The Future of Search – Presentation by Will Critchlow

I just went through Will Critchlow’s presentation on the future of search. The presentation is a great think piece on some big strategic changes that are driving how information is used.

Top level points are:

1) Google moving from indexing data to understanding context and delivering results based on a wider set of data (we’ve seen this coming for a while).

2) An always connected word means more implicit data to utilize to deliver information. Implicit data are things like your location, browse history, device you are on, etc. This is in addition to the explicit data you put into the query – great pizza!

3) Google will continue to reward good content and good marketing with visibility. We’ve seen improvements in content algorithms (Panda), link algorithms (Penquin) and soon some sort of merchant algo clean-up (TBD).

Here is a link to the slides from the presentation, enjoy!

How to Talk about SEO Services with your Clients

I recently posted this on Optify, but wanted to share here as well. Enjoy!

For agencies and clients just starting to focus on search engine optimization as a marketing program, it can seem overwhelming. There is a LOT of information, data and jargon available online which tends to get pretty technical fairly quickly. The objective of this blog post is to give you a framework for setting expectations and discussing SEO with your clients to set you up for success.

First, there are 5 things you should know about Search Engine Optimization:

  1. The #1 job of search engines is to provide a great user experience. This truism is the rule that runs how search engines make decisions about what is good content, bad content, what to emphasize and how to rank pages. The better the content that is the most relevant to the keyword query, the more important the engines will see the page.
  2. SEO is a marathon and not a sprint. Clients who want a “quick win” or to rank #1 for a term in a short period of time have the wrong idea about SEO. Success in search engine optimization comes over time and you need to be committed to it for the long term. If you want a quick win, do paid search (SEM).
  3. SEO will impact every group that touches the website. SEO is not just a marketing program, it impacts how your website is developed, how you talk about your company, how the PR team talks about your company, how you interact with partners and more. Getting different functions from the client involved in the SEO process increases success.
  4. Search engines rank pages, not domains. Each page on a website is an opportunity to rank for a specific focus keyword. The more pages you have of good quality content that is well optimized for search, the more success you will have.
  5. SEO is a zero sum game. In order for you to rank in the top 3 for a particular keyword or phrase, you have to knock someone else out of that position.

Here is a communication structure we use to discuss SEO that helps focus tasks and projects. Each category has a series of tasks associated with it that can be seen as a way to engage clients in projects that can lead to retainers and on-going work.

SEO is comprised of three major categories of tasks organized by new project priority:

1. Technical

Is the website accessible by search engines and are we doing everything we can to send the right signals to the engines about the content on the site?

The technical components are the easiest to execute because the site owner has total control over this aspect. These include everything from making sure the blog structure is optimized for SEO, there are no issues that block a search engine from crawling the site and finding all of the pages, that there are no bad links or 404 errors, that a sitemap and sitemap.xml are in place, that we don’t have duplicate content on the site, etc. The SEO Technical Audit is a great resource to understand this component and is usually the first thing we do in an SEO engagement. The items are also very actionable which makes everyone feel good about progress.

2. Content

Are we creating enough compelling, deep content that supports the keywords that are important to our business? Where are the content gaps on our site? What is our content syndication strategy?

The content category starts to get more strategic in which we create a keyword strategy so that we have an idea for the keyword phrases to focus on that are not too big and broad (music), that really speak to the audience we want to sell to and that we have a good chance of ranking for so that those rankings will result in traffic and leads/conversions.

Once we have the keyword strategy thought through, we compare the keywords to the content on the site. Optimizing individual pages for specific keywords will let us know how many terms are covered with content and where the open content gaps are.

The next big piece of content work is putting a plan in place to create/write/publish new content that supports the focus keywords on a regular basis.

3. Authority

Engines want to know that other people think your site and content is great, not just you. Building authority at the domain and page level is critical to boosting your rankings.

Authority comes in two main flavors:
Domain authority – how long your domain has been around, how active the content posting is, how many total links coming into the site, how many pages on the site, how well it is structured, etc.
Page authority – how much authority does an individual page have? A page inherits authority from the domain, but it needs to stand on its own through links directly to the page and mentions in social media for the URL.

