Over time, websites change and alter their designs, creating broken links from other websites. Often, back-links may be lost as a result of removing pages and changing URL’s during the website overhaul process. When starting up a link building campaign for a new client, link reclamation is a quick and easy way to help with the search engine optimization effort. 301 redirects will restore some SEO value to the inbound links, but a link reclamation project is the only way to retain the full link value.

Link reclamation is the process of locating, contacting and fixing broken links on your company website and other websites with links pointing to yours. The only tools needed for a link reclamation project are Microsoft Excel and Open Site Explorer. Open Site Explorer is a free tool created by SEOmoz, and it is the most in-depth tool for analyzing linkage on web pages. OSE provides metrics for inbound, outbound, internal and broken links on web pages.

Carrying out a link reclamation project is necessary any time content is removed, URLs are changed, or the website is redesigned. To determine whether a website requires it, investigate the results from the “Top Pages” tab in Open Site Explorer for the root domain of the website. Export the results to a .csv format, and sort them by “HTTP Status.” If any pages have a 404 HTTP status, link reclamation is imminent.

Case Study: TSI

TSI is a precision measurement instrumentation company near Minneapolis, MN. They are a well-known company in the academic and industrial communities because of their aerosol research offerings– which makes them a unique client to build links for. Most of their back-links come from research organizations, .edu and .gov domains. Upon review of their back-links, we noticed several pages coming up as 404’s. Several of these broken links were coming from .edu sites. Most of the broken links were pointing to non-existent product pages from one of their old websites.

Before diving into the project, it helps to create a spreadsheet with the old URL’s, anchor texts, new URLs and locations of the broken links. The best fix for internal linking problems is to manually go to the page with the broken link and replace the URL. To fix broken links from external websites, a 301 redirect campaign along with a link reclamation project are the only way to retain those links. A direct link always holds more value than a redirect, so it would be best to wait a few weeks after the link reclamation to put the redirects in place. After all, why would other websites want to bother fixing their links when you already set up a redirect for them?

Figuring out new URLs for a broken links can sometimes be tricky – especially with a client like TSI. One broken link had “Velocicalc” as the anchor text. Who or what is a Velocicalc? The only other clue was a product ID number in the URL which had absolutely no significance to the current product whatsoever. The web page with the broken link on it came from a climatology research project page for a university – which was full of scientific jargon. After doing some searching on the current website, it turns out that it’s supposed to be pointing to a page for air velocity meters. Using context clues, the correct pages usually can be found. If not, the home page can always be used as the default target.

Once the spreadsheet is built out with the new URLs, the next step is to figure out how many pages are linking to the missing page. To do this, run each URL that came up as a 404 status through Open Site Explorer, and view the “Linking Pages” tab. This will show every link and anchor text pointing to the missing page. Do this for every missing page. This step will make the spreadsheet quite lengthy. If some pages come up as 404’s but there are no pages linking to it, there may be a problem with the old redirects already in place.

Sort the spreadsheet by the linking URL’s once all other steps are complete. This will make it easy to identify websites that have multiple broken links to your company website. The next step is to manually go through the list and contact each of the website owners to let them know about the broken link — and what the correct link is. Depending on the age of the links, the response rate is about 50 percent on average. The older a link is, the less likely a response is. Most people will gladly fix the links because it affects their visitors too. The key to getting better responses is to avoid looking like a bot, and be as informative as possible in the initial contact e-mail.

Not all links can be reclaimed. A few weeks after sending out the initial contacts, the best course of action is to set up 301 redirects for all pages that showed up as 404s previously. Even if the broken links were fixed, it is still highly beneficial to set up redirects for those pages. Google will be able to index the website much more efficiently when all inbound links are clean, direct links to the website.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Link Reclamation Best Practices – The Complete Guide


For everything there is a season, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to build links. I’m not 100% sure that last one is actually from Ecclesiastes, but it should be in the Book of SEO.

Link building is a perpetual pursuit for websites, but that doesn’t mean the circumstances are the same every day.  And yet, there are certain constants even within continual change. One of these faithfully enduring factors is the unyielding progression of the seasons. Even if the leaves don’t change and snow doesn’t fall wherever you live, we all share the same four-season cycle. This fixed seasonal rotation provides a few things we can rely on to help us create link building strategies.

Summer

Most of modern civilization has at least some susceptibility to the academic calendar. For the early part of our lives, most of us become indoctrinated to the concept of a summer vacation. It’s a pattern that tends to manifest itself in business trends long after we leave academia. So naturally, even link building is affected by the summer break mentality.

The gold standards of links in SEO are the ones that come from highly authoritative sources. Many of those high-trust hot-zones tend to slow down a bit during the summer months. From educational institutions to local government there is a natural deceleration of certain activities. With schools in particular, teachers and students are much less available. If you are trying to target these types of links the challenge increases when school is out.

But that just means you need to turn your attention elsewhere. In warm weather people are generally more active outdoors and it can be beneficial to connect your business to that lifestyle. ywith organizations that link to sponsors of course. If you’re industry is more of an indoor cat, partnering with travel and outdoor recreation sites is a good way to get some cross-promotion.

