The world of SEO seems to be constantly in flux. With each Google algorithm change comes an existential crisis for the industry, although hopefully we are over the worst excess of that era and the present zeitgeist is one which is likely to be around for a while. Link building is the bread and butter of good SEO work, but is something that people often mess up. Below is a handy guide to how to make sure your link building is top quality.
Definition of link building
Building high-quality links is an arduous job that requires high quality content, website partners and well-optimized keywords. Hyperlinks direct traffic from other sites to your own and are used to navigate around the web. Google uses crawl data to assess which links register most for key terms and uses this to position its search result rankings. Therefore, good linksmanship is an essential part of the SEO trade.
The importance of link building
Search engines need links to determine rankings and to identify the new kids on the block that need to be ranked. Google published a short videowhich breaks things down pretty nicely. While search engines identify key terms on a site, they also look to external sites to see how many are linking back to the original site. Google provides weight to different sites and getting a link on a clean, well- respected site is going to do you a lot of good when it comes to ranking. That’s why time needs to be spent on ensuring that links are getting built in the right places.
When you link to relevant and high quality sites that has been crawled by spiders and has made a correlation to your website, there will be a great possibility that Google will consider your site a prime candidate to appear on Page 1 on Search Engine Ranking Pages (SERPs)
The anatomy of a hyperlink
A handy article I read recently provided a great breakdown of how the link building process works and how Google reads it in order to rank a site. This is basic stuff, but it’s good to know how the nuts and bolts of the process works.
- Anchor. This comes at the start of the hyperlink and lets Google know that link tag is about to follow that is going to need to be ranked.
- Link Referral location. This is the link address which you click on to take you to wherever you need to go on the information superhighway.
- Visible/anchor text of the link. This is the text that users see on a page that guides them to a link. Think the ‘contact us’ phraseology as an example of this.
- Link tag closing lets Google know that the anchor is at an end.
Weighting of thematic clusters of ranking factors in Google
A number of different factors affect Google rankings and there is a good breakdown of that here. The algorithms are ever more complex, but quality is the key to Google search success these days. What this means has been discussed in-depth elsewhere.
However, finding quality partners that fit with your brand and that Google considers as ‘clean’ certainly helps, as well as ensuring that what you produce is informative and can generate organic traffic that is linked to from a variety of places is certainly the main factor affecting rankings.
Benefits of link building to your business
To rank well, there is no substitute for high-quality links to high-quality content. However, there are more than just SEO benefits to consider when building links. There are a number of intangibles that can help any business. One of these is that of building up business contacts that can reciprocate. By borrowing, partnering and generally working together, there are benefits to both sides in the short and long term.
The key thing to remember though, as I have stated multiple times already, is quality. Once you find a potential partner they need to find what you do worthwhile in order to encourage their audience to give you a chance. Quality content is key to quality partnerships and the rankings follow.
Social Media is always there to help
While it is still debatable as to the true impact of social media with SEO rankings, there are still many who insists that Social Media does add to the organic success of a website even if it is not directly obvious.
But, it is widely accepted that there is a relationship between SEO and Social Media. Some experts think that by appearing and being mentioned on a post in a social media site like Facebook can be a ranking factor. Even without a hyperlink, just by having your brand appear in a site is a signal to Google. Here we see the effectiveness of Social Media in giving your product an increase in brand awareness and promote more social mentions and conversations about your brand. Think of it like a snowball effect as its signals grow.
Lastly, believe it or not, Social Media can increase your website’s traffic which is a big factor in rankings. The most popular items we see in Facebook are informative and interesting content, funny or tragic videos, intriguing blog posts and other compelling content. You could get higher rankings especially when users read your entire blog post or watch the whole video before moving on to another site. This is measured by search engines: bounce rate, new visits, return visits, pages per visit and time spent on a website. The more engaged a user is measured, the higher the ranking could be.
People listen to advice from people that they like and trust. In the digital age, often the people that are most trusted are those who we have never physically met. Think of your favourite tech or hotel review blog and how invaluable their advice is. I, for one, would not dare to buy a new device without first checking with tech radar to see how it measures up against the competition and if it is worth spending a premium to upgrade.