Authority is acquired in three main ways:

  1. Just being active, well built and long lasting. Domains with a longer history tend to have more overall authority as do sites that publish good content on a regular basis.
  2. Links to pages throughout the site from a high diversity of outside domains. Links are the primary way sites pass authority to each other and the more good quality links you have from other domains that have relevance to your business, the more overall authority you will have.
  3. Social media mentions. When you have a new blog post or white paper or bit of news and you syndicate that content through your social media channels – you spread the opportunity for people to link to that content, re-tweet the content, post the URL on Facebook, etc. These are all signals the engines look at with different levels of priority to assign authority.

Wrap it Up Already!

Hopefully, this post has given you a framework for thinking about and discussing SEO with current and future clients. The more simply you can talk about what drives SEO and how to approach it, the more comfortable your clients will be to invest in a tech audit project or a competitive analysis or a keyword strategy to get the SEO party started.
We look forward to your comments and other ideas on this topic!

My First Patent – Recommending Link Placement Opportunities

patent-cover-imageI was checking out the Google mashup – What Do You Love – www.wdyl.com – this morning and one of the widgets is Google Patents which had an image of the document I submitted with Tommy Unger, Erez Barak and Paul Brown on a way to research and recommend finding links. This became the link tool in Optify and was a fun project as well as some different approach thinking. I knew we had submitted the application, but never received a notification that it was accepted and through. Here’s the patent if you want to look it up http://www.google.com/patents/US20110302145 - and the pdf US20110302145-Link-Opportunities-Optify – pretty exciting find this morning!

Inbound Marketing Overview – Presentation to UW MBA Direct Marketing Class

I had the pleasure of presenting to Elizabeth Stearn’s Direct Marketing class at the UW Business School last weekend. This is the 8th year in a row that I have presented and the deck gets revised and updated every year. This year, updates include  the following:

  • Discussion of Mobile and how the media spend doesn’t match the time spent on mobile. Very similar situation to internet media 10  years ago.
  • New media stats
  • An updated POEM Media model > Paid, Owned, Earned Media
  • Thoughts on Pinterest
  • Thoughts on Local Search
  • Discussion of Google Knowledge Graph and what that means for search
  • General content updates

Enjoy!

Better SEO Through Targeted Content Marketing

I wrote this article for Website Magazine which was posted earlier this month here. Here is the full article for Brand Digital reader enjoyment.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Content Marketing are two critical components of inbound marketing and have moved beyond silo’d visibility tactics to an integrated strategy to drive high quality visitors and prospects to your website. They are critical components to your core messaging on your website and dramatically affect how you talk about yourself to bring the right visitors that have the highest chance of becoming a customer.

Your content marketing strategy will provide the biggest boost to your organic search visibility if you follow these four rules:

1)      Know your key personas – intimately

2)      Write to all stages of the buy cycle

3)      Talk outside-in vs. inside-out

4)      Write in the same direction

Know Your Key Personas – Intimately

We all know how important it is to know your customers, core audience and key personas. This insight influences product development, customer service, sales close rates and marketing. This applies directly to the content you create – especially for B2B companies – who usually have a limited content creation budget (time or dollars). The clearer the picture of your personas are, the more targeted your content creation will be resulting in higher quality visitors that are closer to your ideal prospect.

In order to make the persona work actionable for your keyword and content strategy, we answer the following questions for each persona:

  • What are the main types of business problems the persona typically needs to solve?
  • How does your product or service provide solutions to these problems?
  • What are some specific tasks the searcher wants to accomplish?
  • What are some sample search queries the persona might use?
  • What can the site  provide that will cause the searcher to accomplish this task
  • What is your business goal for the visitor? Lead gen? Newsletter sign-up? Demo?
  • How will the searcher be motivated to complete this business goal? i.e., what’s the offer or incentive? What is the call-to-action?

With this intimate knowledge of your audience in hand, you can craft more relevant keyword and content topics. The following is an example of the matrix we build for each key persona to helpdevelop keyword and content strategies:

 Write to All Stages of the Buy Cycle

A lot of B2B websites build content around their brand and products/services. Obviously, this is super important when people discover your brand to move prospects towards a lead and sale. However, this focus leaves out the much larger potential audience (your Key Personas) of those who don’t know your brand and are looking to solve a problem, looking for companies that are in a category or are comparing other brands for consideration.

Here are the four main stages of the buy cycle to build content for and the appropriate types of format for each:

Today’s B2B websites must get out of the role of simply a glorified brochure for the company’s products and into the role as the authority in your industry. This is the best way to achieve organic visibility success. Writing to all stages of the buy cycle helps you achieve this.

