The ABCs of SEO: A Project Manager’s Perspective

To say that there is a lot to know about SEO is quite an understatement. For not only is there a great deal of knowledge, skill and experience required to be truly competent at planning and managing SEO campaigns, but the rules keep changing. Google is constantly changing the landscape, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically, but each new algorithm can drastically influence the effectiveness of your efforts. Mastering SEO is like going to school, and the class never ends.

That being said — and acknowledging upfront my ignorance to the wild inner-workings of Google’s algorithms and how to tame them — this article deals with a top-level approach to SEO.

Whether you work for an agency, a small enterprise, an international conglomerate, or a non-profit organization, SEO is one of the tools you use to improve your online presence. If it isn’t, it should be. Virtually every organization these days benefits from a strong online presence, and SEO is an integral part of the online marketing mix. But what do you know about SEO and are you confident in how to approach it? Hiring knowledgeable people is an excellent first step, but you still need to be able to manage these people, as well as your company’s expectations.

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We’ll start with a quick clarification, SEO can include the following tactics:

– Organic: Writing strategic content (web pages, blogs, white papers, social media, etc.) to help your website rank higher in searches.

– PPC (Pay Per Click): Paying Google (and other search engines) for keywords and ads to drive interested traffic to your website.

– Advertising: Paying other websites and online publications for banners and other online ads to drive interested traffic to your website.

[NB  Paid efforts can also be referred to as Search Engine Marketing or SEM.]

Here are three important criteria for project managers when considering SEO. Your staff, contract workers or agency should be able to explain and address each of these areas to your satisfaction.

 

Accountability

First and foremost is getting results. So what do you need to provide I order for your SEO efforts to be successful? Your agency, or inside team need guidance and information to direct their strategy and tactics. Consider the specific campaign objectives, areas of focus, targeted markets (demographic, geographic, industry), content, keywords and budget.

Then, what should you expect from your agency or staff? They will quantify your objectives (how many leads, submissions, page views, clicks, etc. are required to meet your objectives), perform keyword research and assessment, create/edit targeted content, design/write ads, create an implementation plan, provide ongoing monitoring and reports with recommendations. Working as a team, you will constantly refine and add to the tactics and work closer to your objectives.

Note that SEO is not a quick fix. Attracting new traffic with content is essential and long-term, but may take months to have a measurable effect. Even PPC and ads, which can generate traffic quickly, typically take some time to consistently drive the right audience to your website. Moving the new web traffic through your funnel, or nurturing the desired behaviour (e.g. register for a course, ask for a quote), is also a process that takes time to prefect.

 

Benefits

A marketing rule of thumb is that no-one does anything with receiving some form of benefit. It may more altruistic than “What’s in it for me?,” but there needs to be some form of gratification or reward to encourage action.

Consider how your targeted markets will benefit from engaging with you and articulate that clearly and in a compelling manner. Look at each action you would like your new web traffic to take (e.g. clicking through to website, clicking on a CTA/banner, signing up for your blog or e-newsletter, asking for a quote) and provide some incentive to help them along the path.

 

Congruency

Some see the ultimate objective of SEO to drive more traffic to your website; of course, it’s more sophisticated than that. Increasing traffic is a step towards developing business, so certainly it is important, but you need to attract the key audiences that fit your ideal personas. So, if you’re an organization that is focused on serving parents of elementary school kids, you’ll only be successful if a good portion of that new web traffic fits that demographic.

Beyond the audience you attract, your SEO initiatives must represent, and ideally promote, your brand (which should already take into consideration your mission vision, etc.). Organic, PPC or advertising all revolve around content. Ensure that the tone, vocabulary and information presented all embrace your organizational brand and culture. Even if one of those parents mentioned above does not click through to your website, you’ve had an awareness and branding opportunity to positively position your organization in their mind; maybe next time they will click through.

And, of course, your SEO efforts need to flow with any other marketing and advertising campaigns your organization is running. Not just from a brand perspective, even theme. You may be able to increase the effectiveness by leveraging the theme from an existing campaign.

