Building links is widely regarded as one of the most difficult and time consuming aspects of SEO. If you have a community centric site, you should spend some of your time allocated for link building on creating features that will get your users to do your link building for you. Implementing these community link building features can result in a scalable flow of links to your site.
If you give users a self-serving reason to link to their profile, they will be much more likely to link to it. Turn the profile into a portfolio; use a member’s profile to show off their achievements and their top contributions to the site.Double up the incentive and enable members to be freelance through the site – have a “hire me” button on their profile. Something like this would work well for sponsorship sites like Hookit, which has done this well (image from a hookit profile below), putting a "Sponsor Me" button bellow the name and profile shot of each athlete.
Sharing Call To Actions
While this is pretty basic, there are many sites that do not ask users to share their content in any visible way. This can be as simple as adding buttons to share the content in a ribbon at the end of content or in a sidebar.Be careful not to go overboard on the buttons though.While your users may be on many different networks, poppularity of these networks tends to follow the Pareto Principle, where 20% of networks receive 80% of your users’ submissions and attention.
Sharing your content doesn’t guarantee links as social links are often nofollowed, but social is thought, by some, to be a factor in the ranking algorithm so encouraging users to share shouldn’t be neglected.
Voting Content Helpful
Do you enable users to vote content up or down? What do you do with it after it’s been voted helpful? When a user votes something up, it means they think the content is good content but they may not be thinking of sharing.You can remind them with an async overlay that appears after voting up. This could easily become annoying, and cause people to stop voting content helpful so it might be a good idea to only do this only one out of every sevenor ten times. An easier implementation of this is putting the Facebook “like” button on your site as “liking” content automatically publishes it to your wall.
Promote Controversial Content
Content that gets people riled up also has a tendancy to get a lot of links. Look at Derek Powazek’s rant on how SEO’s are a bunch of Spammers. Everyone reading the SEOmoz Blog would probably agree that Derek’s rant isn’t valid, but he got a lot of links out of it. Open Site Explorer reports 2,374 links from 423 root domains – some of them from really strong sites like Search Engine Land and Newsvine. Mission Accomplished. Regardless of whether he wrote this as link bait, it became link bait. If there are controversial threads on your site, promote them like crazy. Try and stir up that hornet’s nest and see what happens.
One really easy way to keep these threads/posts going is to promote the most active discussions in the sidebar or at the bottom of other threads. There are a lot of "top discussions" plugins that will highlight content so that you don’t have to worry about manually promoting controversial content. That said, if you do notice controversial content, it would probably be smart to promote it in other ways such on Twitter.
Awesome Community Badges
If you have a strong community that loves you, create badges for the community and make a big deal out of them when you release them. Sometimes you can get multiple links out out these badges, but you need to be really careful about how you go about this. I would suggest reading the Unofficial Google Widget Bait Guidelines and Widgetbait Gone Wild. SEOmoz did a great job with their badges and has received links from 485 different root domains with the alt text: i <3 seomoz. Feels good to be loved.
<a href="http://www.seomoz.org"><img src="http://www.seomoz.org/img/i-heart-seomoz.png" alt="I <3 SEO moz" /></a>
Ego Boosting User Centric Badges
In addition to creating badges highlighting the community, you should create badges that are focused on the users and their achievements. This will play to the ego of your community members so these badges should really hype up how awesome your users are. Give your users the ability to “levelup” and then graphically distinguish between levels of users on the badges; this gives users a) pride in their accomplishments and b) motivation to contribute more to the community. Experts-Exchange has done a great job creating badges, shown below, that show off a users’s accomplishments. In the badge below, you can see the user’s top categories, how many questions they have answered, how many articles they have written, and how many points they have.
Email Users at Critical Points
What the critical points of interaction for your site? When a users registers, contributes content, “levels up”, when the user’s content is voted up, and when users’ content is promoted by staff are some of critical action points that many community sites have in common. Identify which points of contact are critical for your site, then email users at these points and ask them to share either the site or what they have just done. For example, if a user’s review is going to be promoted on the front page or on a popular category page, email the user and let them know that they created something great and that their review is
going to be promoted. Encourage the user to tell their friends about their review being promoted on the homepage.
When users register, collect their Twitter names. When their content is being promoted, as in the situation above, you should tweet about it. SEOmoz does a good job of this; when a user’s content is published on YOUmoz, SEOmoz tweets it and includes the @username.
Like videos, photos are shared frequently; the catch is that most sites that host their own videos offer you the ability to embed the video. Most sites that offer photo galleries don’t offer this option. Sites like Pink Bike could stand to benefit from this by having code to “embed this image” below the photo with a couple different sizing options. This is applicable to any site, not just sites offering galleries; if you allow users to upload images to a forum or for a review, you should enable and encourage users to embed the image. Rand did a great Whiteboard Friday on Linkbuilding Through Embedded Content. There are so many opportunities to leverage embedded content, most sites could find a way to build links through embedding content. This is an example of how photo galleries should incorporate this:
Create a Leaderboard
Stroke your top contributors’ egos a bit; dedicate a page to your top users and make sure they know about it so that they can promote it on their own blogs. While a lot of sites do this, I think Medpedia Answers does an especially good job. They provide the avatar and name of the contributor, how many point they have, qualifications and accomplishments, and they link to each members profile and another page with their answers. Medpedia, a medical Q&A site has done a good job recognizing their top users, below is part of their leaderboard.
