How many times do you hear the saying, “It’s all about the links!“? While I don’t completely agree with that statement, I have to agree partially. The main difference I can spot between SEO in 2009 and SEO in 2013 and beyond is that links still dominate the ranking factors, but now a days it’ll take the best of the best black hat SEO practitioners to sustain the high rankings of a low quality or mediocre site.
Google is shifting its focus from 10-page websites to large brands with thousands of pages of content. So, the first thing that you could do about the one site of yours that you’re really serious about — grow it as a brand instead of focusing on just the website itself. Once, you’re a bit successful with that, there’ll be no looking back. You can then peacefully earn / gain / ask for / build links without worrying about the next Google penalty.
Now, once you do have a site that you’re trying to grow as an authority site, there will be many things for you to do. Sure, you can freely use your inbound marketing skills. But, you don’t have to write 2K words articles every time trying to improve your SEO. If you are after SEO, then you can save a ton of time by scheduling your tasks based on your link profile! How? That’s what I’ll discuss in this post.
Before I begin with the actual post, let me tell you something about:
Commonly Spread Misconceptions
Write Great Content, Then Play with Your Dog
Unfortunately, Matt Cutts means one thing, the SEO world mis-understands it, and webmasters do something different. It’s all messed up. But I won’t blame Matt.
“Great content” is a relative term. Cutts probably has a PhD or something to his name, I don’t know. But, what I find great might not be found great by him. Again, what might seem awesome to a “blogspot-tricks” blogger might not seem so to me.
For example, I didn’t know that I wrote a post that attracted links like these without outreach or active promotion.
What’s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear “great content!” in the trademark Matt Cutts style? I can tell you about myself. I see something long, huge, unique, technically flawless, blah blah. The actual thing that I’ve noticed working really well in terms of attracting high-quality links is something, that:
- is unique, like first time on the internet.
- people, common people, not nerds / morons like you, care about.
Keep Making Your Site Faster and It’ll Rank
Nooo! That isn’t true. I literally used to (now got bored of it) laugh hard when I used to see an expert SEO writing this on his blog:
Site speed is a major factor in how Google rank sites.
It sure as hell isn’t. It’s a really, really minor factor. A recent study suggests:
There is no correlation between “page load time” (either document complete or fully rendered) and ranking on Google’s search results page.If Page Load Time is a factor in search engine rankings, it is being lost in the noise of other factors.
Of course, a faster site is always better for your users, but it’s probably not a great idea to remove important functionalities from your site to improve your site speed by a few milliseconds just hoping for better search engine rankings. By all means, ensure that you don’t hurt your user experience while optimizing your site for speed.
Social Media Signals Are Better for Your Site’s SEO
Not really… In fact, Google has claimed many times in the past that they do not use social media signals while ranking web pages.
Co-relation =/= Causation
What actually happens is, more shares lead to more people reading your content, thus more chances of it getting linked to. A few social media sites (and some Google+ shares) don’t add the rel=nofollow attribute to the shared links, so they can help boost the rankings. But, generally, Tweets, Facebook Likes and Google +1’s don’t have any direct effect on organic search rankings.
Now that you know the actual importance of links, it’s time to know how you can use your time more efficiently while trying to improve your site’s rankings:
Let Links Decide What You Do Next
Remember, you’re concerned about the SEO of your site, not about someone placing a huge banner advertisement on the roadside which would boost your number of direct visitors.
You are a white hat. In other words, you’re not afraid to be pro-active and productive. You find creating content for users fascinating, and feel that it’s a better use of electrons than spamming the web with low-quality links. Great! Then, let’s actually boost the SEO of your site.
Letting Links Decide What Content You Produce
First, choose a few blogs / sites in your niche that are really good at getting links through their content. Just in case, I’d choose these if I was into improving the SEO of TechTage:
It doesn’t matter if I’m depressed due to not getting new content ideas or I’m pumping up with enthusiasm trying to find the topic for my next blog post, I can always get ideas from leading sites in my niche.
A great way to know what type of content works really good in terms of attracting visitors as well as links in your industry is by checking out what’s working for the leading sites.
Using Moz’s OpenSiteExplorer, you can easily find the top pages of a site in terms of Page Authority and number of inbound links.
Here’s what I found about:
So, now you know what really gets well perceived by the users in your field. So, for the content creation part, you are aware of what is going to get you links.
Assessing Your Current Link Profile
The next part involves assessing your own site’s link profile. I’d expect someone who’s prepared to go this deep in pursuit of links to have a proper site architecture and on-page SEO already in place.
I basically use two tools to assess link profiles, Ahrefs and OpenSiteExplorer. Ahrefs is the best tool on earth for detecting fresh links and detecting all of them. OpenSiteExplorer doesn’t have as complete an index as Ahrefs, but the additional information (Domain Authority, Page Authority etc.) about a webpage or domain that it shows right within the results.
While checking for inbound links to your site, a great default preset in OSE that I use often is:
Inbound Links -> Show Only 'Follow' -> Only 'External' -> Pages on This Subdomain (I can't check root domain because we have a forum.techtage.com) -> Group By Domain
The key here is comparing your link profile with a similar site that’s performing really well in Google. Because of this, I won’t compare my backlink profile with that of Moz or Search Engine Land.
