If you work in the field of SEO, you probably understand that Google controls everything. We constantly bend to its will and try to outthink it at every turn. Just as space travel is unpredictable because we haven’t yet experienced much of it, SEO is also a largely new frontier and we seldom know what to expect from our environment. Our environment, of course, is Google. But what if Google didn’t exist? Where would we look for sites? How would we get links? Your brain is probably boiling over with great ideas right now, and that’s the point of this whole thing—if we eliminate Google from the equation entirely, those paths that we come up with are almost completely organic.
Google is extremely popular with both the general public and with SEO professionals, but it often locks us inside of a box. At some point we’re not exploring the web on our own, and instead we are relying on an algorithm and some web spiders to explore for us. We can break out of this box and choose our own destination in a natural, organic way. Considering the question “what if Google didn’t exist?” is a great way to answer the question “where can I get more links?”
Playing “what if?” is a fun, but sometimes dangerous, game. It’s easy to get stuck down in the mire of negativity and use “what if?” to fuel your own pessimistic fire. If you use it correctly, however, “what if?” can be a great catalyst for ideas and innovation. For example, think about the popular post apocalypse genre of fiction, where a shovel might become the protagonist’s best weapon, best tool and best friend. Similarly, in a world without Google, a message board buried somewhere inside of a mediocre site with low domain authority might become an excellent research tool. After all, if all of these people are willing to brave an underwhelming site just to talk to each other and share about a topic, that means they’re passionate about it. Passion leads to great info, great leads on new sites and useful links. Google does exist, of course, but thinking outside of that box produces some interesting results.
Just heading to bed and noticed that out of the blue, many exact match domains have slipped in search. I noticed a number of exact match domains names have slipped somewhere from 5-40 positions in search. It was really long over due that Google fixed this issue. Exact match had gotten so far out of hand that domain names like www.health-insurance-quotes.us were ranking well.
Glad to see Google has discovered a way to tweak this, although I am not a fan of some of the recent changes Google has made, they really did need to make some serious changes.
Google has been releasing changes to it’s algorithm rapid fire, I think they updated it about 3-4 times in the past 60 days. I think they may take a breather soon, and possibly even turn back some of their changes. I think they have moved with a VERY heavy hand on some of their link updates, and have really scared everyone online.
Everyone now is worried about “over optimization” I have had nearly every client of ours contacting us about this, so needless to say it is on everyone’s mind (including mine).
I noticed last night that Google’s visible page rank had disappeared for several tools I use. I looked around a little bit but could not find any tool that was working. I think the SEO community has been looking towards this for quite some time, as people have put far too much emphasis on Google’s visible page rank to the point where an entire economy (Text Link Industry) has been developed around a websites Page Rank and the associated value you can extract from selling links.
I think the guys from Majestic SEO and SEOMoz are both quite pleased to see this change, as they both have built into their link spider the ability to score the link value of a website based upon somewhat similar characteristics to that of Google’s Page rank.
I guess we will see how this all plays out over the coming days, weeks, months or years. I think the removal of visible page rank has been long over due.
If we are going to understand the latest nuance of online searching we need to know just which fundamentals we’re dealing with. If we are going to understand how to fine-tune and adjust our Web-based lives we need to know something about the tools we’re planning to use.
We’ll start from the announcement of “the release of the updated Bing Webmaster Tools,” as announced in July on www.bing.com.
According to the information provided at the time, “After the Bing launch, we reached out to the webmaster and SEO communities to see how we could improve the Webmaster Tools. Your feedback was very consistent: you wanted more transparency to see how Bing crawls and indexes your sites, more control over your content in the Bing Index, and more information to help you optimize your sites for Bing.” That’s the word from Anthony M. Garcia, Senior Product Manager for Bing Webmaster Tools.
New and Improved
The goal, according to the Webmaster Center, was to change everything, or, in the staff’s words “hit the reset button and rebuild the tools from the ground up.” The latest tool was announced by Garcia in the same forum on Dec. 14. He wrote that a new Inbound Links feature was released to provide “registered site owners the ability to easily & intuitively retrieve data about links to their sites. “
Bing apparently got a lot of feedback from SEO pros and Web-site owners about “the importance of this data to better understand how their sites are ranked in Bing.”