Talk Outside-In vs. Inside-Out

How you talk about yourself and market yourself, dramatically impacts how well you are found via organic channels – especially SEO. If your website is driven by a brand perspective that creates new phrases to describe what you do that is unique to your communication, you are not creating a true differentiation in your product, but new words to describe something that prospects don’t understand. If you have a large marketing budget to create searches for these new words, great. But most companies – especially smaller companies – don’t have this luxury.

We see examples of this tension between what the brand marketers tend to want – unique concepts to describe their positioning – versus what the direct marketers tend to want – clear language the speaks to the category and specific solutions that are high traffic search terms – at all types and sizes of companies. Here are two examples:

A major marketing automation company has positioned themselves as a provider of “Revenue Performance Management” software. This term could mean many different things to different functional perspectives, but the core term for this category of service is marketing automation. “Revenue performance management” has about 590 searches in Google in North America per month while “marketing automation” has 14,800. This tells us that marketing automation is a better known term and more people are looking for this type of solution than “revenue performance management.”

Another recent example is an agency that describes their custom content management system as a “publishing strategy” capability. They rank very well for the phrase “publishing strategy” but have had zero visits from the phrase because very few people are searching for it whereas content marketing is a very hot topic right now, has a much higher number of searches and fits the agencies core capabilities very well..

The lesson here it to review your current and future messaging from the point of view of a persona that does not know about your brand, focus on true differentiation/value proposition and create content that they will understand without needing an explanation.  Finding that balance between pushing new concepts and terms vs. serving the market where it exists today is an important input into your content marketing planning.

Write in the Same Direction

Content creation and SEO is no longer limited to the marketing department and copywriters. Blogs, social media, press releases, video, podcasting, etc. has created a plethora of ways to easily publish content to your company and other industry related sites. Profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SlideShare, Pinterest, Google + mean that there are MORE places to fill with content. All of this communication impacts your brand and visibility – positively or negatively.

One of the most important things you can do to amplify your content strategy is to get as many people in your organization to understand how their work can impact the SEO program and what they should to contribute. By giving them the education and the game plan for what key messaging and keywords are reinforces the central promise of your business.

Here is the approach we have foundsuccessful:

  • Get executive sponsorship to back your SEO/Content initiative. Without a strong top-level executive supporting this process, you will run into major barriers. Assign someone in marketing as the leader of the effort.
  • Assemble a tiger team of people from different parts of the organization including: Marketing, Editors, Web Development, Social, PR, Sales and Executive. Include them in the persona development, keyword recommendations and content strategy development process.
  • Build a list of blog, article, whitepaper and webinar topics that align with the keyword strategy. Create an editorial calendar that aligns the proposed topics with keywords. The team leader should manage this list.
  • Open up the opportunity to become an official company blogger to the greater company. There are many people in your organization who are currently writing or would like to write and boost their own profile. Each one of these individuals also has their own social network that they can publish to when they write.
  • Baseline metrics around organic visits, engagement, leads/business goals by source, size of social networks, track individual story syndication, etc.  This topic alone is an entire whitepaper!
  • Meet with the greater blog team monthly, review results and celebrate those who have seen the most engagement and syndication (we give out Amazon gift certificates).
  • Rinse, lather and repeat. Organic visibility through content and SEO must become part of your  company DNA to be successful – it is NOT a one and done project.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Changing the core messaging and approach to content creation is not easy. The larger the organization, the more challenging it is to get approval and buy-in to build a sustainable content marketing program that will significantly move the needle in SEO. However, once the process is defined and rolling and you start to see the results, this type of marketing will be the foundation for sustaining and growing your business for years to come

Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing – Differences and Characteristics

This post originally appeared on the Optify Lead Generation Blog – but I wanted to share here as well.

I can be challenged by definitions. The logical side of my brain thinks the definition of words should be black and white like math, but the creative side of me thinks there is room for expression and variance in everything.

The distinction between inbound and out bound marketing has caused similar challenges. We used to refer to inbound marketing as organic traffic or organic visibility. It has since morphed into a more  complete way of thinking about driving new visitors and leads that relies primarily on content and connections. We have social media and the extended network to thank for this.

The easiest way to think about Inbound Marketing is to label anything that is not a paid media campaign to Inbound. Here’s a graph I liked from one of Rand Fishkins’ presentations on the topic.

