How Much Has Link Building Changed in Recent Years?

Posted by Paddy_Moogan

I get asked this question a lot. It’s mainly asked by people who are considering buying my link building book and want to know whether it’s still up to date. This is understandable given that the first edition was published in February 2013 and our industry has a deserved reputation for always changing.

I find myself giving the same answer, even though I’ve been asked it probably dozens of times in the last two years—”not that much”. I don’t think this is solely due to the book itself standing the test of time, although I’ll happily take a bit of credit for that 🙂 I think it’s more a sign of our industry as a whole not changing as much as we’d like to think.

I started to question myself and if I was right and honestly, it’s one of the reasons it has taken me over two years to release the second edition of the book.

So I posed this question to a group of friends not so long ago, some via email and some via a Facebook group. I was expecting to be called out by many of them because my position was that in reality, it hasn’t actually changed that much. The thing is, many of them agreed and the conversations ended with a pretty long thread with lots of insights. In this post, I’d like to share some of them, share what my position is and talk about what actually has changed.

My personal view

Link building hasn’t changed as much we think it has.

The core principles of link building haven’t changed. The signals around link building have changed, but mainly around new machine learning developments that have indirectly affected what we do. One thing that has definitely changed is the mindset of SEOs (and now clients) towards link building.

I think the last big change to link building came in April 2012 when Penguin rolled out. This genuinely did change our industry and put to bed a few techniques that should never have worked so well in the first place.

Since then, we’ve seen some things change, but the core principles haven’t changed if you want to build a business that will be around for years to come and not run the risk of being hit by a link related Google update. For me, these principles are quite simple:

  • You need to deserve links – either an asset you create or your product
  • You need to put this asset in front of a relevant audience who have the ability to share it
  • You need consistency – one new asset every year is unlikely to cut it
  • Anything that scales is at risk

For me, the move towards user data driving search results + machine learning has been the biggest change we’ve seen in recent years and it’s still going.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into all of this and I’ll talk about how this relates to link building.

The typical mindset for building links has changed

I think that most SEOs are coming round to the idea that you can’t get away with building low quality links any more, not if you want to build a sustainable, long-term business. Spammy link building still works in the short-term and I think it always will, but it’s much harder than it used to be to sustain websites that are built on spam. The approach is more “churn and burn” and spammers are happy to churn through lots of domains and just make a small profit on each one before moving onto another.

For everyone else, it’s all about the long-term and not putting client websites at risk.

This has led to many SEOs embracing different forms of link building and generally starting to use content as an asset when it comes to attracting links. A big part of me feels that it was actually Penguin in 2012 that drove the rise of content marketing amongst SEOs, but that’s a post for another day…! For today though, this goes some way towards explain the trend we see below.

Slowly but surely, I’m seeing clients come to my company already knowing that low quality link building isn’t what they want. It’s taken a few years after Penguin for it to filter down to client / business owner level, but it’s definitely happening. This is a good thing but unfortunately, the main reason for this is that most of them have been burnt in the past by SEO companies who have built low quality links without giving thought to building good quality ones too.

I have no doubt that it’s this change in mindset which has led to trends like this:

The thing is, I don’t think this was by choice.

Let’s be honest. A lot of us used the kind of link building tactics that Google no longer like because they worked. I don’t think many SEOs were under the illusion that it was genuinely high quality stuff, but it worked and it was far less risky to do than it is today. Unless you were super-spammy, the low-quality links just worked.

Fast forward to a post-Penguin world, things are far more risky. For me, it’s because of this that we see the trends like the above. As an industry, we had the easiest link building methods taken away from us and we’re left with fewer options. One of the main options is content marketing which, if you do it right, can lead to good quality links and importantly, the types of links you won’t be removing in the future. Get it wrong and you’ll lose budget and lose the trust if your boss or client in the power of content when it comes to link building.

There are still plenty of other methods to build links and sometimes we can forget this. Just look at this epic list from Jon Cooper. Even with this many tactics still available to us, it’s hard work. Way harder than it used to be.

My summary here is that as an industry, our mindset has shifted but it certainly wasn’t a voluntary shift. If the tactics that Penguin targeted still worked today, we’d still be using them.

A few other opinions…

I definitely think too many people want the next easy win. As someone surfing the edge of what Google is bringing our way, here’s my general take—SEO, in broad strokes, is changing a lot, *but* any given change is more and more niche and impacts fewer people. What we’re seeing isn’t radical, sweeping changes that impact everyone, but a sort of modularization of SEO, where we each have to be aware of what impacts our given industries, verticals, etc.”

Dr. Pete

 

I don’t feel that techniques for acquiring links have changed that much. You can either earn them through content and outreach or you can just buy them. What has changed is the awareness of “link building” outside of the SEO community. This makes link building / content marketing much harder when pitching to journalists and even more difficult when pitching to bloggers.

“Link building has to be more integrated with other channels and struggles to work in its own environment unless supported by brand, PR and social. Having other channels supporting your link development efforts also creates greater search signals and more opportunity to reach a bigger audience which will drive a greater ROI.

Carl Hendy

 

SEO has grown up in terms of more mature staff and SEOs becoming more ingrained into businesses so there is a smarter (less pressure) approach. At the same time, SEO has become more integrated into marketing and has made marketing teams and decision makers more intelligent in strategies and not pushing for the quick win. I’m also seeing that companies who used to rely on SEO and building links have gone through IPOs and the need to build 1000s of links per quarter has rightly reduced.

Danny Denhard

Signals that surround link building have changed

There is no question about this one in my mind. I actually wrote about this last year in my previous blog post where I talked about signals such as anchor text and deep links changing over time.

Many of the people I asked felt the same, here are some quotes from them, split out by the types of signal.

