Whilst tidying up remnants of old local SEO experiments that were used to “beef up” my knowledge, and removing instances of my old home address used online I realised that I’d not updated this blog in well over a year. Here’s a quick update:
Is this blog dead?
Not really, it was only built with the intentions of showcasing my work and to use as a domain I could experiment with. I have tens of pages of draft posts that I’ve never had time to complete, many of which are now outdated and will never see the light of day. A lot of the posts over the past few months have focused on Google shopping, competitor research and display marketing which have been areas I have been working on over the past few months, rather than the typical link building and technical SEO posts on here. I may publish them at some point.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, 2012 was a turbulent year for those in the SEO industry. The year saw Google becoming more intelligent in the ways that they detected unnatural link portfolios and the punishments being stricter than ever before.
May began with Twitter alight amidst a flurry of SEO’ers and webmasters noticing changes to their rankings, Mozcast was displayed high temperatures indicative that an update may be under way and the whole SEO community feared the worst! Had Google rolled out the penguin update teased by Matt Cutts at SXSW?
After a few days of speculation, constant tweets and people reaching out to Google for answers, Matt Cutts came forward answering the question on everyones mind: No, a new penguin update had not been released, further adding that one was on the horizon!
Fast forward to 2 weeks later and again Penguin was the talk of Twitter and after a continued period of speculation Matt Cutts announced that on Thursday night the new version of Penguin had been rolled out.
Though I’ve not yet got enough data to give information on what i believe the new version of penguin is specifically targeting, below I have detailed areas that I normally look at and try and tidy up when beginning work on a new site:
Collecting Information & Pruning
Personally, before I begin work on any campaign I first collate the client’s full link portfolio, pulling in information from Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs and Open Site Explorer including as much information as I can get.
Previously, I would notify the client of my findings and then begin removing low quality links, now with their permission I just add these to Google’s disavow tool.
Types Of Links
Post Penguin, webmasters & SEO’ers who’d been hit by the update collated their thoughts in an attempt to ascertain which factors Google was looking when rolling the update out.
In my opinion, sitewide links such as blog roll, or footer links are rarely natural, they are also a tactic that I’ve always avoided,
A./ Because frankly they look suspicious
B./ You have little control over what types of links you are going to end up amongst. It is entirely plausible that the link on a blog roll below yours could be to a spam site, not only does this have serious SEO implications, but it also looks unprofessional.
Needless to say, many utilised, and still do utilise building links in this way, however it is widely reported to be the tactic most associated with sites damaged by penguin.
To locate sitewide links I use Ahrefs, or link detective, both are simple to use, though ahrefs is just a case of typing in your URL and scrolling down to see which of your links are sitewide
Ahrefs Showing Sitewide & Non Sitewide links
One thing to note with Ahrefs is that in some cases it reports links as being sitewide even when they aren’t. As with everything, it is always a good idea to look through before taking action. I have found that even when a blog has its archives/tags set to nofollow, Ahrefs still reports these as sitewide if your link appears on a few pages.
Link Detective is more thorough and is one of my favoured tools for link analysis in general, it can analyse exactly where links are coming from, but does require you to upload your links first via a .csv file
Unindexed/ Deindexed Links
If a site has disappeared from Google’s index, it may have been removed for not conforming to their quality guidelines and has been deindexed, subsequently any link from this site is likely to be viewed as being low quality. When building links I always do a quick check to make sure the site is in Google’s index before contacting the site owner, this only takes a few seconds so is not a time consuming task. In the case of checking links that have already been built this can be a lengthy process depending on how big the site’s link portfolio is, for those with a few links you can manually check, but for larger link portfolios a tool is going to be necessary. Ethan Lyon’s spam checker which can be found at http://t.co/6oz7tgGeu8 is perfect for a reasonably small link portfolio and as well as identifying if a site is indexed it can also give you information about if the site has been flagged for malware and if they are using adsense on the site. All in all, not bad for smallish link portfolios, especially considering it is free!
For large link portfolios you’re going to need a tool to scale this process. My favourite is one that isn’t conventionally associated with quality SEO and that is Scrapebox. Though the tool is favoured by the blackhat community and is one more commonly used for comment spam it does have some good uses which includes looking to see if the home page of a site is indexed. To do this, simply load up Scrapebox, import your links and click to check if they are indexed. Those that aren’t are ones that should instantly be added to your disavow tool.
Although most would never intentionally build on a link network these days, there are instances where work will be taken on where links have been previously built on networks. I can think of 2 instances over the past year where I have taken on work and found these sorts of links.
Locating blog networks is not as simple as it used to be, the owners have got smarter and technology has improved. I always look for the following
Similar I.P addresses – Tools such as Ahrefs can identify if your links are coming from similar I.P addresses as shown below. If you are seeing a large difference between the amount of linking domains and the amount of referring subnets it may be due to some links appearing in a network that share similar I.P addresses
Ahrefs Referring I.Ps
Similar URLs/ Sitenames – This one can easily be done in Excel, just sort your links alphabetically and you may see a sites with very similar names sat next to each other, 9 times out of ten these links will be part of a network.
