The mysterious world of SEO
Inbound links and SEO
One thing I frequently get asked as a Marketing Consultant is “Can you get my business in the top 3 on Google?” Sounds like a simple enough question – yet the answer as to how it is achieved is far from straightforward.
Just over four years ago, I remember starting a new marketing management role and inheriting an incumbent, so-called ‘SEO Specialist’ that were supposedly looking after our company’s position in the search engine rankings. We crossed their palms with silver (in this case two hundred pounds worth every month) and they weaved their magic. Allegedly. But when questioned about what they were actually doing, I was frequently given nothing more than a very vague summary. They spoke in technical jargon and bragged about their expertise, but I never did get an answer on what they were actually charging us for.
As the months rolled on, I became more and more concerned. Our position on Google was continually slipping. All I received each month was a list of sites that had links to our site (a so-called link wheel) and how many click-throughs we’d had. On visiting these sites I could see they weren’t exactly high quality. Many were just very sparsely-populated directory sites and many were domains in countries in which we didn’t even operate.
I made the decision to discontinue using the company and we launched a new website shortly after, dropping the dreadful links. I later found out that the links were likely to have been classified by Google as toxic and, rather than helping our site up the rankings they were impeding us. We’d been hit the worst around May 2013; the same month that Google released the Penguin 2.0 update specifically targeting toxic backlinks.
Google and other search engines have come a long way when it comes to clamping down on the effectiveness of black hat SEO tactics. By continually refining their algorithms, sites with spammy links are now penalised in the rankings accordingly. Whilst links are still important, Google now has a pretty good idea of the quality of the sites that have linked to yours and so use this as a barometer for determining how relevant your site is.
Why are links to your website so important?
Whilst links aren’t the only factor to consider when it comes to SEO, they do play an important part in determining the trust, spam and authority of a particular site.
Since the dawn of the internet, many search engines have used links as a way of assessing the strength, relevance and popularity of a website. The more visitors a site gets, the more popular it becomes and the more its links are valued. If you can get other sites to link to your site then this will help you immeasurably. It isn’t just about the number of links, but the quality. The higher the quality of the sites that link to your site, the more trusted your site will become in the eyes of the search engine.
How do you get links?
This is the tricky part. Whilst you can sign up to free directories, to get on trusted sites you’re going to have to put in some extra effort. As a business you’ll gradually acquire links if you’ve exhibited at events, are a member of a networking organisation or work with other trusted partners who’ve included you on their website. You can also gain links from press releases and articles in which you’ve been featured or sponsorships you’ve undertaken. Over time these will naturally build-up adding more and more credence to your site, but if your site is new then you’ll really need to start with a link building strategy.
Types of link building strategies
Your link building strategy will depend on many different variables; including your industry, time, expertise and budget.
Here are just some ideas to get you started:
1) Natural Editorial links
If you have information to share that you know will be of value to readers in a particular industry then guest blogging may be the way to go. Many sites are happy to accept posts from guest bloggers as it reduces the time and budget that they would normally have to spend on generating the content themselves. Guest blogging not only helps you to get your name recognised as an expert, but also gets you that all-important link to your site.
2) Forums and advice sites
With expertise that you can share, why not sign up to forums that are dedicated to your particular demographic or sector? You can take part in some of the discussions and offer advice, giving you the opportunity to include a link to your site for further information or details on a specific product that will help solve the reader’s problem.
3) Social sharing
After writing an article, you can share it on one or more of the hundreds free content share sites (for example, Google+, Reddit or MyBlogGuest.com) with a link back to your site. To ensure you’re not duplicating content that’s already on your site, it may be worthwhile producing a shorter post that then links to your site for the full article.
4) Internal links
Writing a blog means that, over time you’ll find you’ve built a library of expertise from which you can link to other relevant articles or parts of your site. For example, if you sell baking equipment online and write a regular blog on recipes, you might want to mention the tools you have used and link back to their sales pages on your e-shop.
5) Return the favour and link out
Speak to colleagues, friends and other business owners you know to see if they’d be willing to share a link to your site. In return, you could also link back to theirs.
6) Specialist paid directories
Whilst there are many free directories out there, many specialist directories do charge and are far more selective in who they include. If you can find a directory that serves your industry then it may be worth paying the fee, not just to generate more relevant human traffic but to also capitalise on the ranked quality of that site because of its authority.
How do I know when I’m getting backlinks?
If you’re adding backlinks yourself, then you’ll know where the links are positioned, but there could be many different sites choosing to link to you without you knowing.
To see a full list of all the sites linking to you, go to Google Search Console and take a look in the search traffic menu. If you don’t currently have Google Analytics or Search Console set up here’s a quick and easy guide.
So, once you know who’s linking to your site, how can you see who’s linking to your competitors? Well, this is where a site called Ahrefs.com really comes in useful. Although it’s a paid tool it could be well worth the investment. The site will let you know exactly where your competitors are getting their links, so you can approach the same sites to get the right kind of backlinks that will improve your ranking.