Combining Tactics FTW! Creating a leaderboard can help you get links, but people might not think to link to it on their own, but with a little encouragement…it could become awesome. When users make it onto this list, they should be informed that they made it on to the list of top contributors. Email them. They can again be notified once they have cracked the top 10, top 5, and 1st place. In the notification email, give them the URL and tell them they should share it with their friends. You could also include a special badge for top contributors (with a rank number) that communicates their accomplishment. Leaderbeard, Email, Sharing, Badges. Double Rainbow.
Interview Top Users
The key to interviewing members is to promote it well. If you prominently position the interview on the site, the contributor will be more likely to feel a sense of accomplishment about the interview, as the article will inherently get more attention because of its prominence. Since they feel proud of their interview, the user is likely to blog about the interview (maybe having an active blog could be a screening requirement for choosing interviewees).
Interviewing experts is often a way to get links as these experts will want to mention these interviews either on their blog or on Twitter. Take this concept and apply it to your users with blogs and strong social media accounts.
What is really important is to always publish interviews to the same URL and make sure that this is the URL that you share with the user, for example: domain.com/user-interview/. When you have a new interview to publish, simply move the old interview to a different location (domain.com/user-interview/username-date.html) and keep the links concentrated on the interview page.
Syndicate Your Content
There are a lot of sites that are hungry for content and would be willing to feature some of your content with an attribution link. If there is a popular news site in your industry, you could ask them if they would be interested in featuring a weekly article, review, blog, photo… that they could feature on their site. Make sure you get attribution links out of it though. An example of a good attribution line would be: How to Fight Bears (link) is part of a weekly series by Adrenaline Adventures (link).
To get users to syndicate your content, offer them custom widgets that could be easily placed on their site or blog. The widget could highlight their recent contributions to the community. This widget would act like an RSS feed that would sit in a user’s sidebar. This Whiteboard Friday is a good resource if you are looking to learn more about syndicating content.
Ask Your Community to Help Grow the Site
If you have a strong bond with your community, explain the basics of SEO to them and ask them to help you out. You can ask them to link to your site and share the content through social media. If you are feeling bold, you can even ask them to link to you using your keywords as anchor text. It is really important when you are directly asking your community to help you with SEO is that you emphasize how this will help the community and how it will help the user who links to the site. Etsy does a great job of explaining what SEO is and how their community members can help to optimize their contributions.
Having a page about helping a new site grow isn’t that uncommon. On these pages, sites will often ask users to link to the community and offer the user badges they can put on their site to show their support. BallHyped, a new sports community, has done a great job of asking people to link to them by putting an emphasis on it being beneficial for the user and the community. As a result, they are having success getting users to support their site with their “Vote For Me” badges (shown below).
While not all of the strategies in this blog post will work great for every site, there should be at least a few that will work for most sites. I hope you are able to apply some of these and have your community bear some of your link building burden. How do you get your community to build links for you? Let me know in the comments.
Hi everyone, my name is Geoff Kenyon and I recently joined Distilled as an SEO Consultant. This is my first post on the SEOmoz blog, but you can expect to see me writing here and on the Distilled Blog. If you have
questions or want to say hi, hit me up on twitter @geoffkenyon.
Email was personal, then it was easy to automate & done in bulk.
Guest books and blog comments were a way to add value, then they were sources of free links.
Links were a signal of relevancy, then they were bought and sold in bulk.
As people get burned the web as a whole gets more cynical. The scammers steal from the plates of honest folks as the web adjusts to a new level of cynicism…each round more cynical than the last. This is why you have to prove to people that they are going to get a 20x return when they buy from you, because a half-dozen scammers already ripped them off, and by the time they find you they simply have no trust in internet marketers (and perhaps none for humanity).
This is why people view SEO as a scam like anything else in marketing…most people who jump online get hosed.
Sometimes cost protects a channel. For instance, since people have to pay to be a member of our forums we don’t really have to deal with spam in there. But as far as media formats go, things that start off as expensive can often be made cheaper through systemization & outsourcing … so any given format that was once too expensive to do poorly eventually becomes accessible to do in bulk with marginal quality (blogs can be autogenerated, so can books, video is getting cheaper, and infographics can be done cheaply if you are not concerned with quality).
Are most infographics created by independent webmasters designed for promotional purposes? Absolutely. They cost thousands of dollars to create (in terms of research, editing, formating & promotion) especially if you do good ones.
The big issue with any format is not the format itself, but pollution in the marketplace. Pollution leads to cynicism, which destroys the market for EVERYBODY who is not the bulk spammer churning out trash.
What does Super Mario Bros. have to do with Home Owners Insurance? It’s an easy way to buy links. But likely one that won’t last long given that these people are killing the medium with irrelevant trash.
This week I pretty much have two things on my mind: beta launch and conferences. Since Rand will be covering the beta launch later today (wheeeeee) I thought I’d focus on the conferences. Along with preparing for our own PRO Seminar later this month, we’ve been discussing the various conferences we’ll be attending and speaking at over the next few months. Personally I’m getting excited for SES San Francisco next week. With the change of venue and being a part of Connected Marketing Week it’s going to be a great event. It also got me thinking about how attendees and speakers can use going to the conference as a link building exercise.
Anyone can easily acquire a few links by sponsoring the event, but I wanted to come up with some creative ways to gain links without actually paying anything. Ok, well without paying for anything more than the cost of attending the event. Let’s get started!
1. Speak at the event
Speaking on a panel is one of the easiest ways to get a link directly from a conference. Unfortunately it’s also probably the most difficult for most people. Not everyone gets excited about standing up in front of a room full of fellow internet marketers and speaking. But if you’re the type who loves what you do, has great advice, experience and/or examples on a specific topic and doesn’t mind speaking in public, then it’s time to get rolling! There are tons of conferences (seminars, trainings, etc.) from big to small, international to local that you could speak at. Find the one that’s right for you and reap the rewards from the links.
