How to generate links that drive traffic, not just ranking

Many people see link building as a way to drive rankings. But, when done correctly, it can (and should) also drive traffic.

Driving traffic has a lot of benefits beyond the obvious potential increase in leads and sales. More website traffic can provide valuable analytics data about what users are looking for and what confuses them. It can also help grow engagement and potentially referral links on social media as others begin to share our content.

In this column, I’ll explain how to identify sources of links that drive actual traffic and how to evaluate your progress so that you can focus your efforts where they will have the greatest impact.

Identifying link partners

In order to find good sources for traffic-driving links, there are a few ways you can go: competitor research, rankings and influencers.

First, find the publications driving traffic to your competitors by using tools like SimilarWeb to find their top referral sources. Not only do these tools tell you who is linking to your competitors, but some can also show how much traffic your competitors are getting from those links.

Any site driving traffic/referrals to your competitors should be investigated and evaluated as a potential linking partner. Check each one for quality, verifying that they aren’t content scraper sites and are actually valuable resources for your target audience. If they pass the test, then consider approaching them for a link.

Of course, you shouldn’t just pursue links from sites that are driving traffic to your competitors. Review the top-ranking websites in Google for the terms you want to rank for and see if any of them can serve as good linking partners. For example, many industries have vertical-specific directories that provide both free and sponsored listings.

As always, do your research when approaching sites like this. Do the directories seem spammy, designed only to generate links for SEO purposes? Or are they legitimate sites that consumers actually use, like Yelp, TripAdvisor or Avvo? (Note that links from legitimate sites will often be nofollowed, but they are still valuable because they drive real traffic.)

If you want to do more of the heavy lifting when it comes to content, try approaching major and niche industry outlets that you can contribute content to. In addition to the above sites you found during your research, use a tool like BuzzSumo to find social influencers and reach out to them on their social channels or via email to see if they accept guest posts. These posts need to be highly relevant to the website’s audience, and be careful to follow any editorial guidelines and respect their rules for submitted content.

In addition to smaller industry publications, you can also find guest posting opportunities on major sites like Inc.com through their guest posting forms. The byline link or the author page can be a great source of traffic and referrals. Often, I’ve gotten leads from these links just because the prospect was impressed with seeing the byline in major outlets. However, you must be diligent and careful here: Submit your best work, as inclusion is often competitive, and editors can therefore be extremely choosy.

Other great outlet options to consider are community forums, like industry-specific subreddits or sites like Inbound.org if you are in marketing. Just remember to be a good community member — never spam other users with your own content, and be sure to participate regularly by answering questions and commenting thoughtfully on others’ content.

One last angle to try is to find industry influencers and sponsor or partner with them. Many influencers are willing to enter into partnerships with brands, where they will review or work with a company on content and social media posts to get the brand’s name out to their audience. Cost usually varies with audience size and the scope of the campaign.

Since the aim here is to drive traffic and branding, you shouldn’t run into any issues regarding Google’s linking guidelines. However, it’s important to ensure that all financial relationships are disclosed according to FTC guidelines and that you aren’t attempting to hide or sneak links into any content that you are sending to these outlets for publication.

Evaluating success

Once you’ve approached your chosen link partners and successfully obtained links, it’s time to review your work. After each month, check Google Analytics for referral traffic to see which new sites you’ve worked with are actually bringing you traffic. After three to six months, you’ll have a clear picture of which sites are worth your time and which aren’t. For instance, if Inc.com is bringing you more traffic than three industry sites combined, it might be better to pare down your industry sites to be able to submit more content to Inc.com.

Additionally, you can also see if there is an increase in overall brand search for your name using Google trends or Google Keyword Planner. Often, branding campaigns can result in more direct traffic, as well as organic traffic due to an increase in branded searches. By carefully tracking increases in direct and branded organic referrals, you can see the impact your branding campaigns are having. This can help you see the long-term benefits of your link-building efforts in growing your website traffic.

While tracking the data, be sure to also track your success building relationships with the influencers and websites you’ve singled out as potential link-building partners. This can show your progress to management and help you hone your pitch and messaging style.

Final thoughts

Link building, no matter the goal, is hard work if you want it to be done ethically and with enduring value. Building a healthy link portfolio can help you generate traffic from a wide variety of referral sources, while also increasing your overall online presence and making sure you own more of your branded search terms. Be sure to cast a wide net by working with many different sites and platforms.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Links: To speed or not to speed

When we first started as an agency, our link builders were evenly split into two camps: One would send out a flurry of emails to all sorts of sites and deal with them if they responded. The other would spend a significant amount of time doing due diligence prior to outreach so that anyone who did respond had already been vetted.

I always thought it was a good idea to let each new link builder find his own way, so I didn’t usually express a strong opinion about this divide. I could see the points of view of both sides, too. Why bother doing a lot of work up front if the webmaster wasn’t even going to respond? Why disappoint webmasters who did respond when you couldn’t work with them?

On the whole, I have grown to favor the prior due diligence approach as opposed to casting a wide net. I’m firmly of the opinion that some link-building tasks absolutely do not benefit from being sped up.

However, I do think other areas of link building can be made faster and more efficient. It’s not always a bad tradeoff to invest a little bit less manual effort in one area to free up more time and energy for higher-priority tasks.

Today, I discuss several major link-building tasks in terms of whether they can (and should) be “sped up” — through automation, outsourcing or just spending less time on them.

Content creation

Useful, relevant content is what drives most link-building efforts, so content creation is a task that often falls to link builders (especially when pursuing guest posting opportunities). Creating content is very labor-intensive, though, so it’s understandable that link builders might look for ways to spend less time on it.

Can you speed it up? Yes. However, you can end up with some real garbage if you try to take shortcuts to create good content. I once experimented with outsourcing some content, and let me tell you, I got what I paid for (very little)! It was the most generic nonsense ever, and I had to correct a ton of typos and grammatical errors.

I’m not saying don’t outsource here; I’m saying don’t think that fantastic content usually happens quickly.

Should you speed it up? No! See above. I think that anyone can create decent content (for the most part), but not everyone can create great content that stands on its own. If you’re going to outsource, understand that great content usually doesn’t come fast or cheap.

Discovery of potential linking partners

Identifying websites from which you want to pursue links is an activity that involves a fair amount of research. There are programs that can automate parts of this process, however.

Can you speed it up? Yes. Discovery software can generate a massive list of potential linking partners much more quickly than if you were to do this task manually.

Should you speed it up? I’m 50/50 on this, actually. I was strongly against automating discovery in the past, but after using a tool that spat out a list of potential partner sites based on my criteria, I definitely understand its usefulness and efficiency. Sometimes, programs like these find something you didn’t see in your research. Just make sure you manually review your list of link prospects before reaching out.

Contact info gathering

Finding a potential linking partner is great, but not if you can’t figure out how to contact them. Link builders often need to spend time scouring a site to figure out who exactly to reach out to.

Can you speed it up? Definitely. With the way we review sites, it’s not usually a big deal to obtain contact info. However, if I had a big list of sites that I had vetted, it would be great to get the contact info quickly.

Should you speed it up? Yes, if you have a tool that does it. Just be aware that you may end up getting old email addresses or ones that aren’t the ones you want (like the IT director instead of the marketing director).

Due diligence

Performing due diligence work on a potential link partner requires time and effort. You need to make sure the website is relevant, authoritative, legitimate, free from penalties and adheres to whatever guidelines your client may have about linking partners.

Can you speed it up? Absolutely not. No no no no no. I verify that my link team has checked all the guidelines for each client, as well as our in-house guidelines, before we build the link. They’re good, but I catch a lot that they’ve missed. They do the same with me.

Due diligence for us is more than just metrics checking. We have clients who say, “No mommy blogs!” or will only accept links from sites hosted in certain countries, so it’s difficult to automate this well.

Should you speed it up? No. If you want great links, I would never speed up in this area. If you just want some crappy links for whatever reason, go for it.

Outreach

Reaching out to potential linking partners involves crafting emails (or private messages on social media platforms), which can often be quite time-consuming.

Can you speed it up? Yes — but I believe you should do so only if you have vetted the sites beforehand. You can speed it up no matter what, of course, but then you’re going to get replies from sites that aren’t the right fit if you haven’t done some upfront analysis.