Domain level link metrics

I think domain level links have become increasingly important compared with page level factors, i.e. you can get a whole site ranking well off the back of one insanely strong page, even with sub-optimal PageRank flow from that page to the rest of the site.

Phil Nottingham

I’d agree with Phil here and this is what I was getting at in my previous post on how I feel “deep links” will matter less over time. It’s not just about domain level links here, it’s just as much about the additional signals available for Google to use (more on that later).

Anchor text

I’ve never liked anchor text as a link signal. I mean, who actually uses exact match commercial keywords as anchor text on the web?

SEOs. 🙂

Sure there will be natural links like this, but honestly, I struggle with the idea that it took Google so long to start turning down the dial on commercial anchor text as a ranking signal. They are starting to turn it down though, slowly but surely. Don’t get me wrong, it still matters and it still works. But like pure link spam, the barrier is a lot more lower now in terms what of constitutes too much.

Rand feels that they matter more than we’d expect and I’d mostly agree with this statement:

Exact match anchor text links still have more power than you’d expect—I think Google still hasn’t perfectly sorted what is “brand” or “branded query” from generics (i.e. they want to start ranking a new startup like meldhome.com for “Meld” if the site/brand gets popular, but they can’t quite tell the difference between that and https://moz.com/learn/seo/redirection getting a few manipulative links that say “redirect”)

Rand Fishkin

What I do struggle with though, is that Google still haven’t figured this out and that short-term, commercial anchor text spam is still so effective. Even for a short burst of time.

I don’t think link building as a concept has changed loads—but I think links as a signal have, mainly because of filters and penalties but I don’t see anywhere near the same level of impact from coverage anymore, even against 18 months ago.

Paul Rogers

New signals have been introduced

It isn’t just about established signals changing though, there are new signals too and I personally feel that this is where we’ve seen the most change in Google algorithms in recent years—going all the way back to Panda in 2011.

With Panda, we saw a new level of machine learning where it almost felt like Google had found a way of incorporating human reaction / feelings into their algorithms. They could then run this against a website and answer questions like the ones included in this post. Things such as:

  • “Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?”
  • “Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?”
  • “Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?”

It is a touch scary that Google was able to run machine learning against answers to questions like this and write an algorithm to predict the answers for any given page on the web. They have though and this was four years ago now.

Since then, they’ve made various moves to utilize machine learning and AI to build out new products and improve their search results. For me, this was one of the biggest and went pretty unnoticed by our industry. Well, until Hummingbird came along I feel pretty sure that we have Ray Kurzweil to thank for at least some of that.

There seems to be more weight on theme/topic related to sites, though it’s hard to tell if this is mostly link based or more user/usage data based. Google is doing a good job of ranking sites and pages that don’t earn the most links but do provide the most relevant/best answer. I have a feeling they use some combination of signals to say “people who perform searches like this seem to eventually wind up on this website—let’s rank it.” One of my favorite examples is the Audubon Society ranking for all sorts of birding-related searches with very poor keyword targeting, not great links, etc. I think user behavior patterns are stronger in the algo than they’ve ever been.

– Rand Fishkin

Leading on from what Rand has said, it’s becoming more and more common to see search results that just don’t make sense if you look at the link metrics—but are a good result.

For me, the move towards user data driving search results + machine learning advanced has been the biggest change we’ve seen in recent years and it’s still going.

Edit: since drafting this post, Tom Anthony released this excellent blog post on his views on the future of search and the shift to data-driven results. I’d recommend reading that as it approaches this whole area from a different perspective and I feel that an off-shoot of what Tom is talking about is the impact on link building.

You may be asking at this point, what does machine learning have to do with link building?

Everything. Because as strong as links are as a ranking signal, Google want more signals and user signals are far, far harder to manipulate than established link signals. Yes it can be done—I’ve seen it happen. There have even been a few public tests done. But it’s very hard to scale and I’d venture a guess that only the top 1% of spammers are capable of doing it, let alone maintaining it for a long period of time. When I think about the process for manipulation here, I actually think we go a step beyond spammers towards hackers and more cut and dry illegal activity.

For link building, this means that traditional methods of manipulating signals are going to become less and less effective as these user signals become stronger. For us as link builders, it means we can’t keep searching for that silver bullet or the next method of scaling link building just for an easy win. The fact is that scalable link building is always going to be at risk from penalization from Google—I don’t really want to live a life where I’m always worried about my clients being hit by the next update. Even if Google doesn’t catch up with a certain method, machine learning and user data mean that these methods may naturally become less effective and cost efficient over time.

There are of course other things such as social signals that have come into play. I certainly don’t feel like these are a strong ranking factor yet, but with deals like this one between Google and Twitter being signed, I wouldn’t be surprised if that ever-growing dataset is used at some point in organic results. The one advantage that Twitter has over Google is it’s breaking news freshness. Twitter is still way quicker at breaking news than Google is—140 characters in a tweet is far quicker than Google News! Google know this which is why I feel they’ve pulled this partnership back into existence after a couple of years apart.

There is another important point to remember here and it’s nicely summarised by Dr. Pete:

At the same time, as new signals are introduced, these are layers not replacements. People hear social signals or user signals or authorship and want it to be the link-killer, because they already fucked up link-building, but these are just layers on top of on-page and links and all of the other layers. As each layer is added, it can verify the layers that came before it and what you need isn’t the magic signal but a combination of signals that generally matches what Google expects to see from real, strong entities. So, links still matter, but they matter in concert with other things, which basically means it’s getting more complicated and, frankly, a bit harder. Of course, on one wants to hear that.”

– Dr. Pete

The core principles have not changed

This is the crux of everything for me. With all the changes listed above, the key is that the core principles around link building haven’t changed. I could even argue that Penguin didn’t change the core principles because the techniques that Penguin targeted should never have worked in the first place. I won’t argue this too much though because even Google advised website owners to build directory links at one time.

