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Supercharge Your Link Building Outreach! 5 Tips for Success – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by Shannon-McGuirk

Spending a ton of effort on outreach and waking up to an empty inbox is a demoralizing (and unfortunately common) experience. And when it comes to your outreach, getting those emails opened is half the battle. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, we welcome recent MozCon 2019 alum Shannon McGuirk to share five of her best tips to make your outreach efficient and effective — the perfect follow-up to her talk about building a digital PR newsroom.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hi, Moz fans. My name is Shannon McGuirk. I’m the Head of PR and Content at a UK-based digital marketing agency called Aira. So at this year’s MozCon, I spoke about how to supercharge your link building with a digital PR newsroom and spoke about the three different types of media and journalist writing that we should be tapping into.

But I only had half an hour to be able to share my insights and thoughts. As a next step from that presentation, I need to equip you guys with everything in order to be able to go out and actually speak to these journalists. So for my Whiteboard Friday today, I’m going to be sharing my five tips for success for supercharging your outreach, specifically evolved around email outreach alone.

In the U.K. and in the U.S. as well, we’re seeing, as our industry grows and develops, journalists don’t want to be called anymore, and instead the best way to get in touch with them is via email or on social media. So let’s dive straight in. 

1. Subject lines A/B tests

So tip one then. I want to share some insights with you that I did for subject lines and specifically around some A/B testing.

Back in the early part of the summer, around April time, we started working on a tool called BuzzStream. Now that allowed us to be able to send different kinds of tests and emails out with a variety of different subject lines in order for us to understand how many open rates we were getting and to try and encourage journalists, through the use of our language and emojis, to open up those all-important pitch emails so that we could follow up and make sure that we’re bringing those links home.

Journalist’s name in subject line

So we ran two different types of A/B tests. The first one here you can see was with the journalist’s name in the subject line and the journalist’s name without. It turns out then that actually, when we were running this data, we were seeing far more opens if we had the journalist’s name in the subject line. It was getting their attention. It was getting that cut-through that we needed when they’re getting hundreds of emails per day and to see their name in a little nib meant that we were increasing open rates. So that was our first learning from test number one. 

“Data” vs “story tip”

Now test number two, we had a bit of a gut feel and a little bit of an instinct to feel that there were certain types of words and language that we were using that were either getting us more open rates or not. For this one specifically, it was around the use of the word “data.” So we compared the use of the word “data” with story tip, and again including the journalist’s name and not, to try and see how many journalists were opening up our emails.

At Aira, we have around a 33% open rate with any campaigns that we launch, and again this is tracked through BuzzStream. But when we started to do these A/B tests, combine story tip, full name, and then follow with “data,” we increased that to 52%. So that jump up, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to get 52% more links off the back of your outreach, but it means that you are getting more people opening up their email, considering your data, considering your campaigns, which is half of the problem, when we all know as outreachers, content marketers, digital PRs how difficult it can be for someone to even just open that initial approach.

So now, off the back of those A/B tests, make sure that whenever you’re writing those emails out you have story tip for Tom and then followed by data and whatever research you’ve got in that campaign. 

2. Headline language

For tip two then, keeping on the theme of language, I did a piece of research for another conference that I was speaking at earlier in the summer called SearchLeeds and another one called outREACH.

I analyzed 35,000 articles across 6 different top 10 news sites in the U.K. The language that came out of that, around the headlines specifically, was so interesting. So I split these 35,000 articles down into relevant sectors, took the likes of travel, automotive, business, what have you, and then I was able to create around 30 word clouds according to different articles that had been produced within these different industries at different titles.

I was able to start to see common words that were used in headlines, and that got my mind ticking a bit. I was starting to think, well, actually as a team, at Aira, we should be starting to pitch and use language within our pitches that journalists are already using, because they straightaway resonate with the story that we’ve got. So here’s a quick snapshot of the kind of word clouds that the analysis revealed.

You can kind of see some core words shining through. So we’ve got research, best, stats, experts, that kind of thing. Now the top five words that were most commonly used across all sectors within the headlines were: best, worst, data, new, and revealed. Now “data” is really interesting, because if we go back to our A/B testing, we know that that’s a strong word and that that will get you more opens with your subject lines.

But it also reaffirms that that A/B test is right and that we definitely should be using “data.” So combine story tip for that journalist’s name, Tom or what have you, with data and then start to use some of the language here, out of these top five, and again you’re going to increase your open rates, which is half of the problem with what we’re doing with outreach.

3. Use color

So tip three then. Now this was quite an experimental approach that we took, and a huge recommendation of mine, when you’re doing your email outreach, is actually to start to use color within that all-important pitch email itself. So we’ve moved from subject lines into looking at the body of the email. We use color and bolding back at Aira.

So we use color straightaway when we’re writing the email. So we’ll start with something like, “Dear Tom, I have a story that you might be interested in.” Straight under that, so we’re already using again the language that they’ll be using, story, going back to our A/B test. But then straight under that, we will bold, capitalize, and put in a really bright color — reds, greens, blues — nice, strong primary colors there the headline that we think Tom might write off the back of our outreach.

So here’s an example. “New data reveals that 21% of drivers have driven with no insurance.” Not the most exciting headline in the world. But if Tom here is an automotive editor or a digital online automotive writer, straightaway he knows what I’m talking to him about. Again, he can start to see how this data can be used to craft stories for his own audience.

Again, as I said, this is quite experimental. We’re in the early phases of it at Aira, but we know it’s working, and it’s something that I learnt, again, at outREACH conference too. Straight under this use of color with headline, you should pull out your key stats. Now only keep those bullet points to three to five. Journalists are busy.

They’re on deadlines. Don’t be having huge, bulk paragraphs or long-winded sentences. Tell them the headline, follow it up with the key stats. Be clean, be punchy, and get to the point really quickly. Below this, obviously sign off and include any press material, Google Drive links, press packs that you’ve got under that. Again, we’re seeing this work really, really well.

We’re still in the early stages, and I hope to share some insights, some kind of data and metrics as to the success results of it. But we’ve been able to secure links from the likes of the Mail Online, the Telegraph back in the U.K., and also last week just FoxBusiness using this exact approach. 

4. Use emojis

So tip four then, and again this is a really playful technique and something that we only learnt with experimentation.

Start to use emojis within your pitches as well. Now this can be used within the subject line. Again, you’re looking to try and get the journalist to get that piece of attention straightaway and look at your headline. Or start to use them within the body of the email too, because they break up that text and it makes your email stand out far more than if you have someone that’s pitching in a business piece of data and you’ve just got huge stacks and research pieces.

Actually throw in some emojis that are relating to the business world, a laptop or whatever it may be, something that proves your point around the campaign. Again, it’s more engaging for a journalist to read that. It means that they’ll probably remember your email over the other 200 that they’re getting that day. So really nice, simplistic tip then for me.

If you’re pitching something in the automotive world, put a car or traffic lights on the end. If you’re doing something in the travel sphere, sun, beaches, something that just gets that journalist’s eye. It means that your email is going to be opened above anyone else’s. 

5. Use Twitter

Finally then, so I know I’ve kept this around email outreach for the last couple of points.

But one thing that we’re seeing work really well with the implementation of this digital PR newsroom is starting to approach and speak to journalists on Twitter. Twitter we know is a new source for journalists. Trending topics will obviously be picked up in the press and covered on a daily if not hourly basis. As soon as something breaks on Twitter, we’ll see journalists, writers, bloggers turn that trending feature into an article that’s really resonant and relevant for their audience.

So in the run-up to your campaign, way before the launch, we’re talking like three or four weeks here, reach out to the journalists on Twitter. Start to engage with them. Like some articles. Start to let them know that you’re in and engaging with them on their social media platform. Don’t push it too hard.

You don’t want to go overboard with this. But a little bit of engagement here and there means that when your email comes into their inbox, it’s not a new name, and you’re already starting to build the foundations of that relationship. Secondary to this then, feel free and start to experiment with DM’ing journalists as well. We know that they’re getting two, three, or four hundred emails per day. If you take to Twitter and send them a quick overview of your up-and-coming campaign via a Twitter DM, it’s likely that they’ll read that on the journey home or potentially when they’re walking from meeting to meeting.

Again, it puts you one step ahead of your competitors. Recently we’ve got some of our best pieces of coverage through warming the press up and specific journalists through Twitter, because when your campaign launches, you’re not going out with it cold. Instead the journalist knows that it’s coming in. They may even have the editorial space to cover that feature for you too. It’s something that we’ve seen really work, and again I can’t stress enough that you really have to find that balance.