Bloggers blog about every topic under the sun and bring with them a cachet and built-in audience that, if handled correctly, can be tapped into by the use of content outreach. Content outreach is the process of finding a partner outside of your business through whom you can get your message out to the public. By choosing the correct outreach partners, you can increase your profile and credibility by borrowing theirs, but charm is key.
Many established and wanna-be established brands seek to identify marketing partners, but a major fault is finding a partner who is a less than ideal fit. For the big boys, money can sway opinion; but for those of us who are working with limited resources, research and finesse are required to build relevant, mutually-respectful and beneficial partnerships that can succeed. Below are some tips on identifying and partnering with content outreach partners.
Identify your brand
Know your company’s strengths and what your differentials are, or at least what you would like them to be. Think through who your target audience is. Are you marketing a mass market product that is going to be adored by all? Unless you are selling ice cream, the answer is probably no. What’s your niche market? Are there any obvious blogs that you know catering to that market? Are you confident in your product or service? If not, this is the stage to start becoming confident about it. If you do not believe in what you are offering, how are you going to be able to convince others of the value of your offering?
Get to searching
The first thing that you need to do is identify a blog that is likely to have an audience which is interested in your product. To give a ridiculous example, there’s no point hooking up with a vegetarian website to try to promote your new range of livestock burgers. The importance of research cannot be understated. Once you’ve identified what your brand means and who your likely audience are going to be, get to Twitter and Google and try and find out where they go and who they respect. Scribble down any names that seem relevant so that you can come back to them later. At this stage you are looking for breadth rather than depth in your searches. Brandi offers some tips here on what to look out for when thinking about which bloggers to reach out to.
Once you’ve identified the key mavens in your field, dig into their lives. Find out about the blogger, they are people just like you and usually with a great passion for the often thankless task of writing. If they’re hosting a blog then they probably have a public Facebook and/or Twitter page. Follow them and learn about what makes them tick, what are their interest, what piques their attention and what causes meltdowns. This information is going to be invaluable at the next stage.
Houston, We Have Contact
Once you know what colour socks your target wears each Wednesday, it is time to get in touch. This is where your personality needs to come into force. People do business with people they like and you are asking for a fairly big favour. You want this person to put their own credibility on the line to help you out. This stage is essentially a sales pitch, yet it is unlikely that money is going to change hands. Reciprocity and synergy are the key words here. How can the two individuals who are interacting benefit each other, where is there crossover and how does this person pointing people in your direction benefit him/her? These are things you need to have ready in advance, although you do not need to jump straight in with the pitch.
By all means take some time to engage in chit chat, build up a friendship and it doesn’t have to be a fake one. If your audience is the same then there is a good chance you have shared professional interests, if nothing else. Seek advice and consult over an issue which makes the other person feel like the voice of authority. Show them that you respect them and let things grow organically from there. It shouldn’t feel forced.
If you believe in your brand and know your audience then there is a logical symbiosis to the promotion of your product. Should you be a company that makes something, send it over and let the blogger try it out. They’ll appreciate the gift and if you believe in your product, then you are going to get a good review, too. For other services you can point to records of success, or even offer a free sample, perhaps some web development services if you are a web developer, for example.
Other means of contact
While emails, Twitter conversations and Facebook messages are the easiest way to get in touch, they may not be the most beneficial. There is very little that is better than a face-to-face meeting for building lasting relationships. Brian Zeng offers some useful tips here on alternative ways to make contact with the bloggers you have targeted and these are golden. Find out what functions they are attending, networking events, etc. I am not saying you should stalk them, but an accidental meet up and bonding over canapés is a great way to build a lasting relationship. Here’s a post about the relationship between Brand and Blog and how you can maximise this tie-up.
Some examples of successful outreach
Of course, paid content is guaranteed to get eyeballs, but they may be wasted. Sponsored Buzzfeed lists have drawn some attention recently, and this is definitely an example of one way to guarantee a big audience. However, a cost benefit analysis may well show that there are cheaper and more creative ways to reach your audience that focus on the human to human connection that is essential to content outreach.