Ok, so where do the links come from? First, you’ll normally get a link from the actual conference itself where they list their speakers. You’ll also get links from people who write about the session you speak on. For example, Lisa Barone always links to the speaker’s website in her liveblogging coverage. Here’s one of many examples.
Simply by speaking at the event puts your name and company out there to the masses and gives them a reason to write about you. But perhaps speaking isn’t your calling, let’s see where else you can gain a link or two.
2. Liveblog or Livetweet
There are a number of benefits of live blogging, such as adding great content to your site and hopefully increasing your SEO value. But don’t forget that many conferences will link to liveblog coverage of their event. Booyah! Now… don’t get me wrong, live blogging is NOT easy. It can be a gruesome task where you spend the entire day typing, making sure you catch as much of the sessions as absolutely possible and still find time to eat and use the restroom. I personally attempted it once, but we can all see how well that went over (hint: I haven’t done it again). Hats off to all those amazing livebloggers out there who do it time and time again at all the major conferences!
Some of the amazing livebloggers you’ll see at conferences: Lisa Barone, Richard Baxter, Barry Schwartz, Virginia Nussey
If you’re new to liveblogging or tweeting you might want to start small like with a local meetup. With a smaller venue, liveblogging isn’t such a daunting task if you only have one or two sessions and speakers to cover. Plus not as many people are covering the small events, so the competition isn’t fierce.
Another alternative to liveblogging is livetweeting. While you’ll probably only get links to your Twitter account via retweets and Twitter roundup posts, you will probably get more followers who could in turn link to you at some point. Ok, so this may not be a direct link, but the idea of a future link is good enough for me. In both liveblogging and tweeting, you have to be able to type and type quickly. If that isn’t your thing, and you just like to attend the conference, take notes and learn in your own way, there’s another tip that will earn you a few links. Bring bloggers food, drinks, a power cord, whatever! If you see that a liveblogger tweets about being thirsty, bring him/her a bottle of water. How much do you want to bet that you’ll get a link in that post (or maybe from Twitter) from that blogger? I’d say that’s a high likelihood.
In general if you bring someone of the Linkerati something nice, you might get a link out of it. Last year I roomed with Keri Morgret at SES San Jose and she brought triple chocolate muffins to the room!! Now if that doesn’t deserve a link from SEOmoz, I don’t know what does. Just sayin.
3. Take Photos and/or Video
This is a super fun way to not only get some sweet links but think about how many people you’ll meet. It’s the easiest way to network at a conference because pretty much all SEOs want their photo taken. But the key is, after you take the photos, be sure to publish them! Write a post and link to the people in the pictures or post them on your Facebook page and get more "likes" to your page.
Dana Lookadoo is probably THE BEST at taking great photos throughout the conference and then publishing them right away. She’s received several links from the SEOmoz blog for taking photos we used and then linked back to her. In fact, all the photos of the livebloggers from above Dana, took at various conferences (thanks for the great photos again!).
4. Get involved!
Whether the conference is large like an SMX or just a small meetup, everyone loves volunteers to help. This is also a great tip to getting a free pass to an event. Sure you have to put in a little work and help out, but in the end you’ll learn a lot and will probably get a link or a thank you on Twitter. Earlier this year I helped Michelle Robbins at SMX West and got a great thank you from her after the fact via Twitter.
Just think of the possibilities here. If you can donate a little of your time, you can easily get a link or two out of it.
5. Do something crazy
Seriously, not even kidding here. If you do something out there, something a little different than the norm that people can get excited about, then they’re going to write about it! Off the top of my head I can think of three different instances at conferences where people did things just a bit crazy, and the story went completely viral! I’m talking sha
ving your head, winning a pony and bigwatah. I won’t go into all the details about these events but let’s quickly look at a few Google searches.
A search for "bigwatah" shows 4 posts talking about the event that happened at SMX East in 2008 plus tons of photos. Then a search for "evan fishkin shave head" (tee hee hee) shows at least 10 posts and 3 videos of Matt Cutts shaving Evan Fishkins head at Pubcon 2009.
That’s just the tip of the iceburg. I’m pretty sure much crazier things have and could happen. As long as you don’t hurt anyone in the process, I say get a little crazy!
Whew! That’s a lot of linkbuilding that can happen in just a couple days time. As you head out to a conference this summer or fall, think about ways to not only gain knowledge but also to create a few backlinks. Remember that many of the people who will link to you who are at a conference are probably SEOs themselves. Which means they probably (not always, but probably) have a fairly decent authority site to send you some juicy links (dang. did I just say "juicy links" I hate when people say that). I’d love to hear some of your ideas or ways you’ve been able to build a link or two while attending a conference.
p.s. I know that the title should have been, ‘Can Count’ not ‘Do Count’, because links from offtopic sites in a sidebar aren’t getting you anywhere. So sometimes, paid links from offtopic sites don’t work. But “do” has more pop to it than the timid “can” … it’s a style issue. photo credit: TheTruthAbout…
This weeks Whiteboard Friday is a little bit different than normal but a lot more awesome. I took the lead this week and am sharing 5 tips that beginners can use to get links from bloggers. This educational video is full to the brim with helpful tips, odd tangents and one very poor impression of a news anchor.
The Beginner’s Guide to Getting Links from Bloggers
Try all of the following tactics and focus on building upon whichever one works best for your situation.
Make Lists of Niche Linkers (and post them) – Most bloggers are by nature marketers. Take of advantage of this by writing material that helps them market themselves. For example, if you wanted to get a link from a blog in the car space, you might make a list of the top 3 Honda Civic blogs. Remember to go niche and avoid stating the obvious (I.E. Techcrunch is the number one tech blog). "The obvious" doesn’t attract links.
