly broad or vague.

You can move your boards, but not your pins. If you want your coolest pins to appear on your main profile page, then pin items in the reverse order you want them to appear on your board. Tabbed browsing works well for this, because you can organize your open tabs in the order you want to pin them.

To make your own pinning easier, get the “Pin It!” bookmark button. Head over to the Pinterest goodies page, scroll down to the “Pin It” buttons, and drag it to your browser’s bookmarks bar.

Optimizing Your Site For Pinterest

While you can (and should) pin images from lots of different sites, you’ll obviously want to pin lots of great images from your own site so you can start seeing some traffic. That means you’ll need lots of great images on your site. Put images on all your website’s pages, product listings, blog posts, and articles to make them more pinnable.

Images should be in plain HTML, because Pinterest can’t find images in Flash, JavaScript, or frames. Images that are too small also can’t be pinned. Pinterest doesn’t specify what the minimum size is, but it appears to be around 200px by 200px. Of course, you want to your images to stand out and look nice, so larger images are better.

Being overly self-promotional goes against Pinterest’s “pin etiquette”, so be sure to also pin content from other sites related to yours (that don’t directly compete with you), and to re-pin other people’s pins. For best results, create fun, engaging boards that other people will want to follow, include pins from a diverse group of sites, and intersperse pins back to your own site throughout those boards.

Add a Pinterest “Follow Button” to your website that links back to your Pinterest profile, just like the Facebook and Twitter buttons you have linking back to your Facebook and Twitter profiles. Head on over to the Pinterest goodies page and scroll down to find these buttons.

You can also add the “Pin It” Button for Websites (again, scroll down on the goodies page) to each of your site’s pages to encourage other people to pin your content. This button works much like the similar buttons from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. One great thing about this button it that it allows you to specify the image and description used when someone pins your page.

Pinterest also offers an RSS feed of your page that you can use to display your pins on your own website. Greenhouse Media uses RSSInclude to format their page’s RSS feed and display it on their site’s sidebar:

You can find your page’s RSS feed by going to:


(Replace [username] with your actual Pinterest username.) WordPress also offers a similar Pinterest RSS widget.

Building a Following on Pinterest

The fastest way to building a following on Pinterest is to capitalize on the following you already have on other social media sites. Whenever you pin something, you should also share it with your Facebook and Twitter followers. This will help you generate more Pinterest activity faster, especially when you’re first getting started.

As for building followers from within Pinterest itself, whenever you follow another user or repin their content, they get an email notification. Repins also show up in that user’s sidebar. This is one way to help other users become aware of your Pinterest presence, but don’t start following or repinning other users until you have several boards set up with pins of your own. Otherwise, users visiting your page won’t see much there and will be less likely to follow you.

Other users will also get an email notification if you click the “Follow all” button under their profile pic. You can also choose to just follow one of their individual pin boards instead, but they won’t get an email about it. So if you want people to know you’re following them, but you don’t necessarily want to follow their all their pin boards, you can click “Follow all”, then selectively unfollow any boards you don’t find interesting. Finally, you can also “Like” a user’s pin without repinning it, and that user will get an email notification.

Another great way to build your Pinterest following is to see who’s already pinning content from your site, then engage with them by following them and repinning, liking and commenting on their pins. To see what’s already been pinned from your site, enter this URL into your browser’s address bar:

Replace with your actual domain name, of course, and don’t forget to include the .com, .org, .net, etc. Now you can see what’s being pinned from your site and who’s pinning it (you’ll get a 404 error if no one has pinned anything from your site yet). Ann Smarty has a great tutorial that shows you how to turn that page into an RSS feed that you can display on your site to drive engagement even higher.

A final note on pinning: Pin images from actual websites. People will be clicking your pins to find out more information about a product, craft, project, recipe, etc, so don’t just do a search in Google or Bing Images and pin directly from there. If you do, people clicking your pin will be taken to the Google/Bing Images homepage, and have no way to find out more about the image you posted. This undermines the whole point of Pinterest. Pin directly from websites, not image search engines.