You don’t want to be plaguing journalists. You don’t want to be a pain and starting to like every single tweet they do. But if it is relevant and you find an opportunity to engage and speak to them about your campaign the weeks in advance, it opens up that door. Again, you may be able to secure an exclusive out of it, which means that you get that first huge hit. So there are my five tips for link building in 2019, and it will help you supercharge things.

Now if you have any comments for me, any questions, please pop them in the thread below or reach out to me on Twitter. As I’ve just said, feel free to send me a DM. I’m always around and would love to help you guys a little bit more if you do have any questions for me. Thanks, Moz fans.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


Did you miss Shannon’s groundbreaking talk at MozCon 2019, How to Supercharge Link Building with a Digital PR Newsroom? Download the deck here and don’t miss out on next year’s conference — super early bird discounts are available now!

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Vlog #2: Mike King of iPullRank On How Link Building Has Changed (Or Not) Over The Years

In our third vlog episode, I sat down with Michael (Mike) King of iPullRank (@iPullRank) to discuss the evolution of link building and content marketing over the years in the SEO space. Mike is known for being super amazing on stage…


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How to Set up a Well-Integrated Effective Link Building Campaign

Posted by AnnSmarty

Link building remains one of the most effective digital marketing tactics, and not just for higher rankings (even though links do still remain the major organic ranking factor). Links drive referral clicks, and generate leads, making your site less dependent on search and advertising traffic.

But how do you build links these days, now that most self-serving link acquisition tactics are frowned upon by Google and can result in lost search visibility?

Here’s what we know for sure:

  • Link building cannot be scaled
  • Link building is not easy or fast.

A new approach to link building integrates all kinds of marketing assets and processes including content marketing, relationship building, and influencer outreach.

This article outlines exactly how to create an effective link building campaign.

Link Acquisition Campaign Goals:

For your campaign, you want to achieve the following:

  • You want that asset to bring in links
  • You want that asset to rank (because high-ranking content keeps bringing links organically as most writers/bloggers search Google to find sources to reference)

So there’s a little bit of a vicious circle here: You cannot rank without links but links also help to rank.

Link building vicious circle

If you really want your link acquisition campaign to work, you need to aim for both: Your content asset should be linkable as well as rank on top of Google for related keywords.

What Non-Spammy Non-Scaled Link Building Methods Do We Know?

  • Researching and creating linkable content (i.e. Content that attracts backlinks)
  • Vanity baiting (ego-baiting): Featuring influencer(s) in your content for them to link back to the published content as well as attract more links (by name association)
  • Relationship building (i.e. Connecting to publishers and journalists on social media for better brand familiarity and hence higher response rate)
  • Broken link building (i.e. Reaching out to website owners linking to broken pages and offering to link to your live page instead)

If we really want to achieve both links and rankings, we need to combine all of those link acquisition methods within one campaign:

Combine

Before we get into steps and tools, let’s illustrate the above with an example:

Sample Link Building Campaign

We had an ecommerce client manufacturing and selling LED lamps and our research included “light” as the core topic. We came up with the following content angles:

    • Light Therapy
    • Light and (Kids’) Creativity
    • Light and Productivity

While we were doing our content research, we came across multiple articles across a lot of top publications referencing an interview (dating back to 2015) with a professor from NY Lighting Research Center talking about the impact of blue light on Alzheimer’s patients.

The interview had long been deleted but the links were all still there.

With that in mind, we took the following steps:

  • We contacted the professor to get an updated quote on the topic. The professor shared her new interior room designs for Alzheimer’s patients which happened to perfectly align with our client’s main ecommerce focus, i.e. “interior lightning.”
  • We did some additional research (including keyword research) to identify what we want the asset to rank for to be able to get discovered by more bloggers and journalists.
  • At the same time, even before we started working on the actual content, we tracked down all those journalists and bloggers who had written about the deleted interview. We also identified more key influencers who were covering the topic (sticking to our specific angle, e.g. Alzheimer’s disease). We put together a Twitter list and started interacting with them to familiarize them with our team before we reach out.

This way, by the time we started to work on the actual content asset, we knew:

  • The specific linkable asset topic
  • The expert(s) we were able to include in our content
  • The bloggers and journalists we were going to reach out to as soon as it went live
Campaign

By the time we started our actual outreach, we had two strong advantages:

1. We could reference our professor in the outreach email:

Ego-bait

2. We could reference other influencers who interacted with us on Twitter (or even already linked to us). Additionally, we could use our newly-built social media connections to follow up and find more people to reach out to:

Outreach campaign

Note: None of these tactics should be step 1: They are all launched together to inform, direct and empower one another.

Tools for every part of the process

Now that we have agreed there are no “steps” here (because all of those tactics should be connected), here is the tool you can use to launch a well-integrated highly-effective link building campaign:

1. Content asset creation

Like most content creation campaigns, this one starts with brainstorming. It is a specific type of brainstorming, though, one that starts with “linkable” angles, i.e. you want to keep your planned “linking” leads in mind. Generally, the following content angles usually bring in links quite easily:

  • “Safety of XX”
  • “History of XX” (especially if you plan to reach out to educators)
  • Recent research (especially if you plan to reach out to journalists)
  • Industry survey (and stats). This usually goes well with niche bloggers.

Image source and more details: digitaleagles.com.au

But there can be more, depending on what it is you are doing. For example, if you own (or market for) a local business, those angles should be localized.

The format of your linkable asset is another thing to think about. There are many options here:

Formats

Note: There’s no need to stick to one format. You can (and probably should) experiment with several of those by using content re-purposing.

2. TextOptimizer for Brainstorming

Text Optimizer is a great tool to help you find more angles to narrow your research down. It uses semantic analysis to extract related concepts and entities from Google search result snippets, helping you to find more specific angles to cover.

Once you know your specific topic ideas, put them in TextOptimizer, one by one, to find related angles and questions to focus on:

Text Optimizer research

More tools for content research: Research and optimize for niche questions

3. Determining your outreach targets

This is a multi-step, continuous process that never really stops. One of the easiest and quickest way to start is to run the “Top pages” tool inside Serpstat that determines web pages that show up in Google for the variety of queries around your core term:

Serpstat top pages

Note: Export the whole list of top-ranking pages for your core query and determine outreach tactics for each one.

4. Twitter Bio search for more outreach targets

Social media marketing won’t probably bring in organic links on its own but social media (especially Twitter) is an awesome outreach tool to utilize in combination with traditional email outreach.

Twitter bio search is one of the most effective ways to generate link-building leads. Twiangulate is a great Twitter bio search that helps you:

  • Find Twitter users by a certain keyword mentioned in their bio (or the combination of keywords)
  • Find Twitter users by location (this is a great way to find local journalists and bloggers)
  • Find common connections of two Twitter accounts (this is a very useful feature for ego-bait content outreach which allows you to find who is connected to your included experts)
  • Find Twitter followers by a keyword (among friends of a certain account). This one can be used to find active Twitter users that work at the publication you are targeting for links:
Twiangulate

5. Broken link building

Ahrefs has one of the coolest link building features out there allowing you to see (and export) all pages linking to broken pages within any domain. To access the report, run your identified leaders in the target niche and click through to “Backlink Profile -> Broken” report:

Arefs broken report

All you need to do now is to export the report into an Excel spreadsheet, identify most linked-to content on the website, and decide if you can build content to replace the deleted page and claim all those links.

CognitiveSEO is another (newer) tool that shows the most linked-to broken pages on any website:

CognitiveSEO

6. Social media outreach

Since your link building outreach is going to include the social media component, you need to figure out how your link building and social media teams are going to collaborate on that.

ContentCal is a solid collaborative tool that can be used to include your link building team into your social media marketing. Encourage your link building outreach team to use ContentCal’s “Pinboard” feature that will allow them to add social media updates for the social media manager to approve and schedule them to go out from your company’s official Twitter account:

ContentCal

Note: ContentCal allows your link building team to contribute to your brand social media channels without sacrificing on the overall quality: There’s always a moderator making sure everything looks good before updates go live.

7. Email outreach

We have tried multiple tools and ended up building our own in-house solution, but there’s no link building tutorial possible without at least one outreach tool included. So I’ll go ahead and recommend Pitchbox (Disclaimer: This is the only tool here I haven’t tried yet but I’ve heard very good people recommend it, so I have full trust in its awesome-ness):

Pitchbox

Pitchbox stores your contacts and email templates as well as manages the follow-ups and reports]

8. Monitor your campaign performance

If you are managing a multi-format link building campaign that includes more content types beyond text (e.g. a downloadable whitepaper, an embeddable infographic, a video, etc.), you may want to keep a close eye on what content formats your link building leads engage more with.

Finteza is the free analytics software focusing on monitoring and reporting on specific on-page events.

Finteza

While you are actively emailing to your identified link building leads, keep an eye on how they interact with your linkable assets. This is a great experience to learn from for your upcoming campaigns.

