Announcing the All-New Beginner’s Guide to Link Building

Posted by Trevor-Klein

It is my great pleasure to announce the release of Moz’s third guide for marketers, written by the inimitable 
Paddy Moogan of Distilled:

We could tell you all about how high-quality, authoritative links pointing to your site benefit your standing in the SERPs, but instead we’ll just copy the words straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth:

<img style="float: left; width: 64px; border-radius: 3px; margin-right: 20px; margin-left: 60px;" src="http://d2v4zi8pl64nxt.cloudfront.net/beginners-guide-to-link-building/53f24cf6adc0a8.24313709.jpg"

“Backlinks, even though there’s some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really, really big win in terms of quality for search results.”
— Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, 
2/19/14

Link building is one area of SEO that has changed significantly over the last several years; 
some tactics that were once effective are now easily identifiable and penalized by Google. At the same time, earning links remains vital to success in search marketing: Link authority features showed the strongest correlation with higher rankings in our 2013 ranking factors survey. For that reason, it has never been more important for marketers to truly earn their links, and this guide will have you building effective campaigns in no time.


What you’ll learn


1. What is Link Building, and Why Is It Important?


This is where it all begins. If you’re brand new to link building and aren’t sure whether or not it’s a good tactic to include in your marketing repertoire, give this chapter a look. Even the more seasoned link earners among us could use a refresher from time to time, and here we cover everything from what links mean to search engines to the various ways they can help your business’s bottom line.


2. Types of Links (Both Good and Bad)

Before you dive into building links of your own, it’s important to understand the three main types of links and why you should really only be thinking about two of them. That’s what this short and sweet chapter is all about.


3. How to Start a Link Building Campaign

Okay, enough with the theory; it’s time for the nitty-gritty. This chapter takes a deep dive into every step of a link building campaign, offering examples and templates you can use to build your own foundation. 


4. Link Building Tactics

Whether through ego bait or guest blogging (yes, that’s 
still a viable tactic!), there are several approaches you can take to building a strong link profile. This chapter takes a detailed run through the tactics you’re most likely to employ.


5. Link Building Metrics

Now that the links are rolling in, how do you prove to ourselves and our clients that our work is paying off? The metrics outlined in this chapter, along with the tools recommended to measure them, offer a number of options for your reports.


6. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Link Building

If we’re preaching to the choir with this chapter, then we’re thrilled, because spammy links can lead to severe penalties. Google has gotten incredibly good at picking out and penalizing spammy link building techniques, and if this chapter isn’t enough to make you put your white hat on, nothing is.


7. Advanced Link Building Tips and Tricks

Mastered the rest of what the guide has to offer? Earning links faster than 
John Paulson earns cash? Here are a few tips to take your link building to the next level. Caution: You may or may not find yourself throwing fireballs after mastering these techniques.


The PDF

When we released the Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, there was an instant demand for a downloadable PDF version. This time, it’s ready from the get-go (big thanks to David O’Hara!).

Click here to download the PDF.

Thanks

We simply can’t thank Paddy Moogan enough for writing this guide. His expertise and wisdom made the project possible. Thanks as well to Ashley Tate for wrangling the early stages of the project, Cyrus Shepard for his expert review and a few key additions, Derric Wise and David O’Hara for bringing it to life with their art, and Andrew Palmer for seamlessly translating everything onto the web.

Now, go forth and earn those links!

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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The New Link Building Survey 2014 – Results

Posted by JamesAgate

Many of you may have seen Skyrocket SEO’s Link Building Survey results that we published here on Moz around this same time last year. The reception was fantastic, so we decided to push ahead with turning this into an annual series to see how this strand of the industry is developing and evolving over time.

Firstly, “link building”…

Yep, we’ve not changed the name to a “content marketing survey” or “inbound link acquisition survey;” we still feel link building is a vital part of an SEOs arsenal of tactics, and therefore it deserves its own survey.

As a company we’re investing just as much in link building for our clients (granted, we’ve adapted what we are doing), but the fact remains that if you want to score big with decent organic search visibility then you need links.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the details:

Who took the survey?

A massive thank you to the 315 or so people who took the survey. That number is slightly down from last yeah, which I feel is partly due to fewer people considering link building to be a part of their day-to-day roles. I’d argue that’s a missed opportunity, and this year we had a few duplicate entries and submissions that needed a bit of tidying up, so we trimmed it back to these 315 submissions.

