How to Effectively Use “Banned” or Overused Tactics
Guest posting has been dying for a while, I wrote about the search industry killing guest posting last year. Sure enough, Matt Cutts called it. Then came the posts about Matt’s announcement (my favorite is Rae’s) and they made me think. Is guest posting really dead? Are directories? Are infographics? What about link reciprocation? That lead to the tweet below.
I don’t want to just leave people hanging though and not give examples. If you still want to use these tactics as a part of a greater online strategy, you still can, but there are stringent rules to follow. Mind you, these are my own personal rules. These are the rules I live by for each tactic. Stray from these and the work you put in could be lost. Google will find and cancel out link equity from poorly executed marketing tactics. If they don’t know negate it algorithmically now, they will. Trust me on this.
There are two rules to keep in mind when doing anything online in regards to search effectiveness.
- Don’t do anything for the purposes of “SEO” or “link juice” or “PageRank.”
That’s not only the wrong focus for success, it’s so 2005 to use these terms.
- Don’t do anything “in scale” – scaling is what “killed” these tactics.
Rae made this point. My colleagues at Distilled have made this point for years. I figure the more we say it, the more it will be believed.
With those rules outlined, onto the “banned” tactics I think can still work and how to go about them.
Otherwise known as reciprocal linking, this is an oldie but goodie. At it’s heart, this tactic is just a partnership, and those are beyond necessary for business overall. Partnerships help us grow our user base and get attention we would not have gotten otherwise.
This is not a solid tactic for getting links. It is however still useful for traffic and in the right cases, link equity. Don’t fret if someone links to you and you have linked to them already. Google and Bing are not going to penalize you for those reciprocal links. See the rules above, it’s when you develop these partnerships for links and try to scale the practice that the tactic gets dodgy.
To use this tactic today, I suggest:
- Follow the two rules above first and foremost.
- Identify the right person to develop partnerships. Your in-house search marketer or agency should not be in charge of this. The head of the business or the business development person should be in charge of this. When identifying partners, do it for the growth of the whole business, not for search. Search benefits are ancillary.
- Develop a list of strong partners, or list all partners and where they are in relation to becoming strong partners.
- Action: The business development person should be in charge of developing these relationships from start to finish.
- Action: The in-house search person or agency should work with business development on how to use the partnership for more traffic/sales (whatever your company goals are) online, only after the partnership is developed and strong.
- Don’t dictate any links from projects and don’t ask to change them unless they are broken links.
- Create content for specific initiatives – not specific to the partner per se, but to the initiative so that the possible link is deep into the site and helps tie the two sites together. The content created should be with the user that is clicking on the link in mind. What content are they looking for?
Example: Nom Nom Paleo and Whole9’s Whole30 Plan
Nom Nom Paleo is a food blog centered around the paleo way of eating. She is on a book tour right now and came to my gym, so she’s top of mind. She developed this page to help those people embarking on the Whole30 30-day Challenge. She planned out all the meals for them! She links to their book, their website, etc. Whole30 mentions this resource and links to their website (but doesn’t link to the resource, sigh).
This is the kind of relationship that can still use reciprocal linking because it’s for the users.
My early years were spent repeating the same title and description for a client’s site in so many directories. We’d start out with DMOZ and work our way out. I even remember looking up and building lists of directories that we could submit to, free and paid. Moz even had a list back in the day. I wanted to hug them when they released that.
Then came all the repetitious directories. Domains bought and directories put up with no real humans, or just one, running them. No attention was paid to them other than taking SEO’s money. Rarely did you get any traffic from these listings. You could hire services that would list you in a range of directories. 5000 directories for $399.99! Lame. (And oh, the spam emails!!!)
Now most of us are stuck removing or disavowing some of those links. How in the world can there be any good ones left?? There are. These are directories that will send you customers. You want to be a part of them for business purposes, not link purposes. There are a number available in the medical and legal spaces that I am aware of. The downside? They cost money and should be nofollowing the links.