Finteza also offers a free WordPress plug-in that makes adding on-page events to monitor easier:

Finteza plugin

9. Personalize your content asset based on the referral

Since your link acquisition campaign includes both email and social media outreach, it is smart to customize your content asset based on the referral source to make sure your link building leads will see exactly what they came for above the fold.

Alter is an easy tool for personalizing your content based on your settings. You will need to add their script to the page to serve a slightly different page copy based on the source.

The first step is to create your audience inside Alter:

Depending on your outreach tactics, you can combine as many criteria as you want

You can create your personalization using Alter’s built-in editor:

Alter personalization

10. Monitor incoming links

Finally, set up link monitoring using Brand Mentions. This tool will promptly alert you of any new linked and unlinked web mentions and allow you to better monitor the effectiveness of the campaign as well as quickly interact with your promoters.

Brand Mentions allows you to authenticate your Google Analytics account. This way you’ll be alerted by new referral traffic immediately — remember: Traffic sending links are the best types of links!

Brand Mentions google analytics

Launching a well-rounded link building campaign: Takeaways

  • An effective link building campaign includes most of effective and legit link acquisition tactics, including linkable content creation, ego-baiting, broken link building and (social media) relationship management.
  • None of the above tactics are step one in the campaign: They all need to be connected — informing and directing one another.
  • A key to successful link building campaign is collaboration (between teams, as well as with niche influencers and experts).
  • One of the major goals behind your linkable content asset is that it needs to rank in top five for a popular query. Once you achieve that, you can stop the proactive outreach process, as links will start coming in naturally: All bloggers and journalists use Google to find sources to reference.
  • An effective link acquisition campaign includes more than one content format. Give your media contacts more reasons to link to you by visualizing results, building embeddable content, and downloadable assets to take home.

With so many ideas, parts and tools, it may also be tough to get organized. In most cases, your campaign manager will be able to put everything together using shared (Google) Spreadsheets (that also easily integrate into online calendars). There are of course many more tools to check out.

Finally, there are many more tools I’ve used at some point or another. There’s no way I could list all of them in one article. I did my best to include newer tools (those that are not already well-covered and well-known) because I believe they bring something innovative to the table allowing you to take a new approach or experiment with new tactics.

If you are using any other link building tools in your process, please list them in the comments below — I am always on the hunt for more tools!

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Link Building in 2019: Get by With a Little Help From Your Friends

Posted by kelseyreaves

Editor’s note: This post first appeared in December of 2015, but because SEO (and Google) changes so quickly, we figured it was time for a refresh! 


The link building world is in a constant state of evolution. New tools are continually introduced to the market, with SEOs ready to discover what works best.

In 2015, I wrote an article for Moz about how our team switched over to a new email automation tool that drastically improved our overall outreach system — we increased our email reply rates by 187 percent in just one month. Which meant that our number of attainable backlinks also drastically increased.

 I wanted to see what’s changed since I last wrote this post. Because in 2019, you need a lot more than new tools to excel in link building.

But first…

Looking back, it was pretty ingenious: Our link building program had automated almost every step in the outreach process. We were emailing hundreds of people a week, guest posting on numerous websites, and raking in 20–30 links per week. If anyone has been in the game long enough, you’ll know that’s an insane amount of links.

With its success at my first company, I took the concept and applied it to several freelance link building projects I was working on. It proved to work for those sites, too. Later on, I built out a similar system for the second startup I worked for. And again, it proved to be just as successful. Every link building project I took on, my thinking was: How can I scale this thing to get me 10x the number of links? How can I email 5x the number of people? How can I automate this as much as possible so I can create a link building machine that’s completely hands off?

Well…at least for a period of time.

While I had the best of intentions, this thinking is what ultimately got me in trouble and lead to the inevitable: I was hit with a manual action for participating in link schemes.

I remember opening up Search Console and reading that message. At that moment, I felt like a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar. My stomach was in knots. I had heard of people getting manual actions before but didn’t think it was something that would happen to me.

In hindsight, this was probably one of the most important moments of my SEO/growth career. It sobered me up and pushed me into thinking about outreach in a whole different light, and taught me the most important lesson to date: building links isn’t about using automation to create processes that scale. It’s about building relationships — and value — that scales.

What outreach looked like in 2015

I’m not surprised I got away with what I was doing for so long. From 2015 to 2017, it seemed like everyone and their Mom was guest posting. During that time, this is what I noticed:

1. It was a numbers game

Most of the SEOs I talked to from 2015 to 2017 were using a similar strategy. It was all about finding tools that could help scale your guest posting program and contact as many people as possible. Most companies had some arbitrary link quota for their outreach teams to hit every month, mine included.

2. It promoted somewhat decent content that was templatized

In our outreach program, we were pitching the same three to four topics over and over again and while the content we wrote was always original, there was nothing novel about the articles we were putting out there. They were cute, engaging — but none of it was on the cutting edge or had a solid opinion. It’s what our friend John Collins from Intercom calls Happy Meal content:

“It looks good from a distance, but you’re left feeling hungry not long after you consume it.”

3. It idolized automation and processes

At the time, most outreach programs were about leveraging tools to automate processes and scale every step of the way. We were using several tools to scrape websites and hired virtual assistants off of Upwork to find email addresses of just about anyone associated with a company, whether they were actually the ideal person to contact or not.

This process had worked in 2015. But in 2019, there’s no way it could.

What outreach looks like in 2019

Since joining the team at OG Marketing this last fall, I’ve vastly altered the way I approach outreach and link building. Our strategy now focuses on three main concepts.

1. Helping editors cite good sources

The link building relationships I’ve built this year are almost entirely centered around editors and content managers of notable sites who only want to link to high-quality, relevant content.

And luckily for us, we work with some of the best content creators in the B2B SaaS-verse. We don’t have to go out and beg for links to mediocre (at best) content: We’re building authority to pages that truly deserve it. More importantly, we’re actually fulfilling a need by providing great sources of information for other quality content.

2. Understanding backlinks are only one piece to the puzzle

Link building is only one lever and shouldn’t be your whole SEO strategy. Depending on the site you’re working on, building links may be a good use of your time — or not at all.

In our strategy, we account for the fact that sometimes links aren’t always necessary. They will definitely help, but it’s possible to excel without them.

For example, Hotjar recently published an article on 5 ways to use scroll maps. Looking at the backlink profile for the top three results for “scroll map,” CrazyEgg has more referring domains than Hotjar, but is currently in position three. Omniconvert has zero backlinks and still ranks above CrazyEgg in position two. With only three referring domains, Hotjar has earned the 1st position and a coveted featured snippet.

2015 me would’ve had a knee jerk reaction to kick off an outreach campaign as soon as we hit publish on the new article. But considering the fact that you may not even need a ton of links to rank well, you can actually spend your time more efficiently elsewhere.

3. Creating quality content that earns links naturally

There’s definitely a tipping point when it comes to generating backlinks naturally. When your article appears on page one for the query you’re targeting, your chances of having that article cited by other publications with zero effort on your part just naturally goes up.

Why? Because people looking to add credible citations to their article will turn to Google to find that content.

This prompts our team to always ensure that each piece of content we create for our clients satisfies searcher intent. To do this, we start off by researching if the intent behind the keyword we want to rank for has purchase, consideration or informational intent.

For example, the keyword “best video conferencing camera” has consideration-based intent. We can determine this by looking at the SERPs. In the screenshot below, you can see Google understands users are trying to compare different types of cameras.

By seeing this, we know that our best bet for creating content that will rank well is by writing a listicle-style post comparing the best video cameras on the market. If we had instead created an informational article targeting the same keyword about why you should invest in a video conferencing camera without a list of product comparisons, the article probably wouldn’t perform well in search.

Therefore, if we start off on the right foot by creating the right type of content from the very beginning, we make it easier for ourselves down the road. In other words, we won’t have to build a million links just to get a piece of content to rank that wasn’t the right format, to begin with.

What we’ve found with our outreach strategy

Centering our strategy around creating the right content and then determining whether or not that content needs links, has helped us prioritize what articles actually need to be a part of an outreach campaign.

Once this is determined, we then call on our friends — or our content partners — to help us drive link equity quickly, efficiently, and in a way, that enhances the source content and makes sense for end users (readers).

A few months into building out our homie program, there are several things we noticed.

1. Response rates increased

Probably because it’s not as templatized and, generally, I care more deeply about the email I’m sending and the person I’m reaching out to. On average, I get about a 65–70 percent response rate.

2. Opt-in rates increased

Once I get a response, build the relationship, then ask if they want to become a content partner (“friend”), we typically see a 75 percent opt-in rate.

