Why you F*%$ing Suck at Link Building

I wanted to write this blog post as a response to some posts from people on internet marketing blogs and forums who feel that the Penguin Update has ruined their easy link building efforts. Well guess what it has. The barrier to entry for link builders was lowered with the simplicity of cheap blog networks and automated tools such as Xrumer and Scrapebox which can build thousands of links per day with very little user interaction. IM Forums are littered with SEO’s crying that it’s just too hard to obtain editorial/contextual links from webmasters or bloggers and guess what I’m happy. A skill set I’ve worked at over the past few years to develop has just become even more in demand.

Well I’m going to tell you why YOU suck as a link builder.

It’s all about YOU YOU YOU – I’ve seen your outreach emails, I get them every day in my spam folder and the ones that slip through are pure narcissistic egotistical waffle. Nowhere in your outreach efforts do you offer any form of benefit to the webmaster to link to your site. It doesn’t have to be an exceptionally long piece of prose but a few bullet points to explain why a link to your site would be of interest to their community would probably increase your response rates 10 fold.

Pay it Forward – Your responsibility as a link builder grown adult is to establish some sort of relationship and invest in it before expecting someone you’ve never met to do you a favour? Come on, grow up and welcome to the real world. Subscribe to your prospects blog or Twitter Feed. Comment on their blog posts, share their stuff on your social media accounts and answer their questions on Quora. If you have anything about you the first email you send to them won’t be a begging letter for a link but actually offering them some feedback, advice or technical assistance. Just remember when you are link building you are dealing with a REAL person with REAL emotions and not a website.

Put the hours in – there was a reason you were paying a few dollars per link to BMR. You haven’t worked a single day in your life. The best link builders hard working, they get into the office early just to Skype with a blogger in a different time zone. Their mobile devices are buzzing day and night with emails to let them know their prospects are checking in nearby on Foursquare or have Tweeted a question. If you want to succeed at link building you need to work hard…

You have to pay to play – you don’t always have to pay or offer payment in kind for your site or product to be featured. Beyond the fact Google don’t like paid links, the FTC requires bloggers and celebrities to disclose of payments received for endorsing a product online. It’s very important as a link builder to understand the difference between editorial content & advertorials. My belief is that outreach is more about PR than paid media.

All Hail the Mommy Blogger – so many link builders and outreach professionals praise at the foot of the “mommy blogger” temple, but the thing is the “mommy blogger” is actually a mythical creature much like a Unicorn. Lots of people see “mommy bloggers” as a “link cash cow” as their lifestyle blogs often cover a wide variety of topics and categories from iPad apps to food to home furnishings and clothes. It’s quite common for “mommy bloggers” to want some form of payment for their work and I have found more success with bloggers who have a long tail lower ranked niche blog and have never been kissed by an agency.

 

What do you say to a failed Link Builder?

 

Y U NO Tenacity? – Wait a minute you just sent someone who probably receives hundreds of emails every day, one email? Do yourself a favour and if you haven’t received a reply in a few days send another. What you didn’t get a response the second time? Pick up the phone, dial in their telephone number and speak to them. A good link builder won’t fall at the first hurdle and if after all this effort they still don’t link to your infographic on kittehs, make sure you keep their information for future link opportunities.

You’re just playing a numbers game – you scrape a bunch of contact info from Google and then just blindly fire out emails. Guess what, you’ve probably got more chance of winning the lottery than getting a link from an authority website in your niche with that method. Research and find the right people by asking yourself a few questions:

  • How many social followers do they have?
  • Who are they connected to by checking with tools such as Mentionmapp or Klout?
  • Will they link to me? Have they linked to anything similar before?

If you follow the advice I give above you’ll start #winning at link building. We all reach points in our projects where we would rather blame a bunch of external factors than actually look at the things we can have an effect on.

Just like any marketing effort link building doesn’t just magically happen, we need to plan, measure, execute and refine our processes.

Free SEO Tools – A Curated List

Tools, Tools, Glorious Tools!

SEO’s simply love to get their hands on the latest bit of kit to help speed up processes, scale time consuming tasks or simply to unlock additional data. I have to admit I am a bit of a productivity tool junkie and have been known to build my own tools using Google Docs, macros or bookmarklets. So a few weeks ago I engaged with a group of my fellow online marketers at inbound.org with the premise to build a curated list of Free SEO tools. A lot of my fellow industry colleagues contributed with their personal favourites to the discussion so here are the results.

