SEO For 2013 & Beyond: SEO Made Simple For Beginners (2013)
Chapter 7. GETTING LINKS BY REACHING OUT
There are many factors to consider when you make plans to get links from other websites. This is a tricky job, and we will soon see why.
In the early days of SEO, one way to rank high in search results was to get incoming links from other websites – any website for that matter. This resulted in mushrooming of link farms of different shades whose only job was to get you links, often at a big price.
This defeated the very purpose of Google considering links as votes of approval, because if you can buy links, the quality of contents is bound to take the backseat.
To counter this epidemic of artificially inflating the chances of higher rankings, Google brought in drastic changes in its algorithm since the beginning of 2011. The main changes are codenamed Panda and Penguin, and have different updates belonging to them including the penalization for link farming and content scraping.
In recent times you may have come across Google’s advice7.1 that says:
In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.
It may surprise you, but not long back Google’s advice was to increase the number of high quality sites that link to their pages. Look at the image (Figure 7.1) showing Google’s change of stance between October 2012 and May 2013. It was first noticed by Erik Baemlisberger7.2.
Looking at this clear indication from Google, it would appear that any kind of ‘conscious link-building’ is passé. I’ve discussed in this chapter several supposedly out-of-favor link-building concepts like press release, submitting to article directories, etc. and I’ve done that to emphasize the logic of reaching out to prospects where they are hanging out, rather than seeking only links.
At the end of the day it is the readers who will like to use their discretion to pursue link-building avenues as deemed fit for their purpose.
Have Links Lost Luster?
Due to the changes in Google’s algorithm, getting high-quality links has become well-nigh impossible. In How to Fix the Broken Link Graph7.3, Aaron Wall makes some interesting observations:
· No one links honestly any more.
· All links are suspect.
· No one links freely any more.
This may sound pessimistic but there are good reasons for that. Because of Google’s updates, which many experts feel was anyway due for a long time, people are wary to ask for or give links.
Does that mean there is no value in incoming links? Not really!
In a July 2013 interview7.4 to Eric Enge, Google’s Matt Cutts says:
Link building is not illegal. Not all link building is bad. The philosophy that we’ve always had is if you make something that’s compelling then it would be much easier to get people to write about it and to link to it.
It is clear then that the path to build links is to create great contents…to which the links would come naturally, automatically. When you do this, you don’t go seeking links. They come without your making any special effort.
This finds resonance with the concept, “build it, and they’ll come”. A good example of that is reflected in this interview7.5 with Fraser Cain, owner of Universe Today. Fraser says:
Focus 100 percent of your effort on your own website and the needs of your audience. Even brand new websites will bring in long tail search traffic from the search engines if they solve problems for people. The problem is that people immediately try to focus on rankings; and that's where the massive link building campaigns come in. But if you focus only on increasing your overall search traffic, and not battle for any specific keyword, your traffic just grows and grows.
The traffic to Fraser’s website has increased from 3500 visits a day to a phenomenal 100,000+ unique visitors every day by (1) building contents, and (2) not doing any link building campaign.
Options for Small Website
Though Fraser Cain’s example is highly motivating, for many small websites things may be tough in actual practice. Fraser’s niche is astronomy, and it does seem that a lot can be written in that subject.
No one denies that writing lots of targeted relevant content is good for a website, but for many small websites, too much emphasis on contents may compromise with running the business. For them large traffic from search results is often a dream than reality.
In this backdrop, link-getting exercise for small websites should be seen in the context of reaching out to the prospects. The need for reaching out arises since the prospects have different places to hang out on the web. In each of those places they are looking for the product or service your website is offering. What are those places, and how you can reach there?
In this chapter we will look at some of those places. The basic surmise is that search engine optimization, though crucially important, is not a magic bullet. It is not something you do to the exclusions of all other promotional campaigns.
The options we will examine here range from simple article writing in other websites to embracing social media, and more. It may be the case that you cannot manage sufficient resources for all of these. After all you have your business and your website to look after.
Those dilemmas are solvable by involving/outsourcing some works to other people or agencies (covered in more detail in Chapter 8). And if that is something you are not comfortable with or have other bottlenecks, it is better to start with minimum efforts for reaching out.
Whatever it is that you plan, there’s one thing you shouldn’t lose sight of. It’s about doing something at least, because as I said above, a whole bunch of opportunities awaits you outside the ambit of SEO.
