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The One-Hour Guide to SEO: Link Building – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

The final episode in our six-part One-Hour Guide to SEO series deals with a topic that’s a perennial favorite among SEOs: link building. Today, learn why links are important to both SEO and to Google, how Google likely measures the value of links, and a few key ways to begin earning your own.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. We are back with our final part in the One-Hour Guide to SEO, and this week talking about why links matter to search engines, how you can earn links, and things to consider when doing link building.

Why are links important to SEO?

So we’ve discussed sort of how search engines rank pages based on the value they provide to users. We’ve talked about how they consider keyword use and relevant topics and content on the page. But search engines also have this tool of being able to look at all of the links across the web and how they link to other pages, how they point between pages.



So it turns out that Google had this insight early on that what other people say about you is more important, at least to them, than what you say about yourself. So you may say, “I am the best resource on the web for learning about web marketing.” But it turns out Google is not going to believe you unless many other sources, that they also trust, say the same thing. Google’s big innovation, back in 1997 and 1998, when Sergey Brin and Larry Page came out with their search engine, Google, was PageRank, this idea that by looking at all the links that point to all the pages on the internet and then sort of doing this recursive process of seeing which are the most important and most linked to pages, they could give each page on the web a weight, an amount of PageRank.

Then those pages that had a lot of PageRank, because many people linked to them or many powerful people linked to them, would then pass more weight on when they linked. That understanding of the web is still in place today. It’s still a way that Google thinks about links. They’ve almost certainly moved on from the very simplistic PageRank formula that came out in the late ’90s, but that thinking underlies everything they’re doing.

How does Google measure the value of links?

Today, Google measures the value of links in many very sophisticated ways, which I’m not going to try and get into, and they’re not public about most of these anyway. But there is a lot of intelligence that we have about how they think about links, including things like more important, more authoritative, more well-linked-to pages are going to pass more weight when they link.

A.) More important, authoritative, well-linked-to pages pass more weight when they link

That’s true of both individual URLs, an individual page, and websites, a whole website. So for example, if a page on The New York Times links to yoursite.com, that is almost certainly going to be vastly more powerful and influential in moving your rankings or moving your ability to rank in the future than if randstinysite.info — which I haven’t yet registered, but I’ll get on that — links to yoursite.com.

This weighting, this understanding of there are powerful and important and authoritative websites, and then there are less powerful and important and authoritative websites, and it tends to be the case that more powerful ones tend to provide more ranking value is why so many SEOs and marketers use metrics like Moz’s domain authority or some of the metrics from Moz’s competitors out in the software space to try and intuit how powerful, how influential will this link be if this domain points to me.

B.) Diversity of domains, rate of link growth, and editorial nature of links ALL matter

So the different kinds of domains and the rate of link growth and the editorial nature of those links all matter. So, for example, if I get many new links from many new websites that have never linked to me before and they are editorially given, meaning I haven’t spammed to place them, I haven’t paid to place them, they were granted to me because of interesting things that I did or because those sites wanted to editorially endorse my work or my resources, and I do that over time in greater quantities and at a greater rate of acceleration than my competitors, I am likely to outrank them for the words and phrases related to those topics, assuming that all the other smart SEO things that we’ve talked about in this One-Hour Guide have also been done.

C.) HTML-readable links that don’t have rel=”nofollow” and contain relevant anchor text on indexable pages pass link benefit

HTML readable links, meaning as a simple text browser browses the web or a simple bot, like Googlebot, which can be much more complex as we talked about in the technical SEO thing, but not necessarily all the time, those HTML readable links that don’t have the rel=”nofollow” parameter, which is something that you can append to links to say I don’t editorially endorse this, and many, many websites do.

If you post a link to Twitter or to Facebook or to LinkedIn or to YouTube, they’re going to carry this rel=”nofollow,”saying I, YouTube, don’t editorially endorse this website that this random user has uploaded a video about. Okay. Well, it’s hard to get a link from YouTube. And it contains relevant anchor text on an indexable page, one that Google can actually browse and see, that is going to provide the maximum link benefit.

So a href=”https://yoursite.com” great tool for audience intelligence, that would be the ideal link for my new startup, for example, which is SparkToro, because we do audience intelligence and someone saying we’re a tool is perfect. This is a link that Google can read, and it provides this information about what we do.

It says great tool for audience intelligence. Awesome. That is powerful anchor text that will help us rank for those words and phrases. There are loads more. There are things like which pages linked to and which pages linked from. There are spam characteristics and trustworthiness of the sources. Alt attributes, when they’re used in image tags, serve as the anchor text for the link, if the image is a link.

There’s the relationship, the topical relationship of the linking page and linking site. There’s text surrounding the link, which I think some tools out there offer you information about. There’s location on the page. All of this stuff is used by Google and hundreds more factors to weight links. The important part for us, when we think about links, is generally speaking if you cover your bases here, it’s indexable, carries good anchor text, it’s from diverse domains, it’s at a good pace, it is editorially given in nature, and it’s from important, authoritative, and well linked to sites, you’re going to be golden 99% of the time.

Are links still important to Google?

Many folks I think ask wisely, “Are links still that important to Google? It seems like the search engine has grown in its understanding of the web and its capacities.” Well, there is some pretty solid evidence that links are still very powerful. I think the two most compelling to me are, one, the correlation of link metrics over time. 

So like Google, Moz itself produces an index of the web. It is billions and billions of pages. I think it’s actually trillions of pages, trillions of links across hundreds of billions of pages. Moz produces metrics like number of linking root domains to any given domain on the web or any given page on the web.

Moz has a metric called Domain Authority or DA, which sort of tries to best replicate or best correlate to Google’s own rankings. So metrics like these, over time, have been shockingly stable. If it were the case someday that Google demoted the value of links in their ranking systems, basically said links are not worth that much, you would expect to see a rapid drop.

But from 2007 to 2019, we’ve never really seen that. It’s fluctuated. Mostly it fluctuates based on the size of the link index. So for many years Ahrefs and Majestic were bigger link indices than Moz. They had better link data, and their metrics were better correlated.

Now Moz, since 2018, is much bigger and has higher correlation than they do. So the various tools are sort of warring with each other, trying to get better and better for their customers. You can see those correlations with Google pretty high, pretty standard, especially for a system that supposedly contains hundreds, if not thousands of elements.

When you see a correlation of 0.25 or 0.3 with one number, linking root domains or page authority or something like that, that’s pretty surprising. The second one is that many SEOs will observe this, and I think this is why so many SEO firms and companies pitch their clients this way, which is the number of new, high quality, editorially given linking root domains, linking domains, so The New York Times linked to me, and now The Washington Post linked to me and now wired.com linked to me, these high-quality, different domains, that correlates very nicely with ranking positions.

So if you are ranking number 12 for a keyword phrase and suddenly that page generates many new links from high-quality sources, you can expect to see rapid movement up toward page one, position one, two, or three, and this is very frequent.

How do I get links?

Obviously, this is not alone, but very common. So I think the next reasonable question to ask is, “Okay, Rand, you’ve convinced me. Links are important. How do I get some?” Glad you asked. There are an infinite number of ways to earn new links, and I will not be able to represent them here. But professional SEOs and professional web marketers often use tactics that fall under a few buckets, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list, but can give you some starting points.

1. Content & outreach

The first one is content and outreach. Essentially, the marketer finds a resource that they could produce, that is relevant to their business, what they provide for customers, data that they have, interesting insights that they have, and they produce that resource knowing that there are people and publications out there that are likely to want to link to it once it exists.

Then they let those people and publications know. This is essentially how press and PR work. This is how a lot of content building and link outreach work. You produce the content itself, the resource, whatever it is, the tool, the dataset, the report, and then you message the people and publications who are likely to want to cover it or link to it or talk about it. That process is tried-and-true. It has worked very well for many, many marketers. 

2. Link reclamation

Second is link reclamation. So this is essentially the process of saying, “Gosh, there are websites out there that used to link to me, that stopped linking.” The link broke. The link points to a 404, a page that no longer loads on my website.

The link was supposed to be a link, but they didn’t include the link. They said SparkToro, but they forgot to actually point to the SparkToro website. I should drop them a line. Maybe I’ll tweet at them, at the reporter who wrote about it and be like, “Hey, you forgot the link.” Those types of link reclamation processes can be very effective as well.

They’re often some of the easiest, lowest hanging fruit in the link building world. 

3. Directories, resource pages, groups, events, etc.

Directories, resource pages, groups, events, things that you can join and participate in, both online or online and offline, so long as they have a website, often link to your site. The process is simply joining or submitting or sponsoring or what have you.

Most of the time, for example, when I get invited to speak at an event, they will take my biography, a short, three-sentence blurb, that includes a link to my website and what I do, and they will put it on their site. So pitching to speak at events is a way to get included in these groups. I started Moz with my mom, Gillian Muessig, and Moz has forever been a woman-owned business, and so there are women-owned business directories.

I don’t think we actually did this, but we could easily go, “Hey, you should include Moz as a woman-owned business.We should be part of your directory here in Seattle.” Great, that’s a group we could absolutely join and get links from. 

4. Competitors’ links

So this is basically the practice you almost certainly will need to use tools to do this. There are some free ways to do it.