Fall

Some people love the fall and others hate it, which I think largely depends on how they see it. The changing leaves are worth a 3 hour drive to nowhere and the night air has an exhilarated bite. But to the glass-is-half-empty types, it also means winter is on its way.  For teachers, parents and link builders, it’s back to school time.

When the classes start, the game is on for educational content and getting ready for winter. While the kids are buying new book bags, the teachers are planning. Lesson plans, teaching aids, syllabuses are being developed or revised. Some of your content can get links from the online versions of those materials, if you have the right resources.  Figure out what about your business is a teachable moment. Develop those concepts and mold them into pieces of content that will appeal to teachers on all grade levels. The early weeks of school can be busy ones but, if you time it right, your contribution to educational schematics could last for years.

Winter

Winter is cold in the northern hemisphere, which is where the vast majority of earth’s land mass lies. So whether you’re in San Francisco or San Tropez, it’s chilly in January. People spend more time indoors and there’s a pretty decent chance they’re killing some of their cabin fever online. In the winter both weather and social traditions are working in a link builder’s favor.

Christmas is coming, so is Hanukah, and Kawanza and a number of celebrations and shopping trips. This time of year, as most stores know, is all about the special offers, sales and discounts. Whatever product or service you sell, you can play the Holiday angle. Don’t sell yourself out just because you think your service doesn’t fit the typical Christmas theme. A carpet cleaning service can get it in on it by offering a holiday cleaning special. A lighting fixture site can offer Gift Certificates and pre-holiday “upgrade” discounts.

Just because you’re not a major retail player doesn’t mean you can’t get a few holiday links. People are looking en masse for gift ideas and holiday party planning tips. Blogs, s outlets, and websites of all kinds are compiling lists of these resources along with copious coupon codes and deals. Don’t just post your offers on your site, promote them with a full-on outreach blitz. Holiday-mania strikes everyone, and if you can’t beat em, at least get links from it.

Spring

If you watch Animal Planet you know springtime plays a major role in expansion and growth. The world undergoes a sort of re-birth during these months. And even though there’s a lot happening outside, this can be one of the harder times of the year to work marketing angles. There are a few holidays, but nothing nearly as behaviorally significant as other seasons. That makes this a great season for planning, analyzing and evaluation.

While nature is taking its course outside, it’s a good time to breathe new life into your online marketing strategy.  Figure out what worked during the winter and lay the groundwork for what lies ahead.  I don’t mean you should stop your link building, but it’s always calm before the storm. And link builders should be like children; if they are quiet, it should mean they’re up to something. These “quieter” months can be as good a time as any to plan your attack for the year ahead.

The twist is, in order to really stay ahead of the curve, planning for each season should happen months before it arrives. The same way department stores put out bathing suits in February and Christmas trees as early as September. Behind the scenes work should done be a few months ahead of the calendar year, so that when the season strikes, you’re ready to launch.

Link building is hard enough under the best of circumstances and any link builder will tell you that no single strategy works all the time for everyone. There’s nowhere that’s more evident than when you examine the nuances of seasonality and its effects on human behavior. Link building in many ways requires an understanding psychology. This includes grasping not only the how and why behind getting links, but the when as well. There are naturally occurring peaks and valleys throughout the year that you can use to your advantage. Sometimes you can help your site speak to search engine algorithms by simply listening to seasonal bio-rhythms. When you use the collective habits of humanity to appeal to the right needs, at the right times, then you’ll probably find that links are always in season.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

A Link for All Seasons


As this is a search business column, I thought I would move this month’s post to the furthest end of the search spectrum with a post on linkbait.  It’s one of the areas of SEO where there’s sometimes a reluctance to fully commit by clients, primarily due to it being a speculative activity. In my experience, clients are appreciative of transparent SEO delivery, and increasingly see it as a strategic and established marketing discipline.  That said, linkbait is still clearly an area that, considering the results it can deliver for the investment, is under-utilised by digital marketing strategies, and I know there is eagerness by many for this to change.

MEC Interaction recently had a full-time, freelance linkbaiter, Danny Ashton, come in to our offices to provide our link-builders and SEO account managers with some inspiration and understanding around linkbait campaigns for big and small brands.  I thought it might be helpful to share a little insight on what got Danny into this creative game and tips he can share with SEJ readers.  So here goes…


What first got you into linkbait?

It was at my first proper SEO conference that met a character called Lyndon Antcliff who I knew already from his blog CornwallSEO. Prior to this conference I had been reading a lot about linkbait but didn’t quite know how to learn the skills to become a master. After a number of beers and mediocre tapas, Lyndon suggested I joined his linkbait training course that was starting the following week.

After a chat with my boss, I started the course and literally spend hours a day trying new linkbait and chatting regularly with Lyndon. I had quite a few successes with some of my “test” linkbait and it was like a light bulb went off in my head, plus I had never had so much fun doing “SEO.”

Who has been your biggest influence in linkbait and why do you love him so?

The now infamous “13 Year Old Steal Dad’s Credit Card to buy Hookers” really caught my attention to the sheer power of linkbait. This article also led me to become aware of Lyndon who later became my mentor and helped me immensely. Learning from a master provided me with the confidence to try out ideas that I would never dare on my own.

Intrinsic to successful linkbait is a great deal of creativity; what is your process to spur this on?

