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Building Links in 2013: Strategies & Tactics

On average, Google employs 200 points of criteria to determine website rankings. These discernible categories are segmented by popularity, relevancy and content.  As implied in the name, “popularity” is perhaps the most crucial driving force for higher rankings.  How does one achieve a recognizable website? With a little help from  effective, linkbuilding strategies.

Link building is an-ever changing discipline that must be executed correctly in order to produce  advantageous results.  What exactly is linkbuilding, you may ask? Let’s get down to brass tacks!

The objective of linkbuilding is pretty straightforward: place high-quality website links across the web pointed to your site.  The more quality websites you acquire placements from, the better your website can rank.  Seems easy enough, right? Ah, if only it were so simple!

Many people confuse “link bait” with “link building,” and there in itself lies the first problem. Link-building strategies are endeavors you personally undertake (ie. the cause-and-effect falls on your shoulders), whereas link bait is intended to go viral upon conception as a result of high share volumes.

Similar to fishing, you “bait” some amazing content to the masses and wait to reel ‘em in. The problem with this technique? Unless you’ve hired professional SEO strategists who can ensure positive ROIs, you’re likely to be waiting on that bite for a long time. You’re better off taking the plunge and implementing your own linkbuilding strategies, rather than sitting back and waiting for a catch.  It’s like that old Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime” (but with a little more marketing jargon).

Anyway – enough about linkbait; now onto strategy building!

Link strategy is essential when blueprinting your short and long-term goals.  You first must determine what links you’re capable of creating in moderate-to-high volumes. That’s the whole point of linkbuilding strategies: driving as much traffic to your site via organic linking methods. Let’s take a look at some of them!

Link Building for High Visibility

Consider taking advantage of trending pages that generate millions of visitors each month. For a small investment, buying links from such notable websites can optimize your linkprofile with natural, nofollow links (rel=’nofollow’). While these nofollow links don’t pass pagerank to your site, they do serve as Google-friendly, natural sources.  All-followed links, even from reputable sources, can raise a red flag if misconstrued by Penguin 2.0 algorithms.

In order to proceed with this strategy, the following measures should be taken:

1. page placement (ie. location of link)
2. determining style/format of chosen link (ie. opting for image vs. widget)
3. assessing your angle (ie. consumer-appeal vs. brand name insert)
4. inventory placement (homepage link vs. deep content link)
5. cost-awareness (ie. knowing your price limit)
6. link disclosure (ie. acknowledging third-party sources )

This method calls for some patience, along with strategic planning. Pursue your networking options and employ the expertise of ad brokers and associates.

Don’t get discouraged if Google’s linking limitations pose some obstacles every now and then. There is still industry growth potential; you just have to source out your own specific medium.

Link Building for Moderate Visibility

Guest posting has emerged in recent years as an effective way to increase page rankings.  A successful guest post is one that produces valuable content for the hosting blog site(s). The following are key steps to consider when executing a search-free, link traffic endeavor:

1. frequency of contribution(s)
2. depth and structure of shared information
3. the contribution benefits of your content
4. external promotion features

Your mission is to obtain consistent visitors for each site you contribute content to, so it’s important to produce quality content to pique visitor interest. Moderate site-traffic should see an influx of 10,000+ monthly visitors. While this seems like a high number, creative, optimal content can easily pull those figures. If you are unable to appease that volume, you may be marketing insufficient content that does not appeal to visitors.

Link Building for Social Media

Even though Lady Gaga reigns the Twitter realm with her multi-million (plus) fan base, the average Joe requires a bit more strategy than a stage name and arena of adoring fans (hate to be the bearer of bad news)!