The simple, free way to do it is to say, “I have competitor 1 brand name and competitor 2 brand name.I’m going to search for the combination of those two in Google, and I’m going to look for places that have written about and linked to both of them and see if I can also replicate the tactics that got them coverage.” The slightly more sophisticated way is to go use a tool. Moz’s Link Explorer does this.

So do tools from people like Majestic and Ahrefs. I’m not sure if SEMrush does. But basically you can plug in, “Here’s me. Here’s my competitors. Tell me who links to them and does not link to me.” Moz’s tool calls this the Link Intersect function. But you don’t even need the link intersect function.

You just plug in a competitor’s domain and look at here are all the links that point to them, and then you start to replicate their tactics. There are hundreds more and many, many resources on Moz’s website and other great websites about SEO out there that talk about many of these tactics, and you can certainly invest in those. Or you could conceivably hire someone who knows what they’re doing to go do this for you. Links are still powerful. 

Okay. Thank you so much. I want to say a huge amount of appreciation to Moz and to Tyler, who’s behind the camera — he’s waving right now, you can’t see it, but he looks adorable waving — and to everyone who has helped make this possible, including Cyrus Shepard and Britney Muller and many others.

Hopefully, this one-hour segment on SEO can help you upgrade your skills dramatically. Hopefully, you’ll send it to some other folks who might need to upgrade their understanding and their skills around the practice. And I’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

In case you missed them:

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The Basics of Building an Intent-Based Keyword List

Posted by TheMozTeam

This post was originally published on the STAT blog.


In this article, we’re taking a deep dive into search intent.

It’s a topic we’ve covered before with some depth. This STAT whitepaper looked at how SERP features respond to intent, and a few bonus blog posts broke things down even further and examined how individual intent modifiers impact SERP features, the kind of content that Google serves at each stage of intent, and how you can set up your very own search intent projects. (And look out for Seer’s very own Scott Taft’s upcoming post this week on how to use STAT and Power BI to create your very own search intent dashboard.)

Search intent is the new demographics, so it only made sense to get up close and personal with it. Of course, in order to bag all those juicy search intent tidbits, we needed a great intent-based keyword list. Here’s how you can get your hands on one of those.

Gather your core keywords

First, before you can even think about intent, you need to have a solid foundation of core keywords in place. These are the products, features, and/or services that you’ll build your search intent funnel around.

But goodness knows that keyword list-building is more of an art than a science, and even the greatest writers (hi, Homer) needed to invoke the muses (hey, Calliope) for inspiration, so if staring at your website isn’t getting the creative juices flowing, you can look to a few different places for help.

Snag some good suggestions from keyword research tools

Lots of folks like to use the Google Keyword Planner to help them get started. Ubersuggest and Yoast’s Google Suggest Expander will also help add keywords to your arsenal. And Answer The Public gives you all of that, and beautifully visualized to boot.

Simply plunk in a keyword and watch the suggestions pour in. Just remember to be critical of these auto-generated lists, as odd choices sometimes slip into the mix. For example, apparently we should add [free phones] to our list of [rank tracking] keywords. Huh.

Spot inspiration on the SERPs

Two straight-from-the-SERP resources that we love for keyword research are the “People also ask” box and related searches. These queries are Google-vetted and plentiful, and also give you some insight into how the search engine giant links topics.

If you’re a STAT client, you can generate reports that will give you every question in a PAA box (before it gets infinite), as well as each of the eight related searches at the bottom of a SERP. Run the reports for a couple of days and you’ll get a quick sense of which questions and queries Google favours for your existing keyword set.

A quick note about language & location

When you’re in the UK, you push a pram, not a stroller; you don’t wear a sweater, you wear a jumper. This is all to say that if you’re in the business of global tracking, it’s important to keep different countries’ word choices in mind. Even if you’re not creating content with them, it’s good to see if you’re appearing for the terms your global searchers are using.

Add your intent modifiers

Now it’s time to tackle the intent bit of your keyword list. And this bit is going to require drawing some lines in the sand because the modifiers that occupy each intent category can be highly subjective — does “best” apply transactional intent instead of commercial?

We’ve put together a loose guideline below, but the bottom line is that intent should be structured and classified in a way that makes sense to your business. And if you’re stuck for modifiers to marry to your core keywords, here’s a list of 50+ to help with the coupling.

Informational intent

The searcher has identified a need and is looking for the best solution. These keywords are the core keywords from your earlier hard work, plus every question you think your searchers might have if they’re unfamiliar with your product or services.

Your informational queries might look something like:

  • [product name]
  • what is [product name]
  • how does [product name] work
  • how do I use [product name]

Commercial intent

At this stage, the searcher has zeroed in on a solution and is looking into all the different options available to them. They’re doing comparative research and are interested in specific requirements and features.

For our research, we used best, compare, deals, new, online, refurbished, reviews, shop, top, and used.

Your commercial queries might look something like:

  • best [product name]
  • [product name] reviews
  • compare [product name]
  • what is the top [product name]
  • [colour/style/size] [product name]

Transactional intent (including local and navigational intent)

Transactional queries are the most likely to convert and generally include terms that revolve around price, brand, and location, which is why navigational and local intent are nestled within this stage of the intent funnel.

For our research, we used affordable, buy, cheap, cost, coupon, free shipping, and price.

Your transactional queries might look something like:

  • how much does [product name] cost
  • [product name] in [location]
  • order [product name] online
  • [product name] near me
  • affordable [brand name] [product name]

A tip if you want to speed things up

A super quick way to add modifiers to your keywords and save your typing fingers is by using a keyword mixer like this one. Just don’t forget that using computer programs for human-speak means you’ll have to give them the ol’ once-over to make sure they still make sense.

Audit your list

Now that you’ve reached for the stars and got yourself a huge list of keywords, it’s time to bring things back down to reality and see which ones you’ll actually want to keep around.

No two audits are going to look the same, but here are a few considerations you’ll want to keep in mind when whittling your keywords down to the best of the bunch.

  1. Relevance. Are your keywords represented on your site? Do they point to optimized pages
  2. Search volume. Are you after highly searched terms or looking to build an audience? You can get the SV goods from the Google Keyword Planner.
  3. Opportunity. How many clicks and impressions are your keywords raking in? While not comprehensive (thanks, Not Provided), you can gather some of this info by digging into Google Search Console.
  4. Competition. What other websites are ranking for your keywords? Are you up against SERP monsters like Amazon? What about paid advertising like shopping boxes? How much SERP space are they taking up? Your friendly SERP analytics platform withshare of voice capabilities (hi!) can help you understand your search landscape.
  5. Difficulty. How easy is your keyword going to be to win? Search volume can give you a rough idea — the higher the search volume, the stiffer the competition is likely to be — but for a different approach, Moz’s Keyword Explorer has a Difficulty score that takes Page Authority, Domain Authority, and projected click-through-rate into account.

By now, you should have a pretty solid plan of attack to create an intent-based keyword list of your very own to love, nurture, and cherish.

If, before you jump headlong into it, you’re curious what a good chunk of this is going to looks like in practice, give this excellent article by Russ Jones a read, or drop us a line. We’re always keen to show folks why tracking keywords at scale is the best way to uncover intent-based insights.

Read on, readers!

More in our search intent series:

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Rewriting the Beginner’s Guide to SEO, Chapter 6: Link Building & Establishing Authority

Posted by BritneyMuller

In Chapter 6 of the new Beginner’s Guide to SEO, we’ll be covering the dos and don’ts of link building and ways your site can build its authority. If you missed them, we’ve got the drafts of our outline, Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, and Chapter Five for your reading pleasure. Be sure to let us know what you think of Chapter 6 in the comments!


Chapter 6: Link Building & Establishing Authority

Turn up the volume.

You’ve created content that people are searching for, that answers their questions, and that search engines can understand, but those qualities alone don’t mean it’ll rank. To outrank the rest of the sites with those qualities, you have to establish authority. That can be accomplished by earning links from authoritative websites, building your brand, and nurturing an audience who will help amplify your content.

Google has confirmed that links and quality content (which we covered back in Chapter 4) are two of the three most important ranking factors for SEO. Trustworthy sites tend to link to other trustworthy sites, and spammy sites tend to link to other spammy sites. But what is a link, exactly? How do you go about earning them from other websites? Let’s start with the basics.

What are links?

Inbound links, also known as backlinks or external links, are HTML hyperlinks that point from one website to another. They’re the currency of the Internet, as they act a lot like real-life reputation. If you went on vacation and asked three people (all completely unrelated to one another) what the best coffee shop in town was, and they all said, “Cuppa Joe on Main Street,” you would feel confident that Cuppa Joe is indeed the best coffee place in town. Links do that for search engines.

Since the late 1990s, search engines have treated links as votes for popularity and importance on the web.

Internal links, or links that connect internal pages of the same domain, work very similarly for your website. A high amount of internal links pointing to a particular page on your site will provide a signal to Google that the page is important, so long as it’s done naturally and not in a spammy way.

The engines themselves have refined the way they view links, now using algorithms to evaluate sites and pages based on the links they find. But what’s in those algorithms? How do the engines evaluate all those links? It all starts with the concept of E-A-T.