You’ll be amazed at how many powerful link opportunities you find. I prefer using OSE while finding guest posting opportunities, because it shows the DA & PA of linking pages within the results. That’s how I landed a guest post on a DA 90+ site a month or so ago.
When looking for resource pages or other types of potential backlink opportunities, I prefer using Ahrefs because its index is a lot larger and includes very fresh results. So, that cuts the time I’d need to find them by using custom search queries and in complex cases, ScrapeBox.
Deciding What to Do
Now that you’ve assessed your link profile and have a clear picture of it, you finally know which links your site lacks that give the more popular sites or even your competition an edge on the SERPs.
Plus, there are situations in which you don’t even have to compare your link profile with someone else’s because you can clearly see stuff like your site having no guest post links or natural mentions or other types of links. Then, you can quickly start working on gaining the links that your site lacks instead of working on just another so called ‘great content’ (to you, which might suck at making people interested about it).
For example, I know that I’m not particularly great with guest posting. I tend to post majority of my stuff here. So, I definitely need to work on that.
But, on the other hand, posting something great on your own site attracts quality traffic and natural editorial links — I’ve got two from SearchEngineLand in the past month for two pieces published here.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t post great guest posts, by all means do so. But, ideally you should (be able to) keep a balance between guest post links and natural editorial links.
Generally, it’ll be a lot easier to replicate resource page or guest post links than relationship-based links. So, it’s not like you can replicate all of someone else’s links. With some decent efforts, you can probably replicate upto 30 percent of them. It’s still better than sitting idle wondering what to do next.
In the end, this would save you a lot of time (and confusion) when you’re looking to increase your site’s SEO powers. That’s how I got ideas regarding my content and got this guest post published when I had nothing else to do:
And I got to know about a lot more lucrative potential guest blogging and other linking opportunities:
- SearchEngineGuide.com (PR7, DA 77)
- Codex.WordPress.org (PR8, DA 100)
- ContentMarketingInstitute.com (PR5, DA 82)
- SocialMouths.com (PR5, DA 59)
- About.me (DA 91)
- AuthorityLabs.com (PR5, DA 52)
- SearchRank.com (PR5, DA 50)
- Kikolani.com (PR5, DA 60)
I came across a few funny posts as well (such as an SEO posting in a health and wellness blog with rich anchor-texts), so the whole process isn’t boring, at the very least.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, it’s not about how much data you have, it’s about how you take advantage of your data.
Knowing where your competitors are getting their links from is just the first phase, and with the rapid changes happening in the link building space, it’ll certainly be harder to outdo your competitors if you’ll just be copying what they’ve already done.
What’s next is to understand the relationships between your competitors and the domains linking to them. Understand why they have managed to get those links (are they paying for it, are they providing awesome products that made them deserve the exposure, etc…) – because understanding these things will help you come up with better actions, like:
- Creating better products
- Building better content
- Building better conversations and relationships
The one thought I’d add is that — while reverse engineering is great — it really limits the types of links you can get. As I’m sure you’ve found, you can probably only grab about 10% of any competitor’s links (if that). And a site’s best links are usually from unique resources and relationships that can’t be reverse engineered.
That’s why I reverse engineering is one of the last things I do when I start a campaign. I focus on proven strategies (that I’m good at, for example: broken link building) first that I know work…and then fill in the blanks with reverse engineering.
I agree that they’re possible to replicate. But even some manufactured links LOOK natural…but actually come from exclusive relationships or deals behind the scenes.
Identifying where your competitors are getting their links could be one of your first initiatives for your link building campaign. The next steps would be much harder for you to do since you don’t have any strategy that you could easily copy (getting the same types of links your competitors are earning).
This is tedious as you will always be running behind your competitors, stalking to your competitor’s backlink profile and trying to get all the listed links.
There’s one thing that you have to remember when you’re looking at your competitors’ backlink profiles. You should be able to track their weaknesses and strengths in the industry you are both working in. Knowing their strengths would help you think of another strategy (that is still unknown to the people in your niche). You could test it by yourself to know if that strategy is also effective and could earn more links than what your competitors did.
For instance, you noticed that some of your competitors (who are the winners in your industry) had one thing in common. They all published an infographic that earn several links. In this case, it would not be effective if you will create another infographic just to get the same type of links your competitors are getting. You could test another strategy like updating several content pieces and publish them on your site and pitching the linkers of the original versions of those content pieces to get links from their websites. Though you don’t know if this strategy might work well for your brand, it’s a matter of taking risk (who knows that strategy could gain the same or more links than what your competitors did – in terms of quality and quantity).
If you’re stuck with your authority site, not sure what you’ll do next to improve its SEO, a really good way to get ideas is looking at the link profiles of related sites that are performing better in Google.
Not only does that open a new array of link opportunities in front of you, but also gives you an idea as to what types of contents might do really well on your site in terms of gaining people’s interest and subsequently, natural editorial links.
So, what do you think about reverse-engineering others’ link profiles for getting new content ideas and finding new guest posting or other link building opportunities?