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.

13 outdated SEO tactics that should terrify you

As we approach Halloween and our Netflix queues again fill up with all manner of spooky, startling and downright horrifying monsters, I’m reminded of another kind of monster we should all be afraid of: outdated SEO tactics.

These tactics range from harmless but ineffective (like Casper the Friendly Ghost) all the way to completely devastating (like Freddy Krueger). And much like the bad guy in so many of the horror movies we all grew up watching, these tactics never seem to die, despite common sense, SEO professionals, and even Google warning people away from them.

So today, we’re going to delve into 13 outdated SEO tactics that you should be terrified of and avoid at all costs.

1. Link and article directories

Link directories are generally useless today, with the exception of high-quality, niche-specific directories that follow strict editorial guidelines.

Long before search engines were as powerful and effective as they are today, link directories served as a way to categorize websites so that people could find what they were looking for. Thanks to the simplicity of installing and using the software that powers them, marketers’ insatiable appetite for fast and easy links, and website owners’ hunt for additional revenue streams, link directories exploded in popularity.

But, since they didn’t provide any real value to visitors, search engines began to ignore many of these link directories — and they quickly lost their effectiveness as a link-building tactic. Eventually, link directories became a toxic wasteland of low-quality links that could actually get your website penalized.

Article directories are even worse. What started off as a way to share your brilliant insight with a larger audience while earning links, this tactic was quickly abused. Marketers began using software to “rewrite” their articles and submit them to thousands of article directories at a time.

As with link directories, article directories — now bloated with low-quality content — simply hit a point at which they provided no value to visitors. Marketers just used them for fast and easy links. Indeed, the glut of low-quality content flooding the web through these article directories appeared to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back right before the release of Google’s Panda update, which decimated countless websites.

With the exception of high-quality, niche-specific link directories — and you may only find one or two in any given industry — you should avoid link and article directories entirely.

2. Exact-match domains

For a while, exact-match domains (EMDs) were a hot topic because they became a silver bullet for search engine optimization. It was easy to throw up a microsite on an exact-match domain and rank far more quickly than a traditional, branded domain — often in weeks, sometimes in days.

With an EMD, your domain matches the exact keyword phrase you’re targeting. For example:

residentialarchitectmiami.comtampacontractor.comairconditioningrepairstpete.com

But much like a werewolf when the full moon wanes, EMDs quickly lost their power as Google adjusted their algorithm.

Exact-match domains have the potential to rank as well as any other domain, but they also seem to have a higher potential to be flagged for spam, either algorithmically or manually. They become an even riskier proposition when you consider that they generally aren’t as “brandable,” and as a result, the domain will generally be viewed as less trustworthy, which can reduce conversions and make link building more difficult.

3. Reciprocal linking

Search engines view a link to another site as a “vote” for that site — so reciprocal linking is essentially saying, “If you vote for me, I’ll vote for you.” This is the very definition of manipulative linking practices, yet that didn’t stop millions of marketers from blindly trading links, even with websites that had zero relevance to theirs.

Worse yet, rather than links embedded within valuable content, these links were often simply dumped on a “links” or “resources” page, sometimes broken into categorical pages, along with hundreds of other links, offering no value to visitors.

This tactic, though ineffective today, still stumbles slowly along like a putrid and rotting zombie, more than a decade after its death.

4. Flat URL architecture

This isn’t really a “tactic” as much as it is just the default way WordPress is set up, and most people don’t know that they need to change it.

Ex. 1: http://domain.com/page1/

vs.

Ex. 2: http://domain.com/topic1/page1/

A flat URL structure (Ex. 1) makes it more difficult for search engines to understand the hierarchy of your website because all of your pages are treated with the same level of importance, while a faceted or nested URL structure (Ex. 2) clearly communicates the importance of each page within your website in relation to every other page within your website.

The first step is to change your default permalink settings. Then, if you haven’t already, publish your second-level pages, and create corresponding blog categories; or, if they already exist, move them and set up any applicable redirects.

The slugs for your categories must exactly match the slugs for your second-level pages. This little detail is critical because it determines how search engines will value each page within your website relative to other pages within your website.