Multiple links where the contact information is for the same person - This one does not always necessarily indicate a link network, it is perfectly normal for savvy webmasters to have more than one site, however in a lot of cases this is not the case and the sites are linked as part of a network. In the past I have used a number of different tools to identify these types of links but my personal favourite is now Buzzstream which though a paid tool is actually the perfect tool for doing the majority of the link network detective work, as shown below it pulls in email addresses (where visible on the site, or from whois information), I.P addresses and URLS.
This is a really obvious one so I am going to avoid going in to a lot of detail, but both Penguin 1 and 2.0 have targeted paid links. If you know that you’ve been purchasing sponsored links, or advertorials it may be time to add these links to your disavow list! A previous client of mine invested heavily in advertorials on large newspaper sites, but when Penguin 2.0 rolled out they saw that these had been been seriously devalued and they saw large drops in the terms they had been targeting.
Like with paid links, this section does not need much explanation, in a nutshell, over use of commercial anchor text looks suspicious and if you’re building links like this then it’s only a matter of time before your site ends up being the victim of Penguin or slapped with manual action.
Over optimisation can be seen by going to Ahrefs, OpenSite Explorer or a similar alternative, entering your site details and looking at anchor text. Even when dealing with competitive niches I always try to build as many branded terms as possible.
So there you have it.. These are the some of the things I look at in a client’s link portfolio. If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it on your social networks via the links to the side, and as always feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or would like to add any further points.
2012, a year that will be forever remembered for the Queen’s diamond jubilee, London welcoming the world as it hosted a successful Olympic games and conspiracy theorists building bunkers as they faced their impending doom, scheduled for December 21st. For SEO professionals worldwide, some of these events were eclipsed by monumental changes to the search industry, changing the way they conducted their work, causing chaos for many as they awoke on the 24th of April to find that their rankings and traffic had taken a serious hammering!
With Google’s Penguin update recently celebrating its first birthday I’m going to give readers my top tips for link building in 2013.
So What Happened in 2012?
In a nutshell, Google took a harder stance than ever before, punishing websites which were in violation of their Webmaster Guidelines in an attempt to level the playing field and remove spam from their search results. Their clean-up was done in two ways; algorithmically in the form of the Penguin update and manually in the form of Google’s un natural link penalty which was the result of Google manually reviewing a site’s link portfolio. The latter is not new, Google have been penalising sites for years, but in 2012 they became better at identifying websites that were trying to “game the system” and thus the web was flooded with people reporting that they’d received the dreaded unnatural links warning in Webmaster Tools.
How To Build Links in 2013
As the saying used to go, prior to April 2012, “A link was a link”, the risk associated with building low quality links was much smaller, but as I mentioned above, times have changed and it is now important that link building campaigns are as high quality and natural looking as possible. We’ll look at this in more detail below:
Pre Link Building Admin
Before link building on any site, be it yours or a clients it is important that you first review the current link portfolio. The subject of identifying low quality links is a massive subject, one that is best reserved for it’s own blog post. Once the offending links have been located you should contact the owner/webmaster of the sites they are on and ask for them to be removed, alternatively they can be added to the Disavow Tool in Webmaster Tools.
Another pre link building task I like to carry out is to look at the anchor text pointing to the site and correlate this against the site’s rankings, if things don’t add up this may be an indication that the site is penalised without the owners knowledge. Google now report almost all cases of manual action, however this has not always been the case and sometimes site owners are unaware! I was recently in this situation when beginning work on a client’s site so it’s a step I now work into my preliminary site audits.
Broken Link Building
Broken link building is the process of finding old links pointing to pages on yours or competitors sites that are returning 404 status codes, it is one of my favourite link building strategies as it is one of the least risky ways to build links and though time consuming it can be one of the most rewarding as the links you will build are already on pages with age and authority.
The quickest and most thorough way to build these links is with Garret French’s impressive broken link finder which excels the process of finding broken links. This and Buzz Stream are a match made in heaven, a scalable, simple process returning high quality, low risk links.
Like with any link building strategy it is still vitally important that you fully assess the prospects and their link portfolio to ensure that you aren’t building on a site that could be deemed as being low quality.
I should probably begin this point with a disclaimer, as guest blogging is hardly synonymous with quality! By guest blogging I do not mean the distribution of low quality or pointless posts on generalised or spam sites, so forget about your 300 word “top 5 things to buy a cat for Christmas” spun article packed full of exact anchor text links and start thinking about how you can use guest blogging opportunities to boost traffic to yours or your clients site by getting exposure on a website read by people who’ll care about the product or service offered. My top tips for guest blogging are:
1. / Look through the site properly
Once you’ve collected a list of sites you would like to contribute to, look through them. Never just consider top level metrics as A./ They can be easily manipulated and B./ It is not an indicator that the site is quality. Things I always take into consideration are:
Is the quality of the content on the site of a decent quality? I don’t only look for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar but I also assess the subjects on the site, are the topics interesting or are they poorly researched, adding nothing new to the subject they are discussing.