Should you speed it up? I’m split on this one. As mentioned above, I think you can speed up outreach if you have vetted the sites beforehand. However, I prefer a more personalized approach, and that can’t really be sped up. I’d rather spend more time writing an email that gets opened and encourages a response.

Recently, a webmaster responded to me and said that while she couldn’t give me a link, I’d written the best email she’d seen in a long time, and she wished me luck. I uttered a small curse, but it really made me feel good about doing so much work on the initial outreach.

Social broadcasting

Promoting your content through social media channels can often lead to traffic — and links. This is a task that can be automated, at least to some extent.

Can you speed it up? Of course. You can use different tools to broadcast whenever you want to broadcast. If you need to reach people in different time zones, it’s probably easier to make that more automated. If you’re just doing social broadcasting for a small site with one new article, though, I’d do that manually.

Should you speed it up? As long as you don’t overdo it and bombard people with your content, I think it’s fine. My main concern is that if you do use automation for this, you run the very serious risk of inadvertently tweeting something inappropriate. I’ve seen many brands get crucified on social when there’s a mass shooting or earthquake, and they’re blasting you with info on how you need to buy those shoes right now or they’ll be gone.

The bottom line

People want new techniques or ways to make link building more efficient. Sometimes that just isn’t doable. Building good links is one of the most labor-intensive processes in SEO, and that’s one reason why it’s so frequently outsourced.

However, if you take shortcuts when you shouldn’t, you’ll probably end up spending extra time either removing those links or disavowing them — so I’d rather slow down and really intensively and manually evaluate a site before trying to get a link there.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Private blog networks: A great way to get your site penalized

You may have heard about private blog networks (PBNs) before, but you may not be sure what they are or why they are used. A PBN is a network of websites used to build links (and therefore pass authority) to a single website for the purpose of manipulating search engine rankings. This scheme is similar to a link wheel or link pyramid, as it involves several different websites all linking to one another or to one central website.

While these types of schemes were used commonly years ago, PBNs are now considered a pure black hat tactic and should be avoided at all costs, as they can lead to a loss in rankings, or even a manual penalty. PBNs usually provide little to no long-term value to the websites they are linking to.

Google has long been fighting PBNs, and businesses caught up in this shady tactic have been made an example of over the years. One such case was the J.C. Penney link scheme that was exposed back in 2011 by The New York Times. As Google gets smarter and develops better technology to combat link spam techniques, it has become harder and harder for black hat SEOs to pull off a PBN successfully.

How to identify private blog networks

The key to identifying a PBN is the cross-site “footprint” where much of the technical data on the sites are the same. Old PBN networks were on the same IP, shared servers, had the same WHOIS information, or even used the same content across sites.

Today, PBNs are much more sophisticated and may be harder for users to spot because the sites span different industries, topics and layouts. When determining if a site is part of a PBN — and therefore one that you should avoid like the plague — consider the following:

Hosting. Are they all on the same IP? You can use SpyOnWeb.com or similar tools to identify what sites are hosted with any other site.Site design. Do the sites all use a similar design, navigation, color scheme?Similar themes. WordPress themes sometimes have the theme name in the code. Check the source code in your browser.Site ownership. Check WHOIS database for the contact information for the owner of the sites. Having hidden WHOIS data is a red flag. If all of the site owners are the same, it’s obvious the blogs are connected.Duplicate content. Copy a paragraph into Google search to see if the content exists on other sites.Backlink profile. Check the backlink profile in Ahrefs or Majestic (these are the largest databases of links) to see how much interlinking is occurring between sites.Images and videos. Since videos and images are difficult and expensive to recreate, these are likely going to be duplicated on other sites. Use Google image search or video search to find similar pieces.

A dead giveaway for many PBNs is having a similar backlink profile. If multiple sites have the same link profile, or if they all link to one website multiple times (especially where it seems like overkill or it isn’t relevant), then the site is likely part of a PBN — or, at the very least, is selling links. Google’s Penguin algorithm, which now runs in real time as part of the core ranking algorithm, can detect these kinds of schemes and devalue your website rankings as a result. In some cases, you could even wind up with a manual penalty.

However, simply owning several different websites doesn’t mean you are a private blog network. For example, media companies that own several sites and link to them in all website footers wouldn’t likely have to worry about being flagged as a PBN unless the websites weren’t related, there were dozens of links in the footers, or they were linking to similar internal pages repeatedly.

In addition, PBNs are generally groups of sites all owned by one company or individual, but separate individuals who are working together to link to one another could also be considered a PBN if there is a pattern of repeatedly linking to the same sites or pages across several different groups of websites.

How can you protect your site from PBNs?

No reputable SEO consultant will recommend private blog networks for link building or increasing website traffic. Unfortunately, your site may be involved in a PBN without your even knowing it, especially if you are outsourcing your link building activities to a third party. Buying links on sites like Fiverr or through other services may put your site in grave danger. And if anyone tries to convince you to participate in a link exchange (i.e., trade links with them), run.

Strong oversight of link-building activities is key. Educate yourself on which practices Google considers to be link schemes, and ensure that anyone responsible for building links to your site is strictly adhering to these guidelines; any reputable link builder should agree to be transparent about the links they are pursuing for you.

This will require some effort on your part, but remember: Just because you aren’t aware of what goes on behind the curtain doesn’t mean you won’t be held responsible for the consequences.

Best practices will ultimately win the day

You might feel frustrated by competitors who appear to be using spammy link-building techniques like PBNs. You could report them through a webspam complaint, of course. But even if you don’t, remember that their black hat tactics will eventually catch up to them.

While your competitor is relying on a PBN to get links, your company can build out more robust link-building campaigns based on best practices that have more staying power and aren’t frowned upon by search engines. Then, when your competitor gets busted and is demoted, deindexed or otherwise penalized, your site will have the advantage.

As a whole, private blog networks are a dangerous and unacceptable link-building strategy. A link should only be given when it truly provides value to the user — anything to the contrary may result in less visibility within search engine result pages, or even a manual penalty.

Save yourself and your company the headache of lost money, resources and time, and focus on better link-building tactics that will get you results without the strife.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Why real human users are the key to the best links for you

Let me begin by stating that I do not put an enormous emphasis on SEO when I’m training a link builder. Generally speaking, my team of link builders knows the basics of SEO, but they’ve been taught that they can’t rely on metrics alone in order to judge whether a link is going to be good or bad for our clients. My background is in general and technical SEO, but I realized early on that for the work we usually do at my agency, most of what I knew didn’t really apply — at least, not in a very significant way.

Of course, if you’re doing high-level analysis of any sort, you do need to have a great deal of SEO knowledge. The reason I don’t train anyone to do this (on an advanced level) is that I don’t want them to ever lose their ability to think like humans. Though they must run all link-building activities by me for approval, I still trust my link builders to do good work on their own — and they don’t disappoint.

Approaching link building as a human, not a bot

When you approach link building as a human being — not putting the sole emphasis on “Will Google like this?” — you are able to see websites as users see them. Unless they’re SEOs, users aren’t going to be bogged down with thinking about Domain Authority or whether the robots.txt file is properly set up.

Take Google-indexed pages, for example. I think it’s a terrible signal if a page is not indexed in Google. However, I can also make the case that if this imaginary page is the most popular page on a site that ranks well, and it gets a lot of traffic, a link there is probably still going to be good for traffic to your site.

Maybe that particular page got dropped from the index because it’s a big fat list with tons of links, even though it’s still a good page. A human user would click on a link there, but the search engines don’t like it. Would you rather have a link from that non-indexed but popular page, or would you rather have a link from a page that is indexed but has a fraction of the traffic?

Clients fighting back

We do a lot of talking about how getting links that will actually get clicked on is a good idea, but we’re still getting pushback from clients who focus solely on numbers. This link is on a page with a low Moz Page Authority. This one looks great everywhere, but the Majestic Trust Flow is low.

I love tools like Moz and Majestic. They are incredibly useful, and there is no way I would be able to conduct any link analysis without them. I just don’t think that any single metric can paint a full picture of whether or not a link is going to be useful to your site.

Just recently, I’ve come across a lot of pages with very high Page Authority (PA) and great Domain Authority (DA) that are not indexed in Google. I’ve come across some great pages via social channels that Moz hasn’t even picked up yet, so they have no DA or PA. I’ve seen pages ranking well that have a Moz Spam Score of 4 out of 17.