The makeup of the respondents was broadly similar to last year, as expected, although based on user feedback from our inaugural survey, we added a few more categories for respondents to self-classify—so it is hard to make specific comparisons.

How much does your company spend on link building per month?

In the 2013 survey, 10% of respondents said their company spent $50k+ per month on link building, so it appears that the upper limit to link building spend may have decreased slightly across the industry.

That being said, there now appears to be a much larger number of companies in the $10-$50k per month bracket when you compare this year’s 37% with last year’s 11%.

I would attribute the changes year-on-year to two factors;

  • Reclassification of the term “link building:” Many companies have shifted budget that they would previously classified as link building budget into content projects that more than likely still have an impact on link building efforts.
  • Recognition of opportunity: Based on our own experiences we see a number of website owners and businesses pushing harder with their content promotion and link building as they recognise an opportunity to invest when their competitors are running scared.

Warren Buffett once said “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” Based on conversations alone that I’ve had with a wide range of businesses, many are now fearful when it comes to building links. In fact, we gathered some data later in the survey that revealed that one of the biggest challenges people face is not knowing which links will help and which will harm them. Google’s widespread action against websites (and dare I say it webmaster propaganda) has had a dramatic impact on some people to the point of paralysis.

There are clear opportunities that, with a sound strategy, can be seized in today’s market.

You can
build links like it’s 1999 for a microsite or second level property, keep it super-clean and identify link opportunities that would be valuable irrespective of Google, or somewhere in between those extremes. The fact is the links still form the backbone of the internet and of Google’s algorithm and that isn’t going to change for a very long time.

What percentage of your overall SEO budget is allocated toward building links?

Thanks to
John-Henry Scherck for this one as he made the suggestion following the 2013 survey that having data on the percentage would be really interesting. Looking back we don’t have a point of comparison but not of course moving forward we will have so we should get a clearer picture of whether online marketing budgets are just increasing in general (and therefore link building gets allocated the same percentage but of a bigger pie) or whether folks are seeing the value from building links and therefore allocating a larger percentage of the same sized pie to link building activities.

Would you say you’ve increased or decreased your spend on link building over the past 12 months?

This aligns with our data on more people entering the $10-$50k per month investment bracket this year:

Why the increase/decrease in spending?

We asked people why they decided to increase or decrease their spending on link building over the past 12 months.

Responses could be categorized into the following areas:

Common reason for increases:

  • Increased costs related to moving away from older style and often “cheaper” link building
  • Increased costs related to production/creativity
  • Good links are just as important as ever; links still move the needle in terms of search engine visibility and performance therefore it makes sense to increase investment in this area.

Common reasons for decreases:

  • Moving link building budget into content marketing projects (to be fair, this budget will probably indirectly fund link acquisition of some kind even if it is seen as a secondary goal for the content campaign.)
  • We wanted to scale back and assess the impact that Google’s manual actions etc have on our website.

In the next 12 months, will you look to increase or decrease your spend on link building?

Why the planned increase/decrease in spending?

  • Link building continues to get more expensive
  • To raise the bar on existing efforts, and to beat competitors with increasingly sophisticated content assets
  • Unsure where to invest/which links are working so concentrating budget into other activities.

Which link building tactics do you utilise most often?

(Numbers listed are votes rather than percentages)

When we compare with responses from the 2013 survey, there is a clear shift towards content-led initiatives and a reduction in some tactics for example close to 50% said in 2013 that guest blogging was their staple tactic, in 2014 fewer than 15% listed it as one of their staple activities.

Another interesting bit of data is the fact that paid links have seen somewhat of a resurgence in popularity, presumably as companies look for tactics where they can maintain greater control. In 2013, just 5% listed paid links as their staple linking tactic whereas in 2014 over 13% reported paid linking and blog networks as one of their main link building tactics.

What is currently your biggest link building challenge?

  • Getting links to pages that aren’t particularly linkworthy (money pages)
  • Lack of scalability (time, process, training, spreading time between clients)
  • Avoiding Google penalties

These are similar challenges to those reported in 2013 in the sense that there is still concern over which links are helping and harming organic search performance as well as difficulties relating to processes and the lack of scalability.