Finding People to Follow on Pinterest

The search feature on Pinterest is not very intuitive. The default is to search for keywords within the descriptions people give to their pins. The problem there is that people often use a description like “I want this!” or “Yum!” instead of using words that actually describe the pin.

The “Everything” dropdown menu will let you browse pins by topic. It’s a little bit better than using the search bar, but still makes it hard to find people or organizations.

If you’re looking to follow a certain topic, switch over to the board search. And if you’re looking for a person or organization, use the people search. Again, follow the user, not just the board, so they get notified that you’re a follower.

That said, most casual Pinterest users will probably just use the default keyword search. So if you want your pins to be found by those users, be sure to include the keywords you want your pins to be found for in your pin descriptions. If packing keywords into your descriptions makes them sound awkward, you can also use #hashtags (similar to Twitter). For example, a vegan recipe might have hashtags like #vegan, #recipe, #raw, #food, or #diet. Don’t go too heavy on the hashtags, though, or it can look spammy.

Adding Pins to the “Gifts” Section

Adding the price, including “$” sign, to a pin’s description will automatically add that pin to Pinterest’s “Gifts” section, which is sorted into categories based on the items listed. A gray ribbon with the exact price of the item will also be added to the upper left of the pin.

Creative Ways Organizations Are Using Pinterest

PediaStaff is a school staffing and placement firm that’s taking a unique and interesting approach to Pinterest. Their boards are set up very much like a website or online magazine. The first board on their profile page designed to give you an introduction and show you how their Pinterest boards work.

They use a very strong call to action to get people to read that intro board: NEW?? PLEASE START HERE!

That board is then made up of pins with descriptions covering:

  • A welcome message
  • About us
  • Top resources
  • How to use our boards
  • Request for feedback on broken links
  • Request for comments, likes and messages

PediaStaff is also sure to include their name and a link back to their main pinboard in the description of everything they pin or re-pin (“Pinned by @PediaStaff”). This way, when it gets repinned people can still see who the original source of the pin was, which helps drive traffic back to their pinboard.

Finally, PediaStaff has pins back to their main welcome board interspersed among all their other boards to encourage people to learn about PediaStaff, get in touch with them, and view their top resources.

Their creative approach pinning coupled with their vast array of highly useful pin boards has earned PediaStaff nearly 15,000 Pinterest followers, and is almost certainly a large driver of traffic back to their website. Also, notice that PediaStaff does pin pages from their own site, but they pin even more pages from other people’s sites. This helps them grow their audience and drive traffic without seeming overly self-promotional.

Industry-Specific Pinterest Tutorials

Pinterest for Local SEO by Chris Silver Smith. Tons of great Pinterest tips for local businesses.

Marketing Food Brands on Pinterest by Janet Helm. Packed with cool examples of ways food companies are engaging with their users on Pinterest. Many of these tips could be easily applied to other industries as well.

Steal These 42 Creative Pinterest Ideas for Nonprofits by Avi Kaplan. Creative ideas for schools, hospitals, museums, and lots of other nonprofit organizations.

Pinterest and Copyright

Here’s where the cold bucket of water gets thrown on most people’s enthusiasm for Pinterest. It’s not clear (to me at least, or to many other people) to what degree Pinterest is in compliance with copyright law. After all, if someone owns the copyright to an image, and someone else uploads that image to Pinterest where it’s shared and viewed by other people, is that not a violation of copyright?

I’m not a lawyer, and don’t provide legal advice, so I have no way of telling you. I can tell you there’s been a ton of discussion regarding this topic, including here, here and here. Flickr has also blocked pinning because of these concerns.

In my non-lawyer’s opinion, it seems the safest thing to do is to stick to pinning images that you own the copyright to, or that you know are copyright-free, or are product images that are unlikely to draw copyright complaints. Pinning images from blogs or online stores is going to drive valuable traffic to those sites, which owner would likely appreciate. Since they make money from product sales and traffic, and not from the images, they may be less concerned with their images being shared.

But if the owner of the image makes money from selling the image itself, it’s likely they’d be less pleased about having their image freely shared. Avoid pinning professional photographs, artwork, and quotes and other text from copyrighted works. And if ever unclear, seek out the appropriate legal counsel first.

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