Do Interviews – This tactic has two main benefits. First, by conducting interviews you get interesting content to write about. What could be more interesting than what the industry experts are talking about? (Clever interviewers will realize the answer is the stuff the experts don’t want to talk about). Secondly, by getting your name/brand in the head of an expert, you have more chances of getting links from them in the future.
Be Virtually Social – Being virtually social is easy and can provide higher short term ROI than talking to people face to face. (e.g. It is easier to get a link from someone who is in the process of writing something online than it is to get a link from someone who is not at a computer.) I use the following three avenues to do this:
Facebook – Since Facebook replaced "Fan" with "Like", it is now easier than ever to promote your work via Facebook without being too "salesy". This won’t get you links per say (as the entire process exists within Facebook’s ecosystem) but it can help drive traffic.
Twitter – Like Facebook, Twitter won’t necessarily help you build followed links but it does help you spread your brand/product/idea around the net. This makes it a good long term strategy.
Blogs – One great way to get links is to find supporting evidence for a given blog post and letting it’s author know about it. If they use it, they are likely to cite you as the source.
In addition to promoting my work on Twitter, I use the platform to spread Internet awesomeness. (Thus the image above)
Make In-Person Connections – This is the best long term way to get links. When bloggers are trying to come up with supporting evidence for a point they are trying to make, they are much more likely to use a example that is already in their head than they are to go out and search for it. The best way to get into someones head (other than a chisel) is to meet them and spend time with them. (Wait a chisel? Did anyone else read that?)
Send Linkers Demos of Things (Websites, New Products, Games, Etc…) That You Want Links To and Include the Linkers Stuff In It. – This tactic is newer and has been proving to work very well. If you want coverage from a specific blogger, try including their blog in the product demo and sending it to them. This way they can promote themselves while promoting your work.
If you have any other advice that you think is worth sharing, feel free to post it in the comments. This post is very much a work in progress. As always, feel free to e-mail me if you have any suggestions on how I can make my posts more useful. All of my contact information is available on my SEOmoz profile under Danny. Thanks!
After last week’s Whiteboard Friday on the penalties paid links can incur, I got several questions about whether paid/spammy links could be used as a weapon to potentially harm someone else’s rankings. In this post, I’ll walk through why this is rarely the case, how you can defend yourself from potential scenarios and why this isn’t a great tactic to employ against your competitors.
Can Paid Links Be Used as Weapons in the SERPs?
The short answer is "almost never." But, as is typical in the SEO world, there’s a lot more in the long version.
In general, it’s very, very hard to bring down a white hat site/page ranking well in the search results. Although Google isn’t perfect at catching spam (e.g. our recent video featuring the success of some very obvious paid links in a well known network), they seem to be surprisingly excellent (almost prescient) at detecting the intent of links. My suspicion is that sites who buy links to prop up their own rankings have very different patterns than those who have competitors buying links to them. These patterns exist on the sites themselves, in other sites registered to the owners, in link footprints and in usage/search behavior.
It could, in fact, be that the "penalties" many SEOs often ascribe to paid links are in fact the result of a much more sophisticated analysis by Google looking at multiple aspects of a site’s presence before making a determination of the link intent. Given that, in nearly 10 years of SEO, I’ve only heard of two reasonably verifiable instances of "Google-bowling" (the process of pointing bad links at a site or page to hurt it’s rankings) working, my guess is that Google’s webspam team has developed some very impressive methods here.
Many SEOs have also suggested that a certain "bar of trust" can be achieved in Google, after which, negative links may be devalued, but likely don’t cause penalties or rankings drops. This makes a lot of sense to me (though it’s nearly impossible to prove), since "Google-bowling" is largely defeated and even good sites who stray into black/gray hat link building will simply find themselves wasting money, rather than being removed from the results (which could, for many popular brands/sites, cause a loss of relevance in the results for users).
Thus, if you are trying to wield paid links as a weapon against your ranking competitors, it’s far more likely to work against the new(ish) site ranking #65 for your keywords rather than those who’ve earned their way to the top spots with white hat techniques.
Defending Yourself from Potential Link Attacks
Have you recently broken the heart of a black hat link broker’s son or daughter? Stepped on a link farmer’s superhero cape? Talked smack about a nefarious panelist at an SEO conference not realizing they were just around the corner? The best defense, in this case, is a good defense (don’t go buying and renting links to others; you’re only enriching the spammers).
Many, many SEOs and webmasters worry a tremendous amount about spammy links pointing to their sites and pages. By and large, this isn’t a concern and it happens to every site on the web. Just look at some of the spamtastic links that point to SEOmoz (via this Yahoo! query):
If you see a collection of scraper sites filled with pharmaceutical, financial, legal, real estate and other questionable links with surprisingly well-optimized anchor text appearing in Google Alerts or your 24-hour reputation monitoring queries (e.g. http://www.google.com/search?as_q=seomoz&as_qdr=d&num=100 – which queries Google for all pages mentioning "seomoz" in the past 24 hours) don’t panic. If you exist on the web, you’re going to attract these types of links and the search engines will not punish you for it, even if you’re a relatively new, untrusted site.
However, if you start acquiring links that look an awful lot like they’re part of an intentional, paid link network (great anchor text, pointing to internal pages on the site, coming from footers and sidebars that contain other irrelevant, anchor-text rich links), there may be some cause for concern. Your best course of action is to submit a spam report to Google from your own, verified, Webmaster Tools account, noting that you have nothing to do with the links and want to make sure Google doesn’t think you’ve created, endorsed or paid for them.
