Search engine optimization is one of the rare business areas where there are thousands of self proclaimed experts, but no central governing body that actual certifies it. And there never will be, because search engines have no incentives to encourage the industry.
Google made nearly $28.55 billion from AdWords in 2017. At the same time we know that people wouldn’t run ads if they weren’t making a net profit. Consider that the average click through rate for an ad is 1.91%. Google is logically enabling a much higher amount of commerce than $28.55 billion, and the organic value of that traffic must be worth much more than their AdWords revenue. SEO isn’t a snake-oil industry, it’s a multibillion dollar opportunity for anyone who can execute.
Google has every incentive to make sure any industry that would subvert billions in revenue gets destroyed and is delegitimized. Not that SEO as an industry needs any help. Even though it gets harder every year, there are still a stunning number of dodgy & underachieving businesses in the industry today.
7 Steps for Auditing Your SEO Agency
Now if you’re here, I assume that you’re really interested in telling whether or not your SEO company has been bullshitting you for months, if SEO is even worth doing, or if your latest site redesign or SEO consultant worked out. The six steps below should give you a good picture of where performance was, is, and is probably going. Either the picture of success will be nuanced with areas of success, or a complete dud. All that said, knowledge is power. So below are six easy tips for evaluating SEO.
1) Auditing Your SEO Agency Step 1: Check Rankings
You can check rankings with a variety of tools including SEMrush, SERPstat, or AHREFS. If you’re a site owner I highly recommend checking out of any of these tools. (SEMrush has a no-hassle money back guarantee for a week) I’ll go through the process of checking rankings (for free) on SEMrush because I think it’s the most full featured at the lowest price point of the three, and is free to try.
Checking Rankings from Your SEO Agency Step 1: Go to SEMrush.com
Type your domain name into the search bar, and of course click “Start now.” (gotta love the fact that they have no sign-up)
Checking Rankings from Your SEO Agency Step 2: Click Organic Research on the Dashboard.
The dashboard has great information on paid search keywords, display advertising, and organic search, which is all worth checking out. But the bread and butter of what we care about is rankings. As a note SEMrush has a decent set of backlink data, but I’d recommend pulling data from AHREFS or Majestic before SEMrush.
Checking Rankings from Your SEO Agency Step 3: The Organic Research Dashboard
This is the main dashboard for the Organic Research Dashboard. Information is limited for free, but you can still glean all of the key information from your site here. The first thing to look at is the main bar chart for your current rankings. Ideally what you want to see is the graph from my above client, where there is a clear growth in rankings over time. The other great thing you can see (for free) are ranking trends over the previous two years, one year, six months, and current month. The current month is great for seeing if you’re already on a downward slide.
On the flip-side I’d look for a specific drop off in rankings in the previous few years. If you’re wondering why business hasn’t been so good since 2015, you might see it here.
The other nice thing of this overview is the total number of keywords your site has in the top 100, the estimated traffic from your rankings, and the cost of that traffic if you bought it with AdWords. There’s also a nice chart of keywords and their URLs below, but this info is only fully revealed with an account.
Checking Rankings Step 4: Analyze Performance Over Time, and Ranking Quality!
As you can see in the video above, there are a few interesting ways you can toggle between the search settings to assess quality. Let’s be frank, we want keywords on the first page, and it’s important to note what is on the second page and beyond, as an item to monitor for growth.
But what we really care about are the keyword in the top 3. These keywords are going to provide the traffic your business needs to grow. If you don’t see keywords in the “Top 3” and “4 – 10” range growing over time, that is a pretty good indication that growth hasn’t been that great.
The caveat. With SEO there is always a caveat. The thing to keep in mind with Google search rankings is that 1) you can rank without getting more traffic or revenue 2) you can get more traffic without rankings, 3) you can rank for useless or low value keywords, and 4) long-tail traffic which would be off the radar of SEMrush can be significant. To really assess the quality of your rankings I’d recommend parsing through data on a monthly basis to be completely sure that important keywords were rankings, or that unimportant ones weren’t getting shed from your site. The main thing to note is did valuable keyword rankings grow over time or not?
2) Auditing Your SEO Agency Step 2: Check Google Analytics
Now the thing with SEO is, keyword ranking can grow even if sessions don’t. At the end of the day organic traffic is really the only thing that matters. Any SEO agency worth its salt should have set up Google Analytics at some point. While there are many great things to see there, I’ll quickly go into the basics of auditing your organic traffic from search engines here.
1) Checking Organic Traffic Growth in Google Analytics Step 1: Main Dashboard
Google keeps adding great features to their main dashboard. While some of the information is a nice to have, like the browsers or mobile devices a user is having, it amounts to fluff for our current purposes. (Google Analytics is still worth exploring, especially if you want to diagnose an area in which you’re weak. What we want is to see growth, or lack thereof for organic traffic generally. So in the left sidebar click on Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.
2. Checking Organic Traffic Growth in Google Analytics Step 2: Assess Recent Traffic Performance
This view will give you information on all of your main channels. Direct are those people that come directly into your site, say existing customers, people who had a friend recommend you, or who have your site bookmarked. Referral is typically traffic from external links on other sites or forums. Email is from email campaigns, and paid is from paid channels like AdWords. Organic is what we care about, and this represents all the traffic from search engines like Google and occasionally Bing, Yahoo, & DuckDuckGo.
To actually assess growth in organic traffic over time you want to click on the date range set box in the top right of your Google Analytics view. You can set any date range you like here, including the previous month, quarter, or just however long you’ve been working on SEO. The other thing to keep in mind is that the year over year view can be extremely useful for also assessing seasonality.
3. Checking Organic Traffic Growth in Google Analytics Step 3: Assessing Recent Traffic Trends
While there are a variety of places you can check out traffic quality in Google Analytics I highly recommend looking the differences in organic traffic sessions over time. Engagement metrics like the actual goals and revenue associated with this traffic is also key. But ideally you’re seeing more green then red in this view.
4. Checking Organic Traffic Growth in Google Analytics Step 4: Look for seasonal trends.
First click back on the date range box, then select previous year.
From there you should be able to see a data sequence that gives you a slice of what traffic looks like compared to the previous year.
The important thing to note here is that success or failure from your SEO can often be influenced by seasonal traffic trends. Sometimes your pushing a boulder up a hill, other times you might be pushing a boulder down a hill. Either way between rankings and traffic you should have a pretty good sense of what your SEO work has gotten you so far.
3) Auditing Your SEO Agency Step 3: Check Google Search Console
Google Search Console (formerly WebmasterTools) is an exceptional place to check the performance of your site. While not as important as it once was, it’s still a basic checkbox that any SEO agency or consultant should be checking in on. There are a few things to take a look at that should be dead tells of SEO quality. First make sure you don’t have excessive SEO errors, these could be innocuous, but generally you don’t want more than a few at any one time. The other thing to note is wether a sitemap has been submitted for Google. As a KPI you should ideally be seeing you indexed ratio (URLs indexed/submitted) improving over time. A large number of non-indexed pages is typically a clear indication of poor performance.
Next let’s click on “Search Analytics” to get a bit more data.
Google webmaster tools has a wealth of powerful information for any business. Once you get into the search analytics screen I would recommend checking the impression, CTR, and position checkboxes. This will give you valuable information on all of your traffic data. The best part about search console is that you can compare traffic from the previous month, as well as see a wealth of data from (unfortunately) the last 90 days only. That said this data can give you valuable information on how some of your top keywords (queries in Search Console parlance) and pages that you can’t get anywhere else.
Once you compare your performance of the previous months (I would recommend checking frequently) you can easily diagnose drop offs in traffic. Search Console is so powerful precisely because you can see important information like a fall off in impressions (less people even seeing you rankings) or CTR (less people even clicking on your rankings.
Finally you can look at query level data to assess how the specific rankings on your site are actually performing. If you notice a fall off in a specific page’s clicks, impressions, or CTR that generally indicates an issue. Alone this data doesn’t necessarily help you diagnose problems with an SEO agency or consultant, but over time it can help you assesses wether or not progress is being made.
4) Auditing Your SEO Agency Step 4: Create & Check Site Crawls
One valuable area that all site owners should be on top of is the actual amount of work that is being done on their sites. Working on on-site copy, title tags, and meta descriptions are all typical work for any SEO agency (since it’s an easy way to manipulate CTR, as seen above). Generally there are two easy ways to actually keep tabs on what is being done on your site. If you are engaged and have a decent cash-flow on-site it’s worth having an account with DeepCrawl or Ryte (formerly OnPage) will make it easy to keep tabs on your site. If you’re more technically inclined and looking to save some cash I’d recommend using ScreamingFrog. This option will give you better options to audit competitors and more raw data to work off of.
5) Auditing Your SEO Agency Step 5: Did they provide clear and accurate reporting?
Most SEO agencies and consultants that are serious about growth should give you clear monthly reporting on progress, wether times are good or bad. If any of the data you’ve seen in steps 1-4 are a surprise that is typically a good indication of a poor SEO agency. They may be doing good work, but they clearly aren’t giving you the information you need to judge that.
6) Auditing Your SEO Agency Step 6: How Good Was Their Initial SEO Audit?
This is a basic box to check, but any SEO agency worth its weight in salt should create and run a thorough SEO audit. If you don’t have one in hand that’s better than the automated reports that SEMrush, SERPstat, AHREFS, or MOZ can create then that’s generally a clear red flag. I’d recommend referencing their audit every few month and making sure that progress is being made on the initial issues they indicated.
7) Auditing Your SEO Agency Step 7: Did they define goals or metrics?
Finally, hard work is nothing without benchmarks. If your SEO agency didn’t define and try to meet clear Goals and growth metrics then that’s generally a clear sign of an agency that isn’t committed to growth.
How is a Business Owner Supposed to Cut Through the SEO Mess?
There is just no central governing body. There could be thousands of issues on a site, and every industry and business is different. But one thing remains constant. The proof is in the pudding.
They do more than just SEO. They’re actual marketing experts and care about your business.
Consider this gentleman, Matt Cuts, the former head of Google’s web spam team. He successfully destroyed years of bad SEO, saved SEO from becoming useless, and is of course, universally reviled by bad SEO’s.
The vast majority of his “advice” can be boiled down to SEO doesn’t work and make “great” content.
To be fair great content is a large part of what we do. But SEO still works, it has just evolved, even if Google doesn’t want it to, because competitors are imperfect and so is Google (shocking). I know Google seems like a brilliant monolithic force, but think about the task it has at hand, in 2013 it had 100 trillion pages indexed, that’s a lot of data. The algorithm can be manipulated and worked with, you just need to be sure you’re working with the people who know how to do that.
What to Look for In a Good SEO Agency:
- Clear and Honest Reporting, they shine a light on their successes and analyze their failures.
- They have good local rankings, or like us they’re at least growing everyday ; )
- They’re multidimensional.
- They care about your business.
- They know your industry.
- They care about results.
But in a world without a central governing body that handles certifications like you would have with pilots, doctors, plumbers, or lawyers who is a business owner to trust? As a business owner or startup growth junkie it can be appealing to steer clear of SEO and do what Google & Bing want you to do, plow thousands into AdWords, or outdated display advertising, or best yet Facebook. But by auditing an agency you can access the highest ROI growth channel.