Users can now learn details about the number of inbound links over time, with details on URL and anchor text. In addition, users can export this link data so it can be studied offline.
Garcia wrote, “It is important to note that the count of inbound links will be based on content stored in the Bing index vs. a complete, comprehensive count of links between every page on the Internet.” This could be a crucial distinction for many site owners and other industry professionals.
New top-floor tools such as the just-announced Inbound Links item have to be supported by a strong and well-constructed foundation and lower floors. That was the goal when Bing “hit the reset button” a few months ago. Developers were aiming for a simpler experience that was also more intuitive.
The focus, according to Bing, was on “three key areas: crawl, index and traffic.” The new work included Index Explorer and Submit URLs, which basically provide more information about Bing’s crawls and indexes, but also gives the user improved control. Garcia wrote:
Index Explorer gives you unprecedented access to browse through the Bing index in order to verify which of your directories and pages have been included. Submit URLs gives you the ability to signal which URLs Bing should add to the index. Other new features include: Crawl Issues to view details on redirects, malware, and exclusions encountered while crawling sites; and Block URLs to prevent specific URLs from appearing in Bing search engine results pages.
In addition, the new tools take advantage of Microsoft Silverlight 4 to deliver rich charting functionality that will help you quickly analyze up to six months of crawling, indexing, and traffic data. That means more transparency and more control to help you make decisions, which optimize your sites for Bing.
At this point we should have a better-than-average idea of what the developers and managers intended with the new Bing Webmaster Tools. But if we don’t understand the overall changes made we might find that we’re a bit confused about the latest innovation. Let’s take a look back at some foundation material.
In previous incarnations, Bing was Live Search, Windows Live Search and MSN Search. This new “decision engine” came under the broader category of Web search engine and was introduced to the general public in San Diego in May 2009. It was online a few days later.
That first product included such changes as search suggestions listed as queries are entered. According to information from the company Bing also included a list of related searches based on Powerset semantic technology. (Microsoft bought Powerset in 2008.) Bing was also introduced as the muscle behind Yahoo! Search.
To get to the roots of Bing predecessors you have to go back an entire lifetime (in Internet terms) to 1998 and 1999. At that time, the company offered MSN Search and gradually added such improvements as self-constructed search-engine results that could be updated on a regular basis. Serious upgrades were moved out in 2004 and 2005, with results made available to other search portals.
In 2006, the world was introduced to Windows Live Search, the replacement for MSN Search. This new iteration used such tabs as Web, images, news, desktop etc. It was at this point that Microsoft no longer used Picsearch to provide images within the service. In-house developers created their own image-search mechanisms.
A year later the company effectively changed the playing field by moving the search products away from Windows Live services. The new product became Live Search, under the Platform and Systems division of the company. It’s important to also understand that Live Search was integrated with Microsoft adCenter at this time.
Some of the key elements in the transformation of Microsoft search tools (from Windows Live Search and MSN Search to Bing) include:
It’s also essential for industry watchers to understand the significance of the change from the “Live” moniker. This decision was made by a company that was concerned about brand image and brand awareness. Bing was born.
So, we’ve come from the last century and MSN/Live Search to Bing, in about 10 or 11 years. Where does that leave us? Well, in 2009 Microsoft and Yahoo! signed an agreement to replace Yahoo! search tools with Bing. The contract is intended to last 10 years.
Not only has Bing become the power behind another brand it has resurrected Microsoft’s share of the search market. Industry figures show that the big company’s market share was declining until Bing gave it the adrenaline rush needed. In October 2010 Bing was in the top five among search engines by volume.
Was the transition from Live to Bing painful for users? It would be necessary to survey a majority of those folks to get an accurate picture of what the change meant. Microsoft and the people behind Bing introduced the change as good news.
In July, Garcia wrote, “We have good news for all the veteran users of the Bing Webmaster Tools. Your existing Webmaster Center accounts have been automatically upgraded to the new tools. This means that starting today, you’re already a registered user of the new Bing Webmaster Tools. There’s no need to create a new account, change ownership verification codes, or re-enter site data. If you don’t have a current account, you can easily sign-up and register your sites to begin using the new tools.”
