As promised (well, sort of….vaguely referenced, more than actually promised), we’ve put together the Advanced Class on Basic SEO.
We know, we know. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. The world of SEO is wide and varied and rises from a deep foundation of technical computery know-how. The Advanced Class on Advanced SEO would plumb the depths of the technical computery know-how.
Which we’re not doing today.
Hence the Advanced-Basic dichotomy.
Okay, now that we’ve got that cleared up, we can start talking a little bit about what happens after you optimize your website.
After the beginning comes…the middle.
So in our last little chat, we pointed out that website optimization was the way to guarantee that the search engines know what you’re talking about.
The next step is to convince them that you know what you’re talking about.
Since there isn’t some mighty Search Engine Judiciary before whom you can go make your case, you have to convince them through action.
And, even more unfortunately, it’s not your action they want to see. The search engines’ trust in your knowledge directly correlates to the trust placed in you by…well, everyone else.
They measure this trust by the way people respond to your site: user behavior, social signals, and, above all else (for the time being, at least), links to the various pages.
So in order to start convincing the search engines that you are neither a raving lunatic nor a honey-tongued conman, you’ve got to start building some links.
Pride goeth before, y’know, crimson-eared embarrassment and red-cheeked frustration.
Okay, before we go any further, a small public service announcement: unlike first stage SEO, which can certainly be attempted by gifted amateurs, link building without professional help is…inadvisable.
Not because you’re not smart enough or nice enough or charming enough.
We firmly believe that you are all of that and more.
But building links is, quite honestly, time consuming and doing it well (intentionally, anyway) requires a deliberate strategy and tools that just aren’t particularly economical for internal marketing teams. SEO agencies, who have more than one client/account, get a lot of use out of those tools and they end up paying for themselves.
Unfortunately, this is usually not the case for the Lone Rangers out there. Even with trusty Silver and faithful Tonto.
And thus endeth the PSA.
You are still absolutely welcome to try it on your own or to learn as much as you can so that agency involvement can be at a minimum. We have a great deal of faith in human ingenuity and determination.
(And the music swells as we take a moment to reflect on Galileo and Eli Whitney and Marie Curie and Neil Armstrong and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and whoever invented duct tape).
(Because what inspires more faith in humanity than a tiny little girl battling evil with a rocket launcher?)
Foundations (of the metaphoric masonry, not cosmetic, kind)
Okay, moving right along.
Before you can really get started on improving or building your link profile, you kinda need to know what you’re working with.
If you have a brand, shiny new website, you got nada and it doesn’t matter. You get the lucky, lucky task of starting from the ground up with your completely non-existent authority and building the content and social engagement that you need. (So go ahead and skip down a bit to the tips on actually doing that stuff).
But, honestly, very few people are starting from scratch. If you’re trying to improve the placement of an existing website or a recently redesigned site, you need to know where you stand before you can start moving forward.
The tool that we typically use for this is one you need a (paid) subscription to get the most out of. SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer can give you a pretty good picture of all the links leading to just about any website. It tells you what sites and pages link to you, the vital metrics of those sites/pages, what page on your site the links lead to, and what text forms the link (also known as anchor text).
Alternatively, some people use Majestic SEO’s Site Explorer to gather the same information.
However you get it, this information allows you to get the low down on who already links to you. Is it a lot of bloggers? A lot of directories? A lot of local businesses or industry partners? Do they all link to your homepage or do they go deeper? Are they all using branded terms? Are they using keyword-rich anchor text? Are they coming from authoritative sites or are they junk?
Only once you know what you’ve already got, can you start to figure out what more you need.
The good news here is that you can get a 30-day free trial of all Moz Tools, including Open Site Explorer. So if you don’t have an agency to do it for you, you can test it out all on your own.
Well, okay. Only sorta. But who doesn’t love some good alliteration now and again? One of the best ways to identify the links that you may want is to take a look at what your competition (the ones that are actually doing better than you, not the ones that you’re grinding into the dust with a wink and a smirk) already has.
This can be done by running a back link profile on them with tools like Open Site Explorer or through the tools that take it one step farther and break down those link profiles into link types: blogs, directories, commerce sites, business sites, etc.
There are a lot of tools that do this (usually for a fee) including Citation Labs’ Link Prospector or Wordtracker’s Link Builder.
You can also just use that good old human ingenuity and your knowledge of your industry to figure out what links might be valuable. (Galileo and duct type, remember?)
Once you’ve identified what you don’t have and where you might find it, you gotta start figuring out how to get it.
Actual link buildage, part I: carefully hand-crafted works of art
There are two basic approaches to building links and they are, by no means, mutually exclusive.
The first of these is manual link building. This has rather gone out of fashion in favor of the second method (no, we’re not telling you what it is yet. Patience, as our nanny would have stressed, had we actually had a nanny, is a virtue. Don’t you want to be virtuous?), because it is time consuming and usually only results in a single link at a time.