Getting away from the computer is the only way to get great ideas. Being plugged in and reading other stuff always creates incentive to just rehash old ideas. My most successful baits have always been completely unique and could only have been thought of once disconnected from the grid.

I also like to travel and being out of your comfort zone allows you to think of ideas you would never think of in rainy Manchester! I could also say meditation but I don’t want to get all new age but it really does help to get the creative juices flowing.

What are typical metrics to measure the success of linkbait, beyond the obvious?

Links are the usual metric but I also like to include the interaction and social signals that a bait has led to. I have had baits create 100’s of highly thought out intelligent comments and it can improve the breadth and quality of the article. Yet, links are still number one but high level of comments and social signals also has some great SEO benefits but they are not my number one goal.

What were the results of your most effective linkbait campaign?  What was key to this success?

Sadly I can’t talk about linkbaits from clients but I do sometimes test my linkbait skills on some of my own sites and one I am particularly pleased one I did for an air purifier review site!

I had literally tried everything idea to try and bait this niche but nothing was really taking hold and it didn’t help that the domain had two dashes!

The idea came to me whilst I was playing basketball outside whilst looking at my garden plants. After thinking of the idea of air purifier plants I then searched JSTOR (as my housemate was still a student) to find if there had been any scientific studies. Luckily for me there had been quite a few studies and I then spent the next few hours collating the research and putting the idea together.

After pushing this article to a few key sites, it got picked up by some major authority sites such as Gizmodo and Unplggd and I cracked open the champagne. The article also got picked up by Stumbleupon and the links just started pouring in from all parts of the web. To date the linkbait has received over 55,000 visitors and still gets links every few days and it ranks highly for my target keywords.

What is the process for how you go about selling linkbait to clients?

I’ll be honest I rarely sell linkbait to people as most of my clients are word of mouth and already know what I am capable of. Although I think having a good collection of successful examples and providing good ideas really helps to put the client at ease.

What 3 top tools do you use every day that people interested in linkbait should use?

My number one productivity tool which most of you will be aware of is Microsoft live writer. Prior to finding live writer we used to load up images using the WordPress admin which is a total pain when publishing baits on a regular basis.

I am not sure if you would define these as tools but try and read as many offline books as possible. Spending time only reading online restricts your vision as to what is capable.

I also think you should invest in small notepad and pen as many of your best ideas will come to you when you away from your computer.

Another tip would be to look at the major blogs in your niche and use open site explorer and look at the top pages tab to see the type of content that attracts links. Regularly check out the type of content that attracts links and try to understand why this content works.

If you find creativity a chore, then look for good ideas that have been executed badly. Turn a top 3 tip list into a 15 Must Know Tips Before You Die list…

[Editors comment: I know from the consulting session that there are many more tools he could have shared here, but I guess he’s keeping a few key tools under his belt for now…]


What one final BIG tip can you share with SEJ readers to spur them onto linkbait greatness?

When you have completed your linkbait article leave it alone for a day and then try to spend another few hours trying to make it awesome. Getting an article to an exceptional level can skyrocket the amount of links that it will gain. There are plenty of good articles published daily so you need your article to stand out from the crowd by being exceptional.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Interview with Linkbait Insider, Danny Ashton


Note from Editor: Please treat anything associated with “black hat” with caution 🙂

So you are intrigued by black hat SEO, just to scared to try it? Good, the only thing you will experience is pain.

But, there is another way to get black hat SEO to benefit your site while protecting it from the Google ban stick. As you already know, there is a real problem with content being stolen and used around the Web. It infuriates most site owners, but it makes me very happy 😉

So, let’s set a little trap for the black hatters and watch as links come pouring into our site.

Black Hat Content

Black hat SEO has many faces and has become as complex and challenging as white hat SEO. Most black hatters spend most of their time focused on link building and figuring out ways to game the system. They are not natural content creators.

Actually, creating content is the bane of most black hatter’s existence. So they steal it from all types of sources. The smart ones know where to find content that has not been indexed, like sites that do not take advantage of ping. You are not one of those webmasters, right?

You, on the other hand, have one very unique advantage over black hatters, you love to create good content. Content that is legible and popular. Content that is loved by the search engines and regularly indexed.

Even if you use ping, when black hatters steal your content they are betting on their domain and link authority to push their page above your page in the SERPS. If it doesn’t work, oh well, your page of content is only one of thousands that they have automatically scraped and stolen.

Black Hat Automation

Black hat SEO is about one thing, automation. They look for ways to automate their processes. The more automated processes they employ that is successful, the more successful they are.

To scrape content, a black hatter needs a page related to that information to scrape. They have to be able to automatically locate that content through other sources.

RSS feeds make it extremely easy to steal content, since it is in standard format for RSS readers.

Here is how the process goes down typically:

  1. Black hatter builds site own specific niche, like “Digital Cameras”
  2. He scrapes the Google Blog search for the most recent posts related to “Digital Cameras”
  3. He scrapes the sites featured in the blog search  and steals the content, posting it to his WordPress blog
  4. He automatically gathers inbound links to these pages at a heavy rate, usually from a large link network that he has set up, scraping content to do so.
  5. He repeats the process over and over again until Google finally bans his domain and hopefully has made his money from the affiliate or ads on his site

Black hatters hopes they can overcome white hat sites with sheer volume of links and content. If it didn’t work, there would not be so many black hat SEO’s.