Once properly configured, each third-level page and blog post will appear as a sub-page of the applicable second-level page based on the blog category it is assigned to. In other words, each third-level page/post adds more authority to the page it appears nested under.

It’s important to think this through thoroughly because changing it later means having to redirect all of the pages in your website and potentially losing ranking.

5. Indiscriminate guest blogging

Contrary to what some people claim, guest blogging is far from dead. However, it has changed dramatically. To fully understand the context, it’s important to understand the evolution of guest blogging over the years.

Guest blogging has roots in traditional public relations. The basic premise is that you’re trying to leverage a larger, existing audience by publishing your article on an established publication. This helps you to:

create more exposure.build authority, credibility, and trust.demonstrate your expertise.build a personal brand.

In the early days, you would seek out publications for guest posting opportunities based on the size and, more importantly, the relevance of their audience. The intent was to get in front of more of the right people, and this involved writing killer content that their audience would find valuable, which would usually include a short bio, and maybe even one or more links back to your own website.

Website owners attempting to keep Google happy by constantly adding fresh content were all too eager to publish a steady stream of posts from guest authors, and because links are the lifeblood of SEO, people quickly latched onto this tactic to build links and sucked the life out of it like a ravenous vampire.

Marketers soon began submitting guest posts to any website that would accept them in an attempt to acquire a link.

Your website is about construction? Great! Let me submit an article on construction trends, along with a bio that includes a link back to my crochet website — relevance be damned! The next predictable step was that many marketers began submitting completely off-topic articles, and website owners eagerly published them.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Google understandably showed up like a mob of angry villagers with pitchforks and torches to put an end to this nonsense and, as they often do, created a lot of collateral damage in the process. Websites were penalized, and while some took years to recover, a many never did, so their owners had to start over on a new domain. A lot even went out of business.

For a while, people shied away from guest blogging, but today, it’s returned to its traditional roots.

6. Keyword stuffing

Back when search engines were only capable of interpreting simple signals, like keyword density, stuffing keywords by the truckload into a web page to make it seem more relevant was all the rage. What should have been just a few instances of a particular phrase sprinkled throughout a web page grew faster than a zombie outbreak.

This doesn’t work — and more importantly, it makes it look like you employ drunk toddlers to write your copy, which doesn’t do much to inspire trust in your company.

7. Exact-match anchor text

At one point, anchor text — the clickable text of a link — was a huge ranking factor. For example, if you wanted to rank for “Tampa contractor,” you would have tried to acquire as many links using Tampa contractor as the anchor text as you could.

Marketers predictably abused this tactic (seeing a trend yet?), and Google clamped down on it and dropped the ranking for websites with what they deemed to be unnatural amounts of keyword-rich anchor text backlinks.

The anchor text distribution for a natural link profile will generally have a lot of variety. That’s because if 100 different people linked to the same page on your website, each link would likely be used in a different context within their content. One person might link to your web page using anchor text that describes the product (“blue widgets,” for example), while another may link using anchor text that describes the price, and yet another might even link using nondescript anchor text like “click here” or something similar.

Below is an example of the anchor text distribution for Search Engine Land.

The majority of your anchor text will not be an exact match to the keyword topics you’re targeting unless they are part of your brand or domain name. And this is OK because today, rather than anchor text, Google places more emphasis on:

the relevance of the linking website to your website.the authority of the linking website.the number of relevant links from authoritative websites pointing to your website.

I wouldn’t put too much effort into controlling the specific anchor text that others use to link to your website — it’s a waste of time, and it can potentially harm your ranking if you go overboard and create an unnatural pattern. The majority of anchor text for most websites with a natural link profile will generally be for branded terms anyway.

8. Pages for every keyword variation

Keyword phrases, in the traditional thinking, are dead. The old approach involved creating a separate page for every keyword variation, but fortunately, search engines are a lot smarter today, so this isn’t necessary.

Google’s Knowledge Graph, based on latent semantic indexing, started to kill off traditional thinking, but RankBrain drove a stake into its heart. Today, websites that still follow this antiquated tactic perform a lot like the zombie hordes you see mindlessly wandering around in a George Romero movie in search of fresh brains to devour.