This is a curated list of Free SEO tools so if there is something you use regularly or if a tool is no longer available please drop me a comment below or send me a message and I’ll update this page.

You can check out my list of SEO and affiliate marketing resources I use and love.

SEER SEO ToolboxChris Le created the SEER SEO Toolbox as an Open Source set of tools utilising a number of API’s including Google Analytics, SEO Moz and Majestic SEO. It’s a brilliant building block for link building and client reporting.

Site Audit Tools

Get My Site Info -  This is a free tool that provides a basic report on a number of SEO factors. It’s far from the most comprehensive SEO reporting tool but it does offer some good quick checks such as checking your sites have a sitemap, robots.txt and if there are any W3C HTML errors.

Sitespeed.io is an open source tool that helps you analyze your website speed and performance based on performance best practices and metrics. It collects data from multiple pages on your website, analyze the pages using the rules and output the result as HTML or JUnit XML.

Pingdom Tools – This is my go to tool when performing page speed audits. It offers a very nice visual representation to help you understand which page elements are taking up the most resources. Another tool I know many people like to use for checking page speed is http://gtmetrix.com/

Screaming Frog - the day you first discover Screaming Frog is one of the greatest moments of your SEO career. I’m serious! Screaming Frog crawls a website and returns a number of page elements for you to analyse, such as page title, H1 tags and canonicals. There are 2 versions, a free version which analyses up to 500 URIs and the paid version, £99/year, that analyses absolutely everything.

Xenu Link Sleuth - is a very similar tool to Screaming Frog, yet lacks some of the functionality but it is entirely free. Xenu is simply a link check that crawls a website looking for broken links. SEO’s have pushed the limits of this basic tool and if you are a technical SEO who loves digging through the data in Excel I do recommend you invest in the paid version of Screaming Frog.

Google WMT - If you are a webmaster then this free resoruce from Google is an absolute must. GWMT have a number of really useful data sets such as crawl errors, inbound links and indexing. If you want to learn how to get it setup for your site then check my article.

Bing WMT - Bing’s version of Google’s Webmaster Tools allows you to check any errors found by the bing bot and discover who is linking in to you.

Yoast SEO Plugin - quite simply the most awesome SEO plugin you will ever encounter. Read my blog post to learn more about optimising your WordPress blog for SEO.

Keyword Analysis Tools

UberSuggest - I simply love Uber Suggest, it utilises Google and other suggestion services to create hundreds of keyword variations. If you are having a day struggling with writers block or you are having a content strategy brainstorming session, don’t forget about this free tool.

Keyword Eye - there are 2 types of account for Keyword Eye the basic free version or a paid version for £3.95 p/m. I’ve used this system a few times and must admit it’s a very visually appealing tool and offers you a couple of great content discovery tools e.g. Flickr and Twitter search data.

Google Trends - is a great tool to have in your SEO tool box as it allows you to see what’s hot and what’s not. If you are performing keyword research you want to understand if there are any rising trends you can latch on to. For example the Euro 2012 football tournament is round the corner so a piece of content involving football may be more popular in the next few weeks. Google Trends returns a colour-coded line graph that shows the frequency for which your specified search terms were used in a query for the past three years. Google Trends also allows you to compare at a glance the volume of news stories related to the keywords you’re comparing and provides a bar chart that breaks down the results by selected cities, selected countries and by different languages. You can also run similar reports with Google Insights, which offers you more in depth data.

Outreach & Link Building Tools

Open Site Explorer - the SEOmoz backlink data tool is probably the most well known SEO backlink tool on the market. Their index is built by crawling the web and building up their own set of metrics such as Domain Authority and mozrank based on the number and “quality” of the links pointing to a web page. They have a free version which allows you to check the number of backlinks to up to 5 web pages everyday. Follow this link for a free 30day trial of the SEOmoz tools.

MajesticSEO - sign up for a free MajesticSEO and get limited access to their link analysis tools and database.

ahrefs - is the newest arrival to the backlink data party. They have some really nice tools and offer users free access to some of their features. If you are undecided as to which link analysis provider to pay for a subscription for then this review of ahrefs, MajesticSEO and OSE may help.

SEOQuake - allows you to find link metrics for a set of search results. It’s a great tool to add to your SEO tool kit when prospecting. Read this great guide from Jason Acidre on Prospecting Links with the SEO Quake plugin.

SEO Tools for Excel - This great tool kit from Neils Bosma allows you to perform a number of quick and easy data lookups using a number of APIs. You can read this review by Richard Baxter to learn more.