Backlink Placement

The key to making your stolen content work for you is to include back links in your post to your site.  This can be manual links or related posts at the end of your post. Most black hat SEOs do not remove the links inside of a post. It is less likely that they will be reported for spamming if they leave the links intact.

Plus, removing the links requires more processing time and is not in their best interest to do so. This leaves you with a great inbound link opportunity.

Using a plugin like RSS footer gives you the ability to add a link to your original post and a link to your home page with your chosen anchor text. Both of these tactics are extremely effective. Linking to the original post insures that your post will always outrank the content the black hatter has stolen.

Getting your content stolen

It is a good idea to provide a full version of your post in your RSS feed if you are using RSS footer. This makes your site easier to scrape. The more times your site is scraped and your content is stolen, the more backlinks you will acquire.

Make sure you can get to your feed by going to /feed/. If you can’t, add a 301 redirect to your site sending visitors and scrapers to your true feed location.

Promote your RSS feed to as many aggregators as possible. Every time you publish a new post, you want the content scrapers to grab your page and post it on their site.

Make sure to ping Google blog as this is one of the favorite places to find new content sources for many black hatters.  Ping everyone, everywhere.

Advanced Technique

Alright, this technique is slightly gray hat. You have been warned.

You need to create a script that monitors what is hot in the online universe. You can pull the Twitter hot feed or any other social media tracking stats.

You can bet that if something goes hot on Twitter or other social media outlets, black hatters are moving rapidly to capture whatever search traffic they can. What do the black hatters need? That’s right, your content.

So, we want to trick them into linking to your content over and over again. Here is what you do:

  1. Create a script that monitors what’s hot
  2. Create a pinging script to ping blog aggregators (I would leave Google out)
  3. Create a scraper to grab generic post titles from a blog aggregator
  4. Once you have those three scripts, you combine them into one script that looks at what is hot, creates random post titles, adds your post with internal links, and pings blog aggregators.

So, you ping the same post with the same links back to your main page over and over again with a different title. Make sure to include a canonical URL in the head section of your page in case Google finds the page.

Your site on Digital Cameras republishes the same content over and over again under a different title and slightly different URL. The black hatters are monitoring the same social media telling them what is hot. Their script detects from one of the blog aggregators that your site has a recent post on the subject based on the title.

They grab your content and post it on their site. While all the black hatters fight to rank for the topic, you sit back and collect as many links as you want.

You could literally gather thousands of links in a very short period of time. Remember, you don’t want to overdo this technique. But if you are stuck a few pages back, you may want to give it a try.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

How To Trick Black Hatters Into Building Links To Your Site


As guest posting has increased in popularity lately as a tactic for reputation building (as well as for link building… no sense denying it), I’ve seen the number of guest submissions to sustainablog increase dramatically over the past year or so. In almost every case, the writer has sent me original content… that is, content that hasn’t been published elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of these writers only equate “original” with “unpublished”… and that’s led to many situations in which I’ve had to either ask for (sometimes substantial) revisions, or just reject the post outright.

Perhaps my standards are higher than other blog owners and editors… but I doubt it. I understand the motivations behind many guest post submissions, and don’t have a problem with them… I guest post myself occasionally (obviously!). But, I still want content that engages, informs, and/or entertains my readers. And, yes, I want those SEO and social media benefits that come from good content.

So, in the spirit of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, I’d like to offer some of the qualities I look for in a guest post… those that make it original beyond unpublished.

A unique topic:

Sustainablog deals with environmental issues, so in our eight years of publication, we’ve covered green lifestyle choices like recycling, energy savings, organic and local food, and non-toxic homemaking practices… a lot! Furthermore, the basics of these subjects have been covered over and over again within our niche. So, if I read a proposed guest post title like “How to start recycling at home,” I’m immediately turned off. The body of the post had better offer some really unique approaches…

I don’t expect every guest author to be a sustainability expert, but I do expect them to have a sense of what we’ve already covered, and what’s been done to death in the green blogosphere. That doesn’t mean that the topics mentioned above are off-limits; it means that I want to see either something really innovative, or something so thorough that it could serve as the resource on the topic. When a recent guest author initially approached me about “reducing carbon emissions while driving,” for instance,  I was underwhelmed… but when she produced a very well-researched post that dealt with the climate impact of average car drivers, professional truck transport, and vehicle infrastructure, I was impressed how she went beyond the run-of-the-mill driving tips… and published the post.

A compelling format:

Usually, when I get a post covering basic topics, it almost inevitably comes in the “five tips” format. Nothing at all wrong with list posts: in fact, we all know they work well. But “five tips” has become shorthand for “clichй” among other bloggers and editors with whom I discuss these things. They also tend to simplify a subject, and, more often than not, regurgitate information that’s readily available at many other sites. Not where I want to go with my blog…

So, what do I like? First and foremost, stories… and I’m much more inclined to react favorably to a post that tells the story of, say, someone putting a home recycling system in place rather than the oft-published (even recycled) tips. I’m even more interested if that home recycling system includes some kind of innovative feature(s). I also like posts that give readers detailed, in-depth information… so a detailed overview of what you can recycle at home, how you would do it, and perhaps even what kinds of manufacturers make use of that recycled materials… with links to relevant, credible sources. I love unique do-it-yourself projects (as do our readers!). And, I even like curated posts… as long as they’re pointing to authoritative sources, and do so in a unique manner.