[00:01] Hey, this is Shaheen over at Web Upon and this is episode number eight of Chalk Talk Thursday The Ocho. Today I wanted to cover how to audit your SEO agency or consultant. Now, this isn’t gonna be a complete in-depth review of how to actually audit your site, that’s gonna be a little bit more complicated. But for any business owner or in-house marketer this is gonna be a really, really quick overview of some things that you can do to actually get a sense of how your rankings are and whether or not your SEO budget is actually being spent in a useful way for your business and even if your SEO agency is currently hurting you. [00:38] So, I’m gonna dive into the three KPIs that really matter with your organic SEO work which is rankings, your GA data, and actual technical staff that’s out there just to see if anything’s been done. And then I’m gonna talk about some red flags that are pretty common that should also let you know if your SEO agency or consultant is less than legit. [00:58] So, first thing you … most people think about when they think about SEO is they think about rankings, right? Now, rankings can be very, very important at a basic level just from branding, right? You want your name and your product to show up when you google that. You want to be seen, you don’t want competitors controlling the conversation around your product area. [01:16] So, rankings have that impact but also just at a more practical level, generally speaking, the most cost-effective way for people to get revenue to their site is gonna be through organic listings in Google. Ads can be very, very effective but you always have to pay. Organic rankings are more consistent and you can work on one area, turn that into a revenue generator and then move onto another one. [01:40] So, how do you know whether your SEO span is effective? Well, in my world there’s really one tool that does this better than any other when it comes to keyword tracking, keyword rank tracking. Now, the reason why SEMrush is so excellent is because it does a really, really good job of tracking out things historically. It has most sites in there, not all of them. [02:04] So, unlike tools like Ahrefs or Serpstat, Serpstat is actually pretty good at preservation as well but Accuranker, a lot of these other tools that basically allow you to input data, SEMrush has really, really excellent information going back often some years for rankings on a site. So, even if you’ve been working with someone for a year or so you can see if your rankings took a nosedive at some point. [02:26] Okay. So, as far as rankings go lemme just interject here real quick and take you to how to actually do this on your home screen. So, you’re gonna go to semrush.com, I’ll leave a link below. You can use my referral link and you should be good for a seven-day free trial and these guys are super legit, they’re located in the US and you can definitely trust them. [02:47] So, all you have to do is just make a beeline for any of their actual search windows. So the thing that you really, really want to look at is your domain overview, and this is probably their most helpful feature, this is what I love about them, they just have a lot of really solid data warehousing. They also have some pretty good international information. [03:07] So, you’re gonna wanna type the name in, you’re gonna wanna make sure that you’re on domain overview rather than just looking at an individual URL or any of their other functionality. And then you’re gonna click on organic research, SEO, the traffic we’re targeting is organic, it’s coming organically from Google. And this is gonna show you right here your all-time traffic. So, I actually revived a super old domain so you’ll see that this domain had tons of traffic back in the day. [03:33] What I really love is you should be able to see a pretty consistent growth trend on your site overtime. If you don’t see that, that’s bad. I just launched this business. We’ve only been around for a little bit as a company, as an agency. So, you can see we basically launched in October, I think, and boom here we are. [03:54] So, a couple of key things to note here, right? You wanna look at the overall ranking trends, you wanna see hopefully an upward trend or at least an upward trend overtime. The really important thing I think to zero in on here is what your actual top three keyword rankings look like so you can organize all this information and you should be able to see it from a top down perspective and that’s how I would actually approach it and that’s how I like to think about it. [04:21] The 21 through 50 rankings and the 51 through a hundred and the 11 through twenties. Those are all really good, those are indicative of success. You wanna have those, you wanna have keywords in that group that are actually going into the top three. But at the end of the day your top three keywords are what’s actually gonna drive growth and traffic to the site, and you wanna see those moving up overtime. If you don’t see that you’re really gonna be hurting yourself and shooting yourself in the foot. [04:46] So, that’s basically a breakdown pf SEMrush. The other feature I’ll note is you can also see these little notation tags here. So, SEMrush is awesome, they included this, I think in an update or two ago and they now note whenever there’s a major algorithm update in Google and they also just note whenever there’s high sensor activity. [05:07] So again, if you see a massive drop off all of a sudden, and there’s one of these little Gs there, then you’re probably most likely you’re looking at a specific Google update that cause an issue and they’re gonna actually tell you what you need to fix. So again, SEMrush is a great tool, you can just jump in here, they have great data warehousing, they tell you what’s been going on. [05:28] Obviously if your domain’s totally new like mine you’re not gonna see information going back very far. And then they’re actually gonna tell you what your individual keywords are which is the best features you can optimize them. A lot of people like other systems where you put the information in and it then shows you what keywords you’re ranking for, but it’s useful if you’re super obsessive and you just wanna check constantly and know at every second how well you’re ranking. But it’s not very good because you wanna basically be looking at keywords that have reported volume from Google because that’s really what’s gonna drive traffic is keywords that people are consistently searching not a keyword that you just wanna rank for, for whatever reason. [06:09] Now, a few key things to note here. So I think most site owners you wanna see your rankings look like that, but in reality there’s gonna be some Google updates so things can change and then you may recover and that may or may not be your SEO’s fault. So, the thing to keep in mind is if you hired someone here and then suddenly you just plummeted the next month, that could mean that they made a change on the site that was catastrophic and that’s probably something that you wanna have a second opinion on quite frankly. Especially if you’re a little bit leery about where your SEOs have left you it’s good to just hire a consultant or someone from an agency to come in and take a look and let you know if there’s some smoking gun of a huge problem that’s occurred. [06:53] So, even though everyone wants their rankings to just be this straight line all the way to the top, there usually is a little bit of variation there so keep that in mind. And secondarily there can be Google updates that massively impact your site. [07:06] Now, if you hire someone over here and they’ve been with you for eight months or something and then you suddenly plummet, well depending on your relationship with them that could mean that they didn’t prepare correctly, it could mean that you just have them working on other stuff. So again, it’s a good idea to bring in a second opinion and I will say that there’s a 50/50 on both sides as to that situation. But generally speaking a good consultant or a good agency that’s actually doing their work should be able to prepare and make sure that you don’t get a huge plummet like this, and actually like some of your competitors when a huge Google update happens you actually benefit from that change rather than being hurt from it. [07:43] Now, the second thing I’ll say, but again, you just wanna trend upwards and you wanna see the keywords that you want to rank for showing with positive information inside of SEMrush so you’re actually seeing some progress. That’s probably the biggest smoking gun. So, if you’ve hired someone for a really, really long time and your rankings are just … nothing’s happening, not that interesting it’s probably a good sign that you need an SEO agency or a consultant that actually knows what they’re doing. [08:09] Second thing I’ll say is look inside of Google Analytics Data. This is probably a better enthalpy all because you can actually look inside and find revenue in session traffic and actually get a sense of what’s going on in the site. There’s some good views that I’ll divert this video to so you can check that out and get a really, really good tour of what this information is and what you should be checking for. [08:34] Jump in here again. So this is Google Analytics. Now, Google Analytics is something that should probably be set up on your site. I mean, there’s a couple of different analytics platforms out there. I’m just gonna cover Google Analytics because it’s the most common one, it’s the easiest and again this is where really wanna be seeing longterm growth. Now a few things to note, you’re probably gonna see something like this when you first login here. All this information is super cute, but honestly not very useful as far as I’m concerned. [09:04] So, what you don’t wanna do is hop down here and also there’s some audience info here which is awesome and I always recommend checking it out, but when it comes down to hard numbers you really wanna click on acquisition and then you’re gonna wanna click on all traffic and you can look in here and you can see some source medium data which is very, very helpful. This can tell you a lot about your business and what’s going on, and you can see a specific breakdown of side traffic. So, I get a lot of traffic from direct Google Organic, Bing Organic, lot less, it just drops off to Facebook and just random other mentions across the web, I’m also getting traffic from there. [09:45] This is a very, very useful way to look at your site it’s just the overall ratio of traffic between various parts of the site. And again, there’s this handy little date functionality up here. You can just compare information week over week and see a breakdown of where your traffic’s coming from. And the one thing I’ll say as a KPI here ideally your direct traffic is becoming a smaller and smaller chunk overtime and organic is becoming a bigger and bigger chuck, and hopefully pray it isn’t crushing you with too much spend there. [10:16] So, the way to think about it is overtime most content marketing and SEO that’s going well you’ll end up seeing a higher and higher proportion of your traffic coming from organic. You will see growth indirect because obviously that organic needs to turn into good customers overtime but the sign of a well functioning site is that at least 30% of the traffic is coming from organic and that’s how you’re actually getting business. [10:41] Again in this top right thing you can also do previous year which if you’ve hired an SEO consultant for a year you can just take the overall year that you’ve had them on and compare that to the previous year. So you’ll see trends that are consistent by season just because seasonality is always going to be a thing. For example, you’re gonna have a massive drop off for the last week of December, that’s just gonna happen but if you’re not seeing consistency there and you’re just seeing an overall drop off it’s probably a bad sign. [11:08] Now the most useful feature in my mind as we go over to behavior and then you click on site content, and then you click on landing pages or you can look at all pages. I love landing pages because this is probably the strictest interpretation of what your traffic looks like. So you’re gonna go over here and rather than click on all users, let’s quickly click, let’s do a little control F for organic and if we type that and set that segment to be turned on we’ll see how much of our traffics from organic. Obviously I get a lot of direct traffic right now and that will get replaced overtime but this is good to just note. You wanna see that there’s consistency, you don’t want the ratios to be weird here but anyways. [11:52] Check out organic, that’s gonna basically be traffic that’s coming in from search engines and then if you just set this you can basically check your month over month performance. Or if you’ve been working with someone for three months you can quickly see what the traffic looks like over that time period. [12:06] So right here we’re just gonna quickly compare January 2019 to December 2018. Sessions are up for organic by 20% which is totally what we expect because obviously the holiday is the last week, everyone was pretty much out of commission in December. So, let’s look at November compared to the most recent months. It’s probably gonna be a more accurate picture and okay sessions are up 70%. So even better as far as the organic goes. The other thing to note is some months will be shorter than others but at a macro level this is the most useful view because you can look at sessions and then if you also wanna track you can look at revenue. I’m not on ecom store but you can look at revenue numbers here and that’s very helpful, right. [12:47] Basically if your revenue and the people on your site aren’t going up overtime you can set a really, really long date range inside of Google Analytics and you can see this information. And if you’re not seeing an improvement there it’s probably a really, really bad sign. The third thing I’ll say is a technical audit. So I’m not a huge fan of the technical audits that tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs or Moz have just because it’s applied through their crawler, their crawler can have some weird idiosyncrasies. So to me, it’s like just trusting their opinion and I don’t like that. Obviously you if you don’t know as much about SEO it can be useful to just dive in there. But I would say just get a tool in Screaming Frog, it’s free and it can crawl sites under 500 pages which is the vast majority of sites out there. [13:40] What you’re gonna do is just download this. It works on both Mac and PC and what this is, this is a crawler. It’s gonna go to a site, it’s gonna jump through the entire site. You’re gonna see it populate with all the URLs and images and all that good stuff. So I don’t wanna get too much into the weeds here I’ll probably end up making a longer video about how to quickly audit a site, but the main thing you wanna look at is your response codes. [14:03] So hop over here if you see thousands and thousands of 301s that’s probably the problem. If you have a few here and there it’s a pretty common thing so it’s no big deal but you wanna have your site pretty clean. [14:15] So you wanna check for redirections, you wanna hop over to blockbyrobots.txt. If you see a lot of blockage there that’s probably a bad sign. If the wrong things are getting blocked that’s something that should worry you and then you also want to hop over to client errors 404s if you see hundreds of 404s and you’ve had someone around for a long time and they’ve … they don’t have a lot to do if there’s issues like that on your site that no one has solved even though the impact’s small that’s typically a red flag that on a larger issue that not a lot’s happening. [14:46] The other thing I’ll say is just hop over to your page tittle tags. If the words here don’t really match the words in the URLs or the products that you’re trying to sell or how you’re trying to position those products, that’s probably a pretty big red flag. So, that should let you know that the spend is probably not being used in the most efficient manner it could be. And the last thing that I’ll show you is if you hop in here and you scroll over to the right you should see a column that says meta robots. Now if your entire site says no index, no follow, that’s probably pretty bad. [15:18] If you also see no canonical elements anywhere on your site and I’ll know that the site URL is all right so we’re not gonna have canonical elements on pictures, that’s a bad sign. And then if you see super high response times or anything, any big issues like that I should probably let you know that your SEO constant is just not thinking about things in the right way. And then also this indexability column if it says non-indexable on its page which should be clearly indexed that’s another big red flag on the SEO side of things. [15:50] So, those are the key rundowns of the Screaming Frog. Other tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs and Moz that have automated audits can be useful, but again I like this just because it’s raw data and if you see some of these red flags that I just outlined then you know that something’s up. [16:07] Now, there can be a lot of SEO technical work that can happen outside of the site itself but this to me can be a pretty good indicator of whether or not they’re actually up to something especially if you’ve had them for a few years. If there isn’t something that was a very recent issue like a site move or a site redesign and you just have this consistent 404s and you also have an anemic rankings it’s probably a good sign they’re just not up to much so you as the business owner even outside of organic data you should just jump ship, in my opinion. [16:38] Now, the other thing that I’ll note about these three KPIs is there’s a little bit of complication here, right? So, I really like to use all three when I evaluate someone’s services, right? So keep in mind you may be doing really, really excellent work from the branding perspective. You may be very aggressive about your advertising and you may be getting a name out there. So it’s possible that your organic traffic and your organic revenue is up hugely but your rankings are actually down, or your site is a complete mess from a technical perspective. [17:09] So, keep in mind that you want to evaluate all three factors, you wanna look for smoking guns like rankings plummeting, but you need to look at the whole picture because the traffic can be up and the money can be up but the rankings can be down on the site conserve. At the same time your SEO agency, your consultant can be working hard your rankings may be up very, very high but your revenue may not be there. And that could just be a situation where the market’s shifted and people aren’t buying as much or we can’t sell it, right? And quite frankly that’s not necessarily the SEO consultant or agency’s fault but you do really have to re-evaluate the strategy there and if they’re good at their job they’ll be able to say, “Okay, we need to actually target this other part of the market, it’s not practical for you to be spending money on me here when there’s actually something more useful I could be doing with my time.” [18:00] So that said, I think there are really three common red flags when it comes to SEO agencies and consultants out there, right? So, it comes down to no reports, no audit and basically no strategy, right? So, if you have all three you’re probably not getting anything for your money. [18:16] Now, the SEO report side of the situation is certainly lacking out there. There are a lot of companies that actually don’t issue monthly or weekly reports, aren’t really forthcoming with your actual ranking data or your Google Analytics data and that’s a shame. [18:33] So, I think two things that you wanna see inside of any SEO report is rankings and traffic numbers. Now, every month isn’t gonna be incredible, right? Some times of the year are gonna be a little bit more slow but the important thing is that when you hire someone for SEO they’re willing to make a longterm commitment in the same way that you do with content marketing and they’re basically honest with you every month, right? [18:55] If traffic’s bad I tell my client and we can reassess the strategy or we can figure out what specifically was the issue and then we’re able to address it, right? Your SEO agency should never be hiding the fact that rankings are down or traffic’s down, that’s typically a huge red flag. Or if they’re just talking about other metrics that are just amorphous like your impressions. Impressions are just how many times your ranking’s seen. It’s not equivalent to how much actual traffic and revenue your business is getting. [19:24] So, if you find your agency avoiding giving you reports, if they’re not sharing ranking data or session traffic, or if they’re just talking about other KPIs and they don’t want to discuss these two, that’s typically a huge red flag and that should let you know they’re probably not the best at what they’re doing or they’re not in it for the right reasons. [19:41] The second thing I’ll say is no audits. So any good SEO agency should be doing audit semi frequently. Now, depending on your site size, and your business, and your maturity, and frankly how much you’re paying them this could monthly, quarterly, yearly, whatever it may be the important thing to realize is you want a benchmark document. So, you can go from year to year and you can say like we have a 59% and we fixed X, Y and Z issues. Or now we’re at 99, whatever it may be. You wanna have a team that’s able to forecast and tell you what’s actually going on at the site in any given month. [20:19] The third thing I’ll say is they have no strategy. So, quite frankly we … every marketer needs to be thinking about the funnel, however you wanna put it, there has to be some key area of your market that is an ideal customer base that the SEO can say, “We should target this specific niche with these keywords because it has the highest conversion rate and the highest likelihood of actually producing revenue on your site,” right? You want some actual SEO strategy, it’s not enough to just say, “We need to rank number one for this one keyword.” [20:56] It’s not what the SEO landscape looks like at this point. You want a company that can actually come in and give you a strategy and help you achieve goals that are in line with your overall business goals, right? Someone that can say, “Oh in Q4 you guys are trying to do this,” they’re telling you about this product launch, “That means that right now in Q1 and Q2 we have to do this strategy so that we can put you in that position down the line.” So those are the key things that you should be looking at as a business owner or an in-house marketer just to check and make sure that the SEO agency or a consultant that you’re working with is helpful. [21:29] I hope that was good and if you have any questions or you would like me to look into anything extra just let me know, please comment down below I would love to get your feedback. Thank you.