Your social media audience will increase as you dabble in the networking process; friending, accepting and/or following a target niche, or individuals with similar industry interests. Some factors to keep in mind when executing this endeavor:

1. the positive outreach support you foster vs. the generic approach of others
2. your active participation within social media communities vs. standard, link publishing spiels
3. regular guest interaction vs. communicative indifference

In this situation, your goal is to ‘persuade’ without ‘pushing’ You want to convey the right amount of enthusiasm/chutzpah, but you should also avoid overly-aggressive, networking tactics that are likely to work against you. Ultimately, you want visitors to click on your links because of legitimate interest in your services/specific niche, so be socially-forthright instead of hard-selling.

Link Building for Mobile Apps/Mobile-Friendly Devices

This strategy works best for those capable of creating/marketing an engaging app that drives mobile traffic to your website. Consider the app as your very own publishing medium that showcases the benefits of your site.

If creating your own app is not a possible option, try creating a mobile-friendly website that supports smartphone browsers with easy navigation. Factors to consider for this endeavor are:

  • extended platform/device usability
  • app promotion efforts/appeal to target audience
  • work/effort needed to publish + maintain app and/or mobile site
  • designing a CTA link that corresponds with mobile presentation

 

SEO Linkbuilding: A Dying Industry?

Contrary to what you’ve heard, there are still plenty of search-influenced methods to tap into. Linkbuilding is not a “dying” industry, so much as it is “evolving” with the times.

Like any SEO venture, there are certain risks associated with linkbuilding. The launch of analytical, algorithmic tools like Google’s Penguin 2.0 (used to weed out spammers) have posed a problem for unnatural linkprofiles that are often perceived as manipulative link tactics.

The consequences of these anchored, SEO tactics are severe enough to sway some marketing agencies from link building strategies. The following are just some of the SEO tactics that have emerged on the market in recent years as “questionable” strategies:

  • manipulating the anchor text of links
  • mass, infographic distribution for link bait
  • vendor/tradeshow promotions aka. “giving away swag”
  • journalists who use “Help A Reporter Out” service to gather immediate feedback

While some webmasters are comfortable with link spam, Google algorithms are certainly not. The anticipated launch of Penguin 2.0 is sure to tighten the reigns around anchored, SEO strategies. As many spamming tactics violate Google policies, algorithmic interception is likely to occur; tarnishing your site visibility, along with any number of associated penalties.

Regardless of some of the current hesitancies surrounding linkbuilding strategies, correctly-executed links are still capable of influencing search rankings…without detriment. Though it may seem like the entire Google conglomerate have it out for every webmaster seeking higher traffic volumes, the search engine algorithms aren’t intended to destroy the linkbuilding industry’s SEO attempts. The whole point of this Google Penguin crackdown is to single out the manipulative links that have been distributed by automated spamming sites, and fair enough. Webmasters who have effectively-employed natural, linkbuilding strategies can finally reap the benefits of their hard labors, because they’ve earned it!

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if you find yourself considering “white hat” strategies, we strongly encourage you to weigh the pros-and-cons of this risky attempt.  Realistically, SEO tactics that sell links via white hat strategies are far more likely to encounter marketing agencies that run like the dickens from these link acquisition services. In order to succeed in the current and ompetitive marketing realm, you have to plead your case, so to speak. Demonstrate that SEO is possible through natural linkprofiles, to lower their ‘linkbuilding guard.’

Also keep in mind that substituting guest posts and infographics for paid links is a very slippery slope that you should avoid at all costs. Realistically, these manipulative linking practices have already faced backlash, penalties and long-term, critical reviews. People are very quick to sport the fancy label of “content marketer,” but those who intend to streamline the labor-intensive processes just to manipulate search results are simply link spammers with a misconstrued job title.

The most important thing to remember? Relax and approach this venture with diligence.  Avoid linkbuilding shortcuts that may save you time, but cost you much more in consequences. Haste should not be a driving force for your marketing strategies. If you’re quick to expedite the linkbuilding process, you are likely to showcase a site that conveys exactly that: rushed efforts and/or presentation and illegitimate credibility. Always keep in mind that natural linkbuilding isn’t an urban myth. With the right strategies and legwork, you can avoid manipulative linking and all its associate penalties. Sure, this endeavor requires a fair amount of effort, but with a little bit of organic effort and an extra boost of gumption, it is possible to ensure your site’s successful placement in high search rankings!