Many link builders would reject these pages as potential linking partners for those exact reasons. What would you do? What human user is going to know or care about the Moz Spam Score?

Is someone going to click?

When SEOs think, “Is someone going to click on this link?,” oftentimes they are simply not thinking as a human user. They are still thinking about other factors and other signals.

Are there competitor links in the post? Some users love to see an alternative.Are there too many links? Who defines “too many?”Are there some misspellings? Does one image seem broken although the others are fine? We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. Why can’t we let the webmasters make a few mistakes?

Again, for the issues listed above: Do you think a human user really cares?

The granularity of what we can dig into is mind-blowing at times.

The importance of referrals, not rankings

As a personal example, I have gotten clients from interviews that I’ve done on fairly new websites that, at the time, had very low DA (or, even farther back, a Google PageRank of 1). I’ve written articles or been mentioned on sites with amazingly good authority and metrics and not received any requests for information. I’m sure they’ve helped me rank, but in my case, a great deal of my business comes from referring URLs — not search engines.

I rank well for certain keywords and get business that way, but the main driver of clients for me is a referral, whether it’s from an article I write, a fellow SEO or a social mention.

In my own writing, if I give a link, it’s because it’s useful and relevant. When I build links, I strive to obtain links that are useful and relevant. If a link is useful and relevant, you’d imagine that it would be clicked on and good for traffic, correct?

Just do a few Google searches and examine the metrics of the top-ranked pages. You’ll find many with very poor metrics. They rank well, though! Since most people outside of SEO do view the search results as being a true representation of which pages are best, you should be better able to get some traffic from one of those pages than from one buried on page 11, even if it does have a DA of 50.

Social is still huge

Then we have the issue of social platforms, which are critical to online success for many businesses these days. You don’t have to rank well in search to do well on Facebook, for example. If your article is on a site with low metrics, and it gets retweeted on Twitter by 1,000 people, you should be happy. In terms of local search, Facebook is a massive player that might eventually compete with Google.

I’m definitely not saying to ignore all metrics, to pretend SEO isn’t important, and/or to just slap a link anywhere you like because surely someone will find it and click it. I’m simply pointing out that when you analyze things to death, you leave a lot of potentially wonderful opportunities on the table.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

The four pillars of an effective SEO strategy

SEO can be complicated — in many cases, overcomplicated. How many ranking factors are involved in generating strong organic search results? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? Two hundred?

A quick search for “SEO ranking factors” will give you all of these answers and myriad others. There is a lot of information out there. And the reality is, while there are likely hundreds of variables working together to determine final placement, much of what is suggested is guesswork. And certainly, not all ranking factors are relevant to every business.

Point being, it is easy to get lost down an algorithmic rabbit hole. It’s information overload out there, and you can spend all your time on a research hamster wheel and achieve very little.

In this article, I want to simplify things and outline the four main areas you should be focusing on with your SEO. Really, when it comes down to it, SEO is actually pretty simple at a strategic level.

The four pillars of SEO

The four key areas of SEO that site owners need to consider are:

    technical SEO: How well your content can be crawled and indexed.content: Having the most relevant and best answers to a prospect’s question.on-site SEO: The optimization of your content and HTML.off-site SEO: Building authority to ensure Google stacks the deck in your favor.

Of course, these four areas have some complexity and overlap, but understanding your strengths and weaknesses in relation to them is key to focusing your efforts.

1. Technical SEO

Technical SEO can seem a little daunting, but really, what we are talking about is ensuring that a search engine can read your content and explore your site. Much of this will be taken care of by the content management system you use, and tools like Screaming Frog and Deep Crawl can explore your website and highlight technical problems.

The main areas to consider here are:

crawl. Can a search engine explore your site?index. Is it clear which pages the search engine should index and return?mobile. Does your site adapt for mobile users?speed. Fast page load times are a crucial factor in keeping your visitors happy.tech. Are you using search engine-friendly tech or CMS for your website?hierarchy. How is your content structured on your website?

If you are a small business using WordPress for your website, technical SEO should be something you can check off your list pretty quickly. If you have a large, bespoke website with millions of pages, then technical SEO becomes much more important.

Much of what is considered “technical SEO” here is actually part of your website design and development. The trick is to ensure your developer understands the interplay between website design, development and SEO and how to build a blisteringly fast and mobile-optimized site.

2. On-site SEO optimization

Your website should be optimized as a whole and at an individual page level. There is some crossover here from your technical SEO, and you want to start with a well-structured content hierarchy for your site.

Assuming you have a well-structured site, applying sensible optimization is again relatively straightforward. The main areas to focus on here are:

keyword research. Understand the language of your target audience.descriptive URLs. Ensure each URL is simple and descriptive.page titles. Use keywords naturally within the page title.meta descriptions. Craft meta descriptions like they were ad copy to drive clicks.content optimization. Sensibly use keywords and variations in your page copy.good user experience (UX). Ensure your site is a joy to use and navigate.strong calls to action. Make it easy for your users to know what to do next.structured data markup. Tap into the latest SERP features to improve click-through rates.

When optimizing your site, take time to consider your customers. If you are a local business, then local SEO is more important, and your address and location become crucial optimization points.

With solid technical SEO in place, layering your on-page optimization is straightforward. Use tools like Screaming Frog to crawl and identify weaknesses and methodically work through your pages.

3. Content

Content is king. That’s the saying, right? It’s true in a way. Your website is really just a wrapper for your content. Your content tells prospects what you do, where you do it, who you have done it for, and why someone should use your business. And if you’re smart, your content should also go beyond these obvious brochure-type elements and help your prospective customers achieve their goals.

For service businesses, we can loosely break your content down into three categories:

Service content. What you do and where you do it.Credibility content. Why a prospect should engage with your business.Marketing content. Content that helps position you as an expert and puts your business in front of prospects earlier in the buying cycle.

It’s really important to realize that SEO is important for all of these kinds of content, but it is often only really considered for service-type content. SEO is often forgotten when it comes to credibility content like reviews, testimonials and case studies.

As a simple example, I recently renovated a Victorian-era house in the UK, and throughout the process, I was looking for various professionals that could demonstrate relevant experience. In this case, having a well-optimized case study showing renovation work on a similar house in the local area would serve as great long-tail SEO content — it also perfectly demonstrates that the contractor can do the job, which perfectly illustrates their credibility. Win-win.

Ensure you optimize all of your marketing content, including case studies, portfolio entries and testimonials — not just the obvious service pages.

A solid content marketing and SEO strategy is also the most scalable way to promote your business to a wide audience. And this generally has the best ROI, as there is no cost per click — so you are scaling your marketing without directly scaling your costs. This kind of SEO strategy is not right for every business, but when it is a good fit, it’s almost unbeatable.

Here are the key takeaways:

Optimize all content across the entire customer journey.Determine whether content marketing via organic search is a good fit.

We still see way too many paint-by-numbers approaches to SEO, where local businesses are paying agencies to pump out blog posts that are strategically not a good fit. Ensure that all of your content is optimized, and if you are doing content marketing, ensure it is a good fit for your marketing tactics.

4. Off-site authority building

Eventually, all SEO rivers run to this one spot: authority building. Building your authority, in large part, involves link building. Links are still a crucial component to developing strong organic rankings; however, links can be the hardest part of SEO to get right.

It really is important here to get your link philosophy dialed in before you start, as this can truly make or break your link-building efforts. While link building is a deep topic that we can’t cover in depth here, if you can at least develop a positive link-building philosophy, you are already ahead of the majority of your competition.

The best way I have ever seen to describe the right link-building mindset was penned by the late, great Eric Ward: “Connect what should be connected.”

This philosophy is beautiful in its simplicity, and it serves to correct the “more, more, more” mentality of link building. We only want links from relevant sources. Often, this means that in order to scale our link-building efforts beyond the obvious tactics, we need to create something that deserves links. You have links where it makes sense for you to have links. Simple.

Wikipedia has millions of links, yet I am pretty sure they have never done any link building. This is because they have reams of useful content that gets linked. These are real, natural links that enrich the linking page, provide further context and serve as the real connective tissue of this hyperlinked world we live in.

This kind of natural link should be the backbone of your link-building efforts. This may mean you have to revisit the content on your site and create something of value first, but if you can nail that, then you are half way home.

Any safe, scalable link-building strategy should be built on this mindset.

