Having designed and built over two hundred e-commerce websites, Screen Pages has learned a lot about search engine optimisation. It has hired and worked with experts in the field, ran seminars on the subject, published analyses and research as well as been showered with independent analyses commissioned by clients from leading SEO agencies up and down the UK.
And it comes down to this – we have learned the hard way what works and what doesn’t. Mostly, it comes down to people linking to your website. So often, though, clients are told by experts to tweak their URLs, fine-tune their re-directs, hand craft every page title on every page, spam meta data with extra keyword matter and so on. But, at the end of the day, it’s simply about those links.
The trouble is – it’s extremely hard work and takes time. Fortunately, however, for our kinds of clients, it’s not a massive task in the scheme of things. A few hundred links is often enough to make you competitive in a market and a few hundred more will yield great results for important trading categories and products.
I’ve been trying to explain this to clients in my own way for years. And then, by chance, I was listening to a podcast about Internet Marketing and I heard Kelvin Newman (@kelvinnewman) talk about his e-book in progress on link building. When it became available, I downloaded “Becoming a Clockwork Pirate”. And I have to say, it’s the best and most helpful, practical volume on how to go about getting links.
I was motivated to summarise it for Screen Pages clients – who are all niche retailers with e-commerce websites – and at the same time, sift out the easy-to-implement and inexpensive measures that our clients (with limited time and money) could readily use.
What follows is a mixture or direct quotes and summaries…enjoy and profit.
“Becoming a clockwork pirate – a field guide to creating links for search and social success”
The way most people think about doing better in Google is wrong – it’s not just about your website, it’s about who links to your website. The number and quality of links pointing to a site is a signal to the search engine algorithms that determine who should rank, and how high, in their results. Each link is a marginal gain and part of a campaign. All good link-building work requires time, effort and imagination. This is what separates proper link-builders from chancers looking to make a quick buck before they get found out by Google. It’s the marketer who makes the biggest effort that gets the rewards – that means imaginative thinking and clever planning.
The skills to be successful are drawn from a number of different disciplines. You need the ability to write a great story like a journalist, build relationships like a public relations expert, spot trends like a financial analyst, produce video like a documentary film-maker and build websites like a developer.
Quality will always usurp quantity.
In the past, search engines only had links to decide who was trusted: social indicators are starting to give Google this information too. Social reputation influences the search results. Link equity is far more complicated than just volume, but it doesn’t matter if you have a pile of links as high as Ben Nevis if your competitor’s is as big as Everest.
In real life, not all recommendations are created equally: we know which of our friends are experts and who doesn’t know what they are talking about.
Make sure your titles & headlines contain your target keywords – make the anchor text contain the keywords you target.
How to contact link partners
Sell yourself; encourage feedback; show you’ve studied their site and give feedback – personalise the approach. Provide an embeddable link (with the correct anchor text). Repeat the keywords in your email request.
How to find potential links
1. Directory submission
This has an important role early on in the campaign: they have fast turnaround times and don’t need excellent content. Some have great generic value (business.com, bestoftheweb.com, DMOZ. Yahoo!), but find those in your industry (search for your keywords and append “directory”). Some are paid for, but they are worth it.
2. Back-link analysis
Audit the links of your competitors and who is ranking for your keywords. Conduct research on who is linking to your competition using OpenSiteExplorer or MajesticSEO. Look at the anchor text.
3. Trusted domains (academic/government)
Offer discounts to students and staff and get them referenced in links; recruit from colleges (and have the jobs on the establishment’s site); offer work experience/case studies to business students.
4. Guest posting
Write guest content for blogs – identify the main blogs in your niche, study them, review their blogrolls for other bloggers. When you write, include a link. Exchange emails with these bloggers, then link to them and ask for links.
5. Offer a ranking or give awards
Give the winners a badge which links back to your site. Examples could be “Top Ten X” or “Best 25 companies” – if you are not doing this every 3-4 months, you are not using your website properly.
6. Article syndication
Write and submit articles to places like ezinearticles.com. Make good use of titles (which will end up as title tags and links with good anchor text). Repurpose other content – eg a blog post – for quick article creation.
7. Press release syndication
PR distribution is an opportunity to generate links for keyword relevant pages. The story is not going to be “read”, but it needs to be keyword rich and well-written. Do not confuse with real press releases which should be personalised and emailed. Use a variety of paid sites: prwebdirect.com, prleap.com, prweb.com, realwire.com, sourcewire.com. Keep a separate list of free sites and use them once per month.
There are journalists looking for people like you. Follow them on Twitter and communicate. Sign up for HelpAReporterOut (helpareporter.com). Make sure you stand out, as there are thousands who use it.
