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Link Building's Tipping Point


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The same shifts we've seen in machine learning, deep learning, and user behavior are coming to the link world. In this presentation, Rand explores what it means for SEOs, and how to combine long and short term strategy to win the SERPs

Published in: Marketing

Link Building's Tipping Point

  1. Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz | @randfish | Link Building’s Tipping Point The same shifts we’ve seen in query & content evaluation are coming to links. What does it mean for SEO? And how can marketers react?
  2. Slides:
  3. Where Link Evaluation Algorithms Have Been…
  4. PageRank
  5. Source Diversity
  6. Anchor Text
  7. Trust Distance
  8. Domain Authority
  9. Location on Page
  10. Spam Outlink Analysis
  11. And Dozens More Individual Factors Outlink Propensity Rate of Link Acquisition Nofollow vs. Follow Links in Images Link Density Content Relevance Website Relevance Trust Factors Co-Citation Content Duplication Links within Tags Geography of Host Surrounding Text Surrounding Text
  12. Where We Believe They’re Going Next…
  13. From Reasonable Surfer to All-Seeing Eye Together we see all… We know all… There is no escape…
  14. Google knows where visit paths begin… Where they go next… And where they end up.
  15. Their Goal is Searcher Satisfaction
  16. Google’s Core Search team is always asking the same question: Are searchers satisfied with these results? How do they get the answer?... Aggregate Behavioral Data
  17. Do searchers, on average, click the results we rank highly more than the results we rank lower? Aggregate Behavioral Data 35% of clicks 19% of clicks 11% of clicks All Good!
  18. Do many searchers click on nothing at all, and instead change their query, or choose a “related search?” Aggregate Behavioral Data If it’s these, maybe we show more results for commercial & manufacturing equipment up front.
  19. Do searchers, on average, “short-click” some results, while “long-clicking” others? Aggregate Behavioral Data If clicks on results in a quick return to the SERPs While the piece gets high engagement w/ few bounces… Google might swap their rankings
  20. Not Sure You Should Believe Me? Here’s Google Ranking Engineer Paul Haahr: Via Paul Haahr
  21. Machine and Deep-Learning Models Sites & pages that satisfy searchers Sites & pages that don’t satisfy searchers Sites & pages that link to these good resources Sites & pages that link to these poor resources ML model to identify traits highly predictive of good vs. bad links
  22. ML Models Can Apply to Spam, Too Editorial, high value, search-quality-team, hand-reviewed links Links that point to good stuff, but are manipulative, sketchy, paid, or coerced ML model to identify traits highly predictive of good vs. bad links
  23. Domain Reputation & Author Authority Based on what Techcrunch links to & its own link attributes, Google may vary the ranking equity passed by its outlinks
  24. Domain Reputation & Author Authority But, Google might assign different weight to articles in different subsections, or different authors. e.g. Samuel Scott’s links may deserve to pass value “Anonymous executive”… not so much.
  25. Google’s Transforming Itself into a Company Built Around Learning Models Via Backchannel
  26. To Build a Sustainable Link Strategy for the Future, Every Marketer Needs…
  27. A Strategic Roadmap Link Goals Strategic Approach Tactical Initiatives KPIs/ Metrics
  28. An Example… @randfish
  29. This is my kinda website! A) Mustachio’d mascot B) Pasta-centric C) Solid reviews
  30. LineaPasta’s Long-Term Link Strategy Rank in search for key terms and earn direct traffic from linking endorsements Apply a product- centric link strategy. Use our partnerships & endorsements by chefs, restaurants, & media to earn links. Outreach to current partners, sales mentions to restaurant buyers, leverage founder’s contacts w/ chefs, PR w/ media 1. Links from our partners 2. Links & mentions from media/press 3. Rankings for key terms 4. Search visits Link Goals Strategic Approach Tactical Initiatives KPI Metrics
  31. We Also Need… @randfish
  32. Buy-In on Experimentation Via PointBlankSEO and Allie Brown Link tactics like an event photo gallery might work, but it also might fall flat. Link building needs room to try and fail.