You are what you E-A-T

Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines put a great deal of importance on the concept of E-A-T — an acronym for expert, authoritative, and trustworthy. Sites that don’t display these characteristics tend to be seen as lower-quality in the eyes of the engines, while those that do are subsequently rewarded. E-A-T is becoming more and more important as search evolves and increases the importance of solving for user intent.

Creating a site that’s considered expert, authoritative, and trustworthy should be your guiding light as you practice SEO. Not only will it simply result in a better site, but it’s future-proof. After all, providing great value to searchers is what Google itself is trying to do.

E-A-T and links to your site

The more popular and important a site is, the more weight the links from that site carry. A site like Wikipedia, for example, has thousands of diverse sites linking to it. This indicates it provides lots of expertise, has cultivated authority, and is trusted among those other sites.

To earn trust and authority with search engines, you’ll need links from websites that display the qualities of E-A-T. These don’t have to be Wikipedia-level sites, but they should provide searchers with credible, trustworthy content.

  • Tip: Moz has proprietary metrics to help you determine how authoritative a site is: Domain Authority, Page Authority, and Spam Score. In general, you’ll want links from sites with a higher Domain Authority than your sites.

Followed vs. nofollowed links

Remember how links act as votes? The rel=nofollow attribute (pronounced as two words, “no follow”) allows you to link to a resource while removing your “vote” for search engine purposes.

Just like it sounds, “nofollow” tells search engines not to follow the link. Some engines still follow them simply to discover new pages, but these links don’t pass link equity (the “votes of popularity” we talked about above), so they can be useful in situations where a page is either linking to an untrustworthy source or was paid for or created by the owner of the destination page (making it an unnatural link).

Say, for example, you write a post about link building practices, and want to call out an example of poor, spammy link building. You could link to the offending site without signaling to Google that you trust it.

Standard links (ones that haven’t had nofollow added) look like this:

<a href="https://moz.com">I love Moz</a>

Nofollow link markup looks like this:

<a href="https://moz.com" rel="nofollow">I love Moz</a>

If follow links pass all the link equity, shouldn’t that mean you want only follow links?

Not necessarily. Think about all the legitimate places you can create links to your own website: a Facebook profile, a Yelp page, a Twitter account, etc. These are all natural places to add links to your website, but they shouldn’t count as votes for your website. (Setting up a Twitter profile with a link to your site isn’t a vote from Twitter that they like your site.)

It’s natural for your site to have a balance between nofollowed and followed backlinks in its link profile (more on link profiles below). A nofollow link might not pass authority, but it could send valuable traffic to your site and even lead to future followed links.

  • Tip: Use the MozBar extension for Google Chrome to highlight links on any page to find out whether they’re nofollow or follow without ever having to view the source code!

Your link profile

Your link profile is an overall assessment of all the inbound links your site has earned: the total number of links, their quality (or spamminess), their diversity (is one site linking to you hundreds of times, or are hundreds of sites linking to you once?), and more. The state of your link profile helps search engines understand how your site relates to other sites on the Internet. There are various SEO tools that allow you to analyze your link profile and begin to understand its overall makeup.

How can I see which inbound links point to my website?

Visit Moz Link Explorer and type in your site’s URL. You’ll be able to see how many and which websites are linking back to you.

What are the qualities of a healthy link profile?

When people began to learn about the power of links, they began manipulating them for their benefit. They’d find ways to gain artificial links just to increase their search engine rankings. While these dangerous tactics can sometimes work, they are against Google’s terms of service and can get a website deindexed (removal of web pages or entire domains from search results). You should always try to maintain a healthy link profile.

A healthy link profile is one that indicates to search engines that you’re earning your links and authority fairly. Just like you shouldn’t lie, cheat, or steal, you should strive to ensure your link profile is honest and earned via your hard work.

Links are earned or editorially placed

Editorial links are links added naturally by sites and pages that want to link to your website.

The foundation of acquiring earned links is almost always through creating high-quality content that people genuinely wish to reference. This is where creating 10X content (a way of describing extremely high-quality content) is essential! If you can provide the best and most interesting resource on the web, people will naturally link to it.

Naturally earned links require no specific action from you, other than the creation of worthy content and the ability to create awareness about it.

  • Tip: Earned mentions are often unlinked! When websites are referring to your brand or a specific piece of content you’ve published, they will often mention it without linking to it. To find these earned mentions, use Moz’s Fresh Web Explorer. You can then reach out to those publishers to see if they’ll update those mentions with links.

Links are relevant and from topically similar websites

Links from websites within a topic-specific community are generally better than links from websites that aren’t relevant to your site. If your website sells dog houses, a link from the Society of Dog Breeders matters much more than one from the Roller Skating Association. Additionally, links from topically irrelevant sources can send confusing signals to search engines regarding what your page is about.

  • Tip: Linking domains don’t have to match the topic of your page exactly, but they should be related. Avoid pursuing backlinks from sources that are completely off-topic; there are far better uses of your time.

Anchor text is descriptive and relevant, without being spammy

Anchor text helps tell Google what the topic of your page is about. If dozens of links point to a page with a variation of a word or phrase, the page has a higher likelihood of ranking well for those types of phrases. However, proceed with caution! Too many backlinks with the same anchor text could indicate to the search engines that you’re trying to manipulate your site’s ranking in search results.

Consider this. You ask ten separate friends at separate times how their day was going, and they each responded with the same phrase:

“Great! I started my day by walking my dog, Peanut, and then had a picante beef Top Ramen for lunch.”

That’s strange, and you’d be quite suspicious of your friends. The same goes for Google. Describing the content of the target page with the anchor text helps them understand what the page is about, but the same description over and over from multiple sources starts to look suspicious. Aim for relevance; avoid spam.

  • Tip: Use the “Anchor Text” report in Moz’s Link Explorer to see what anchor text other websites are using to link to your content.

Links send qualified traffic to your site

Link building should never be solely about search engine rankings. Esteemed SEO and link building thought leader Eric Ward used to say that you should build your links as though Google might disappear tomorrow. In essence, you should focus on acquiring links that will bring qualified traffic to your website — another reason why it’s important to acquire links from relevant websites whose audience would find value in your site, as well.

  • Tip: Use the “Referral Traffic” report in Google Analytics to evaluate websites that are currently sending you traffic. How can you continue to build relationships with similar types of websites?

Link building don’ts & things to avoid

Spammy link profiles are just that: full of links built in unnatural, sneaky, or otherwise low-quality ways. Practices like buying links or engaging in a link exchange might seem like the easy way out, but doing so is dangerous and could put all of your hard work at risk. Google penalizes sites with spammy link profiles, so don’t give in to temptation.

A guiding principle for your link building efforts is to never try to manipulate a site’s ranking in search results. But isn’t that the entire goal of SEO? To increase a site’s ranking in search results? And herein lies the confusion. Google wants you to earn links, not build them, but the line between the two is often blurry. To avoid penalties for unnatural links (known as “link spam”), Google has made clear what should be avoided.

Purchased links

Google and Bing both seek to discount the influence of paid links in their organic search results. While a search engine can’t know which links were earned vs. paid for from viewing the link itself, there are clues it uses to detect patterns that indicate foul play. Websites caught buying or selling followed links risk severe penalties that will severely drop their rankings. (By the way, exchanging goods or services for a link is also a form of payment and qualifies as buying links.)

Link exchanges / reciprocal linking

If you’ve ever received a “you link to me and I’ll link you you” email from someone you have no affiliation with, you’ve been targeted for a link exchange. Google’s quality guidelines caution against “excessive” link exchange and similar partner programs conducted exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, so there is some indication that this type of exchange on a smaller scale might not trigger any link spam alarms.

It is acceptable, and even valuable, to link to people you work with, partner with, or have some other affiliation with and have them link back to you.

It’s the exchange of links at mass scale with unaffiliated sites that can warrant penalties.

Low-quality directory links

These used to be a popular source of manipulation. A large number of pay-for-placement web directories exist to serve this market and pass themselves off as legitimate, with varying degrees of success. These types of sites tend to look very similar, with large lists of websites and their descriptions (typically, the site’s critical keyword is used as the anchor text to link back to the submittor’s site).

There are many more manipulative link building tactics that search engines have identified. In most cases, they have found algorithmic methods for reducing their impact. As new spam systems emerge, engineers will continue to fight them with targeted algorithms, human reviews, and the collection of spam reports from webmasters and SEOs. By and large, it isn’t worth finding ways around them.

If your site does get a manual penalty, there are steps you can take to get it lifted.

How to build high-quality backlinks

Link building comes in many shapes and sizes, but one thing is always true: link campaigns should always match your unique goals. With that said, there are some popular methods that tend to work well for most campaigns. This is not an exhaustive list, so visit Moz’s blog posts on link building for more detail on this topic.

Find customer and partner links

If you have partners you work with regularly, or loyal customers that love your brand, there are ways to earn links from them with relative ease. You might send out partnership badges (graphic icons that signify mutual respect), or offer to write up testimonials of their products. Both of those offer things they can display on their website along with links back to you.

Publish a blog

This content and link building strategy is so popular and valuable that it’s one of the few recommended personally by the engineers at Google. Blogs have the unique ability to contribute fresh material on a consistent basis, generate conversations across the web, and earn listings and links from other blogs.