8. Blog commenting
Comments are not necessarily ”not followed”, but they’re a good way of building a relationship prior to a link. (Establish a list of target bloggers, subscribe via Google Reader etc, to keep up with their material).
9. Social bookmarks
Such sites are perhaps a “no follow so don’t bother”, but bookmark sites are used by knowledgeable online folk. If it’s the type of content that people love, people will link to it. See Digg, Reddit, del.icio.us, stumbleupon.
10. Social media
Be active on LinkedIn (for contacts), Facebook (for customers), Flickr (for photos).
11. Trade associations and public bodies
Join those that list their members. Get listed, then develop the relationship (conduct research, write articles, sponsor events etc) with the body for additional links.
12. Use Twitter to get before potential linkers
A quick Tweet referencing some good material will be recycled and shared and generate links. Retweet the material of influencers you follow.
13. Advertise jobs or projects
Circulate job descriptions to wider website communities. Focus on universities (who have strong domains) and career services.
14. Offer Testimonials
Offer to write testimonials on supplier sites (or where you are a customer), with a link (and keyword rich anchor text) back to your website. Choose relevant suppliers (the link will have more value).
15. Ask your “political” contacts
Approach holding companies/sites, suppliers, customers/clients, employees, friends, solicitors, accountants, business partners, educational alumni pages.
Just ask with a smile!
To quote a cliché, content is king. The idea here is to create original, relevant, entertaining content that people will link to voluntarily. Once created, make sure it is distributed via PR, social media, bookmarks etc.
We are often told “I don’t have time to write content”, but it’s actually just a case of imagination and thinking of angles then getting it down and out there.
1. Printable resources
Create a white paper (for businesses), downloadable guides (for consumers). They also demonstrate what you know and position you at the leading edge of an industry. To get ideas, ask what your customer concerns are. 10-15 pages is ideal, but make it easy to access.
2. Curate resources
Curate, compile, synthesise other people’s content. Or create a rating chart (with embeddable badges).
3. Beginner’s Guide
Check what there is first. Write stuff which will genuinely help and inform. Get beginners to contribute/review. Write it for a specific audience. Keep it on focussed and narrow. Reference other people’s material as well (share the links). Spread the word through blogs, Twitter, beginner’s guides websites, communities.
4. Debunk myths
If you have an interest in your industry, name two or three misconceptions or emperor’s new clothes – bust open the myths and peel back the misunderstandings of your competitors, customers, colleagues. But create a logical, cohesive argument.
5. Topical Content
Comment on news, conferences, industry meetings, press events – just be quick and publish. Sign up for Google news alerts & RSS feeds, participate in Twitter (search terns and hash tags).
6. Ego Link Bait
Create a list of the “most influential people in
7. Take photographs and publish them
People link to photos you take and publish of movers and shakers in your industry – plus you get link credit. Take your camera with you.
8. Produce Video Content
Video is more noteworthy than text. Easy video: record your screen and voice over. Use iPhones to make HD quality video. Youtube is the second biggest search engine. Publish on your own site then syndicate via Youtube.
9. Produce Audio Content
Create a series of podcasts and distribute via iTunes.
10. Carry out a survey of create original research
Create a questionnaire and publish the results. Results are newsworthy. Use Surveymonkey to collate the data. Ask the right questions and tell the right people.
11. Re-purposing material in a different media or for a different audience
Turn academic papers and conference sessions into short blog posts. Repurpose material for a different audience (i.e. basic for experienced and vice-versa).
12. Contests and competitions
Give something away and let people know: engineer it so that links are inevitable (make the entrants link to the competition site). Then turn the exercise into a case study!
Interview someone with their own blog. Pick someone you know. Research and plan the questions. Record and publish.
14. Convert existing activities into link generation.
Turn your mentions without links into links. Improve the anchor text of existing links (just ask). Get social media links (eg Facebook like) onto your site.
Making it happen
Define your proposition. Make a plan and write it down. Set time frames and monitor performance. The trick isn’t coming up with ideas, it’s making them happen. “Real artists ship”. Track results.
How to quantify a link
Some links are better than others. Here’s what to look for in a link to assess its weight:
-Pagerank (available in Google Toolbar)
-No follow (not so good – visible in source code)
-Domain age (look at the whois in dnsstuff.com)
-Domain extension (in the URL)
-Links to competitors (see elsewhere for which tools to use)
-Relevance (look at the meta data to see keywords targeted)
To download the full ebook, go to http://www.clockworkpirate.com. All you have to do is tweet the link.