Post-Penguin SEO In 2013: Foundational Strategies

According to Matt Cutts, Google’s well-known search engineer, Google’s algorithms change as frequently as once a day. On average, the algorithm changes around 500 times per year. If you think about it, keeping up with this many algorithm changes is impossible. Instead of focusing your energies on Penguin, Panda and other algorithm updates, you need to go deeper and beyond the commonly employed SEO techniques. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Share-worthy Guest Posts

We all know that guest blogging is a hotly debated topic in the SEO community. It is arguably one of the best ways to get traffic, backlinks and improve your social profile, all at the same time. But in the same way we permanently ruined article directories by stuffing our articles with keywords, many people are also misusing guest blogging. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs out there, full of useless, keyword-infused content with no real value.

The links within these so-called guest blogs never get clicked on, and the pages have abnormally high bounce-rates. However, the fact that there are tons of mediocre guest blogs out there makes it easier for you to stand out, especially if your content is unique, original and share-worthy. Truly useful content often gets passed around on social networks, and legitimate referral traffic from social networks is an indicator of human activity. Search engines look for pages with high levels of human activity, and actively measure social signals such as: facebook likes, tweets, shares and comments.

With this said, you have an even greater incentive to write useful content rather than writing content for the sake of it. Think of guest blogging as an opportunity to make an impression on the host website’s visitors. You will only get one chance, but if you write an innovative and unique post with a twist, the host might invite you to write more posts.

Author Rank

Author rank is yet another step by Google towards a better web. The idea is to rank authors based on the authority and quality of their content as determined by Google’s algorithms. So, how does one go about building author rank?

Google+ comes in handy here. Go to the “About” section of your Google+ profile and add links to the webpages you regularly contribute content to. It is important to remember that Google+ plays an integral part in building your author rank, and Google considers many factors to compute it. These factors include: the number of people in your circles; the number of people who have you in their circles; your frequency of content generation, and the level of social activity on your Google+ profile.

This is what you should do to increase your author rank:

1. Create great content regularly
2. Be active on social media
3. Share useful content with people in your network

Co-Citation

Co-citation is yet another hotly debated topic among SEOs, and there seems to be some disagreement on what co-citation is, in addition to co-occurrence. Some theorize co-citation as a step by Google towards a more intelligent and semantic web. The concept itself is pretty simple to understand, and there are real examples in which co-citation has helped websites rank for keywords that were neither in their title, nor in their description tags.

Co-citation can best be explained with an example. Suppose Rob’s Ice Cream Parlor makes great “Blueberry Ice Cream.” In this case, search engines cannot make a connection between the keywords “Rob’s Ice Cream Parlor” and “Blueberry Ice Cream” unless they have been mentioned together on various websites. Google can now spot if there is a connection between two keywords or key-phrases, like the correlation between a company and its products.

There are numerous examples of co-citation that help websites rank for keywords they aren’t even attempting to rank. SEOmoz’s famous, Open Site Explorer ranks for the search term, “backlink analysis,” even though it isn’t mentioned in title, description or the page itself. Google picked up some other article from somewhere else on the web for use in the search snippet and that article does mention “backlink analysis” and “Open Site Explorer” together.

Press Releases

Some things never get old. Press releases are one of the oldest tricks in a SEO’s arsenal, but they still work. A well-positioned press release with useful information about your company’s products or services not only drives traffic to your website, but also helps increase awareness about your brand amongst the public. Apart from usefulness of your content, you can also insert relevant anchor texts where necessary to your home and inner pages. This helps you get backlinks and traffic, simultaneously.