Key takeaways here:

Make sure you are building the kind of real links that make sense in the real world and won’t upset the qualitative and sometimes punitive parts of the algorithm.Ensure you have content that deserves to rank and deserves to be linked to.

Summary

SEO does not need to be overly complex. There are four key areas of SEO that you need to consider, and there is a structured, methodical process that can be followed to optimize your site.

I sincerely hope this post helps you cut through the noise, improve your rankings and generate more business from organic search!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Nofollow links are not useless: Earning them Is central to good SEO

With major publishers like Inc., Forbes and The Huffington Post placing the rel=”nofollow” tag on their external links, the sky is once again falling. Or not. In fact, I’ve always believed that earning nofollow links was an important part of any SEO strategy built to last.

The reality of the situation is that nofollow links are good for your SEO, full stop. Whether your evidence comes from case studies, personal experience or correlative data, the answer is the same.

We can debate about whether nofollow links have any direct impact on rankings until the cows come home, but in the end, it just doesn’t matter that much. What matters is that, if you are earning nofollow links on high-profile platforms, you are earning brand exposure, referral traffic and various off-site signals that do help your rankings in the search results.

I have witnessed the effect myself far too often to conclude otherwise, and anybody who has been in this industry long enough knows that you shouldn’t decide to pursue — or decline to pursue — a link based upon whether or not a link is nofollowed.

Let me present the evidence, and then I’ll explain how you can make the most of link building by incorporating nofollow links in the appropriate way.

Nofollow links can definitely help SEO: The evidence

I feel comfortable saying that nofollow links definitely help your SEO, although most of the benefits are probably indirect. The exposure associated with a high-profile nofollow link is well worth the effort and contributes positively to your visibility in search results, as well as sending direct referral traffic and improving brand reach. It also appears to be almost indisputable that nofollow links help pages get indexed.

It’s more speculative to say that nofollow links can, in some cases, directly improve your rankings, and I won’t commit to a statement that strong. What I can say is that search engines reserve the right to ignore the nofollow tag, and I suspect that they do for some links they view as editorially placed and trustworthy.

Remember that Google’s own answer is that “In general, we don’t follow them.” (Emphasis mine.) This seems to imply that, while they usually don’t follow them, they sometimes do.

Perhaps more importantly, if your link-building strategy places importance on whether or not a link is nofollowed, then you are using the wrong link-building strategy. Google guidelines have been clear on this for a very long time. If you’re doing something just for the SEO value, it’s probably a violation of the Google guidelines.

Your link-building strategies should be focused on building exposure that leads to organic SEO signals. That is where the real value is.

But let’s not talk about platitudes. Let’s talk about evidence.

Case studies

Consider this case study by TekNicks. Between January of 2014 and May of 2015, they helped a client earn 99 links. Of those, only 11 were followed. The remaining 88 links were all nofollowed links — 89 percent of the total.

But during that period, the client saw 288 percent growth in their organic search traffic. At the end of the period, the client ranked in their top position for their main keyword, which TekNicks claims is “very competitive,” and which receives 2,000 monthly searches.

At the end of this period, they additionally ranked for an even more competitive keyword, with 8,100 monthly searches. For the period, organic traffic grew from 1,700 sessions a month to 6,500 sessions.

But, perhaps equally importantly, one of the nofollow links they earned sent 3,922 referrals between January and October of 2014.

And TekNicks isn’t the only agency to experience something like this. Fractl has three excellent examples of nofollow links working wonders for clients, demonstrating the power of media exposure.

They developed an infographic called “Your Face as an Alcoholic” for client Rehabs.com, which quickly hit the front page after they shared it with the Daily Mail in 2014. The resulting exposure led to coverage in 900 media stories, including The Huffington Post and the New York Daily News.

Only 30 percent of those newly-earned links were dofollow, and they earned over 14,000 shares on social media.

In a second example, Fractl placed a story for a client on Yahoo Travel, exposing how expensive hotels often have more germs than cheaper hotels. This featured article led to coverage in 700 stories, a third of which contained dofollow links, as well as 23,000 social shares.

Finally, one Fractl client saw a 271 percent increase in organic search traffic resulting from an exclusive, but nofollowed, link on BuzzFeed.

In a more controlled test, Eli Schwartz of SurveyMonkey demonstrated that, at a minimum, nofollow links definitely help pages get indexed.

After SurveyMonkey moved its blog from the subdomain to their root domain, Eli ran a few tests on the old subdomain URLs. He modded the 404 page, including a link to a page with bogus anchor text. Google crawled the 404 page and indexed the test page in under 48 hours, after it was included in a newly published item. The resulting link even carried the anchor text.

Running the same test again with a link to a different page, he tried using a nofollow link instead. As you can probably guess, Google indexed the URL, even though the hyperlink was nofollowed. He did notice, however, that the anchor text didn’t carry over.

How Google treats nofollowed links

Nofollowed links are also typically accompanied by brand mentions. According to a Google Patent, brand mentions may be considered “implied links.” In other words, if a brand gets mentioned online, this may be treated in a similar manner to an actual link. While we don’t know for sure, a brand mention along with a nofollow link may also help the search engines in understanding the semantic link between a brand mention and the website it refers to, since brand mentions are less clear due to their less explicit nature.

Whether “co-citation” of this form helps traditional search results, it’s certainly clear that citations help local search. In one example, local SEO Phil Frost explains how including citations (with name, address and phone number) in a press release helped a client move from position 20 to position 1 in local search results for their primary keyword. In this case, despite the links being no-followed, the citations clearly helped their client rank.

Case studies by Search Engine Land and Moz, in addition to more recent case studies that come out on a fairly routine basis, demonstrate that it is still possible to improve rankings using press release distribution. While we generally avoid this tactic unless it’s also used with the primary goal of generating press, it continues to be popular even though the majority of press release distribution sites now contain nofollowed links. That press releases still help with SEO is a testament to the value of nofollow links in this context, whether direct or indirect.

Correlative analysis of observational ranking data conducted by Ahrefs also suggests that a relatively even split between dofollow and nofollow links may help rankings. While correlative studies have their flaws, primarily because they can’t establish a cause and effect relationship, it would be a mistake to ignore them.

Likewise, Moz’s analysis of ranking factors finds a 0.32 correlation between the number of nofollow links pointing to a page and rankings. This is nearly identical to the correlation between the number of external domains linking to a page and its rankings, which sits just 0.02 higher, at 0.34.

One can rightfully argue that these correlation studies could just be showing us that successful pages are more likely to get linked to, and thus are more likely to receive nofollowed links. This is a reasonable objection, but it applies equally to followed links, and, with such a small difference in correlations, it does make one wonder if nofollowed links could actually contribute directly to rankings.

Regardless of whether or not this is the case, the case studies above demonstrate definitively that, directly or indirectly, nofollow links can have a dramatic positive impact on search engine rankings. My personal experience with nofollow links leads me to the same conclusions.

How to maximize the SEO value of nofollow links

1. Remember: The anchor text is meaningless for keyword rankings

Whether or not nofollow links can directly improve your rankings, it’s clear that the anchor text is most likely ignored entirely.

If you are earning nofollow links with SEO in mind, anchor text should be the last thing on your mind, or more accurately, you shouldn’t be thinking much about keywords when it comes to anchor text.

The primary value of the link is in getting people to visit your site directly, and that means the purpose of the anchor text is to get people to click through and see more. That means the anchor text should pique the reader’s curiosity as much as possible, promise them something in a clear and non-deceptive way or address objections the user might have to clicking the link.

2. Focus on an audience of influencers

Other than receiving direct clicks from your target audience, the main thing you want a nofollow link to accomplish is to earn additional followed links from trusted influencers.

Earning those links means producing content that appeals to journalists, thought leaders, microcelebrities and others who have large audiences of their own.

This means that your content should be going the extra mile, since influencers are generally the most voracious infovores in your industry. They know almost everything, and they aren’t easy to surprise.

How do you catch these people’s attention with your content? There are two primary methods:

Focus on novelty.Focus on being comprehensive.

These can be subdivided into far more categories, but these are the primary things to focus on.