Careful, though — you should avoid low-quality guest posting just for the sake of link building. Google has advised against this and your energy is better spent elsewhere.

Create unique resources

Creating unique, high quality resources is no easy task, but it’s well worth the effort. High quality content that is promoted in the right ways can be widely shared. It can help to create pieces that have the following traits:

Creating a resource like this is a great way to attract a lot of links with one page. You could also create a highly-specific resource — without as broad of an appeal — that targeted a handful of websites. You might see a higher rate of success, but that approach isn’t as scalable.

Users who see this kind of unique content often want to share it with friends, and bloggers/tech-savvy webmasters who see it will often do so through links. These high quality, editorially earned votes are invaluable to building trust, authority, and rankings potential.

Build resource pages

Resource pages are a great way to build links. However, to find them you’ll want to know some Advanced Google operators to make discovering them a bit easier.

For example, if you were doing link building for a company that made pots and pans, you could search for: cooking intitle:”resources” and see which pages might be good link targets.

This can also give you great ideas for content creation — just think about which types of resources you could create that these pages would all like to reference/link to.

Get involved in your local community

For a local business (one that meets its customers in person), community outreach can result in some of the most valuable and influential links.

  • Engage in sponsorships and scholarships.
  • Host or participate in community events, seminars, workshops, and organizations.
  • Donate to worthy local causes and join local business associations.
  • Post jobs and offer internships.
  • Promote loyalty programs.
  • Run a local competition.
  • Develop real-world relationships with related local businesses to discover how you can team up to improve the health of your local economy.

All of these smart and authentic strategies provide good local link opportunities.

Refurbish top content

You likely already know which of your site’s content earns the most traffic, converts the most customers, or retains visitors for the longest amount of time.

Take that content and refurbish it for other platforms (Slideshare, YouTube, Instagram, Quora, etc.) to expand your acquisition funnel beyond Google.

You can also dust off, update, and simply republish older content on the same platform. If you discover that a few trusted industry websites all linked to a popular resource that’s gone stale, update it and let those industry websites know — you may just earn a good link.

You can also do this with images. Reach out to websites that are using your images and not citing/linking back to you and ask if they’d mind including a link.

Be newsworthy

Earning the attention of the press, bloggers, and news media is an effective, time-honored way to earn links. Sometimes this is as simple as giving something away for free, releasing a great new product, or stating something controversial. Since so much of SEO is about creating a digital representation of your brand in the real world, to succeed in SEO, you have to be a great brand.

Be personal and genuine

The most common mistake new SEOs make when trying to build links is not taking the time to craft a custom, personal, and valuable initial outreach email. You know as well as anyone how annoying spammy emails can be, so make sure yours doesn’t make people roll their eyes.

Your goal for an initial outreach email is simply to get a response. These tips can help:

  • Make it personal by mentioning something the person is working on, where they went to school, their dog, etc.
  • Provide value. Let them know about a broken link on their website or a page that isn’t working on mobile.
  • Keep it short.
  • Ask one simple question (typically not for a link; you’ll likely want to build a rapport first).

Pro Tip:

Earning links can be very resource-intensive, so you’ll likely want to measure your success to prove the value of those efforts.

Metrics for link building should match up with the site’s overall KPIs. These might be sales, email subscriptions, page views, etc. You should also evaluate Domain and/or Page Authority scores, the ranking of desired keywords, and the amount of traffic to your content — but we’ll talk more about measuring the success of your SEO campaigns in Chapter 7.

Beyond links: How awareness, amplification, and sentiment impact authority

A lot of the methods you’d use to build links will also indirectly build your brand. In fact, you can view link building as a great way to increase awareness of your brand, the topics on which you’re an authority, and the products or services you offer.

Once your target audience knows about you and you have valuable content to share, let your audience know about it! Sharing your content on social platforms will not only make your audience aware of your content, but it can also encourage them to amplify that awareness to their own networks, thereby extending your own reach.

Are social shares the same as links? No. But shares to the right people can result in links. Social shares can also promote an increase in traffic and new visitors to your website, which can grow brand awareness, and with a growth in brand awareness can come a growth in trust and links. The connection between social signals and rankings seems indirect, but even indirect correlations can be helpful for informing strategy.

Trustworthiness goes a long way

For search engines, trust is largely determined by the quality and quantity of the links your domain has earned, but that’s not to say that there aren’t other factors at play that can influence your site’s authority. Think about all the different ways you come to trust a brand:

  • Awareness (you know they exist)
  • Helpfulness (they provide answers to your questions)
  • Integrity (they do what they say they will)
  • Quality (their product or service provides value; possibly more than others you’ve tried)
  • Continued value (they continue to provide value even after you’ve gotten what you needed)
  • Voice (they communicate in unique, memorable ways)
  • Sentiment (others have good things to say about their experience with the brand)

That last point is what we’re going to focus on here. Reviews of your brand, its products, or its services can make or break a business.

In your effort to establish authority from reviews, follow these review rules of thumb:

  • Never pay any individual or agency to create a fake positive review for your business or a fake negative review of a competitor.
  • Don’t review your own business or the businesses of your competitors. Don’t have your staff do so either.
  • Never offer incentives of any kind in exchange for reviews.
  • All reviews must be left directly by customers in their own accounts; never post reviews on behalf of a customer or employ an agency to do so.
  • Don’t set up a review station/kiosk in your place of business; many reviews stemming from the same IP can be viewed as spam.
  • Read the guidelines of each review platform where you’re hoping to earn reviews.

Be aware that review spam is a problem that’s taken on global proportions, and that violation of governmental truth-in-advertising guidelines has led to legal prosecution and heavy fines. It’s just too dangerous to be worth it. Playing by the rules and offering exceptional customer experiences is the winning combination for building both trust and authority over time.

Authority is built when brands are doing great things in the real-world, making customers happy, creating and sharing great content, and earning links from reputable sources.

In the next and final section, you’ll learn how to measure the success of all your efforts, as well as tactics for iterating and improving upon them. Onward!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


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Glossier CEO: We’re Building this People-Powered Ecosystem

Glossier is both a beauty company and a tech company that is succeeding by staying incredibly connected to their customers. Glossier founder and CEO Emily Weiss says that they are building a people-powered ecosystem where they are co-creating with their customers.

Not only do they ask for feedback from their customers, but they communicate with them on a Slack channel directly. This level of communication with consumers makes Glossier unique and is what powers their product creation and innovation.

Emily Weiss, Glossier founder and CEO, recently discussed the people-powered ecosystem that makes Glossier a unique kind of company with Kara Swisher for her Recode Decode podcast:

We’re Building this People-Powered Ecosystem

Glossier is a pretty unique kind of beauty company that’s also a tech company. So it’s hard for me sometimes to answer that question, are you beauty or are you tech? I think we’re both. Right now at a glance were about 200 full-time employees across three offices in New York, Canada, and London. We’re about 70 percent female. Our board is 60 percent female. Our engineering team is 50 percent female. It looks a little different than most tech companies. We just crossed last year well over a $ 100 million in revenue. We’re very excited about that.

The way we look at it is that we’re building this people-powered ecosystem. Since we launched four and a half years ago, we have co-created with our consumers. The reason we’re able to do that is because we know who they are. We have a direct relationship with every single person who buys something from us, unlike you all of the incumbent companies that have been built through retail channels. We’ve never existed through retail channels. We have no plans to exist through retail channels.

Using Technology to Do Things Differently

The reason being we think that through using technology we can do three things very differently than what all beauty companies have done in the past. One is channel. The second is discovery. The third is listening at scale. Fundamentally, we just think about how do to give people amazing experiences.

In that way perhaps we’re similar to Amazon in that they’re extremely devoted to the customer. We’re very devoted to the customer from the standpoint that we don’t want to put things that aren’t amazing into the world.

Since we launched we’ve always relied a lot on user-generated content and feedback. We really started out of a blog that began in 2010 that was all around this premise that people are going to drive purchasing decisions in the future. Not algorithms. Not upselling or cross-selling. If anything, upselling and cross-selling people’s opinions, helping to evangelize people’s voice such that people can decide what they want.

At Glossier, we’ve really taken user feedback and asked them for things like what products to make, and where to go in terms of pop-ups or countries. We have fundamentally been able to really change the relationship between brands and customers.

Make Incredible Things That Stand the Test of Time

Traditionally, the way that I grew up with beauty products and brands was always sort of from brands speaking top down to customers. They are saying you’re not good enough, saying you don’t know what you want, let us tell you what you want. Really dictatorial. In a way, not giving people enough credit to be able to say, hey, actually I use this deodorant every day. So I am an expert at this deodorant. Seriously, we are all experts on the things that we consume and the things that we use.

What we’re trying to do is provide the tools, whether it is the physical products that we’ve created over the last four years or the digital conduits that we’re creating now. In the future we hope to help people use their voice and say, hey, how can I help someone else talk about what they’ve learned about beauty and their products and hopefully inspire others.

We’ve just typically had a pretty simple premise which is making incredible things that can really stand the test of time. That has equaled so far building these very modern essential products that we hope become icons in the same way an iPhone or an Air Jordan became essential products. Hopefully in thirty years time Boy Brow will connect a fifteen year old in the Middle East to a billionaire in Silicon Valley and we’ll be cross generational and cross socio-economic.