You need an asset

You need to give someone a reason to link to you. Many won’t do it out of the goodness of their heart! One of the most effective ways to do this is to develop a content asset and use this as your reason to make people care. Once you’ve made someone care, they’re more likely to share the content or link to it from somewhere.

You need to promote that asset to the right audience

I really dislike the stance that some marketers take when it comes to content promotion—build great content and links will come.

No. Sorry but for the vast majority of us, that’s simply not true. The exceptions are people that sky dive from space or have huge existing audiences to leverage.

You simply have to spend time promoting your content or your asset for it to get shares and links. It is hard work and sometimes you can spend a long time on it and get little return, but it’s important to keep working at until you’re at a point where you have two things:

  • A big enough audience where you can almost guarantee at least some traffic to your new content along with some shares
  • Enough strong relationships with relevant websites who you can speak to when new content is published and stand a good chance of them linking to it

Getting to this point is hard—but that’s kind of the point. There are various hacks you can use along the way but it will take time to get right.

You need consistency

Leading on from the previous point. It takes time and hard work to get links to your content—the types of links that stand the test of time and you’re not going to be removing in 12 months time anyway! This means that you need to keep pushing content out and getting better each and every time. This isn’t to say you should just churn content out for the sake of it, far from it. I am saying that with each piece of content you create, you will learn to do at least one thing better the next time. Try to give yourself the leverage to do this.

Anything scalable is at risk

Scalable link building is exactly what Google has been trying to crack down on for the last few years. Penguin was the biggest move and hit some of the most scalable tactics we had at our disposal. When you scale something, you often lose some level of quality, which is exactly what Google doesn’t want when it comes to links. If you’re still relying on tactics that could fall into the scalable category, I think you need to be very careful and just look at the trend in the types of links Google has been penalizing to understand why.

The part Google plays in this

To finish up, I want to briefly talk about the part that Google plays in all of this and shaping the future they want for the web.

I’ve always tried to steer clear of arguments involving the idea that Google is actively pushing FUD into the community. I’ve preferred to concentrate more on things I can actually influence and change with my clients rather than what Google is telling us all to do.

However, for the purposes of this post, I want to talk about it.

General paranoia has increased. My bet is there are some companies out there carrying out zero specific linkbuilding activity through worry.

Dan Barker

Dan’s point is a very fair one and just a day or two after reading this in an email, I came across a page related to a client’s target audience that said:

“We are not publishing guest posts on SITE NAME any more. All previous guest posts are now deleted. For more information, see www.mattcutts.com/blog/guest-blogging/“.

I’ve reworded this as to not reveal the name of the site, but you get the point.

This is silly. Honestly, so silly. They are a good site, publish good content, and had good editorial standards. Yet they have ignored all of their own policies, hard work, and objectives to follow a blog post from Matt. I’m 100% confident that it wasn’t sites like this one that Matt was talking about in this blog post.

This is, of course, from the publishers’ angle rather than the link builders’ angle, but it does go to show the effect that statements from Google can have. Google know this so it does make sense for them to push out messages that make their jobs easier and suit their own objectives—why wouldn’t they? In a similar way, what did they do when they were struggling to classify at scale which links are bad vs. good and they didn’t have a big enough web spam team? They got us to do it for them 🙂

I’m mostly joking here, but you see the point.

The most recent infamous mobilegeddon update, discussed here by Dr. Pete is another example of Google pushing out messages that ultimately scared a lot of people into action. Although to be fair, I think that despite the apparent small impact so far, the broad message from Google is a very serious one.

Because of this, I think we need to remember that Google does have their own agenda and many shareholders to keep happy. I’m not in the camp of believing everything that Google puts out is FUD, but I’m much more sensitive and questioning of the messages now than I’ve ever been.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts in the comments.

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How to Create Boring-Industry Content that Gets Shared

Posted by ronell-smith

If you think creating content for boring industries is tough, try creating content for an expensive product that’ll be sold in a so-called boring industry. Such was the problem faced by Mike Jackson, head of sales for a large Denver-based company that was debuting a line of new high-end products for the fishing industry in 2009.

After years of pestering the executives of his traditional, non-flashy company to create a line of products that could be sold to anglers looking to buy premium items, he finally had his wish: a product so expensive only a small percentage of anglers could afford them.

(image source)

What looked like being boxed into a corner was actually part of the plan.

When asked how he could ever put his neck on the line for a product he’d find tough to sell and even tougher to market, he revealed his brilliant plan.

“I don’t need to sell one million of [these products] a year,” he said. “All I need to do is sell a few hundred thousand, which won’t be hard. And as far as marketing, that’s easy: I’m ignoring the folks who’ll buy the items. I’m targeting professional anglers, the folks the buyers are influenced by. If the pros, the influencers, talk about and use the products, people will buy them.”

Such was my first introduction to how it’s often wise to ignore who’ll buy the product in favor of marketing to those who’ll help you market and sell the product.

These influencers are a sweet spot in product marketing and they are largely ignored by many brands

Looking at content for boring industries all wrong

A few months back, I received a message in Google Plus that really piqued my interest: “What’s the best way to create content for my boring business? Just kidding. No one will read it, nor share information from a painter anyway.”

I went from being dismayed to disheartened. Dismayed because the business owner hadn’t yet found a way to connect with his prospects through meaningful content. Disheartened because he seemed to have given up trying.

You can successfully create content for boring industries. Doing so requires nothing out of the ordinary from what you’d normally do to create content for any industry. That’s the good news.

The bad news: Creating successful content for boring industries requires you think beyond content and SEO, focusing heavily on content strategy and outreach.