RankBrain is just a catchy name for Google’s machine-learning artificial intelligence system (Skynet was already taken, apparently) that helps it to better understand the user intent behind a query. It can even help Google to (appropriately) rank a web page for keyword phrases that aren’t in the content!

This means that if you write content for a page about HVAC services, RankBrain understands that it would also very likely be a good match for a user entering any of the following queries:

HVAC repair.HVAC maintenance.HVAC tune-up.HVAC cleaning.

If you’ve created individual pages for each keyword variation in the past, you may be tempted to leave them and just stop doing it in the future, but that’s not enough. You need to prune the unnecessary pages, merge content that can be merged, and create any applicable 301 redirects, because these unnecessary pages will have a negative impact on how Google views your website, and how often and how thoroughly it is crawled.

So, instead of creating an individual page for every keyword phrase you want to rank for, create a more comprehensive page for a keyword topic. Using the HVAC example we mentioned earlier, this would involve creating a page about HVAC services, along with a subheading and content for each of the additional highly-related phrases.

9. Paid links

Paying for PageRank-passing links has been a clear violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines for a long time, but like the machete-wielding protagonist at Camp Crystal Lake, this one simply refuses to die.

I take a pragmatic view to buying links: They can work to improve your ranking in the short term, but you may eventually get caught and penalized, so is it really even worth it?

You might think you can be really careful — buy just a few links to get some traction and stay under Google’s radar — but that’s not going to happen. They are always hunting for both link buyers and link sellers, and it’s shockingly easy because all they have to do is follow the links.

You might get be thinking, “Pffft… I know what I’m doing, Jeremy! I’m careful when I buy links!” Sure you are. But can you say the same thing about the site owners you buy the links from? Or everyone else who buys links from them?

Let’s say Google catches one link buyer by identifying an unnatural pattern of inbound links — all they need to do next is evaluate the outbound links of anyone linking to that buyer to identify more link sellers. In turn, that will uncover more link buyers, which again uncovers more link sellers.

See how fast it all goes downhill? So just don’t buy links.

10. Low-quality content

I recently gave a presentation on digital marketing to a group of franchisees of a large national brand. While discussing the type of content they should be producing for their websites, one of the franchisees frustratedly said, “I can’t write articles for my website — it takes too much time and effort just to do what I’m doing now!”

Effective SEO requires you to regularly produce amazing content — which is, understandably, difficult for time-strapped marketers. A lack of time and resources can often lead to rushing content creation, or worse yet, outsourcing it to non-English speakers or budget services like Fiverr or Upwork. The resulting content is often the text equivalent of the unintelligible grunts from Frankenstein’s monster.

The days of simply producing content just for the sake of publishing something, are, fortunately, far behind us thanks to Google’s Panda update in 2011. Since then, the algorithm has been further refined and worked into the core algorithm.

Your content should be robust, well-written, accurate and engaging. There is no minimum or maximum ideal length; it just needs to be long enough to serve its purpose. Sometimes that may mean just a few hundred words, and other times, that may mean several thousand words.

While we’re on the subject of writing content…

11. Writing for bots rather than people

If you’ve ever seen a web page or an article that repeats a particular keyword over and over, awkwardly forces a keyword phrase into a sentence in a way that doesn’t make sense or incorporates unnecessary heading tags, then you’ve probably seen an example of someone writing for bots rather than people.

SEO has come a long way since the early days, when we had to really spell everything out in order for the search engines to understand and rank a page. You don’t need to do that anymore. Write for people, because they will be the ones buying your products or services.

12. Creating multiple interlinked websites

There are two approaches to creating multiple interlinked websites — and neither one is an effective SEO tactic today.

The first approach is interlinking several legitimate websites that you own. This is the lesser of two evils because if done properly, it won’t result in a penalty. However, it also won’t have much impact, if any, on your SEO efforts, since search engines place a high value on the number of linking root domains, not just the total number of links. Another black mark against this approach is that it reduces the resources you can direct to marketing your primary website.

An example of this being done properly would be when a residential home builder links to a mortgage company that they also own, because there is a high relevance between both websites.

The second approach, which is unquestionably black hat, is to create a series of websites just for the purpose of linking to other websites you own. Since this tactic requires you to create an ever-growing network of websites on such a scale that the only way to describe it would be a gremlin pool party, it’s an absolute certainty that you will also create a pattern that Google can identify, which will result in a penalty.