A few veterans have classified Bing Webmaster Tools as good, if not the best. There were some preliminary problems with Bing reporting targeted United States Web sites as being United Kingdom sites. The problem seemed to be with specific tags that have the letters “gb” in them. This was written about on SEORankings by founder Wesley LeFebvre, based in Seattle.
At the time, LeFebvre asked if some of these sites were suffering in the organic-ranking category because of the mistaken information. He also questioned the validity of Bing, Google and Yahoo! local rankings in light of this information. LeFebvre set a goal of finding out if other organic search engines use this tag.
In October, Steve Tullis wrote on the Webmaster Center blog “In keeping with our themes of rapid change and responding to input and feedback from the webmaster community, we are working on future feature planning for the Bing webmaster tools and we would like to hear your thoughts in a few areas.”
Tullis discussed Crawl-Delay and asked several specific questions about support and control in this area. He asked users and webmasters if they preferred to have crawl-delay supported in robots.txt, in addition to several other pointed questions.
The door to getting assistance with Bing Webmaster Tools is on the Bing Webmaster Center Help page. While that may seem obvious, it doesn’t hurt to make contact with the source somewhere in your search for information about new versions, upgrades and additions. Judging from initial reports from both the company and a few users, the new tools are workable and the Inbound Links addition is absolutely essential.
It’s a bit early to try any detailed comparisons on Bing Webmaster Tools and its Inbound Links structure. But rest assured there are plenty of people out there who will be providing useful reports.
The bottom line is, if a Web site has a good quantity of reliable, subject-related links it should be placed at or near the top of the popular search engines. Link building is both a science and an art. There are proven ways to make these connections work without wasting a lot of time and money getting onto every list available. This means you have to do what it takes to make your site and your links available to the correct group of people.
The network that can carry a Web site to the top is built with exposure to a specific group of people. Target audiences are the crucial factor for anyone considering directory submissions.
Assume you have a site that offers Product X and related services. A particular sector of the online population will go to search engines and use Product X or one of the related services as a keyword for their search. Your goal is to have a Web site and its link at the top of the search engine when this target group searches. This could mean significant traffic to your site and consequently, significant income for you.
Link building is not a quick way to make a dollar or two. It takes careful planning and serious effort. You should also make use of several of the quality directories in your chosen area, whether these are link directories, article directories or a combination of both. You should also know about the different kinds of links so you can make the most efficient use of your time and effort.
Here are some key categories:
This is only a short list!! There are many other types of links that you can use to build your presence. Use these ideas and learn more about: site-wide links; three-way link; links to and from media outlets such as radio stations, television stations and newspaper companies; edu and gov links; article submission links.
Not Just the Traffic, Silly!
No matter how you go about getting linked up with others who have similar interests, stimulating traffic is only part of the story. Remember, we mentioned conversations earlier. Success in the online world is about connections, of course, but after you make the connection you need to continue the conversation.
Of course, it’s tempting to just get started, try to make money quickly and move on to something else. A few people have been fortunate enough to do this. You may find that success has a short life span when you flood the Web with information and hope 1 percent or 2 percent come back to you. However, if you have a little more patience than the next guy, use some intelligence and focus on the right link or article directories you may find yourself building a more long-term business.
You may as well begin with the free directories when you begin the process of submitting your site link to a links directory. Many of these will establish good connections in sufficient numbers. It pays, however, to be selective when submitting to the many free directory sites. You could sign on with a link-submission service if you have funds to pay the fees. Be very selective with this method because some services might flood the Web with your link and you are looking for quality connections.
People interested in your particular service or product will be looking for your sign and a brief explanation of what you offer. Those who are searching for something entirely different probably won’t come into your “store.” Your choice of a few select link or article directories is like putting up the right sign on your “main street business.” In fact, it may be better if they don’t. You need to focus on the customers with real potential.
In order to understand the rise of paid content, it’s necessary to understand the meaning of the nofollow tag and how it is used (and some would say abused) by large sites like Twitter.
The nofollow tag is used to tell some search engines (*cough*Google*cough*) that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s search engine ranking. It was originally intended to reduce the effectiveness of search engine spam. Spam comments were the nofollow tag’s original targets: spam comments on blogs were used to get back links and try to squeeze a few drops of link juice from as many places as possible. By making comment links nofollow, the webmaster is in effect saying, “I am in no way vouching for the quality of the place this link goes. Don’t give them any of my link juice. Maybe it’s a good site, but I’m not taking chances.”