Successfully creating content for boring industries—or any industry, for that matter—comes down to who’ll share it and who’ll link to it, not who’ll read it, a point nicely summed up in this tweet:

So when businesses struggle with creating content for their respective industries, the culprits are typically easy to find:

  • They lack clarity on who they are creating content for (e.g., content strategy, personas)
  • There are no specific goals (e.g., traffic, links, conversions, etc.) assigned regarding the content, so measuring its effectiveness is impossible
  • They’re stuck in neutral thinking viral content is the only option, while ignoring the value of content amplification (e.g., PR/outreach)

Alone, these three elements are bad; taken together, though, they spell doom for your brand.

content does not equal amplification

If you lack clarity on who you’re creating content for, the best you can hope for is that sometimes you’ll create and share information members of your audience find useful, but you likely won’t be able to reach or engage them with the needed frequency to make content marketing successful.

Goals, or lack thereof, are the real bugaboo of content creation. The problem is even worse for boring industries, where the pressure is on to deliver a content vehicle that meets the threshold of interest to simply gain attention, much less, earn engagement.

For all the hype about viral content, it’s dismaying that so few marketers aren’t being honest on the topic: it’s typically hard to create, impossible to predict and typically has very, very little connection to conversions for most businesses.

What I’ve found is that businesses, regardless of category, struggle to create worthwhile content, leading me to believe there is no boring industry content, only content that’s boring.

“Whenever we label content as ‘boring,’ we’re really admitting we have no idea how to approach marketing something,” says Builtvisible’s Richard Baxter.

Now that we know what the impediments are to producing content for any industry, including boring industries, it’s time to tackle the solution.

Develop a link earning mindset

There are lots of article on the web regarding how to create content for boring industries, some of which have appeared on this very blog.

But, to my mind, the one issue they all suffer from is they all focus on what content should be created, not (a) what content is worthy of promotion, (b) how to identify those who could help with promotion, and (c) how to earn links from boring industry content. (Remember, much of the content that’s read is never shared; much of what’s shared is never read in its entirety; and some of the most linked-to content is neither heavily shared nor heavily read.)

This is why content creators in boring industries should scrap their notions of having the most-read and most-shared content, shifting their focus to creating content that can earn links in addition to generating traffic and social signals to the site.

After all, links and conversions are the main priorities for most businesses sharing content online, including so-called local businesses.

ranking factors survey results

(Image courtesy of the 2014 Moz Local Search Ranking Factors Survey)

If you’re ready to create link-earning, traffic-generating content for your boring-industry business follow the tips from the fictitious example of RZ’s Auto Repair, a Dallas, Texas, automobile shop.

With the Dallas-Forth Worth market being large and competitive, RZ’s has narrowed their speciality to storm repair, mainly hail damage, which is huge in the area. Even with the narrowed focus, however, they still have stiff competition from the major players in the vertical, including MAACO.

What the brand does have in its favor, however, is a solid website and a strong freelance copywriter to help produce content.

Remember, those three problems we mentioned above—lack of goals, lack of clarity and lack of focus on amplification—we’ll now put them to good use to drive our main objectives of traffic, links and conversions.

Setting the right goals

For RZ, this is easy: He needs sales, business (e.g., qualified leads and conversions), but he knows he must be patient since using paid media is not in the cards.

Therefore, he sits down with his partner, and they come up with what seems like the top five workable, important goals:

  1. Increased traffic on the website – He’s noticed that when traffic increases, so does his business.
  2. More phone calls – If they get a customer on the phone, the chances of closing the sale are around 75%.
  3. One blog per week on the site – The more often he blogs, the more web traffic, visits and phone calls increase.
  4. Links from some of the businesses in the area – He’s no dummy. He knows the importance of links, which are that much better when they come from a large company that could send him business.
  5. Develop relationships with small and midsize non-competing businesses in the area for cross promotions, events and the like.

Know the audience

marketing group discussing personas

(image source)

Too many businesses create cute blogs that might generate traffic but do nothing for sales. RZ isn’t falling for this trap. He’s all about identifying the audience who’s likely to do business with him.

Luckily, his secretary is a meticulous record keeper, allowing him to build a reasonable profile of his target persona based on past clients.

  • 21-35 years old
  • Drives a truck that’s less than fours years old
  • Has an income of $45,000-$59,000
  • Employed by a corporation with greater than 500 employees
  • Active on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter
  • Consumes most of their information online
  • Typically referred by a friend or a co-worker

This information will prove invaluable as he goes about creating content. Most important, these nuggets create a clearer picture of how he should go about looking for people and/or businesses to amplify his content.

PR and outreach: Your amplification engines

Armed with his goals and the knowledge of his audience, RZ can now focus on outreach for amplification, thinking along the lines of…

  • Who/what influences his core audience?
  • What could he offer them by way of content to earn their help?
  • What content would they find valuable enough to share and link to?
  • What challenges do they face that he could help them with?
  • How could his brand set itself apart from any other business looking for help from these potential outreach partners?

Putting it all together

Being the savvy businessperson he is, RZ pulls his small staff together and they put their thinking caps on.

Late spring through early fall is prime hail storm season in Dallas. The season accounts for 80 percent of his yearly business. (The other 20% is fender benders.) Also, they realize, many of the storms happen in the late afternoon/early evening, when people are on their way home from work and are stuck in traffic, or when they duck into the grocery store or hit the gym after work.

What’s more, says one of the staffers, often a huge group of clients will come at once, owing to having been parked in the same lot when a storm hits.

Eureka!

lightbulb

(image source)

That’s when RZ bolts out of his chair with the idea that could put his business on the map: Let’s create content for businesses getting a high volume of after-work traffic—sit-down restaurants, gyms, grocery stores, etc.

The businesses would be offering something of value to their customers, who’ll learn about precautions to take in the event of a hail storm, and RZ would have willing amplifiers for his content.