Write In Web Publications
If you extend the logic to the web as a whole that content is the mainstay of any website, it becomes clear that there ought to be giant content-heavy sites that can be the destinations for your needs.
2 such web publications are Hubpages7.6 and Squidoo7.7. Both are free to enroll, and have their own loyal base of users, though (without taking sides) more users seem to be happy using Hubpages.
Here briefly are some of the common features that both Hubpages and Squidoo offer:
· Write texts, include images, and even embed videos from video sharing sites in your article, called a hub in Hubpages and a lens in Squidoo.
· Earn money from your articles through your affiliate ads from Google AdSense, Amazon, Ebay, and others.
· Get ratings for the articles that you write from the users. Higher rating means more exposure and more traffic.
· Embed links in your articles that point to the pages in your website. If the rating of an article is good there is just a chance (at least with Hubpages) that the embedded links will not be ‘nofollowed’7.8.
· Viewers can comment in your articles, giving you chance to engage with them. Similarly, when you comment in others’ articles you enhance your standing as being a good user.
· You are discouraged to write duplicate contents by Hubpages. Before you can submit your article in Hubpages for example, it is checked real-time for duplicity, and cleared only when it is found to be not so.
Most of these features are not available in article directories, which is why writing in a web publication like Hubpages is a good proposition.
Let me start from the site of Mashable7.9, a hugely popular news site for social and digital media that actively seeks a story from anyone. Mashable has an Alexa ranking of 458, and Compete ranking of 1224 as of this writing.
Mashable is not alone. Many top technology blogging sites, like ClickZ7.10, SitePoint7.11, BloggingPro7.12, Smashing Magazine7.13, and others invite guest writers to post in their sites.
The reason is not far to seek. Blog sites need articles posted daily, and at the same time it is far beneficial for them to get free writings of good quality from talented guest writers from all over the globe. The latter get exposure and backlinks in return and occasionally maybe some money as compensation.
There is no dearth of information to be gleaned about guest blogging on the web. Jonathan Morrow of Copyblogger, for example, offers a membership course7.14 to learn ‘everything’ about guest blogging. And Ann Smarty, herself an accomplished guest blogger, has not long back started My Blog Guest7.15, a meeting ground for both guest bloggers and those looking for guest posts.
There is a subtle difference between guest blogging and writing in web publications (covered in the previous section) on one hand, and between it and submission to article directories (covered next) on the other.
Let me mention some points below for you to mull over:
1. Web publications like Hubpages are not focused on particular topic(s). There you find tips on parenting babies, and also on making money from Google AdSense. A blog inviting guest writing is usually focused on a niche topic and rarely publishes articles on other topics. An article directory is similar to a web publication in this respect.
2. As against hundreds of posts being published in article directories and web publications every day, a blog will usually have 2-3 (or less) highly focused posts each day. Since a blog-post is more relevant and targeted toward the right section of readers, it therefore receives the right kind of exposure.
3. Guest articles are subject to scrutiny by the blog owner. An article may be edited, and if not liked, may not be published in the blog. Often a guest post may not be allowed images or videos to come along with it. You don’t find these restrictions in web publications, though article directories too don’t accept images or videos in many cases.
4. A backlink from a guest-post supposedly carries more weight than the other two simply because the blog is more focused on a relevant topic.
5. Guest-posts may not receive any remuneration from the blogs though a few exceptions are there. Article directories too make you no money. Some web publications like Hubpages do however share earnings from the ads in the article pages.
Would You Use Article Directories?
At the outset let me caution that links from the article directories no longer help. In fact, many experts suggest7.16 stopping adding article directory links right away. And in case you still have some, then work on getting them removed.
This is one of the easiest ways to ramp up inbound links around anchor texts to the deeper pages of your website. Since it’s you who ‘cultivates’ these links, therefore the entry barrier to derive benefits from article directories is quite low. And so there is always the usual rush to submit articles to these sites as soon as a website is up and running.
People look at article directories purely with a view to embedding links, which is perhaps one reason why good quality contents are just not available there. Given these factors, it is fully your discretion whether to strategize for article marketing as a means to build links.
In case you are inclined to try out article marketing, you might want to study some best practices and guidelines for article submission as suggested by Ken Lyons of WordStream7.17.
A few tips are as under:
· Don’t add links in the body of the article. Links to your site should reside in the bio or “about the author” section.
· Keep links in the bio to a maximum of 3. More than three can/will get your article rejected.
· Don’t promote your company in the body of the article. Save that for the bio section.