What would you add to this list of important criteria for a project manager to consider when employing SEO? Add your thoughts to comments below.

SEO Plugins: Do they Help or Hinder?

What if the only thing your tax accountant could do was add?

What if the only thing your auto mechanic could do was change spark plugs?

What if the only thing your doctor could do was provide band aids?

I ask you these questions so you can consider how important it is to recognise limitations and to be careful about not getting lulled into a false sense of security. SEO plugins are very popular. Many people believe SEO plugins are all that’s required for SEO success. Although it’s true that SEO plugins are helpful when used properly, there’s a danger they’ll hinder the effectiveness of your SEO, and possibly of your overall marketing efforts.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock-482951451

SEO Plugins Are Good for Helping with Specific Tasks

Many content management systems, such as WordPress, don’t give you ready access to control the properties of your website that could help you influence your performance in the search results. That’s why there are SEO plugins. They provide you with this extra functionality.

With them, you can do things at the individual page level such as:

  • Implement a title tag that’s different than your page title.
  • Implement a meta description tag without having to go into the html code

Some SEO plugins also provide advanced options such as:

  • The creation of XML sitemaps so search engines can more easily discover your entire website
  • The creation of specific instructions for how search engines are to crawl and index your website

SEO Plugins Don’t Replace SEO Strategy and Actual Work

To create an effective SEO strategy, one needs to understand what potential clients are searching for. This involves an understanding of their needs and how the website’s offerings meet those needs. Then keyword research can be done to bridge the two. Without keyword research, the keywords implemented into your on-page SEO elements are baseless and possibly ineffective. Skipping the keyword process and jumping to on-page SEO elements is like putting the cart before the horse.

SEO plugins often provide feedback, such as scores, that are meant to reflect a web page’s SEO strength. This is fine as long as we remember to recognise the limitations. This tool can’t factor in how the page is meant to fit within an overall SEO strategy. Case in point: People often forget that you not only want your search result to appear in front of a lot of eyes, you also want a lot of people to click through to your website, and to be satisfied with what they get when they arrive. An automated SEO score may give you a poor score for not putting your keyword in your meta description, but the true priority of the meta description is to provide the best possible sales pitch to entice people to click on the search result and move on through the sales process. This can be done with our without the keyword.

There’s something else you need to be aware of.  Be very careful about using the advanced features of SEO plugins. Changing these settings could cause serious unintentional consequences, such as making your website invisible to search engines. If something like this were to happen, and it’s not immediately traced back to the SEO plugin setting, a lot of time and money may be spent trying to resolve the problem.

SEO Plugins Can Hinder Marketing Efforts

As mentioned, the lack of proper keyword research before implementing on-page SEO elements can cause problems. Here are some more:

  • Time gets wasted – If the person who gets tasked with this doesn’t have a decent understanding of SEO, their time will be spent trying anything to get a good score or a green light. This is time that would be better spent doing other marketing activities.
  • Marketing messages get restrained or derailed – the person tasked with this could make changes to page content that will end up disrupting the journey you intend the visitor to make towards becoming a customer.

Nobody wants to see bad scores or red warning lights, even if there’s a reasonable explanation. This, as we can see, can lead to problems. It helps in moments like this to take a step back and look at the big picture. Truly successful companies know that every decision and every action must properly align with the overall mission of the business. If they don’t, then why do them? Will fussing to make all the SEO plugin’s lights turn green contribute to the success of the company? I think not.

So, Help or Hinder?

SEO plugins have the potential to do either, or perhaps both at the same time. Therefore I recommend using them to do specific tasks, but take their “analysis” or “advice” with skepticism. Don’t take it literally, or you may compromise actual quality.

Keyword research is so fundamental to effective SEO, it really ought to be done by someone who knows what they’re doing. In regards to on-page SEO, if you don’t have access to a SEO professional, it’s a good idea to provide your staff with a guide regarding on-page SEO best practices so they can have the proper context for the various tactics.