A benefit of doing this outreach method is boosting your brand and services by being mentioned in your partners’ websites. One good example of outreach is to write about informative and creative ways to promote your niche and product. This should appear on your blog.
Char-Broil – The Outdoor Cook’s Favourite
One of the major outreach success stories is that of Char-Broil. They partnered with the best of the bunch when it comes to outdoor cooking bloggers and these partners get access to products to review, mention and even get to write blog posts on the Char-Broil site. The relationship is fully synergized as both sides get extra content and exposure. This is the very model of the reciprocal content outreach partnership. Char-Broil do pay some of these bloggers, but the process of identifying the best fit really is the key takeaway message from the Char-Broil example. Methodical and targeted, partnerships developed organically.
Going Further with Ford
Ford’s approach shows great confidence in their product and is the model for open engagement with the public. While a newspaper advert telling us about the latest Ford may capture some attention, it’s a passive experience and one in which suspicions may be running high due to the public’s increased advertising literacy and awareness of when they are clearly being sold to. The content outreach approach blends advertising with social media and Ford encourage their content outreach partners to be as critical as possible with full transparency.
The approach puts everything out in the open and comes across as a more sincere and authentic form of engaging with the public. Ford also gets to really see how people feel about its products and make changes to their approach moving forward. Again, finding key mavens is important and ensuring that your bloggers are professional and of sufficient quality is a must, but the Ford model shows the kind of transparency that is becoming more expected with consumers in the digital age.
Micro-Level Love for the Smaller brands
My wife loves shopping. I don’t. Online shopping then makes us both happy. She gets to experience the shopping and I don’t have to leave the house. Either way my pockets hurt anyway. I started to notice recently that my wife likes to buy from independent retailers who run their businesses through Facebook. I have no idea about their legal position on taxes, etc., but that’s not my concern here. It is clear that at this micro-level that there is a desire to get the name of the vendor out to the biggest possible audience, often by having somebody with some existing kudos showing them some love through a ‘like’. The best option would be to have a celebrity customer, but if not then a positive review from a well-respected blog would do the job just as well. As you have hopefully garnered by this point, relationships are key and partnering with those who have an interest in your product as well as a ready-made audience for you to tap into works, even if you are a tiny fish.
Getting up close and personal
Relationships are key to success in business. No man is an island, but that doesn’t mean that all archipelagos are even. There are no short cuts to success, but there is little substitute for methodical research. You must know your product and understand why others will be interested in consuming it.
Once this is done, think about your favourite blogs and what makes them successful. You may be lucky and find that the perfect partner is already somebody you subscribe to and have a relationship with. If not, get to finding out who fits best and target them. You don’t want to have too many partners, but a few well-positioned bloggers with decent readership and kudos are going to help you out an awful lot.
An example of how you could reach out by email is shown here. This email style has been successful in establishing a relationship with a blogger. It comes out natural but most importantly, it comes out as personally as it can get.
My name is Denise Connors and I am a big fan of your blog ukstylishblogs.com because I also love everything about fashion and trends. I follow you in Facebook, Twitter (@janestyles) and Google+.
I love reading your Facebook posts about the latest style trends and retweeting your Twitter posts. I just recently read your blog “How to be Stylish Without Really Trying” and it definitely made me a fan. I see a lot of similarities with our tastes in fashion and couture.
I’d like to know if you accept contributions from fans of your blog. I am willing to contribute wholesome and creative content relating to fashion trends.
At the contact stage you need to sell without selling. Partnering up should seem like the most natural thing in the world for your outreach partner to be doing, but you also will need to incentivise things somewhat, either with samples, reciprocal marketing or advice. Take your time considering your approach. There is no universal piece of advice on this, but being polite and charming never hurt in any walk of life. After that, hopefully you’re good to go and both parties can thrive.
Remember, there are thousands of other companies like yours, having the same ideas as yours, doing the exact same processes as yours. Make yourself stand out by focussing on the essential element – the personal element.