· Do not plagiarize. It doesn’t help. Your article will not be published in the better ones. You can however “repackage” your own content.
· Don’t stuff your articles with keywords. Many submission sites have stringent rules to test “keyword density” in articles submitted.
· Ensure there are no misspellings or grammatical errors.
Leave Comments in Blogs
When starting out for the first time, it almost feels like a ‘nobody’ in the vast wonderland of the web. You want to get counted but no one really cares. You add contents in your website, and you do the entire copybook SEO you’ve learnt. Yet you are still stranded on the sidelines.
In situations like this which we all face one time or the other, the trick to get ‘known’ quickly and easily is to leave comments in other blogs. In most blogs you can leave your URL in the comment box to act as incoming link, but usually it is marked as ‘nofollow’.
That means you don’t get the advantage of the incoming link for ranking purpose. However, let that not stop you from commenting in the blogs, for otherwise you will miss out on some great intangible benefits.
Darren Rowse, founder of Problogger, strongly recommends7.18 the practice of leaving comments in the other blogs. Some advantages are as under:
· Get to know what other bloggers in your niche are doing.
· This is a great chance to build your own profile in your niche, and show your expertise, knowledge and understanding of the topic.
· If your comment triggers remarks by others, you have a chance to know what others have to say on the topic (this may help you write more articles on the topic).
· You’ll be able to reach out to other bloggers who get the chance to gauge your understanding of the topic involved (often comments begin the start of fruitful relationships).
· Your thoughtful comments in another blog are in fact a small window for the readers of that blog to come and visit your website. The downside of leaving comment in another blog is often negligible, but you need to be cautious anyway. Here are some points that you need to pay attention to.
· Since you’re a guest in another blog, you should not be harsh in your comment, or use bad words. Needless to say, they are never published by the blog owner.
· If your comment is criticized, and you feel that is not correct, do make a counter reply. Rebut firmly, but avoid using hard words. In fact you have a good chance to speak out your mind, which you shouldn’t spoil by being curt.
· Don’t talk big or write something that is untrue. People have ways to quickly find out the truth.
· Don’t write frivolous or out-of-context comments. They will never be published. If you nothing worthy to say, say nothing.
· Aiming for only backlink in the comments is a bad idea. People often use a key-phrase in the name field for backlink. Such an effort never succeeds.
Participate In Forums
An Internet forum is defined7.19 as a kind of message board where online discussions take place involving participants who hold conversations in the form of posted messages.
The key to the success of a forum lies in the willingness of the participants to actively put forth their points of view to seek replies from the other members. In doing so, the forum members reach out to help or seek help from others.
There is usually no restriction to become a forum member, though there are many instances of private forums that allow only paying members to participate in the forum discussions.
The advantage of actively participating in the forums of your niche is that you can subtly enhance your profile and your value as a person of knowledge over time among the other members.
This can help you in getting substantial traffic originating from the forum. This traffic is quite worthy since the people are coming after having known about your ability in the forum.
To quote7.20 Darren Rowse (of Problogger) again, he explains (via an anonymous blogger) an 8-step approach to gather traffic by participating in the forums. They are very practical and indeed achievable.
Here they are in brief:
1. Identify the forums where your blog’s potential readers are gathering. It may not suit you to become members of many forums at a time. Instead, start with a prominent forum in your niche that gets good traffic and has many members. Gradually you may increase participation in more of them over time.
2. Join up, and do nothing. This according to the writer is a key step. Lurk around and learn who the key players are, what topics are the hottest, and which areas of the forum are the most active. This learning will prove helpful in the coming days.
3. Set up your signature and an avatar or your image. Let the signature be brief, and not flashy or boastful. That doesn’t help.
4. Start posting. Initially, it is better to make yourself helpful to the other members. Answer the problems faced by them. At least till a few weeks have passed by, the time is not ripe to promote own blog or posts.
5. Write resourceful contents in forum posts. These can be short tutorials having useful information which you would have otherwise posted in your blog. Gradually, people start taking notice of your knowledge, and get drawn to you.
6. Make connections. Reaching out to other active and influential members of the forum will be the next step. Send private messages to them with words of encouragement. They will really appreciate the gesture from your side, and it will be easy for you to keep them in the loop for any future need of yours.
7. Let others promote your blog. A few weeks after you prove your worth, a lot of forum members may voluntarily promote you and your blog to others. This may seem surprising, but this is true.
8. Be generous, understated, and useful. This according to me is the most useful tip. The more subtle you are, the more success you reap.