The interesting thing is that SEO is full of challenges so as soon as one is overcome, the next appears. In 2013, 28% of respondents said that “finding link prospects” was a key challenge but this year not a mention of link prospects being an issue. This arguably suggests that we as an industry were adjusting to the “new world” back in 2013 and that now we have advanced our capabilities enough for this to now longer be the primary challenge in our day to day work. Now the main problem doesn’t seem to be getting links as such but more about getting links into the pages that we all need to rank to stay in business … the money pages.

Which link building tactics do you believe to be most effective?

(numbers below are “votes” rather than percentages)

Which link building tactics do you believe to be least effective?

(numbers below are “votes” rather than percentages)

Which link building tactics do you consider to be harmful to a site?

(numbers below are “votes” rather than percentages)

See the complete visual below:

Thank you for everyone who took part in the survey! See you all again next year.

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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Building Better Content By Improving Upon Your Competitors

Posted by Bill.Sebald

In rock n’ roll music, stealing is expected. Led Zepplin allegedly lifted from lots of earlier blues and folk artists. The famous I-IV-V chord progression of The Wild One’s song “Wild Thing” was used only a couple years later on “Mony, Mony.” My favorite example of musical larceny – “Let It Be” by The Beatles, “Farmhouse” by Phish, and “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley are built around the exact same chord progression. Yet in all these cases, the songs were tweaked enough to stand on their own in meaning, served as distinct entities, and inspired unique feelings from the listener. Granted record company execs often disapproved, but some artists were often flattered to see interpretations of their riffs and progressions. At the end of the day, this is what spawned (and advanced) the rock music genre. Sometimes stealing is the engine of innovation.

Your idea isn’t new. Pick an idea; at least 50 other people have thought of it. Get over your stunning brilliance and realize that execution matters more.” —Mark Fletcher of Bloglines.com.

In marketing, we don’t just “steal” the minds of consumers, we sometimes steal – and interpret – from our competitors. Sometimes we’re lazy about it, and sometimes we’re perceived as originals. Remember one of the immutable laws of marketing – always appear to be first. Well then why not be first to make someone’s content strategy more effective (for your own gain)?

Wait – so do I condone being a pickpocket, cat burglar, or politician? No. What I’m suggesting is reviewing what inspires you, analyzing why it was successful, and inspiring yourself to make something better. Better for us, better for our clients, and better for their customers.

Oh no; is this another “Content Is King” post?

I’m not a huge fan of that phrase anymore. SEO has gone through some serious developmental stages in its lifetime. Once the hype was all about “keyword density,” then “anchor text,” then “duplicate content;” now I feel like our latest bandwagon concept is the semi-vague “content is king.”

These are certainly all valid concepts in SEO, but without proper context, they often fall short of sound advice. They become blind directives. So here we are in 2014, with many business executives nodding along, “yes – content is king. I’ve read that a trillion times. We need to crank out 100 posts a month. Go, go go…” But I think this is a problem. Now that SEO is mainstream, there’s so much “good content” that the noise ceiling has simply been raised. I’ve said it before, “Fair-quality copy is becoming the new Google spam.” I go into pitches now where businesses can’t understand why their legacy content isn’t getting searches. In other words, they ask why “content is king” isn’t producing results. It’s usually because content was treated as a homogeneous tactic where a marketing or SEO strategy wasn’t put in place to link the pieces together.

I think it’s time SEOs put that phrase to rest, and start thinking in terms of how a traditional content marketer would think about it. “Content that is unique in value, strong in expertise, provides a necessary point-of-view, and leads the pack in terms of usefulness is more than king – it’s fundamental to success.” A bit of a mouthful (and less sexy), not to mention harder to develop, but it really needs to be adopted.

So if you would, please keep that in mind during this post. Continue on!

What are your competitors doing?

Content ideas come from lots of sources. Some are vapid (like content topic generators) and some are interpreted (like reviewing customer poll results). Often a simple interview with your sales or service team can teach you plenty about the mindset of your consumer. Studying on-page product reviews can also be inspiring. Focus groups, experiments; all this and more can help produce pieces of content that can be strung together and tracked in order to build a truly converting funnel.

We all know the most effective content is inspired by data, versus “crazy ideas” with no concrete evidence quickly thrown against the wall. While this occasionally has some SEO benefit (arguably less and less with Panda updates), it rarely does much for your conversion funnel. It takes that extra digging that some aren’t quick to execute (at least in my experience). But what happens when your competitor is willing to do the work?