Focusing on novelty means providing influencers with things they’ve never seen before. The best examples of this type of content include:

orginal research, such as surveys, experiments, or studiesinteractive tools like web apps“investigative journalism”-style work that provides insider informationexclusive interviewsnewsevent coverageproprietary information

Focusing on being comprehensive includes things like:

ultimate guideswhite papershow-to videose-bookscourses“30-Day Challenges”introductions and primersglossaries and dictionaries

In short, say something new, or distill something big.

If you do this, and then get your resource published on a major platform, it doesn’t matter whether or not your link is followed or nofollowed. What is important is how the exposure will lead to coverage in the press, on social networks, on blogs and magazines and so on.

By making influencers your audience, you maximize your reach and SEO impact.

3. Use the opportunity to mention your brand

As I mentioned above, Google patents suggest that a simple mention of your brand can help improve your visibility in the search results. Such brand mentions may be treated as “implied links” and, if so, likely carry similar authority metrics, so that a mention in a more authoritative media platform results in a stronger rankings boost.

Whether Google has actually put this patent to use and found that it helped their rankings algorithm is unclear, but brand mentions are valuable for obvious reasons, and can indirectly benefit your SEO as well.

Brand mentions lead to increased searches for your brand name, which in turn can help your rankings in a virtuous feedback cycle.

While you shouldn’t name-drop shamelessly, don’t skip the chance to promote your brand when you place a nofollow link on an authoritative platform.

4. Leverage social media

Failure to pursue nofollow links can hurt your SEO performance in many ways, but one of the worst consequences is the tendency to avoid techniques that involve (typically nofollowed) social media.

Google has explicitly stated many times that there are no special ranking factors developed for social networks.

Since Google evidently doesn’t use “likes” and “retweets” as ranking factors, and since links on social platforms are nofollowed, some in the SEO industry ask, “Why bother?”

Well, for starters, as I mentioned above, Google’s own statements on nofollow suggest that they sometimes do count nofollowed links, even though in general they don’t. Moz’s correlation studies certainly find very strong correlations between social media activity and rankings. Could the nofollowed links from this social activity be counting toward rankings?

There’s no way to know for sure, but the correlation is meaningful either way.

What social media undoubtedly can do is earn you attention that leads indirectly to links. Viral activity on social networks inevitably leads to media coverage and followed links. Scrapers also replicate links from social media in other locations, often without the nofollow tag.

Social media platforms are perhaps the most effective way to amplify your content’s reach in the short term. In addition to sharing your content with your own audience, you can leverage other influencers by reaching out to personalities that are popular on social media. If you do so tactfully, you can reach much larger audiences. This activity inevitably leads to naturally earned links, as well as various other off-page activity that helps improve your rankings.

5. Republishing

Republishing your content on major platforms is a tactic that frequently results in nofollowed links, but if the platforms attract a large enough audience, this is well worth the effort. Since many bloggers and editors refer to major media platforms for their sources, if you can get republished on a major platform, you can earn editorial links from the writers who cite those platforms frequently.

While it’s true that some of these writers will cite the republished version, more vigilant writers will click the nofollowed link and cite your website as the original source, since links to primary sources are preferred by writers who take research seriously.

More speculatively, it’s possible that under some circumstances, Google will see the duplicate content and identify your original publication as the primary source, and as a result, transfer the search engine authority from the other duplicates to your original. I have witnessed effects that seem to imply this is happening, although it would be hasty to conclude with too much certainty that this is exactly what is going on.

Either way, it’s as clear as day that republishing content on more popular platforms expands your reach, puts your brand in front of more eyeballs and increases your likelihood of getting cited with a link by other writers.

6. Get obsessed with referral traffic

Too many in this industry are focused on building links without concerning themselves with whether or not those links actually send any referral traffic.

It’s been said many times but it can never be said enough: the most valuable links are the ones you earn organically and editorially — when people link to you without you reaching out or doing anything else to earn the link.

I’m not arguing that those are the only kinds of links you should be earning, but if you optimize your own “manual” link-building efforts in such a way that it generates the largest number of organic links, you are approaching link building the way you should be.

Few things more reliably produce organic links than sheer traffic. It’s probable that a certain percentage of your readership will always end up linking to you if you have enough readers. So if you can expand the number of people who see your content, you can expand the number of people who will link to you.

Oh, and referral traffic is valuable on its own, too. But you knew that already, right?

So, how do you go about earning nofollow links that send traffic?

I would argue that the primary thing to focus on is earning links that grow your traffic in a cumulative fashion. In other words, it’s not the link that sends you a thousand visits one day and zero the next that you really want to chase. It’s the link that sends 100 visits a day every day for the foreseeable future that you really want to get your hands on.

Here are some of the types of links that can help you accomplish that:

Quora. If you’ve ever answered a question on Quora, you’ve probably noticed that while the referral traffic numbers aren’t necessarily high for any given question, you tend to see traffic from Quora for a very long time after posting an answer. Build up a lot of these and you will start seeing cumulative growth in referral traffic.Pinterest. While its traffic-driving power isn’t quite as strong as it was when it first made a splash, it is still an incredibly useful referral source that sends a lot of traffic when an image does really well.Forums. I know they seem like a throwback from the 1990s, but forums are still incredibly popular, and if you use them in a similar fashion to Quora, they can send you long-term cumulative traffic, especially if the forum allows you to link to your site in your forum signature or elsewhere.SlideShare. Presentations here can attract a very different type of audience and can be a constant source of traffic, especially if you are in the B2B sector.Interviews. Interview an influencer, and they are likely to promote that interview on their own platforms. If they publish it on their site, the link can sometimes become evergreen and send a continuous drip of traffic.Resource lists. These are especially popular on educational sites. Inclusion in somebody’s resource list is almost guaranteed to be an evergreen traffic source if their site has enough traffic.YouTube. A YouTube video that does well with the algorithm becomes an evergreen source of brand mentions and traffic.Podcasts. These can be a great source of long-term traffic for the same reasons as YouTube videos.

If you stop chasing the followed link and shift your obsession toward upping your referral traffic, you start to realize how unimportant the nofollow tag really is, both in terms of growing your overall traffic, and even in improving your authority with the search engines.

The myth that nofollow links are useless for SEO needs to die. A solid SEO strategy is not concerned with whether the manual links you place will directly impact your SEO. A thorough reading of the Google guidelines should, in fact, lead you to the conservative assumption that no link you place yourself counts toward rankings. The indirect effects are where the true value lies, and it is where you should be focusing the majority of your effort.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

How to increase B2B traffic by 192% in five months

SEO is a long-term strategy.

It takes time to build authority and reputation, and spammy tricks that work for a short time are eventually devalued by the search engines.

However, we’ve found a strategy that’s delivered results relatively quickly and proven particularly effective in the B2B space.

Some of our best projects have seen near double traffic growth:

Not surprisingly, this traffic growth corresponds with our efforts to secure links. Here is a look at the trends for referring domains to the site above (via Ahrefs):

Of course, seeing a case study where links helped grow traffic isn’t earth-shattering. But I want to share the strategies we used to achieve these results so you can experiment with them on your own site.

Our strategy included:

analyzing competitive content.expanding topics to build linkable assets.building targeted pages and resources.identifying opportunities for hyper-relevant, linkable content.

These were the four cornerstones of our process.

To better demonstrate these strategies, I’ll reference a hypothetical example throughout the post. Since our project was in the B2B space, I’m choosing a B2B brand for my example: Absorb LMS, a learning management system for employee training (not a client).

Without further ado, let’s dive into the process we used to grow traffic in the B2B sector by 192 percent in roughly five months.

Analyzing competitor content and pages

We started by examining what was working for our client’s competitors.

There are a wide variety of excellent tools available for competitive analysis — for our project, we used Ahrefs to analyze competitors’ top pages. By analyzing competitors’ top content, we could identify keyword gaps on our client’s site, as well as low-difficulty opportunities.

For our client, we focused on larger (respective to their niche) search volumes first and worked our way down from there, but there is no set search volume that’s appropriate for every strategy. Instead, consider your niche and the potential value of capturing leads from a given search result. If one lead is potentially worth thousands of dollars, you don’t need much volume to justify the value of ranking for that term.

For Absorb, competitor content analysis would involve scrutinizing competitors such as:

TalentLMSLitmosBridgeDoceboGrowth EngineeringDokeos LMSAdministrate

For example, looking at Bridge in Ahrefs, I can see some of their top pages define various eLearning terms:

It appears TalentLMS has similar pages that are performing well, and they are also securing traffic from e-learning subtopics like [authoring tool], [constant learning] and [microlearning].