Send Press Releases
There is a hot debate about the desirability of press releases by small businesses. Many people feel that paying for press release is a waste of money because the benefit may not match the cost involved.
That may be partly true. However when your website is new and no one knows about it, you have to do something to spread the word. Press release fits the bill perfectly.
There are big agencies like PRWeb7.21, or personalized services like that by Eric Ward’s URLwire7.22 that may cost a lot of money. They may produce good results, but perhaps it is wiser for a small business to not pay the high amounts for press release.
Instead they may try out the free services of Free Press Release7.23, PRLog7.24, and others. There is no harm in trying out the free services except that the typical press release format is strictly adhered to. Otherwise, many a time, press releases are not accepted.
Some good read-outs for knowing more about press releases, including the usual Dos and Don’ts are given below:
· Press Release Writing Tips From the New York Times7.25
· 5 Killer Press Release Tips for Small Businesses7.26
· Stand Out: The Power Of The Press Release7.27
Create Video & Upload to YouTube
This may be a little radical of all the different ways described here, but it is worth doing. The good thing about video is that it is easy to do.
But what, you may wonder, is the need to make videos? The answer is rather simple. Going by the huge and increasing popularity the video is enjoying on the web it makes good sense to ride the wave and reach out to a large audience.
The following chart (Figure 7.2) shows how the number of video viewers is increasing in the US over the years. It is the same in almost all the web-savvy countries in the world.
Many small business owners however are not comfortable with the idea of web video. They feel it is difficult to make, and of course it is beyond their means to hire a professional who may charge a lot to make one.
The truth is it costs almost none to make a web video from scratch. You can quite easily make sleek, professional web video with PowerPoint for many of your needs like training video, marketing video, e-learning video, illustrative video, and so on.
Watch the different PowerPoint videos in action in my PowerPoint to video course at Udemy7.28. If interested, contact me at email@example.com for up to 90% rebate on my course.
Remember web video is not only about movie shot with a video camera. It can be made from screen-recording, flash movie, PowerPoint, and also static images. Once you try out doing any one kind of video, your confidence will increase and shortly you may start making other types of videos.
Once you make a video and upload to YouTube, just grab the embed code from there and put it in your website. Thus, your own video is displayed on your site though it is hosted on YouTube.
The importance of video marketing for your business becomes clear because of dramatic increase in the number of video-hours uploaded to YouTube per minute in a short span of 3 years.
In other words, you cannot afford to ignore video marketing at the cost of letting your competition go past you.
Create Your Facebook Page
The rise of Facebook can be attributed to the massive awakening of people’s desire to know what others are doing, and to let know what they are doing.
In the database of intentions as of early 20107.29, famous blogger John Battelle has lucidly explained the dramatic evolving of search behavior on the web and the role being played by major players including Facebook.
John explains that today the people’s intention on the web is not only to query search engines, but also to express themselves through social graphs and status updates.
In other words, the popularity of online social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and others will continue to rise, and may in fact accelerate further.
As if to bolster John’s contention, comScore first reported Facebook having surpassed Google in August 2010 in the US in terms of time spent in their sites7.30.
The trend continues…and recently it was found7.31 that in the US Facebook enjoys more time spent on the site (10.8%) than Google (10%). What’s more, of all time spent on social networking sites 83% is spent on Facebook.
The same is reflected in the chart below (Figure 7.3) taken from Hitwise7.32 that puts Facebook as the most popular social media website.
There are skeptics though who feel7.33 that the overtaking of Google by Facebook is perhaps a non-event, because when it comes to translating "viewers" into revenue, Google currently wins hands down.
However, there is no denying the huge euphoria around the social media sites, particularly Facebook and Twitter. And so it is a good idea for a small business to embrace both with open arms.
There are many free advisories that give instructions on how to create your Facebook page and reap benefits from its large array of features. Let me point you to the excellent article, Facebook Marketing: Ultimate Guide7.34, published in Moz.
Some useful tips given by the author are as under:
· "Page Name" is one of the strongest ranking factors on Facebook search. Take the opportunity to add some keywords you wish to rank for in your page name. Remember you are not allowed to change your page name later.
· When you type a URL starting from http:// in the info box under your profile picture, Facebook makes it into a clickable link. Don’t forget to include URLs here that lead to the webpages you want.
· Once you have at least 25 fans, you will be able to convert your ugly "326727833086?ref=sgm&ajaxpipe=1&__a=7" URL into something fancy-looking, like "http://facebook.com/mybusinesspage".