Nofollow links are not meant for preventing stuff from being indexed or for blocking access. The ways to do this are by using the robots.txt file for blocking access, and using on-page meta elements that specify on a page by page basis what a search engine crawler should (or should not) do with the content that’s on the crawled page.
Nofollow was born in 2005, and since that time, in the SEO arms race between the search engines and those who want to game them, websites started selectively using the nofollow tag to “sculpt” page rank for pages within their own site. In other words, a link going to an internal page that was ticking over nicely could be made into a nofollow link in an attempt to “conserve” PageRank juice to give to another internal page that was just starting out, or struggling, and needed some help.
Well, Google frowns on this, insisting that you’re better off in the long run to use links to your site’s pages but not to selectively use the nofollow tag in an attempt to juice up the pages you think need a boost. According to Matt Cutts, the only time you should use nofollow is when you cannot or don’t want to vouch for the content of a site. An example would be a link added by an outside user (say, in a comment thread) that you don’t trust. Cutts suggested that unknown users leaving links on your guestbook page should automatically have their links nofollowed.
Right, so what does this have to do with paid content?
Paid content companies take advantage of Google’s emphasis on domain authority, by buying up trusted sites like eHow (purchased by the seemingly insatiable Demand Media) and dumping lots and lots of esoteric content into it. Why do they do this? They get the domain authority, and the esoteric content helps ensure that when someone, somewhere searches for an article on, say, how to make a butterfly shaped cake, the content that they paid a content writer a couple of bucks for will show up at the top of the search engine results. In other words, they’re targeting the proverbial “long tail.”
How do these sites know what content to buy? They have algorithms that comb through keywords and keyword combinations and determine where there are gaps in information. Then the content buyers commission writers to write content specifically to fill those gaps. You may have heard the statistic that 20 to 25% of queries on Google have never been searched before. That’s a huge, huge number of queries. The more of those queries you can anticipate and answer, the more hits your site will get over the long term.
While link spam and comment spam were clear attempts at short term efforts for sites to claw their way to the top of the search engine rankings, and were relatively easy to squash using nofollow tags, paid content is more of a long term strategy, and it’s not clear what, if anything Google can do about it.
What seems to be happening is that sites like Twitter are kneeling down before their Google overlords (as one side of the story goes) and automatically making even the most harmless links (such as your own link to your own website on the “Bio” part of your Twitter profile) nofollow links. That has seriously ticked off a lot of long term Twitter users who legitimately poured in lots of very real, original content and can now no longer get any link love from that Bio link, even though it’s from them, to their very own site. When this happened, the metaphors about Google and Twitter ran rampant: “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” “shutting the barn door after the horse gets out,” “cutting off its nose to spite its face,” etc.
The strategy seems to be that if nofollow links are being used as they were intended (well, as Google intended anyway), sites that are all promotion and no content would have a harder way getting to the top of the search engine results pages. Google’s fear is that paid content will game the system when it comes to odd or unusual searches, and the person who really does devote his life to making the world’s best butterfly-shaped cakes will lose out to the paid content sites who had writers or videographers hack together a 5-step instructional page or video.
Whether it will work or not is yet to be seen. As for now, paid content sites are doing pretty well for themselves. And the search engines that cater to them, like Ask.com, which wraps a few “real” sites in with sponsored results, are doing pretty well too. From February 2010 to March 2010, Ask.com’s share of search engine traffic went from 2.84% to 3.44%, while the traffic for the other (and admittedly much larger) search engines stayed relatively flat. Have a look at the screen shot of Ask.com’s results for “How do I bake a butterfly shaped cake” to see for yourself the influence of paid content on this search engine.
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you might be scratching your head and saying, “What?”
We’ve come down hard on link exchanges for the purpose of building your Google PageRank or search engine standing, and there’s good reason for it. It started out as a way to cheat to get to the top. You give some links, and you get some back. It sounds harmless, and when done “organically” it’s not just harmless, it’s a great way to boost your position in the search engine rank pages (SERPs). Say you run a blog about motorcycle gear and you’ve been at it for awhile, so you’ve built up some history. You might find some of the site you wish would link to you (but that may never know you exist) and simply ask if they would link to your site. Quite often the answer is “yes.” Most legitimate websites have enough good will that they’ll give a promising newcomer a little help.