Inbound Marketing Channels and Tactics

Inbound Marketing Channels – source Rand Fishkin

While this covers a lot of channels, it leaves out two important concepts:

1)      Brand – all of this activity, content creation, social media engagement, etc. is building your brand. Your brand name is the most powerful driver of qualified leads and all of these channels help define, build and expose your brand to the world.

2)      Interaction – each one of these channels has a direct interaction with some other number of channels. This interaction is one of the defining elements of inbound marketing. In the paid media world – there are very limited interactions and each channel can be managed independently.  I’ll be diving into the interactions of inbound channels with tactics in a future post.

Here is a framework that I find helpful in thinking about major marketing categories. It separates inbound from outbound from retention marketing and provides some defining characteristics plus resources required.

Inbound vs Outbound vs Retention Marketing – characteristics, channels and required resources.

Inbound vs Outbound vs Retention Marketing Channels Comparison

While inbound marketing is free of media costs, there are very real organizational and human resource costs to execute successfully.  Content creation, publishing, content syndication, design, development, editor/press relationships, etc. are all part of the human capital it takes to build a successful inbound marketing program.

Another distinction between inbound marketing vs outbound marketing is the timeline of execution and return on investment:

Inbound Marketing needs to become part of you website and organization DNA. It takes time to build content, grow your social networks, increase website authority, acquire high quality links, perform interesting research and speak to your audience.  However,  this foundation of expertise and authority that you create is much longer lasting and continues to provide visitors, leads and links long after the piece is written.

A great example of this is the Organic Search Click Through Rate Curve we created last year. It was a unique data analysis that SEO professionals found very helpful. We still get mentions, links, visitors and leads from this piece of content.

Outbound Marketing, since it is based on paid media, can be spun up much more quickly, you have a lot more control over the messaging and impressions, have a greater ability to test and tweak. But, when the media dollars stop, so does the traffic, leads and sales.

The final distinction that it is important to point out is that the cost and quality of leads from inbound marketing tends to be lower cost and much higher quality than outbound marketing. We track the source of visitors and leads very closely and consistently see better performance from sources like  organic search, social media (yes, we are seeing a significant number of leads from social), PR and content syndication.

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing Pro’s and Con’s by Sales Cycle

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing Pro’s and Con’s by Sales Cycle

Here is one more way to visualize the differences between Inbound and Outbound marketing by generalized sales cycle.

I hope this discussion has helped to define the differences between inbound and outbound marketing. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below and if you like the post – feel free to share! (it’s good for our inbound marketing J)

Here are some additional resources to help your research.

Notes from Authority Not Links Session at SMX in Seattle

I attended the SMX Advanced show in Seattle in early June. This is a great event for search/social professionals and a good audience for Optify.  We sponsored this session on building authority not just links and had a booth. Below are my notes from the session which I thought was quite good with some helpful context and tips. Here is the link to the session info:

Thomas Schmitz – Schmitz Consulting

  • Search engines see themselves as protectors of people
  • Authority is evolving > bigger faster data center, crawl more info, process faster
  • How relevance and authority get measured has changed
  • Engines talk a lot about relevancy, but not about authority
  • Computers don’t understand things, they understand strings
  • Signals: Getting, bypassing budgeting authority
    • Website architecture > good top down plus cross linking
    • Canonical tags
    • Google + community brand pages > if in more circles, more likely to see G+ related results
    • Social signals > twitter and facebook create more content than google can crawl
    • Facebook Likes/Shares is a high correlation to high rankings
    • Platform and Intent: Mobile is about finding locations, Tablets are more about ready
    • Ratings: who are competitors getting ratings from?
    • Microformats
    • Brands – links, mentions and shares. Brands are a way to separate good from bad content
    • Technical Stuff  like increasing page speed
    • Bounce rate – google says not using, Bing says yes. Can effect authority if people block on return to SERP
    • Ratings on niche search engines – good ratings on a consistent daily/weekly basis