Comments on a blog post are often an indicator that the site is well read with an active engaged community, however it can also be an indication of spam so read a few of the posts rather than just glancing over them, you don’t want your content and link surrounded by the sorts of less desirable places that blog commenting attracts.
Does the site have a good following on social networks (Look for links to their social networks) – If they have a lot, are these genuine or have they been purchased?
What is the percentage of guest posts on the website? If the site’s only purpose is to publish guest blog posts it is A. / not going to pass much authority and B. / is likely to appear on Google’s radar sooner than later!
2. / Become a voice of authority
This is pretty self explanatory, but do you actually know what you’re writing about or have you done half an hours research and rewritten a Wikipedia page? In my opinion, Guest blogging should really be about sharing relevant and interesting content to a new audience, not just about the link! If you’ve invested in high quality, beautiful content your guest post is more likely to be accepted and most of all, published on the sort of site that really matters!
3./ Ensure that you have a proper guest blogging process in place
Guest blogging is a long and often tiresome process, the rewards can be high if done correctly but due to the sheer amount of time that the process takes it is important that you have a full process in place from locating and contacting sites to delivering the finished piece of content. Having a correct process in place will improve your success and productivity.
Like with any link building strategy, if it’s abused and becomes one of the simplest ways to build links then you can bet it will soon be on Google’s radar (Think directories) However, Google are never going to penalise a site for the distribution of relevant, well written and engaging content, just be sensible! Proper guest blogging takes a lot of time, experience and a good team working together to craft the best possible piece. There is a whole host of tools out there ideal for scaling the entire guest blogging process. I will discuss some of these in more detail another time.
Anchor Text Diversity
Google have been hitting sites for over optimisation of anchor text for years! But in 2012 they became stricter at penalising sites who had an abundance of commercial anchor text. There is no magic formula when it comes to anchor text diversity but I normally try and limit commercial anchor text as much as possible. Firstly, I know full well that the sites that I really want links from aren’t going to be interested in an exact match keyword slapped in the middle of the content and secondly, I don’t think anchor text is an important ranking signal as it was a few years back. My tips for anchor text diversity:
Take a quick look at the site’s backlink portfolio to check that you’re not verging into the territory of over optimisation (sometimes, especially when working with a team links are built outside of your control, so it is always a good idea to keep an eye on how the site’s anchor text looks)
Consider other options than branded or commercial keywords, I often like to mix it up with names, urls and sometimes even synonyms, I have found that the first 2 options have a much higher click through rate than keywords.
Review competitors link portfolio’s and look at the anchor text they are using in their link building, correlate this against the quality of their links and it should give you a rough idea of how much commercial anchor text you are going to have to use. This will be difficult in more competitive niches (finance, gambling etc) where you’ll find that a larger amount of commercial anchor text being used.
This point ties in nicely with my above points on anchor text diversity. To ensure you have a natural looking link portfolio you also need to consider where on your site you are linking to. This differs from site to site, i.e Ecommerce sites will want links to their category and product pages as well as the home page, whilst a 4 page information site is not going to want as deep links. Varying where you link to does not just serve the purpose of having a natural looking link portfolio but allows for
Micro targeting of a particular campaign, category or product offering
Damage limitation! If a page within your site is penalised this is much better than the home page, and in the event that you can’t shake the manual action you can always 404 the page and start over. Obviously this is not ideal, but is a much easier solution than having to scrap your whole domain.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket
My final point in today’s blog post ties in nicely with my above points about diversifying your link building. Do not stick to one approach for building links as sooner or later you’re website will be detected by Google, regardless of how good you think your links are. Try different approaches and always make sure that whatever strategy you use, that everything you do is of the highest quality.
Greetings! My name is Oliver Carding and after years of procrastinating I have finally taken the time to set up my own blog. I aim to use this space as a portfolio to showcase my work and to discuss the ever evolving world of SEO.
As mentioned in the widget to the right hand side of this post, I currently reside in Hale, Manchester and live with my fiancé and Pug “Percy” who keeps me company during the day.
Percy Pug wearing his favourite hoodie
I began working online in 2008, cutting my teeth for an online retailer of leather jackets having worked in fashion production for three years prior to that.
Since then I have worked with agencies and clients across the UK, providing them with SEO services. I’ve had numerous success stories, some of which I will talk about in this blog.
I have not set this blog up to provide commercial services at the moment, though this may change in the future.
I hope you enjoy my writing ( I am by no means a natural writer) and if you have any questions or would like to get in touch with me, please use the contact form or find me on Twitter or Google plus.
I'm a UK based SEO consultant currently residing in Hale, Manchester. I have worked in the world of SEO since 2008 and work with agencies and clients worldwide. For more information please contact me via the contact form or Twitter. The opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers.