Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re talking about the pitfalls of doing SEO backlink analysis.
A lot of people in the SEO field have this idea that, hey, the first thing that I should do when I am trying to do some link building is see who is ranking in the top ten. I’ll do a search for my keyword, and I’ll check who is ranking #1, #2, #3, who is on that first page of results, and I am going to look at who is linking to them and try to reverse their backlinks and get a lot of those links for my site, because if they are helping them rank, they must also help me rank.
There are some real dangers, some big pitfalls to this type of link analysis. The first of which is it is very hard to know if links are coming into this whether they are actually helping the site or not and whether the links that you are seeing are the ones that are having the most impact. It’s also really tough to know whether these sites, particularly a lot of the ones at the top of the results for fairly competitive queries, even if they have been there for three to six months or nine months or a year, whether they are using manipulative tactics, then in the future are going to be discounted or lose value.
So, what I want you to do is when you do this, yes, definitely go U-sources, right, Majestic, Yahoo Site Explorer, Open Site Explorer can all show you some of the links that are pointing to these pages that rank really well. But once you have that data, you need to ask yourself who is linking to this and follow some rules. Use this. Imagine me, here I am, look, I am a stick figure. I seem to have lost some weight. I’ve also turned slightly purple or mauve, but imagine me standing there like, “Wait!’ Before you try to get this link, use the smell test.” Don’t assume that every link is helping that URL rank there. Be very cautious.
I would encourage you not to use any tactics that don’t have some editorial endorsement behind them. If you are seeing link wheels or churn-style article marketing, that really nasty stuff where someone just publishes a ton of the same article and it is linking back again and again and again, if you are seeing reciprocal link directories on those pages that just have long, long lists of links and they’re trading links back and forth, if you see the “submit your site for $99 to 3000 search engines” kind of listings, all that junky, adds no value, no human being actually says this is a good website, those links in the short term can help some people rank well. But in the long term, they are not going to do anything for you editorial wise. They are not going to send good traffic. They are not going to be an implicit endorsement for your site. They don’t follow any of the good principles of inbound marketing. Therefore, search engines don’t really want to count them. Remember, there are going to be a bunch of Ph.D.s working at Google and at Bing trying to discount those links.
If you need to rank in the short term and you are a churn and burn spammer and you don’t have a really good site and you are just trying to play in the short run, fine, go ahead. But if you are thinking long term and you have a brand website and you are really trying to build up that credibility, you want links that are editorial endorsements.
Then I would also caution you against some common SEO wisdom, which is that, don’t ignore some link sources just because they might not be follow links. There are a lot of good links and good editorial endorsements that do come through no-follow. So, you’ll often see that, hey, this Wikipedia page is the most common one, but a lot of blog comments that the person might have left or some good posts that they put up, some good editorial articles that they’ve written for other people, maybe those links are no-followed because people are worried about search engine spam and SEO spam and that kind of stuff. But, you know what, a lot of those types of endorsements will send good visits. They are editorial. They can pass value, either first-order effect maybe or second-order effect, which is almost certainly the case.
I also check any of those links that are pointing to those top-ranking pages, go make sure that those pages rank well for their keywords. You find a page that is linking to the number one listing and you think, wow, that’s a great place to get a link. I don’t know, it’s going to cost me money or it’s going to cost me a bunch of time or I’m going to have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get it or I need to recommend some content or build some content to be able to get this link. Before you do that, jump through the earlier, easier hoop of figuring out, does that page that is linking here rank well? What about the other pages it links to? Do they rank? If they rank well for their keywords, maybe this is a good legitimate page that Google is counting. Maybe it is worth whatever effort that I need to put into it. If not, mm, questionable. I’d worry about that.
The second thing that I urge you to do when you are doing competitive link research is don’t just pay attention to the links themselves. Those matter. They’re important. You should. But be ready to think outside the box.
Check this out. One of the things that I love to do is not just look at the number one listing, the people who have the perfectly optimized title tag, perfectly optimized meta description, perfectly optimized root domain name, exact match keyword domain. Those folks often tend to be spammy, especially if they’ve got, like, two hyphens in there and a dot info and that kind of stuff, even keyword match, as opposed to the big brands. If you see a big brand ranking and they’re, oh, hey, I know them. I’ve heard of them. They’re a reputable company. Huh, they don’t seem to be doing a whole lot of SEO. The whole listing is barely optimized for the keyword. I wonder how they’re ranking so well. That’s, that’s where you want to earn those links. Who links to those guys? That’s what I would be checking out.
When I do searches and I see that someone is ranking well but has not done a whole lot of on page, doesn’t appear to have done a ton of off page manual link building or link spamming or any of those kinds of things, those are the links that I would be very much checking out.
Then, I also really like to do this. So, this is essentially finding those brands that I think are really good. The brands that are listed in there. Seeing rather than just who is linking to them, who is mentioning them? Who is talking about them? What are the important sources that are citing them? Not necessarily with a link or a follow link. You can search for the brand name minus site colon their domain name (-site:domain name) and click that search and that will bring up a bunch of listings of places that talk about that brand. The most important places, in fact, in order, in Google’s opinion, of who is talking about that brand. It could be profile pages, social profile pages they’ve got, maybe you should get those social profiles. It could be tools that they’ve built, or bloggers they’ve reached out to, or news articles, or journalists, or forums that are discussing them. All of those places are great places to start doing some inbound marketing. You want to participate in those forums. You want to contact those journalists. You want to get the content written that’s going to attract those same types of links. Who mentions them is a really big step.
If you follow this, the link analysis that you’re going to be doing for your SEO is going to be worth a ton more than if you just reverse the backlinks and try to get every one of them, and it is likely going to carry you through in the long term when a lot of these short-term manipulative tactics fall by the wayside.
All right, everyone. I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We will see you again next week. Take care.