The 4 Best Analytics Reports to Chart Your SEO Progress

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SEO is an ongoing process that requires time, effort, and many types of actions. Results often aren’t immediate, so tracking over time is necessary to see how well you’re achieving your goals. Luckily, the tools to do this are at hand. In fact, Google provides them for free. The one you’re likely familiar with is Google Analytics. I’ll show you two different reports that shed light on how organic traffic is finding your site and viewing your content. You may or may not have heard of the other Google tool. It’s now called Search Console, but was previously known as Google Webmaster Tools. It has a very insightful report generator called Search Analytics. It not only has click metrics, it also sheds light on your website’s SEO performance before the clicks happen.

Organic Traffic within Google Analytics 

Landing Page Visits

Google Analytics is no longer any good at showing what keywords brought people to your website from the search engines, but it still allows you to see overall SEO traffic, and how well each of your pages is performing in terms of attracting people to your website. This is valuable information if your SEO activity has been focused on specific pages.

How to Generate This Report

  1. Log into your Google Analytics report.
  2. Choose the date range you wish to view. This is done at the top right.
  3. Click through the following path in the left menu: Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, then click on Organic Search in the chart.
  4. The numbers at the top of the chart provide the overall numbers. Sessions are the term used for visits. Above the chart, at Primary Dimension, is the ability to select Landing Page. This is more insightful than the Keyword dimension. Furthermore, if goals have been set up, you can select the goals at the right side of the chart in the drop-down box at Conversions.
  5. If you would like an easy way to return to this report, use the Shortcut feature at the top of the page.

Pageviews

The other way of evaluating traffic from the search engines is to look at what content is consumed beyond the landing page. The metric for this is organic pageviews. These are pages seen by all SEO visitors. These people have come to the website through a variety of different pages such as your homepage, a blog article, or an about-us page.When these people find their way to the pages on your website that promote your company’s products, it should be considered a successful outcome because these people are now one step closer to becoming a customer. This is an important part of the story because SEO efforts needn’t always simply focus on your product pages. In fact, you’ll likely find that your other pages are ideal to use for targeting valuable keywords. The organic pageviews reporthelps you reflect these efforts.

How to Generate This Report

  1. Log into your Google Analytics report.
  2. Choose the date range you wish to view. This is done at the top right.
  3. Click through the following path in the left menu: Behavior > Site Content > All Pages
  4. Go to the area above the graph where there are two long rectangles. One is marked “All Users” and the other is marked “+ Add Segment.”
  5. Click on “All Users”, scroll through the list and put a check in the box beside “Organic Traffic”, scroll back up through the list and uncheck “All Users”, and then click “Apply.”
  6. If you would like an easy way to return to this report, use the Shortcut feature at the top of the page.

Search Analytics within Google Search Console

Another method of looking at your SEO progress is by using the Google Search Console. The Search Analytics report within Search Console offers a more in-depth view than Google Analytics because:

  • It provides the extra dimension of ‘Impressions’, which represents the number of times your website appeared in front of someone in the search results. This is regardless of where or not the person clicked through to your website. It also provides metrics such as CTR, the rate that impressions turned into clicks, and Position, the average ranking in the search results.
  • It provides much richer information on keywords than Google Analytics. They refer them as ‘queries’, which are the phrases people typed into Google.
  • It allows you to dig into the various aspects of your search traffic. For example, you can view the most popular queries by country.

Keyword Usage

Many companies are tempted to track SEO progress by tracking the rankings of individual keywords. There is, however, a better way. A more encompassing method of tracking keyword performance can be accomplished through the Search Analytics report:

  1. Log into your Search Console account.
  2. In the left navigation, go to Search Traffic and then Search Analytics.
  3. Select the date range you want. The default is 28 days, but you can look at up to 90 days.
  4. If you do business primarily in one country, locate “Countries” above the chart, click on “No filter”, select “Filter counties”, and select your target country.
  5. Click on Queries. The report will generate a list of queries.
  6. You can add extra metrics to this list, and the chart, by checking the boxes at the top of the report that say“clicks”, “impressions”, “CTR”, and “position”.