This action is rarely necessary or worthwhile, but if you’re highly concerned about competitive conduct, it’s not a bad route to take. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you don’t actually engage in any black/gray hat activity yourself or it could trigger the wrong kind of review by a webspam team member.
Should I Buy Links to Push Down My Competitors?
Not unless you feel the link brokers of the world are more worthy than your favorite charity.
Seriously, the chances you’ll have a negative impact are far lower than the changes you’ll actually help (again, I refer back to our paid link WB Friday experiment in which the obvious link network had positive effects, even on the brand new site). The money is far better off spent on editorial content, public relations, social media campaigns and white hat SEO efforts for your own stite. Bringing someone else down may seem temporarily, emotionally satisfying, but it’s the wrong way to approach SEO (and life in general, if I may be so bold).
Looking forward to the discussion in the comments and happy to talk through the filtration processes and failsafes (or at least, my speculation) Google may employ.
WARNING! This week’s video is pure evil! If you are faint of heart, easily disturbed, care for small children, terrified of slugs, curious about magnets, or fond of licorice, TURN BACK NOW!
This video provides actual evidence that the diabolical practice of buying links can actually work (and astoundingly well). It also says the practice can get you penalized back to the stone age, but hey, who needs to talk sense; there’s controversy to be courted! So, without further ado (or any more exclamation points), let the heresy commence…
Did you avoid the temptation? Did you refuse to watch? Is the curiosity killing you? Okay, okay, I’ll give you the lowdown, but you have to promise you’ll nevereverever use this information for evil. Keep that halo sparkly, champ!
Here’s the deal: Rand snuck out without telling any of us and bought some illicit paid links. They were anchor text optimized links from the same page on the same site to minimize the confounding factors. He got one link to each of three different sites…
Directed it at an SEOmoz blog post with the term in the body, but not in the title tag
Ranking before link purchase: #458
Ranking after link purchase: #30
Time elapsed: 8 days (all links were pulled as soon as changes were observed)
Bought a link for two word phrase with a Keyword Difficulty Score of 36%
Directed at page on an established, but low-authority domain with term at end of the title tag
Ranking before link purchase: #426
Ranking after link purchase: #58
Time elapsed: 4 days
Bought a link for a three word term with a Keyword Difficulty Score of 26%
Directed at a page on a brand new site with less than 10 total links
Ranking before link purchase: #198
Ranking after link purchase: #4
Time elapsed: 4 days
Holy crap, right?! That’s some serious movin’ and shakin’ out of one little link! Here are a few things to not before we discuss why you shouldn’t go smash open your piggy bank and spend your shiny coins on nefarious links: 1) As soon as the links were pulled, the rankings fell back down to where they were before the links, so if you’re renting, don’t get too comfy in that high position; 2) These were very short-term so there wasn’t much time allowed for Google to sniff these links out; 3) This is not a statistically significant sample size or a scientific test, take these results as anecdotal.
Okay then, why shouldn’t you buy links if they work such splendid voodoo on your rankings? Let’s fight anecdotal "proof" with an anecdotal warning. Some friends of SEOmoz who run a fairly well-established site recently ran into a snag–they vanished from Google. They had ranked in the top two for many moons, raking in the lucrative spoils of their hard-won rankings. Then they got greedy; they thought a couple of paid links (four to be exact) could secure them the number one spot for all eternity. They wanted to be like the lone Highlander atop his mountain. They bought their links, and it worked for a minute. Then Google beheaded them (to continue the Highlander theme) by abso-friggin-lutely burying their rite. Their links were discovered and now they can’t even rank for their business name or their full title tags. Suffice to say, this has made business a tad difficult.
Listen, my fellow marketers, to this cautionary tale of penalty and woe. Paid links may reap quick and easy reward, but the repercussions can be dreadful. Besides, everyone knows that the Krampus comes for SEOs who pay for links.
Big thanks to Avi Wilensky of PRO Media Corp for suggesting this study.
And now, a very special message…
This week’s episode of Whiteboard Friday is a bittersweet installment for me. After producing this blog feature for over three years, and more than 150 episodes, this is my last. As Rand mentioned in the video, I’ve decided to bid farewell to the magical world of SEOmoz and pursue my next great adventure. I’m still weighing opportunities and haven’t decided where I’ll be heading next, but you can rest assured I’ll still be playing in the online marketing sandbox, so bring your shovel and we can build a castle together. It’ll be sweet; we can have towers and a moat…maybe a dragon. If you’d like to keep in touch, I’m easy to find on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
I want to thank everyone in the community for contributing to the truly wonderful experience I’ve had here, and all of the amazing people I’ve had the pleasure to meet online and off. I hope you’ve all enjoyed watching these videos and reading my posts as much as I’ve enjoyed making them. Most sincere thanks and gratitude to you all for an awesome experience over the last several years. Have fun and I’ll see you around the interwebz!
Howdy SEOmozzers I’m Paddy Moogan I work for Distilled in the UK office. This is my first SEOmoz post, hope you find it useful and I look forward to your feedback.
How this post came together…
A few weeks ago we decided to try to help people who do link building in industries where links are not always easy to come by. We created a form which asked people two questions -
What industry do you work in that you believe it is very hard to get links for?
If you could get a link from one website in your industry, what would it be?
We’ve received loads of great replies and I’m going to cover as many as possible here. The second question was optional and didn’t have to be related to the industry. Any websites not related to an industry will be covered at the end of the post. I’m hoping to do another post soon which will cover the rest of the submissions.