Instead of trying to build, manage and market multiple websites just to acquire a few measly links, focus your efforts on earning lots of high-quality links from other legitimate websites. An added benefit is that as those websites become more authoritative, their links to your website will become more powerful.

13. Automated link building

When links became an essential part of SEO, marketers predictably sought ways to maximize their link-building efforts using a variety of automated software programs. They blasted their links into guestbooks, blog comments and forums, submitted their websites to bookmarking services and link directories and spun poorly written articles by the thousands, for submission to every article directory they could find.

I’m all for automating certain tasks to improve efficiency within your business, but link building is not one of them because the only kind of links that can be built this way violate Google’s webmaster guidelines.

You can call me a purist, but there is simply no way to automate high-quality link building. That requires creating amazing content and developing relationships to earn links to it. There are no shortcuts.

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.

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.

SEO content strategy: How to grow visits by 300% in one year

Content strategy is an essential part of SEO — after all, content and links are among the top three ranking factors in search.

However, you can’t simply create content for content’s sake and expect to achieve any results. Millions of blog posts are published each day, so you need to create content that stands out and earns worthwhile links. This is where the strategy part comes into play.

Strategic content planning and execution involves:

prioritizing lower difficulty topics and themes.content layering and optimal internal linking.understanding linkability and identifying opportunities.regular upkeep and maintenance of existing content.

A complete SEO content strategy will include these processes.

With the glut of content published daily online, you must be strategic to garner the attention needed for success. Many brands believe publishing blog post after blog post will lead to more links, higher rankings and increased website visitors.

However, SEO is not so simple — you need to be linkworthy to secure links, there are a variety of factors beyond content and links that influence rankings, and you must build strategic buyer funnels to sustainably build relevant traffic.

Today, I want to share a content strategy we’ve used to grow several clients’ site visits by ~303 percent over the past year.

Real data, but anonymized

Prioritize lower-difficulty topics

The first step in building your content strategy is to identify which topics your content will cover.

Effective strategies begin with research — start by analyzing the keywords and themes relevant to your business. For this post, I’ll be using SEMrush (although there are plenty of viable tools available) for my research.

During your analysis, you should evaluate three main criteria:

Search volumeCompetition/keyword difficultyTraffic value/cost

The sweet spot that you’re looking for in your research is high search volume and value with low difficulty. However, all your important keywords will not fall within this ideal cross-section, so you should also prioritize lower-difficulty topics.

In SEMrush, you can quickly get an estimate for keyword difficulty by clicking “Keyword Analytics”=>”Keyword Difficulty”:

Again, there are several tools to choose from to gauge keyword difficulty; just make sure you use the same tool when comparing the difficulty of potential topics.

Of course, you can also manually assess difficulty by simply analyzing the SERPs. Examine the pages currently ranking on page one — if you see well-known brand names or high-authority sites, it likely means higher competition. Conversely, low-quality and/or low-authority results mean lower competition and a potential opportunity to fill a content gap.

Unless you’re already an established, authoritative brand, you’re going to have to prioritize lower difficulty topics. Targeting these less competitive spaces will guide your content marketing strategy, helping you focus your efforts where they will make the most impact.

Layer content and optimize internal links

As you strategize and plan content, consider opportunities where content layering and internal linking are possible.

Content layering refers to the practice of “layering” middle-of-the-funnel content on top of bottom-of-the-funnel content by covering relevant, complementary topics and internally linking between pages.

Finding and executing on these opportunities provides a wide array of benefits, including:

shared authority. Middle-of-the-funnel content is typically more linkable than bottom-of-the-funnel content, and through internal linking, valuable equity can be passed from the links pointing to your mid-funnel content through to your converting pages.increased brand authority and recognition. Ranking pages for mid-funnel queries can build authority and recognition that pays dividends later in bottom-funnel searches.link acquisition for converting pages. Promotion of mid-funnel pages can yield links for bottom-funnel pages if they’re strategically and contextually linked within the content you’re promoting.

Content layering and internal linking need to be part of any content strategy. By layering content and linking internally, you can structure your site in a way that’s easy to follow for readers and search engines alike.