Landing Pages

You can also look at all these metrics in term of the landing pages. You do this by clicking on “Pages” at the top of the report. If you’re looking for a particular landing page, you can either scroll through the results until you find it and click on it, or you can use the filter located under the word “Pages”. Selecting a particular page, will provide you with the information for just that page, which can be looked at by clicks, impressions, CTR, and position. You also have the option to click on Queries. The page filter will remain in effect, and you’ll see all the queries people used to land on the page you’re focusing on.

Mastering SEO Analytics

Within these reports are the answers to many of your questions regarding your SEO performance.  The key to unearthing the answers is in learning how to dig down into the data using filters and dimensions. Develop this ability through curiosity and practice, and you’ll soon have ready access to how well your website is performing in the search engines.

10 SEO Strategies to Achieve Higher Exposure in Google

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If you were to ask Google

 “how can I help my website compete better in the search results?”

you’d likely get their standard response of

“focus on providing excellent, relevant content”. 

They’re not wrong. In fact they’re absolutely right, but that advice is not particularly helpful. Is it?  So, what is helpful?  The following 10 strategies will help you improve your organic SEO. (You’re welcome.)

1)     Include Images on Your Product Pages

Having images on your product pages not only improves user experience, they’re also an additional opportunity to send information about your product directly to Google.  By adding relevant alt image tags, image file names, and captions – all with important keywords, you’ll help your product page rank better for those keywords and their variations.

2)     Get External Links Directly To Product Pages

Getting links from other websites to your website is a vital SEO activity, but to get your product pages ranking well, you need to do more than get links to your homepage. You’ll need to get links from relevant sources to point to your actual product pages. In general terms, the more relevant links you get to a product page, the better that page will rank in the search results. (Also read our article on Google Will Ignore Your Link Building Efforts Unless You Focus on Quality)

3)     Properly Describe Your Products

Sometimes companies are too brief when they describe a product. Perhaps all they include is why it’s different from the other products they offer. Perhaps they simply include a few simple specs because they assume their target market doesn’t need to know more.  If, however, it’s important for the product page to rank well, it’s best to take a step back and tell a wider version of the story.  Discuss the problem your product solves, include the features and benefits, use a variety of keywords related to the product, and give the page’s visitors a compelling reason to buy the product. It’s important to remember that every page on your website is a potential landing page, therefor, for every page, you should endeavor to create content attracts people.

4)     Add Customer Reviews and Ratings to Your Product Pages

Google knows that these provide a good user experience so they’ll reward businesses for it through higher rankings.  For some industries, such as hotel accommodation, ratings even show up along with your search result, which really makes your search result stand out. It’s therefore worth brainstorming with your marketing people on how to encourage your customers to provide reviews and ratings. Furthermore, the presence of favorable reviews and ratings will boost your sales.

5)     Encrypt Your E-Commerce Pages

When purchasing over the internet, there’s a definite advantage to your personal information being sent securely. Many e-commerce websites do this properly. You can tell it’s secure when the URL begins with https. But unfortunately, not all e-commerce websites implement this, so Google has added this as a ranking factor to better promote sites that are secure over those that aren’t.  Furthermore, after implementation, you may find your sales improving because people who spot the https, and recognize its significance, now find your website more trustworthy.

6)     Include Location-Specific Keywords

Ensure you mention your target geographic area on all your product pages and, whenever possible, try to include as many variations as possible, such as city abbreviations, and specific areas as possible, such as neighborhood names and even postal codes.