That’s where you can learn some interesting things. Marketing espionage!

Granted, most competitors don’t want to share their data with you, no matter how much beer you try to bribe them with (believe me, I’ve tried). We have tools like
SEMrush to estimate search metrics, and services like Hitwise and Compete to get more online visitor data. While that is certainly helpful, it’s still directional. But we’re marketers – so what do we do? We get creative.

How to get a birdseye view of a content play (with common SEO tools)

It’s time to lift the hood. I like to start with
Screaming Frog. Most SEOs know this tool. If you don’t, it’s a spider that emulates what a search engine spider might find. In my experience there’s no better way to find the topics a website is targeting than with a “screaming” crawl.

Filter down to HTML, and you’ll find the URL, Title Tag, Meta Description, H1, and sometimes the Meta Keyword data. If you already have your own keywords and entities in mind, and want to see what a competitor is doing with them, it’s as simple as searching for them in Screaming Frog (or an excel export) and scanning for it.

Click for a larger image:

 

Consider this totally random “shammy” example in the screenshot above. If I worked in the shammy business, through a quick scan I might be interested to know that at least one of my competitors found value enough in creating a section around an iPad cloth. Is that a segment I never considered?

Don’t have Screaming Frog? The site:operator is a less powerful option. You can’t export into a spreadsheet without a scrape.

Ubersuggest or keywordtool.io can be used in clever “quick and dirty” way – put in a keyword you think there’s opportunity for, and add “who,” “what,” “where,” “why,” or “how” to the query. Your fragmented query will often show some questions people have asked Google. After all, plenty of great content is used to answer a query. Search some of these queries in Google and see what competitor content shows up! At the very least, this is a nice way to find more competitors who are active with creating content for their users.

At this point you should be taking notes, jotting down ideas, observations, potential content titles, and questions you want to research. Whether in a spreadsheet or the back of a napkin, you’re now brainstorming with light research. Let your brain-juice flow. You should also be looking for connections between the posts you are finding. Why were they written? How do they link together? What funnels are the calls-to-action suggesting? Take notes on everything, Sherlock!


Collect the right data

Next, step it up with more quantifying data.Time to trim the fat.

Search data

By entering and measuring your extracted in Google’s Keyword Planner, you’ll see not only is there interest in an iPad cleaner (where an “iPad Shammy” might make sense with its own strategy), but some searcher interest in the best ways to clean an iPad. That could be fun, playful content to write – even for a shammy retailer. It could tie directly to products you already sell, or possibly lead you into carrying new products.

Click for a larger image:

Estimated searches don’t tell the whole story. We know plenty of keywords and metrics from this tool are either interpolated or missing. I’ve found that small estimated searches can sometimes still lead to more highly-converting volume than expected. Keep that in mind.

Social data

What searches enter into Google’s search box isn’t the only indicator of value. Ultimately if nobody likes a certain topic or item your content, they aren’t going to share or link to it. Wouldn’t it be great to have another piece of evidence before you get to structuring a strategy and writing copy? That evidence may lie with your competitors’ social audience.

At this point you have keyword ideas, content titles, sample competitor URLs, and possible strategies sketched out. There are some great tools for checking out what is shared in the social space. TopsySocial Crawlytics, and Buzzsumo are solid selections. You can look up the social popularity of a given URL or domain, and in some cases drill down to influencers. If it’s heavily shared, that may suggest perceived value.

Click for a larger image:

Look at the image above. If my agency is a competitor of yours, you might be interested that one of my posts got 413 social shares. It was a post called “Old School SEO Tests In Action (A 2014 SEO Experiment)”. You can dig in to see the debates boiling through the comments or the reactions through social media. You can go so far as see who shared the post, how influential these people are, and what kind of topics they usually share. This helps qualify the shares.

With these social metrics I believe It’s reasonably safe to infer people in the SEO space care about experiments, learning about things that move rankings, and that most believe older tactics aren’t worth pursuing. With very little time at all, you might be able to come up with ways to improve upon this post or ideas for your own follow up. Maybe even a counter argument? Looking at who the post resonated with, you could presume my target audience was SEOs with a goal of providing industry insights. With a prominent lead generation form on this post, you might even suspect a secondary interest was as a source of new client leads.

If you surmised any of these things from the social data, you’re 100% right! This was certainly a thought out post with those goals in mind.