How you distribute your press release is also very important. You can choose to email it to journalists and online news outlets manually, or use the services of a company like PRWeb or PR Newswire. Most of these companies guarantee syndication of your press release to hundreds of online news outlets, so if you know how to write a great press release, it can prove to be a great tool (especially when you’re launching a new product, service or campaign).

It is important to note that Matt Cutts of Google has stated that backlinks from press releases do not contribute towards page rank, but some recent tests have proven otherwise.

Social Media Signals

A couple of years ago, Matt Cutts denied the effect of social signals on rankings, but his denial has now changed into guilty admission. Not only do social signals affect rankings, but Google also made social signals an integral part of their ranking algorithm with the introduction of Google+.

So, what’s all the fuss about? It’s quite simple, really. Social signals, as we mentioned earlier, are an indicator of human activity. The number of times something gets liked, tweeted or commented on becomes an indicator of social value. The more popular something is, the more authoritative it becomes. This means social signals not only have the ability to affect rankings, but also the perceived value and authority of a website in the eyes of search engines.

Google and Bing, both major search engines, actively consider social signals to help rank websites and make SERPs more relevant to the user. Therefore, it is more important than ever to create share-worthy content, which can even go viral if you’re lucky, and focus your efforts on creating value rather than brute link building.

How To Buy Aged Domain Names

Does an aged domain name make it easier to rank in Google?  In some cases, yes.

It’s not so much the age of the domain, per se, as the authority you’re able to assume.  Lets review a quick Q&A from my experience:

 

If I buy an old or aged domain name, is it easier to rank in Google?

If you’re able to acquire an aged domain name with significant PageRank or an extensive back link profile, absolutely.

 

Does the domain need to be relevant to my targeted niche?

In my experience, no.

 

Should I 301 redirect the domain name to my new domain and/or existing property?

While a 301 redirect of an authoritative and/or trusted domain can enhance your existing site’s (or a new domain)  rapid acquisition of its own trust and link equity, I believe it’s almost always more effective to develop and re-establish old domains rather than a redirect.  If you’re looking to promote your existing domain or new brand, create content on re-established domains specific to your niche.

 

How do I buy old or aged domains?

Though a multitude of registrars and ancillary services exist, I’m a fan of GoDaddy Auctions.

 

How do I know which domains are worth buying?

Several paid services exist to assist in the hunt for aged authoritative domains, but why pay when you don’t have to?  I use ExpiredDomains.net free service for an initial assessment of available domains for purchase.  It will allow you to view basics metrics (PageRank, Back Links, SEOMoz Domain Authority/Page Authority, MozRank, etc.) for all domains currently available for sale on GoDaddy Auctions.  I then use SEOMastering’s Fake Page Rank Check Tool to verify authenticity of PageRank, and look for hidden bonuses like existing Yahoo Directory or DMOZ listings.  Additionally, I’ll analyze potential domain purchases with back link analysis tools like MajesticSEO, Ahrefs, and OpenSiteExplorer.  Personally, I prefer an established, diverse and clean back link profile to Google PageRank.  MajesticSEO is my tool of choice for analysis.  Even without a subscription, look for trouble indicators like over-optimized anchor texts or excessively low trust.

For example, a current domain listed on PRDrop is bosch-fh.com, touting a PageRank of 7.  Impressive, no doubt, but in analyzing this domain with MajesticSEO we see it’s showing a single back link that’s showing as recently deleted as of April 4th and nil CitationFlow or TrustFlow.  Don’t be led astray by PageRank alone.  While a PR7 site can have uses of its own, I’d much prefer a PR5 domain like togetherville.com, with a TrustFlow of 25, 16,567 back links from over 1,000 different domains on 819 referring class C subnets.

A quick search on Archive.org’s WayBackMachine shows the domain active with content as recent as March 2013, and the domain still exists in the Google index and shows no 301 redirects.  This makes for a fantastic potential acquisition.

 

What are some pitfalls to avoid when evaluating domains to acquire?