Philip Petrescu – Caphyon – Get Deck! Interesting graphs
- Desktop SEO software – Advanced WebRanking
- Blog ranks highly within 5 minutes without inbound links – social shares and signals only on top of good domain
○ Google loves fresh content
○ Good enough to share on Facebook, Twitter and Google + > influential people share
○ Getting influencers to talk about your post > social shares becoming more important than links
- Tips
○ Do keyword research prior to posting. What are people looking for?
○ Social signals are really important early in ranking process (links take longer to set)
○ Start to lose rankings after 1 plus week. If article is good, add the linking signals to page and keep rank up
○ Links: four categories – diversity, relevancy, quality, quantity
○ Brand signals can push ranking even though relevancy is low
- Conclusions
○ Relevancy is important, but too many exact match anchor text is not helpful
○ Brand signals are more important
○ Social Signals becoming more important ranking factors
○ Getting influencers to share is important

Eric Enge – Get Slides
- The magnifier of a campaign is the influencer
- The influencer may not always have the same audience, but a bigger and difference audience
- The influencer trust factor > people respond to what they have to say MORE > not just the volume of people but the impact on that audience
- Synergy that we’re trying to build
○ Create great article > share on social network > drive new followers/fans/friencs > drives links, traffic and shares back to site
○ Step 2 – influencers boost that cycle
- Where influencer marketing lives
○ PR – great place for this if they understand the goals are links, shares, go to resource, build your authority
○ Marketing – Yes – same as PR – need to get goal
○ Executives – only if you have a charismatic person
- Find them
○ Klout – look at your categories and find lists of people by Klout score
○ Twitter – search on keyword hashtag
○ Amazon book search – search on topic for authors
○ Conference agendas – speakers at your type of conferences
○ See who influencers are influenced BY
○ Who else writes for the same blog?
- Verify Influnce
○ Track T Followers, T Following, F Subscribers, G+ Follwers, G+ Following, RSS Subscribers, Klout score by Influencer
○ Track relevance – 1 to 10 score?
- Create links that don’t LOOK natural, they ARE natural
- “Looking Natural” links you won’t get
○ Article directories
○ Low Value directories
○ Blog and forum comments
○ Link networks
○ WordPress theme
- KISSmetrics
○ Influencer marketing
○ Featured in post/video by SEOmoz – top apps we love
○ Blog with quality content
○ Lots of guest posts on other sites (Geekwire, etc.) > high quality post on good site
○ Strong Twitter presence
○ Solid Facebook presence – active conversations
○ Post great content: 3 to 4 times per week, 2/3 of posts are from guest bloggers – they share too!
○ Guest post on other sites: 3-5 times per week
○ Always building relationships with influencers
○ Great content on Facebook & Twitter
○ Cross promote on Facebook & Twitter
○ Top anchor text is all brand name
§ Getting deep links to blog pages
○ The site gets 200,000+ visits per month

Cassie – Grasshopper.com
- Small brand is capable of competing with big boys
- Small virtual phone system – toll free numbers – small budget and marketing team
- Need to target presence on big sites: WSJ, Inc, Fortune, TechCrunch
- Quality leads to quantity
- Target specific sites > how do we get into TechCrunch?
- How to make people care about re-branding to GrassHopper
○ Targeted 500 influencers with package of chocolate covered grasshopper with link to video
○ 200+ news stories
○ 900k YouTube views
○ Bad ass links
○ Ranked to #3 with a month and #1 within 3 months on GrassHopper
- Focus on targeting ego’s
○ Who to follow post, what to follow post
- Video > New Dork two years ago
○ How do we target the areas where entrepreneurs hangout?
○ We talk about them in the video
○ Got more links and acknowledged that the bait worked
- Where to begin
○ Do your research: who and what to target
○ Create something valuable: it’s got to be good or really bad
○ Tell them about it: you’ve created this great thing, don’t be annoying
- Other ego-centric ideas
○ Quote an influencer on your site or in your materials
○ Rejoiner interviewed elastic path and post on their site
○ Create lists – top SEO professionals in Seattle
- Be a little Controversial
○ Put a blog post
○ Bragged about it
○ Reached out to press
○ TiVO proof ad > picked up on ad gabber and gawker
- Create a controlled controversy
○ Target is entrepreneurs day > started a petition to create a national entrepreneur day
○ President proclaims National Entrepreneur Day – Nov 19th
- Put on Your PR Hat
○ Social, SEO, PR is merging
○ Journalists are on Twitter and source stories there
○ HARO – www.helpareporterout.com
○ Twitter – www.nytimes.com/twitter
○ Muckrack.com
○ Wefollow.com

25 Link Building Tactical and Process Tips for B2B Websites

I participated in Link Building webinar with my company Optify, Debra Mastaler from Alliance Link and Eric Ward – one of the original link building experts. Below are links to where this story was posted, and a nice follow-up list of tactics to consider for link building that came from the webinar and user questions. If you have additional tips or questions, feel free to post/comment.