We get very excited about creating quality things that make people want to talk about them. Just period full stop. Over 70 percent of our growth so far has been through owned, earned, peer-to-peer, or organic because people just fundamentally want to share that they enjoyed their Boy Brow.

For Us It Has Been Quite Analog

This is something that people are really curious about. I think especially in this age of machine learning for us so far a lot of it has been quite like analog. It’s just been posting on the platforms that we have or in our Slack channel, where we have a lot like several hundred top customers, and saying what’s your dream face wash?

Sometimes, that’s the way in which we will make product decisions. But typically, it’s really an art and a science. It really depends on the project and how involved we’re going to get versus just sort of say in the office what are we excited about?

Our Innovation Comes From Staying Connected

We stay very connected. Every every team at the company, we’re about a third TAC across engineering, digital product, data, and design. Then we have an in-house creative team and we have in-house R&D. I think we’re all very connected to the to the customer. We have all of our Net Promoter Score feedback and comments from every single customer who answers it.

We are constantly taking into a Slack channel that everyone from me to my assistant to an intern can read every day just to stay connected to the customer. Sometimes it’s a single comment or sometimes it’s a macro trend that we that we hear about the translates into innovation.

The post Glossier CEO: We’re Building this People-Powered Ecosystem appeared first on WebProNews.

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The Guide to Building Linked Unstructured Citations for Local SEO

Posted by MiriamEllis

This article was written jointly in partnership with Kameron Jenkins. You can enjoy her previous articles here.


When you’ve accomplished step one in your local search marketing, how do you take step two?

You already know that any local business you market has to have the table stakes of accurate structured citations on major platforms like Facebook, Yelp, Infogroup, Acxiom, and YP.

But what can local SEO practitioners do once they’ve got these formal listings created and a system in place for managing them? Our customers often come to us once they’ve gotten well underway with Moz Local and ask, “What’s next? What can I do to move the needle?” This blog post will give you the actionable strategy and a complete step-by-step tutorial to answer this important question.

A quick refresher on citations

Listings on formal directories are called “structured citations.” When other types of platforms (like online news, blogs, best-of lists, etc.) reference a local business’ complete or partial contact information, that’s called an “unstructured citation.” And the best unstructured citations of all include links, of course!

For example, the San Francisco branch of a natural foods grocery store gets a linked unstructured citation from a major medical center in their city via a blog post about stocking a pantry with the right ingredients for healthier eating. Google and consumers encounter this reference and understand that trust and authority are being conveyed and earned.

The more often websites that are relevant to your location or industry link to you within their own content, the better your chances of ranking well in Google’s organic and local search engine results.

Why linked unstructured citations are growing in importance right now

Link building is as old as organic SEO. Structured citation building is as old as local SEO. Both practices have long sought to influence Google rankings. But a close read of the local search marketing community these days points up an increasing emphasis on the value of unstructured citations. In fact, local links were one of the top three takeaways from the 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors survey. Why is this?

  1. Google has become the dominant force in local consumer experiences, keeping as many actions as possible within their own interface instead of sending searchers to company websites. Because links influence rank within that interface, most local businesses enterprises will need to move beyond traditional structured citations to impress Google with mentions on a diverse variety of relevant websites. While structured citations are rightly referred to as “table stakes” for all local businesses, it’s the unstructured ones that can be competitive difference-makers in tough markets.
  2. Meanwhile, Google is increasingly monetizing local search results. A prime example of this is their Local Service Ads (LSA) program which acts as lead gen between Google and service area businesses like plumbing and housekeeping companies. Savvy local brands (including brick-and-mortar models) will see the way the wind is blowing with this and work to form non-Google-dependent sources of traffic and lead generation. A good linked unstructured citation on a highly relevant publication can drive business without having to pay Google a dime.

Your goal with linked unstructured citations is to build your community footprint and your authority simultaneously. All you need is the right tools for the research phase!

Fishing for opportunities with Link Intersect

For the sake of this tutorial, let’s choose at random a small B&B in Albuquerque — Bottger.com — as our hypothetical client. Let’s say that the innkeeper wants to know how the big Tribal resort casinos are earning publicity and links, in the hopes of finding opportunities for a smaller hospitality business, too. *Note that these aren’t absolutely direct competitors, but they share a city and an overall industry.

We’re going to use Moz’s Link Intersect tool to do this research for Bottger Mansion. This tool could help Bottger uncover all kinds of links and unstructured linked citation opportunities, depending on how it’s used. For example, the tool could surface:

  • Links that direct or near-direct competitors have, but that Bottger doesn’t
  • Locally relevant links from domains/pages about Bottger’s locale
  • Industry-relevant links from domains/pages about the hospitality industry

Step 1: Find the “big fish”

A client may already know who the “big fish” in their community are, or you can cast a net by identifying popular local events and seeing which businesses sponsor them. Sponsorships can be pricey, depending on the event, so if a local company sponsors a big event, it’s an indication that they’re a larger enterprise with the budget to pursue a wide array of creative PR ideas. Larger enterprises can serve as models for small business emulation, at scale.

In our case study, we know that Bottger is located in Albuquerque, so we decided to locate sponsors of the famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Right away, we spotted two lavish Albuquerque resort-casinos — Isleta and Sandia. These are the “big fish” we want our smaller client to look to for inspiration.

Step 2: Input domains in Link Intersect

We’re going to compare Bottger’s domain to Isleta and Sandia’s domains. In Moz Pro, navigate to “Link Explorer” and then select “Link Intersect” from the left navigation. Input your domain in the top and the domains you want to mine link ideas from in the fields beneath, as depicted below.

Open Link Explorer in a new tab

Next to Bottger’s domain, we’ve selected “root domain” as that will show us all competitor links who haven’t linked to us at all. We’re also going to select “root domain” on the resort domains, so we can see all of their backlinks, rather than just links to particular pages on their sites.

Moz’s Link Intersect tool will let you compare your site with up to 5 competitors. It’s totally up to you how many sites you want to evaluate at once. If you’re just getting started with link building, you may want to start with just one domain, as this should yield plenty of link opportunities to start with. If you’ve already been doing some link building, you have more time to dedicate to link building, or you’d just generally rather have more options to work with, go ahead and put in multiple domains to compare.

Step 3: Find link opportunities

Once you’ve input your domain and your competitor(s) domains, click “Find Opportunities.” That will yield a list of sites that link to your competitors, but do not link to you.

In this example, we’re comparing our client’s domain against two other domains: A (Isleta) and B (Sandia). In the “Sites that intersect” column, you will see whether Site A has the link, Site B has it, or if they both have it.

Step 4: The link selection process

Now that we have a list of link ideas from Isleta and Sandia’s backlink profiles, it’s time to decide which ones might yield good opportunities for our B&B. That’s right — just because something is in a competitor’s link profile doesn’t necessarily mean you want it!

View the referring pages

The first step is to drill down and get more detail about links the big resorts have. Select the arrow to expand this section and view the exact page the link is coming from.

In this example, both Sandia and Isleta have links from the root domain marriott.com. By using the “expand” feature, we can see the exact pages those links are located on.

Identify follow or no-follow

You can use the MozBar Chrome plugin to view whether your competitor’s link is no-followed or followed. Since only followed links pass authority, you may want to prioritize those, but no-followed links can also have value in the form of generating traffic to your site and could get picked up by others who do eventually link to your site with a follow link.

Select the MozBar icon from your browser and click the pencil icon. If you want to see Followed links, select “Followed” and the MozBar will highlight these links on the page in green. To find No-Followed links, click “No-Followed” and MozBar will highlight these links on the page in pink.

Common types of links you’ll see in the profiles of local business websites

If this is your first foray into link building for local businesses, you may be unfamiliar with the types of sites you’ll see in Link Intersect. While no two link profiles are exactly the same, many local businesses use similar methods for building links, so there are some common categories to be aware of. Knowing these will help you decipher the results Link Intersect will show you.

Types of links and what you can do with them:

Press releases

Press release sites like PRweb.com and PRnewsire.com are fairly common among local businesses that want to spread the word about their initiatives. Whether someone at the business won an award or they started a new community outreach program, local businesses often pay companies like PRweb.com to distribute this news on their platform and to their partners. These are no-followed links (don’t pass link authority aka “SEO value”) but they can offer valuable traffic and could even get picked up by sites that do link with a follow link.

If your competitor is utilizing press releases, you may want to consider distributing your newsworthy information this way!

Structured citations / directories

One of the primary types of domains you’ll see in a local business’ backlink profile is directories — structured citation websites like yellowpages.com that list a business’ name, address, and phone number (NAP) with a link back to the business’ website. Because they’re self-created and not editorially given, like Press Releases, they are often no-followed. However, having consistent and accurate citations across major directory websites is a key foundational step in local search performance.

If you see these types of sites in Link Intersect, it may indicate your need for a listings management solution like Moz Local that can ensure your NAP is accurate and available across major directories. Typically, you’ll want to have these table stakes before focusing on unstructured linked citations.

