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?
- Are there any mentions of paid, or sponsored posts on the site? These can often be found by quickly searching through the site for the terms “Paid” or “Sponsored” You obviously don’t want to end up with links on a website guilty of paid links. Matt Cutts covered this subject recently: http://www.webpronews.com/matt-cutts-answers-a-good-question-about-paid-link-penalties-2013-04
- 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.
- Consider Co Citations! Seomoz covered the subject well back in one of their whiteboard Friday pieces which can be found here: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/prediction-anchor-text-is-dying-and-will-be-replaced-by-cocitation-whiteboard-friday I have found this approach works really well with clients sites ranking for broad terms without me having to build exact match anchor text.
- 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.