Enjoy!

You may have an amazing website, but not many people will see it if other sites aren’t linking to it.

Relevant inbound links from authoritative, trusted and/or quality websites are every search marketer’s dream. (An inbound link, also called a backlink, is a link from an external site that points to content on your site.) Google, which owns about 66 percent of the search engine market according to comScore, sees such links as votes of confidence for your content. Because Google wants to serve users the most relevant, freshest, trustworthy results, inbound links from trusted sites to yours can go a long way toward pushing your content up in search result rankings.

Of course, obtaining those inbound links takes considerable time, effort and resources. There are also a lot of myths and misunderstandings related to link building. For example, some believe Google will penalize you for getting too many links too quickly (not necessarily) or that reciprocal links are a surefire way to boost your rankings (it depends).

To help your site develop a quality inbound link profile, we’ve collected 25 top link-building strategies and tips from three experts:

Eric Ward, a link-building strategist since 1994 and author of LinkMoses, an email newsletter ($8 monthly).

Debra Mastaler, president of Alliance-Link, which provides custom link building training.

Scott Fasser, director of customer experience for Optify, developer of SaaS-based inbound marketing software.

Set Your Link-Building Foundation

1. Put someone in charge.

Because link building is time-consuming and resource intensive, someone needs to be responsible for driving the effort, Fasser says. “You need someone focused on actively managing the program, promoting the right content and always looking for new opportunities.”

2. Set up a process for monitoring and measuring progress.

From the beginning, have a method in place–usually accomplished via SaaS tools–to monitor and measure your link-building efforts on a regular basis. “If you don’t have that process set up, when someone asks how effective your link-building campaign is, you won’t have a good answer,” Fasser says. “And if you don’t have a good answer, you’re not likely to get the time and resources you need to continue the link building.”

3. Don’t outsource your entire link-building campaign.

“You can’t outsource 100 percent of your link building or website promotion to a third-party and expect to get the same results you’d get if you had someone doing it in-house. You need someone in-house who really knows your industry,” Ward says, since that will give link campaign strategies both context and focus.

Every site, Ward adds, “was designed with a specific and potentially unique audience in mind, specific objectives for that audience and specific subject matter. Doesn’t it make sense that every site is going to require a specific approach to link building and content publicity? You can’t cookie-cutter the process.”

4. Begin by examining the links on your own site.

Unlike most inbound links, the links on your site are entirely within your control. Take a close look at how you’re linking to your own content on your site. Are you using keyword-rich anchor text to point to relevant content elsewhere on the site? (Anchor text is a hyperlinked phrase, such as click here, that links to content that typically exists on another web page.) If anchor text is not keyword-rich, revise it, Fasser says. This can help the content that’s being linked to with anchor text get a boost in search engine relevancy.

5. Create a baseline of existing inbound links.

Use a tool such as SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer to see which sites are currently linking to yours as well as the anchor text used in those inbound links, Fasser advises. This provides a snapshot of your complete inbound link profile, which is useful for tracking progress.

Open Site Explorer can help you improve your link-building strategy by providing a quick look at your inbound links–and the ones your competitors have.

Open Site Explorer data can be exported in CSV format. The basic tool is free. Additional features are included in subscription plans that start at $99 monthly.

6. Study your competitors’ links.

You can also use tools such as Open Site Explorer to investigate the links your competitors have, Fasser says. This can provide ideas for directories and other sites to pursue.

7. Go after links your competitors don’t have.

It’s not enough to simply find out which links your competitors are getting and go after them. At best, that will simply put you on an equal footing with them. You should also pursue inbound links your competitors dont have, Ward says.

8. Focus on link quality, not quantity.

Relevant links from a few high-quality, trusted, authoritative sites are worth more in SEO terms than a ton of links from low-quality sites, Mastaler says.

9. Develop a list of top-priority keywords and use them in your online content.

Determine which keywords have the most search volume, are the least competitive and have the highest relevancy to your business and its products or services, Fasser advises. Use those keywords in your blog posts, white papers, press releases and other online content. “When you get links from other sites to your content, you’ll be more likely to get good-quality anchor text links using your important keywords,” he explains.