News coverage

Another favorite among local businesses is local media coverage (or just media coverage in general — it’s not always local). HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is a popular service for connecting journalists to subject matter experts who may be valuable sources for their articles. The journalists will typically link your quote back to your website. Aside from services like HARO, local businesses would do well to make media contacts, such as forming relationships with local news correspondents. As news surfaces, they’ll start reaching out to you for comment!

If you see news coverage in your competitor’s backlink profile, you can get ideas of what types of publications want content and information that you can provide.

Local / industry coverage

Blogs, hobby sites, DIY sites, and other platforms can feature content that depicts city life or interest in a topic. For example, a chef might author a popular blog covering their dining experiences in San Francisco. For a local restaurant, being cited by this publication could be valuable.

If you see popular local or industry sites in your competitor’s backlink profile, it’s a good signal of opportunity for your business to build a relationship with the authors in hopes of gaining links.

Trade organizations

Most local businesses are affiliated with some type of governing/regulating body, trade organization, award organization, etc. Many of these organizations have websites themselves, and they often list the businesses they’re affiliated with.

If your competitor is involved with an organization, that means your business is likely suited to be involved as well! Use these links to get ideas of which organizations to join.

Community organizations

Community organizations are a great local validator for search engines, and many local businesses have taken notice. You’ll likely find these types of organizations’ websites in your competitor’s backlink profile, such as Chamber of Commerce websites or the local YMCA.

As a local business, your competitors are in the same locale as you, so take note of these community organizations and consider joining them. You’ll not only get the benefit of better community involvement, but you can get a link out of it too!

Sponsorships / event participation

Local businesses can sponsor, donate to, host or participate in community events, teams, and other cherished local resources, which can lead to both online and offline publicity.

Local businesses can earn great links from online press surrounding these groups and happening. If an event/team page highlights you, but doesn’t actually link to benefactors/participants, don’t be shy about politely requesting a link.

Scholarships / .edu sites

A popular strategy used by many local businesses and non-local businesses alike is scholarship link building. Businesses figured out that if they offered a scholarship, they could get a link back to their site on education websites, such as .edu domains. Everyone seemed to catch on — so much so that many schools stopped featuring these scholarships on their site. It’s also important to note that .edu domains don’t inherently have more value than domains on any other TLD.

If your business wants to offer a scholarship, that is a great thing! We encourage you to pursue this for the benefit it could offer students, rather than primarily for the purpose of gaining links. Scholarship link building has become very saturated, and could be a strategy with diminishing returns, so don’t put all your eggs in this basket, and do it first and foremost for students instead of links.

Other businesses

Businesses may sometimes partner with each other for mutually beneficial link opportunities. Co-marketing opportunities that are a byproduct of genuine relationships can present valuable link opportunities, but link exchanges are against Google’s quality guidelines.

Stay away from “you link to me, I’ll link to you” opportunities as Google can see it as an attempt to manipulate your site’s ranking in search, but don’t be afraid to pursue genuine connections with other businesses that can turn into linking opportunities.

Spam

Just because your competitor has that link doesn’t mean you want it too! In Link Intersect, pay attention to the domain’s Spam Score and DA. A high spam score and/or low DA can indicate that the link wouldn’t be valuable for your site, and may even harm it.

Also watch out for links generated from comments. If your competitor has links in their backlink profile coming from comments, you can safely ignore these as they do not present real opportunities for earning links that will move the needle in the right direction.

Now that you’re familiar with popular types of local backlinks and what you can do with them, let’s actually dig into Isleta and Sandia’s backlinks to see which might be good prospects for us.

Step 5: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Both the Albuquerque Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn link to Isleta and Sandia on their “Local Things to Do” pages. This could be a great prospect for Bottger! In many cases, “things to do” pages will include lists of local restaurants, historic sites, attractions, shops, and more. Note how their addresses are included on the following pages, making them powerful linked unstructured citations. Bottger hosts fancy tea parties in a lovely setting, which could be a fun thing for tourists to do.

Isleta and Sandia also have links from a wedding website. If Bottger uses their property as a wedding venue, offers special wedding or engagement packages, or something similar, this could be a great prospect as well.

Link Intersect also yielded links to various travel guide websites. There are plenty of links on websites like these to local attractions. In the following example, you can see an Albuquerque travel guide that’s broken up by category, “hotels” being one of them:

Isleta and Sandia also have been featured in the Albuquerque Journal. In this example, a local reporter covered news that Isleta was opening expanded bingo and poker rooms. This seems to be a journalist who covers local businesses, so she could be a great connection to make!

Many other links in Isleta and Sandia’s backlink profiles came from sources like events websites, since these resorts are large enough to serve as the venue for major events like concerts and MMA matches. Although Bottger isn’t large enough to host an event of that magnitude, it could spark good ideas for link building opportunities in the future. Maybe Bottger could host a small community tea tasting event featuring locally sourced herbal teas and get in touch with a local reporter to promote it. Even competitor links that you can’t directly pursue can spark your creativity for related link building opportunities.

And let’s not forget how we found out about Isleta and Sandia in the first place: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta! Event sponsors are featured on an “official sponsors” page with links to their websites. This is a classic, locally relevant opportunity for any Albuquerque business.

Step 6: Compile your link prospects in Link Tracking Lists

If you’re thinking, “This sounds great, but it also sounds like a lot of work. How am I ever going to keep track of all this?” — we’ve got you covered!

Moz Pro’s “Link Tracking Lists” was built for just this purpose.

In Link Intersect, you’ll see little check boxes next to all your competitors’ links. When you find one you want to target, check the box. When you’re done going through all the links and have checked the boxes next to the domains you want to pursue, click “Add to Link Tracking List” at the top right.

Since we’ve never done link building for Bottger before, we’re going to select “Create New List” from the dropdown, and label it something descriptive.

Make sure to put your client’s domain in the “target URL” field. For Step 3, since we’ve just selected the links we want to track from Link Intersect, those will already be populated in this field, so no further action is needed other than to click “Save.”

We’ll come back to Link Tracking Lists when we talk about outreach, but for now, all you need to know is that you can add the desirable competitor links (in our case, links from Isleta and Sandia) to Link Tracking lists straight from Link Intersect, making it easy to manage your data.

Step 7: Find out how to connect with your link prospects

Now it’s time to connect the dots: how do you go from knowing about your competitor’s links to getting those types of links for yourself?

There are three main ways you can get unstructured linked citations to your local business’ website, and those categories are what’s going to dictate the strategy you need to take to secure that opportunity for yourself.

  1. Self-created: Self-created links are like voting for yourself, so sites that accept these types of submissions, like Yelp.com, will NoFollow the link to your business’ website. Visitors are still referred to your website through that link, but the link doesn’t pass authority from Yelp.com to your domain. You should only get authority from a website if they link to you on their own (what Google calls “editorially placed” links). Neither NoFollow nor Follow links are inherently good or bad on their own. They are just intended for different purposes, and it’s the misuse of followed links that can get you in trouble with Google. We’ll talk more about that in a later section titled “Avoiding the bad fish: Risks of ignoring Google’s link scheme guidelines”
  2. Prompted by outreach: In many cases, people won’t know about your content until you tell them. These links are editorially placed by the site owner (not self-created), but the site owner was only made aware of your content because you reached out to them.
  3. Organically earned: Sometimes, you get links even without asking for them. If you have a popular piece of content on your site that receives lots of traffic, for example, people may link to that on their own because they find it valuable.

Since this tutorial is about proactively pursuing link opportunities, we’re going to focus on unstructured linked citations types one and two.

Articles

If your competitor has been featured in an article from say a local journalist or blogger, then your outreach will be focused on making a connection with that writer or publication for future link opportunities, rather than getting the exact link your competitor has. That’s because the article has already been written, so it’s unlikely that the writer will go back and edit their story just to add your link.

The one exception to this rule would be if the article links to your competitor, but your competitor’s link is now broken. In this scenario, you could reach out to the writer and say something like, “Hey! I notice in your article [article title] you link to [competitor’s link], but that link doesn’t seem to be working. I have similar content on my website [your URL]. If you find it valuable, please feel free to use it as a replacement for that broken link!”

Sometimes the contact information of the writer will be right next to the article, itself. For example:

If there’s no email address or contact form in the writer’s bio, you can usually find a link to one of their social media accounts, like Twitter, and you can connect with them there via a public or direct message. If you live in a small, tight-knit community, you may even be able to meet with the author in person.

Press releases

If you notice your competitors are issuing a lot of press releases and you want to try that out for yourself, you’ll likely need to sign up for an account, as these are a primarily self-serve platform. Most quality press release sites charge per release, and the price can differ depending on length.

Citations / directories

You’ll either want to sign up for a citation service like Moz Local that distributes your data to these types of listings programmatically, or if you do it manually, you’ll want to find the link to create your listings. Please note that your business may already be on the directory even if you haven’t set up a profile. Before creating a new listing, search for your business name and its variants, your phone number, and current and former addresses to see if there are existing listings you can claim and update.

Business websites

Most businesses will make it easy to contact them. If you’re trying to contact another business for the purpose of proposing teaming up for a co-marketing opportunity, look in their footer (the very bottom of the website). If there’s no contact information there, search for a “Contact Us” or “About” page. You may not find an email address, but you may be able to find a contact form or phone number. Below is an example from Albuquerque Little Theater, where they have contact information on the right and advertising information in the top navigation for businesses that are interested in taking out ads in their printed show programs. Not an unstructured linked citation, but a great way to get your business known to the community!