3. You get the same amount of links, using half the amount of work, in half the amount of time

I’m gonna repeat that: we generate the same, if not more, backlinks month over month with less effort, time and manpower than with the process I built out in 2015.

And the more partners we add, the more links we acquire, with less effort. Visually, it looks like this:

I (somewhat) paid attention during economics class in college, and I remember a chart with this trajectory being a really good thing. So, I think we’re on to something…

How our outreach process works (and how you can create your own)

Our current link building program still leverages some of the tools mentioned in my post from 2015, but we’ve simplified the process. Essentially, it works like this:

1. Identify your friends

Do you have friends or acquaintances that work at sites which touch on topics in your space? Start there!

I got connected to the CEO of Proof, who connected me with their Content Director, Ben. We saw that there was synergy between our content and each needed sources about what the other wrote about. He was able to connect me with other writers and content managers in the space, and now we’re all best of friends.

2. Find new friends

Typically we look for similar sites in the B2B SaaS space that we want to partner with and are relevant to our client sites. Then, we use several tools like Clearbit, Hunter.io, and Viola Norbert to identify the person we want to reach out to (usually SEO Managers, Marketing Directors or Content Managers) and find their email.

This step has been crucial in our process. In the past, we left this to the virtual assistants. But since bringing this in house, we’ve been able to better identify the right person to reach out to, which has increased response rates.

3. Reach out in an authentic way

In our outreach message, we cut to the chase. If you’ve identified the right person in the previous step, then they should know exactly what you’re trying to do and why it’s important. If the person you outreached to doesn’t get the big picture and you have to explain yourself, then you’re talking to the wrong person. Plain and simple.

Compared to 2015, our lists are much smaller (we’re definitely not using the spray and pray method) and we determine on a case by case basis what the best method for outreach is. Whether that be email, Linkedin, or at times, Instagram.

Here’s an example of a simple, straightforward message I send out:

4. Share content priorities

Once someone expresses interest, I’ll find a place on their website using a site search where they can reference one of our client’s content priorities for the month. In return, I’ll ask them what content they’re trying to get more eyes on and see if it aligns with our other client sites or the other partners we work with.

If I think their content is the perfect source for another article, I’ll cite it. If not, I’ll share it with another partner to see if it could be a good resource for them.

5. See if they want to be a “friend”

Once we have that first link nailed down, I’ll explain how we can work together by using each other’s awesome content to enhance new blog articles or article contributions on other sites.

If they’re down to be content friends, I’ll share their priorities for the month with our other partners who will then share it with their wider network of websites and influencers who are contributing articles to reputable sites and are in need of content resources to cite. From there, the writers can quickly scan a list of URLs and cite articles when it makes sense to help beef up new content or improve existing content with further resources. It’s a win-win.

If the site is interested in being friends, I’ll send over a spreadsheet where we can track placements and our priorities for the month.

Here’s the link to a partner template you can download.

Unlike the guest posting programs I was doing over the last few years, with this process, we’re not leaving a digital footprint for Google to follow.

In other words, we don’t have our author bios mentioning our website plastered all over the internet, essential saying “Hey, Google! We guest posted here and inserted these links with rich anchor text to try and help our page rank. Oh, and we did the same thing here, and here, and here.”

With this process, we’re just offering a list of resources to well-known writers and other websites creating badass content. Ultimately, it’s their choice if they want to link to it or not. I’ll definitely make suggestions but in the end, it’s their call.

6. Grow the friend list

Now, if I’m looking to drive link equity to a certain page, I don’t have to build a new list, queue up a campaign, and kick off a whole automation sequence to an ungodly amount of people like I did in the past.

I just hit up one of our partners on our friend’s list and voila! — quality citation in 0.45 seconds.

And on a personal note, waking up to emails in my inbox of new citations added with zero effort on my part feels like the Link Gods have blessed me time and time again.

Results

With our friend network, the numbers speak for themselves. This last month, we were able to generate 74 links. In 2015, I was hitting similar monthly numbers, but link building was my full-time job.

Now, link building is something I do on the side (I’d estimate a few hours every week), giving me time to manage my client accounts and focus on everything else I need to do — like drive forward technical SEO improvements, conduct keyword research, optimize older pages, and use SEO as an overall means to drive a company’s entire marketing strategy forward.

Building out a friend network has also opened up the door to many other opportunities for our clients that I had never dreamed of when I viewed my link building relationships as one and done. With the help of our friends, we’ve had our clients featured on podcasts (shout out to Proof’s Scale or Die podcast!), round-ups, case studies, video content, and many, many more.

Final thoughts

As an instant-gratification junkie, it pains me to share the honest truth about building a friend network: it’s going to take time.

But think of the tradeoffs — everything I mentioned above and that in a way, you’re acting as a sort of matchmaker between high-quality content and sites who are open to referencing it.

I also believe that this type of outreach campaign makes us better marketers. Spamming people gets old. And if we can work together to find a way to promote each other’s high-quality content, then I’m all for it. Because in the end, it’s about making a better user experience for readers and promoting content that deserves to be promoted.

How has your link building program evolved over the years? Have you been able to create a network of friends for your space? Leave a comment below!

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How to Leverage Offline Events for Link Building

Posted by allen.yesilevich

Link building is all about creating strong, reputable relationships online — but what if you took offline strategies and applied it to building your brand online? No matter the size of your company, hosting, speaking at, or attending an event is a valuable tool for bulking up your backlinks while giving your brand industry exposure.

Every stage of the event process, from promotion and beyond, provides valuable opportunities for acquiring backlinks. The trick is to apply the correct strategy. Whether you’re sharing your event on an event listing site, reaching out to influencers to spread the word, or publishing event-specific content, leveraging your face-to-face marketing efforts to gain more backlinks will help your business — no matter its size — become more visible.

Prior to the Event

Before you set out on your link-building journey, you need to establish what pages and domains you want others to share. For an event, a dedicated landing page on your website that lists key details and invites people to register is the best place to drive potential attendees. It’s also easy to share for promotion.

Event sites

Once you have your pages and domains set up, you can take that page to event listing sites, which offer easy link opportunities. The location of your event will determine where you choose to post. For instance, if you’re hosting a small event, region-specific event sites will earn you links that increase your visibility in local search results. 

If you’re hosting a larger event with a national or global draw, Eventful or Meetup are two sites that will link out directly to your event page. As an added bonus, some larger sites will get scraped by other sources, meaning you could potentially get multiple links from one post.

Connect with influencers

Connecting with bloggers in your industry and asking them to share your event details with their followers is another way to gain links. 

Before you reach out, do some research to see what types of bloggers and influencers are best suited for this; you want to make sure the backlinks you receive are valuable, from credible sites that will help you build authority and enhance your organic search visibility. While it may be more difficult to obtain links from the experts in your industry who have higher domain authorities, they’ll be the most beneficial for brand building.

Once you establish your list of target industry bloggers, reach out and explain why your event is relevant to their audience and why sharing or posting about it would add value to their content. 

A big mistake people often make is expecting content without contributing anything in return. Would you show up to a potluck without a dish and eat all of the food? Consider offering an incentive, like an opportunity for cross-site promotion so that the partnership isn’t just transactional, but mutually beneficial. Not only will this help you acquire a new link, but it will also help you get more exposure to people in your target market that you may not have been able to reach previously.

During the Event

Whether your company is hosting an event or someone from your team is speaking at one, there are many opportunities to support your site’s link building efforts. Attendees can have a positive effect on your organization’s backlink profile. As the old saying goes, if you didn’t post about it, were you even there? Professionals and brands alike love sharing thought leadership insights and event recaps in the form of blogs and social posts. When they do, there’s a good chance they’ll be sharing a link to your company’s site.

Write about it

Even if you’re only attending an event, there are link building opportunities to take advantage of. Post daily blogs highlighting the key takeaways from that day’s sessions or share your take on a memorable keynote. Event-specific content has a good chance of making its way to and being shared by the speakers, event host, other attendees, and your team back at the office.

“Consider offering an incentive, like an opportunity for cross-site promotion so that the partnership isn’t just transactional, but mutually beneficial.”

To increase your chances of getting your content out in front of the right people, share it in a quick email or LinkedIn message to a presenter or marketing lead from the company hosting the event. Of course, you should always share your post on your own and your company’s social media channels and tag the relevant players. The hope is that, by being included and getting free publicity, these high-quality sources will feel inclined to share your content

Network, network, network

While posting about events can help you get links, you should also focus on building long-term relationships with other leaders in your industry. There is no better time to do this than when at an event. In fact, 81 percent of event-goers say they attend events for networking opportunities. If you’re networking, you can set yourself up well to establish future linking partnerships with sites in similar or complementing industries.

After the Event

You can still acquire backlinks from your offline event after you’ve headed back to work. Some of the best link building opportunities have yet to come.

Follow up with email

If you spoke at an event, you can nurture the people who attended your session through email and send them relevant information. Setting up a landing page on your site with downloadable slides from your presentation can easily be shared and linked. If they haven’t done so already, see if your contacts are willing to share their event experience on their blog and social pages. This will give you crowdsourced content with valuable backlinks.

Track your efforts

It’s important to track your backlinks using social listening tools after the event. If you feel the linking sites could offer synergies, either for content or business purposes, reach out to discuss mutually-beneficial partnerships.

Remember, all the hard work you put in now will pay off in the future, too. Consistently acquiring backlinks has a snowball effect and will increase both your ranking positioning and attendee turnout for future events.

Wrapping up

One of the best link-building strategies you can leverage is your real-life relationships. What are some ways you’ve transformed an in-life connection into a valuable, digital backlink? 

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Can "Big Content" Link Building Campaigns Really Work?

Posted by willcritchlow

There’s a lot of material out there, on this site and others, about the importance of link-building. Normally, its effectiveness is either taken for granted or viewed as implied by ranking factor studies — the latter of which doesn’t necessarily show that correlated factors actually drive performance. The real picture is one in which links clearly remain important, but where their role is nuanced.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to dig a little deeper into an individual link-building campaign that takes place over a relatively short period of time. I wanted to see what results (besides just link-based metrics) could be attributed to it.

In this post, I will try to pin down the effects that came from the campaign and show that yes, getting a bunch of links from the success of some highly visible “big content’ can drive improved rankings

The reason you don’t see more posts like this one is noisy data — so much goes on with a website’s performance that it can be difficult to draw a hard and fast connection between a campaign and its results for a business’s bottom line. This is especially true for link-building, for three reasons:

  • Websites are naturally accruing links anyway — both the target of the campaign and their competitors
  • To some extent, we anticipate a domain-wide effect, which will as such be proportionately small and hard to pin down vs. noise from the algorithm and competitor activity
  • Links do not have such a step-change impact as technical fixes or creation of new landing pages

However, at Distilled we recently had an opportunity with a particularly strong piece on a niche site to analyze a situation where the impact of our work ought to be more clearly visible among the broader noise. Take a look at these graphs, which show the linking-root domain acquisition of a client of ours over the last two years, as measured by Majestic and Ahrefs respectively:

See what I mean about noise? And I’m saying this is an unusually clear cut case. We actually built nine creative pieces, with link acquisition as one of the goals, for this client, over a two-year period. We’ve talked before about the campaign as a whole, here. There’s one that stands out in both graphs, though which is the one that launched in March 2018.

This gives us a rare, valuable opportunity to see which other metrics, which might have more direct business value, had noticeable changes around that time.

What might we expect to happen?

The theory is simple: Links remain part of Google’s algorithm, and so more links to a site mean better rankings. However, the reality is more complex — in our experience, creative pieces as link-building assets tend to result in two types of links:

  • Links to the creative piece, which in turn links, typically, to the site’s homepage
  • Links directly to the homepage of the client site — e.g. “Research by client (client.com) indicates that…”

The interesting thing here is that for many sites, the homepage is not a core landing page. I’ve written before about how it’s almost impossible to have a good mental model for internal link equity flow, which makes the actual impact of the piece on core pages almost certainly not zero, but otherwise hard to predict. On the same subject, I’d also recommend this video by Dixon Jones at Majestic.

In a similar vein, we also know that the complexities of PageRank are themselves only a part of the unknowable complexities of Google’s ranking algorithm, meaning we can’t guarantee that adding links always moves the needle. I recently recorded this Whiteboard Friday where I mention some recent research by my colleague Tom Capper, which shows how unpredictable these effects can be.

The particular client example I’ve been referring to in this post had two things going for it which, again, brought unusual clarity to these effects:

  1. The homepage was, in fact, a core ranking URL
  2. It was struggling to make its way onto page 1 for many reasonable target terms

Both of these ought to make it an ideal candidate for clearcut benefits from high-quality link building. (This isn’t to say link-building cannot work if these criteria are not met — just that the results will be harder to analyze!)

1st order results

Precisely because of the difficulty in analysis mentioned above, we find clients normally prefer to assess the performance of link-building campaigns in terms of 1st order benefits — by which I mean the performance of the actual creative piece, rather than their commercial landing pages.

The particular piece that stands out in those link acquisition graphs above earned the following 1st order benefits (and I’ve included graphs from our internal tracking platform so you can get a feel for the pace of acquisition):

228 LRDs peak (204 “fresh” index shown below), of which ~145 within a month of launch:

2,140 Facebook shares at the peak, of which ~1,750 within a month of launch:

82,584 landings in Google Analytics, of which ~67,000 within a month of launch:

I mentioned above that not all links tend to be directed at the piece itself, with journalists instead often referencing the homepage. 145 (domain-unique) links were directed at this piece by mid-April, but you’ll notice that March beat an average month by ~200 LRDs, and April also outperformed by ~100. By my back-of-the-envelope maths, you might want to claim as many as 300 LRDs driven to the whole domain by this piece, but your opinion may differ!

Showing the ways it worked

Right, I did say I’d link this at least to rankings, didn’t I?

Remember: This was part of a campaign of 9 pieces, and it launched mid-March, with most 1st order metrics, or leading indicators, coming through within a month (and no major technical changes around this time). There is some signal in among the noise here. Check out this graph, showing the number of keywords ranked for, according to Ahrefs:

Notice that change in gradient after the launch? (And, for the cynics among you, the piece itself only ranks for 20 keywords itself according to this same data source — that wasn’t a primary goal with this content).

Here are the rankings for the client’s (fairly ambitious!) target keywords:

I’d particularly draw your attention to the movement from the “11–20” to “4–10” group, which is consistent with the research by my colleague Tom Capper that I mentioned above. (Sidenote: it was nice to see the client’s Domain Authority increase relative to their competitive set in the recent update. The improvements to DA, aimed at making it better at predicting ranking ability, appear to have worked in this sample-size-one case!).

You can see this pattern more clearly in this graph, which we presented to the client when the campaign concluded late last year:

This effect is surprisingly clear-cut, but it might well be that to continue moving up the SERP, from positions 4–10 to positions 1–3, a very different type of work is needed — perhaps one emphasizing brand, or intent matching.

How can I do this for my site/client?

Here are some useful resources to help when starting on your creative campaigns:

Mark – How to make sticky content

Hannah – What is content strategy

Leonie – How to make award winning creative content – Part 1

Leonie – How to make award winning creative content – Part 2

Conclusion: Big content for links can work

As I mentioned above, it’s surprisingly unusual to see such a clear and obvious case of link-building work moving rankings in a lasting way. This has certain similarities with other such cases we’ve seen in recent years, though:

  • The site started fairly small (if nothing else, this makes the signal bigger relative to the noise)
  • It had target terms that were on the cusp of first-page rankings
  • Some search competitors had far stronger domains

The reports that “links are dead” have, apparently, been greatly exaggerated — instead, it’s just that the picture has gotten more complex.

Obviously Distilled clients are only a finite sample, however, so I’d love to hear your experiences of successful link-building, and, crucially, the kind of situations in which they moved rankings, in the comments below!

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Is link building dead? Depends on who you talk to

Some SEOs argue any form of proactive link building is a waste of time. Some say it should be apart of any SEO strategy. So which is it?



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


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SEOs beware: Link builders are back with bogus Domain Authority pitches

Stop optimizing for Domain Authority; it has no impact on Google rankings.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


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7 Red Flags to Watch Out For When Auditing Your Link Profile – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by KameronJenkins

From irrelevant, off-topic backlinks to cookie-cutter anchor text, there are more than a few clues hidden in your backlink profile that something spammy is going on. Alone they might not be something to worry about, but in conjunction, common red flags can spell trouble when you’re performing an audit on your backlink profile. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Kameron Jenkins shares her best advice from years working with clients on what to watch out for in a link profile audit.


Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hey, guys. Welcome to this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday. My name is Kameron Jenkins, and I work here at Moz. Today we’re going to be talking about auditing your backlink profile, why you might want to do it, when you should do it, and then how to do it. So let’s just dive right in.

It might be kind of confusing to be talking about auditing your backlink profile. When I say auditing your backlink profile, I’m specifically talking about trying to diagnose if there’s anything funky or manipulative going on. There’s been quite a bit of debate among SEOs, so in a post-Penguin 4.0 world, we all wonder if Google can ignore spammy backlinks and low-quality backlinks, why would we also need to disavow, which essentially tells Google the same thing: “Just ignore these links.”

I posed three reasons why we might still want to consider this in some situations. 

Why should you audit your backlink profile?

Disavow is still offered

Disavow is still an option — you can go to and submit a disavow file right now if you wanted to.