Occasionally, “five tips” works… especially if those tips are fresh, relevant, and accurate. If that’s the case, go with it… just make sure you’ve done your research ahead of time.

An individual voice:

While many of us use guest posting as a form of content marketing, that doesn’t mean we have to sound like marketers in our posts. The second-person “you” works great for sales copy; for a blog post, I want get a sense that there’s a person behind the words… so “I” often works better for establishing authority (or “he/she” if you’re taking the story-telling approach). That doesn’t mean “you” can never be used (I just did it); it means that I want to see a conversational voice rather than a sale-sy one.

Language designed for human readers… not algorithms:

I am still amazed when I receive posts stuffed to the gills with targeted keywords. This isn’t 2003: Google “gets” (and penalizes) keyword stuffing… plus, it makes for a really awkward reader experience. Write a blog post like an email (or, better yet, a letter) to a friend… not like a piece of code. Certainly use elements like sub-headers, bullet points, and numbered lists — they make for a better reading experience online — but construct them for people rather than the almighty algorithm.

Using guest posting as a tool for promotion and/or Google juice isn’t bad in and of itself… most editors know that the lion’s share of guest post proposals are part of marketing campaigns and/or SEO pushes. In my own case (which, again, I doubt is unique), I want to see that a guest author has a true “win-win” scenario in mind, and is willing to offer me content that is genuinely original… not just a collection of tossed-together tips or pointers that is original only in the sense that it’s not published elsewhere.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

The Original Guest Post: More than “Unpublished”


Recently my husband did something that scared the life out of me: he bought a major appliance from a minor e-retailer. After finding a great price on an item that he wanted, he dug into their online reputation and found that it was practically spotless, so he took a big chance and spent a lot of money at an unknown company. I’d not have been so brave. As I expected, being a Negative Nancy, there was a flaw in the item. However, said minor e-retailer sent a replacement with zero hassle.

Now, I never check a brand’s backlinks before I buy from them of course (being mostly sane) but I definitely check out their online reputation I’ll check their offline reputation out too if possible, but I do look into them. Are most of their reviews positive or negative? Do they have major customer service issues? Do their items tend to fall apart after one month? I want to know these things before I commit my dollars.

Big brand backlinks have been in the news a lot recently as these brands have come under suspicion about how exactly they got their rankings. We know that major brands have enjoyed a certain level of security online for the most part, one that has never been afforded to the little guys. Big brands can play fast and loose and eat up all the online space for keywords that you may want to rank for. Add some polluted local SERPs for certain industries and you have a mess to wade through. How on earth is a small guy supposed to compete?

Here’s how..by capitalizing not on your well-known name (um, because you might not have one yet), but on why you’re different from everyone else who does what you do. What can YOU bring to the table?

For starters you can make darn sure that you don’t make any customer service mistakes that can garner you negative reviews online, and you can make sure that in the event that you do get some negative press, you respond to it and you fix it asap. Nothing is worse than seeing unaddressed complaints online.

You also need to define why you’re different than the bigger guys. Having a few bright spots in how you do business is a definite, but you also need to be able to distinguish yourself in the online world, playing by the online world’s rules. As I’ve said many times before, hiding crappy links in a giant backlink profile is much easier than hiding them in a small profile. If you only have 50 backlinks, you’ll want to make sure that they’re really good ones.

Do:

  • Get listed in (relevant) niche and local business directories.
  • Set up every possible form of social media alert for your brand and URL. This way you can respond to anything that pops up online, positive and negative.
  • Respond to the first instance of negative experience. Don’t wait for someone to complain twice before you address it.
  • Use some form of web analytics in order to keep an eye on where your traffic is coming from.
  • Keep a very close eye on any links pointing to you. Many people are unaware of what’s lurking in their link profile. As much as I hate to say it, you need to be extra careful if you’re working with someone who isn’t telling you how he’s building links. I come across some really nasty links almost every week, and the clients have no clue.
  • Use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, but use them wisely, to build up and be a part of a community.
  • If you have a local business presence and it makes sense for you, put a lot of your effort into local marketing. Network with other business owners in your area both online and offline.
  • Keep producing good content that is easily shareable using social media buttons.
  • Reach out for links when you find a great site. The worst that will happen is that you’ll be turned down.

Don’t:

  • Comment or forum spam. You have no idea how many times people ask me to look at what they’re doing wrong with link building and their profile is nothing BUT comment and forum spam.
  • Reach out to spammy sites that are comprised of nothing but links. Yes, they’ll probably link to you, but no, you don’t want that link.
  • Sit back and rest. Your competitors, especially the bigger ones, certainly aren’t. Building good links is an ongoing effort.
  • Think that you can write great content and have us find it accidentally. You need to send us to it.
  • Use Twitter and Facebook to only post links to your new blog post, sale, product offering, etc.
  • Set up 10 different microsites that all crosslink and concentrate on a specific microtopic for each site. Yep, people are still doing that.
  • Crank out impersonal link requests. If these ever get read, they’ll most likely get trashed. And don’t assume the webmaster is male…that’s a personal pet peeve of mine.