It remains, however, an effective method of going after any specific, particularly high-profile links you may wish to attain (like .gov or .edu links). Manual link building involves identifying the website you want a link from, figuring out what it would take to get one, and then making it happen.
Sometimes this can be as simple as writing the right piece of content, sometimes it may involve completely overhauling your site to match up to the standards of your desired linker. And then, horror of horrors, you have to actually ask for the link.
Like we said, this isn’t the most efficient way to get links, but it still may allow you to net the really, really big ones.
Actual link buildage, part II: virtual word-of-mouth OR convincing everybody you’re smart OR working smarter, not harder
The second method of building links is a little thing we like to call content marketing.
(Uh, not that we made up the term or anything. ‘Cuz we can’t take credit for that.
Many other brilliant things, like…hitting up the local candy stories to replenish our snack cupboard, yes.
Our super pretty Pinterest boards, also yes.
Coining the term, “content marketing”…not so much).
Content marketing, oddly enough for something so seemingly self-explanatory, actually does not start with creating and marketing your content.
It starts with finding your online community. This is usually an amalgam of your partners, your peers, your thought leaders, and your customers. Who is online? Where? Are they bloggers? Forum participants? Are they on Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? How can you reach out to them? How can you build actual relationship with them?
Step Uno: The intro & a little judicious flattery
Building relationships begins by engaging on the outlets where they already are. Don’t be pushy or blatantly self-promotional. Just comment on their blogs or retweet their tweets with genuine responses:
“Really liked the post. I, too, think that it is a shame that there are so few monkey trainers in Fort Collins. But, hey, did you hear about that guy in Boulder…”
“Fort Coloradoans need to make one of these! RT: @REI Bikes Infographic: Cyclists: Are You With the Right Bike? http://www.rei.com/features/infographics/bike.html.”
Step Dos: Slyly demonstrate your knowledge (without being a know-it-all, show-off, smarty-pants of the Book 1 Hermione Granger kind)
Once you’ve start to engage and get some name recognition, once you’ve built some legitimacy with the blogger and his audience, you’re allowed to start referring to what you yourself have created in terms of content:
“I noticed that you were lamenting your lack of information on the basic nutritional needs of the naked mole rat. It just so happens that I have an entire recipe collection of naked mole rat favorites inspired by my little hairless buddy Hephaestus. I recommend starting with the Soil Supreme. nakedmoleratcuisine.com/soil-supreme.”
(Uhhh…not a real website. in case you were wondering. sorry, folks).
(And, okay…I guess we managed to work in a little zoology…)
There is an art to conducting blog comment conversations. It basically consists of behaving like a human being with, y’know, manners.
Step Tres: Start seeing the content gaps and filling them. Like Hans Brinker at the dike.
Once you get to know your community, you’ll start to get a feel for what information they crave. What do they constantly gripe about? How can you help? What do they not even know they’re missing?
Create the content that they need and don’t be afraid to let them know you’ve done it.
“Hey, last week you were pointing out that you didn’t know any women in the monkey training industry. I’ve put together a list of all the women I know and then asked them to list more. Feel free to take it and share it with all those discontented female monkey owners out there.”
Step Quatro: Rinse & repeat until they love you
The idea is that you become a source of such consistently entertaining and useful knowledge that eventually people start disseminating your content without you having to ask.
(And in case the well occasionally comes up dry – which it will – here’s some inspiration for creating content of all kinds).
While the dream is that they may do this without your prompting, the truth is, you may have to reach out at first.
If there’s someone that follows you on Twitter and has a large audience, get in touch with them. Find common ground through tweeting, blogging dialogue, emailing, phone calls, even meet-ups and conferences. Become someone who can be comfortable asking for re-posts, guest blogging, or re-tweets. Show them they can trust you, that you know your stuff.
And demonstrate the behavior you want to follow. Share the good stuff you find. Like it, tweet it, reference it.
Eventually they’ll pick up on it and realize that you’re good, knowledgeable people. Then and only then will they start taking the burden off your shoulders. Reciprocity is a beautiful thing.
(The bonus, of course, is that you also get a friend and maybe even mentor out of the deal. Double win!)
Of course, there’s more to it than this
That’s the thing about this stuff..there’s always more. There’s all kinds of things you can do with social media, with local search, even with content marketing. Multimedia: videos, infographics, webinars, and podcasts. We haven’t really gone into the nitty gritty.
Part of that is because this post is already long enough, thank you very much.
Part of it is because…well…we do make our living on this stuff. We can’t tell you all of our secrets.
And part of it goes back to Eli & Marie & Buffy: you are capable of this kind creativity. You can think of ways to connect with your audience, you can think of content to whet their appetites. You know them better than we do. Our intent here is just to get you started. You can take it from here.
(And in case you’d like a little bonus, here’s a neat list of link building strategies. Take ‘em with a grain of salt, especially the directories as you want to be careful not to get accidentally caught up in any link-trading nonsense).
So, go. Run free. Invent the next duct tape.
We’ll be here. Just in case you need us.