7)     Claim or Create Your ‘Google My Business’ Page

‘Google My Business’ is the most recent name for Google Plus business profiles.  Google automatically set up a lot of these for businesses.  Many of them have never been claimed, and a significant portion of these have either outdated or incorrect information.  Start by looking for yours. If you find it, there’s an option to claim it, and this gives you the ability to manage the content.  If you don’t see an existing one, create one.  Use as many fields as possible regarding your location, phone number, business hours, and company description. Keep in mind you can add links to your product pages from within the description.  Also add some flattering images. Many companies disregard ‘Google My Business’ because it’s not as prominent a social network as Facebook or Twitter, which is correct, but they’re overlooking the SEO potential for local businesses.  Often, when people search for local businesses, Google will show ‘Google My Business’ listings within the regular search results, and often this is accompanied by a map with pins for each business. Being here is can really drive traffic.  Also, it will be possible that when people search specifically for your business, they’ll see a prominent “knowledge card” to the right of the search results.  This is all about your business, includes either images or a map, and can really contribute to the perceived status of your business. Furthermore, if you can promote ratings, as was previously recommended, they’ll have an opportunity to appear in these places too. (Also read our article on Google Will Ignore Your Link Building Efforts Unless You Focus on Quality)

8)     Be Consistent With Your Contact Info

It’s not an exaggeration to say that “Google Sees All and Knows All”; at least in regards to what’s on the internet.  With this in mind, make sure your business name, address, and phone number are consistent throughout your website, across your social media profiles, and in references on other websites such as local directories.

9)     Communicate Directly To Google through Schema

You can add background code to your website in the form of “schema”, which will provided information that Google wants to know. For starters, you can clear up any ambiguity as to who your website actually represents by adding schema that includes your business name, address, and phone number. You can then go on to add various types of information such as business hours and even holiday hours. Moreover, there’s schema for specific types of local businesses such as restaurants, dry cleaners, and legal services.  Not only will providing this information give Google a better idea of who you are, it may also allow them to display this information prominently in their search results and in their Google maps. This is proven to lead to higher click-throughs, which means more visitors, and more opportunities for sales.

10)  Keep “Local” In Mind When Creating Content

If you serve a local market, make sure you write about that fact while you’re creating your various web pages, especially your product pages. Whenever possible, include it in your H1 and H2 headers, your title tag, your body content, and your image alt tags. Furthermore, it’s beneficial to get links from local websites and get reviews from local review sites.

In Conclusion

These strategies should not be considered tricks or hacks, they’re simply ways to generously provide information that’s relevant to your target market. This in turn, gives your website, and its product pages, the best chance of ranking well in Google.  And this, in turn, helps your target market find you easier. So, there you go – I told you this would be helpful 🙂

Grrrr….My Competitor Shows Up When I Search My Company Name!!!

Woman_mad_at_search_results-1Has this happened to you?  Did it make your blood boil?  Well, you’re not alone. This does happen, and it’s definitely a very aggravating thing to experience. You are, however, not powerless: you can take action.

Although it’s rare, it can happen in the organic search results.  Organic refers to the non-paid listings on the main part of the search-results page as opposed to the advertising listings seen at the top or side.

You might find your competitor’s website showing up in the organic listings for your company name if they write about your company, and their website has some SEO heft behind it. Perhaps a competitor has produced a side-by-side comparison of your product versus theirs (biased of course), or perhaps they’ve taken advantage of some unlucky bad press you’ve received by writing a blog article about it.

When It Happens In The Organic Search Results:

Good news – there’s something you can do about it.  Assuming what they’ve written about you isn’t legally actionable, such as being slanderous, your best course of action is to take full control of the first page search results for your company name.  To do this, you’ll need to develop a SEO plan geared for this purpose – a plan that involves specific strategies such as:

  • Make your website’s search result as big as possible by encouraging sitelinks.
  • In addition to your website, ensure all your other web properties are present, such as your social media pages.
  • Promote the pages of other websites that are favorable to your brand, such as positive press and reviews.

When It Happens In The Advertising Search Results:

If another company is using one of your trademarked terms in their AdWords advertising, that is an infringement of your rights, and it’s prohibited by Google’s AdWords policy.  Google recommends you reach out to the other company in an effort to resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work, Google will accept complaints and action them.

Before you start this process, ask yourself “Are they really infringing on my trademark?”  If their ad is showing up in the paid search results for a search on your company name, it may be because there are words in your company name, other than your unique identifier, that are triggering the ad.  For example, a search for “Superstar Ottawa Plumbing” will trigger ads for companies bidding on the term “Ottawa plumbing”. In this case, these companies aren’t doing anything wrong.