[00:01] Hello. This is Shaheen over at WebUpon. This is episode number six of Chalk Talk Thursday. Today I wanted to cover the three core principles of link building. This applies to any business. I know there are hundreds of lists out there that cover all the various tactics, but I think at a macro level, every marketer and business owner should have a sense of what these three tactics are, SEO, content marketing, and PR, so that they think about how they can properly apply them to their business. That’s probably a better position to be in, rather than just being focused on one off SEO tactics or hoping that the local paper features you. This is really a holistic system and a good way to think about how you can advance your business and promote it more broadly amongst the public, rather than just thinking about one specific advertising strategy. [00:48] I think for SEOs, generally, we tend to get caught up in any set of tactics. You can maybe scale a business out by doing some PPC and then you start thinking about SEO. Then you do content marketing. That’s a pretty common way that people scale up their businesses. There are other people that are basically thinking, “Okay, it’s all about product development. Then it’s all about just being the best.” I think this is probably more symptomatic of SEOs, where we get stuck thinking about tactics. We never really think about the broader business that we’re impacting, especially if you’re brought in where you have someone that sells a lot of third party products. You have to really differentiate the business. That’s why we love content marketing so much, because we can really use it to differentiate the brand and help it become more and more legitimate. I think that, strategically, you sort of forget that there’s this whole other side of the coin, which is really how do we get our name out there? How do we make ourselves important in a way that people will love? [01:46] I’m just gonna break down what these three strategies are and how people are using them now. Then I’m gonna talk about some of the brands that are sort of crossing over as far as these strategies go and some of the benefits of that, and just sort of dissect how you can do so in your same business. As far as SEO link building strategies go, these are probably some of the most common, so guest posting, any sort of dead link link building where you sort of find … or link reclamation where you go and find some references and you basically message these people and ask them to please feature you. This can be a very, very useful tactic in some industries. In others, it’s very, very tired. There’s also just local back link building. All these kinds of tactics are basically very focused on the SEO side of the equation. [02:29] It’s people that are thinking, “How can I game the system?” The only problem and downside with that is that you’re sort of stuck in this bubble where you’re always thinking about the SEO, the rankings. You’re never really thinking about the product itself. On the flip side of that, you get a PR centered strategy. If you think about companies like Apple or Tesla, Tesla in particular doesn’t really spend any money on advertising. They don’t really think about it. They completely depend for their PR and their external links, people just to write about them. They’re completely, completely product focused. They’re not really thinking about advertising at all. They sort of just let things handle themselves. [03:06] Now, this is a really, really appealing strategy if you’re in a very, very interesting industry. If you’re just doing some HVAC, you’re just a lawyer, if you’re a real estate agent in kind of a drab area where you’re just selling homes, it’s not mansions on Bel Air, you really, really can’t do a lot and just sort of make your product super sexy. The PR centered strategy then becomes a challenge because you can’t go out and get people interested because, for most people, it’s just not interesting. That’s where content really comes into the fold. Content is really helpful because one, it allows us to connect with our customers more. Two, it allows us to create a situation where we can really, really start to differentiate our brand. SEOs have sort of been on this crossover area for a while. We talk a lot about guides and these sort of in depth product explanations, which help customers, inform them, hopefully build a little bit of brand loyalty so that they actually shop from you, and then let you grow the brand over time. [04:04] On the PR side of things, I like to think about someone like Seth Godin. They are someone who stands alone, just purely based off of their brand. If you type Seth into Google, you’ll actually see him in the top three right now at this very second. They also are someone that writes content almost every day. Now the thing that’s interesting about their content strategy is any SEO would tell you it’s a little bit crazy, because sometimes he just writes 30 words, 100 words. They’re not very long articles. They’re so impactful and meaningful that they do get referenced and obviously his brand sort of feeds into it, but it’s this hybrid PR/content marketing strategy, which is a lot different some sort of the REIs and the Wirecutters of the world, who grow heavily by creating these strategies that are very, very focused on a in depth product guide that your customers are gonna love. In the case of REI, it’s hard to produce this kind of content unless you really are an expert in the industry that you’re talking about. [05:03] Now, I think the more interesting thing is just content generally. There are some brands that don’t think about SEO at all, don’t think about content marketing at all, per se, but they get almost all of their traffic through these mediums. These businesses are basically always trying to be ahead of the curve. They’re creating hyper interesting content. When you think about an organization like Pro Publica, they’re spending tons of money on research. They’re sending journalists out in the field. They’re producing really, really high quality content, typically doing a lot of data manipulation, basically the same thing that Five Thirty Eight’s doing, where you come back and it’s so compelling that you will keep your audience in the brand. [05:39] That said, these are the three core strategies: SEO, PR, and content. I think that the sort of case study that I would say, more than anyone else that’s basically moving into the center of the circle, where they’re doing all three is Amazon. Traditionally, Amazon hasn’t really focused heavily on content. They scaled the business out by doing a lot of PPC advertising. They very, very heavily focused on quality of the product. Now they’re doing more PR. Blue Origin gets written about all the time. Bezos gets written about all the time. Their labor practices get written up about, in positive and negative manners, but any press is good press. When it comes to back links, that’s especially true. They’re able to create this situation where they’re hyper efficient with all of their advertising budgeting. They’re hyper efficient with their product, service, delivery, all these things that consumers care about when it really comes to convenience. [06:30] Now they’re actually starting to create this strategy of content marketing around some of their core product areas. You may notice them making more and more videos. It’s something that Zappos has done very, very aggressively as a subsidiary of Amazon, but the actual Amazon brand itself is starting to do this. They’re starting to have some copy on their category pages. They’re starting to actually feature other sources of news media and get them integrated into the fold. I’m sure that Washington Post will start to inform some of the content that’s gonna go into the Amazon beast. [07:01] I think that every business should really start to think about how they can leverage all three sides of this triangle. It’s super, super easy to … sorry, all three sides of this Venn Diagram. It’s super, super easy to just play in the SEO world all day, do guest posts. It’s super, super easy to write great content for a customer and get PR mentions over time and just let that sort of ride out and help grow the brand, especially when you know what you’re doing on the SEO side. I think it becomes pretty hard for a lot of brands in a lot of more practical industries where you’re not just sort of moon shooting for some crazy product that no one’s ever seen to actually get some interest in the product. [07:42] In those kinds of areas, what you really have to do is create some hyper compelling piece of content that’s maybe a layer above where your sales funnel really is. If most of your customers are sort of here, and this is where you make all your money, you might have to go up a whole nother layer to some other, bigger market, some other, bigger funnel that just is way out of what you’re selling now. This actually gives you a lot of access to customers that wouldn’t normally care otherwise. That’s, in a nutshell, how I think about link building strategies. There’s really only three when it comes down to it. You’re really only playing in the SEO world, in the content marketing world, and in the PR world. [08:21] There are ways that you can do earned and owned media placements in both, but at the end of the day, I think every business owner and marketer needs to think about how we can sort of cross over and get to the center, make our products as interesting as they possibly can be, or find someone who’s gonna be more interested in our products, or just some weird aspect of it. Even if we make some weird nut and bolt for a sewer system and no one cares about it, we can probably make a really, really amazing graphic about what the sewer system looks like, or if the power grid went down, how quickly it would collapse, or how resilient it is, so how well it would last, or if it’s negative 50 right now, you could do a little bit of news jacking and say, “What happens when it’s this cold in regions where it’s typically not this frigid?” These are the three strategies. Everyone should just focus on trying to diversify as far as I’m concerned. I hope that was helpful.
Hello, this is Shaheen over at WebUpon and this is episode number five of Chalk Talk Thursday. Today we’re going to cover something that I love, how to write really good, damn good title tags. As is my custom, I’m going to start off by talking about a little bit of the contention here with title tags, and whether or not they still really matter. Then I’m going to get into how you should think about title tags as headlines, as brand ambassadors. Then, we’re going to break down how to really assess your title tags, where they are, and how to optimize them further.
Just to start off here, a pretty common question I get, and something that’s sort of just floating around is, do title tags still matter? I think it’s a fair question, but at the end of the day when you look at it from the sort of reverse position as far as Google’s concerned, and as far as customers and you as the business owner is concerned, you can still destroy your rankings with a bad title tag. If I can get in there and change my title tags on a page that’s ranking number one, and get it to rank number four, five, or six, or whatever it may be pretty quickly there. That should let you know that despite other tactical factors, and perhaps your brand recognition, you can still really do a lot, or do a lot of damage with title tags. In my mind, they still do matter.
A few things to think about here, and really at the end of the day I think this is driven by the fact that there are developers who sort of view SEO as an amorphous, not legit process, like there’s not enough skillset in there. That’s a pretty fair critique, right? There’s a lot of shady SEO’s out there. But, in 2019 when you hire an SEO, when you hire an SEO agency, you’re getting someone that has experience working within the SERP, and really getting more revenue for your business. I wouldn’t be in SEO if I couldn’t make my clients more and more money over time, and the fact that people don’t think SEO is legitimate is great for me, right? Because, that just means that everyone else is less competitive.
There’s that component to it. There’s also just the fact that if you hire any SEO, you’re going to be getting someone that has this technical knowledge, but they also have experience with CRO, they have experience with content marketing, and they’re really assessing the entire funnel from top to bottom. We’re looking at search queries not as keywords, but as parts of topical areas, and we’re looking at them as opportunities to understand the customer as they’re coming in.
It’s really psychographics applied to how is our specific target customer, Cathy who’s 27 from Omaha, how is she shopping on the site? That’s really how we’re using these title tags, right?
The first question you gotta ask yourself is, how bad are your title tags? If you have terrible title tags, and there’s no keywords that actually match up to the page for the term that you want to rank for in your title tag, or anywhere else on the page. The fact is that, even as smart as Google is in 2019, you’re just not going to rank. It’s not going to happen.
The second thing I will think about is, how goods your site generally speaking? A lot of issues can arise from the fact that you really can’t get around a poorly designed site, or a bad customer experience. Something that looks dated, something that people won’t trust. There’s no amount of technical optimization you can bring into that picture, and actually get it to perform at the end of the day. Just because it’s not good, no one wants to interact with it. Google’s not going to send people there because if we can’t send people there, if it’s not a good result, then we can’t sell ads against it, right? We have to think about Google as a company, and what their goals are, and always be working backwards from that situation, right? This is part of, this is principle number one as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to advanced SEO.
The third thing you should be asking yourself, right? Is this question, title tags don’t matter, I can show you all these large scale ranking studies where they look at millions of keywords, and there’s just no math behind it. In my mind, this is really a correlation versus causation problem. Even though it’s anecdotal, it’s an N of 1. Well, you know, I’m one person but I have thousands of title tags that this has been applied to, and we’ve seen growth there. You should really be considering the fact that any website that’s massive, that’s an Amazon, or a Home Depot. Any large site that may be in your niche, is going to have the advantage of more brand recognition, they’re going to have the advantage of stores, and they’re going to be able to have pretty crappy technical SEO.
The fact is that, anyone that’s a smaller competitor in a market, a smaller business, needs to optimize every single possible thing they can to get an edge. A good title tag is going to help you get that edge. That really just answers the question, do title tags still matter? Yes. Are they the solve all for all the problems you may have on the site? No, absolutely not. There are still going to be technical problems. You’re still going to have to think about how your brand interacts with other people. And, you’re really goin to have to think about the fact that your site isn’t just technical SEO. There’s way more to it. You have customers, and you need to work with those customers to show them something that they want to see.
The reason why I love title tags so much is because it’s relatively cheaper compared to other tactics you could use on a site to influence rankings. If I come to a site and it’s poorly designed, it’s relatively harder to build 100 back links in a month. It’s something we can do over a year, but it’s just not going to happen very quickly. Title tags, as they exist on the organic SERP, until a day where’s there’s no organic searching, it’s just all paid, you can still influence how people are clicking. You can still get reception from real humans that are clicking through, and title tags are really just headlines. They’re advertising headlines, and hopefully they can be had for the cheap compared to these AdWords, the whole Google ads ecosystem.
You need to think about title tags as headlines, as quality advertising copy. And, really the ambassador for your brand on Google, and also these can get used on social networks as well. You have to be thinking about the whole alignment of the brand, and not just the sales. But, obviously we’re just trying to drive sales at the end of the day, right?
The first thing I’ll say here is, as far as any good title tag goes, you need to include some keyword, right? If you find yourself not ranking, it’s probably because you’re not using the keyword that you want to be ranking for in the title tag. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re guaranteed to rank for it, but you gotta mention it somewhere, right?
The second thing to think about with title tags is, at the end of the day it’s really all about CTR, right? If you look at the modern SERP, I just typed in office chair, right? You have Google shopping right here, which is this nice little carousel of products. I’ll talk about this more in a second, right? Then you also have ads. Fun fact, I was running this a second ago. Because I have an international client, I was still on a German server, and they don’t have this extra little ad bit there. We just get tons of ads in the US, which is, you know. It is what it is.
Then, you actually have your organic listings down here, right? You have six organic positions, and then you have a map. This is really what a modern SERP looks like, right? This is what a modern search engine results page looks like. On a cellphone, this is going to be one thumb scroll right here, and this is going to be another thumb scroll. You’re really fighting for attention. It’s very difficult to really get users to see you on the SERP at this point. You want to be thinking about the fact that my title tag is basically an advertisement. It’s an entrée into the brand. It gives users an opportunity to click in and start interacting with you. It’s just getting harder and harder every day, which is why we need to get better and better at it every day as we progress, right?
The third thing I’ll say is, as a general rule of thumb, you want to make sure you have at least one or two keywords in your title tag. Any more than that and you get the old school typical SEO title tag, which is, “Office chair, chairs for office, red office chairs, chairs for cheap, chairs for sale.” No one wants to click on that. Google’s not going to rank it in most cases. You want to just use one or two, and then from there think about the fact that, how do I get my customer, how do I get Jan, how do I get Mike? The people that I sell to every day, to actually click on this title tag?
The fourth thing I’ll say is, as a general sort of strategy tip, I think on large sites you want to be programmatic. If you have 15,000 title tags on a massive eCom store, this is actually one of my favorite things to do. You want to get in there, and you want to actually fix title tags in bulk. If you’re on a smaller site, let’s say you only have 30 pages and it’s a lead gen site, you want to think about them one by one.
Then, just generally speaking, you always, always, always want to be focusing on the pages that are already ranking, right? Focus where, if you’re fourth, think about getting to first. If you’re tenth, thinking about getting to sixth or fifth, right? But, if you’re not anywhere, then you need to sort of start getting towards the top 10, and that will actually get you traffic, right? If you’re one or two you’re going to get so much more traffic than in any other position. You’re going to get seen by most people, you’re going to get that nice brand exposure. But, if you’re seventh, or tenth, or fourteenth, you’re hardly ever going to get seen these days unfortunately. That’s just the reality, right?
The fifth thing I’ll say is, reduce cannibalization. This is an excellent rule of thumb right here. On a large site, typically what I’ll see is, you’ll basically get 100 title tags where the first two keywords are exactly the same keyword, right? I was … Not to call anyone out, but I was look at [Dakine’s 00:09:21] site the other day, right? It was like, “Men’s, outdoor, hoodie.” Down for 300 columns, right? All men, outdoor, hoodie, great. We get it. Then it’s red, XL, red, large, red, medium, red small. Brown, large, brown, you know? On and on and on. Not a lot of variation.
When Google sends a user to that site, when Google’s crawling it as a bot it’s basically saying, “Wait, which page is what? Which one do I care about the most?” Because you’re not optimizing for anything, you’re not spoonfeeding the right answer to Google, you’re really not getting anywhere, right? This is an issue that is basically called cannibalization. You’re making 100 pages basically target the same keyword. What you really want to be doing is, when someone actually types in, “I need a medium, brown sweatshirt.” Or, “I need a large yellow and red outdoor ski pant,” that you’re popping up because you’re so specific that Google is basically about to determine that, that page is focused, hyper focused on that keyword. If I’m just saying ski pants, well then, the use case has really just sent me to a top level category page ’cause they don’t know what I want. I’m going to see hundreds of ski pants, right?
That’s really how Google’s working, and that’s the situation that you need to be optimizing in. Again, rules of thumbs here. When we think about CTR, we want people to click on us, we want to include one to two keywords. I’m sorry, but in most cases if you’re not optimizing a page for some keywords, you’re probably not going to rank for it unless you benefit from having a massive back link profile, or huge brand recognition in the space. That’s why SEO works, right? It’s these little tweaks where we can get people to just move from the seventh position, up to here. And, maybe from the sixth position to the third, then the first. Then we get more, and more, and more market share. That’s what we’re really after here.
Let me just break down how to think about your current rankings, and that will then tell you how you should go about rewriting title tags as you proceed. I like to break this down into four main quadrants. Sam Rush does this as well, and I’m sure other tools make it pretty easy for you to look at your keyword rankings in this exact manner.