  33. The Right Expectations Regarding Time-to-ROI Via WB Friday
  34. A Balance Between Long-Term Investments & Short-Term Hacks High upfront costs Pay (in time/$$) as you go Long-Term Investments Slow to show ROI Earn links while you sleep Non-existent Spam Risk Can Show Fast ROI Effort In = Links Out Can Have Spam Risk Short-Term Hacks
  35. Long-Term Link Strategies that Work5
  36. The Community/UGC Path @randfish
  37. Enable a platform where a community earns value by contributing content, products, ideas, reviews, submissions, etc. How Does It Work? Invest in amplification of the contributions Nudge your contributors to drive the links 1 2 3
  38. This is Yelp
  39. It’s TripAdvisor
  40. It’s Etsy
  41. It’s Medium
  42. It’s Dribbble
  43. It’s Memeorandum
  44. It’s ProductHunt
  45. It’s Ravelry
  46. It’s ForexFactory
  47. The Press & Media Path @randfish
  48. Focus on people, a product, an industry, or a problem that naturally attracts press interest How Does It Work? Leverage the fundamentals of fame, controversy, storytelling, etc. to amplify Associate your narrative with the keywords most important to your search traffic 1 2 3
  49. This is Tesla
  50. It’s Warby Parker
  51. It’s Dollar Shave Club
  52. It’s Uber
  53. It’s Goldie Blox
  54. It’s Simple
  55. It’s Glowforge
  56. The Embed Path @randfish
  57. Create a platform (media, commerce, etc) or product (tools, graphics, forms, etc) that works via installation on 3rd-party websites How Does It Work? Build the initial audience that uses your embed and helps it to reach broad adoption Leverage the embed’s format to earn the right links to the right places 1 2 3
  58. This is Slideshare
  59. It’s Vimeo
  60. It’s Typeform
  61. It’s RottenTomatoes
  62. It’s Walkscore
  63. It’s TradingView
  64. The Partnership/Alliance Path @randfish
  65. Find an audience for your service that forms links alongside the partnership/relationship How Does It Work? Craft a common structure for the ask or nudge you use in the partnership (in the contract, with a suggested style, logo use, citation requirements, etc.) Vary link destination & anchor text over time & across partners to give boosts where you need them 1 2 3
  66. This is ReturnPath
  67. It’s FullContact
  68. It’s Trulia
  69. It’s Box
  70. It’s Sendgrid
  71. It’s Otis Elevators
  72. The Content Marketing Path @randfish
  73. Publish content that has high chances of earning natural links & citations from others How Does It Work? Market your content through channels that reach the audiences most likely to link Grow a scalable process for amplification to continue attracting new potential link sources 1 2 3
  74. This is Eater
  75. It’s Master of Malt
  76. It’s Wordstream
  77. It’s Collectors Weekly
  78. It’s Politifact
  79. It’s GrooveHQ
  80. It’s Polygon
  81. It’s KPCB
  82. Why Isn’t Manual Link Acquisition Strategic? @randfish
  83. Find places to get links (competitors’ link profiles, directories, broken links, et al) How Does It Work? Figure out ways to acquire each link Move on to the next potential source on the list 1 2 3
  84. Manual Links Don’t Scale w/ Decreasing Friction Directory Links Broken Links 1:1 Email Link Outreach Guest Post Links Profile Account Links Same Work Required Day 3 as Day 300
  85. These 5 Strategies Do: Community/UGC Path Press & Media Path Embed Path Partnership/Alliance Path Content Marketing Path Over time, less work yields more links
  86. Great Link Builders Focus on Their Flywheel
  87. Moz’s Flywheel KW Research + Industry Intuition Publish Content Promote via Social Channels Push to email + RSS subscribers Earn Links + Amplification Grow social, email, RSS, & WoM channels Grow Domain Authority Earn Search & Referral Traffic Rank for More Competitive KWs
  88. KW Research + Industry Intuition Publish Content Promote via Social Channels Push to email + RSS subscribers Earn Links + Amplification Grow social, email, RSS, & WoM channels Grow Domain Authority Earn Search & Referral Traffic Rank for More Competitive KWs In 2006, I was lucky if new content led to any links or rankings at all
  89. KW Research + Industry Intuition Publish Content Promote via Social Channels Push to email + RSS subscribers Earn Links + Amplification Grow social, email, RSS, & WoM channels Grow Domain Authority Earn Search & Referral Traffic Rank for More Competitive KWs But, by 2016, nearly every post earns a handful of links, & some earn a lot!
  90. Moz is a Business Built on Content
  91. Dollar Shave Club was Built on a Press & Media Flywheel Via NYTimes
  92. Dribbble was Built on a UGC/Community Flywheel
  93. But… Almost Every Flywheel Finds a Point (or Points) of Friction Publish Content Promote via Social Channels Push to email + RSS subscribers Crap… We’re not reaching anyone who will link/amplify us 
  94. Link Building Growth Hacks Can Accelerate a Flywheel
  95. Hacks aren’t necessarily evil, spammy, or without value. They can be highly useful when applied to a sound link strategy.