Just remember: you can definitely compete online, but you don’t have the same room for mistakes that big brands do. However, if you’re conscientious about how you market your site, you can build a well-optimized web presence that doesn’t rely on what only works at the time.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Small Fish In A Big Brand Pond


It’s the 4th of July! And while we’re all enjoying our hot dogs and sparklers Will Smith is off somewhere punching an alien in the face…

Let’s be honest, most American Holidays have evolved into some sort of thematic commercial celebration. But at the root of it, this particular 3-Day Weekend isn’t just an excuse for potato salad, it a celebration of independence.

In SEO most of us are seeking liberation in one way or another. For some it may be breaking free from a constrictive CMS, for others it may be getting relief from a burdensome PPC budget. But for many, it’s about deliverance from the taxing task of building links.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first one to tell you that link building is perpetual. Actively thinking about and pursuing link opportunities is a constant process that should never stop. With that said, there’s more to SEO than just links. It’s a common assumption that links equal rankings, which equals profit. Yeah, it’s not quite that simple. It’s one thing to be passionate about link building, but when it comes at the expense of every other area of online marketing that’s not simply fascination, that’s a fixation.  But with so many other powerful strategies, the ultimate goal should be the ability to get links even when you’re not really trying.

Content

If you don’t think your content can get links on its own, then you’re doing it wrong. Granted, not all of your content is going to reach Linkbait status. Some of it is standard fare like the internet’s 7000th article on “How to Choose Car Insurance”. I get it. But your article should also be titled well, interlinked properly and genuinely worth a read. If it has those elements and ranks for the long-tail, it should be able to entice someone to link to it; without you prodding them like cattle. Now, the hitch is that no one will find your content if you don’t do any kind of promotion.

If all of your content is basically spider-food buried in a folder somewhere on your site, no wonder you are obsessed with chasing links. They certainly aren’t chasing you. Take some of the time you spend trying to find ways to get more links and devote it to creating better content. A great infographic perhaps, though I mean great, because that market is getting saturated. Anything can work, a really cool widget, a good quality, engaging video, an app, a WordPress template, all of these things are legitimately, linkable forms of content.  If your resources are limited, try focusing on creating one single showpiece. Ask most websites about their most popular piece of content. It may have taken a lot of time and resources to develop but when it’s done, you’ve got a cow that just keeps laying links. I may have my animals confused here, but you get the point.

Network

You may not think about it, but your network is actually one of your best resources for getting links. The problem is that growing a network doesn’t produce immediate ranking results. So a lot of times relationship building is put on the back-burner in favor of processes that have faster deliverables. But some link acquisition methods have link builders burning through contacts and opportunities like a cloud of locusts devouring a field. When the reality is that we’d be much better off acting like little Johnny Appleseed’s. That dude, he went around planting trees that grew and over time bore fruit. Instead of scorched earth, he left orchards in his wake.

As a link builder you have to consider what you’ll see when you look back. Is it a barren wasteland or a thriving field of contacts you can harvest? It’s the people who feel some sort of personal connection to you that are, in general, far more likely to read, share and link to your content. Those simple actions by your online allies can result in some direct links, but they can also help get you noticed by other blogs, websites and even news outlets. When it comes to getting links, having a small army of reliable warriors can be far more useful than casting thousands of requests into a sea of strangers.

Conversion Optimization

In link building you hear from people who all want more links. They want higher numbers, they want to target more phrases they want to rank higher for everything but… do they really NEED all that? Maybe… and maybe not. Yes, more links are good, better links are great and #1 rankings are the holy grail But none of them will mean anything if you’re so pre-occupied with getting more links that you miss what’s already going on.

Most sites that have been playing the SEO game at all are getting some kind of traffic. But you can have a million visitors a day and if they aren’t doing anything to make you money then you might as well own a ghost town. So the question is what do you really need? Is it really more links, or better rankings? Or maybe you just need to pay some more attention to how visitors are interacting with your site.

The truth is, you’ll always want to rank higher and links will always be a factor in that. But blindly pursuing down rankings without doing any usability testing or landing page optimization is like fishing with explosives. Yeah you’ll have a lot of dead fish at the end of the day but it’s not really gonna help you eat.  We tend to be a bit on the wasteful side as a culture. We waste food, water, energy and human resources like it’s our right. In SEO, we waste plenty of opportunities simply by obsessing over having more instead of making use of all that we have. For example on a landing page, are people missing the call to action? Are people finding what they are looking for quickly and easily or are they leaving unfulfilled? Sometimes it’s these little things that are leaving your money on the table.

If two sites both manage to convert about 10 people a day, does it matter that one gets 10,000 visitors and ranks #1 and the other gets 100 visitors and ranks #9? According to the bottom line it doesn’t. The difference is one site actually does need more links and the other just needs to figure out why users hate them.