The very first category is the one to three, right? The first, the second, the third, and I’ll even say the zero ranking with the search snippet. That’s the very, very top. That’s where you’re going to see most of the traffic. Generally speaking if someone’s going beyond the top three results, they’re probably not finding what they want in those results, so you’re probably selling something a little weirder. That’s a different play, and we can talk about that another time.
Or, the four to 10. This is where you will see some traffic, especially on desktop. But, you’re really not going to be in play on mobile. At this point, I view four to 10 as aspirational for one to three. In my world two years ago, it used to be good to be in the top 10, you used to be able to get some pretty decent traffic. But at this point, everything to me is just spitting distance until you’re in one to three, because once you’re in one to three you’re actually going to get some traffic, you’re actually going to get some revenue, and that’s where you want to focus on.
Then, there’s the 11 to 20, and the 21 through 50. This is page two to three, and then beyond that essentially. Here, you’re in worse off shape than the four to 10, right? You’re either just completely off base, and you’re not going to be able to target anything. Or, you just haven’t optimized at all, and you have a variety of issues. To break this down a little bit, let’s go and look at the SERP again, right?
Here, you got shopping ads. That’s not good for us SEO’s, right? And, we got ads here. Again, this is probably around a thumb scroll or more on mobile. Then, we start having organic rankings right here, right? This is probably what we’re looking for. There are a few different things that you really want to be exploiting in this situation, right?
You probably want to make sure that the keyword you want to rank for is in the first couple words here, very specific again. We want to be very, very specific and precise with how we’re targeting. You probably want to make sure that you have this primary keyword, and the secondary keyword that you want to rank for in there. You probably want to make sure that Google is bolding a few of these terms. I’ll get into meta descriptions ’cause I think that’s an entirely different art that deserves its own video. You want to be focused on these things.
In the one to three range, this is where you’re going to get most of the traffic, right? If you’re two and you’re three, you want to be thinking about CTR. You want to be thinking about, what words can I include in here, that are going to get my users to click far more often, so I can jump ahead of everyone else? You’re going to be wanting, thinking about CRO and dwell time. When people get to my site, are they finding what they want quickly, are they not getting confused, are they staying on my site a long time? Especially if it’s content, or if it’s a product. Really, at the end of the day, are we selling anything, right? You want to be thinking in that way also, ’cause it’s not just about rankings. It’s really about sales.
Then, you want to be thinking about customer fit. If you find yourself number three and you just can’t get out of it. If it doesn’t feel like something that you’re ever able to get out of, that you’re just stuck there. You want to really be focused on asking yourself, am I hitting the things that my customers really care about with this page? Am I getting them to click? Am I covering the product in a way that they like? Are they interested in it, or are they just bouncing out and going down further in the list, or going back to number one and number two? That’s what’s really going to hamstring you from better performance over time.
If you’re in the four to 10 range, and in this SERP for office chair, right? We got shopping carousel, we got ads traditional, then we actually have a map pack, which is even better, right? Being in the top 10 here really means that we got to be in the top six, and then maybe we’re going to be three … You know, we’re going to be the last three or four on the bottom. It’s not ideal. It’s really not good. By the time people are here, they’re probably looking for office chair right now. Even if you’re Amazon, that’s going to be pretty hard to procure.
If you’re in the four to 10 range, or the four to six range in this situation. Just keep in mind, given mobile, given where Google’s going, how are they going to squeeze more profit out of the actual platform, right? It’s just going to be harder and harder to get at this organic spacing, right? If you’re in the four to 10, it’s essentially the same thing. You want to be thinking about CTR, you want … Basically getting people to click. You want to be thinking about CRO, the quality of the experience on the actual page. Then, I would say you want to be thinking about back links, right? Technical SEO. Have I done everything? Have I built enough back links?
Generally speaking in the one to three range, you’ll actually see that there can be a disparate allocation of back links essentially. There may be an authority that’s ranked forever, and that’s what’s going to be number one and number two. There’s other people like Amazon that has a million back links, but they might be number three. The, number one might be a site with a decent amount of back links, sort of above the norm. But, they also have a really great title tag, or they’re really well known in that specific industry.
Everyone else down here, if you’re in the four to 10, you probably should assess whether or not you need to be doing the work on the technical side, to build more back links there so you can actually perform. But, that’s just sort of what you’re left with, right? If you’re in the four to 10, you want to be thinking about the same things, right? It’s all about this customer experience. But, you also want to be saying, “Okay, are there actual technical SEO issues that I need to solve for? Why am I stuck down here, how do I get in the one to three?” Thinking about it in this way is really the way to reverse engineer it as far as I’m concerned.
Then, if you’re in the 11 to 20, or the 21 to 50 range, you’re basically trying to get onto page one. You’re trying to get into this coveted spot, the top 10, the top seven, the top six, whatever it may be given the constraints of the actual Google result page, right? If you’re here, you want to be thinking about keywords and back links, you probably want to be thinking about CRO and general sort of audience fit, quality of the site. If you’re 11 to 20, that’s typically a pretty good achievement I’ll say also, right? If your niche is more competitive, even though you’re way down there, it’s probably fair that you could rank in the top 10. You just have some work to do.
Then, if you’re in the 21 to 50, or even all the way up to 100, we have a ton of work to do. Generally that means that you’re either not targeting the keywords that you want to be ranking for anywhere on the site pages. Or, you’re just not an authority as far as Google’s concerned, which is probably the worst situation to be in, right? If your primary service is something that you can’t rank for, you can’t even rank in the top five pages. That’s a pretty bad spot to be in, right? You probably have some content marketing work to do, some site copy work to do, some general SEO work to do, and just presence. Really, at that stage, you probably just want to be spending aggressively on AdWords, and just getting out there and basically making calls. Because, you’re so far away from where you want to be that it’s always going to be a problem.
The other thing I’ll say too is, if you find yourself stuck in the 21 to 50, you might want to think about niching down. It may just be an issue that you’re targeting something way to broad. “I sell 100% linen sweatshirts with the finest New Zealand wool stuffing inside of them, and they’re the greatest sweatshirt ever. But, I can’t rank top 10 even though I make the best product.” Well, there’s probably some keywords, luxury, sweatshirt, or whatever it may be. There’s probably other keywords that you should niche down on, where you can actually perform well. Because, to the average consumer out there who wants to see 1,000 sweatshirts, you’re just never going to be anywhere on their map.
That is my breakdown for how to write damn good title tags in 2019. If you have any thoughts, or you have further questions, or you think I’m crazy. Please let me know in the comments below, I would love to discuss this further.
What does it mean to be first to market? Well, the term means being the first to lay a foundational piece of a given area of the market that you’re working in. Simple, right? It’s a lot more complex than that, however, and in this Chalk Talk Thursday video, we’re going to give you some tips and guidance on how you can carve out some nice real estate for yourself.
While it might not appear to glamorous at the beginning to compete for a less competitive keyword, if you predict where the customers will eventually travel, when you are the first in that keyword area, that will give you a strong foundation to compete in more contested areas later.
So, without further ado, here are some strategies for becoming first to market for content.
The Four Benefits of Being First to Market with Content:
1. Establish the niche while it’s in reach
When you’re exploring niche markets to create content for, the idea is simple: if there’s a whole bunch of people competing in a particular niche, it’s going to be difficult to compete. In areas where there are few competitors, it’s more likely that you’ll rank #1 or #2. However, there is a gamble here, as you’re banking on that search term becoming more popular over time.
2. Get the links and media mentions
It feels good to be the person that other people reference as an expert, and adapting this mindset to your content creation can be enormously beneficial. Essentially, if you’re ranking first in the Google results, other people (be they other marketers or media professionals) are likely going to link to your content, which elevates you as an expert in the eyes of the almighty Google search engine. That’s where you want to be.
3. Avoid being also/and in the market
When you think about ride sharing, the name Uber is likely the first name to pop into your head. This demonstrates the power of being first. Even though Uber is facing a lot of difficulties in the market right now, even competitors like Lyft are often referred to as “grabbing an Uber.” Thinking about how people search for information, and how they’ll come across your content, you want to be the first idea in people’s minds for that particular thing, not the first or second.
4. Be responsive to customers
If you’re plugged into what your customers want, you’re going to have a much higher likelihood of success. While that sounds obvious, it can sometimes take a second to wrap your head around. For instance, as the cannabis industry becomes more and more mainstream, HVAC companies that want to get noticed by a new niche (companies that have cannabis grow rooms) want to compete early for the grow room eyeballs that are searching around for proper ventilation for their products.
But how? Tips for Going First to Market With Content
But how, you ask, do we become aware of these opportunities? Glad you asked. There’s an art to discovering new pathways to becoming first to market, but here are some general tips to get you started.
- Monitor social media and be a true friend to your customers – This is an intuitive factor that is surprisingly often ignored. Marketers can often get so caught up in PPC that they forget to think about people, and what their complaints and desires are for a given product or topic. Pay attention to this!
- Use Google trends and study keyword rankings – Google Trends can be a useful tool for tracking the waxing and waning of various popular concepts and ideas, but it can be a bit of a blunt instrument. It’s better to focus on keywords, and try to predict when tangentially related terms or variations on a keyword might be preparing to blow up. But, as an additional side note, utilizing Google Trends’ “related queries” function can be a powerful tool when trying to find alternative niches and avenues for targeting.
- Find topics that competitors haven’t covered yet – Luckily, there’s a pretty easy way to start researching this one. Related to the social media tip above, heading to Wikipedia, subreddits about the topic you’re competing for, and good ol’ internet forums can be a great way to see what the information landscape looks like for a topic, as well as what the community wants.
- Reach out to the front line sales and customer service people for client questions – Being helpful to your salespeople and customers is often the best way to figure out what the needs of your customers are. Salespeople talk to customers daily, and they know the ins and outs. Use their expertise.
- Coin your own terms – This is a risky one, because you’re not going to have a ton of data supporting your choice, but sometimes creating a term can pay off. If you’ve got a good one, try it out.
But…is it better to be second-to-market? (The Downsides of Being Second to Market)
Peter Thiel is famous for noting that while many of the most successful companies didn’t invent the thing that they’re doing, they found a way to do it better than the first to market folks. (Think Xerox inventing the Graphical User Interface, and then Apple making it sing).
Attempting to go second to market is a far more conservative approach, and may provide some benefit for companies that have a limited budget and want to go for a sure thing. You’re exploiting a sure thing (you have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t), and you also have the benefit of hindsight–you can see where the first to market went wrong.
Understanding the basics of SEO is critical to becoming a successful digital marketer. But what about once you’ve moved past the basics?
There are thousands of strategies you could learn in “advanced” SEO, and millions of niches which change how those strategies might apply. Rather than try to dive into a bunch of tactics that represent advanced SEO (and create an extremely long video) we think it’s significantly more valuable to focus on 6 core principles that underpin every advanced SEO campaign.
Principle 1: Understand & Leverage Google’s Existential Threats
For the digital marketer & business owners, Google is simultaneously a competitor and an ally in our quest to gain the attention of potential customers. As marketers we’re stuck in a Faustian bargain with Google where we give them complete access to our sites and optimize for their requests all in exchange for the hope of traffic.
That said, Google is a business.
Google’s business interests are going to affect how we benefit from their services. It’s important to understand Google’s business model and work backwards from there to gain the most value from the platform.
The majority of Google’s revenue comes from search. And more specifically selling ads to searchers. Having the best search engine (and voice AI tool) is fundamental to their existence as a company. Thus Google’s motivation is always going to be to give users the best answers to questions. We as marketers are the ones that provide those answers.
No site exists in a vacuum. While Google pulls us forward in quality (think about how they’ve forced content, speed, mobile etc) marketers also push the market forward through our competition. In that spirit there are three existential threats that will likely shape Google’s behavior over the next decade.
1) Google’s First Existential Threat: eCommerce Competition
Google is currently deep in competition with companies like Amazon (the current top dog) and Jet to create the dominant online storefront. Since 2015 in order to compete with Amazon, Google has responded by valuing content more highly on their platform while simultaneously selling ads.
Google “magnesium deo” you should see something like the following:
Notice how the first result is “6 Benefits of Magnesium in Deodorant | All Natural Deodorant Blog” rather than a product page. Even though it’s a clear product query. Google is valuing content around the subject.
Notice how a major chunk of the SERP after the third result is devoted to more content queries.Notice how even Schmidt’s product announcement page (which has slightly more custom content) ranks with the individual product page for actual magnesium deodorant. Again this is a clear product query, but Google has modeled the algorithm such that content gets valued over a direct product page. (and many SERPs are worse than this, and almost all dominated by content)
Google overvalues content marketing so that it can sell ads above product guides.
Utilizing Google’s intention to sell shopping ads above content is a huge opportunity for savvy markets. Featured snippets and direct answers also present this same opportunity.
2) Google’s Second Existential Threat: Social Media & Influencers
With the ongoing death of Google Plus, Google is officially out of the social media game. When it comes to social media, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest are the key players. Instagram is currently the top dog when it come to influencing shopping behavior and society right now, as that’s where a lot of consumer eyeballs are. All of these services provide opportunities for both influencers and regular folks to recommend products and serves independently of the Google ecosystem.
What does this mean for Google?
If consumers are taking purchasing cues from influencers on social media or beauty influencers can move tons of makeup pallets direct to consumers (Gen Z’s QVC), they’re not going to be reading the guides you’re competing for on the SERP.
Google can’t really do anything about this. They’ve folded out of traditional social, so for inbound marketers that really means we have to do both. YouTube is arguably a social platform but its peripheral to the daily influence that Twitter & Instagram have. The algorithm does value authenticity and expertise, and it has for some time. But long term maintaining a strong social media presence so you can stay close to your customers is key.
3) Google’s Third Existential Threat: AI
The big specter on everyone’s mind is how artificial intelligence. AI and instant answers will instantly alter the search landscape. Planning a strategy around meeting the demands of AI search is a good bet going forward. Right now featured snippets and instant answers provide a huge opportunity to leap frog competitors with better optimization around them. But…
There will come a day where Google instantly provides answers without our results. Google is already heading towards “zero result” SERPs. This likelihood only underscores the importance of building a direct & meaningful relationship with your customers.
For marketers that don’t respond the entire marketing industry then becomes pay to play.
Principle 2: Balancing Competing Needs
No matter what kind of strategy you decide on, you’re always going to be balancing four factors: the needs of your client, the needs of the user, your ability to optimize with ranking strategies, and the big question: can we rank?
4 Factors SEO Campaigns Must Balance:
- Client needs -What the client wants ultimately drives where any project goes. Sometimes client goals are clearly driven by business needs, other times you’re dealing with vanity and an impossibility. You’re almost always going to have clients that are going to be wanting to do vanity or ego-driven projects. This is a part of the job of every digital marketer and agency out there. As SEO’s we either have to educate clients and set proper expectations/growth goals or fulfill ego goals and risk failure or getting a bad rap.
- User needs – We need to understand how and why our customers search. We almost always have to align how customers search (keywords) with what clients want or believe about that behavior. If those two are out of whack then an SEO campaign is doomed. The key question we always have to ask ourselves is, can we fulfill user needs? And on a micro level, does this page map to the intent of the searcher? If there is a mismatch here we need to fix it, create a page that works better for the term we want to rank, or find a new KW set to target. Additionally, pages need to have an excellent experience for consumers. Which again might be at odds with clients who like their site, or feel like it’s better than competitors.