  96. 10 of My Favorite Hacks @randfish
  97. #1: Republishing Take an existing piece of content Re-create a part or the whole Create additional traffic, reach, and/or rankings X Xa Xb Xc 3X
  98. Medium is a great cheat-code for this: Via Medium The built in network, the ability to use rel=canonical (and/or link to the original post), and the domain’s ranking ability make it a sweet republishing platform.
  99. More Republishing Tips & Tactics in this Webinar: Via Mozinar
  100. #2: Guest Contributions Via LitHub The best guest posting advice I’ve ever read
  101. A Tactical Tip for Guest Contributions: The language you use in these queries matters “submit post” “guest blog” “guest post” Often Sketchy Usually Solid “share your story” “write for *” “guest author”
  102. #3: Local Links Geography can be a big link opportunity… But it can be a process to find potential sources. Try this: Let’s say you’re Ace Spirits, just off Main Street in Hopkins, MN
  103. Step 1: Find the two most popular, similar businesses in your region. We’ll skip chains, since Ace is a single-store, and go with Surdyk’s and Zipps (they have the most reviews)
  104. Step 2: Use a combined query for those businesses plus the region Boom! A link opportunity. And another one. And another! It goes on like this for page after page We can repeat this with combinations of all the other competitors, too
  105. PSA: Be cautious visiting online liquor stores late at night while building slide decks… I’ve become a cautionary tale…
  106. But, then I got this note from the owner 
  107. #4: Small Site/Content Acquisitions Likely a very inexpensive purchase that adds lots of high-relevance visitors Via OSE & Similarweb ProMore details about this tactic in my blog post
  108. #5: Be Someone Else’s Press Via Peach and RetailWorks
  109. #6: Bio Links Anchor links on my bio led to rankings for G’s blog, as the bio was republished
  110. #7: Resource Lists (& Directories) Once again, language structure matters “directory” “submit link” “add your site” “add url” Often Sketchy Usually Solid “resource list” “recommended sites” “inurl:resources” “KW + websites”
  111. #8a: Testimonials You don’t have to wait to be asked. If there’s a product, service, or company you love, email the founders or folks on marketing and offer an unsolicited testimonial. Via Buzzstream Discovery
  112. #8b: Case Studies If you’re up for a heavier commitment, offering to be a vendor’s case study is another strong path Via Bynder
  113. #9: Brand, Image, & Content Reclamation If you have content (particularly logos, brand names, or visuals) that have widespread use, ID’ing pages with them that don’t link back can be an easy, powerful link grabVia Vertical Measures (who does, BTW, link back)
  114. For visuals, my best results come from “search Google for image” (e.g. 200+ vs. 5 in G Images & 7 in Tinyeye)
  115. Using FWE, you can run queries for unlinked mentions, like this Better yet, set up an alert so you get notified as they happen Via FreshWebExplorer
  116. #10: Orthogonal Alignments Your website & business Social Causes Geographic Connections Network Connections Artistic Intersections Accessibility Programs Founder Attributes Technology Applications Employee Programs Sponsorship or Support
  117. Artistic Intersections There are literally thousands of web design galleries focusing on various aspects – mobile, web, responsive, use of CSS, use of JS, etc. Via BestWeb &
  118. Social Causes Where your businesses values overlap with causes (e.g. Moz & Women in Tech), there’s great opportunity to support visibly & earn link value Via GSBA & 50/50 Pledge
  119. Sponsorship / Support If you host events, sponsor groups, help charities, etc, links are often a nice byproductVia StartupGrind & Ronald McDonald House
  120. My Final Advice: Align Your Strategy to Where Google & Users Are Going.
  121. Ask: Do your links mimic how people might find you without search? The NYTimes writing a feature about pasta machines might be a strong starting point for restauranteurs & chefs in need Via NYTimes
  122. Ask: Are your link sources pointing to content searchers find valuable? By its very nature, sites like Hacker News (despite the nofollows) indicate a degree of value provided to the audience by the links (and rankings tend to follow) Via YCombinator
  123. Ask: Will your link profile pass Google’s machine-learning smell test? Think of learning models like savvy SEOs manually reviewing your link profile by hand. If they think “this all looks legit,” you’re probably in good shape. If not… Via OSE
  124. If your strategy fails to align, you may have a long-term issue w/ Google’s evolving link algorithms.
  125. Link building is far from dead. Links are still critical to rank.
  126. The best marketers will combine long-term strategy & short term hacks to win the SERPs.
  127. Slides: Follow Rand: Rand’s Blog: Thank You!