Blatant Shenanigans?

In some cases, however, your competitor’s AdWords ad actually names your company in the title of the ad. This is enough to make anyone angry, but consider the following before you declare all-out war.  This seems like blatant shenanigans, and it might be, but more often than not it’s a Google-system-generated misunderstanding.  Let me explain. There’s a feature within AdWords that, when set up by the AdWords user, will automatically place the phrase used by the searcher within the ad title.  For example, a search for “Superstar Ottawa Plumbing” triggers an ad for a company bidding on the term “Ottawa plumbing” and, because of their AdWords configuration, “Superstar Ottawa Plumbing” is placed in the title of their ad.  Presumably this is unintentional. The AdWords user probably wanted this in place for terms such as “faucet plumbing Ottawa” and “toilet plumbing Ottawa” without going through the effort of individually targeting all the possible terms with uniquely written ads.  In this case, a friendly letter to the competitor requesting that your unique identifier, “Superstar”, be added as a ‘negative keyword’ would solve the problem, assuming they take the time to do it.

The New Mobile-Friendly Website Imperative: What All Top Businesses Already Know

A mobile-friendly website is more important for businesses now than ever. To be mobile-friendly, a website must be designed with Responsive Web Design (RWD) in mind – meaning the content is designed to automatically adapt and restructure itself to work on smaller mobile screens.

Until a couple weeks ago, it was simply considered good business practice to become mobile-friendly, but Google has officially made it an online imperative. A couple weeks ago, Google’s search engine made a change that strongly and automatically prioritizes mobile-friendly sites over those that are not. This means that those without a mobile-friendly site will be pushed down the search results pages, making them not only harder to find, but also potentially landing them beneath their mobile-friendly competitors. This change can result in less web traffic to non-mobile-friendly sites, potentially resulting in lost sales.

A non-mobile-friendly site now says one of a few things about a company, either: it cannot or will not spend the money to go mobile, it doesn’t care, or that it is completely oblivious to the needs of its market. The future is changing and its time to adapt or face losing out on missed opportunities.

If this hasn’t convinced the undecided, here are a few more of the many other reasons to become (and suggestions for becoming) mobile-friendly.

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1)   Make it easy and straightforward.

A company should make navigating their website as effortless as possible. This will allow users to have a positive experience and encourage them to more fully engage with the brand. It will also encourage them learn about the company and allow them to easily find what they are looking for. Annoyance caused by a difficult to navigate site can translate to them leaving earlier than you would have liked (or expected).  Whether or not there is great content on the site, if it is difficult to find, view or interact with on mobile, it won’t matter. The great online content in the world won’t appear so wonderful if it is hard to access and difficult to read. It’s not just what you say, the method and framework you use to convey it is equally important.

 

2)  Focus on mCommerce: Don’t limit yourself to eCommerce

If you do eCommerce, it’s become even more of an imperative to focus on improving your mCommerce (mobile online commerce). In fact, by the end of 2015, mCommerce is projected to account for 40% of all global eCommerce transactions, and 1/3 of all U.S. eCommerce transactions. The numbers are on their way there already: in Q1 2015, smartphone share of mCommerce transactions has grown more than 10% in the U.S.

Importantly, in Q1 2015 in the U.S., while the conversion rates are higher with desktop, smartphones garner much more traffic than desktop, resulting in more paid online transactions overall.

Other non-western markets see mobile mCommerce conversions accounting for as much as 4x more transactions. Improvements are being made everyday in Western markets by companies to improve the mobile shopping experience and improve their mobile conversion rates. This Q1 2015 Criteo report on the State of Mobile Commerce says a focus will be placed improving the product browsing experience and mobile payment process in Western markets.

Another insight from the report: Mobile purchases tend to happen during consumers’ leisure hours before and after work, while desktop transactions tend to happen at work. So, if you want to capture consumers outside of work hours: be sure to go mobile-friendly.

 

3)  Heed the Rule of Thumb.

