For an online business, and even for offline companies that have a web presence, having a good ranking that is high up in the search engine results is essential. No doubt, the role and performance of your site in the natural search results depends greatly on the number and quality of back links pointing at it. Website optimization is crucial, but building your site's authority is key to domination.
Despite the rumour that has been around for the last two years that ‘link building is dead’, Google has stated clearly in their Webmaster Guidelines “Make sure that other sites link to yours”.
Recently in a very interesting and on the topic interview for StoneTemple Matt Cutts, the leader of the Webspam team at Google, talking about web authority and relevance, said: “Links are still the best way that we’ve found to discover that”.
If you follow closely what is going on during the past year you will find that more than ever back linking, and SEO as a whole, is about authority, quality and relevance. Google has been always keeping their eyes wide open for unnatural links. But after all the algorithm changes, Panda and Penguin updates that have taken place during 2013, I can say for sure that many widely used techniques and tactics for building backlinks are no longer advisable. Now the chances of getting penalized for unnatural backlinks, shady link building and link schemes are higher than ever.
So, what you should avoid and what is good to do in your efforts to get higher search engine rankings?
There is a right way to build back links. Spreading as many as possible links towards your website all across the net simply does not work anymore.
First you need to have great content.
When you create stunning, earth-shattering content, link building is a breeze. This is because epic content opens doors for you so that you can easily build relationships with the movers and shakers in your industry.
Then comes authority.
As always Google claims that quality back links from authority websites are essential for your rankings. Back links that come from websites that are regarded by search engines as a trustworthy, reputable site will have more value and weight when they link to your website.
Always have relevance in mind.
It becomes clear that SEO is more than just keyword and link building. It is more about creating a good user experience. Search engines want to provide relevance to searchers, and so it is logical that relevance is a consideration when they evaluate backlinks. A link to a cosmetics website on a financial market news website is not of any value to anyone at all. The more relevant the link is to the page and the website where it is placed, the better the value of that link.
RECOMMENDED LINK BUILDING TACTICS
Social media is more important than ever. It has a direct impact on the search engine friendliness of your site, but whilst many people understand its importance as a marketing channel, few understand the role it plays in determining the search engine friendliness of a website. It has both online and offline benefits because it builds reputation.
Social media is a complete strategy that will bring your brand authority and as a value added result - backlinks. It allows you to "crowd source" your link building. This is because when you have a following on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, you create a team of fans who can share your content. It can be a very effective way of building buzz and attention around your website.
You can get 2 types of backlinks from your followers:
- Links to your social page. The more reputable your social profile is, the more powerful the influence to your website.
- Links directly to your website content. Whenever you write a blog post or article on your website or just launch something fresh and useful for your followers content, you can share that content on social media and get some of your followers to share it too. Allow your website visitors to also share pages and content directly from your site by simply adding social media.
My advice, suggest really meaningful content to your visitors and clients. Use social media to bring added value for those who follow you. Focus on creating relationships rather than SEO and powerful links will come on their own.
GOOGLE+ AND HIGHER SEARCH RANKINGS
Although Facebook and Twitter are essential to marketing efforts, both restrict Google from accessing much of their data. Many believe that when engineers built Google+, they constructed it in such a way that it will dominate search results above all other social platforms.
Obviously, Google doesn't use the raw numbers of +1s directly in its search algorithm, but Google+ posts have SEO benefits unlike other social platforms. Some of the reasons why using Google+ to increase your rankings can improve your rankings are discussed in an article by Curys Shepard.
- Posts in Google+ are crawled and indexed almost immediately - Unlike Twitter, which directs Google not to follow most of its links and Facebook, which hides data from Google, Google+ data is immediately and fully accessible to the company that built it.
- Google+ posts pass link equity - Certain links including your Google+ "About" page are followed and they also pass link equity.
- With every post having its own URL, it makes it easy to optimize for semantic relevance.
Although Google's Engineer and Head of Webspam team Matt Cutts says: "G+ will not lead to higher rankings." I suggest you go through the above article of Curys Shepard plus the one below for tips how to use G+ in your off-site SEO: Tips for using Google+ for SEO.
QUALITY BACKLINKS FROM RELEVANT SITES
- Search for directories in your business verticals that rank well in search engines, have content and are not flooded with banners and ads. Create a profile there and list your company and/or products. Submit unique content. It might be hard to create several unique descriptions about your company or product – one for your website and few more for other listings websites, but the effort is worth it. Search engines do not like duplicate content.
- Search for associations and communities related to your business and get involved. A lot of them have company or member lists and profiles and provide links back to your site one way or the other. Also ensure you take part in topics that are relevant to your business discussions.
- Get interviewed - One way to boost your reputation is to get interviewed by other experts in your field. Interviews of quality sources seem to be very much liked by search engines.
- Use company and product reviews websites – Usually, these websites have high PageRank and authority in their market. The bad news is that people are more likely to post negative reviews. However, there are two things you can do to better your reputation and strengthen your SEO. Provide feedback and reply to negative reviews. Ask your happy clients to post positive reviews.
TARGET INTO HIGH-AUTHORITY WEBSITES
Though this might be difficult, it is important to ensure you do your best to get quality links from relevant authority websites.
Compile a list of authority websites that are at the top of search engine results. It could be a blog, news site or business blog but it has to be related to your own business. Your aim: to get an article about your company or products or to be part of an article about your business niche. If you are serious about running your business at all, there are most likely plenty of professionals out there whose readers and followers could benefit from what you are selling or writing about. Think of their sites as an opportunity to "partner up" or do a "joint venture."