However, in between the link farms, which are created solely to increase back links regardless of relevancy or reputation, and doing it the old fashioned way by asking sites to link to you, there are some programs that walk a middle path. They may have a legitimate website where site owners can categorize their site and find other sites that are about the same (or nearly the same) topic. For example, such a site might have a category for cooking blogs and another category for political blogs, another for sites on antique book appraising, and a bunch more categories.
The idea is that each day you’ll go to your category or one that’s closely related, look at several sites, and click a button that gives that site some link love by placing a link to it. And every day a bunch of other sites in your niche will do the same thing and hopefully leave you some back links in exchange.
Is this “cheating”? Will search engines penalize you for this?
It’s hard to say.
In the screen shot you can see part of Google’s Webmaster guidelines that kind of / sort of address this. Clearly, exchanging links for the sake of links regardless of relevancy or quality is not good. Google will penalize your site for this.
On the other hand, it says that “link schemes” can damage your standing and include among “link schemes”
Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
The important word in that statement is “excessive.” How do you define “excessive”?
One way that link exchanges may seem excessive has less to do with their sheer numbers and more to do with their relevancy. If you run a site about organic gardening and exchange links with a couple of, ahem, “adult entertainment” blogs, you’re doing much more harm than good.
If, however, you participate in a link exchange with a relevant category and you find a few sites that you wouldn’t have found otherwise, that are good fits for your site as far as relevancy and quality, then there’s no real problem. If you had found those sites organically, you probably would have asked for links from them anyway. You just had a little help finding them.
Look at it this way: If Google gave no influence to back links, either good or bad, or if Google didn’t exist, would you link to those sites and ask for links to yours? Or alternatively, would you link to those sites even if you had no idea if they would link to you? If the answer is yes, then you’re probably OK.
If you run a site and you have, say three hours a day you devote to research and / or link building (I wish!) then you probably shouldn’t devote more than one of those hours to participating in a targeted link exchange. Spend the other two working on other off-page optimization like searching out new sites to evaluate and possibly ask for back links. That way you won’t risk an explosion in link numbers that would tip off the search engine gods and make them think you’re up to some illegitimate link-swapping.
When you find a relevant site that you really like, and you read it and are convinced it would be a good back link to have, asking directly for that back link means a lot more than the three or four links you might get on an “I’ll link to you if you link to me” site. For one thing, it’s great to get that vote of confidence when someone likes your site enough to ask for a link. The first time some cool site contacts you to ask for a back link is a milestone of sorts.
And another thing to consider is this: how many high quality sites do you know of that have link exchange “badges” – particularly above the fold – that indicate their participation in link exchange sites? Not many, I’d bet. While they’re not exactly signs of desperation, they show exactly what you’re up to, and indicate that maybe you can’t get back links any other way. Fair? Of course not. But that’s the reality you have to deal with.
Link farms and paid link exchanges really will harm your site, no question. Targeted link exchange programs where you give and ask for links based on relevancy and perceived quality can be OK, as long as you don’t depend “excessively” on these sites for links.
Online public relations campaigns can be used as very effective off-page SEO. Done well, they can increase targeted traffic to your site. A good PR effort for SEO should include keyword optimized press releases to increase the visibility of your brand in the marketplace and get you more leads and sales.
In the best of all worlds, you would use both “push” and “pull” marketing, where you push your message to the media your prospects tend to use most. The pull strategy “pulls” prospects to your site by making your site more visible in media where your prospects already visit. The end result can be more traffic, higher placement on SERPs, more organic, high quality, inbound links to your site, and press releases being picked up by top industry publications.
Link building also sometimes goes by the name of “offsite optimization.” It is very important to your SEO efforts, and it’s also one of the most time and labor intensive. You can’t wish other webmasters into linking to your site, and when they do, what anchor text are they using? How will you get inbound links to deep pages in your content?