[Disclaimer: Contributors' views are their own. They do not necessarily represent Devshed views ]
A top ranking on Google is a golden ticket to success. Companies spend fortunes on Search Engine Optimisation and Google advertising to raise awareness of their site, thus boosting their place on search results. Google is fully aware that companies are willing to do almost anything to get to number one on page one. So over the last few years, they have introduced increasingly stringent regulations to ensure that high-ranking websites are not only free of spam but also contain ‘high quality’ content.
While the delineation of quality might seem rather arbitrary, Google builds increasingly complex algorithms in order to ensure that it becomes ever more difficult to get a great ranking without spending some serious money on brand building. Google would perhaps prefer sites to spend money on their own advertising, so Google is increasingly clamping down on those wishing to get a keyword bump, creating an opaque situation that requires constant vigilance.
Google is, first and foremost, a profit-generating enterprise; and the company is second to none in that regard. Its business model from the offset has been to provide a high-quality product that seems simple to the outside world but which, obviously, reflects a highly complex algorithm under the hood – able to provide the most reliable and accurate results on a consistent basis. This simplicity of user-experience was evidenced in their meteoric rise to the top of the search engine world, eviscerating their competition in the process.
There’s not much you can Ask Jeeves these days; he has gone to the cyber afterlife due to Google’s peerless quality of search. In contrast, the very term ‘search’ has been replaced with the verb ‘to Google.’ It is certain that a company has gained ubiquity once its name shifts from a noun to a verb. The danger of such a shift is complacency, and Google has been very aware of this inherent danger in the ever changing world of tech; they have innovated in various areas, from their Android mobile Operating System to their Google Maps, Google Earth, and the multitude of G-products that we all use in daily life.
One of the major ways Google has been able to stay ahead of the game is by shifting and modifying the way they calculate the popularity of sites. The general user wouldn’t notice such a change. BBC, Microsoft, and other major corporate entities still dominate their realms as do other major niche providers, but how to decide on the popularity of a travel site, or a site selling sportswear? Their “popularity” is the general answer to the question; but dig a little deeper, and it becomes apparent that popularity is something that can be gained.
Whether it comes from having the most references to the site, having most links to it, or being the most search content matching specific search terms, there is a multitude of ways to benchmark popularity and then tailor output to fit within these parameters. The people in Google know that if they are ranking unhelpful websites on page one, then their customers will be going elsewhere for their “Googling.”Thus, they alter their algorithms a fair amount.
Google Panda was Google’s 2011 attempt to restrict websites from being crammed with keywords and building link farms in order to increase their ranking. Quality, as ever, was Google’s priority here as they went about uprooting a whole industry that had been built up by exploiting the loopholes that were evident in the Google Search model.
Five years ago, it was possible, with some concerted effort, to put together a site that could dominate in chosen search terms and maintain a top spot with an increasing amount of links and cloned content. However, Google Panda put an end to all of that as Google started banning sites that had built up their popularity this way.
All of a sudden, sites that were ranking highly started to fall off the main page and into obscurity as Google’s indexing system would blacklist sites that had a negative mark against them. This was even possible for sites that were mostly original but had hidden away from plain sight practices that were banned under the Google Panda algorithm. This update was nicknamed the Famer Update as it put an end to link farms and set a number of business models into a tailspin.
Things to Watch Out for with Google Panda
- No nonsense! The algorithm is built from human test cases. Programmers analyse many sites and flag content that is off limits. They then build an algorithm around these test cases and work with the algorithm until it is able to function automatically. So, the most obvious lesson is don’t write nonsense. Grammatically incoherent work will get you flagged in no time at all.
- No duplications! If more than 90% of content on your page exists on another page on your site, you are in trouble. So be careful with your headers and borders. If you are repeating the same outline on every page, and your original content is minimal, you are in trouble.
- No advertisement overload! If your page is little more than an advert, you will be blacklisted. By all means advertise, but think smart. The algorithm is so advanced these days that you have to think of it in human terms. Would a human notice that you are hosting a site to link elsewhere? If so, Panda will too.
- No farming! Is there an overload of keywords on your site? While keywords were once the golden ticket to search engine success, now they must be used sparingly and with caution. Of course, you need to optimise your Google search terms, but if you have 100 links to ‘boost your libido,’ you are going to get picked up.