SEO Gadget for Excel – the team at SEOGadget compiled some additional functionality into their Excel tools. Using SEMRush data, Grep Words and MajesticSEO API’s you have some really handy data at your finger tips.

LinkChecker plugin for Firefox - Check the validity of links on any webpage. Simply install this plugin on Firefox and away you go. This a great tool for Broken Link Building. 

Free Broken Link Checker - The Find Broken Links, Redirects & Google Sitemap Generator Free Tool allows webmasters and SEO’s to check the status of both external  and internal links on an entire website. The resulting link report will give you an insight to the link structure of a website, identify any link redirects and errors, all of which help in planning a link optimisation strategy.

Domain Hunter Plus - find broken links and reach out to webmasters to replace the broken links with your online resource. Want to learn more? Jon Cooper reviewed this tool.

Socialmention - Is a search engine that allows you to search blogs and social networks for people talking about your niche. A great way to find influencers.

BuzzSumo – Helps you to identify the most shared content and key influencers for any topic.

Followerwonk - one of the most important tools you can ever use when performing blogger outreach. Followerwonk lets you search twitter bios, analyse and track followers and find thought leaders / key influencers within any niche. With this tool I have been able to easily discover and reach out to some influential bloggers, webmasters and editors to obtain links for my clients.

Mentionmapp - if you are researching thought leaders in your niche then you really need this tool! It gives a nice graphical representation of who’s talking with who on Twitter.

Export Twitter Followers – This is an awesome free Google Doc that allows you to export all your Twitter Followers using the Twitter API and then analyse them. If you want to learn more about using Twitter as a link building tool you can read my guest post on Point Blank SEO.

BuzzStream - is a well known paid outreach tool used by PR firms and SEO’s alike but did you know they have a number of Free Link Building Tools too? My favourites are the Email tool which performs a number of searches to locate an email address for a potential link prospect and the blogroll list building tool which scrapes blogrolls to help you find more bloggers within your niche.

Chase the Footprint - this is a free tool to analyse various “footprints” that SEO’s use to find link prospects e.g. Guest Blogging opportunities, you can read my review here.

Link Detective -  is a free tool designed by Eppie Vojt, using an Open Site Explorer link export you can learn more about your or your competitors link profile. You can easily learn where links are placed on a site, what percentage of anchor text is used and whether or not the link is still live.

Sharemetric – a free Google Chrome add-on which allows you to quickly and easily find how many social shares a web page has received. It’s a great tool for competitor content analysis.

Check my Links – if you are using Broken Link Building as part of your lnik strategy then this tool is great. Simply locate a list of resources (a bit like this page) and then run check my links to flag which links are returning a status 404 on the page

Circlecount  - quite simply find out who’s popular on Google+, how many circles they are in and what topics they are influential about.

Topsy  – their tagline is Real-time search for the social web. Simply insert your keywords and find out who is blogging, tweeting and sharing news about your products, your company or your competitors.

HARO - Help A Reporter Out allows you to find journalists who are looking for people or businesses to interview for news stories. Sign up and get the PR machine rolling.

Advanced Google Search Queries - this article from Himanshu is probably the most comprehensive guide to Google search queries for link building.

subredditfinder.com - does exactly what it says on the tin! Discover which subreddits are on the rise, popular or related to your content so you can tap into this online community.

moreofit.com - is another useful tool I like to use to help me find relevant websites. Simply add in a url and it shows you several similar sites you can reach out to.

My Blog Guest
MyBlogGuest - if you are looking for Guest blogging opportunities or guest bloggers to contribute content to your site then you should sign up to this Free online community.

linkstant.com – are you tired of not knowing when your site is linked to then use this free tool designed by Rob Ouseby & Tom Critchlow from Distilled. Linkstant will notify you instantly by email or SMS when someone links to your site. Simples!

Google Alerts - setup a Google Alert for your keywords to monitor when new blogs or news articles are published in  your niche. Hopefully you have some great content to share with the blogger/journalist that they may want to add to their site.

ifttt – this is probably my number one productivity tool for automating parts of my online world. It’s very simple to setup and you create recipes that allow you to connect your social media accounts, RSS feeds and emails together with ease. I recently wrote about my love of ifttt.

Rank Tracking

Microsite Masters - monitor your rankings daily with this free tool. If you want to monitor more than 10 keywords then you can sign up for a paid subscription. It is a great ranking tool used by many SEO consultants and agencies.