Focus on linkability and opportunity

Any SEO strategy — particularly a content strategy — must account for links.

Links remain an important ranking factor and have numerous benefits beyond search. Because links are so valuable, you should focus on linkability as you plan content.

Linkability, or “linkworthiness,” simply refers to the potential for securing links. People link to other sites in a variety of ways online, so to evaluate linkability, you need to think about why someone might link.

The first place to start is with the potential outreach market for your content. These are the people who might be interested in sharing and linking to your content if you contacted them and let them know it existed.

A few factors to consider as you analyze a potential outreach audience include:

search volume for associated keyword. If nobody is searching for this topic, it’s likely nobody will be interested in linking.the number of unique domains linking to top results. If the top results can’t muster many links, you will likely struggle as well.types of pages linking to top results. A quick manual review of the linking pages will give you a sense of whether these types of links would be achievable for your site.

Along with evaluating the outreach market, you need to analyze link opportunity. Analyzing opportunity essentially boils down to one question: Can I create something better or more useful than what is currently ranking?

SEO expert Brian Dean’s “skyscraper technique” — in which marketers identify great content, create something better, and then reach out to relevant parties who have linked to similar content — is a great option for capitalizing on link opportunity. However, you must adapt the technique to meet your specific situation.

The key portion of the skyscraper technique is creating something better than what is ranking. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend hours creating the most comprehensive resource imaginable — sometimes it only takes small tweaks to deliver something better.

Some common options for improving on what’s already ranking includes:

creating a more searchable title.improving readability and formatting (headers, sub-headers, bullet lists and so forth).optimizing for page speed.citing reputable authorities and source (also provides built-in promotion opportunities).expanding on or exploring the topic in more depth.sharing original or new research.

Along with these improvements, another way to elevate your content above the competition is to add extra formats. Perhaps the topic would be better suited to a video? Maybe you can add original photography or animation to create something that is best in class.

Adding extra content types can require more of an investment, but it’s worth it. Investing in at least one sunk cost differentiator — photography, video or design, for example — will truly set your content apart and help you secure the links needed to outpace the competition.

Regularly update and maintain existing content

While most content marketing strategies focus on crafting new content, a complete content strategy will also account for existing content and pages.

As you identify potential link opportunities and content gaps, don’t forget to take stock of your existing content. Sometimes it can be easier (and more effective) to update existing content rather than create something from scratch.

In fact, many of the methods for improving content listed above can be applied to your own pages.

Adding extra content types can be particularly effective for upgrading existing content. For example, adding a video to a long-form how-to post adds extra value and linkability, and can even capture bonus traffic and attention via YouTube — as I demonstrated in this post.

An alternative option to upgrading is repurposing. Rather than adding extra content types or formats, you can repurpose an underperforming content asset into something that better serves the needs of searchers. Analyze the SERPs you want to rank in, see if there is a prevailing content type, and then match that format.

Finally, a simple way to keep your existing pages fresh is to add a “Last updated” tag at the top of the page. This tactic will allow you to continuously update and improve a page as the topic it covers evolves over time, keeping your page fresh and competitive in search. Including the last updated date will also inform readers how current the information is, serving as a form of social proof.

Your SEO content plan should largely concentrate on how you can deliver new, engaging content to your audience. But don’t forget to dedicate some time and effort to improving existing pages as well.

Outline of an effective SEO content strategy

To recap all the information shared here, follow this outline and implement these practices in your content planning.

Prioritize lower difficulty topics.Analyze opportunities based on search volume, keyword difficulty and traffic value.Manually review SERPs to find gaps and low-competition phrases.Layer content and optimize internal links.Layered content benefits your converting pages through shared link equity, increased brand authority and direct link acquisition.Focus on linkability and opportunity.Evaluate potential outreach markets.Analyze link opportunity, make improvements and execute something better.Invest in at least one sunk cost differentiator.Regularly update and maintain existing content.Improve and upgrade existing pages.Repurpose existing assets into something more linkworthy and useful.Include a “last updated” function to manage content freshness.

We’ve used this SEO content strategy time and time again to help our clients grow their site visitors, and I hope you find success with it as well.

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