Get familiar and build a relationship with the authors, editors, and reporters of these websites and present yourself without being pushy. Drop an email explaining what you do. Follow the authors. Be active and comment on their blogs or articles.
While waiting your chance to get exposure on these websites you can do some smart link building. Post a link back to your site on your comments. Try and be genuine or authentic by linking back to your site only when it is necessary and follow the rules below:
- The article or blog post should be related to your niche topic.
- Your comment should be related to the article or blog post topic.
- The backlink should be to a page on your website that is highly relevant to the article topic.
- The link should be natural sequel to your comment.
- Do not post more than 1 or 2 links in one comment, especially if it is a short one.
- Do not post your links as a signature.
- Do not post one and the same comment multiple times on multiple pages or websites.
Sharing relevant content through video can be a very effective way of getting quality backlinks to your website. This is because video content has won its special place among internet users a long time ago and now videos are everywhere and often more preferred than content.
Having videos on your website makes it simple for your visitors to learn about you and what you have to say. Apart from your website, the first place you want to share your video is YouTube. This is because YouTube is the second most popular video-sharing website in the entire world and has a lot of traffic. Other sites where you can share your video include: Vimeo, Yahoo Video, Live Video, YouTomb, Live Leak etc.
Uploading video on these websites gives you an opportunity to place a link back. Most of these sites make it easy for your videos to get shared. The more shares your video gets, the higher PR will the video page have. As a result it will add value to your backlink. Create astonishing video content, share it and that’s it.
WHAT TO AVOID
1. LINK SCHEMES
Link schemes include any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site. It can affect a site's ranking either positively or negatively. Google can catch up to link schemes by analyzing context and relevance of the sites linked as well as anchor text profile.
Any links intended to manipulate a PageRank or a site's ranking in search results may be regarded as part of a link scheme and a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Common examples of link schemes that can negatively affect a site's ranking in search results are:
- Building partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the sources, quality of the links, and long-term impact.
- Using automated services or programs to create links to your website.
- Exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links. Text advertisements, buying or selling links in order to pass PageRank.
- Low-quality bookmark or directory site links.
- Widely distributed links in the templates or footers of different websites.
- Low-quality, keyword-rich links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites.
- Links that contain optimized anchor text in paid press releases or articles distributed on other websites.
2. FORUM REPLIES AND BLOG COMMENTS
It is not a bad thing to participate in forums or comment on articles and blog posts. But beware of spammy link techniques. Avoid doing link building using reply signatures, fake forum profiles and posting content and links automatically on forums and blogs. This is more likely to hurt your ranking after your site has been flagged.
Fake forum or blog posts linking to your site, especially if the forum topic is not related to your business forum can also be considered spam. Remember that forum comments that contain optimized links in the signature or post is in disagreement with Google's Webmaster Guidelines.
Don't waste your time in creating thousands of forum profiles for quickly and easily generating back links to your websites. Forum profiles are only relevant for search engines if they are authority and relevant, which means being really active and feeding quality and unique content.
3. GUEST BLOGGING
This used to be seen as a badge of honor for those writing the guest post. According to Matt Cutts, "Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, reputable author to write the introduction of your book. It's not that way anymore."
Overall, it really took a while for guest blogging to actually kick off. It was seen as something great for both the site and SEO. Guest blogging for legitimate reasons was very popular for authors, readers and site owners.
Although it worked well for a certain period of time, it was not long before this strategy was undermined as a way to easily build backlinks. Now, "if you are doing a lot of guest posting/blogging then you are spending time with really bad company", says Matt Cutts.
To ensure a quality guest post, review the guest blogger's website to identify if they are knowledgeable on the topic they wish to write about. Also, ask yourself if the topic of the post is relevant for both you and the guest's blog. Minimize the amount of backlinks allowed and check if they direct readers to appropriate content. Cover all key messages and concepts concisely by keeping all posts longer than 300 words. Finally, make yourself sure that this guest blog is unique and is not copy and pasted all over the net.
4. LOW-QUALITY DIRECTORY LISTINGS
Most directories don't contain quality content. Instead they contain a bunch of links towards hundreds or even thousands of websites including Google Ads everywhere. It is better to submit your site to a good quality directory. Good ones are well maintained and actually have an area of expertise.
However, most of them are just spam directories that let any site in and you need to stay clear from those. Typically anything that looks like "SEO links directory" should be avoided. Also avoid those that require reciprocal links in order for you to be accepted and which say they will drop you if you drop their reciprocal link.
If you are not a start-up it is very likely you have already used in the past some of the back link tactics that are advised to avoid nowadays. In some cases, like guest blogging, it might have been a good practice that now hurts your SEO.
It is very difficult to evaluate which backlinks hurt your PR and page rankings. But if you are confident that some links are unnatural and bad for your SEO you can get in touch with website admins asking for link, article or page removal. Of course, not all of them will respond accordingly. So you have another option too. You can use the Google’s Disavow tool to submit website or page URLs that contain unnatural or spam links to your site.
Sharing all the things to do or not to do, I am not sure that I manage to highlight the most important message to you: Focus on content and social marketing on your site and off your site and not link building. This would be the best off-site SEO strategy in 2014. If you succeed then the backlinks will follow.