Organizations

Most organizations will make it easy for those who want to join, unless they are more exclusive or invitation-only. In the event that you do wish to get involved in an invitation-only organization that has no public-facing contact information, try viewing a member list and seeing if there’s anyone you know. Or maybe you know someone who can introduce you to one of the members. Genuine connections are key for this type of organization.

Step 8: Writing a good outreach email (for unstructured linked citations requiring outreach)

Outreach emails are necessary when the link opportunity you’re pursuing isn’t a link you could create yourself, or if the link source is one where you can’t make face-to-face contact with decision-makers. One of the most important questions you should be asking yourself for these opportunities is, “Why would this website link to me?”

Here’s how Bottger might go about sending an outreach email:

Greeting that matches the nature of the outreach target

“Hey Jill!” might be fine when outreaching to the author of a blog, while “Hello Ms. Smith” might be better for more professional outreach.

Introduction

Give a brief summary of who you are, what you do, and your interest in contacting them. For example: “I work with Bottger Mansion, a historic Bed & Breakfast in Old Town Albuquerque. I found your page about Albuquerque activities — you’ve really captured a lot of what Albuquerque has to offer!”

The ask, and the value add

This is where you’ll actually ask for the link. It’s a good idea here to add value. Don’t just ask for something; offer to give something back!

To continue the same example: “As long-time residents of Old Town, we’d love to provide you with a comprehensive list of activities in the city’s historic district! We feel an Old Town Activities list would be a great addition to your page. Bottger Mansion regularly hosts high tea, for example, which we’d love to let more people know about with a spot on your list!”

Close

Wish them well, thank them for their time, and sign off. Make sure that it’s easy for them to find information about you by including your full name, title, organization, and website/social links in your email signature.

Don’t be afraid to get on the phone, either! Hearing your voice can add a human element to the outreach attempt and offer a better conversion rate than a more impersonal email (we all get so many of those a day that ones from people we don’t know are easy to ignore).

And remember that local businesses have a particular advantage in accruing unstructured linked citations. Lively participation in the life of your community can continuously introduce you to decision-makers at popular local publications, paving the way towards neighborly outreach on your part. Learn to see the opportunities and think of ways your business can add value to the content that is being written about your town or city.

Step 9: Tracking your wins

Next-to-last, we’re going to jump back to Link Tracking Lists for a second, because that’s going to come in extremely handy here. Remember when we created the list with Sandia and Isleta’s links that we were interested in pursuing? Those will now show up when we go to Moz Pro > Link Explorer > Link Tracking Lists.

Every time Bottger successfully secures a link that they’ve added to their Link Tracking List, the red X in “Links to target URL?” column will turn blue, indicating that the site links to Bottger’s root domain. If we were pursuing links to individual pages, and a link prospect linked to our target page, the red X would turn green.

Another handy feature is the “Notes” dropdown. This allows you to keep track of your outreach attempts, which can be one of the trickiest parts about link building!

Avoiding the bad fish: Some words of caution before you get started

Before starting this process for yourself, familiarize yourself with these four risks so that your fishing trip doesn’t result in a basket of bad catches that could waste your resources or get your website penalized.

1. Risks of a “copy only” strategy

Link Intersect can be amazingly helpful for discovering new, relevant link opportunities for your local business, but link builders beware. If all you ever do is copy your competitors, the most you’ll ever achieve is becoming the second-best version of them. Use this method to keep tabs on strategies your competition is using, and even use it to spark your own creativity, but avoid copying everything your competitors do, and nothing else. Why be the second-best version of your competition when you can be the best version of yourself?

2. Risks of a “blindly follow” strategy

Comparing your site’s backlink profile with your direct competitors’ backlink profiles will return a list of links that they have and you don’t, but don’t use Link Intersect results as an exact checklist of links to pursue. Your competitors might have bad backlinks in their profile. For example, avoid pursuing opportunities from domains with a high Spam Score or low Domain or Page Authority (DA/PA). Learn more about how to evaluate sites by their Spam Score or DA/PA.

They might also have great backlinks that aren’t the right opportunity for your business, and those should be avoided too! Do you remember Isleta and Sandia’s links for events like MMA matches? If Bottger were to blindly take those resorts’ link profiles as directives, they might think they have to host a fight at their B&B, too!

Take what you find with a grain of salt. Evaluate every link opportunity on its own merit, rather than deeming it a good opportunity simply because your competitor has it.

3. Risks of an “apples to oranges” strategy

Choose the domains and pages you want to compare yourself against wisely. As a small local B&B, Bottger wouldn’t want to compare their backlink profile to that of Wikipedia or The New York Times, for example. Those sites are popular, but not relevant in any way to the types of unstructured linked citations Bottger would want to pursue, such as links that are locally relevant or industry-relevant.

In other words, just because a site is popular doesn’t mean it will yield relevant unstructured linked citation opportunities for you. Here in this tutorial, we’ve outlined one potential use-case for Link Intersect: finding unstructured linked citations your local business competitors have. However, this is not the only use for Link Intersect. Instead of comparing your site against competitors or near-competitors, you could compare it against:

If you know what types of links you’re trying to find, choosing sites to evaluate against your own should be a lot easier, and yield more relevant opportunities.

4. Risks of ignoring Google’s “link schemes” guidelines

If you’ve never embarked on link building before, we encourage you to read through Google’s quality guidelines for webmasters, specifically its section on “Link schemes.” If you were to distill those link guidelines down into a single principle, it would be: don’t create links for the purpose of manipulating your site’s ranking in Google search. That’s right. Google doesn’t want anyone embarking on any marketing initiatives solely for the purpose of improving their ranking. Google wants links to be the natural byproduct of the quality work you’re doing for your audience. Google can penalize sites that participate in activities such as:

  • Buying links that pass PageRank (“followed” links)
  • Excessive “you link to me and I’ll link to you” exchanges
  • Self-created followed links that weren’t editorially placed by the site owner

This underscores that the activities that are just good business, like being involved in the local community, are also the ones that can produce the links that Google likes. Sites owners might need a little nudge, which is why we’ve included a section on outreach, but that doesn’t mean the links are unnatural. Unstructured linked citations should be a byproduct of the good work local businesses are doing in their communities.

In conclusion

At Moz, we’re strong believers in authenticity, and there is no better pond for building meaningful marketing relationships than the local one. Focusing on unstructured linked citations can be viewed as a prompt to grow your community relationships — with journalists, bloggers, event hosts, business associations, and customers. It’s a chance for a real-world fishing trip that can reel in a basket of publicity for your local brand beyond what money can buy. Your genuine desire to serve and build community will stand you in good stead for the long haul.

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SearchCap: Bing features, Amazon sponsored ads and link building

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.



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Building Links with Great Content – Natural Syndication Networks

Posted by KristinTynski

The debate is over and the results are clear: the best way to improve domain authority is to generate large numbers of earned links from high-authority publishers.

Getting these links is not possible via:

  • Link exchanges
  • Buying links
  • Private Blog Networks, or PBNs
  • Comment links
  • Paid native content or sponsored posts
  • Any other method you may have encountered

There is no shortcut. The only way to earn these links is by creating content that is so interesting, relevant, and newsworthy to a publisher’s audience that the publisher will want to write about that content themselves.

Success, then, is predicated on doing three things extremely well:

  1. Developing newsworthy content (typically meaning that content is data-driven)
  2. Understanding who to pitch for the best opportunity at success and natural syndication
  3. Writing and sending pitches effectively

We’ve covered point 1 and point 3 on other Moz posts. Today, we are going to do a deep dive into point 2 and investigate methods for understanding and choosing the best possible places to pitch your content. Specifically, we will reveal the hidden news syndication networks that can mean the difference between generating less than a handful or thousands of links from your data-driven content.

Understanding News Syndication Networks

Not all news publishers are the same. Some publishers behave as hubs, or influencers, generating the stories and content that is then “picked up” and written about by other publishers covering the same or similar beats.

Some of the top hubs should be obvious to anyone: CNN, The New York Times, BBC, or Reuters, for instance. Their size, brand authority, and ability to break news make them go-to sources for the origination of news and some of the most common places journalists and writers from other publications go to for story ideas. If your content gets picked up by any of these sites, it’s almost certain that you will enjoy widespread syndication of your story to nearly everywhere that could be interested without any intervention on your part.

Unfortunately, outside of the biggest players, it’s often unclear which other sites also enjoy “Hub Status,” acting as a source for much of the news writing that happens around any specific topic or beat.

At Fractl, our experience pitching top publishers has given us a deep intuition of which domains are likely to be our best bet for the syndication potential of content we create on behalf of our clients, but we wanted to go a step further and put data to the question. Which publishers really act as the biggest hubs of content distribution?

To get a better handle on this question, we took a look at the link networks of the top 400 most trafficked American publishers online. We then utilized Gephi, a powerful network visualization tool to make sense of this massive web of links. Below is a visualization of that network.

An interactive version is available here.