How to Get Inbound Links

10. Begin with the low-hanging fruit.

Ask for links from industry connections. Suppliers, donors, employees, retired employees, industry associations, forums, fraternal organizations and anyone else with whom you’re affiliated can offer a great place to start your link-building strategies, Mastaler notes. Any individual or entity with which you have “a point of commonality” can serve as low-hanging fruit in your link-building efforts, she adds. Ask them to link to your resources page, blog or other page on your site, or for a listing in their directory.

11. Focus on directories relevant to your industry.

General Web directories are fairly useless in helping your site rise in search result rankings or attract targeted traffic, Ward says. A far better strategy, he adds, is to go after vertically oriented, curated directories maintained by people with “extreme knowledge or passion” who take their time to “collect useful resources.”

The best Web directories are those maintained by people who are doing it out of passion, not for SEO. “Google loves and respects these sites because there’s a layer of human quality control involved,” Ward explains. “The more heavily edited or curated the content is, the more likely it is that Google will respect an anchor text link from that site.”

12. Go after a diverse set of links.

The best link-building practice is to obtain inbound links to pages across your site, not just your home page, from a variety of domains using different anchor text keywords, Fasser advises. Just as it’s important not to invest in one stock, the same holds true for your link portfolio–ideally, you want to get traffic from many sources. Also, a diverse set of links and anchor text keywords gives you more credibility with search engines.

13. Focus on relevant links.

An inbound link from a site that’s relevant to your business is worth more for ranking purpose–sas well as for attracting targeted traffic–than a link from your cousin Billy’s site about his favorite beer. “Getting a blog or other site that writes about things related to your product is the way to go,” Fasser says.

14. Develop high-quality content.

Google’s Panda update of 2011 pushed pages it considered to have poorly written and/or spammy content way down in its rankings. As a consequence, Web sites need to focus on creating high-quality content that’s informative, useful and relevant, Fasser says. Not only will high-quality content keep you out of Google’s crosshairs, it will help you attract inbound links and targeted traffic.

15. Create infographics and make them easy to share.

Infographics are extremely popular and can increase site traffic, Mastaler says. Other sites often link to them, and they can get lots of Tweets and Facebook likes.

For example, BlueGlass Interactive developed a content marketing infographic that Mashable subsequently hosted. As a result, the infographic has attracted more than 3,800 Tweets, 650 Google +1s and 1,100 Facebook likes.

The keys to getting your infographics posted and shared is to make them visually compelling, informative and neutral in tone–that is, not about your company. It’s OK to put your brand on an infographic aimed at consumers, Mastaler adds, as long as you understand that businesses will be less likely to share it.

16. Create custom widgets.

Customize a widget that delivers information relevant to your business, make the widget easy to post on other sites (via cut and paste) and embed a link back to your site, Mastaler suggests. She recommends Widgetbox, an online service that lets you use existing or create custom widgets for $25 monthly and up.

For a monthly fee that starts at $25, WidgetBox will help you build a custom widget that you can easily post on other sites.

Together, infographics and widgets are “a great use of your time” in delivering ROI to your link-building strategies, Fasser adds.

17. Write product reviews.

Well-written reviews of products related to your industry or niche are ideal “linkbait” to post on your site, says Mastaler. Include images (and credit the source) with your reviews to drive engagement. To help each review get noticed, post a link to it and a description on LinkedIn, Quora and Twitter. Create a Pinterest board with photos of the products you’ve reviewed; each pin (or photo) will include a link back to your site. Video and podcast reviews are another way to attract links and traffic.

18. Develop social media press releases.

A social media press release typically includes one or more photos, social sharing links and video clips. As such, it’s more likely to get picked up by other sites, Mastaler says. Services such as BusinessWire and PRWeb will host your release and distribute it to news services and media outlets across the Web. Be sure to include your top keywords and one or more anchor text links back to your site within the release.

You can use services such as BusinessWire to host press releases. Include keywords and at least one anchor text link back to your site for even better visibility.

19. Don’t forget online forums.

Online forums are “a tremendous resource,” Mastaler says, since that’s where you’ll find people who are passionate and are often active bloggers. If you can connect with them in a meaningful or helpful way without overdoing a sales pitch, forum members may reward you with a link.