I know you’re asking how this affects your online performance, this can’t help search traffic!!!! Yes, it can, over time. Imagine if you got a listing in one of these directories, developed your business (aka make more money), and maybe are able to spend some more money on marketing. You use this money to do a campaign that gets attention and the reporter mentions how well you rank in different directories. The press you get for growing your business is a way to grow organically. There is also the potential benefit of getting attention from the right influencer from these directories that gets them to write about you.
Onto the rules for using directories:
- It should have a direct relation to your business or you have learned about it from current, past or potential customers as a place they looked for information in their quest.
- The directory should be able to share traffic metrics, conversion metrics for listings like yours, or else be able to show that real people use the directory.
- If the directory is paid, the links should be nofollowed. Period.
- Track the business (visits/conversions) you get from the directory and make a decision down the line on if you should continue based on the ROI of the business it brings.
Example of a good, very topical directory: The Grass Fed Beef Directory is run by a friend and as a person that looks for local beef farmers, a great idea. It’s maintained by a friend and offers advertising opportunities for local farms.
Commenting and Forums
Comment spam is the one tactic that bothers me the most right now. I still get comment spam on blog posts that are almost 5 years old at this point. To all the comment spammers, yes, I pay attention!!! Phew. Got that out.
Commenting however is still something that I highly recommend for people. People. Not businesses. My personal site really only has links from my comments over the years. And a few comments in particular on Matt Cutt’s blog still brings a bulk of referral traffic. Commenting is a great way to grow your traffic and reach different audiences.
Forum posts however can be done by company representatives, but keep in mind that forums and comments are conversations. They are not a place to pitch services or products. Keep the sales out.
This one is all about the rules, so here we go.
- Commenting and Forums are social things, social things are about communication, and you really need to be commenting as yourself or as an official representative. Don’t lie.
- Your name is YOUR name and your website is your website, not a buried page. The website can be your company’s, sure, but no linking to a specific page in the name/site area.
- No linking in the comment unless it REALLY makes sense. And don’t try to give it anchor text that is exact match. This is detectable. Every time.
- Don’t comment to comment. Comment because you have something to say. Something that someone else has not yet said. Use commenting to build your reputation and show your expertise.
- Don’t sell. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it can get you banned quickly. Let the recommendations come from fans. Be there to answer questions if you mention your products/services at all.
- See my two overview rules. This is so very important to this tactic.
Example: This is a great comment from Jesse Aaron over on the Moz post. He added a very relevant link and really participated in the conversation.
For those new to the industry, we used to make as many social profiles as possible because many of them would allow links to websites. And they followed those links. Twitter? Yep, they did that. Spamming ‘R Us! In the quest to get links as fast as possible, many social profiles were created that meant nothing. They were never maintained, and I hope over time were deleted.
However, social profiles can be a great tool to gain attention from different people. Potential partners, influencers, potential customers, and so much more. Your website listing on Twitter, Facebook, and other communities like Moz and even Reddit can be great sources for traffic.
Here is the kicker, you have to be a person or real business. These platforms are about participation and community. People look for these links because they read something you posted and want to know more about you. You or your business that is. These social profiles have to have content that drive people to want to know more.
Therefore, if you want to utilize social profiles for traffic, the rules are:
- Only develop social profiles for those that you or your team have the time to maintain.
- Develop a strategy (or if it’s you, just participate regularly) for that platform. No two platforms are the same.
- See the original rules, these profiles are not a place for link equity directly, but as with directories, the ancillary benefits when someone talks about you or your company, or the content you’ve written, that links and more traffic occurs. It’s all about the flywheel.
Example: I’m going to go personal here. My own profile with Moz ranks for my name, lists posts I’ve done and links to my own site. It brings me traffic and sometimes business.
“Designed by” and Other Footer Links
Clients ask all the time if a footer link will help a page when they launch something new. My response has been the same for a while. Google/Bing typically ignore navigational links (links that are the same across all pages on the site) when it comes to link equity. Links in the footer however are fantastic when it comes to search discovery and driving traffic to the new content.
There was a big push for some time around getting links when you did something for someone else’s website. Optimization, design, marketing, whatever. These “Designed by” links are always in the footer and largely deemed spammy today. I don’t think they are in certain use cases.
- See the links as business driving opportunities, not link opportunities.