Content is only as boring as your outlook

First—and this is a fatal mistake too many content creators make—RZ visits the handful of local businesses he’d like to partner with. The key here, however, is he smartly makes them aware that he’s done his homework and is eager to help their patrons while making them aware of his service.

This is an integral part of outreach: there must be a clear benefit to the would-be benefactor.

After RZ learns that several of the businesses are amenable to sharing his business’s helpful information, he takes the next step and asks what form the content should take. For now, all he can get them to promote is a glossy one-sheeter, “How To Protect Your Vehicle Against Extensive Hail Damage,” that the biggest gym in the area will promote via a small display at the check-in in return for a 10% coupon for customers.

Three of the five others he talked to also agreed to promote the one-sheeter, though each said they’d be willing to promote other content investments provided they added value for their customers.

The untold truth about creating content for boring industries

When business owners reach out to me about putting together a content strategy for their boring brand, I make two things clear from the start:

  1. There are no boring brands. Those two words are a cop out. No matter what industry you serve, there are hoards of people who use the products or services who are quite smitten.
  2. What they see as boring, I see as an opportunity.

In almost every case, they want to discuss some of another big content piece that’s sure to draw eyes, engagement, and that maybe even leads to a few links. Sure, I say, if you have tons of money to spend.

big content example

(Amazing piece of interactive content created by BuiltVisible)

Assuming you don’t have money to burn, and you want a plan you can replicate easily over time, try what I call the 1-2-1 approach for monthly blog content:

1: A strong piece of local content (goal: organic reach, topical relevance, local SEO)

2: Two pieces of evergreen content (goal: traffic)

1: A link-worthy asset (goal: links)

This plan is not very hard at all to pull off, provided you have your ear to the street in the local market; have done your keyword research, identifying several long-tail keywords you have the ability to rank for; and you’re willing to continue with outreach.

What it does is allow the brand to create content with enough frequency to attain significance with the search engines, while also developing the habit of sharing, promoting and amplifying content as well. For example, all of the posts would be shared on Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook. (Don’t sleep on paid promotion via Facebook.)

Also, for the link-worthy asset, there would be outreach in advance of its creation, then amplification, and continued promotion from the company and those who’ve agreed to support the content.

Create a winning trifecta: Outreach, promotion and amplification

To RZ’s credit, he didn’t dawdle, getting right to work creating worthwhile content via the 1-2-1 method:

1: “The Worst Places in Dallas to be When a Hail Storm Hits”
2: “Can Hail Damage Cause Structural Damage to Your Car?” and “Should You Buy a Car Damaged by Hail?”
1: “Big as Hail!” contest

This contest idea came from the owner of a large local gym. RZ’s will give $500 to the local homeowner who sends in the largest piece of hail, as judged by Facebook fans, during the season. In return, the gym will promote the contest at its multiple locations, link to the content promotion page on RZ’s website, and share images of its fans holding large pieces of hail via social media.

What does the gym get in return: A catchy slogan (e.g., it’s similar to “big as hell,” popular gym parlance) to market around during the hail season.

It’s a win-win for everyone involved, especially RZ.

He gets a link, but most important he realizes how to create content to nail each one of his goals. You can do the same. All it takes is a change in mindset. Away from content creation. Toward outreach, promote and amplify.

Summary

While the story of RZ’s entirely fictional, it is based on techniques I’ve used with other small and midsize businesses. The keys, I’ve found, are to get away from thinking about your industry/brand as being boring, even if it is, and marshal the resources to find the audience who’ll benefit from from your content and, most important, identify the influencers who’ll promote and amplify it.

What are your thoughts?

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Everything a Small Business Should Know About SEO

SEO has often been confusing for the small business owner and now with Google algorithms changing all the time and the idea of penalties, it has even gotten scary. So how does one really…

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Local Centroids are Now Individual Users: How Can We Optimize for Their Searches?

Posted by MiriamEllis

“Google is getting better at detecting location at a more granular level—even on the desktop.
The user is the new centroid.” – 
David Mihm

The history of the centroid

The above quote succinctly summarizes the current state of affairs for local business owners and their customers. The concept of a centroid—
a central point of relevance—is almost as old as local search. In 2008, people like Mike Blumenthal and Google Maps Manager Carter Maslan were sharing statistics like this:

“…research indicates that up to 80% of the variation in rank can be explained by distance from the centroid on certain searches.”

At that time, businesses located near town hall or a similar central hub appeared to be experiencing a ranking advantage.

Fast forward to 2013, and Mike weighed in again with 
an updated definition of “industry centroids”

“If you read their (Google’s) patents, they actually deal with the center of the industries … as defining the center of the search. So if all the lawyers are on the corner of Main and State, that typically defines the center of the search, rather than the center of the city… it isn’t even the centroid of the city that matters. It matters that you are near where the other people in your industry are.”

In other words, Google’s perception of a centralized location for auto dealerships could be completely different than that for medical practices, and that
neither might be located anywhere near the city center.

While the concepts of city and industry centroids may still play a part in some searches,
local search results in 2015 clearly indicate Google’s shift toward deeming the physical location of the desktop or mobile user a powerful factor in determining relevance. The relationship between where your customer is when he performs a search and where your business is physically located has never been more important.

Moreover, in this new, user-centric environment, Google has moved beyond simply detecting cities to detecting neighborhoods and even streets. What this means for local business owners is that
your hyperlocal information has become a powerful component of your business data. This post will teach you how to better serve your most local customers.

Seeing the centroid in action

If you do business in a small town with few competitors, ranking for your product/service + city terms is likely to cover most of your bases. The user-as-centroid phenomenon is most applicable in mid-to-large sized towns and cities with reasonable competition. I’ll be using two districts in San Francisco—Bernal Heights and North Beach—in these illustrations and we’ll be going on a hunt for pizza.