My usual approach to link building is based on the site itself and identifying what makes that website link worthy, obviously I can’t use that approach in this situation! Instead I’m going to suggest asking yourself four questions -
Important Note: Please do not bypass "Why will they link to me?". This is probably the hardest question to answer and will require work to get right. Link building is hard work mainly because you need to spend time creating content that someone wants to link to, if you put time and resource into this part of the process, the rest isn’t as difficult.
I’m going to follow this process for some of the sites on this list so that even if non of these sites are in your industry, you can still use the same process to identify link building opportunities for yourself. The rest of the sites will have some quick tips and ideas for getting links.
Industries that are Tough to get Links for
Here are some of the suggestions we had submitted for tough industries to get links for.
Who you want a link from:
Any person who owns a pet and a website
How you are going to get their attention:
There are lots and lots of forums and online communities out there based around various types of pets. Joining some of these and posting a few bits of free veterinary advice would certainly get their attention.
How you are going to get a link:
Start a Q&A section where users can submit a question and receive free advice from one of your expert vets. Capture a persons Twitter, Facebook or website address when they ask a question. Then prioritise questions by those who have a website and answer those first. Ask them to share the answer on their website as a thank you
Add a Jobs Board to your site, if you have a WordPress blog here is a method on how to do it. Allow other Veterinarians to post job vacancies to your site and encourage them to promote it on their own site.
Ask users to submit photos of their animals and award a prize for the cutest – design a badge for them to use on their website with their pets picture on it – link this to the competition page. SEOs seem to love cats so I had to include a least one picture!
Who you want a link from: A jewelry making website or blog
How you are going to get their attention: There are lots of active forums in this industry where you can make contacts and provide good information. This Twitter list search also provides you with lots of people to contact and interact with.
How you are going to get a link:
Run a competition and ask designers and students to design a piece of jewelry which you will feature on your website. Put all the entries on your website and encourage the entrants to share the link and get their friends to vote for them
Create a page on your website that calculates the current price of gold, allow it to be shared easily and embedded on other websites. You can approach pawnbrokers and see if they want to use the calculator on their own website and credit you with a link
Link bait ideas – Men are notoriously bad at buying jewelry and always need help figuring out what to buy and in particular what size ring to buy. A Mens Guide to Buying Jewelry would work quite well. Another idea would be to name the top x ways of proposing to your girlfriend. I wonder if this would make the list
A bit of a combination of the previous ideas – create a calculator that will tell a guy how much he should spend on an engagement ring
Quick Link Target:
Bonus ecommerce tip for all sites which have offline stores – find out if any of them are within a shopping centre or complex. If the complex has a website listing all of its shops, ask them for a link. Here is an example of a shop doing this from the Bullring Shopping Centre in the UK -
iPhone Apps for the SEO Industry
I have to admit, this was one of the easiest ones on the list, SEOs love to link to cool apps especially SEO ones!
Ideal person to get a link from: An Experienced SEO Blogger with a Large Following
How to get their attention: The SEO industry is very active on Twitter, start following your link target and RT them, ask them questions and generally be nice!
How you are going to get a link:
If it is a paid app, give out free copies to top SEO bloggers for them to review
If the app is not yet public, give them super secret behind the scenes access to it so they can test it – in exchange for a review
If the app is already public, when you add a new feature, ask SEO bloggers to beta test it for you.
Quick Link Targets:
Submit your App to all of these, they give you a link back form your App page
A blogger who loves anything eco-friendly, ideally they will have a bicycle of their own at the moment
How you are going to get their attention:
There are several online communities that you could leverage for outreach. These include cycling activists and associations, many of whom are active on Twitter such as http://twitter.com/CTC_Cyclists. There is also the "green" community who encourage the use of eco-friendly products.
How you are going to get a link:
Create a calculator which tells someone how much they currently spend on a petrol car or bike along with how much damage this does to the environment. Make this shareable and send it to bloggers who talk about environmental issues
Setup a classifieds section of the website where users can sell their old bikes, you can then ask them to include a link from the British Cycling website if they are a member of the association
Link bait idea – overheard office conversations. This has the potential to be a funny piece of content but with a serious end to it – the need for sound masking in an open plan office. A good example may be the Head of the HR department speaking about employees in an office which has no sound masking, this could lead to a title such as "Office Conversations you wish you hadn’t heard" etc.
These guys have created a few graphics to help people understand what sound masking is. This could be executed and presented in a much better way. You could create a "before and after" graphic of a sound masking installation to show the effect it has on the workplace. This could even be tied in with some nice stats and graphs on how it improves efficiency as well. Eg after sound masking you can expect an x% increase in efficiency.
Business Training – Business NLP
There is an active forum here – http://nlp-experts.org/forum.php which seems to have a small Twitter following as well. The guy who runs this seems to have some authority in the area and a network of websites which help promote his main business. If you do a backlink check on the forum you’ll find some of these as well as other NLP sites you could get links from.
Here I’d focus on certain sections of the site, for example if you have a section with classified ads for used cars. Focus on this sector and how to get links, one idea would be to go out to car enthusiast websites and offer them a widget or feed which displays a few of the classified ads on their website. This would work well if you found a site with a focus on a certain make such as BMW. You could just give them a feed for this section so that it will be of interest to their users.
If you have a pets section, you could also use the ideas outlined above in the Veterinarians section.
Fashion Shopping Portal
Ecommerce websites are often seen as difficult to get links for, I can see why as it’s hard to attract links to a product page or category page. The solution is to think about the industry as a whole and what content you can add to other parts of your website to get links flowing in. There are other methods which I talk about in the next section.
I’m going to cheat here and repeat a tip – add a jobs board which lets fashion students see an updated list of jobs. The reason I’m repeating this tip is that you can try to get links from high value pages such as this and this.