Before explaining further, let’s detail how the visualization works:

  • Each colored circle is called a node. A node represents one publisher/website
  • Node size is related to Domain Authority. The larger the node, the more domain authority it has.
  • The lines between the nodes are called edges, and represent the links between each publisher.
  • The strength of the edges/links corresponds to the total number of links from one publisher to another. The more links from one publisher to another, the stronger the edge, and the more “pull” exerted between those two nodes toward each other.
  • You can think of the visualization almost like an epic game of tug of war, where nodes with similar link networks end up clustering near each other.
  • The colors of the nodes are determined by a “Modularity” algorithm that looks at the overall similarity of link networks, comparing all nodes to each other. Nodes with the same color exhibit the most similarity. The modularity algorithm implemented in Gephi looks for the nodes that are more densely connected together than to the rest of the network

Once visualized, important takeaways that can be realized include the following:

  1. The most “central” nodes, or the ones appearing near the center of the graph, are the ones that enjoy links from the widest variety of sites. Naturally, the big boys like Reuters, CNN and the NYTimes are located at the center, with large volumes of links incoming from all over.
  2. Tight clusters are publishers that link to each other very often, which creates a strong attractive force and keeps them close together. Publishers like these are often either owned by the same parent company or have built-in automatic link syndication relationships. A good example is the Gawker Network (at the 10PM position). The closeness of nodes in this network is the result of heavy interlinking and story syndication, along with the effects of site-wide links shared between them. A similar cluster appears at the 7PM position with the major NBC-owned publishers (NBC.com, MSNBC.com, Today.com, etc.). Nearby, we also see large NBC-owned regional publishers, indicating heavy story syndication also to these regional owned properties.
  3. Non-obvious similarities between the publishers can also be gleaned. For instance, notice how FoxNews.com and TMZ.com are very closely grouped, sharing very similar link profiles and also linking to each other extensively. Another interesting cluster to note is the Buzzfeed/Vice cluster. Notice their centrality lies somewhere between serious news and lifestyle, with linkages extending out into both.
  4. Sites that cover similar themes/beats are often located close to each other in the visualization. We can see top-tier lifestyle publishers clustered around the 1PM position. News publishers clustered near other news publishers with similar political leanings. Notice the closeness of Politico, Salon, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post. Similarly, notice the proximity of Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and BizPacReview. These relationships hint at hidden biases and relationships in how these publishers pick up each other’s stories.

A More Global Perspective

Last year, a fascinating project by Kalev Leetaru at Forbes looked at the dynamics Google News publishers in the US and around the world. The project leveraged GDelt’s massive news article dataset, and visualized the network with Gephi, similarly to the above network discussed in the previous paragraph.

This visualization differs in that the link network was built looking only at in-context links, whereas the visualization featured in the previous paragraph looked at all links. This is perhaps an even more accurate view of news syndication networks because it better parses out site-wide links, navigation links, and other non-context links that impact the graph. Additionally, this graph was generated using more than 121 million articles from nearly every country in the world, containing almost three-quarters of a billion individual links. It represents one of the most accurate pictures of the dynamics of the global news landscape ever assembled.

Edge weights were determined by the total number of links from each node to each other node. The more links, the stronger the edge. Node sizes were calculated using Pagerank in this case instead of Domain Authority, though they are similar metrics.

Using this visualization, Mr. Leetaru was able to infer some incredibly interesting and potentially powerful relationships that have implications for anyone who pitches mainstream publishers. Some of the most important include:

  1. In the center of the graph, we see a very large cluster. This cluster can be thought of as essentially the “Global Media Core,” as Mr. Leetaru puts it. Green nodes represent American outlets. This, as with the previous example, shows the frequency with which these primary news outlets interlink and cover each other’s stories, as well as how much less frequently they cite sources from smaller publications or local and regional outlets.
  2. Interestingly, CNN seems to play a unique role in the dissemination to local and regional news. Note the many links from CNN to the blue cluster on the far right. Mr. Leetaru speculates this could be the result of other major outlets like the NYTimes and the Washington Post using paywalls. This point is important for anyone who pitches content. Paywalls should be something taken into consideration, as they could potentially significantly reduce syndication elsewhere.
  3. The NPR cluster is another fascinating one, suggesting that there is heavy interlinking between NPR-related stories and also between NPR and the Washington Post and NYTimes. Getting a pickup on NPR’s main site could result in syndication to many of its affiliates. NYTimes or Washington Post pickups could also have a similar effect due to this interlinking.
  4. For those looking for international syndication, there are some other interesting standouts. Sites like NYYibada.com cover news in the US. They are involved with Chinese language publications, but also have versions in other languages, including English. Sites like this might not seem to be good pitch targets, but could likely be pitched successfully given their coverage of many of the same stories as US-based English language publications.
  5. The blue and pink clusters at the bottom of the graph are outlets from the Russian and Ukrainian press, respectively. You will notice that while the vast majority of their linking is self-contained, there seem to be three bridges to international press, specifically via the BBC, Reuters, and AP. This suggests getting pickups at these outlets could result in much broader international syndication, at least in Eastern Europe and Russia.
  6. Additionally, the overall lack of deep interlinking between publications of different languages suggests that it is quite difficult to get English stories picked up internationally.
  7. Sites like ZDnet.com have foreign language counterparts, and often translate their stories for their international properties. Sites like these offer unique opportunities for link syndication into mostly isolated islands of foreign publications that would be difficult to reach otherwise.

I would encourage readers to explore this interactive more. Isolating individual publications can give deep insight into what syndication potential might be possible for any story covered. Of course, many factors impact how a story spreads through these networks. As a general rule, the broader the syndication network, the more opportunities that exist.

Link Syndication in Practice

Over our 6 years in business, Fractl has executed more than 1,500 content marketing campaigns, promoted using high-touch, one-to-one outreach to major publications. Below are two views of content syndication we have seen as a result of our content production and promotion work.

Let’s first look just at a single campaign.

Recently, Fractl scored a big win for our client Signs.com with our “Branded in Memory” campaign, which was a fun and visual look at how well people remember brand logos. We had the crowd attempt to recreate well-known brand logos from memory, and completed data analysis to understand more deeply which brands seem to have the best overall recall.

As a result of strategic pitching, the high public appeal, and the overall “coolness” factor of the project, it was picked up widely by many mainstream publications, and enjoyed extensive syndication.

Here is what that syndication looked like in network graph form over time:

If you are interested in seeing and exploring the full graph, you can access the interactive by clicking on the gif above, or clicking here. As with previous examples, node size is related to domain authority.

A few important things to note:

  • The orange cluster of nodes surrounding the central node are links directly to the landing page on Signs.com.
  • Several pickups resulted in nodes (publications) that themselves generated many numbers of links pointing at the story they wrote about the Signs.com project. The blue cluster at the 8PM position is a great example. In this case it was a pickup from BoredPanda.com.
  • Nodes that do not link to Signs.com are secondary syndications. They pass link value through the node that links to Signs.com, and represent an opportunity for link reclamation. Fractl follows up on all of these opportunities in an attempt to turn these secondary syndications into do-follow links pointing directly at our client’s domain.
  • An animated view gives an interesting insight into the pace of link accumulation both to the primary story on Signs.com, but also to the nodes that garnered their own secondary syndications. The GIF represents a full year of pickups. As we found in my previous Moz post examining link acquisition over time, roughly 50% of the links were acquired in the first month, and the other 50% over the next 11 months.

Now, let’s take a look at what syndication networks look like when aggregated across roughly 3 months worth of Fractl client campaigns (not fully comprehensive):

If you are interested in exploring this in more depth, click here or the above image for the interactive. As with previous examples, node size is related to domain authority.

A few important things to note:

  1. The brown cluster near the center labeled “placements” are links pointing back directly to the landing pages on our clients’ sites. Many/most of these links were the result of pitches to writers and editors at those publications, and not as a result of natural syndication.
  2. We can see many major hubs with their own attached orbits of linking nodes. At 9PM, we see entrepreneur.com, at 12PM we see CNBC.com, 10PM we see USAToday, etc.
  3. Publications with large numbers of linking nodes surrounding them are examples of prime pitching targets, given how syndications link back to stories on those publications appear in this aggregate view.

Putting it All Together

New data tools are enabling the ability to more deeply understand how the universe of news publications and the larger “blogosphere” operate dynamically. Network visualization tools in particular can be put to use to yield otherwise impossible insights about the relationships between publications and how content is distributed and syndicated through these networks.

The best part is that creating visualizations with your own data is very straightforward. For instance, the link graphs of Fractl content examples, along with the first overarching view of news networks, was built using backlink exports from SEMrush. Additionally, third party resources such as Gdelt offer tools and datasets that are virtually unexplored, providing opportunity for deep understanding that can convey significant advantages for those looking to optimize their content promotion and syndication process.

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Link building in the age of content skeptics

Link building today goes far beyond simply securing a link to influence search engine rankings.



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SearchCap: Google family led icon, link building and SEO audits

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.



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3 Simple Models for Building an Audience with Storytelling

We’re surrounded and enmeshed by stories 24-7. In our multiplying news notifications, podcasts, email inboxes, and blog comments. At coffee…

The post 3 Simple Models for Building an Audience with Storytelling appeared first on Copyblogger.


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