On a desktop, searching for “pizza north beach san francisco” or setting my location to this neighborhood and city while searching for the product, Google will show me something like this:

Performing this same search, but with “bernal heights” substituted, Google shows me pizzerias in a completely different part of the city:

local result bernal heights pizza san francisco

And, when I move over to my mobile device, Google narrows the initial results down to
just three enviable players in each district. These simple illustrations demonstrate Google’s increasing sensitivity to serving me nearby businesses offering what I want.

The physical address of your business is the most important factor in serving the user as centroid. This isn’t something you can control, but there are things you
can do to market your business as being highly relevant to your hyperlocal geography.

Specialized content for the user-centroid

We’ll break this down into four common business models to help get you thinking about planning content that serves your most local customers.

1. Single-location business

Make the shift toward viewing your business not just as “Tony’s Pizza in San Francisco”, but as “Tony’s Pizza
in North Beach, San Francisco”. Consider:

  • Improving core pages of your website or creating new pages to include references to the proud part you play in the neighborhood scene. Talk about the history of your area and where you fit into that.
  • Interview locals and ask them to share their memories about the neighborhood and what they like about living there.
  • Showcase your participation in local events.
  • Plan an event, contest or special for customers in your district.
  • Take pictures, label them with hyperlocal terms, post them on your site and share them socially.
  • Blog about local happenings that are relevant to you and your customers, such as a street market where you buy the tomatoes that top your pizzas or a local award you’ve won.
  • Depending on your industry, there will be opportunities for hyperlocal content specific to your business. For example, a restaurant can make sure its menu is in crawlable text and can name some favorite dishes after the neighborhood—The Bernal Heights Special. Meanwhile, a spa in North Beach can create a hyperlocal name for a service—The North Beach Organic Spa Package. Not only does this show district pride, but customers may mention these products and services by name in their reviews, reinforcing your local connection.

2. Multi-location business within a single city

All that applies to the single location applies to you, too, but you’ve got to find a way to scale building out content for each neighborhood.

  • If your resources are strong, build a local landing page for each of your locations, including basic optimization for the neighborhood name. Meanwhile, create blog categories for each neighborhood and rotate your efforts on a week by week basis. First week, blog about neighborhood A, next week, find something interesting to write about concerning neighborhood B. Over time, you’ll have developed a nice body of content proving your involvement in each district.
  • If you’re short on resources, you’ll still want to build out a basic landing page for each of your stores in your city and make the very best effort you can to showcase your neighborhood pride on these pages.

3. Multiple businesses, multiple cities

Again, scaling this is going to be key and how much you can do will depend upon your resources.

  • The minimum requirement will be a landing page on the site for each physical location, with basic optimization for your neighborhood terms.
  • Beyond this, you’ll be making a decision about how much hyperlocal content you can add to the site/blog for each district, or whether time can be utilized more effectively via off-site social outreach. If you’ve got lots of neighborhoods to cover in lots of different cities, designating a social representative for each store and giving him the keys to your profiles (after a training session in company policies) may make the most sense.

4. Service area businesses (SABs)

Very often, service area businesses are left out in the cold with various local developments, but in my own limited testing, Google is applying at least some hyperlocal care to these business models. I can search for a neighborhood plumber, just as I would a pizza:

local results plumber bernal heights san francisco

To be painstakingly honest, plumbers are going to have to be pretty ingenious to come up with a ton of engaging industry/neighborhood content and may be confined mainly to creating some decent service area landing pages that share a bit about their work in various neighborhoods. Other business models, like contractors, home staging firms and caterers should find it quite easy to talk about district architecture, curb appeal and events on a hyperlocal front.

While your SAB is still unlikely to beat out a competitor with a physical location in a given neighborhood, you still have a chance to associate your business with that area of your town with well-planned content.


Need creative inspiration for the writing projects ahead?
Don’t miss this awesome wildcard search tip Mary Bowling shared at LocalUp. Add an underscore or asterisk to your search terms and just look at the good stuff Google will suggest to you:

wildcard search content ideas

Does Tony’s patio make his business one of
Bernal Heights’ dog-friendly restaurants or does his rooftop view make his restaurant the most picturesque lunch spot in the district? If so, he’s got two new topics to write about, either on his basic landing pages or his blog.

Hop over to 
Whitespark’s favorite takeaways from Mike Ramsey’s LocalUp presentation, too.

Citations and reviews with the user centroid in mind

Here are the basics about citations, broken into the same four business models:

1. Single-location business

You get just one citation on each platform, unless you have multiple departments or practitioners. That means one Google+ Local page, one Yelp profile, one Best of the Web listing. etc. You do not get one citation for your city and another for your neighborhood. Very simple.

2. Multi-location business within a single city

As with the single location business, you are entitled to just one set of citations per physical location. That means one Google+ Local listing for your North Beach pizza place and another for your restaurant in Bernal Heights.

A regular FAQ here in the Moz Q&A Forum relates to how Google will differentiate between two businesses located in the same city. Here are some tips:

  • Google no longer supports the use of modifiers in the business name field, so you can no longer be Tony’s Pizza – Bernal Heights, unless your restaurant is actually named this. You can only be Tony’s Pizza.
  • Facebook’s policies are different than Google’s. To my understanding, Facebook won’t permit you to build more than one Facebook Place for the identical brand name. Thus, to comply with their guidelines, you must differentiate by using those neighborhood names or other modifiers. Given that this same rule applies to all of your competitors, this should not be seen as a danger to your NAP consistency, because apparently, no multi-location business creating Facebook Places will have 100% consistent NAP. The playing field is, then, even.
  • The correct place to differentiate your businesses on all other platforms is in the address field. Google will understand that one of your branches is on A St. and the other is on B St. and will choose which one they feel is most relevant to the user.
  • Google is not a fan of call centers. Unless it’s absolutely impossible to do so, use a unique local phone number for each physical location to prevent mix-ups on Google’s part, and use this number consistently across all web-based mentions of the business.
  • Though you can’t put your neighborhood name in the title, you can definitely include it in the business description field most citation platforms provide.
  • Link your citations to their respective local landing pages on your website, not to your homepage.