From just a quick glance at these competitors in Ahrefs, I learned that Absorb could pursue some opportunities creating pages that define prominent e-learning terms or target tangentially related topics.

Since Absorb doesn’t currently have any pages like this in their top 15 pages in Ahrefs, this strategy should be a real consideration.

If Absorb were really a client, I would analyze all their competitors to uncover trends and find as many opportunities and gaps as possible. But for this post, I’m going to move on to the next part of our strategy: building linkable assets.

Expanding topics to create linkable assets

The next step is creating highly linkable assets.

Many B2B brands work within narrow, specific niches; this was the case for our client. It’s certainly possible to secure links within these small online neighborhoods, but you can quickly exhaust all available worthwhile opportunities.

We discovered that broadening our topics gave us the opportunity to promote them to a much larger outreach market. To better understand this topic expansion, let’s consider Absorb LMS.

Absorb’s primary audience and buyers exist within the e-learning niche. However, this is a relatively small outreach market, which can mean limited exposure and links when it comes to content promotion. By expanding, I could target broader topics like:

learning styles and the psychology of learning.employee benefits and retention.business management.career advancement

These topics have larger audiences, which means bigger outreach markets and more visibility, yet they’re still relevant to Absorb’s service and their audience.

A quick comparison of search volumes for the head terms of [learning management system] and [business management] in SEMrush demonstrates the difference in audience sizes:

[learning management system] — 6,600[business management] — 18,100

Broader content topics will have broader appeal and provide more opportunities to secure exposure and links, while still being relevant and providing the opportunity to reach your target audience.

Building targeted pages and resources

We also built strategic pages to target the most important and relevant terms for our client.

While we wanted our linkable assets to have broad appeal, we wanted these pages to answer a very specific question or issue pertinent to the client’s business, and answer it better than any other page on the web.

To create best-in-class pages, we followed content strategy best practices such as:

providing in-depth, long-form coverage of the topic.adding rich media and interactivity via sunk cost differentiators.maintaining a strong and consistent focus on keywords and key phrases.optimizing on-page factors — e.g., URLs, title tags, H1s, page speed, image optimization.

Although these resources had limited outreach markets, they also had lower competition. Because the quality of the content was high, the pages were optimized, and the competition was low, these pages could perform well in search with little promotion.

While the traffic from these pages was small in volume, it was highly qualified traffic. These pages also built credibility and overall brand awareness as our client began to show up consistently for hyper-relevant queries. It’s even possible to passively acquire links to these pages if they are the leading resource in the space.

Ideation for these pages came from a combination of the insights from competitive content analysis and keyword research.

Using my Absorb example, I could revisit competitor top pages to find direction for new page creation. For instance, TalentLMS has a page that ranks number one for [e learning technology]:

The search volume is relatively small (150), but this is a relevant term for Absorb, and ranking here would be beneficial. Furthermore, after looking at TalentLMS’s page, I’m confident Absorb could easily build something better for searchers.

The TalentLMS page is essentially one large block of text:

This is an opportunity for Absorb to create something that is best-in-class and builds authority and visibility in their niche.

Identifying when volume intersects with relevance

The combination of linkable assets with broad appeal and strategic, targeted pages built a strong SEO foundation for our client. However, the major successes came when we could identify opportunities where large search volumes corresponded with hyper-relevant topics.

These situations are less prevalent but can be extremely rewarding if you can find them. Capitalizing on these opportunities means you get the best of both worlds: increased link opportunities and the chance to rank for key terms for your business.

Regarding Absorb LMS, I would again turn to their competitors. For example, Bridge has a page that ranks on page one for the term [scorm] which has a search volume of 5,500:

Again, it appears there is an opportunity for Absorb to build something that could outperform Bridge’s page, which is just a few large chunks of text:

If Absorb built a page focused on SCORM, they could secure both links and highly relevant traffic.

Strategy recap

We achieved phenomenal results for our client with this strategy. Of course, your results will vary depending on a variety of factors (website, competition, goals) but the concepts outlined here could help you grow traffic on your own site, particularly if you operate within a very niche category in the B2B space.

To recap, our strategy involved:

analyzing competitive content: Analyze top-performing pages on competitor sites to identify potential content opportunities.expanding topic groups: Broaden topics when creating linkable assets to extend the reach of those assets and target larger outreach markets.building strategic pages and resources: Create best-in-class pages that target hyper-relevant terms and traffic.identifying opportunities for hyper-relevant, linkable content: Find situations where substantial search volume intersects with highly relevant topics to secure large numbers of links and capture qualified traffic.

Hopefully, you can apply some of these strategies to your own pursuit for better search performance.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

10 ways to generate links with online influencers

You may be thinking that no one wants to share your content, but the opposite is actually true: Because they post so often, online influencers are always looking for interesting content to share. All you have to do it research, create and position the right content opportunities to influencers so they will want to start working with you.

If you’re not sure what angle your organization should take to work with online influencers, consider the following angles: unique content sharing, product promotion, sponsorships and relationship building.

You’ll also want to be sure you are familiar with the FTC Guidelines surrounding influencer disclosures, as well as Google’s guidelines on the issues.

Produce unique content

Producing fresh content that is engaging and interesting to your target audience is what entices industry influencers to share. In addition to “how-to” posts, consider creating studies and long-form content and developing discussions that push industry issues. Because content is so competitive, it’s crucial to take an angle that is different from everyone else’s, whether that is a point of view or a niche topic.

Recent research by Sumo found that only 20 percent of all content is even read, on average — so it’s key to bring your A-game in order to have people actually read it. Here are some ways you can bring in more readers:

1. Publish unique research

Stone Temple Consulting does a good job of this in the search marketing industry. They frequently release unique studies using research that their own team gathered. As a result, they are known as thought leaders in the SEO community, frequently keynoting and authoring books about search.

If something is trending or new in your industry, consider creating a study around it. Poll your email list or readers for survey responses, or run data tests to figure out how new technology works best. Not only does this provide unique value to the readers, you’ll often get more inbound links, because it’s exclusive findings that aren’t found anywhere else.

2. Go niche and in-depth

Anyone can write a blog post about a broad topic, like “How to Start a Blog,” but it takes a unique approach — like “How to Start a Blog in One Hour For Less Than $100” or “How to Start a Product Review Blog in The Pet Industry” — to make it stand out. If you want to be found for common industry terms, figure out how you can “niche down” your content. Go beyond the basics and create multiple pieces of content that can cover different angles in depth.

3. Create controversy

Every industry has controversial or touchy topics. Without being too gauche, consider what you can write about that will let you be the “devil’s advocate” and provide a unique perspective that no one has tackled before. HubSpot recommends writing from an angle that will resonate with your audience and to ensure that you can back up your points with data.

Similarly, if there’s a topic that is dividing industry experts, cover it from an angle that fits for your company. Marketo recommends finding a piece of content that you don’t exactly agree with and write a rebuttal. Having a piece of content as inspiration makes it easier to write and can draw more audience interest.

Offer free products

When done right, offering free products can help to spread your products by word of mouth. Product recommendations have a lot of trust value for online users. According to research by BrightLocal, 84 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Here are some ways you can give away your products to influencers.

4. Provide samples for review

Use a tool like BuzzSumo to find industry influencers in your target market, and reach out to them to see if they’d like to try out the product in exchange for a review. To make your campaigns get more influencers for less cost, try going after the mid-size influencers who aren’t at the top level, with 100,000 followers or more. Instead, target users with 100 to 10,000 followers. They will be more willing to work with you, since they likely aren’t approached as often as the upper-level influencers. In addition, make sure the influencers follow proper FTC guidelines for disclosure.

5. Free products only for the influencer’s audience

In addition to a review, you can also offer to give away products to the audience of the influencers. Once they share their review, they can host a giveaway on the blog post that allows users to enter to win more free products. Here’s an example from the healthy living blog “Peanut Butter Fingers,” which teams up with Chicco to do a car seat review and informational safety post. At the end of the post, they did a sponsored giveaway:

Often, the influencer is responsible for running the content and choosing the winners, and the company will send out the products once the content is over.