- Ranking strategies – this is all the SEO strategies you know and love–image metadata, keyword usage, page titles, you know the drill. The big rub here can be that getting changes implemented can often come up with hurdles from internal dev departments. (which is why we almost always offer to implement on site ourselves)
- Can we rank? – Finally, this is the really tough one–ask yourself–do I believe that I can compete for a coveted keyword? The answer should be honest and forthright, considering carefully your resources and available content. You should never optimize a page for a keyword you can’t rank for. Getting 50 extra visitors (who btw want to buy) on a low volume keyword is infinitely better than getting 0 extra traffic from a high volume keyword.
Principle 3: Emulate Top Performers; Every Algorithm Has an Expected Correlation.
Expected correlation is the method by which search engines decide which part of the web page to rank highest in the search listing. Even though Google is now using machine learning algorithms to build algorithms they’re still feeding off the original algorithm. (with all it’s greatness and flaws)
We know what an algorithm will value based on the top results it returns.
When Google, Bing, or Amazon search returns top results for a query, we are seeing the algorithm’s “top picks.” This lets us know what we need to optimize for.
As far as Google goes, there is an expected structure of a website, where links flow from the bottom level (products/services) up to category pages (types of products services) to the tip of the pyramid, the home page.
Think of it like a pyramid, with the homepage of your website taking the point, and category, blog pages, and service/product pages creating the base on down. For inner links the homepage usually “correlates” here as the most linked to page within your site.
Coincidentally, there is often a correlation between homepages having the most external backlinks and lower level pages having few or none.
Given this expectation of structure by Google, “higher level” pages like homepages and category pages have the most capability to rank.
Here’s a helpful (if verbose) guide to how Google evaluates terms for their quality.
Every algorithm for search wether Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, Amazon, Apple Music, or Spotify will have an expected model that will shape search and the market. It’s our job as SEO professional is to reverse engineer any algorithm we’re trying to exploit.
Principle 4: You’re Always Tied to Market Demands
Market demands and consumers will control any arena we are selling in. If we look at the marketing funnel, and I know we can talk about the user journey all day, but for the sake of simplicity the marketing funnel makes the most sense. Generally we can map keyword traffic directly onto the marketing funnel, with more broad searches at the top of the funnel, and more specific searches towards the bottom as people become more focused in what they’re attempting to buy.
This then causes the following relationship:
- Top of funnel keywords are best targeted by broad content focused on learning and brand recognition, blog posts, interactive content, eBooks etc.
- Middle of funnel keywords tend to be best targeted by category pages that encompass multiple products or services within a singular category.
- The bottom of the funnel is generally dominated by product or service pages.
At the same time, if you break down all the keywords in a specific category and plot lower funnel keywords to higher funnel keywords on the x axis, you’d get a curve with increased search volume similar to the one below. For most keyword niches you’ll also witness increased ranking difficulty as these keywords are getting more traffic. There will be some outliers, but this relationship roughly exists for keyword groups in all markets.
Thus when we’re talking about balancing needs and the importance of asking ourselves can we rank for this keyword we need to realize that all keywords we might target are going to have a specific stage of the funnel they target, which typically maps to certain types of pages, and those pages will have varying abilities to compete for those keywords.
Principle 5: Traffic Volume and The Quality of that Search Will Always Have an Inverse Correlation
As traffic volume for a keyword goes up the value of an individual user will go up. Consider the fact that someone who types in the keyword “backpack” ( 550,000 searches / month ) hasn’t narrowed down what they’re trying to shop for. But when someone types in “red leather laptop backpack” (20 searches / month) they have a significantly better idea of what they want. So even though it’s significantly less traffic each individual visit is going to be worth more per user. (though the net value of “backpack” may be higher overall)
For individual businesses this means that we have to consider what capabilities our sites have to rank. And given our overall footprint decide to either optimize our site for lower volume more specific searches (where we have a chance to compete) or for higher volume keywords, where there may be more middle of funnel traffic we haven’t targeted yet.
Generally speaking smaller and new businesses are better off targeting BoFu keywords with higher purchasing intent rather than higher volume and higher competition keywords. Mid size businesses can move their marketing in either direction, though targeting the bottom of the funnel tends to be more profitable than going after keywords higher in the funnel.
Principle 6: Determine and Target the Ideal Profit Optimization For Your Campaign
Given all the factors that have to be balanced, Google’s current favoritism at the time, and your capability to rank and optimize for keywords every SEO campaign will have an ideal profit optimization equation. Focusing on the best overall targeting strategy given these realities will always be the most essential part of a planning an SEO campaign.
This isn’t another one of those posts that rounds up every link building tactic that’s ever crossed an SEO’s mind. Instead it’s a jumping off point towards understanding where the link building landscape currently stands, and what core strategies you should be thinking about as you proceed on campaigns.
Don’t confuse tactics with strategy.
The ingredients are not the same thing as your slice of the pie.
At the end of the day there are only three core strategies that actually get businesses links. They are what I’ll call SEO link building, content marketing focused link building, and PR based link building. These should inform our strategic focus as we evaluate how to prioritize internal resources. Under those banners, I’ll highlight the 50 core tactics almost everyone uses. I’ve tried to eliminate bloat in this list as much as possible, since there are hundreds of tutorials that go into more detail, but kept as many tactics as possible so you can just go down the list.
Whether we’re dealing with Google, Bing, or Facebook, we’re all playing in someone else’s casino and vying for limited audience attention. Understanding how the “house” actually works will help you make better tactical decisions since links are still so important.
Link building no longer exists in a vacuum. It used to be a singular discipline within SEO, but there are only a few boxes & sneaky tactics that get the job done nowadays.
The 3 Realities of Link Building in 2016:
- Either we’re naturally “earning” or being given links, or generating the links ourselves.
- We’re either generating links through PR strategies, content marketing strategies, and/or SEO focused strategies.
- A good link building strategy ultimately contributes to a business becoming notable or simulates the sense of mattering through those SEO, PR, and/or content marketing strategies.
At the end of the day link-building is the process of simulating & expediting what are supposed to be naturally earned links in Google.
- Link building strategies for 2016
- The virtuous cycle of link building
- PR Link Building: Being Notable
- It’s Not About Search Engines It’s About People
- The Basics of SEO still matter
- SEO Link Building Strategies – or “Getting Links”
- Content Marketing for Link Building
- PR for Link Building – The Art of Influence
- The Basics of Link Building
- What Makes A Good Link
The Virtuous Cycle of Link Building
(Or how you can build links while you sleep.)
Like the marketing fly-wheel, link building should ultimately feed into itself. A business should reach a place where its content is naturally earning links, and has the reputation to get mentioned freely for being awesome.
Source: Moz’s Flywheel
Google has made a discernible move away from technical ranking factors. We live in a two algorithm world wherein “the algorithm” is now building algorithms. While rankings are the smallest part of how google’s algorithm works links are still the single largest component.
Link Building Should Create a Virtuous Circle:
At a basic level the image below describes what we want. Outside of buying links and Spam links (which I wouldn’t recommend) this is generally what the link building link playing field looks like.
It’s Not About Search Engines, It’s About People
Content marketing gets the best results by folding together techniques that are traditionally part of PR and SEO.
Any good content marketing technique is going to lead to PR and thought leadership as well as SEO signals that we would get either way. Most companies you’ve heard of have link building strategies like this including Amazon, REI, and Hubspot.
The Basics of SEO Still Matter
Even though link building is more of an art associated with content marketing than traditional SEO, SEO still matters. Unless you’re planning on being so incredible that you truly captivate your audience you’re going to need traffic from search engines and media outlets.
However, if you want to go full Apple and dedicate almost everything to product dev and the occasional traditional marketing campaign that’s awesome. (The world needs more people jumping shark and winning!)
As someone who cut their teeth doing link-building and still makes a ton of money for clients doing so, SEO basics matter. They can hold back even the most effective link building techniques!
Imagine an iceberg. What looks like a small piece of ice from above the water actually has a large underside holding it up. Good SEO is the part of iceberg under the water that you don’t see, but that holds up the rest of your link building strategy.
Remember that an irrelevant site in Google’s eyes it still worthless, and we build relevancy through the practice of link-building.
Link Building in 2016 Part 1: SEO link building Tactics – Or “Getting Links”
For a large part of the history of search engines, it was possible to largely influence rankings from within the box of SEO. Tactics like keyword stuffing, private link networks, low quality guest posting, or even on-page optimization were enough to get the job done.
These tactics may still work for seasoned experts with the cash flow for quality-ish content at scale, but for the rest of us there needs to be a “cheap” way to get backlinks without going full in on content or the time it would require to become a thought leader.
Remember that all of the below SEO link tactics pretty much work across the board (with some exceptions) but are all things worth jumping down the list and looking into.
The fact is that spying on the competition by seeing where they are getting their links, performing, and how, is always going to be the best initial source of link opportunities. (check out link prospecting tools here for options) Unfortunately in a lot of instances you’ll find that the competition is doing content, are thought leaders, or have solidified some kind of advantage in either cash or resources that you can’t copy. For example I’ve seen niches dominated by one company that has a few big mentions in the likes of the New York Times and Kitchn and otherwise has a few paid placements on extremely expensive directories. The niche is small and lucrative, but there’s no easy way for a company with limited resources to make up that lead.
I mean look at what you’re up against. Read more on how the cards are stacked against us here but the point is you need to be savvy and creative to get ahead.
The outgunned site owner has to fight back, and these link building tactics are a great way to do so without breaking the bank or at a reasonable price. First dissect the competition to better understand what they’re doing, then go down the list and execute these tactics
1: Local Citation and Link Building.
Any business that has a storefront or does business in a locality should have a strong presence in Google Places, Bing Places, and other local directories. This is the first base you need to cover if you have a physical location (though keep in mind PO Boxes and shared spaces won’t work for the above.)
Whitespark and MOZ Local are probably the most cost effective way to reclaim these links, along with a few other options. You should maintain these entries as a way to build legitimacy in Google’s eyes, create entries with the right information on the web, and get links. Here are some great articles that cover all the options that are out there
- The Ultimate List of 200+ Powerful Local SEO Citation Sources (USA)
- Top 25 Local Business Directories | Practical Ecommerce
- The Ultimate List: 50 Online Local Business Directories
- Top Local Citation Sources by Country for USA, CAN, UK & AU – Whitespark
- 60 Business Directories You Need To Be Listed On – Yext
2: Interlink & Site Structure
Even though it should be obvious, many site owners underestimate the value of quality internal linking on a site. Obviously it does not count as traditional link building, but it is worth thinking about.
Be sure to check out a tool like Screaming Frog or Deep Crawl to perform a site audit, this should indicate any large issues in site organization while also helping you determine whether there is a good site structure.
Finally, make sure that your own internal anchor text is actually communicating to Google the importance and substance of pages. This means that category pages should have the most inner links pointing at them, and that anchor text for products or categories should be unique and communicate what the page is about. I.e. Widgets > Blue Widgets > 3 mm Blue Widgets not Widgets > Widgets > Widgets if you have breadcrumbs on your site. There should be a clear hierarchy that your anchor text communicates.
3: Relevant Directories
Many niches on the web have directories that people still use to buy products. If there is a relevant niche for my client I will create links for them there. Many of these directories are paid and overpriced, but may still be worth pursuing.
The best way to find these is either through a google search corresponding to your [niche] i.e. “[niche] + directory” or checking out what the competition have going on. If your competition is massive, URL Profiler makes quick work of crunching competitor backlinks and determining whether a sites type is a directory and how many blog links they’re getting etc. Check out these two articles to get you started:
- 1000+ Niche Citation Sites for 41 Local Business Categories
- Lists of Niche Directories – Find Directories for many Niches – Directory
Remember we’re looking for items like directories, paid directories, non-English directories, chambers of commerce etc. Just make sure that you’re getting at high domain authority sites, check domains in Open Site Explorer.
4: Getting on Your Distributor Directories
This applies best to companies in the industrial segment, but often for sites that do only sell to distributors you can score an exceptionally high-quality link from a supplier who should want to link to you. But again, this is one of those things you can’t fake for just any site, you really have to sell the listed product to appear on one of these directories, just make sure you’re on all of the ones you can be!
The way to go about this is search your vendor’s site or in google: “[product name] distributors” or [product name] “inurl:distributors.”
5: Social Accounts: Basic Authority links
I often sign up for a variety of social and web 2.0 accounts for my clients. It secures a sites reputation across the web and mimics similar symbols from bigger brands. This gives a wider platform to promote your content, allows you to build out your brand, and indicates a basic level of legitimacy to Google.
Making sure your site has the bases covered with things like Pinterest or Vimeo may provide minimal value, but it’s important to secure all these properties, at least for the backlink diversification, and making sure others don’t hijack on account for your domain.
6: Affiliate Program
This is one of the most under appreciated tactics on the web and in my opinion, Amazon’s #1 SEO secret. Look around the Web, all the companies like Amazon, Target, Home Depot, and REI have affiliate programs. If you can afford to share profit margin with referral partners in order to push top line revenue I would immediately do so.
Now this can have it’s downsides, especially if spammers or crappy marketers get involved. However, ideally you’ll gain a ton of link equity from a variety of bloggers and site builders who are serious about generating income.
7: Resource or Newsletter roundups
If a client is relevant to a specific industry, or has a relevant resource, you can ask to be included on a resource page or newsletter roundup from an influencer in an industry. Generally speaking this is more on the content marketing side of the spectrum, but if there is already a resource on the client’s site this could be a great way to gain more links without producing more content and technically staying in the “SEO” side of the field. Check out the below articles on resources and use the same logic for roundups and newsletter in your industry.
8: Blog Commenting
Ahh blog commenting, one of the best tactics marketers ever ruined. Blog commenting works best when commenting on a site that offers do-follow links in an author bio or something like the CommentLuv plugin.
General speaking these kinds of opportunities are going to be rare. Currently, blog commenting is more about leveraging those no-follow backlinks and user interactions on blogs within your niche to stay relevant among an audience, and I would argue, get your site associated within a certain niche. Of course we’re not passing link equity or any authority with this tactic, but we are at least getting Google to interact with our site more frequently.
Answering Q&As is pretty close on the SEO spectrum to blog commenting, but typically presents a better opportunity to build authority with your audience by displaying your knowledge and implanting links where relevant. Be sure to join communities like Inbound, Reddit, Facebook & LinkedIn Groups, Yahoo Answers, and Quora. Below are two great tutorials for leveraging Q&A sites as well as setting up BuzzBundle to scale that.
10: Discounts / coupons
This is far from free for your business and is still going to take some elbow grease, but discounts and coupons can be an exceptional way to get links. There are a number of sites that aggregate discounts and coupons so that creates a good link flow. Ideally you’re doing the work offering discounts to specific sites and bloggers that have audiences that might buy. This gets you some authority links and traffic that can be engaged.