3. Multiple businesses, multiple cities

Everything in business model #2 applies to you as well. You are allowed one set of citations for each of your physical locations, and while you can’t modify your Google+ Local business name, you can mention your neighborhood in the description. Promote each location equally in all you do and then rely on Google to separate your locations for various users based on your addresses and phone numbers.

4. SABs

You are exactly like business model #1 when it comes to citations, with the exception of needing to abide by Google’s rules about hiding your address if you don’t serve customers at your place of business. Don’t build out additional citations for neighborhoods you serve, other cities you serve or various service offerings. Just create one citation set. You should be fine mentioning some neighborhoods in your citation descriptions, but don’t go overboard on this.

When it comes to review management, you’ll be managing unique sets of reviews for each of your physical locations. One method for preventing business owner burnout is to manage each location in rotation. One week, tend to owner responses for Business A. Do Business B the following week. In week three, ask for some reviews for Business A and do the same for B in week four. Vary the tasks and take your time unless faced with a sudden reputation crisis.

You can take some additional steps to “hyperlocalize” your review profiles:

  • Write about your neighborhood in the business description on your profile.
  • You can’t compel random customers to mention your neighborhood, but you can certainly do so from time to time when your write responses. “We’ve just installed the first soda fountain Bernal Heights has seen since 1959. Come have a cool drink on us this summer.”
  • Offer a neighborhood special to people who bring in a piece of mail with their address on it. Prepare a little handout for all-comers, highlighting a couple of review profiles where you’d love to hear how they liked the Bernal Heights special. Or, gather email addresses if possible and follow up via email shortly after the time of service.
  • If your business model is one that permits you to name your goods or service packages, don’t forget the tip mentioned earlier about thinking hyperlocal when brainstorming names. Pretty cool if you can get your customers talking about how your “North Beach Artichoke Pizza” is the best pie in town!

Investigate your social-hyperlocal opportunties

I still consider website-based content publication to be more than half the battle in ranking locally, but sometimes, real-time social outreach can accomplish things static articles or scheduled blog posts can’t. The amount of effort you invest in social outreach should be based on your resources and an assessment of how naturally your industry lends itself to socialization. Fire insurance salesmen are going to find it harder to light up their neighborhood community than yoga studios will. Consider your options:

Remember that you are investigating each opportunity to see how it stacks up not just to promoting your location in your city, but in your neighborhood.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Remember that Sesame Street jingle? It hails from a time when urban dwellers strongly identified with a certain district of hometown. People were “from the neighborhood.” If my grandfather was a Mission District fella, maybe yours was from Chinatown. Now, we’re shifting in fascinating directions. Even as we’ve settled into telecommuting to jobs in distant states or countries, Amazon is offering one hour home delivery to our neighbors in Manhattan. Doctors are making house calls again! Any day now, I’m expecting a milkman to start making his rounds around here. Commerce has stretched to span the globe and now it’s zooming in to meet the needs of the family next door.

If the big guys are setting their sights on near-instant services within your community, take note.
You live in that community. You talk, face-to-face, with your neighbors every day and know the flavor of the local scene better than any remote competitor can right now.

Now is the time to reinvigorate that old neighborhood pride in the way you’re visualizing your business, marketing it and personally communicating to customers that you’re right there for them.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Hiring for SEO: How to Find and Hire Someone with Little or No Experience

Posted by RuthBurrReedy

SEO is a seller’s market. The supply of people with SEO experience is currently no match for the demand for search engine marketing services, as anyone who has spent months searching for the right SEO candidate can tell you. Even in a big city with a booming tech scene (like Seattle, LA, New York, or Austin), experienced SEOs are thin on the ground. In a local market where the economy is less tech-driven (like, say, Oklahoma City, where I work), finding an experienced SEO (even one with just a year or two of experience) is like finding a unicorn.

You’re hired. (Photo via 
Pixabay)

If you’re looking for an in-house SEO or someone to run your whole program, you may have no choice but to hold out for a hero (and think about relocating someone). If you’re an SEO trying to grow a team of digital marketers at an agency or to expand a large in-house team, sometimes your best bet is to hire someone with no digital marketing experience but a lot of potential and train them. 

However, you can’t plug just anyone into an SEO role, train them up right and have them be fantastic (or enjoy their job); there are definite skills, talents and personality traits that contribute to success in digital marketing.

Most advice on hiring SEOs is geared toward making sure they know their stuff and aren’t spammers. That’s not really applicable to hiring at the trainee level, though. So how can you tell whether someone is right for a job they’ve never done? At BigWing, we’ve had a lot of success hiring smart young people and turning them into digital marketers, and there are a few things we look for in a candidate.

Are they an aggressive, independent learner?

Successful SEOs spend a ton of time on continued learning—reading blogs, attending conferences and webinars, discussing and testing new techniques—and a lot of that learning happens outside of normal work hours. The right candidate should be someone who loves learning and has the ability to independently drive their ongoing education.

Ask job candidates about another situation where they’ve had to quickly pick up a new skill. What did they do to learn it? How did that go? If it’s never come up for them, ask what they might do in that situation.

Interview prep is something I always look for in a candidate, since it shows they’re actually interested in the job. Ask what they’ve done to prep for the interview. Did they take a look at your company website? Maybe do some Googling to find other informational resources on what digital marketing entails? What did they learn? Where did they learn it? How did they find it?