You can still get manual penalties

Google still has guidelines that outline all of the link schemes and types of link manipulation. If you violate those, you could get a manual penalty. In your Google Search Console, it will say something like unnatural links to your site detected, total or partial. You can still get those. That’s another reason I would say that the disavow is still something you could consider doing.

Google says their stance hasn’t changed

I know there’s like a little bit of back-and-forth about this, but technically Google has said, “Our stance hasn’t changed. Still use the disavow file carefully and when it’s appropriate.” So we’ll talk about when it might be appropriate, but that’s why we consider that this is still a legitimate activity that you could do.

When should you audit your backlink profile?

Look for signs of a link scheme or link manipulation

I would say that, in today’s climate, it’s probably best just to do this when you see overt signs of a link scheme or link manipulation, something that looks very wrong or very concerning. Because Google is so much better at uncovering when there are manipulative links and just ignoring them and not penalizing a whole site for them, it’s not as important, I think, to be as aggressive as we maybe used to be previously. But if you do, maybe you inherit a client and you just look at their link profile for the first time and you notice that there’s something sketchy in there, I might want to consider doing it if there are signs. You’re an SEO. You can detect the signs of whether there’s a link scheme going on.

How do you audit your backlink profile?

Check for red flags in Moz Link Explorer

But if you’re not quite sure how to diagnose that, check for red flags in Moz Link Explorer, and that’s the second part of this. We’re going to go through some red flags that I have noticed. But huge disclaimer — seven possible red flags. Please don’t just take one of these and say, “Oh, I found this,” and immediately disavow.

These are just things that I have noticed over time. I started in SEO in 2012, right around the time of Penguin, and so I did a lot of cleanup of so many spammy links. I kind of just saw patterns, and this is the result of that. I think that’s stayed true over the last couple of years, links that haven’t been cleaned up. Some people are still doing these kinds of low-quality link building techniques that actually could get you penalized.

These are some things that I have noticed. They should just pique your interest. If you see something like this, if you detect one of these red flags, it should prompt you to look into it further, not immediately write off those links as “those are bad.” They’re just things to spark your interest so that you can explore further on your own. So with that big disclaimer, let’s dive into the red flags.

7 possible red flags

1. Irrelevance

Countries you don’t serve

A couple of examples of this. Maybe you are working on a client. They are US-based, and all of their locations are in the US. Their entire audience is US-based. But you get a quick glimpse of the inbound links. Maybe you’re on Link Explorer and you go to the inbound links report and you see a bunch of domains linking to you that are .ru and .pl, and that’s kind of confusing. Why is my site getting a huge volume of links from other countries that we don’t serve and we don’t have any content in Russian or Polish or anything like that? So that might spark my interest to look into it further. It could be a sign of something.

Off-topic links

Another thing is off-topic. My favorite example, just because it was so ridiculous, was I was working with an Atlanta DUI attorney, and he had a huge chunk of backlinks that were from party planning, like low-quality party planning directories, and they didn’t make any sense. I clicked on them just to see what it was. You can go to it and see okay, yes, there really is no reason they should be linking to each other. It was clear he just went to Fiverr and was like, “$ 5, here build me links,” and he didn’t care where they came from. So you might notice a lot of totally off-topic, irrelevant stuff.

But obviously a disclaimer, it might look irrelevant, but then when you dive in further, they are in the same market and they kind of have a co-marketing relationship going on. Just be careful with that. But it could be a sign that there is some link manipulation going on if you have totally off-topic links in there.

2. Anchor text

The second red flag is anchor text. Again, this is another cool report in Moz Link Explorer. You can go in there and see the anchor text report. When I notice that there’s link manipulation going on, usually what I see is that there is a huge majority of their backlinks coming with the same exact anchor text, and usually it’s the exact match keyword that they want to rank for. That’s usually a huge earmark of, hey, they’ve been doing some shady linking.

The example I like to use for this and why that is concerning — and there’s no percentage that’s like, whoa, that’s manipulative. But if you see a really disproportionate percentage of links coming with the same exact anchor text, it might prompt you to look into it further. The example I like to use is, say you meet with five different friends throughout the course of your day, different occasions. They’re not all in the same room with you. You talk to each of them and they all say, “Hey, yeah, my weekend was great, but like I broke my foot.” You would be suspicious: “What, they all broke their foot? This is weird. What’s going on?”

Same thing with anchor text. If you’re earning links naturally, they’re not all going to look the same and mechanical. Something suspicious is probably going on if they’re all linking with the exact same anchor text. So that’s that.

3. Nofollow/follow

Nofollow to follow, this is another one — please don’t use this as a sweeping rule, because I think even Russ Jones has come out and said at a mass scale that’s not a good predictor of spamminess. But what I have tended to see is usually if they also have spammy anchor text and they’re irrelevant, usually I also see that there’s a really, really disproportionate ratio of nofollow to follow. Use these red flags in conjunction with each other. When they start to pile on, it’s even more of a sign to me that there’s something fishy going on.

Nofollow to follow, you might see something ridiculous. Again, it’s something you can see in Link Explorer. Maybe like 99% of all of their backlinks are follow, which are the ones that pass PageRank. If you’re going to do a link scheme, you’re going to go out and get the ones that you think are going to pass PageRank to your site. Then one percent or no percent is nofollow. It may be something to look into.

4. Links/domains

Same thing with links to domains. Again, not an overt sign of spamminess. There’s no magic ratio here. But sometimes when I notice all of these other things, I will also notice that there’s a really disproportionate ratio of, say, they have 10,000 inbound links, but they’re coming from only 5 domains. Sometimes this happens. An example of this: I was auditing a client’s backlink profile, and they had set up five different websites, and on those websites they had put site-wide links to all of their other websites. They had created their own little network. By linking to each other, they were hoping to bolster all of their sites’ authority. Obviously, be careful with something like that. It could indicate that you’re self-creating follow links, which is a no-no.

5. Domain naming

“DIR” or “directory”

This one is just kind of like the eyeball test, which I’ll get to later. If you go to your inbound links, you can start to notice domain names that just look weird, and they’ll start to look off the more you look into stuff like this. When I was doing a lot of backlink auditing, what I noticed was that a lot of these spammier links came from low-quality directory submission sites. A lot of those tend to have or they would say “directory” in it or “DIR,” so like bestlinkdir.co, whatever. A lot of times when they have naming conventions like that, I have noticed that those tend to be low-quality directory submission sites. You could even eyeball or scan and see if there are any “DIR” directory-type of links.

“Article”

Same thing with articles. Like back in the day, when people use to submit like e-zine articles or Article Base or something like that, if it has the word “article” in the domain name, it might be something to look into. Maybe they were doing some low-quality article submission with backlinks to their site. 

“SEO”/”links”

Then if you tend to see a lot of links in their backlink profile that have like SEO link type naming conventions, unless you’re working on a site that is in the SEO space, they shouldn’t have a bunch of links that say like bestSEOsite.com or bestlinksforyou.com. I’ve seen a lot of that. It’s just something that I have noticed. It’s something to maybe watch out for.

6. Tool metrics

These can be super helpful. If you see tool metrics that maybe there is a really high Spam score, it’s something to look into. It might be helpful that Moz on their Help Hub has a list of all 27 criteria that they look at when evaluating a site’s spamminess. That might be something helpful to look into how Moz’s Spam Score calculates spamminess. 

DA and PA, just to know on this Domain Authority and Page Authority, if you see links coming from low DA or low PA URLs, just make sure you don’t write those off right off the bat. It could just be that those domains are very new. Maybe they haven’t engaged in a lot of marketing yet. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re spammy. It just means they haven’t done much to earn any authority. Watch out for kind of writing off links and thinking they’re spammy just because they have a low DA or PA. Just something to consider.

7. Eyeball test

Then finally we have the eyeball test. Like I said, the more you do this, and it’s not something that you should be engaging in constantly all the time nowadays, but you’ll start to notice patterns if you are working on clients with spammier link profiles. These kind of low-quality sites tend to have like the same template. You’ll have 100 sites that are all blue. They have the exact same navigation, exact same logo. They’re all on the same network. You’ll start to notice themes like that. A lot of times they don’t have any contact information because no one maintains the things. They’re just up for the purpose of links. They don’t care about them, so no phone number, no contact information, no email address, nothing. Also a telltale sign, which I tend to notice on these like self-submission type of link sites is they’ll have a big PayPal button on the top and it will say, “Pay to Submit Links” or even worse it will be like “Uses this PayPal to get your links removed from this site,” because they know that it’s low-quality and people ask them all the time. Just something to consider on the eyeball test front.