Two fingers (thumb and pointer finger) are required to expand small text and images on non-mobile-friendly sites. If people need to do this to navigate a site or consume online content on a smartphone (or tablet), then they will feel that it requires too much effort. If a company’s online content is not easy to select and use with a fat thumb (or single finger), then they should think about RWD. Today, more and more people prefer to use their thumb (sometimes thumbs) to text and to click on online content from a smartphone. (And, while a single pointer finger might be used more often on a tablet than a thumb would – a single digit doing less work is preferred).

Finally, think about how and where people use their smartphones. Many people hold their phone in one hand, and use the other hand to do other things, such as: hold onto the subway bars or carry a coffee. This makes using two fingers to expand and read text nearly impossible. It is key for companies to optimize their sites for this “in-between” time, as well – time that customers could be spending on their websites becoming more familiar with the company or making a purchase.

In short, the mobile imperative can no longer be ignored. Companies who were waiting for a time to act must do so now, in order to stay competitive in this ever-evolving online world.

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Two Great Ways to Unearth Link-Building Opportunities

Link building can be intimidating to undertake. It’s laborious, speculative, and many organizations don’t know where to start so they avoid giving it the attention it deserves as an important factor for ranking well in search engines. Instead of pursuing links sporadically, it’s wise to go into it with a plan on how you’ll devote your efforts. Less time will be wasted and the results will be far more effective. To get off on the right foot, it’s important to understand how to unearth the link-building opportunities that have the best likelihood of providing SEO benefit.

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credit: Ryan McVay / getty images

Mine Google’s Search Results

Considering that the basic premise of link building is to get links from websites that Google considers authoritative, it then makes sense, as a method of finding these websites, to ask Google who they are. Here’s how:

  1. You’ll need a list of your most desirable keywords. These are the words you’d most like to be found for.
  2. Prioritize your list.
  3. Starting at the top of the list, do a search using the keyword. I recommend not being logged into a Google account in order to minimize the effects of Google personalizing the search results based on what they know about you.
  4. Investigate each search result.
  5. If the search result is a competitor, they’re not going to be receptive to a link request, but before you move on to the next search result make note of them by creating a list of competitors. This list will come in handy later.
  6. When the search result isn’t a competitor, you’ll want to review the website while contemplating on how they may be persuaded to link to you. If you believe there may be a way, add them to an outreach list.

Pan Through Your Competitors’ Links

Another great source of inspiration for link-building opportunities is to review the links going to your competitor’s websites, especially any competitor who’s showing up in the search results in a better position than you for your important keywords. This is where the list of competitors from the Google searches comes in handy. Their ranking success is due in part to their links, therefore learning about the types of links they’ve been able to attain will help guide your outreach strategy. Furthermore, you may decide to reach out to many of the same websites.

You’re going to need a link research tool to do this. The best ones cost money in the form of monthly subscriptions, but they likely either have limited-feature options you can use for free or they have free trial periods you can take advantage of. Here are a few of the well-regarded ones: Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO. If you already have a subscription to gShift, Moz or Raven Tools, they likely provide link research tools you can use. Furthermore, there is a free option: Bing Webmaster Tools. You’ll need to register and validate a website you own, but after that you can perform link research on any website you wish.

When doing this research, be sure to use the URL of the specific web page you wish to learn about as opposed to simply using their domain’s URL. For example, if your competitor’s product page is showing up in the search results above your product page, then use their product page’s URL as opposed to simply using their home page’s URL.

When researching a competitor’s URL, you’ll likely discover dozens or perhaps even hundreds of links. Don’t be intimidated – the more inspiration the better. You can, however, potentially end up with a list of thousands, or even tens of thousands of links, more than you can ever go through individually. Professional SEOs have methodologies for analyzing such lists to weed out dead ends and create a prioritized list of websites to investigate. This saves time and increases your likelihood of finding valuable link opportunities, so if you find yourself in this situation and you wish to be thorough, consider hiring a professional SEO.