Give your candidates some homework before the interview. Have them read the 
Beginner’s Guide to SEO, maybe Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, or the demo modules at Distilled U. How much of it did they retain? More importantly, what did they learn? Which brings us to:

Do they have a small understanding of what SEO is and why we do it?

I’ve seen a lot of people get excited about learning SEO, do OK for a year or two, and then crash and burn. The number one cause of SEO flame-out or burn-out, in my experience, is an inability to pivot from old tactics to new ones. This failure often stems from a fundamental lack of understanding of what SEO is (marketing, connecting websites that have stuff with people who want that stuff) and what it is not (any single SEO tactic).

It can be frustrating when the methods you originally learned on, or that used to work so well, dry up and blow away (I’m looking at you, siloing and PageRank sculpting). If you’re focused on what tricks and tactics can get you ranking #1, instead of on how you’re using digital techniques to market to and connect with potential customers, sooner or later the rug’s going to get pulled out from under you.

Ask your candidates: what did they retain from their research? Are they totally focused on the search engine, or have they thought about how visits can turn into revenue? Do they seem more interested in being a hacker, or a marketer? Some people really fall in love with the idea that they could manipulate search engines to do what they want; I look for people who are more in love with the idea of using the Internet as a tool to connect businesses with their customers, since ultimately your SEO client is going to want revenue, not just rankings.

Another trait I look for in the interview process is empathy. Can they articulate why a business might want to invest in search? Ask them to imagine some fears or concerns a small business owner might have when starting up an Internet marketing program. This is especially important for agency work, where communicating success requires an understanding of your client’s goals and concerns.

Can they write?

Photo via 
Pixabay

Even if you’re looking to grow someone into a technical SEO, not a content creator, SEO involves writing well. You’re going to have to be able to create on-page elements that not only communicate topical relevance to search engines but also appeal to users.

This should go without saying, but in my experience definitely doesn’t: their resume should be free of typos and grammatical errors. Not only is this an indicator of their ability to write while unsupervised, it’s also an indicator of their attention to detail and how seriously they’re taking the position.

Any kind of writing experience is a major plus for me when looking at a resume, but isn’t necessarily a requirement. It’s helpful to get some idea of what they’re capable of, though. Ask for a writing sample, and better yet, look for a writing sample in the wild online. Have they blogged before?
You’ll almost certainly be exchanging emails with a candidate before an interview—pay attention to how they communicate via email. Is it hard to tell what they’re talking about? Good writing isn’t just about grammar; it’s about communicating ideas.

I like to give candidates a scenario like “A client saw traffic to their website decline because of an error we failed to detect. We found and corrected the error, but their traffic numbers are still down for the month,” and have them compose a pretend email to the client about what happened. This is a great way to test both their written communication skills and their empathy for the client. Are you going to have to proofread their client emails before they go out? That sounds tedious.

How are their critical thinking and data analysis skills?

A brand-new digital marketer probably won’t have any experience with analytics tools like Google Analytics, and that’s OK—you can teach them how to use those. What’s harder to teach is an ability to think critically and to use data to make decisions.

Have your candidates ever been in a situation where they needed to use data to figure out what to do next? What about tell a story, back up a claim or change someone’s mind? Recent college grads should all have recent experience with this, regardless of their major—critical thinking and data analysis are what college is all about.
How comfortable are they in Microsoft Excel? They don’t have to love it, but if they absolutely loathe it, SEO probably isn’t for them. Would it make them miserable to spend most of a day in a spreadsheet (not every day, but fairly regularly)?

Are they a citizen of the web?

Even if they’ve never heard of SEO, a new employee is going to have an easier time learning it if they’re already pretty net savvy. An active web presence also indicates a general interest in the the Internet, which is one indicator of whether they’ll have long-term interest in digital marketing as a field. Do some recon: are they active on social media? Have they ever blogged? What comes up when you Google them?

Prior experience

Different applicants will have different backgrounds, and you’ll have the best idea of what skills someone will need to bring to the table to fill the role you need. When I’m reading a resume, I take experience in any of these areas as a good sign:

  • Marketing 
  • Advertising 
  • Public relations 
  • APIs (using them, creating apps with them, what have you) 
  • Web development or coding of any kind 
  • Web design 
  • Copywriting

Your mileage may vary

Photo via 
Knowyourmeme

Very few candidates are going to excel in all of the areas outlined above, and everyone you talk to is going to be stronger in some areas than others. Since digital marketing can include a wide variety of different tasks, keep in mind the things you’d actually like the person to do on the job; for example, written communication becomes somewhat less important in a non-client-facing role. At the very least, look for a smart, driven person who is excited about digital marketing as a career opportunity (not just as a next paycheck).

Hiring inexperienced people has its risks: the person you hire may not actually turn out to be any good at SEO. They may have more trouble learning it than you anticipated, and once they start doing it, they may decide that SEO just isn’t what they want to do long-term.

On the other hand, hiring and training someone who’s a great fit for your company culture and who is excited about learning often results in a better employee than hiring someone with experience who doesn’t really mesh well with your team. Plus, teaching someone SEO is a great way to make sure they don’t have any bad habits that could put your clients at risk. Best of all, you have the opportunity to unlock a whole career for someone and watch them grow into a world-class marketer—and that’s a great feeling.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Supercharge Your Local SEO: The Complete Guide – Luke Summerfield

2012 welcomed in a new era for search with literally weekly google algorithm updates and a new focus on localized search. As a business owner or marketer, ra…

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2013 SEO and Internet Marketing Strategies

2013 SEO and Internet Marketing strategies will be similar to last year. I was joined this time by successful online business owner David Berry from http://t…

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