Sites that diverse back link profiles, but have been stripped of PageRank.  See my example below, WickedAngelsRadio.com, on initial inspection — evaluating back links alone — it appears that this would be an absolute power house of a domain.  Our first warning signal is the discrepancy in the ratio of CitationFlow and TrustFlow.  A domain with this many back links showing a TrustFlow of 8 likely has a sordid past.

WickedAngelsRadio has a diverse back link profile, but has been stripped of PageRank.

Upon further inspection, we see this domain has been completely stripped of PageRank by Google.
0 PageRank?  Rut roh.

0 PageRank? Rut roh.

Worse yet, glancing at its anchor text diversity, we see key indicators prior use and abuse.
Extensive back link profile.  Bueno.  Over-optimized anchors containing casino references?  No bueno

Extensive back link profile. Bueno. Over-optimized anchors containing casino references? No bueno

 

What are my options after purchasing an aged domain name?

Rebecca Kelley presented the article below on SEOMoz.  I think provide a fantastic post-acquisition risk/benefit analysis.  Again, it’s worth mentioning, in my experience I’ve seen the most favorable results when developing out the content on an acquired domain.  Your mileage (and intent) may vary.

Option #1: 301 Redirect the Old Domain to Your Existing Domain

The easiest and least time consuming option is to 301 redirect the old domain to your existing site. This tactic obviously works best if both sites are in the same sector and are targeting the same keywords; otherwise, if you have a pet supply site and you buy an old Texas Hold ‘Em poker site, a redirect probably might raise some eyebrows among the search engines. If, however, your site is brandnamepets.com and you buy onlinepetsupply.com and 301 redirect the domain over, you’re inheriting a lot of topical and appropriate links.

PROS:

  • Is the least time consuming option
  • Benefit from the value (about 95% or so) of the old domain’s links (postscript: Danny Sullivan has recently blogged about expired domains and their link credit, and it appears that buying a domain and redirecting to your site for the link benefit may not work since the links may not pass credit from expired domains.)

CONS: 

  • Old branded anchor text pointing to your new site isn’t going to help as much as a keyword-rich anchor text
  • If the old site had a penalty (for shady link building, cloaking, spamming, etc.), the penalty could carry over to your new site (I can’t confirm this to be true, but a lot of SEOs I’ve talked to believe that this is a possibility, and some have sworn that they’ve experienced it firsthand, so I guess you just have to be cautious)

 

Option #2: Create a Microsite That Links to Your Existing Domain

The second option requires a bit more time and effort than a 301 redirect. You could do a mini overhaul of the site and turn it into a microsite for your main domain. This option is good for exact-match domains for your targeted keyword, and there are other reasons for going the microsite route that Rand’s highlighted in his post about root domains, subdomains, subfolders and microsites. This strategy also works better if the old domain has decent rankings for the keywords you’re targeting.

PROS:

  • Can cross-promote/cross-link to your existing site
  • More real estate in the SERPs means more branding and potential conversions for your site
  • You can do stuff on your microsite you may not want to do with your main site (e.g., launch silly viral content, experiment with a promotional tactic)
  • You don’t have to have a completely robust site; a lot of microsites are smaller and have a single focus (e.g., center on a quiz or a centric idea)


CONS:

  • Can be time-consuming to do an overhaul of the old site
  • Aggressive promotion and linking to the existing domain can seem spammy and you could get penalized for reciprocal linking or setting up a link farm
  • Your current site isn’t inheriting any of the old site’s link value that would have come via a 301 redirect
  • Microdomains can be used ineffectively (see Rand’s Whiteboard Friday about the microsite mistake)

 

Option #3: Overhaul the Old Domain and Operate It Independently

The third option is the one that’s the most time consuming but also has its benefits. It’s like having a successful restaurant and buying another restaurant and operating them simultaneously. They’re not the exact same restaurant, but both are popular in their own right and make you money. The same goes for Option #3. You could update the content on the old domain and sell the same products that you’re selling on your current site. If you can get both sites to rank alongside each other in the SERPs, you’re increasing your conversion chances and sales potential.