Rank Checker – this a free rank checker provided by the team at SEO Book, simply sign up for a free account and you can get access to this along with a number of other free SEO tools.

Analytics

Google Analytics - is a free service offered by Google that generates detailed information and reports about the visitors to your website. If you run an e-commerce site you can setup your GA account to measure sales conversions, so you can understand which pages and keywords are or are not performing well.

Piwik - this is an open source analytics system that means Google don’t have access to your stats. Download this PHP/MySQL software program and install it on your own web server.

Website Penalty Indicator – it can be difficult to know the quality of a site you are targeting as a link prospect. The Website Penalty Indicator will help you see if the site is affected by the Panda or Penguin filters.

I hope this list has been useful to you and that I’ve helped you to discover some new SEO tools you can use to help you be more productive in your online marketing endeavours.

This great post has over 500 Free Web Developer and Designer Tools

Thanks to Dan BochichioRand FishkinGaz Copeland and all the community at inbound.org for helping to curate this list.

Find Easy Links with Chase the Footprint

Finding backlink opportunities by searching for common footprints is a fairly basic tactic when it comes to link building. It’s simply the process of searching for frequently occurring phrases on websites that offer you the opportunity to gain a link if you were to leave a comment, submit a guest post or add your site to their web directory.

One of the main ways I use footprints is to look for websites where I can have a client’s product reviewed, run a giveaway or find a potential opportunity for a link via a guest blog. By simply searching for phrases such as “Submit a Guest Post” in combination with your keywords you can find lots of sites in your vertical that offer guest blogging opportunities.

You can take your link prospecting further by using Boolean Operators and Wildcards in your footprint searches to return more advanced results. For example a search for Apples AND Pears will return results where the words apples and pears both appear on the same web page but not necessarily in the same phrase.

Another way to find guest post opportunities is to follow your competitors footprints a lot of guest bloggers are quite lazy and will use the same author byline again and again. For example John Smith writes on behalf of Big Boy Business this means that all you have to do is type this phrase in to Google in quotations and you’ll find most of their guest blogs. Quite often these sites will have a fairly low submission criteria.

Chase The Footprint is a new tool designed by Dan Bochichio to help link builders find opportunities by searching for common footprints.  Simply input the keyword phrases into the box and then from the drop down menu you can chose to search for Wiki’s, Sponsorship Opportunities, Forums, Blogs and guest blogs.

If you combine Chase the Footprint with the SEOQuake toolbar you can then export the results into a CSV file and then manipulate the results in Excel or Google Docs. Dan also has provided a javascript bookmarklet you can use to export your search results into a spreadsheet too.

The tool is very new and Dan is open to the offer of suggestions for improvements or report any bugs you can contact him via his SEO website. I have already made the suggestion that it would be useful to be able to search different instances of Google such as UK, Australia etc to help link builders cast their nets far and wide. Happy link building!

Improving the Impact of Links in Old Content

It’s a well known fact in link building circles that Links in Old content simply aren’t as good as Links in new Content.

Taking some inspiration from a recent Whiteboard Friday I decided to test this theory. Cyrus Shepard, from SEOMoz, went through the theory that a link to your website from some old content does not pass as much “link juice” as a link from a new page; you can see the video below.

What do we mean by an “old page” when we talk about these old pages? From a technical, Google definition point of view, we’re talking about something that has been previously crawled and indexed by Google. Stale content, by stale we mean content that hasn’t been updated in a long time. It was written and it just stayed that way. There are no new blog comments. It has just been for two or three years the same way it was written. And old links. So this old page, all of the links that it got, it got years ago or months ago, and there are no new links coming in. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about an old page. If it doesn’t meet these definitions, then it’s a new page.

Tim Grice, SEOWizz, did a study in March 2011 showing that links on Old Pages just weren’t worth it. Over a 5 week period Tim monitored the changes in search rankings by adding site wide text links in sidebars or footers, links inserted on indexed static pages with a PR 1 or more and finally he inserted links within entirely new content in fresh blog posts.

New Links in Old Content

Source: Links In Old, Crawled Content Don’t Pass Weight

As you can clearly see the rankings for the “old content links” barely changed at all over the period where as the links within the new content rose quickly.

This got me thinking, especially the statement from Cyrus, that in order for Google to consider the page as new again you would need to make a significant change to it or build some links to the old content. But exactly how much of a change would you need to make to a page?

The Experiment

I decided to build links to some of my test sites using the same principles that Tim used, the old pages were already indexed by Google & they had not had any new links built to them recently.