11: Forum/Reddit Posting
Of all the tactics that involve joining communities and helping out this one will probably involve the most work. For a marketer this is a bit of stretch since forums and sub-reddits usually involve the most committed and anti-marketing audiences. If you can sacrifice the time and get (or already have the expertise), some of the most important conversations within niches happen on forums. This of course also means plenty of opportunities to sway the conversation and implant links.
12: Gray hat link building
There are still a few areas on the Web where you can “sign-up” for links and by the virtues of those site pad the backlink profile of our clients or gain some link equity through do follow profile links. I’ll get a list together of some of my favorite, but the best place to find these opportunities is by checking out other successful sites.
This is definitely on the gray hat side of things, and will cost you some pretty significant cash, but offering scholarships on behalf of your are an excellent carrot to attract high quality links and well regarded sites to link to your domain. Check out the tutorials below for getting into this strategy.
- How to Create and Run an Effective Scholarship Outreach Campaign
- .edu and .gov Link Building
- Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty of Scholarship Link Building
14: Join Associations/Organization
This is one of those areas where you can’t fake the funk. I wouldn’t recommend joining any organizations just for links, if you’re already in one I’d recommend checking out their site and seeing if they highlight members’ businesses or profiles anywhere.
15: Unlinked Brand Mention Recovery
There’s an opportunity to recover a back link anytime your brand, product, or an employee gets mentioned on the web without a link. The idea here is to find these unlinked mentions, and then nicely ask webmasters and bloggers to link. It’s a matter of being charming and lucky more than anything else, but ideally for any brand that’s been around for awhile there will be some sizeable untapped opportunity. Check out this guide from AHREFS for more or this guide on converting brand mentions.
16: Wikipedia links
In some niches we can attract highly relevant content to a site by create content that is a relevant resource to the Wikipedia site. While the links can be no-follow wikipedia can be a quality source of traffic based off of reference links in some niches. WikiGrabber is the best tool for the job.
17: Paid Product Review
Like Affiliate links paid reviews can be an exceptional way to get your products name out there. If you’re launching a new business this is probably the link building and reputation growth area to start with. Great sites in the niche include: reviewme.com, payperpost.com, and sponsoredreviews.com
Occasionally crowdfunding and donation pages will includes links to sponsors on their pages. While this will take some serious time and research it can be an exceptional way to gain links from high domain authority sites.
19: Donate to Charities & Non-Profit
This will take some digging in Google and is typically best accomplished by a solid VA, but charities and nonprofits with donation pages that link out provide an excellent opportunity to build links at a reasonable price.
20: Club and organization sponsorships
Like finding crowdfunding campaigns and charities you can donate to, finding clubs and organizations you can sponsor is all about the legwork of finding people who will accept reasonable donations.
21: Existing Domains
DomCop and Flippa both provide excellent opportunities to find sites that have existing backlink profiles and start there, or redirect link equity where applicable to your current site.
22: Alumni Organizations
Schools are always looking to highlight former students use this tactic to milk a little more than student debt out of your alma mater.
23: Intern/Job Postings
Please, please, please don’t invent positions, but keep in mind whenever you do post a new job that it’s worth it to place it in as many places as possible for the typically do followed link equity.
24: Things Not to Do
- Don’t submit to article submission sites or buy anything that looks like 20,000 backlinks in 2 days for 5 bucks. Generally anything that mentions PageRank (officially and thankfully retired in March of 2016) or uses the phrase #1 SEO should be avoided.
- Google says widgets don’t work, will work less, I call BS but it may be worth being careful. That said time will tell.
There you have it, all the most commonly used SEO link building tactics. There are probably thousands more, but this is the main core of them. That said good luck and have fun, link building is the closest you can get to panning for gold ; )
Content Marketing for Link-building
Content marketing is where the biggest wins will be had, but standing out and producing quality content is no easy task. Further if you build it, they won’t come. Proper promotion, or creating content with a clear distribution path is the only way to succeed. This section on building links through content is about two things, and you’ll have to decide which goal makes more sense for you. But keep in mind all of your content marketing activities will ultimately get bucketed into two fields you’ll either be:
- Producing content that generates links on your own site.
- Or creating content for other people’s sites that links back to yours.
The only items that will bridge the gap here are the rare moments when you can get an article syndicated or something like an infographics or interactive content piece that people will share while it’s on your site.
Content marketing in its best form is about delighting customers, building relationships, helping people, and building trust. While we all hope that this trust will lead to sales, it all hinges on well executed good ideas multiplied by proper promotion.
The best case scenario with our content is that as many people see it as possible, we gain a following and we become thought leaders eventually. This then gains us a compounding amount of press and backlinks that give us more audience and ranking signals.
Here are some questions to ask yourself with any piece of content:
- Can I effectively promote this to get backlinks? (i.e. can I “get links” like in #1 for this piece)
- Will my customers love it, and will people, especially journalists and bloggers want to share it?
- Do I have the site authority to perform in this content area (i.e. will my content rank and naturally get me links without em doing much because of my authority in this area.)
That said, content has been warped to include all of the below, so that we may consider anything from a blog post to a game as “content” and I’ll continue that for the sake of simplicity.
This matrix is an excellent heuristic to have and this video is worth a watch if you’re just getting into content production.So with that disclaimer, before I get jumped for bad semantics ; ) the rule of the game is that we need to create content that stands out. Otherwise we pretty much can’t win and can’t stand out in the crowd.
We need to build content that’s 10 times better than the next alternative, 10X content, 10X content, & more 10X content. Standing out from the crowd is a prerequisite for building links. Or as this satirical video stewing in our own buzzwords puts it, create ‘dope-ass ‘tent.”
Because what we really want is…
Or, as I like to call it, cash money.
Thinking outside of the box is key. These are 27 Types of “Content” you might consider leveraging to build out more links. This has been covered better elsewhere for a few examples, but the point is that content is the carrot that drives engagement and hopefully backlinks. There are then a set of tactics we can broadly apply to these content types that we produce in order to generate backlinks with.
Don’t feel like you’re out of options, there are formats for everyone and these are some content options that get links in ascending order of production cost: Blog posts, Monthly Column, Interviews, Surveys, Product Comparisons,Lists or Roundups, How To’s & Tutorials, White Papers, Newsletters, National Holidays, Events Resources, Curate Data, Independent/new unique research, Contests, Glossary of Industry Terms, Printable Resources, Newsjacking, Timely/Seasonal Content, Complete Guide/Resources, Presentations, Quizzes/Tests, Infographics, Case Studies, Ebooks, Webinars, Videos, Games, Plugins or Extensions, and Web Apps or Online Utilities.
Alright, so we’re in the mindset of creating incredible content and understand that promotion and quality are the table stakes let’s build some links, and grow our reputation.
Tactics for Generating Backlinks with Content in 2016
1: Guest Blogging
Google may be viciously trying to turn us away from this tactic but there is no more cost effective way to generate high quality backlinks than guest posts. Even better, they’re largely undecipherable from legitimate behavior because it is legitimate behavior. We’re getting out there and helping site owners get relevant high quality content that their audiences appreciate. It’s a win-win. Any type of content is fair game, and generally the more complex a content type and pitch the higher your chance of success.
Keep a few things in mind:
Bloggers get thousands of pitches, most of them are garbage. You need to stand out and do your best to be personable. We all know when we’re being sold, but everyone loves a good salesman!
The bigger the value or audience of a site the more difficult it will be to get on, and in some instances you’ll need to prove out your expertise before it’s even possible. If you’re just starting out, don’t shoot for the stars, just yet.
Generally a higher ticket item, like a quality infographic or video can open opportunities your reputation may not afford you.
Building relationships, being a genuine fan and online apostle of a site that slowly becomes a real friend is the best way to actually get guest posts.
Guest Posting will give you referrals but even 85% of the time <100 visits will be the norm. The bigger value is in the links, relationships, and reputation you’re building.
You’re putting out quite a bit of work to get these opportunities and create content, even though it feels like you’re giving a lot you need to be a good guest.
Some Important Tips:
- Read the articles below on good strategy
- The Definitive Guide to Guest Blogging
- Step by Step Guide to Scale Your Link Building
- An In-Depth Look at Guest Blogging in 2016 (Case Studies, Data & Tips)
- How to Measure Guest Posting ROI
- Guest Post ROI: The Data Behind 273 Guest Posts Says It’s No Good
- Copy of Ryan Robinson (ryrob.com) Referral Traffic from Guest Posts – Ahrefs (Tim)
- You need to create incredible content, usually 800+ words though most sites have editorial guidelines.
- Scout out and create relevant pieces of content you can link to so you can boost how many links you’re getting. But you have to be good, otherwise you could turn sites off. (Don’t abuse this with exact anchors to products that aren’t relevant to the article. )
- If possible create high quality images for your host site, and video resources where possible.
- Treat it as a high quality paper. Link out to other important work in the “field” and preferably to content from your host.
- Keep editing they have to do to a minimum (be a good guest)
2: Skyscraper Technique
The Skyscraper Technique should be your blueprint for any content you produce. The idea here, is that we survey the existing work in a topical; area and outdo the quality of the content. That then allows us to stand out enough to get links naturally, reach out to previous sites that linked to a similar piece of content, and reach out to influencers who would genuinely enjoy our content. At the end of the day the goal is to execute on an idea that we know works and reach out to all the potential people who have expressed interest or shared something similar in the past.
3: Updating Old Content
There are two ways to approach this tactic, you can either update content that has fallen behind the times (since freshness matters) or find content that was once popular but is no longer relevant. Either way this tactic relies on refreshing a proven concept then capitalizing on past promotional success. It should produce an amazing piece of content that everyone in the community will appreciate and (hopefully) be willing to link to. If you want to scale this tactic, either prospect popular pieces that are 3+ years old or find a set of resource pages for a certain niche you want links from, and crawl it for 404s. These 404s are all opportunities to create refreshed version of whatever was being linked to. Though double check that it hasn’t just moved on the original site.
- This ‘Inverted Broken Link Building’ Strategy Will Make You Facepalm
- How to Build Backlinks Using Your Competitors’ Broken Pages
- The Complete Guide to Updating and Republishing Outdated Blog Content
4: Reaching out to interested experts
Anytime you publish a piece of content on your site you should reach out to any experts or bloggers that might be interested. While your total success rate may be low, truly incredible content will get you some traction. You can significantly increase your chances of success if you’re interacting with influencers, liking, sharing, and commenting on content long before you ask them for anything.
5: Content Multiplying: Multimedia/Document Submission
Don’t forget that you can always upconvert any content you create and adapt it for a specific roll. This means that a potentially exhausted blog post can be converted into a slideshow presentation, video, or even gifs for better virality, and more easy backlinks.
6: Quoting experts and influencers
If you have the bandwidth I would recommend always trying to include a quote from an expert, professional in the industry, or influencer as much of possible. This will take some footwork and you’re likely to have much better success if your site actually has a following. But if you can pull this off, you should have strong results with a steady source of experts who may owe you a favor or two.
7: Owned Promotion With Web 2.0 Submission
For the most part owned web 2.0 properties are underutilized by brands. Most people never go beyond posting on Facebook, and the vast majority of sites have 0 other sites linking to them, why not create a mini network of your owned content? These links will have vastly discounted value, but over a long enough time period, and with proper curation across all these properties should move the needle.
8: Directory Submissions for our “Content” assets
Don’t forget that any higher value piece of content you create will have its own associated directores, think Web App Directories, Widget Directories, Theme/Template Directories, CSS galleries, Podcast Directories, Blog Directories, Mobile App Directories,Logo Design Directories, or eBook Directories. You’ll still need to proof out these sites for quality, but this gives you a good multiplier for your content without doing costlier or more difficult tactics. Also be sure to ask your developer about specific technologies used in say a web app or mobile app since those may have “built with” galleries associated with them.
Sometimes we can identify sites that will republish the content we create and give us a byline. Below are some great articles on the topic.
10: Russian Newspaper placements
This is probably one of the most brilliant evil genius strategies I’ve ever heard of. Straight from the brilliant mind of Matt Woodward this tactic basically involves creating content in Russian and then placing it on cheaper news sites over there. (you know where the news can be bought) Is it immoral? Definitely. Can it be scaled across a few countries and languages? Absolutely…Good Hunting.
11: PR placements Press Release Submission
This is far from the glory days, but there are still a solid set of press release sites, that are of moderate SEO value and have some potential of creating backlinks for you.
12: Infographic Submission
Infographics still offer some incredible opportunities for promotion out of the box since there are many sites that still curate them. That said since 2011 this tactic has faded and the novelty is kind of gone. You’re unlikely to get on a site unless you’re creating excellent infographics. There are tons of sites worth submitting to, but not everything is going to actually be a win, start with this list and see where you get.
13: Widget Backlinks
Google has promised to crack down on widget backlinks, but I doubt they will, or will do so effectively. Look for a few examples to get made, but if you actually breakdown how the web works, the said truth is that this tactic is still alive and well.
Remember as far as our goals for content marketing goes, the important long term KPIS for content is not how many links it generates, but whether it build our reputation and generates the quality rankings signals we need.
The TLDR is that we’re never going to capture short keywords, we want to use keywords to capture valuable bottom and middle of funnel traffic, build trust, or get at the long tail!
Strategy 3: Digital PR for Link Building
PR is the final frontier of link building. And the hardest thing to simulate, luckily this means few competitors will go through the challenges and cost of actually becoming a thought leader.
There is no sure and fast way to become an influencer, tastemaker, expert, thought leader or whatever else you want to call it. People gain notoriety thousands of ways. But for the purposes of business, building out a reputation through content is the most reliable strategy to profitability. Providing a strong foundation from which you can fully harness the natural items that come with doing PR. Content can make you an influencer, but once you cross that threshold, your content (or whatever material it is that you use to communicate with your audience) becomes your calling card. You then become the magnet for links.
Industries change and/or you can be toppled from your pedestal but you’ll consistently earn links from just doing what you do. From bios to interviews, speaking at events, getting featured on podcasts or getting quoted by people you’ve influenced, links will pour in. That said there are some tactics that should be applied to the overall strategy of leveraging your influencer status to increase your connections. And as the world increasingly mirrors the web connections do amount to links.
1: Build Relationships
This is the most important part of successful PR and even content marketing. If you’re this far into this article you know this is true, but building relationships, offering value, and maintaining them is key. While journalists will naturally be weary of anyone that looks like a marketer and most people may treat you like a used car salesman (my apologies to those in the profession ) the fact is that if you’re genuine and helpful, most people will actually respond in a positive light. After all who doesn’t want to help a friend out. People buy and link to people they like, so start out by trying to work only build relationships with people you could legitimately see yourself getting along with.
- Genuine Acts of Kindness – You’re probably friendlier than I am, but if you’re trying to become an influencer, and not be known as a jerk, caring and showing that care is key. People get bombarded in thousands Whether it’s a journalist or a famous cyclist you share honey glazed spaghetti squash recipes it’s all about using friendliness to get your foot in the door. At a basic level this is just good sense for being a great and helpful human, if you’re struggling to make connections in business read up on the literature that’s pretty universal as far as American business goes: How to Win Friends & Influence People, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, & Better Than Good: Creating a Life You Can’t Wait to Live
- Help & Participate – Get involved and lend a helping hand to your community. Don’t get out there and just go after who you believe your “target” to be. The better of a community member you are to whatever niche you’re operating in the larger your growth potential. Be sure to comment! The vast majority of blog posts that get written, even by the experts get no love. Better yet the best always answer back! Even the busiest of people will start to see and recognize your name. But aside from that it’s nice to feel like someone is answering back especially when you’re always shouting into the void.