· Make your landing page attractive. Great first looks will convert more of your visitors into fans.
· When you compose a message, make a habit of putting the ‘@’ symbol and start typing the name of your business page to mention it, just the way you mention someone on Twitter or in blog replies.
· Facebookers usually prefer pictures, videos and links to plain text updates. So use these resources liberally.
· You must aim to build partnerships with other Facebookers within your niche and be "favourited" as much as possible.
· Write an engaging request to join your Facebook page and set it in your Twitter account as an automatic direct message to people, who have just followed you.
· Make videos, and when you host them in a video sharing site, use annotations to include a link to your Facebook page with a request to join.
· Put the link to your Facebook page everywhere – on your website, your business card, in every opportunity you get.
Twitter was launched in July 2006, and initially few people thought it would ever attain the rage it has now. As explained in the previous section, quoting John Battelle’s analysis of people’s intentions online, the desire to know others and tell about oneself have fueled the phenomenal growth of Twitter and other social media vehicles.
Twitter allows text-based posts of up to 140 characters by the members. The posts are called tweets and can be about anything you want to share with others. Becoming a member is free, and so is the sending of posts. No wonder, many term tweets as the SMSs of the Internet though the latter are not actually free.
Currently, as of this writing, Twitter is estimated7.35 to have over 550 million users all over the world, who generate an average of 58 million tweets a day (9100 tweets every second), and do 2.1 billion searches a day. That’s massive, which is why using this free social media platform is very important.
There are many how-to articles about using and benefitting from Twitter. Opening an account and starting to use it are really easy. So the best advice will be to start tweeting right away, and find yourself what works, and what doesn’t.
As with other social media tools, with Twitter too you need to follow a strategy to reap the harvest of benefits. You may like to read the PCMag.com article7.36, How to Use Twitter for Business.
Compared to Facebook, tweeting is easy. The best part is you start getting instant attention every time you tweet. So, each time you write an article or upload a video or find something interesting, you can share with the world by tweeting about it. If liked by others, they may retweet your post, spreading your word fast.
Participate In Seminars, Symposiums, Workshops
Notice all of those I’ve mentioned above so far involve online efforts, or those that are done on the web. Surely you expect that your prospects could come from the offline – or, let me call this the brick-n-mortar world – sources as well. So you need to reach out to these targets also.
Usually the common approach to target the offline prospects is to place ads in the local newspapers. This is a proven concept, and maybe you should opt for packages for several insertions spanning over a few months.
Many marketers however feel that since newspapers have time-limited relevance, therefore the ads are overlooked easily despite the reach to a seemingly large number of readers. Moreover, in an age of laser-focused online advertising as in Facebook for example, newspaper ads can be said to be lacking the muscle of targeted reach.
What better ways could there be for your products to reach those who matter? Talk-shows like the seminars, symposiums, and workshops are the answers for that.
How you proceed in such cases depends much on the twin aspects of the size of your company and the size of the likely populace to target. If you haven’t done one already, you may perhaps think of holding a free or a paid (why not?) seminar where you arrange an industry expert to give the keynote address.
This effort can prove to be quite costly (which is why the question of how big your company is!). On the flip side you’ll be able to target the right prospects, and also take the opportunity to survey the participants to get a first-hand idea about your product.
Alternatively, take part in such gatherings as a participant and try to reach out to the other participants. If conditions permit, you may think of advertising your product in the seminar area by putting up banners or distributing leaflets to the visitors who come there to attend.
The underlying mantra to reap benefits in such cases is always to be at the right place at the right time.
Local Reputation Matters
Have you wondered who your best friends are during adversity? Give it a thought and chances are that the local community is the one you can think of as your true friend.
During the recent global financial meltdown, which is yet to ease, many people who earlier had robust businesses suddenly found themselves vulnerable, unable to come to terms with the change in fortunes.
Some had no real help to fall back on, and that took a heavy toll on their businesses and personal lives. The suffering could have been avoided to a large extent if those people had some kind of connections at the datum level.
The need of nurturing local connections can hardly be understated. This doesn’t take a lot of effort, but yes one should have the right mind to foster relationships.
For example, you as a professional web designer can think of helping entities like local charities, schools, NGOs, small businesses with your resources free or at a low cost as part of your relationship building.
When you do that, you can be assured of their help in your troubled times. Even if you are confident that no trouble will visit you ever, you can still benefit from the word-of-mouth publicity about your expertise and generosity.