- Allow users to easily remove these links if they would like. Don’t force the use. Even better, let them at it themselves! If you’re a web design company, only bring it up once the site is complete and you think they are over the moon about the project.
- Link to your homepage, or an offer page in case someone likes your work and uses the link to find out more.
- Use your business name as the anchor text. Don’t try to optimize these links.
Example: My own site is designed with a theme and I left in the link to the designer. The page speaks to the specific design and how to get it. They have 1725 domains linking to that page and the page is stronger than the domain as a whole according to Open Site Explorer.
This is not about scalability and link building remember, it’s about driving business. I am not sure what kind of business it drives, but I would assume a good amount.
I know. We all hate them. We hate what they have become, but what they are is inherently good. Visualizing otherwise difficult to comprehend data makes for fantastic resources. There was one infographic the team at Distilled developed for my client that is still being used in responsive design informational presentations. It was amazing to do research last week and come across snippets from the infographic 5-6 times in a 2 hour period.
What killed infographics is of course the overuse and general uselessness of the content that was beginning to be visualized. Different copies of the same information, visualized with different graphics, different colors, and for competing companies in the same industry.
You can still make a great infographic though, and here are my rules for making those that will make an impact to your business.
- Don’t redo a topic unless you can update or otherwise make it better than those that came before.
- Give credit to your sources and not within the image. On the landing page for the graphic provide actual links. If you place the infographic broken up on Slideshare, link to the relevant source on each slide.
- If the data isn’t hard to understand, don’t visualize it. These graphics are meant to help people understand data.
- If the data is too complex and you can’t simplify it for the standard internet user, don’t do it. Infographics are meant to help inform, not confuse.
- Make it easy to share and don’t hide links. You should of course add a link to your original within the embed code, but don’t try to link to product pages or something else that makes no sense.
- This graphic should be a resource your target market wants to and can use to make a point. We are talking customers, journalists and influencers. If it doesn’t get attention, you won’t get attention.
Example: This is my client’s graphic on Slideshare. I don’t mind linking to the Slideshare as it’s the best representation, and Microsoft discontinued the product. Alas.
This is one of my favorite “tactics” because it started perfect, a way to get information to journalists about specific topics. Everyone picked it up and journalists were inundated. Press releases started being published as is and that is when search got a hold of them. Press releases are usually centered around product or company news, what better time to mention the page of that new product? And it was … scalable!
Then things got really bad, we started optimizing press releases for SEO and they started releasing just for that purpose. They lost their meaning. The major press release wires started charging per link and that effectively made them all paid links. Dead in the water.
That was the best thing to happen to press releases in my opinion. I am sure journalists will agree. I would love to see if the number of press releases decline over time and if the information in them gets better. Press releases are their to help companies gain attention from key journalists. They are there to inspire stories, not to be stories themselves. And they sure are not there to be a place to get thousands of links.
I implore all of you to rethink how you use press releases.
- Find a PR company or PR representative internally that can come in with contacts in your industry and with local/national news outlets.
- Stories should be developed, not press releases. Press releases are about a story or campaign. Press releases are just a way to get the story out there. These stories and campaigns should have other verticals supporting their release.
- Metrics should not be around the number of links, the number of impressions, but the number of stories that are written about the topic or campaign.
- Copies of the press release on another site should only be judged as worthy if it drives traffic and business to your site.
- Want to impact the strength of your site with the stories that are published from the press release campaign? Include a link to a resource page you created for the campaign. This page will have more information than your press release and serve as a place for writers to get the “meat” for their story.
Example: I can’t say if this release got coverage, but a well formatted press release with information for a writer to use in a story can be found over at Lookout (they are a client, so just linking to the press release to be fair). You’ll notice a number of statistics, a number of resource pages, and something that is relevant to a number people.
I’m not going to beat a dead horse on this one. I laid out some pretty direct guidelines in my last post. Want an example post? This one. That one. Any post on this site that is not by Bas. The writers on State of Digital are not compensated. We do this for fun, to build our own expertise, to educate. State of Digital is very picky about who writes for them, but we are all guest posters.
What did I miss?
I know I didn’t get everything and I might have missed some rules. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject and if you have suggestions for other rules.