6. Run contests to win free products

Another free product option you can do is product giveaways. This harnesses networks of all sizes, as you can give users more entries into the giveaway if they share it to their networks. Make sure you are following all giveaway regulations and policies for applicable social media platforms, and you have a list of giveaway rules on your website. If you want users to share using multiple platforms, use a service like WooBox or Rafflecopter.

Sponsorship

In addition to free posts, you can also spend some of your budget sponsoring or running ads on influencers’ websites. This varies by website, but some influencers offer sidebars, ads, email newsletter mentions or sponsored blog posts. If they don’t have the ideal sponsorship available on their website, it doesn’t hurt to propose an alternative arrangement. Most influencers are open to offers, provided it’s not intrusive and offers value to their audience.

7. Sponsor a post for them to publish

Some websites will take sponsored posts that are written by the sponsor or by a dedicated staff member. Usually, costs are higher if the influencer has to write the content himself or herself. A sponsored post might be something like a walk-through of a product or a new feature. It is paid content, but it showcases value to the audience by covering a topic or service they are interested in. Search Engine Land offers this, calling it “Sponsored Content.

8. Sponsor their blog in general

Many influencers also accept ongoing sponsorships for their website. What this covers varies, but it could include a sidebar ad, mentions on specific pages or blurbs on other online mediums, like social media or email. Creating this type of relationship not only gets you more exposure, it also gives you an in with the influencer to start a conversation around other ways they can share your content.

Build actual relationships

Starting a conversation is key toward long-term influencer outreach success. By building relationships with influencers, you can work together to come up with new and fun ways to share your content and promote your products or services. Besides reaching out online directly, you can also seek to get to know them and support their goals. A collaborative approach will lead to a better relationship.

9. Support their goal by mentioning them in other articles you write

A relationship isn’t one-way. A partnership is one where you are also supportive of the influencer and what they are trying to build with their own website and online platform. When applicable, mention influencers in industry roundups, in quotes or as examples in the content you’re writing. Recommending them to your audience on social media by tagging them can also get their attention and show that you are supportive of their brand as well.

10. Meet up with them at an event

Besides striking up a supportive relationship online, try meeting influencers in person to get the conversation going. Attend industry networking events, conferences or trade shows and look for influencers that could help you promote your content and products. Oftentimes, non-corporate speakers at conferences have their own companies and websites, and blogging conferences (like BlogHer) are full of influencers who are open to partnerships with brands.

By building relationships with influencers in different ways, like product giveaways and reviews, sponsorships, and unique content, you can get your offerings in front of more audiences. This leads to better website traffic and sales. While it may take some experimentation to figure out the best influencers to work with, influencer outreach can be an effective part of any link-building — and more importantly, traffic-generating — campaign.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

The ever-increasing importance of usability and trust in link building

Just the other day, I was showing a cool site that I’d just found to a (very intelligent and internet-savvy) friend, and he quickly became confused due to the ad placements on the site. The ads were shown on the top of the page below a nav bar, and they looked like categories for the site. So he clicked on them.

Then there was the search bar. Blacked out completely, you couldn’t see what you were typing into it, and it gave no error messages when you just hit enter. The 404 page had a broken image on it. One of the social buttons went to the wrong account.

And then I found the dreaded page with the lovely Lorem Ipsum dummy text still on it.

Bottom line: I didn’t really love the site so much anymore. It ranked well (that’s how I found it), but I didn’t trust it.

Ask yourself: Would you click on this link?

When I’m building links, I always ask myself if I’d want that link to my site if I were the client myself. I do get a bit irritated when clients complain about really nitpicky stuff, but if I were the client and my link-building company got a link on this site, I’d be super-irritated.

It’s not enough to rank well. I mean, it’s fantastic when you do rank well, of course, but everyone knows a top ranking is no guarantee that you’ll gain a new sale or a new email subscriber or whatever else you view as a positive conversion. With so much spam making its way into the top SERPs, users are finding out that they really can’t trust the rankings the way they used to.

So, while it’s really nice that you get a link on a site that ranks well and has some good metrics, if you depend on that link for converting traffic, the linking site’s usability can’t be ignored any more than yours can. Why have a link on a site that someone doesn’t trust?

I approve every single link that we build in my agency, and the main reason I’m turning down sites these days is for something related to usability. They have the metrics and look good on the screen, but something’s off. The page doesn’t load correctly until you try it three times, or it takes 30 seconds. The site is so covered up with ads you can’t tell what’s an ad and what’s the actual content. There are a gazillion pages that throw 404s.

Add all of this to the usual things we look for, and you’ll see that finding a great linking partner just gets harder and harder.

What should you check?

Generally speaking, I encourage our team to do an initial quick check on a few things to see if a site is even worth digging into. We do look at metrics like Domain and Page Authority (at our clients’ requests) and we check things like the country that is sending the most traffic to the site. If we don’t see any big red flags (like 90 percent of the traffic is from Hungary and it’s a US blog), then we dig deeper.

Is the content any good? My goodness, you would be amazed at all the crappy content on the web, and on highly ranking sites. I don’t mean that it’s just not my thing. I mean that it’s written with incorrect grammar and rampant typos, and there’s no real structure to it. I recently refused to order some clothes that my daughter wanted from a site where it looked like they had gotten a 4-year-old to write their “About Us” page. They didn’t list a phone number. The descriptions of some of the items we looked at seemed to be whatever happened to come with their terrible system. I don’t want to buy an item where there’s no image but there is a line reading “insert photo of tan shirt here.”

Oh, and I love to check for a Viagra or Cialis hack. Yes, those are still all over the place! Do a “cheap online order viagra” search in Google and you’ll see.

We can’t forget mobile, either, and that’s only getting more important. You know when you’re on a smartphone and you go to a site that looks like a tiny version of its regular self? Why lose the chance for a mobile conversion by placing a link on a page that won’t even be seen by users on a smartphone? By the way, I like Mobi to check this in a variety of formats, but there are various tools available.

Stop forgetting users with visual difficulties

Years ago I had a blind user show me how he navigated the web. Something I wrote then is something that I STILL see today, and it drives me nuts:

If [they] are reading a webpage that has links on it that aren’t coded to look like links which are easily recognizable as gateways to another page or site, they obviously aren’t going to find them and click. Of course, neither am I — most likely, neither are you, even if your vision is 20/20.

Sometimes webmasters (and maybe the people requesting the links) are so intent on staying “safe” that they make links blend in as if they weren’t links. It’s awful. We sometimes get links for clients and have to request that the links LOOK LIKE LINKS. How stupid is that? Why in the world would you not want your link to be clicked on? If I see a site doing this, I’m just left wondering what else they’re doing and what other bad things I have not yet found.

Always always always LOOK AT THE SITE!

It’s very clear: poor usability breaks trust. The problem is that discovering it can take time, and isn’t attached to an easy metric, other than maybe page speed. Again, we’re left with that pesky requirement to actually look at the website upon which we’re seeking links! We have to spend time going through it! And so we should.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Visually understanding your site structure and external link weight impact

They say a picture is worth a thousand words — and wow, are they correct!

Today, I’m going to illustrate powerful ways to visualize your site structure, specifically as it relates to pages that acquire incoming links; however, we’ll also discuss other applications of this technique using analytics metrics or other third-party data.

There are a number of reasons you would want to do this, among them to provide a visual context to data. As we will see below, visual representations of data can assist in quickly identifying patterns in site structures that may not be evident when viewed as a spreadsheet or as raw data. You can also use these visuals to explain to clients and other stakeholders what’s going on in a site structure.

To build a visual representation of our site structure as it relates to incoming links, we will be:

running Screaming Frog to gather internal page data and link structure.adding the number of backlinks each page has to the page’s metrics.using Gephi to create a visual representation of this data.

For those unfamiliar with Gephi, it’s an open-source data visualization tool — basically, it turns data into an interactive picture.

Getting your core data

Regardless of whether you want to visualize your site structure relative to your site traffic or another metric, the process is essentially the same. So, let’s begin by…

Collecting your internal link structure

The first step is to download Screaming Frog if you don’t already have it installed. For sites under 500 URLs, the free version will suffice; those with larger sites may want to purchase the premium version, though they can still use the free version to get some rough ideas of what their site structure is doing.

Now, use Screaming Frog to crawl the site you want to map. You don’t need to collect the images, CSS, JavaScript and so on, so the spider configuration should look like the screen shot below. (However, you will want to make your own decisions about whether you want to crawl subdomains and so on, based on your needs and site structure.)