Links are a major part of SEO but they aren’t everything. They aren’t a miracle cure, but they can be a crutch. If there’s a problem, simply throwing some links at it probably won’t resolve your issue. Achieving sovereignty in SEO might not involve shirking tea taxes, but we do have something in common with our founding fathers’. Like they did, we need to recognize the importance of a balance of power. No one single entity should dominate a nation without fair and equal representation of the people. And no one single SEO strategy should dominate a campaign without at least fair consideration of other supporting tactics.  So maybe when we honor the American overthrow of the British government we can also light a roman candle for link independence. Of course I’d still prefer to celebrate Bill Pullman’s last good movie.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Winning Your Link Independence


Paul May co-founded BuzzStream, a CRM for link building and PR/social media that allows online marketers to manage relationships and be more effective in getting results, be they links or press. He gave me the following two-part interview about the software creation and startup process.

If you’ve ever been solicited to SEO a startup with a unique new product, you know that the project is futile or almost. The search volume doesn’t exist because the market doesn’t yet know to search for the product! So I was pretty curious how BuzzStream answered that problem. As someone looking to create a startup, it was also insightful hearing about their hiring priorities.

You can find part 2 of the interview on my blog, where we discuss their usability testing and Twitter auto-integration.

What was the need you identified when you first started BuzzStream?

The original idea came out of a problem that my co-founder, Jeremy Bencken, had when he was building his last company.
He built a very successful apartment hunting site called ApartmentRatings.com and all of his traffic came via organic search (mostly through long-tail, geographic terms).  After selling the business in 2007 and thinking about what problems he faced that were both the most challenging and built the core value of the business, he honed in on content promotion.

His team knew that building rankings was a function of attracting links, and content promotion was by far the most effective way they’d found to do this.  But they needed a high volume of quality links to move the needle, and their outreach efforts had to be highly relevant and personalized.  So the challenge was scaling content promotion efforts without sacrificing personalized, relationship-based outreach.

After trying spreadsheets and various general CRMs, Jeremy realized a glaring need in the market for specialized tools, which led to the initial idea for BuzzStream.

From there, we spent four months talking to customers to validate the need for these tools, and we came to the conclusion that this problem was actually part of a bigger trend developing in the market.

We believed that SEOs were going to need to focus more on quality links, which required more relationship-building and personalized engagement, and PR pros and social media marketers were going to need to focus more on scale (because media was being replaced by social media).

We felt that there was going to result in an increasing amount of overlap in the work required of PR pros, SEOs and social media marketers and, this was going to require tools to help coordinate and control content promotion efforts among teams.  So we saw a longer term opportunity there.

How has the vision evolved since then?

The overall vision hasn’t changed, but I would say that the “overlapping roles” trend emerged slower than I expected, but it’s pretty clear that we’re starting to see this now. You’re hearing more people talk about things like content marketing, content promotion, social SEO and SEO PR, which is a sign of this.

The Panda update and the high profile manual penalties (e.g., JC Penney) are contributing to this as well.

What is the greatest challenge you have marketing a first-of-its-nature product?

When you first launch, you have strong beliefs about how people will want to use your product, but there’s no market history to rely on for proof points.  So, what tends to happen is that you put the product out there and you get feedback from ten different groups that each have different use cases.

For example, one group may be using the product to coordinate efforts among a team and they really want collaboration features, while another is using the product to keep track of their backlinks and they really want link discovery features.  Synthesizing this feedback can be very challenging and has implications for all parts of your business – it impacts messaging, feature prioritization, marketing programs, etc.

What were the first two positions you hired for with BuzzStream? Why those 2?

Our first two full-time hires were both developers.  We hired developers for a simple reason…we didn’t feel like the market or our product were far enough along yet, so we didn’t want to focus our spend on sales and marketing yet.  We knew we had a lot to build and we felt like nothing was going to impact the company more than product in the early stages.

In hindsight, would you start with those two again?

I think it’s served us well, but I do think we should have been more active in the community early on.  I’ve been focused on two things almost exclusively: 1) calls with customers/prospects (to understand customer requirements and for sales purposes), and 2) product management.

This has been a very good thing, but I don’t think we’re as prominent in the community as we should be.  I don’t think I’d change the decision if I had the benefit of hindsight, but I might change our development focus to things that required less of my time, so that I could be more focused on conferences, social media engagement, etc.

Liked this? Get more in part 2 on usability and social media integrations, or visit BuzzStream and find out more.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

SEO Software Startup Story: How BuzzStream Link & Social CRM Came Into Being


Need more tightly relevant links? Go local! Here are 5 tips for you to get inspired!

1. College Websites

Many college’s are looking local businesses to work with students in order to give them “real life experience”. When I was in school, I had the opportunity to work with several local businesses and do a variety of marketing projects for them. These companies were featured on the marketing department’s website and received links from the school.

Local links

Between college department websites and professor’s websites on the college’s domain, you should be able to get a few good links from working on projects with college students. It may be worth keeping in mind that most colleges give students the opportunity to create their own website on the school’s domain – You may want to look into doing something like have students beta test a new badge or widget as part of your project.

2. Sponsoring Events and Charities

I think just about all of the local businesses that I have worked with give back to their community in some way. Usually this is by sponsoring local events or charities.