- Go to Events – This can’t be understated, going to events whether it’s a “boring” tradeshow or a local meetup is a sure fire way to meet people who love what you do as much as you do.
- Answer questions – This harkens back to one of the SEO focused link building tactics, but the fact is that answering questions and being helpful across Q&A sites is a great way to be an asset in your community. Obviously you won’t always win or be top comment, but supporting people and lending your area of expertise is a surefire way to grow your footprint.
- Offer value – Be ready to selflessly give. There isn’t going to be a measurable ROI on this, but over time this will also build your reputation as a genuine source of information or help
- Maintain these relationships! – A lot of people aren’t in it for the long haul. If you thought the above tips sounded tedious (and obvious) good because they are. Being a member of the community means putting in the work, and again it’s a hard tactic to follow since most aren’t willing to be genuinely helpful.
2: Write a Column
Writing for the leading publications in your industry is a surefire way to consistently generate links. Additionally this gives you access to some of the highest quality relevant links in your niche. You may need to step down your expectations if you’re still relatively unknown in the niche, but high quality writing with well reasoned opinions is always in demand. It should go without saying, but you need to approach this work with the intent of helping. If you haven’t read Glenn’s piece on “Private Influencer Networks” I think it’s worth a read, This is already happening, and largely speaking the more backs you can scratch now, the bigger chance you’ll have at staying relevant as things get harder or the market shifts.
3: Reach Out
You need to monitor the community for new developments. As new businesses or organizations work their way into or near your niche it’s important to reach out to them and introduce yourself. Nothing may come of it, but building out relationships early (before others get involved) is an important part of staying relevant and hopefully creating some connection arbitrage before other savvy marketers get involved. Obviously there is some strong overlap here with SEO and content marketing tactics like guest posting or resource page suggestions so be sure to magnify your efforts with those strategies.
4: Offer Services to Larger Organizations
Giving away free work is an underutilized tactic. People say give till it hurts, and it will. But being genuinely helpful and donating services or help to organizations that could use it but may not be able to afford it is a sure route to success. Obviously don’t let yourself be exploited, but having your name or service attached to an organization that wouldn’t otherwise be able to hire you can create infinite benefits down the line.
5: Offer Products to Bloggers
We’ve all been on the long slog of building out our businesses. Bloggers and people selling services online all get this, reaching out and reviewing services and products from other sites is an excellent way to provide some genuine help and exposure to someone else.
6: AirBnB Guides
I just came up with this one recently and haven’t started implementing it for our local SEO clients. But explore AirBnB and find every house within less than a mile or two of your business. Listinghave the ability to create guides for the local area. Reach out and offer to write them a guide, it should increase their bookings and also gives them the opportunity to be featured in the cities overall guidebook.
7: Create Local Meetings and Events
Not all PR tactics need to be about national placements or becoming the most famous widget salesman in America. Often people focus to broadly on the rest of the web at the expense of the fact that there are often large and established organizations within a local area. Creating a meet up is pretty easy and obviously creates a tremendous amount of value for the local area. If you can do that or even shoot for something in partnership with a few local organizations that should create some good local buzz and help create a lot of connections in the local business community. Furthermore, it opens up the door to mentions on a local level. Obviously this all would take a great deal of work and organization but it would be worth it.
8: Be Featured in Local Publications.
Do your best to reach out and help out local journalists. The value of building on a hometown advantage cannot be underestimated.
9: Speak at Universities + Volunteer to Speak with Groups
It’s important to give back as much as you can, especially if you have any level of notoriety. Look at all the organizations in your area and see if you couldn’t provide some value by volunteering or providing some expertise that would be of value to the audience. If the answer is yes than think about reaching out. Usually speaking events, or writing opportunities they may create, open up an opportunity to get some mentions on the web.
10: Troll bait or Grabbing Headlines with Controversy
This is kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel. But if you’re ever in need of some attention, assuming a contrary or marginally offensive opinion may create some press. Obviously you’ll want to do this with taste and make sure you can spin/defend your words, but it can help you stand out. Generally speaking it’s best to assume a contrarian view in something like a blog post headline that grabs people’s attention (like calling SEO cosmetic) than create an outright assault on the world. Another option here is to “poke the bear.” If you see an expert in your field whose a waning star or more importantly you think is full of $h%t, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t leverage the press of them responding to you for gains. Additionally, if you end up being historically right it’s a great way to put yourself on the same tier as an established expert and eventually leapfrog them. But played well generating some controversy can renew a brand.
11: Alumni Spotlight
This is straightforward, but if you’re school rounds up or does profiles on successful alumni try to get featured.
These are just some rudimentary tactics and PR based link building will evolve more over time. The bottom line is that experts need to stay engaged and constantly prove their status. In the process of doing so you’ll consistently gain links.
Making Link Building Consistently Work For You
At the end of the day there are obviously a million other reasons to create content, but we marketers no longer have the luxury of living in a world where the cream will rise to the top, we must be proactive about getting as many backlinks as we possible can and growing our web presence day by day. Ready to get your hands dirty? Well, check out the best tools for link building in 2016.
Some Great Link Building Tutorials:
The Basics of Link Building:
Below are the basics of the wonderful world of link building for the uninitiated, for a more serious explanation of link building strategies in 2016, click here.
What is Link Building
From the beginning the secret sauce in Google’s algorithm was that it used hyperlinks between sites to determine the popularity of various sites. If a site was more linked to by other sites, it was then more popular and authoritative on the subject, like a book that is frequently sited or a musician that is claimed by multiple musicians as a muse. Search engines treat links as a popularity vote, and it is the job of search engines to monitor the situation among users and sites, to determine, what people are looking for and mean when they ask questions. While there are a multitude of other important factors that work into an algorithm, not least of which is the basis of whether an item on a SERP ultimately fulfilled a user’s questions the fact is that Links remain to this day one of the single biggest determiners of a sites popularity. Even though they have diminished in recent times, they’re still just one of the biggest factors.
Why Link Building Matters:
So you’re a savvy entrepreneur with a great site, service, or product and you open your site on the web, but there’s no traffic or sales? What gives? The fact is that you can think of links as almost like little roads, if you want to work your way up to main street you have to pay for it (with ads) or make a new main street, build the links and connections that eventually funnel people in and let Google know you deserve it. Basically Google and Bing just want us to sit idly by and wait for the notoriety to build or links to roll in, but they won’t. (Thus why many must pay.)
What Makes a Good Link:
We need to recreate what is supposed to be an “organic” and natural process. Even more interesting not all links are created the same, some links matter more than others.
A Good Link Comes From a Site With Tons of Traffic and Many Sites linking to it:
A link from New York Times is worth more than your Uncle Bob’s Widget Emporium LiveJournal. This is an important distinction to understand because you want to become an example of a highly valued link, read more here.
A Good Link comes from a site that’s an authority in the field:
We don’t want to be linked to from just any where, we want sites that actually cover our vertical. If we run a site about plumbing, getting a link from a blog about it is better than getting a link from your grandma’s yarn blog. It’s important to read up on the difference.
A Good Link Isn’t Spammy:
Don’t just go out and buy random links. A few estimates peg the total amount of spam on the web at 60%. There is tons and tons of garbage out there. Getting a link from it is next to useless, and worse still you’re chasing an algorithm instead of real humans. Try to calibrate your efforts towards real people, not bots! Imagine if you were asking for directions in a new city, and a doctor and the local drunk gave you advice, who would you trust? Google functions on the same sense of trying to establish authority that you or I would use. Governments, Schools, Non-profits, and labs with their .edu and .org domains tend to have a little higher significance, based solely off the fact that they’re organizations with pedigree.
Links should be fresh:
Great sites get mentioned and linked to all the time. Look at a site like Amazon, between its referral links and stirring up controversy over its experiment and stock valuations it’s constantly getting mentioned in the press. The fact is that even a great link will decay over time. Again Google is tracking references and citations, if something becomes less referenced over time by humans that must mean it’s fading into obscurity and mattering less.
How do Social Shares Factor In?
While there is some correlation with social shares, the fact is that Google doesn’t own that realm. They track the people that like and love items, but not what they like and love on platforms that are easily spammed. Which is to say, if million of people are loving a piece of content and going to it on the Android platform or a the chrome browser Google Will know it, and it will likely eventually effect rankings if not click through on SERPs.
Importance of Anchor Text
Ever wonder why those stupid exact match domains used to be so popular?
At the end of the day the “target” keyword anchor tex at the “target page” and “homepage” ages is going to have the largest effect,but we need a good mix of other links to actually grow..
A Note on Domain Authority:
Below are my rule of thumb observations on how domain authority works.
90-100 – For the most part no-follow from sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc
70- 90 Broad – mass market sites with huge appeal, these are the sites that would be recognizable in across much of society
50 – 70 – Sites with large audiences, or approaching mass appeal.
20 -50 Mature sites or with relatively large audiences and strong niche audiences
0-20 – New or young sites (but might still have the audience you care about)
Link building has always been the cornerstone of SEO. For the basics of what link building is and why it matters jump to the bottom or click here for link building strategies to crush it in 2016. As you may know, there are hundreds of tools on the market ranging from the black-hat to the legitimate. This list includes the best tools worth choosing from. They’re all used by the pros and have made us all thousands.
Table of Contents
Backlink Building is an essential part of SEO, here’s our list of all time favorite products for getting the job done.
32 Tools Worth Adding to Your Back Link Building Arsenal:
- Ahrefs: Backlink Building : The most complete resource for backlink data on the web as well as other useful data points. Pricing: $99 /m – $399 /m
- Gryffin: Backlink Building : More Google search operators than you’d ever need. Pricing: Custom
- Content Harmony: Backlink Building : Chrome extension for viewing key metrics drawn from ahrefs, SEMrush, and MOZ Custom
- WebpageFX: Backlink Building : Easily find opportunities to answer questions online and build content around questions users are asking. Pricing: Free
- Link Prospector: Backlink Building : Great way to find opportunities to build links and pitch to. Pricing: $47 /m – $497 /m
- WikiGrabber: Backlink Building : Find Wikipedia pages that you can make better. Pricing: Free
- whitespark: Backlink Building : The efficient way to build and fix local citations for your business. Pricing: $200 – $395 / One Time
- Moz Bar: Backlink Building : Tons of great free SEO metrics on sites and SERPS, the Spam Score is a massive plus while prospecting. Pricing: Freemium
- Majestic: Backlink Building : Excellent source of backlink data with in-depth analysis on it. Pricing: $49.99 /m – $399.99 /m
- URL Profiler: Backlink Building : Invaluable resource for merging site crawls with relevant social, analytics, and SEO data. Pricing: $19.95 / m $39.95 / m
- Broken Link Builder: Backlink Building : Find non-existant content you can replace for the links. Pricing: $47 /m – $497 /m
- Cognitive SEO: Backlink Building : A platform for managing digital marketing which focuses on rankings, backlinks, and social. Pricing: $99 – $499 +/m
- Kerboo: Backlink Building : Suite of tools to add on top of their current stack giving you easier workflows for link building, link disavowals, and rank tracking. Pricing: $249 /m – $2999 /m
- directorycritic: Backlink Building : Curated lists of directories worth actually being on. Pricing: Custom
- Outdated Content Finder: Backlink Building : Find outdated content that you can do better. Pricing: Custom
- Chase the Footprint: Backlink Building : Useful tool for generating advanced search queries to use in Google. Pricing: Free
- Remove em: Backlink Building : Tool for checking whether you have overoptomized anchor text in your backlink profile. Pricing: Custom
- SpyFu: Backlink Building : Platform oriented towards in-depth competative analysis of rankings and paid keyword competition. Pricing: $79 /m – $999 /m
- BuzzBundle: Backlink Building : Keep an eye on any opportunity to mention your brand on the web. Pricing: Free – $399 /m
- SEMrush: Backlink Building : The biggest provider of accurate ranking information. Pricing: $69. P95 /m – $549.95 /m
- Moz Pro: Backlink Building : The authority on reporting, guided SEO, and content marketing implementation for beginners. Pricing: $99 /m – $599 /m
- Pitchbox: Outreach Management : Platform for managing your outreach efforts and content creation, understanding your targets, and automating your prospect search. Pricing: $49 /m – $1000 /m
- NinjaOutreach: Outreach Management : Finding influencers and managing large outreach campaigns. Pricing: $29 /m – $249 /m
- BuzzStream: Outreach Management : Outreach platform for finding the sites you want to pitch ideas to. Pricing: $29 /m – $249 /m
- PitchRate: Pitch directly to database of journalist. Pricing: Free
- Anewstip: Search and pitch directly to journalists. Pricing: Free – $149 /m
- ResponseSource: Pitch ideas to a database of journalist or directly to their submitted queries. Pricing: Custom
- HARO: Daily emails from journalists and bloggers looking for interviewees. Pricing: Free – $149 /m
- PRX: Results driven PR that automates pitches or sponsors content. Pricing: $500 /Sponsor Post
- Publicize: Transparent alternative to traditional PR agencies focused on press releases, promo, and guest posting as a fallback. Pricing: Free – $800 + /m
- Placemints: Service for managing your pitching and promotion efforts for you. Pricing: Custom
- Muck Rack: Maximize the impact of your promotional efforts by pitching to journalists. Pricing: $179 /m$269 + /m
What are all these link-building tools for?
There are basically a few avenues any business or site owner can pursue to get links, but what it basically boils down to either being interesting, controversial, or helpful to your customers and community or faking the funk (as most of us have to) and building links. Not everyone owns a groundbreaking company. In an ideal world we could all play fair. But the cream doesn’t rise to the top.
Great content and products, are nothing without promotion. The fact is that the cards are actually stacked against your average small business owner and in order to stay alive in a world where large corporations would otherwise bully us around we need to “simulate” organic processes. Thus why these link building tools exist.
The Types of Link building Tools:
There are links we can get by signing up, cajoling, or asking for them. Links we can get through leveraging content marketing as a carrot to entice site owners and blogs to feature us. And links we can get through being featured into a publication. That’s it. All of the tools in this list help accomplish one of the above.
Best Link Prospecting Tools? – Find Out What Backlinks You & Anyone Else Has
[Best in Show: ahrefs or Majestic] If we’re going to reverse engineer the organic process of link building as Google wants it to happen you need to know where and how you can reach out. Typically when people talk “link building” tools they’re talking about these kinds of tools. These link-building tools crawl the web as Google does and create a searchable database. Generally speaking they accomplish the following:
- They allow us to spy on the competition. If we know where the best are getting links, that gives us an idea of where we can.
- They allow us to understand the popularity of other sites, so that we’re concentrating on the best places to build links and grow our audience.
- Google is actually one of your best prospecting sites, after all where better to find links worth getting than from the machine itself. There are a few tools here that augment that process.