Enter the domain  you want to check and click “Start.” Once the crawl is completed, it’s time to export the data and clean it up a bit. To do this, simply go to:

Bulk Export > Response Codes > Success (2xx) Inlinks

Once downloaded, open the file and do the following:

Delete the first row containing “All Inlinks.”Delete the first column, “Type.”Rename the “Destination” column “Target.”Delete all other columns besides “Source” and “Target.”Save the edited file. You can name it whatever you’d like, but I will be referring to mine throughout the article as working.csv.

I highly recommend scanning through your Source and Target columns to look for anomalies. For example, the site I crawled for the screen shots below contained anchor links on a large number of pages. I did a quick search for the hashtag in the Target column and deleted those so they didn’t skew my link flow information.

With this, we are left with a spreadsheet that should look something like this:

This data alone can be pretty cool to analyze — and to that end, I recommend reading Patrick Stox’s article, “Easy visualizations of PageRank and Page Groups with Gephi.”

In his article, Stox used Gephi to visualize the relationships between pages on a website and to see which pages are the strongest (based on the site’s internal link graph).

You can read his article for directions and a description, but in short, what we’re seeing is different “clusters” of pages (based on which pages link together most often — not perfect but not bad), grouped by color and sized by internal links (with the most linked-to pages appearing larger).

This information is handy, to be sure. But what if we want more? What if we want to truly color the pages based on their site section, and what if we want them sized by the number of inbound external links?

To achieve this, you’ll first need to download your top linked pages from Google Search Console. If you haven’t done that before, you simply log in to your Search Console account and do the following:

Click “Search Traffic” in the left nav.Click “Links to Your Site” in the menu that opens.Click “More >>” under the column “Your most linked content.”And “Download this table.”

The only problem with the data as it’s downloaded is that for our purposes, we need the URLs in the form of a domain, and the table only displays the path.  To deal with this easily, you can simply:

Open the spreadsheet.Insert a new column A before the URL path.Put your domain https://www.yourdomain.com/ in cell A3 (assuming B2 contains your domain which oddly is the only URL to display fully) so that you don’t create https://www.yourdomain.com/https://www.yourdomain.com/.Double-click the bottom-right corner of the cell with your recently added domain to copy the domain to the bottom of the spreadsheet.Select the data from columns A and B (the domain and the path) and copy it to Notepad.Find and Replace “/ /” with “/” (excluding quotes).Select all in the Notepad.Past that into column B and delete column A.Now you have the same list but with the full URL.

Getting the data into Gephi

Here, we’ll be uploading the Source/Target CSV file we created earlier and named working.csv. This will create the edges and nodes Gephi needs to create the graphs. (For our purposes here, a node is a page, and an edge represents the link between pages.) To import the spreadsheet, simply open Gephi and go to: File > Import spreadsheet.

A new window will open where you will select your working.csv file and select “Edges table” (since we’re importing the connections between the pages). It will look like:

In the next screen, you’ll be shown a couple of options (very limited in this example). Simply make sure the “Create missing nodes” box is checked, and click next.

Assuming it opens to the Overview tab (which it should on first use), you’ll be presented with something that looks like:

A bit messy, and we’re not going to clean it up yet. First, we’re going to head over to the Data Laboratory and export the Nodes (read: pages).

Once in the Data Laboratory, make sure you’re looking at the Nodes by clicking the Nodes button near the top left. Once there, simply export the table so you have a csv of all your nodes.

When you open the csv, it should have the following columns:

IdLabelTimeset

You’ll add a fourth column named after whichever metric you want to pull in. Here, I’m going to pull in the referring domains as reported in the Search Console, so I will label the fourth column (D) “referring domains.” The fifth will be “modularity_class.”

You’ll want to temporarily add a second sheet to the spreadsheet and name it “search console.”

In cell D2 (right below the column D heading), enter the following formula:

=IFERROR(INDEX(‘search console’!$C$2:$C$136,MATCH(A2,’search console’!$A$2:$A$136,0),1),”0″)

In my example here, there are 136 rows in my Search Console data. Yours may differ, in which case the 136 in the formula above should be changed to the number of rows in your list. Additionally, if you wanted to list your link counts and not referring domains, you would change the Cs to Bs so the search is across column B instead of C.

Once completed, you will want to copy the referring domains column and use the “Paste Values” command, which will switch the cells from containing a formula to containing the value of their number of referring domains as an integer.

The process looks like:

Now, finally, you want to add a fifth column with the heading “modularity_class.” Although Gephi has modularity built in, which will cluster similar pages together based on the internal link structure, I prefer a more manual approach that clearly defines the page’s category.

In my example, I’m going to assign one of the following values to each page in the modularity_class column, based on the page category:

0 – misc/other1 – blog posts2 – resource pages3 – company info4 – service5 – homepage

How you break your categories out will, of course, depend on your site (e.g., you might break up your e-commerce site by product type, or your travel site by location).

Once you’ve saved this as a csv named nodes.csv, you simply need to import this spreadsheet into the current Gelphi project using the Import Spreadsheet button on the Data Laboratory screen you exported from.

On the next screen, you’ll make sure “referring domains” and “modularity_class” are set to Float and make sure the “Force nodes to be created as new ones” box is unchecked. Then click “Next.” Once imported, you’ll be looking at a page like:

You’ll then click back to the Overview at the top of Gephi. At this point, you’ll notice that not a lot has changed… but it’s about to.

There’s a ton you can do with Gephi. I recommend running the PageRank simulation, which you’ll find in the Settings on the right-hand side. The default settings work well. Now it’s time to use all this data.

First, we’ll color the nodes based on their page type (modularity_class). In the top left, select “Nodes,” then “Attribute.” From the drop-down, select “Modularity Class” and choose which color you’d like representing each. From my example above, I’ve opted for the following colors:

misc/other — orangeblog posts — light purpleresource pages — light greencompany info — dark greenservice — bluehomepage — pink

This will give you something close to:

Now, let’s use those referring domains to size the Nodes. This time, we need to select to size the attribute “referring domains.” To do this, select the sizing icon; then, in the Attributes, select “referring domains” and set a min and max sizing. I like to start with 10 and 50, but each graph is unique, so find what works for you.

If you find that “referring domains” is not in the list (which happens sometimes), it’s an odd glitch with an equally odd workaround — and credit to rbsam on Github for it:

On Appearence/Attributes by color you can set the attribute to Partitioning to Ranking on the bottom left of the window. If the attribute is set to Partitioning it will not appear on Size attribute. If it is set to Ranking it will appear on Size attribute.

What this means is…

All right, so now we’ve got things color-coded by the various sections of the site and sized by the level of incoming links to the page. It still looks a bit confusing, but we’re not done yet!

The next step is to select a layout in the bottom left. They all look a bit different and serve different functions. My favorite two are Fruchterman Reingold (shown below) and Force Atlas 2. You can also toy around with the gravity (that is, how much the edges pull the nodes together). The current site appears as:

Just this information can give you a very interesting view of what’s going on in your site. What’s important to know is that when you right-click on any node, you can opt to select it in the data laboratory. Want to know what that lone page up at the top is and why it’s only got one lonely link to it? Right-click and view it in the data laboratory (it’s a sitemap, FYI). You can also do the same in reverse. If you don’t see an individual page appearing, you can find it in the data laboratory and right-click it and select it in the overview.

What this visualization gives us is an ability to quickly locate anomalies in the site, figure out which pages are grouped in specific ways, and find opportunities to improve the flow of PageRank and internal link weight.

And you’re not this limited

In this article, we’ve only looked at one application, but there are numerous others — we simply need to use our imaginations.

Why not pull your Moz Page Authority or Google Analytics incoming organic traffic and use that as the sizing metric to view which sections of your site get the most traffic and help spot problems in your internal linking structure?

Why not combine the page weight metric Patrick Stox was working with in his article and merge the sizing of your pages by their incoming traffic? With the right adjustments, you can get a feel for the correlation between internal page strength calculations and traffic.

If there’s a metric that can be assigned to a page or a link, it can be used here. Think about how it makes sense to visually display, and follow the process above and do it.

And this is all just the tip of the iceberg. One of the most powerful things I’ve used this tool for is aiding in predicting what will happen to a site after a major change to its internal linking structure. But that’s the subject for next month’s article!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.