Backlink data

Let’s examine link popularity and return to the shammy industry. Specifically let’s look at a pretty unique item – a shammy for Apple products –
https://www.klearscreen.com/detail.aspx?ID=11.

  • Open Site Explorer found 1 link from a retailer.
  • Ahrefs found 8 links from 8 domains, one being a forum conversation on Stackexchange.com, and the others from a retailer.
  • Majestic found 13 links from 6 domains. Similiar to what Ahrefs found.
  • WebMeUp found 30 backlinks from 9 domains.

From this data it looks like the iPad shammy market isn’t exactly on fire. Now it doesn’t appear iKlear (or Klear Screen) is doing much marketing for this particular product – at least not according to Google. Their other Apple product cleaners seem to get more attention, but perhaps iKlear simply knows this isn’t a high demand product. It could be true – after all it hasn’t gone viral. It hasn’t generated much in the way of online discussions. But it also hasn’t been marketed much.

This is why all the data needs to be collected, correlated, and analyzed.  You want the best hypothesis you can get before you start committing your time to a content strategy. Did this just kill a possible content strategy for an iPad Shammy, or is this a huge untapped opportunity? It entirely depends on how you interpret all the data you collect.

You’ve got some ideas; now what’s the execution?

You just did a lot of work. You can’t go off half-cocked throwing up willy-nilly content. Jeepers, no! The next step is the most crucial!

At this point you should have uncovered some great ideas based on your competitor’s clues. Now comes the part where you thoughtfully determine how to implement these ideas and craft a strategic roadmap. The options are endless, which could provide a decision-making struggle. From new microsites to overhauling existing content, there’s so much you can do with the gems you’ve dug up.

Remember to examine what your competitors did. How did they plug everything together?

But sometimes your competitors don’t have a discernible content strategy. Instead just fragmented content floating like an island. This is even better for you. Now you have opportunity to not only outshine in the actual content, but put together an actual experience that your users will value, thus providing a likely positive SEO result. Here are three options I tend to build a strategy around most often:

  • Create a new funnel
  • Create content for off-page SEO
  • Create emphasis content

With fresh metrics, the
new funnel is often necessary. Chances are you discovered uncharted territory (at least from your website’s perspective). All future or existing content should have pre-conceived goals – there’s a top and bottom to every funnel, and maybe some strategic off-ramps leading to forms, contact pages, or products. Remember, you’re goal is to be driving the reader through an experience, eliciting emotions and appealing to their needs of which you’ve already built a hypothesis upon. This new funnel can dip into your current website or run parallel (ie, a microsite, sub-domian, or otherwise disconnected grouping). The greatest thing about digital marketing is that nothing is in stone. It’s so easy to test these funnels and redesign with collected data when necessary.


Off-page
is also very common (right link builders?). Find something that is popular, and go share it with sites more popular than yours. Maybe you can even start generating new popularity and create a segment of its own. Build a strategy to take this burgeoning topic and let the widest audience know about it. Get branding, mind share, links, and ideally profit like a beast.

The
“emphasis content” (as I call it) has been a solid go-to plan for me when I discover small pockets of opportunity; notably the stuff that may have a smaller impact and isn’t worth a month long content strategy. If I were to create my own iPad shammy play, based on what I’m seeing so far, I’d probably think about a page or two as emphasis content.

This content is like an independent port of entry or landing page, either to an existing funnel or a direct money maker. In a previous post I talked about
creating niche collection pages for eCommerce. That could serve as emphasis content to a parent collection, but I’m usually thinking of heavier use of text in this case. Where you really take your goal, slice it up, and provide nice, beefy communication about it.

This play can be nuclear. By creating these one-off pages based on all the metrics discussed above, it’s usually much easier to do targeted outreach and social marketing. A well placed page, providing well placed internal links (ideally off popular pages), can pass PageRank and context like a dream, A tool like
Alchemy API can help you see the relevance of pages and help you determine the best place to publish this page

Summary

A content strategy doesn’t go far if it’s phoned in. Take all the help you can get, even if it’s from a competitor. Learn from businesses who took steps before you. They may have very well discovered the holy grail. Competitive research has always been a part of any marketing campaign, but scratching the surface only gets you superficial results. Look deeper to uncover more than just a competitor’s marketing plan, but the very reason why the competitor may be beating you in search. Then, hopefully you’ll become the rock star others are trying to copy from. That’s a good problem to have.

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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