How to Spot That Diamond In The Rough

You’re essentially looking for websites that are trustworthy resources that have a readership likely to be interested in the content of your site. Ideally, links from these websites will send valuable traffic to your website and they’ll send signals to the search engines that your site has authority. For more on this, visit Google Will Ignore Your Link Building Efforts Unless You Focus on Quality.

If the search result is an article, investigate the rest of the website. Ask yourself if you can approach them by offering to write a contributed article. You can also investigate the author. Can you pitch story ideas to them that relate to your business? Can you offer up experts within your business to be sources of quotes for future articles?

If the search result is a complementary product or service, ask yourself if you can create a resource on your website that would appeal to their website visitors.

If the search result is an organization that does activities related to your products, ask yourself how you can get involved. Can you sponsor one of their events?

Next Steps

Creating an outreach list of potential link-building opportunities is a major part of the link-building process, but it’s only the beginning. Your next challenge is to approach these websites. Email them, use their online forms, call them on the phone, or even send them a letter by mail to start a conversation about getting a link. Be sure to communicate why linking to your website would be truly beneficial to their readership. Ask them for their ideas as well.

Don’t be discouraged when your attempts don’t seem to be working out. Keep in mind that link building is a numbers game that can be thought of in terms of prospecting. You won’t always strike gold, but going through the process will, over time, pay off. Link building is time intensive so I recommend scheduling dedicated time on the calendar on an ongoing basis.

Now that you know what it takes to launch an effective link-building campaign, give it the attention it deserves. This is your chance to take control of how you rank in the search engines.

Google Will Ignore Your Link Building Efforts Unless You Focus on Quality

The foundation of Google’s success in providing relevant search results has been its ability to evaluate links.  They consider each link to your site to be a vote towards how relevant and important your web pages are.  These votes add up and contribute to how well you rank in the search results. Each vote, however, is not considered equal.

good_links_outweigh_bad_links

 A Vote Counted VS A Vote Ignored

Google’s ideal link situation occurs when a web page with great content is published, then people who are authorities on a topic notice its value and decide to link to it from their websites because it will be helpful to their readers. Google would consider this a good-quality, natural link. The challenge for Google is evaluating every link on the Internet, and their solution is to program their automated system to recognize if:

  • a link is good quality and would work well as a vote towards authority, or
  • a link is of such low quality that it should be ignored in terms of conveying SEO benefit.

Like Sherlock Holmes, Google’s algorithm looks for clues.

Clue #1 – The Topics of Focus are Relevant

When a website has a topic of focus,and they link to one of your web pages which features either the same topic or a related topic, this sends a clear signal to Google that this link should count as a vote. Think of a fashion blogger linking to an up-and-coming clothing designer. Alternatively, if there’s no relationship in topics, this would signal that this link should either have an extremely weak vote or totally nullified vote.

Clue #2 – The Quality of the Source

Google’s system judges the importance of the website that’s linking to you, primarily by examining their inbound links.  If they are deemed to be authoritative, their link to you will be considered a strong vote.  A link from a fashion blogger who’s very popular will be regarded as a much stronger vote than a link from someone who’s just started their blog.

Clue #3 – How Natural the Link Appears To Be

Google examines the linking website for clues that indicate that links are for sale.  If this is suspected, that website’s outgoing links will, in all likelihood, not be counted as votes.  Same goes for links that can be generated by website visitors, such as links in comments sections. Google also examines the link itself.  Their algorithm has developed an eye for:

  • links that look natural, such as linking to a website by using the company name, product name or the URL, or even saying “hey check this out”.  This is how normal, unsolicited links tend to look.
  • links that look unnatural, such as linking to a website by using that company’s most desirable keyword. For example “cheap medications online”.

Focus on Qualitiy

Link building remains a very important part of ranking well in the search results. Creating great content alone will only get you so far.  Getting noticed by the right websites, and getting links from them is essential.  Invest your link-building efforts towards quality links from quality websites because a few strong votes will far outweigh a multitude of low quality votes that are either extremely weak, or that don’t count for anything at all.

Although not the focus of this article, some links actually harm to your SEO performance. To learn more, contact PROSAR for strategic SEO/SEM services.