I hope this was helpful. Hopefully it helped you understand when you might want to do this, when you might not want to do this, and then if you do try to engage in some kind of link audit, some things to watch out for. So I hope that was helpful. If you have any tips for this, if you’ve noticed anything else that you think would be helpful for other SEOs to know, drop it in the comments.

That’s it for this week’s Whiteboard Friday. Come back again next week for another one.

Check my link profile!

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Rewriting the Beginner’s Guide to SEO, Chapter 6: Link Building & Establishing Authority

Posted by BritneyMuller

In Chapter 6 of the new Beginner’s Guide to SEO, we’ll be covering the dos and don’ts of link building and ways your site can build its authority. If you missed them, we’ve got the drafts of our outline, Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, and Chapter Five for your reading pleasure. Be sure to let us know what you think of Chapter 6 in the comments!


Chapter 6: Link Building & Establishing Authority

Turn up the volume.

You’ve created content that people are searching for, that answers their questions, and that search engines can understand, but those qualities alone don’t mean it’ll rank. To outrank the rest of the sites with those qualities, you have to establish authority. That can be accomplished by earning links from authoritative websites, building your brand, and nurturing an audience who will help amplify your content.

Google has confirmed that links and quality content (which we covered back in Chapter 4) are two of the three most important ranking factors for SEO. Trustworthy sites tend to link to other trustworthy sites, and spammy sites tend to link to other spammy sites. But what is a link, exactly? How do you go about earning them from other websites? Let’s start with the basics.

What are links?

Inbound links, also known as backlinks or external links, are HTML hyperlinks that point from one website to another. They’re the currency of the Internet, as they act a lot like real-life reputation. If you went on vacation and asked three people (all completely unrelated to one another) what the best coffee shop in town was, and they all said, “Cuppa Joe on Main Street,” you would feel confident that Cuppa Joe is indeed the best coffee place in town. Links do that for search engines.

Since the late 1990s, search engines have treated links as votes for popularity and importance on the web.

Internal links, or links that connect internal pages of the same domain, work very similarly for your website. A high amount of internal links pointing to a particular page on your site will provide a signal to Google that the page is important, so long as it’s done naturally and not in a spammy way.

The engines themselves have refined the way they view links, now using algorithms to evaluate sites and pages based on the links they find. But what’s in those algorithms? How do the engines evaluate all those links? It all starts with the concept of E-A-T.

You are what you E-A-T

Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines put a great deal of importance on the concept of E-A-T — an acronym for expert, authoritative, and trustworthy. Sites that don’t display these characteristics tend to be seen as lower-quality in the eyes of the engines, while those that do are subsequently rewarded. E-A-T is becoming more and more important as search evolves and increases the importance of solving for user intent.

Creating a site that’s considered expert, authoritative, and trustworthy should be your guiding light as you practice SEO. Not only will it simply result in a better site, but it’s future-proof. After all, providing great value to searchers is what Google itself is trying to do.

E-A-T and links to your site

The more popular and important a site is, the more weight the links from that site carry. A site like Wikipedia, for example, has thousands of diverse sites linking to it. This indicates it provides lots of expertise, has cultivated authority, and is trusted among those other sites.

To earn trust and authority with search engines, you’ll need links from websites that display the qualities of E-A-T. These don’t have to be Wikipedia-level sites, but they should provide searchers with credible, trustworthy content.

  • Tip: Moz has proprietary metrics to help you determine how authoritative a site is: Domain Authority, Page Authority, and Spam Score. In general, you’ll want links from sites with a higher Domain Authority than your sites.

Followed vs. nofollowed links

Remember how links act as votes? The rel=nofollow attribute (pronounced as two words, “no follow”) allows you to link to a resource while removing your “vote” for search engine purposes.

Just like it sounds, “nofollow” tells search engines not to follow the link. Some engines still follow them simply to discover new pages, but these links don’t pass link equity (the “votes of popularity” we talked about above), so they can be useful in situations where a page is either linking to an untrustworthy source or was paid for or created by the owner of the destination page (making it an unnatural link).

Say, for example, you write a post about link building practices, and want to call out an example of poor, spammy link building. You could link to the offending site without signaling to Google that you trust it.

Standard links (ones that haven’t had nofollow added) look like this:

<a href="https://moz.com">I love Moz</a>

Nofollow link markup looks like this:

<a href="https://moz.com" rel="nofollow">I love Moz</a>

If follow links pass all the link equity, shouldn’t that mean you want only follow links?

Not necessarily. Think about all the legitimate places you can create links to your own website: a Facebook profile, a Yelp page, a Twitter account, etc. These are all natural places to add links to your website, but they shouldn’t count as votes for your website. (Setting up a Twitter profile with a link to your site isn’t a vote from Twitter that they like your site.)

It’s natural for your site to have a balance between nofollowed and followed backlinks in its link profile (more on link profiles below). A nofollow link might not pass authority, but it could send valuable traffic to your site and even lead to future followed links.

  • Tip: Use the MozBar extension for Google Chrome to highlight links on any page to find out whether they’re nofollow or follow without ever having to view the source code!

Your link profile

Your link profile is an overall assessment of all the inbound links your site has earned: the total number of links, their quality (or spamminess), their diversity (is one site linking to you hundreds of times, or are hundreds of sites linking to you once?), and more. The state of your link profile helps search engines understand how your site relates to other sites on the Internet. There are various SEO tools that allow you to analyze your link profile and begin to understand its overall makeup.

How can I see which inbound links point to my website?

Visit Moz Link Explorer and type in your site’s URL. You’ll be able to see how many and which websites are linking back to you.

What are the qualities of a healthy link profile?

When people began to learn about the power of links, they began manipulating them for their benefit. They’d find ways to gain artificial links just to increase their search engine rankings. While these dangerous tactics can sometimes work, they are against Google’s terms of service and can get a website deindexed (removal of web pages or entire domains from search results). You should always try to maintain a healthy link profile.

A healthy link profile is one that indicates to search engines that you’re earning your links and authority fairly. Just like you shouldn’t lie, cheat, or steal, you should strive to ensure your link profile is honest and earned via your hard work.

Links are earned or editorially placed

Editorial links are links added naturally by sites and pages that want to link to your website.

The foundation of acquiring earned links is almost always through creating high-quality content that people genuinely wish to reference. This is where creating 10X content (a way of describing extremely high-quality content) is essential! If you can provide the best and most interesting resource on the web, people will naturally link to it.

Naturally earned links require no specific action from you, other than the creation of worthy content and the ability to create awareness about it.

  • Tip: Earned mentions are often unlinked! When websites are referring to your brand or a specific piece of content you’ve published, they will often mention it without linking to it. To find these earned mentions, use Moz’s Fresh Web Explorer. You can then reach out to those publishers to see if they’ll update those mentions with links.

Links are relevant and from topically similar websites

Links from websites within a topic-specific community are generally better than links from websites that aren’t relevant to your site. If your website sells dog houses, a link from the Society of Dog Breeders matters much more than one from the Roller Skating Association. Additionally, links from topically irrelevant sources can send confusing signals to search engines regarding what your page is about.

  • Tip: Linking domains don’t have to match the topic of your page exactly, but they should be related. Avoid pursuing backlinks from sources that are completely off-topic; there are far better uses of your time.

Anchor text is descriptive and relevant, without being spammy

Anchor text helps tell Google what the topic of your page is about. If dozens of links point to a page with a variation of a word or phrase, the page has a higher likelihood of ranking well for those types of phrases. However, proceed with caution! Too many backlinks with the same anchor text could indicate to the search engines that you’re trying to manipulate your site’s ranking in search results.

Consider this. You ask ten separate friends at separate times how their day was going, and they each responded with the same phrase:

“Great! I started my day by walking my dog, Peanut, and then had a picante beef Top Ramen for lunch.”

That’s strange, and you’d be quite suspicious of your friends. The same goes for Google. Describing the content of the target page with the anchor text helps them understand what the page is about, but the same description over and over from multiple sources starts to look suspicious. Aim for relevance; avoid spam.

  • Tip: Use the “Anchor Text” report in Moz’s Link Explorer to see what anchor text other websites are using to link to your content.

Links send qualified traffic to your site

Link building should never be solely about search engine rankings. Esteemed SEO and link building thought leader Eric Ward used to say that you should build your links as though Google might disappear tomorrow. In essence, you should focus on acquiring links that will bring qualified traffic to your website — another reason why it’s important to acquire links from relevant websites whose audience would find value in your site, as well.

  • Tip: Use the “Referral Traffic” report in Google Analytics to evaluate websites that are currently sending you traffic. How can you continue to build relationships with similar types of websites?

Link building don’ts & things to avoid

Spammy link profiles are just that: full of links built in unnatural, sneaky, or otherwise low-quality ways. Practices like buying links or engaging in a link exchange might seem like the easy way out, but doing so is dangerous and could put all of your hard work at risk. Google penalizes sites with spammy link profiles, so don’t give in to temptation.