  • Link type 1 was my control this is a link where I only added the link into the text with exact match anchor text.
  • Link type 2 I inserted the link and inserted 1 paragraph within the content
  • Link type 3 I inserted the link and added two paragraphs
  • Link type 4 I inserted the link and did 5 social bookmarks to the old page

old links 1

No surprises that the link only and link plus 1 paragraph saw very little change in rankings but after seeing the great performance of both link type 4 and 3 so early on in the experiment I decided to edit two paragraphs of text and do 5 social bookmarks with another test page.

old links 2

So not only did the page climb the rankings rapidly it has stabilised its new ranking; better than the social bookmarks only pages.

Conclusions

By no means was this a completely controlled and perfect scientific experiment as there was a new Panda update during the period of the test as well as the fact that the the content in the test pages weren’t all exactly the same. But as you can clearly see just by simply adding a link to piece of old content and editing just a small amount of text on an old page it has less value than adding a link, editing some text on the page and building a few links to the old page.

This will flag to the spiders that this page is now relevant and to recrawl the page.Which in turn means that the bots will follow the links within that text once again. In an ideal world it is preferable to build links within new content and shows how important it is to continue with content based link building methods such as using blogger outreach, guest blogging but if you are building links to old content i.e. broken link building it’s worthwhile taking the time to add some more value to the old pages.

Are .Edu and .Gov Links Really Worth it?

Every SEO forum since the dawn of time Google has been debating the power of high authority links such as .Edu or .Gov links.  There are literally dozens of articles out there in the great wide web and every few months a different debate begins on how much these links actually effect your rankings.

It’s a common belief in some SEO circles that a link from .Edu or .Gov site is the best type of link you can ever get in order to improve your rankings. This belief comes from the fact it is not easy to obtain control of these domains on the open market as you have to be an educational or government establishment.

So are Google actually giving more or less weighting to certain Top Level Domains (TLD’s) well yes they can, and do look at the case of co.cc domains, but in the case of .Gov or .Edu links they claim not to do so as Googler JohnMu stated:

In general, I would like to add that no, backlinks from .EDU domains generally do not get “additional credibility from Google.” Because of that, the whole topic of working especially hard to talk webmasters of these domains into linking to your sites seems a bit problematic…

Some in the world of SEO will scream conspiracy that Google don’t want to let out the secret recipe but then let’s look at these types of links from the proper angle. Google may actually be telling the truth their algorithm may not give these TLD’s a considerably higher weighting than a .com or .co.uk but it is all actually based on Pagerank. Remember that thing Larry Page invented which means links from web pages with lots of links themselves carry more value than those that don’t.

Below is a video by Google Head of Web Spam, Matt Cutts from 2010 that also confirms this:

These types of web pages are often well linked to and many have been around for years. So what I am saying is that despite their “perceived” authority due to their offline status as an institue of learning it is actually the quality of the pages that are linking into these sites i.e. Corporate blue chip companies, Major hospitals or large news resources e.g. the Guardian, BBC that make them an authority online not the TLD.

How to get .Edu or .Gov Links?

With the right amount of time, hustle or money you can get a backlink on just about any site you want. Building relationships, investing in the right tools and good content will allow you to get these links easily.

From past experience I have used Broken Link Building on .Gov or .Edu sites, whereby you look for broken links on a resource and inform the webmaster to replace the link with a resource to your own content.

Outreach also works quite well in order to gain .edu links as most universities now provide their students and faculty with blogging platforms and sub domains so it is quite easy to email them relevant content to their blog or studies. If you really wanted to invest a significant amount of time and resources you could look for a piece of research they produced and reference it in a piece of your own content e.g. an infographic and its highly likely that you will obtain a link back as they will naturally want to share this with their peers.

Invite an academic to write an article on your blog or even come and speak to your workforce or at an industry conference you are running, chances are they will link to you as they wish to reference their engagements. As you can see you are only limited by your own imagination as to how you can obtain these types of links but by offering useful resources for Government or Academic webmasters to link to you will have a much higher success rate.

So What is their Value?

If you were to ask me what I look for in a link then, I value backlinks on the number of visitors, neigh, the number of pre-qualified visitors that the link can send me. What I mean by that is if I could get a few hundred visitors to my site from a back link, who are motivated to buy my product or subscribe to my mailing list, I would spend more time and money obtaining these links than just chasing links from Universities and Government sites.

So do Edu or Gov links help get you better rankings, yes but they are no better than any other well linked TLD, and remember after all SEO is not just about rankings!