Another approach would be to write a guide on How to Get a Job in the Fashion Industry, if you can make this a good guide then you will appeal to loads of websites including this one.
Link Building to an Ecommerce Site with thousands of Products
The challenge here is finding a solution that is scalable, manually building links to thousands of individual pages isn’t very practical. Here is a great article written by Rob which gives you a few starting points. There is also this head-smacking tips from Rand which is very scalable no matter how many products you have, its just a case of automating the follow up email.
I genuinely think that the key to a successful strategy here is to get your customers to do the link building for you. Try to add user generated content to every product page along with making products as easy to share as possible via social media.
Here is an idea of enhancing a standard product page where buyers can leave reviews -
Get customers to upload their videos and photos of their new product to you, then when it has been approved, drop them an email to let them know. Within this email include a line similar to the head smacking tip I’ve linked to above. Ask the person to blog about the content or share it with friends. Again this is very scalable as it can be automated after the review has been approved.
Ok, I’ll admit this is a difficult one! I’d take a similar approach to link building for ecommerce sites, there needs to be another angle built into the website to attract links. People are not going to naturally link to a small gambling site without a very good reason.
So give them a good reason, one may be -
Holding the licence to a famous brand that has been turned into a game – an example being movies that are turned into slot machine games. You can reach out to the online communities around the brand. Also, many online slot machines started their life as an offline game – try reaching out to users of the offline game and ask them to spread the word that there is actually an online version too
Clothing – No Branded Stuff
I’d target a very specific market here to get links from – fashion students. If you are not selling branded clothing, then you can appeal to young, creative clothing designers who want to make a name for themselves. You can contact Universities and Colleges to ask if students want to contribute designs to your site in exchange for some publicity, they could link to it from the University website to help promote it.
The other angle here is to contact individual fashion students with their own blogs such as this one who may want to take part themselves, then link to their design once it is live on your website. I also found this competition which you could do an online version of.
A quick win here would be to ask sites who use your service link to you from their website. In the same way a web design firm may receive a link, its something that Fasthosts seem to do as you can see on this website.
Also submitted with this industry was a website that is hard to get links from, the site was http://www.php.net so I’m going to include this here as well.
This is quite a big area which can improve the scope of the websites that you can target. I found http://www.mcmsfaq.com/links.asp which links to a number of websites who work with various Microsoft technologies.
Another quick win would be to ask for a link from the companies you work with, especially if you do any work with .NET on their websites or have build various components of their systems.
Websites that people struggle to get links from
Here are a few websites submitted to us that people wanted to get a link from.
This is a Real Estate Investing website, they have a few different forums on various topics. You can have a link in your forum signature but they have a number of rules to follow. Make sure you are contributing to the forum and helping people before you start dropping links, otherwise I doubt the links will stay there for long.
This one immediately struck me as being difficult, not just because of the domain name, but because of the page they have in the top right corner called "Linking" which outlines their very strict linking policies!
So lets be creative – get them to tweet a link to your website. Ok this can be difficult but there benefits go way beyond the link itself on this one. Their following is around 3,000 people, a tweet from them could bring you a lot of traffic and links from other sites. You’d also get a link from their homepage as they display the latest tweet from their profile, looking at the frequency of their tweets, this link could be in place for a few days. I’ll admit this one is a bit sneaky but it could get you a link from their homepage and bring lots of attention.
Bit of free advice for the Department of Education
As a sidenote, this website is showing at Google Toolbar PR0 which I found strange. Turns out that they recently moved domains which is a valid reason, however their old site – http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/ is using a 302 redirect. Unless they are planning to take the redirect down very soon I would use a 301 instead!
This was actually the most popular site that people wanted to get links from. This may surprise you but there are a few ways to do this!
Get your Moz points score above 100 to get a followed link from your profile. Read about how to get Mozpoints here
Write a good blog post and it could be included on Youmoz along with a link to you
Put extra special effort into the post and it could be promoted to the main blog – bringing you lots of extra attention, links and readers. This is a great example of how putting extra effort into creating content will benefit you when it comes to getting quality links
Well that is it for now, please let us know what you think and of course if you have any additional tips please add them in the comments. You can also catch me on Twitter if you want.
In 1997, Google’s founders created an algorithmic method to determine importance and popularity based on several key principles:
Links on the web can be interpreted as votes that are cast by the source for the target
All votes are, initially, considered equal
Over the course of executing the algorithm on a link graph, pages which receive more votes become more important
More important pages cast more important votes
The votes a page can cast are a function of that page’s importance, divided by the number of votes/links it casts
That algorithm, of course, was PageRank, and it changed the course of web search, providing tremendous value to Google’s early efforts around quality and relevancy in results. As knowledge of PageRank spread, those with a vested interest in influencing the search rankings (SEOs) found ways to leverage this information for their websites and pages.
But, Google didn’t stand still or rest on their laurels in the field of link analysis. They innovated, leveraging signals like anchor text, trust, hubs & authorities, topic modeling and even human activity to influence the weight a link might carry. Yet, unfortunately, many in the SEO field are still unaware of these changes and how they impact external marketing and link acquisition best practices.
As you read through the following 10 issues, please note that these are not hard and fast rules. They are, from our perspective, accurate based on our experiences, testing and observation, but as with all things in SEO, this is opinion. We invite and strongly encourage readers to test these themselves. Nothing is better for learning SEO than going out and experimenting in the wild.
#1 – Links Higher Up in HTML Code Cast More Powerful Votes
Whenever we (or many other SEOs we’ve talked to) conduct tests of page or link features in (hopefully) controlled environments on the web, we/they find that links higher up in the HTML code of a page seem to pass more ranking ability/value than those lower down. This certainly fits with the recently granted Google patent application – Ranking Documents Based on User Behavior and/or Feature Data, which suggested a number of items that may considered in the way that link metrics are passed.