Other Helpful Link-building Strategies

20. Be sure you really need a link before you pursue it.

Before you request an inbound link, ask yourself if you really have a good chance of getting it, Fasser advises. “Link building eats up a lot of time and resources, so make sure you’ve taken the time to understand the site and its content and if it’s truly relevant for what you do.”

21. Reciprocal links aren’t necessarily a bad–or good–strategy.

“Many people mistakenly make a blanket statement that a particular link-building tactic is good or bad” in terms of SEO effectiveness, Ward says. “The reality is, its just not that simple.”

His advice: “Always ask yourself if you would pursue a link (reciprocal or not) if there were no such thing as Google. Instead, do it because swapping links with another site will be beneficial in some way to your site’s visitors.” As one example, it makes perfect sense for a local veterinarian to exchange a link with a dog grooming service in the area.

22. Big, sudden changes in your inbound links may–or may not–get you into trouble.

Some worry that if their site suddenly attracts a ton of inbound links, Google will suspect black hat or unorthodox link-building activity is occurring and penalize that site in the rankings, Ward says.

The truth is, he says, it depends on the site, its history, the links and the circumstances. If a company is suddenly in the news, its site is likely to gain thousands of inbound links in a few days, with no penalty from Google. Conversely, if about 8 percent of your inbound links had keywords in them and, suddenly, 30 percent of your links are keyword-rich, Google might be suspicious.

“I hate to compare Google to an IRS auditor, but, in some ways, it’s true. Google is auditing your site, looking for things outside the norm,” Ward says. That’s why it’s best to grow links naturally by developing and publicizing great content, instead of hiring someone to plant thousands of identical anchor text links to your site on low-quality websites within only a few days.

23. Make content easy to share over social media.

Whenever you post new content on your site, such as a white paper or video, Fasser says to be sure its easy to share across social media. Social media updates containing links are great for building traffic and awareness. You should also share the new content with a Tweet or social media update that includes a relevant keyword and a shortened link, such as from bit.ly, to the content.

24. Your site’s ideal link builders will do the job for free.

“The person who is your best link builder is the one who visits your site, likes it, and wants to share it with others,” Ward says. That’s why it’s important to ask yourself what can someone do with your content once they see it, he adds. “It’s a mistake not to give people a way to share your content with a Google +1, Facebook Like, or Twitter button. Make it easy for them.”

25. Don’t put all your eggs in the Google basket.

Too many people put too much emphasis on getting traffic from search engines, Ward says. “The more of your traffic thats coming from Google, the more precarious your position is. Your rankings are fluid and subject to every Google algorithm update,” he says. “I’ve had clients call me and say that, all of a sudden, they’re no longer ranking well and it’s costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.”

Instead, your goal should be to get traffic from a variety of sites, of which Google is simply one. Though achieving this takes time, Ward acknowledges, it gives you a solid, stable foundation that will serve you well in the long run.

Site/Blog Naming Question – General or Niche?

This question was submitted by Tim who is working on developing a new site around a particular topic – college football. My response and is below – feel free to comment. If you have questions on anything SEO, SEM, Landing Page or Internet Marketing related – drop me an email from the contact page.

Scott,

I am working on creating a college football blog and have been brainstorming various names. My initial idea was to use the keyword “college football” with some other word, or maybe use “Saturday” with another word. However all the feedback I am getting from friends and colleagues is why limit myself to just college (or Saturday) by specifically naming the blog something that suggests only college football, when I could instead name it something related to football (in general) and then have the ability to expand in the future by adding the NFL.

Which do you believe is the better course of action? At this moment the blog (and my interest and expertise) is 100% focused on college football. However I have already received inquiries from others who would like to contribute NFL content.

Thank you for your time,

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Hi Tim,

 Thanks for the email. You have several considerations here:
1) Putting critical keywords into your blog name will help you with search engine visibility on a lot of levels: inbound links, the power of the works in the domain and the clarity to the engines and visitors about what the blog is about.
2) While it is always tempting to go as broad as possible to get “as much traffic as possible”, it’s really hard to break into multiple keyword/content markets. The more you can focus on a single niche, especially for a new, small site – the faster you will find success.
I think focusing on a blog name that includes college and football in the name is the best approach unless you are ESPN :-).

Google Behind the Numbers: Business Metrics Infographic

This is a VERY interesting infographic about Google’s business, sources of revenue and comparisons. It includes a list of resources at the bottom which is good content for additional reading/understanding. Enjoy!

Google Behind The Numbers