OK, sure: great content is important. But who has time to wait around for the world to finally discover your great content? You need a great plan to go along with your great content. Consider link building as a vital business strategy for your website’s long term success. It has to be integrated into your standard business practice and regularly tended to. Here is a checklist to determine if you’re doing what you need to in order to continually build up your constellation of links.
1. The easy stuff. Submit your site to DMOZ and the other standard directories. Submit your content for syndication and submit the occasional press release when it’s newsworthy. Create RSS feeds and submit it to feed lists.
2. If you have a mailing list of happy customers, thank them and offer them a free benefit for helping spread the word on a new product page. Give them link text that they can use in their own home pages and blogs. The freebie can be a coupon for free shipping on their next order, a free e-book download, or something similar.
3. Make sure that every page on your site has a “link to this page” box. This will make it easy for people to create deep links with correct keywords.
4. Offer a free web tool or script that performs a service and links back to your site. Make sure you have at least one keyword in the link text.
5. Find out who links to your competitor. Using a backlink competitor tool (as in the screen shot) can help. There’s nothing wrong with contacting sites that link to your competitor and asking for a back link. Be polite about it, and you’ll be amazed how many sites will agree.
6. Stay away from link swapping and link buying. These practices will hurt your site’s PageRank and SERP standing. Link buying can get you banned from Google altogether.
7. Do you have the time to devote to link building strategies? If not, seriously consider outsourcing this work to a reputable SEO business that has a good track record of getting links. If you do have the time, build that time into your schedule, because it is very important to the long term health and growth of your site.
8. Keep a written record of the back links you pick up and what page they link to. This will benefit you in numerous ways. For one, it will help you judge which pages are most popular. It may point up deficiencies in pages that aren’t getting much link love, and it will let you know when your pace of back link building lags, indicating that you need to step up the effort.
9. While back links are SEO gold, internal link building is important too. Don’t neglect this aspect of your SEO strategy.
10. Make sure there are links to your site on all the social profiles you have for your business or website. Build a link into your email signature, and on forums and comment threads that allow it use a link to your site in some of your comments, but by no means all of them. If comments are monitored and it looks like the only purpose for your comment is trolling for back links (Comments like, “Great post! I hope you’ll stop by my site at http://www.myawesomewebsite.com”), then you might get booted off the site.
11. Offer to write a guest post on a blog you admire that’s relevant to your website. This is a great way to squeeze yourself some healthy link juice.
12. Don’t get links from sites that themselves link out to SEO related sites like link building software, link building clubs, paid link building, and SEO forums.
13. Don’t get links from sites that discuss Google PageRank in their ad sections. These have a whiff of desperation about them that Google can sniff out easily.
At the root of all this is knowing why you’re building links and what you want to get out of the process. If you do it right, you can get more traffic to your site, better SERP position, higher PageRank, and a healthier bottom line for your business. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the things a webmaster has to do to keep his or her site in top form and attracting all the traffic it deserves. There’s social media strategy that requires time and effort, on-page SEO to be tended to, link building, and all the while if it’s an e-commerce site, you have to actually run the business too!
Most webmasters have to map out the tasks specifically: “Twitter / Facebook updates every day by noon; 30 minutes on link building strategy every day after lunch; 30 minutes monitoring competing sites every morning first thing;” etc. So many of these things seem like things you can easily do on the side, but they’re important enough to require your full attention, and you could easily let them slip unless you write them into your work schedule. Good content, good strategies, and good discipline are what it takes, and no, there really aren’t any shortcuts.
Link building is still one of the most important factors in your search engine results page (SERP) rankings and in your Google PageRank and will be from the foreseeable future. Links are still the fundamental connectors on the web, and legitimate links are still a great way to judge importance of a site and just how trustworthy a site is. Google’s search algorithm has learned to devalue purchased or traded links and emphasizing trusted, genuine links. And when those links are further bolstered by the vintage of the domain, user data, and other factors that are hard to fake, that’s when SERP rankings rise.
Here are 15 great ways to build up the kind of links that will increase your PageRank and your SERP position.
And for good measure, here’s another link: 5 really bad ways to get links.
You can’t get away from link building when it comes to getting traffic, moving upward in the SERP listings and increasing your PageRank. But don’t try to take the easy way out. The work you put in getting links legitimately will be well worth it over the long term, while ill-gotten links will sabotage your efforts very quickly.