Those who’ve leveraged testing environments also often struggle against the power of the "higher link wins" phenomenon, and it can take a surprising amount of on-page optimization to overcome the power the higher link carries.
#2 – External Links are More Influential than Internal Links
There’s little surprise here, but if you recall, the original PageRank concept makes no mention of external vs. internal links counting differently. It’s quite likely that other, more recently created metrics (post-1997) do reward external links over internal links. You can see this in the correlation data from our post a few weeks back noting that external mozRank (the "PageRank" sent from external pages) had a much higher correlation with rankings than standard mozRank (PageRank):
I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine Google separately calculating/parsing out external PageRank vs. Internal PageRank and potentially using them in different ways for page valuation in the rankings.
#3 – Links from Unique Domains Matters More than Links from Previously Linking Sites
Speaking of correlation data, no single, simple metric is better correlated with rankings in Google’s results than the number of unique domains containing an external link to a given page. This strongly suggests that a diversity component is at play in the ranking systems and that it’s better to have 50 links from 50 different domains than to have 500 more links from a site that already links to you. Curiously again, the original PageRank algorithm makes no provision for this, which could be one reason sitewide links from domains with many high-PageRank pages worked so well in those early years after Google’s launch.
#4 – Links from Sites Closer to a Trusted Seed Set Pass More Value
#5 – Links from "Inside" Unique Content Pass More Value than Those from Footers/Sidebar/Navigation
Papers like Microsoft’s VIPS (Vision Based Page Segmentation), Google’s Document Ranking Based on Semantic Distance, and the recent Reasonable Surfer stuff all suggest that valuing links from content more highly than those in sidebars or footers can have net positive impacts on avoiding spam and manipulation. As webmasters and SEOs, we can certainly attest to the fact that a lot of paid links exist in these sections of sites and that getting non-natural links from inside content is much more difficult.
#6 – Keywords in HTML Text Pass More Value than those in Alt Attributes of Linked Images
This one isn’t covered in any papers or patents (to my knowledge), but our testing has shown (and testing from others supports) that anchor text carried through HTML is somehow more potent or valued than that from alt attributes in image links. That’s not to say we should run out and ditch image links, badges or the alt attributes they carry. It’s just good to be aware that Google seems to have this bias (perhaps it will be temporary).
#7 – Links from More Important, Popular, Trusted Sites Pass More Value (even from less important pages)
We’ve likely all experienced the sinking feeling of seeing a competitor with fewer and what appear to be links from less powerful pages outranking us. This may be somewhat explained by the value of a domain to pass along value via a link that may not be fully reflected in page-level metrics. It can also help search engines to combat spam and provide more trusted results in general. If links from sites that rarely link to junk pass significantly more than those whose link practices and impact on the web overall may be questionable, they can much better control quality.
NOTE: Having trouble digging up the papers/patents on this one; I’ll try to revisit and find them tomorrow.
#8 – Links Contained Within NoScript Tags Pass Lower (and Possibly No) Value
Over the years, this phenomenon has been reported and contradicted numerous times. Our testing certainly suggested that noscript links don’t pass value, but that may not be true in every case. It is why we included the ability to filter noscript in Linkscape, but the quantity of links overall on the web inside this tag is quite small.
#9 – A Burst of New Links May Enable a Document to Overcome "Stronger" Competition Temporarily (or in Perpetuity)
Apart from even Google’s QDF (Query Deserves Freshness) algorithm, which may value more recently created and linked-to content in certain "trending" searches, it appears that the engine also uses temporal signals around linking to both evaluate spam/manipulation and reward pages that earn a large number of references in a short period of time. Google’s patent on Information Retrieval Based on Historical Data first suggested the use of temporal data, but the model has likely seen revision and refinement since that time.
#10 – Pages that Link to WebSpam May Devalue the Other Links they Host
I was fascinated to see Richard Baxter’s own experiments on this in his post – Google Page Level Penalty for Comment Spam. Since then, I’ve been keeping an eye on some popular, valuable blog posts that have received similarly overwhelming spam and, low and behold, the pattern seems verifiable. Webmasters would be wise to keep up to date on their spam removal to avoid arousing potential ranking penalties from Google (and the possible loss of link value).
But what about classic "PageRank" – the score of which we get a tiny inkling from the Google toolbar’s green pixels? I’d actually surmise that while many (possibly all) of the features about links discussed above make their way into the ranking process, PR has stayed relatively unchanged from its classic concept. My reasoning? SEOmoz’s own mozRank, which correlates remarkably well with toolbar PR (off on avg. by 0.42 w/ 0.25 being "perfect" due to the 2 extra significant digits we display) and is calculated with very similar intuition to that of the original PageRank paper. If I had to guess (and I really am guessing), I’d say that Google’s maintained classic PR because they find the simple heuristic useful for some tasks (likely including crawling/indexation priority), and have adopted many more metrics to fit into the algorithmic pie.
As always, we’re looking forward to your feedback and hope that some of you will take up the challenge to test these on your own sites or inside test environments and report back with your findings.
p.s. I finished this post at nearly 3am (and have a board meeting tomorrow), so please excuse the odd typo or missed link. Hopefully Jen will take a red pen to this in the morning!
Peer Marketing Group is a digital-forward creative agency. We craft identities. We tell stories. We stir up emotions. We connect the dots. And, well, we help you sell whatever you’re selling. Above all, we believe in making things greater than they are—through our diverse perspective and expertise (everything from letterpress to social strategy and from multi-touch installations to ambient advertising).