In the final part of my SEO primer series, let’s look at the bit most people think about first. Links.
Back links, social links, white-hat links, black-hat links.
I called this post “Links & stuff” because while the value of links is simple enough to understand, the jargon and terminology can make it seem more confusing than it is.
At its most simplistic—you really want as many links to your site as possible. You want them on blogs, local news sources, forums, social media, even from competitors sites (I’ve got a tip for that later on).
Because the more places on the Internet that link to you, the higher you get ranked in search engines. Google has always been very transparent about this, in fact the idea of indexing websites based on how many other places deem them useful enough to link to was their whole original idea. Which naturally has been replicated by other companies ad nauseum.
In a nutshell, that’s it. But like everything with SEO, it’s the nuances that make a real difference.
A link to your online presence from a popular website dedicated to your industry is better than a little-read blog. Links from Facebook sit somewhere near the lower end of that scale, with Twitter slightly behind. It’s all worth having, but what you really want are high quality links on respected websites.
Sometimes the best way to get high quality links back to your site (backlinks, as they’re known) is to just ask for them. You’d be surprised how many professional blogs relish having guest bloggers—people who write once off entries for them, or perhaps even a short series of posts. It can take the stress of deadlines off them, or help them out when they can’t work owing to illness or preferably, a holiday. And of course they always link back to your site in the byline.
A quick way to generate backlinks that are from well known sites related to your field of expertise is to comment on posts that are already there. It’s quick and effective. In my case, I go to Google, search for “SEO”, and click on a recent high profile blog result. After quickly reading the article, I’ll post my thoughts in the comments, and link back to a related post on my own site. If I don’t have a related post, I make sure I do very quickly. It never hurts to have published my own ideas on a recent hot topic anyway.
And that brings us to the cheeky competitors site tip. Go to their site, and comment on their blogs. If possible, find an article there that relates to something you’ve already written about, and say so. “Interesting to see you finally catching up with this one, I’ve been thinking about it for ages”. Cheeky. But include a link to your post, and not only do you get the SEO benefits, but you can hijack part of their readership.
Make sure you have Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin profiles that can be publicly accessed, and link to your posts from there.
Make sure other people can share your posts socially easily too; sharing buttons beneath each post on your website can make a real difference.
I maintain a separate blog, peter.webcraft.co, which has the sole purpose of containing links to my own work. But (importantly) it has other short content there too, after all if it was nothing but links to my own work Google would see right through me.
And that brings us to the whitehat/blackhat concepts. In computer jargon whitehat is most simply defined as “not doing anything dodgy”. Blackhat is the opposite.
There are all manner of techniques for building backlinks to up your search engine ratings. Anything you pay for is usually blackhat. Not illegal, but not exactly cricket either.
Here’s an example. Link pyramids. These used to be very popular, and at times quite costly. You’d pay someone to create an army of low-level links on social networks and lesser known blogs. Then those would link to more popular sites, but again these were all manufactured by the vendor. Then they’d point to a few really highly ranked site, and in turn they would point to your pages.
You were at the top of the pyramid, enjoying the view from the top of search engines rankings.
Then the search engines realised what was happening, and wrote highly intelligent algorithms to find these pyramids, and penalise them. A lot. I’m managing SEO for a client who had to move domain names just to get away from their previous ill-gotten reputation (earned before my involvement, I hasten to add). They had thousands of links, felt at the top of their game, then woke up one morning to find in the eyes of the world wide web, they barely existed anymore.
And then the link building industry moved to a link wheels, and again the cycle began, only to fall later.
And this is a very important lesson I can’t impart strongly enough. SEO is a long game, because it should be organic.
Yes, you can optimise your code, your site speed, your images, etc. Yes, you can spread the word by sharing links to your site on other related blogs, but that’s all real people doing real things. Have great content that people will want to engage with, and share.
But if you try to cheat the system, you’ll be slapped for it. And for many of us, with so much of our business conducted online, a slap can send us under.
Organic growth. Humans interacting. It’s what the Internet was supposed to be about. Search engines make unexpected guardians of that dream, but when it comes to being found online, they hold all the keys.