A guiding principle for your link building efforts is to never try to manipulate a site’s ranking in search results. But isn’t that the entire goal of SEO? To increase a site’s ranking in search results? And herein lies the confusion. Google wants you to earn links, not build them, but the line between the two is often blurry. To avoid penalties for unnatural links (known as “link spam”), Google has made clear what should be avoided.

Purchased links

Google and Bing both seek to discount the influence of paid links in their organic search results. While a search engine can’t know which links were earned vs. paid for from viewing the link itself, there are clues it uses to detect patterns that indicate foul play. Websites caught buying or selling followed links risk severe penalties that will severely drop their rankings. (By the way, exchanging goods or services for a link is also a form of payment and qualifies as buying links.)

Link exchanges / reciprocal linking

If you’ve ever received a “you link to me and I’ll link you you” email from someone you have no affiliation with, you’ve been targeted for a link exchange. Google’s quality guidelines caution against “excessive” link exchange and similar partner programs conducted exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, so there is some indication that this type of exchange on a smaller scale might not trigger any link spam alarms.

It is acceptable, and even valuable, to link to people you work with, partner with, or have some other affiliation with and have them link back to you.

It’s the exchange of links at mass scale with unaffiliated sites that can warrant penalties.

Low-quality directory links

These used to be a popular source of manipulation. A large number of pay-for-placement web directories exist to serve this market and pass themselves off as legitimate, with varying degrees of success. These types of sites tend to look very similar, with large lists of websites and their descriptions (typically, the site’s critical keyword is used as the anchor text to link back to the submittor’s site).

There are many more manipulative link building tactics that search engines have identified. In most cases, they have found algorithmic methods for reducing their impact. As new spam systems emerge, engineers will continue to fight them with targeted algorithms, human reviews, and the collection of spam reports from webmasters and SEOs. By and large, it isn’t worth finding ways around them.

If your site does get a manual penalty, there are steps you can take to get it lifted.

How to build high-quality backlinks

Link building comes in many shapes and sizes, but one thing is always true: link campaigns should always match your unique goals. With that said, there are some popular methods that tend to work well for most campaigns. This is not an exhaustive list, so visit Moz’s blog posts on link building for more detail on this topic.

Find customer and partner links

If you have partners you work with regularly, or loyal customers that love your brand, there are ways to earn links from them with relative ease. You might send out partnership badges (graphic icons that signify mutual respect), or offer to write up testimonials of their products. Both of those offer things they can display on their website along with links back to you.

Publish a blog

This content and link building strategy is so popular and valuable that it’s one of the few recommended personally by the engineers at Google. Blogs have the unique ability to contribute fresh material on a consistent basis, generate conversations across the web, and earn listings and links from other blogs.

Careful, though — you should avoid low-quality guest posting just for the sake of link building. Google has advised against this and your energy is better spent elsewhere.

Create unique resources

Creating unique, high quality resources is no easy task, but it’s well worth the effort. High quality content that is promoted in the right ways can be widely shared. It can help to create pieces that have the following traits:

Creating a resource like this is a great way to attract a lot of links with one page. You could also create a highly-specific resource — without as broad of an appeal — that targeted a handful of websites. You might see a higher rate of success, but that approach isn’t as scalable.

Users who see this kind of unique content often want to share it with friends, and bloggers/tech-savvy webmasters who see it will often do so through links. These high quality, editorially earned votes are invaluable to building trust, authority, and rankings potential.

Build resource pages

Resource pages are a great way to build links. However, to find them you’ll want to know some Advanced Google operators to make discovering them a bit easier.

For example, if you were doing link building for a company that made pots and pans, you could search for: cooking intitle:”resources” and see which pages might be good link targets.

This can also give you great ideas for content creation — just think about which types of resources you could create that these pages would all like to reference/link to.

Get involved in your local community

For a local business (one that meets its customers in person), community outreach can result in some of the most valuable and influential links.

  • Engage in sponsorships and scholarships.
  • Host or participate in community events, seminars, workshops, and organizations.
  • Donate to worthy local causes and join local business associations.
  • Post jobs and offer internships.
  • Promote loyalty programs.
  • Run a local competition.
  • Develop real-world relationships with related local businesses to discover how you can team up to improve the health of your local economy.

All of these smart and authentic strategies provide good local link opportunities.

Refurbish top content

You likely already know which of your site’s content earns the most traffic, converts the most customers, or retains visitors for the longest amount of time.

Take that content and refurbish it for other platforms (Slideshare, YouTube, Instagram, Quora, etc.) to expand your acquisition funnel beyond Google.

You can also dust off, update, and simply republish older content on the same platform. If you discover that a few trusted industry websites all linked to a popular resource that’s gone stale, update it and let those industry websites know — you may just earn a good link.

You can also do this with images. Reach out to websites that are using your images and not citing/linking back to you and ask if they’d mind including a link.

Be newsworthy

Earning the attention of the press, bloggers, and news media is an effective, time-honored way to earn links. Sometimes this is as simple as giving something away for free, releasing a great new product, or stating something controversial. Since so much of SEO is about creating a digital representation of your brand in the real world, to succeed in SEO, you have to be a great brand.

Be personal and genuine

The most common mistake new SEOs make when trying to build links is not taking the time to craft a custom, personal, and valuable initial outreach email. You know as well as anyone how annoying spammy emails can be, so make sure yours doesn’t make people roll their eyes.

Your goal for an initial outreach email is simply to get a response. These tips can help:

  • Make it personal by mentioning something the person is working on, where they went to school, their dog, etc.
  • Provide value. Let them know about a broken link on their website or a page that isn’t working on mobile.
  • Keep it short.
  • Ask one simple question (typically not for a link; you’ll likely want to build a rapport first).

Pro Tip:

Earning links can be very resource-intensive, so you’ll likely want to measure your success to prove the value of those efforts.

Metrics for link building should match up with the site’s overall KPIs. These might be sales, email subscriptions, page views, etc. You should also evaluate Domain and/or Page Authority scores, the ranking of desired keywords, and the amount of traffic to your content — but we’ll talk more about measuring the success of your SEO campaigns in Chapter 7.

Beyond links: How awareness, amplification, and sentiment impact authority

A lot of the methods you’d use to build links will also indirectly build your brand. In fact, you can view link building as a great way to increase awareness of your brand, the topics on which you’re an authority, and the products or services you offer.

Once your target audience knows about you and you have valuable content to share, let your audience know about it! Sharing your content on social platforms will not only make your audience aware of your content, but it can also encourage them to amplify that awareness to their own networks, thereby extending your own reach.

Are social shares the same as links? No. But shares to the right people can result in links. Social shares can also promote an increase in traffic and new visitors to your website, which can grow brand awareness, and with a growth in brand awareness can come a growth in trust and links. The connection between social signals and rankings seems indirect, but even indirect correlations can be helpful for informing strategy.

Trustworthiness goes a long way

For search engines, trust is largely determined by the quality and quantity of the links your domain has earned, but that’s not to say that there aren’t other factors at play that can influence your site’s authority. Think about all the different ways you come to trust a brand:

  • Awareness (you know they exist)
  • Helpfulness (they provide answers to your questions)
  • Integrity (they do what they say they will)
  • Quality (their product or service provides value; possibly more than others you’ve tried)
  • Continued value (they continue to provide value even after you’ve gotten what you needed)
  • Voice (they communicate in unique, memorable ways)
  • Sentiment (others have good things to say about their experience with the brand)

That last point is what we’re going to focus on here. Reviews of your brand, its products, or its services can make or break a business.

In your effort to establish authority from reviews, follow these review rules of thumb:

  • Never pay any individual or agency to create a fake positive review for your business or a fake negative review of a competitor.
  • Don’t review your own business or the businesses of your competitors. Don’t have your staff do so either.
  • Never offer incentives of any kind in exchange for reviews.
  • All reviews must be left directly by customers in their own accounts; never post reviews on behalf of a customer or employ an agency to do so.
  • Don’t set up a review station/kiosk in your place of business; many reviews stemming from the same IP can be viewed as spam.
  • Read the guidelines of each review platform where you’re hoping to earn reviews.

Be aware that review spam is a problem that’s taken on global proportions, and that violation of governmental truth-in-advertising guidelines has led to legal prosecution and heavy fines. It’s just too dangerous to be worth it. Playing by the rules and offering exceptional customer experiences is the winning combination for building both trust and authority over time.

Authority is built when brands are doing great things in the real-world, making customers happy, creating and sharing great content, and earning links from reputable sources.

In the next and final section, you’ll learn how to measure the success of all your efforts, as well as tactics for iterating and improving upon them. Onward!

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