As promised here is the third instalment of How to Optimise Your Site Like a Pro (in case you missed them, here’s part 1 and part 2). This post will delve into the scary world of Link Building (which isn’t actually scary unless you’re on the same side as the bad guys) and finally why it’s imperative for website owners and SEOs to actively and regularly monitor their sites.
SEO Activity #3: Link Strategy
Ahh link building. When I first started at e-CBD I was the resident link builder (She was, she even had a hard hat – Luke). This was in 2008 and I’m proud to say that even back then I was trained and taught to find only quality and relevant websites to link our clients with. Our clients were pretty happy about that too because they didn’t get hit by the Penguin update (although we did get the occasional few that were adamant about their quantity of links over quality).
I remember being told how important links were to a website’s rankings, and while the recent devaluing that has occurred as a result of years of poor linking strategies from lazy website owners and SEO cowboys has turned ‘links’ into a dirty word, website owners need to understand the difference between ‘link building’ and a ‘link strategy’.
Spammy Links – What Are They?
The Google Penguin algorithm update (April 24, 2012) was released to clean up spammy search results and devalue sites that were in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. These ‘violations’ are also known as Black Hat Webspam techniques, and includes tactics like keyword stuffing, cloaking, duplicate content and participating in link schemes to name a few. This is all due to a few wayward SEOs and webmasters that based their services on manipulating search results and finding algorithm loopholes to provide quick results for their customers who are often unsuspecting legitimate businesses. Google has made numerous changes to its algorithm (such as Penguin and Panda) to combat web spam and devalue sites that have a shady link profile.
Link schemes and any form of unnatural link building is a violation of Google’s guidelines, so my biggest recommendations when it comes to keeping your link profile clean:
- Don’t get involved in paid or unpaid link schemes – this can include excessive amounts of reciprocal links and three-way link exchanges.
- Avoid submitting your site to spammy directories or link farms. Ask yourself: Does it look like a collection of uncategorised links? What kind of sites will your business sit next to? Would you want your customers to see you on this site?
- Don’t pay for or sell links. Read this case study about a company who did and got busted for it.
- Always opt for good quality websites that are related to your business or services and where it actually makes sense for you to have a link there.
- Don’t hire a company to do ‘link building’. If an SEO company wants to get your site to the top of Google by only building links and not working on the site at all, then the alarm bells should start ringing.
Build links to your site the right way
There are plenty of legitimate and natural ways to get links pointing to your website without ever needing to go to the dark side. Where to start:
- Industry associations or community clubs that yourself or your business is a part of.
- Groups or organisations that you sponsor (or that sponsor you).
- Other stakeholders involved in your business such as suppliers, distributors, stockists and friends.
- Submit your business to good quality local directories to create quality local citations.
- Have a verified and optimised Google Places listing and Google+ Business Page.
- Fill out each of your social profiles completely and make sure to include a link back to your site.
- Anywhere you think your customers may be looking for you – are there any popular websites, blogs or portals that are dominant in your industry?
These are simply the links within a website that link to other pages on the same website. Internal links are actually quite important – not only do they help let Google know about your site’s hierarchy and which pages on your site are the most important (as you usually link to them the most).
It’s also helpful to your website visitors and adds to the overall user experience as there’s nothing more annoying or inconvenient as browsing a website and seeing ‘read some of our frequently asked questions’ or ‘contact us if you need advice’ with no link to the FAQ or Contact page!
Great Content & Link Bait
I went into content strategy in more detail in Part 2, however making your site the authority in your field is an excellent way to get other sites to link to you without even needing to ask – if your content is that good / useful / original it means that others will be more likely to link to you just because of the quality of your content. Infographics, white papers, videos, calculators and interesting blog posts are just some ideas that you can implement on your site to increase its linkability.
To give your content an extra boost on the search results page, including Google+ authorship helps to “own” the content you are creating. The thumbnail pic next to the result takes your anonymous content and gives it a face and more legitimacy.
SEO Activity #4: Monitor & Be Proactive
SEO often involves making changes, waiting to see what impact it has, and altering the site accordingly. It’s important to be able to monitor the site not only to track and refine your SEO efforts, but also to gather important information about your site and be aware when sudden changes occur.
There are plenty of great SEO tools out there to help you manage your site (both free and paid) but if you’re not a professional inbound marketer then they might be tricky to understand without a bit of training. Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools however are two platforms that I’d definitely recommend all website owners get familiar with.
Firstly, make sure your site has Google Analytics tracking code installed. Analytics provides an extraordinary amount of data about your website visitors, including how they found your site, how long they stayed on it, which pages they visited, whether they used a mobile device and what keyword they used amongst many, many other things, and only requires a Google account and small piece of code to add to each page of your site.
Google Analytics provides an extensive amount of information that will help you to improve your site’s performance and measure your goals, and allow to answer important questions such as:
- Which pages do people exit my website from the most? Is there a problem with those pages how can I improve it?
- Which pages are the most visited? How can I better leverage that traffic?
- Which keywords are bringing you the most traffic? Which landing page are visitors directed to? How’s the bounce rate?
- Are you receiving many mobile visitors? If so, is your site displaying correctly on a smart phone?
- Which country/cities purchase the most from your site?
- Do you receive much traffic from social media sites and which ones? Do you need a better presence on a particular platform?
The possibilities are endless. If you’re not sure if your site has Google Analytics, you can easily check by viewing your site’s source code:
- Right click on your website and click on View Page Source (in Chrome & Firefox) or View Source (in Internet Explorer).
- Use the keyboard shortcut “Ctrl” + “F” and start typing ‘analytics’. This will search your source code for the Analytics tracking code.
If you don’t see any code, sign up for an account!
Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools is another free tool from Google that provides incredibly detailed information about your website’s performance and lets you know if there are any critical or technical issues occurring with the site. You can also see what backlinks are pointing to your site, what queries/keywords your site is appearing for in search engines (including their average ranking) and if there are any links pointing to the site which are now broken because a page has been moved or removed.
Keep in mind that the above is a very simplified list of things that Webmaster Tools can tell you about your site. If you want to dig deeper you can start at Google’s Webmasters area.
If you have ever been hacked, you sometimes think that horrible thought ‘how long has it been like this?’. These tools are an excellent way to stay on top of any nasty activity happening on the site – if you see your traffic plummet or receive a notification about malware from Google, then you will know instantly that action is needed.
SEO is a rather involved process, it’s an ongoing activity and should be part of a business’ long term digital strategy. However it really doesn’t take long to start seeing the benefits of good SEO. It helps keeps your site healthy, updated and following best practices, and it makes sure your website is achieving the goals you have set for it.
Google is regularly updating its products and algorithm so that they can deliver the best results to searchers. To be a responsible website owner you need to be able to keep up with these changes or at the very least make sure that your SEO agency is doing the right thing for your site.