[Best in show: PitchBox or Ninja Outreach] For any serious SEO, you’re going to eventually find yourself doing manual outreach for guest posts, pitching to journalists directly (if you’re product or a piece of content you’ve created is novel or interesting), and trying to get journalists and sites to repost your content. The truth ain’t pretty, but there are very, very, few sites that “hand out” links these days. These tools help us keep the sites we find from Link Prospecting in Line, and let us get the job done.
Media Placements – Find opportunities get written about in the Media.
[ Best in Show: start with HARO] Media placements are the best game in town, but there is a high opportunity cost of spending time and getting nowhere. Regardless, modern PR, and trying to build good relationships with journalists so that your company is featured in publications (and gets links) is the most durable way to “build” links. In a few years this will likely be the only play we can make, since blogging as a hobby is beginning to fade. That said I’d recommend starting with HARO or if you have the cash a few of these paid options.
Easy Backlinks – Get and Buy Backlinks Quickly (Not the best, but great if you’re not on the map)
[Best in Show: Bright Local] Easy backlinks are sites that serve a legitimate purpose and also hand out links. In my opinion they’re key to establishing some legitimacy in the eyes of Google. Ultimately this is low work for marginal return. All the sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ count, but more importantly so do local directories, Google Places, and if you are a startup, sites for that. Many of the links will be no-follow, but still serve as a good form of legitimacy building.
Link Profile Management – Bad backlinks are no good either, monitoring your backlink profile is also key.
[Best in Show: Kerboo or ahrefs] As most people know Google released a series of updates from 2008 – 2012 that radically increased the quality of it’s search results and made black hat link building significantly more difficult. (Probably why you’re here, welcome to the gray fedora) This set of tools helps us protect our nest eggs, and generally speaking any link-prospecting tool would aid us here, since knowledge is power, but I’ll add a few more that are purpose driven.
Link Prospecting Tools:
A link building tool is only as good as the total size of it’s database. For the US market the only ones I truly trust are ahrefs, Majestic, & Cognitive SEO for asite (which aggregates data from them). MOZ, SEMrush, & SpyFu can get the job done, and offer a suite of other handy tools, but don’t extend all the way to what I would consider professional grade. While ahrefs has the largest set of backlinks, you can often stack ahrefs, Majestic, Moz, and Search Console, and still find links the other ones didn’t see.
- Ahrefs: Link Prospecting –Rating: 10 : The gold seal of backlink data on the web with a variety of other useful SEO tools for looking at popular content, spying on the competition, and tracking trending and popular content in specific verticals. Ahrefs does what a bunch of the other tools on this list do, but better. Pricing: $99 – $499 + /m Generally there are a few different useful features in ahrefs:
- You can directly type a site into its search bar and get a variety of metrics like how many sites are linking to a domain as well as social shares. Additionally, you can type in any URL and get a solid set of data to work off of. This comes particularly in handy if you’re trying to clone popular content created by competitors, see what performs in your vertical, or see who has been interested in content from your vertical before.
- The biggest value here is that you can gather a large amount of backlink data and see what specific pages on what sites are linking, as well as get a fast estimate of the total number of domains, or just what domains are linking out. From here you could either manually scout out pages, run these URLs through URL Profiler, or run through them with an outreach platform like buzzbundle or ninjaoutreach.
- They an all right internal “Domain Authority” like metric, but I find that it tends to be a bit weak as it focuses a bit strongly on total numbers of backlinks and doesn’t encompass as many other quality factors as Moz’s Domain Authority Metric.
- As Cognitive SEO and Majestic do, ahrefs also has some link intersect tools as well as historical metrics on backlinks that have been gained and lost.
- If you’re link building in the context of content marketing, which you should ultimately be doing, ahrefs basically folds in many of the principles in a tool like BuzzSumo and helps you find both writers and content producers/publishers that you can easily pitch to.
- Ahrefs and Majestic can both suffer from too much data. Both of then do have relevant filters for the freshness of links, which can mitigate this effect, but I’d still argue that understanding the entire picture is more valuable then getting the freshness you would from Moz’s database. Additionally, knowing of aged links typically presents a great opportunity to renew some content.
- Majestic: Link Prospecting –Rating: 8 : Majestic has some nice comparison features of backlinks, but largely serves the same functions as AHREFS, but without the robust site audit and content trending features. That said, if you’re a bit more price conscious Majestic can be an excellent way to get largely the same information as that which is offered by ahrefs but at a better price. Pricing: $49.99/m – $399.99/m
- Cognitive SEO: Backlink Building –Rating: 8 : A platform for managing digital marketing which focuses on rankings, backlinks, and social. Cognitive SEO straddles a interesting position, where it offers features useful to people who want to monitor the business at a higher level than say something like MOZ or Raven, but doesn’t offer the handy export functionality of a tool like Majestic, SpyFu, SEMrush and Ahrefs when it comes to prospecting domains a la carte. That said if you’re mainly concerned with checking out your own backlink profile, or a few key competitors and then pursuing them, this can work out quite well.
- Moz Pro: Link Prospecting –Rating: 6 : Moz should be a familiar name to you, their guides and blogs are some of the best in the industry. That said they’re best off for business owners who want a good understanding of their performance without being stuck in the weeds. Basically Moz Pro will help you prospect and monitor your sites backlinks but its scope may not be wide enough for a full on link building campaign.
All that said MOZ does create the best metric for site quality: Domain Authority. This rating can be helpful in evaluating what is going on with the competition, the quality of a site, and whether it lies in a spammy “link neighborhood.” Pricing: $99 /m – $599 /m.
- SpyFu: Link Prospecting –Rating: 7 : SpyFu is oriented towards rankings and paid keyword competitors. That said it does allow for you to get a sense of competitor backlinks. Again, if you’re link building isn’t your main focus (and paid ads are) this can offer enough information, but it won’t be heavy duty enough for serious work. Pricing: $79 /m$999 /m
- SEMrush: Backlink Building –Rating: 6 : SEMrush is far and away my favorite keyword and rank tracking tool. That said it does have a decent back link database, though on par with MOZ and SpyFu it isn’t as big as Majestic or ahrefs. Pricing: $69.95/m to $549.95/m
Link Prospecting in Google:
Most SEO’s actually spend quite a bit of time prospecting in Google, after all where better to find sites to get links from that Google might like, than in its own index. Most of these tools basically supercharge the manual process of using various advanced search queries to find sites.
- Link Prospector: Link Prospecting in Google –Rating: 8 : Great way to find opportunities to build links and sites worth pitching to. This tool from Garret French’s company Citation Labs is basically prospecting searches on steroids. While there might too much info from this tool, it’s a great way for beginners to get their toes wet in prospecting (outside of spying on the competition and what content is popular with link prospecting tools) and finding link opportunities. Pricing: $47 /m$497 /m
- Moz Bar: Link Prospecting in Google –Rating: 8 : Tons of great SEO metrics right in your browser with this chrome extension. Plus few people truly appreciate the value of breaking down technical factors behind SERPS and actually looking at who ranks where. Moz Bar makes it easy (with a free account) to get decent metrics on the competition (including their Spam Score) while you evaluate sites. Even better the MOZ Bar makes it easy to export SERP results by the hundreds into CSVs for processing through URL Profiler or outreach management tools. Pricing: Freemium
- Chase the Footprint: Link Prospecting in Google –Rating: 7 : Quickly generate advanced search queries for use in Google. The fact is that there are probably more query variations than any of us could remember, tools like this and Gryffin make it easy to query Google in a variety of ways, without the pain of remembering all the variations we should be using. Pricing: Free
- Gryffin: Link Prospecting in Google –Rating: 8 : More Google search operators than you’d ever need. Gryffin, like Chase the footprint is great if you’re an experienced link builder looking for various opportunities in Google.
- Outdated Content Finder: Link Prospecting in Google –Rating: 7 : Find outdated content that you can do better. Then use a tool like ahrefs and majestic to find people that have linked to it previously and let them know there is a great new version. Pricing: Custom
- Broken Link Builder: Backlink Building –Rating: 8 : Find non-existent content you can replace it with links. This is another tool from Citation Labs that can make it easy to scale your link building efforts inside of Google. Pricing: $47 /m$497 /m
While you could track all of the sites you’ve reached out to in an excel sheet, once your team and/or clientele expands past a certain level a pure sheet full of data just get unwieldy. That’s why outreach management tools are invaluable when it comes to our link building efforts. The fact is that for modern link building we’re going to spend a great deal of time either pitching journalists or site/blog owners. Outreach management tools make it easy to track all the chaos so that we’re maximizing our effectiveness among teams by not reaching out to the same sites that were duds or worse, having multiple conversations with site owners. Pitchbox, NinjaOutreach, and Buzzstream will all get the job done for outreach management, it just comes down to your individual interests and the price you’re willing to pay.
- URL Profiler: Backlink Building –Rating: 8 : Invaluable resource for merging site crawls with relevant social, analytics, and SEO data from MOZ, Majestic, CopyScape, and/or ahrefs.
So you spent all day prospecting in Google and other tools now what?
Well URL Profiler can be an excellent next step to weed out weak sites and quickly figure out what kind of domains you’re dealing with. Meaning that you can quickly get an export and only target sites with a specific Domain Authority, CMS, or blog. (i.e. profile URLS quickly, see what they did?) Pricing: $19.95 / m – $39.95 / m.
- Pitchbox: Outreach Management –Rating: 8 : Platform for managing your outreach efforts and content creation, understanding your targets, and automating your prospect search. Pitchbox used to be very pricey, luckily they’ve brought their product down to a level that most site owners could actually afford. It struck me as the best tool before and still is the most polished outreach management tool. Pricing: $49 /m – $1000 /m –
- NinjaOutreach: Outreach Management –Rating: 8 : Finding influencers and managing large outreach campaigns? Then NinjaOutreach is great for you. Like the other two options here NinjaOutreach makes it easy to manage all of your outreach in one place. Personally for the price point I think it can’t be beat and I can’t wait to see how the tool continues to develop. Pricing: $29 /m – $249 /m –
- BuzzStream: Outreach Management –Rating: 7 : BuzzStream is probably the best call for large (price conscious) teams. When it comes down to it, its not as agile as NinjaOutreach or Pitchbox, but it forces strong organization, which can be key when multiple people are working on many accounts. I’d say that BuzzStream probably does have the steepest learning curve, but their Buzzmarket chrome extension is probably the best for categorizing URLs as you go. Pricing: $29 /m – $249 /m
- Content Harmony: Backlink Building –Rating: 8 : Chrome extension for viewing key metrics drawn from ahrefs, SEMrush, and MOZ Pricing. Again I would keep Content Harmony in your back pocket regardless of what else you’re doing, there is nothing worse than reaching out to a site that actually isn’t that popular or in the wrong vertical, and it’s the fastest way to check whether the individual tools are legit.
Link Profile Management:
Concerned about negative SEO attacks or getting burned by your own backlink profile? These tools will help you make sure your link building doesn’t go awry. Even better they can help you make sure there are other factors holding you back. (though a site audit toolmay be in order.)
- Kerboo: Backlink Building –Rating: 8 : Offers a suite of tools to add on top of their current stack giving you easier workflows for link building, link disavowals, and rank tracking. While Kerboo isn’t a standalone link building tool it does provide an excellent suite of tools for serious SEO work. Pricing: $249/m – $2999/m
- Remove’em: Backlink Building –Rating: 7 : Purpose driven tool for checking whether you have over optimized anchor text or other threads in your backlink profile. Again this is for the most serious of SEO’s, link builders, or site owners concerned with the sanctity of their site’s backlink profile. Pricing: $99/m – $899/m.
Ahh the glory of taking candy from babies. Just kidding, easy backlinks are one of the rare examples of low hanging fruit your average site owner can still cash in on. Again, the value here is going to be marginal, but at least it will be low cost and somewhat guaranteed.
- whitespark: Backlink Building –Rating: 8 : The efficient way to build and fix local citations for your business. The sad truth is that there are a variety of links you could be getting for a mere $3 a piece. While some of these will be no-followed and many won’t be of the best quality, if you have a physical location whitespark can be a get way to get citations without the headache of doing it yourself. (Pro Tip, not all their citations offer links, make sure you’re snagging the ones that do.) Pricing: $200 – $395 / One Time –
- BuzzBundle: Backlink Building –Rating: 7 : Keep an eye on any opportunity to mention your brand on the web. Are people talking about your vertical or mentioning products related to what you do, why not join the conversation? BuzzBundle is “social listening” on steroids and makes it easy to comment in bulk. That said, there is a pretty large degree of garbage that’ll come up, especially if you’re in a pretty quiet vertical. Pricing: Free – $399 /m
- directorycritic: Backlink Building –Rating: 7 : Curated lists of directories worth actually being on. New to link building? Don’t waste your time with bad directories, instead, only go after the best. Pricing: Custom
- WikiGrabber: Backlink Building –Rating: 8 : Find Wikipedia pages that you can make better and build links out to your content. The links will be no follow but in certain verticals Wikipedia can be an excellent mainline to valuable middle and bottom of funnel traffic. Just remember that you’re there to help the community only link not spam the system. Pricing: Free
- WebpageFX: Backlink Building –Rating: 8 : Easily find opportunities to answer questions online and build content around questions users are asking. This is a great tool for reverse engineering what’s already popular and being linked to.
Tools for Media Opportunities:
Securing a legitimate placement in a media publication is one of the biggest opportunities your site could have. But you could spend a great deal of time pitching to journalists or looking for opportunities and get nowhere. At the same time large publications tend to publish far more frequently than your average site, on the order of 100s of times a day. So weigh the risks accordingly. IN a best case scenario you could secure inclusion into an article that is trending front page news for the day, or (gasp) a week. Chasing media placements is the equivalent of swinging for homeruns rather than the singles and doubles that make up most other link building opportunities.
- Muck Rack: Maximize the impact of your promotional efforts by pitching to journalists. Pricing: $179 /m to $269 + /m
- PitchRate: Pitch directly to database of journalist. Pricing: Free
- Anewstip: Search and pitch directly to journalists. Pricing: Free – $149
- ResponseSource: Pitch ideas to a journalists database or directly to their submitted queries. Pricing: Custom
- HARO: Daily emails from journalists and bloggers looking for interviewees. HARO is a great deal of work, you’ll have to sift through 20-50 daily opportunities to find the journalist that might be looking to write about your company. But given the fact that its free (there are filters and alerts in paid versions) it’s an excellent foot in the door for marketers and site owners willing to put in the elbow grease to make things happen. – Free – $149 /m
- PRX: Results driven PR that automates pitches or sponsors content. PRX, Placemints, and Publicize all promise to do much of the work for you. Why sift through all the journalists out there when there are hundreds looking for an extra buck and the opportunity to monetize a link they’d be placing anyways? All of these platforms promise to automate much of the difficulty of getting a media placement by greasing the wheels of justice. Pricing: $500 /Sponsor Post
- Publicize: Transparent alternative to traditional PR agencies focused on press releases, promo, and guest posting as a fallback. Pricing: Free – $800 + /m
That’s all folks, above are the 34 best tools on the market for people looking to build links. If we’ve missed anything let us know. Otherwise happy searching and let us know how things progress.
Wondering how to build links like a pro?