- No robotic content! If you have auto-generating content, you are in trouble. Panda identifies and blocks content that has clearly not been built by humans.
Cyrus Shepard’s August 2011 post ‘Beating Google’s Panda Update – 5 Deadly Content Sins’ is as relevant today as it was back then and we can see the forward thinking from Cyrus has been proven correct when reviewing the array of Panda updates since this algorithm update launch in February 2011.
Once rules change, new ways to play the game are quickly figured out. While Panda hit many firms hard—SEO firms, especially—it was quickly realised that with some modification, it was still possible to nail a top ranking with some intelligent application of keywords. The preferred method at this time was to position keyword heavy articles on sites, often fictitious, and link back to each other. Much of this content was humorous and whimsical, whether for travel-focused websites, dating websites, or any other industry website that it is possible to conceive of. It was rumoured that famous authors were picking up decent fees for stream of consciousness writing filled with hot topic keywords and subordinate keywords.
Before long, the ever-alert Google machine realized what was going on and decided that further algorithm changes were necessary. Thus, the reign of the Panda was not over, rather it was joined by another anthropomorphic Google algorithm.
Quality was again the catalyst for the launch of Google Penguin in April of 2012. This update targeted what it referred to as “Webspam” with the intention of penalizing sites that did not meet expected standards of quality.
Again, the topic of quality is one which seems to be defined in a rather subjective manner by Google, but overall perhaps ‘usefulness’ would be a better description. Once somebody puts in a search term, does the result they get actively address their enquiry or just point to another site that is off topic? This was the motivation behind the Penguin shift.
Things to Watch Out for with Google Penguin
- Quality. The ever-elusive entity of quality can be measured in various ways. Is the content authoritative? Is it being linked to a variety of sources? How relevant are these sources? Is there a diversity of comments? If so, you will probably be able to pass the quality threshold.
- Link relevancy. Stick to your niche. If you are posting links to sites that are too different from your own, then you may be flagged. Stick to a web of interconnected sites, and you will be able to build your niche positioning.
- Organic linking. If you suddenly have an upsurge in links, this is likely to set alarm bells ringing. Links built up over time have more cachet and add to the perception of your site as authoritative and possessing quality content.
- Diversity of anchor texts. Don’t repeat the same key words in your anchors as this is a major red flag. Use synonyms or similar terms rather than repeating yourself.
- Link quality. Getting links from sites that are red flagged will also come back to haunt you. Be sure that when you are building your links that you are looking for link quality vs. quantity. Quality begets quality after all.
Jason DeMers recently had published yet another extremely informative guide on how to recover post Penguin 2.1 in October, Penguin 2.1: What Changed Since 2.0, and How to Recover, which should give you a good overview, but Glen Gabe’s follow up findings were also extremely insightful.
How to Maximise SEO in the World of Panda and Penguin
A good place to start is to analyse your Web traffic. If you have seen a sudden dip, then there is a good chance you have fallen victim to these changes. Google publishes the dates of updates to its algorithm, so compare these with the work you have already done. If you find that you have suffered on these dates, then you need to figure out how this particular update has negatively affected you and start to make some changes.
If you can target the issue and resolve it, wait for 20-30 days and check your traffic again. If there has been no recovery, then you need to go back again and make further changes.
As ever, Rand Fishkin leads the way when it comes to all things SEO, and his presentation at the Digital Marketing summit is essential viewing for all those who wish to understand the issues facing companies who wish to dominate on Google today.
In conclusion, the key lessons to take from all of this is that Google is going to keep innovating, and it is going to keep aiming to increase the quality of search results. Expect further changes in years to come as Google seeks to solidify itself and remain top dog.
Be extra careful with anything you publish on your site. If it is a copy-and-paste job, then you risk a ban. If you are full of links that seem irrelevant, you will be banned. Low quality content can bring your site at risk of being banned. Google’s algorithm is turning into an editor which expects high-quality content if it is going to be giving front-page space on its search engine. So, keep the editor happy with clean, well-written, and interesting prose; connect with a professional SEO company, and watch your stock rise.