Some examples of ways that these companies have given back to the community are supporting:

  • High school athletics
  • School fundraisers/auctions
  • Local activism groups
  • Non Profits

While they have supported these events or groups and were listed on the organization’s website, it wasn’t uncommon to find that the mention of the site didn’t link to the site.

PRO Tip:

Many sites will put up your image, make sure you get a link by sending over a snippet of HTML code instead of an image for them to upload. An added benefit is that you can give yourself good alt text.

3. Bartering

It seems like a lot of local businesses are willing to barter. If you are going to barter, do a little bit of research to see what kind of web presence the other person’s company has. If the person you are trading with has a site where they list partners or other local businesses, make getting a link from their site part of your trade.

Bartering

4. Local Directories and Organizations

While people might say directories are dead, local directories can still add value to a local business’ SEO efforts. Not only do these tend to help out quite a bit but usually there are a lot of different local directories for you to submit to. A good example of this is the Seattle restaurant directory at  Seattle Dining. To find local directories, try searching for your city name + the kind of business you operate + directory.

Additionally, there are a lot of local activity groups, that link to related businesses. A really good example of this are cycling groups – they tend to link to not only their supports but also local bike shops.

In some cases these resource pages were created before some of the businesses had websites so there are mentions of your business but they aren’t linked to while their competitors or other local businesses are.

Find more links by looking for other sites that mention your company but don’t link to you (such as reviews or blog entries) by searching for your company name in quotes.

5. Local Newspapers

You are going to have a much easier time getting links from local newspapers compared to getting a link from the New York Times. In fact, many local newspapers regularly link out to the companies mentioned in their articles.

Get press coverage in these local papers (and a link) by reaching out to a reporter that covers related events when you are doing something special like a demo day or have a community outreach event.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

5 Sources of Links for Local Businesses


Looking to reduces your bounce rate?

It’s hard getting new visitors to your site. Once they are there, you want to keep them for as long as possible. It’s not just important for your own internal web traffic but can help with your search engine rankings. Bounce rate – the rate in which people only read one page before leaving – is increasingly being used as a guide to quality for some search engines.

Displaying links to related post helps keep visitors on-site.

Getting your web visitors to stay on site should be a high priority for any online property. This is why related posts can be such a powerful tool. You will generally find them at the bottom of a page after the main content. They are in that position for a reason. Many studies have shown that after a web visitor has finished reading your post then they are in action mode – they want to do something.

If your post has been interesting then they want to read more, if you don’t provide quick and easy access to that information then they will hit the browser back button to go back to the search engine results and look for information elsewhere. Give them links to other posts (or products) related to the page and you’ll keep them on site for longer. Don’t hide your related posts away in sidebars or footers but bring them directly below the content of the page.

Give your visitors a selection of personally chosen related posts.

Time spent on selecting the best related posts will be time well spent. I am a great fan of WordPress as a content management system. It’s easy to use and is highly configurable and has literally thousands of plugins to make life easy. The worst thing you can do is to use one of the automatic related posts plugins. It might initially look the easiest and most convenient way of inserting related posts but there are drawbacks.

Automatic related posts plugins tend to operate by returning posts from the same category or with the same tag – but is this always the most interesting post to put before the reader? Just delivering a list of links based on a category post or a tag really is not the best way to interact with your readers.

You really need some way of manually selecting the posts. Human interaction is always the best way to get other people interested.  There are a number of keyword or search based related posts plugins available for WordPress. Some of the plugins operate entirely within the web site’s environment while others will do the searching and feeding through third party search functions and databases.

Keep your post search capabilities on your own server for stability and security.

Using a plugin that relies on a third party search and database facility obviously brings up it’s own dangers. If that third party web site went down then you loss your related posts functionality. Third parties also need to make money so if you grant them access to your web site with a feed of your own posts you open up the dangers of them being able to feed adverts . You really do need to keep your related posts search function within your own web environment no matter how enticing the third party offer may be.

For me the most effective WordPress related posts plugin has to be Microkid’s Related Posts. It offers an ajax powered search facility on your post editor page so you can run keyword searches and select the posts you think will be most interesting to your visitors. This plugin offers some other useful features to.

For best effect don’t just link back to related posts but link forward to.

There’s a reciprocal linking feature which will ink the two posts together. What’s so good about this is that your older posts will generally have page authority and page rank with search engines that can be fed into your newer posts. In turn your newer posts can bring an old post out of archives and back to the attention of search engines as still being relevant and topical. This reciprocal linking feature is very powerful. In it’s standard ‘out of the box’ form though you need to be careful you don’t overdue linking back to one post or those reciprocal links build up to a never ending list of related posts – too many related posts links can spoil the effectiveness of the technique.

Related posts help blur the lines between your ecommerce and your blog posts.

The other option I love about the Microkid Related Post plugin is it’s ability to support custom posts. I run sites using WordPress wp ecommerce and this Microkid’s plugin allows me to integrate my blog posts and my products closely -blurring that shopping and entertainment boundary. If someone reads one of my blog posts about wild birds where better than to place a link to my related bird feeders or binocular products page.

The plugin as it stands is not perfect. It doesn’t offer thumbnails and it does not control the number of links to a page in the reciprocal linking feature but it is a powerful foundation on which to build a mod or adapt for your own custom requirements.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Taking Control of Related Posts