PROS:

  • As with Option #2, you get more real estate in the SERPs if you can get both sites to rank for your targeted search terms
  • You don’t have to work hard to brand the old site if it’s a generic, keyword-rich domain–you can just focus on getting rankings and conversions
  • The old site already has links pointing to it and is more established than starting with a brand new domain

CONS:

  • You have to ensure that the old site doesn’t mimic the new site and runs into any duplicate content issues
  • It’s time consuming to revamp and maintain the old site (you’ve essentially doubled your workload)
  • As with Option #2, aggressive cross linking between the sites can raise red flags

Your course of action really depends on how much work and effort you can put into the expired domain. If you’re barely able to maintain and optimize your current site, you probably want to just 301 redirect the old site (note: see my amended comment above about the link value not likely to be passed). If, however, you’re more creative and have some time on your hands, you can try your hand at crafting a microsite. If you really know your stuff and are experienced at making money off various websites, you’d probably do well with the third option.

 

What has your experience been with acquiring old domains?  Let us know.  More to come.

Dominating SERPs In Your Niche (Beyond Your Brand)

Will Scott recently published a post referencing SERP domination as “The Holy Grail of SEO”.  Coincidentally, I recently spoke with a client in the dental industry, they were looking to achieve a page 1 ranking in Google for a geo-modified version of the query “dental implants”.

“Chicago Dental Implants”, for example.

They explained to me that they were working with a limited budget and a relatively new domain.  The solution I suggested?

Utilization of Parasite SEO.  Geo-modified queries such as this as prime targets for promotion via established hosts.  Obviously, the longterm goal for any client is an effective ranking on their target query with their direct site, but true SERP saturation can be achieved in a quick and cost efficient manner by making use of established resources.  My suggestions:

LinkedIn Company Page
Create a company page integrating their target query into the company name.  This translates into your target query existing in the page title of your company page on LinkedIn.  It’s worth noting, LinkedIn allows the crafting of a fairly rich user experience by allowing a textual description of your company, embedded hyperlinks, a video feature, and even any special offers you might be offering at the time.  Promotion (and effective rankings) of these pages takes significantly less effort given their established trust and link equity.

PRWeb Press Release
Don’t believe press releases still work?  SEOConsult.com, referenced in Will’s original article, illustrates otherwise, as does my personal experience.  Leveraging a reputable company like PRWeb ensures you have an additional content source (think: low-hanging fruit) to promote to rank your target query with any copy you’d like.  Ensure the release is drafted with a positive spin, but avoid sales copy here.  Often times, third person neutral or positive mentions referenced from non-company sources can yield more interest than direct promotion.  Even if your content doesn’t get syndicated, your end result is an additional highly-relevant authoritative content source to promote.  Once again, ensure you work your target query into the title of the press release.  Minor linking efforts yield astounding results.  Voila.

YouTube/Google+
It’s not shocking that Google seems to have a positive bias toward effective rankings on pages within their own network.  Utilize unique copy for each, ensure the page titles on your respective profiles include your target query (preferably in a non-spammy way) and create or repurpose existing media featuring your company, product, or service.  The end result?  3 solid (query-specific, content-rich, authoritative) sources to promote via linking efforts that don’t require heavy lifting.

At minimum, using the techniques above, we’re able to generate keyword targeted content that responds exceptionally well to minor external linking efforts.  I have personally used these techniques to achieve non-branded SERP domination in as a few as 14 days.  Hundreds of other highly effective parasite hosts exist.  Invest your effort in creating content that’s compelling about your organization, the rest will fall into place.

Have you utilized this strategy?  What are your favorite content publishing sources?

Contributing Blogger: Zach Hedrick

 

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