Posted by Seoteric
This post was originally in YOUmoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.
Link building is always a hot topic because it is really what makes an SEO campaign work. Content is important, page and link structure are important, and the url is important, but for competitive search terms, great on-site optimization will only get you so far. I have had a bit of a love/hate relationship with link building over the years, and I have really started to be a lot more analytical in how I go about building incoming links.
This love story begins at the beginning of 2006. I was diagnosed with a terminal cancer, but prayerfully enough it turned out to be a large non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma tumor which was treatable. For over six months, I was stuck in a chair and didn’t have the energy to get up an do anything so I spent that time teaching myself about websites and marketing. I started reading SEO blogs (like SEOmoz and others) to learn what I could. I figured I might as well put the time to use, right?
Over the coming months, I started my first SEO campaign for my newly built car accessories website. My target keywords were stupidly competitive – car accessories and aftermarket auto parts and a lot more keywords like them. I figured if SEO really worked, then I could do it. I could get ranked for some ridiculously competitive keywords.
The on-site SEO bumped the rankings into the top 100 for car accessories. It had previously been ranked around 350 or so. With everything I had done to beef up the on-site SEO, it was still a long way from where I wanted it. That’s when I started the link building process. In 2006 I found a lot of info about directory submissions, article marketing, reciprocal linking, buying links, DMOZ, and blogging so I did a little bit of everything. A little of everything turned into a lot of everything over the next six months, and slowly but surely the rankings began to rise.
The directory submission process was done with a combination of manual submissions, semi-automated submissions using software, and even some automated submissions. I used a few directory submitters plus doing a simple Google search for relevant directories and submitted to any and all that didn’t require a payment. During this process I also started writing how-to articles and submitting them to article directories, blogs, online magazines and journals. After a few months, the site made it to the first page and traffic started coming in.
Not long after that I started getting reciprocal link requests, so I exchanged a few links along with way as well. As traffic picked up, I started getting sales on the website for the first time and my attention was being directed towards sales and customer service instead of SEO. For about a year, I didn’t do any marketing on the site except write a few articles and syndicate to whoever would publish them. Sometime in 2008, I checked the rankings and found this.
It had climbed to #1 out of 92,100,000 results. I could not believe it. Traffic was up over 1000%, and the site was getting literally thousands of unique visitors a month just from this keyword. I checked the analytics and traffic was up and down and all over the place. After monitoring this for a few days, I experienced the "Google Dance" with rankings ranging from #1 to #4. Surprisingly, traffic amounts from positions 2-4 were not even HALF of the amount generated from position #1.
Jump ahead to June 2010. The website is ranking between #2 and #5 from day to day for car accessories. The surprising thing about this case study is that there hasn’t been any additional marketing done to the site since around November 2008. Even with the low quality nature of directories, article directories, and even some reciprocal incoming links, the ranking has stayed top 5 for a really competitive keyword. I did take the time to get the website listed in DMOZ, the Google Directory, and a lot of other "good" websites. Some of the syndicated articles landed on sites like DIY, ehow.com, and other car enthusiasts websites generating some great inbound links. The site doesn’t get credit for a lot of the low quality links that were acquired early on but I did do a few things right that had some great results.
I mentioned earlier that I am taking a more analytical approach to link building, and after reading a lot of articles, seeing this video about article marketing, and getting a better understanding of how much better Google is at identifying low quality links and websites, I have really changed the way I think about link building. Much like in the world of content, quality is better than quantity when it comes to obtaining links. After analyzing my own link building path from 2006 until the present, I came up with a list of best practices to guide my link building moving forward:
- It is well worth the time to write great content as opposed to lots of decent content. Some of the best articles I wrote are the ones that attracted the most links and landed on good websites, and one or two were even highlighted in a breaking news story that brought a LOT of referral traffic while it was on the site’s homepage.
- If you figure out something cool or unique, like getting Pandora to play through a mono bluetooth headset, write about it and keep the content on your site and create a buzz using social media. Links will surely come.
- Write content for your own site first. As Rand points out, you will get the links pointing back at your site for having the original content.
- Here is one of my favorites – syndicate your RSS feed, not your article content. This is a philosophical change to the approach I used to have in article marketing. Instead of publishing your duplicate content everywhere, keep the content on your site and ping services like technorati, twitter, facebook, and anywhere you can publish your site’s feed. Get visitors on your site and then give them an opportunity to bookmark or share your content via social media.
- Quality directories are still valid. I have still seen good success from getting listed in the top human-edited directories, especially local and regional ones. Avoid the free-for-all sites and focus on the ones that add value to users.
- Guest Blogging is a new hot-topic which is also worth doing. As Rand mentioned in this weeks WBF video, finding relevant websites to post content to is a good way to get quality inbound links and brand awareness. In many cases, you can get content for your site as well if you establish a good partnership with a complementary website or blog.
- Patience is a virtue. It is hard to not check rankings every day, but there are a lot of other things to do with your valuable time than checking rankings. I schedule a time once a week to check up on how things are progressing. This keeps me from wasting time each day, and gives me a reason to measure results and dive into analytics at the end of the week.
- Reciprocal links are not all bad. It is natural for complementary websites to link to one another, so the emphasis is on relevance. I will exchange links with relevant and complementary websites, but not with just any site. You want to make sure you are linking to reputable websites too.
- Don’t Spam. Search engines (like Google) mostly update their algorithms to do one of two things: to increase the relevance of the search results and to battle spam in their index. If you keep things relevant and avoid spam tactics, your rankings should remain intact as long as their isn’t a fundamental shift in how websites and pages are ranked. Up until the recent "May Day" update, all of our sites have actually improved over the past few years with Google updates (The May Day update gave us about a 14% drop in the number of indexed pages, much like with SEOmoz and others).
Four years later, I have a much different approach to marketing, a different approach to life, and a lot of sites doing well in the search results. Marketing gives me an outlet for my competitive edge which is why I tend to climb the keyword mountains that I do. I would like to hear how your link building tactics have changed over the years and see how far we have come. I plan to keep a student’s approach SEO, which continues to prove itself as one of the most frustrating, rewarding, and elusive things in life. It is (after all) a love story!
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