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Posts Tagged ‘Building’

Beyond Link Building – Using Links and Content to Hit Business Goals

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Posted by Paddy_Moogan

Few would argue that 2012 changed the SEO industry. In April, we saw the release of Penguin and, for the first time, aggressive penalization of low-quality link building tactics at a huge scale by Google. As an industry, we needed this. We were on borrowed time with these tactics and, let's be honest, they shouldn't have worked in the first place.

I know a lot of SEOs who add huge amounts of value to the businesses they work with through quality, creative online marketing. This is what we should be recognised for rather than using low-quality tactics and tricks that have been labelled by others as a "dark art." Link building certainly fits into this bucket because it is one of the areas where low-quality tactics worked for a long time (some still do) and were far from creative. The 5,000 article syndation links and 10,000 directory submissions you've done was hardly us at our best.

I want to share some thoughts on how we can transition link building from a numbers game into genuine online marketing that adds value to a business, beyond increasing their link counts.

Start with why

Last year, I read a book by Simon Sinek called Start with Why. If you haven't read the book, here is a video of a talk he did at Ted:

The basic message is that successful companies know why they exist, and they use this to guide the decisions they make. They also focus on why they exist when marketing themselves and selling to customers. Rather than getting customers to buy into the what, they get them to buy into the why.

The reason I mention this in the context of link building is because I don't think we ask this question enough. The temptation when a client asks for our help is to dive in and start building links as quickly as we can, but why are we doing it? Are they the right types of links? Are they going to make a difference to the business? Is an infographic really going to help bring more customers?

Instead of this approach, I believe we should be a bit smarter and far more strategic with our recommendations. Yes, links help rankings and infographics (as an example) help get links. But is that the best we can come up with? Can't we build links that not only help with rankings, but also drive real customers to the website?

There is already talk of Google reducing the effectiveness of links built via infographics and guest blogging. Wouldn't it be nice to not have to worry about whatever update Google comes out with next?

Why does this business exist?

Whether a client comes to you for link building or not, I think this should be the starting point for an online marketing campaign. To work with a client long-term, you need to really dive into their business and understand it as much as you can. I'm not saying that you necessarily need to become an expert on their products or their market, but getting a deep understanding of how they work and why they do what they do is important.

If you can do this, it will make your job much easier with the following:

  • Understanding their industry and what makes this business different
  • Knowing how to get things done internally by understanding what matters to the company
  • Defining a strategy that is in line with their business goals
  • You can talk the same language and they will trust you because of that – once you have trust, it's a lot harder to fire you, too 🙂

There is another subtle benefit here, too – if you're pitching to win their business, you're far more likely to win if you show a genuine understanding of their business.

Why do they need SEO?

There are a few answers to this question that I would not be happy with, and would push for a further explanation:

  • More links
  • More traffic
  • More content

These are all good things to have, don't get me wrong. But in isolation, they don't mean much. If you hear this as an answer, you need to ask – why?

  • Why do you need more links?
  • Why do you need more traffic?
  • Why do you need more content?

These will get you closer to the answer you want to hear. Or you can rephrase to be something like this:

  • What matters to your business?
  • How do you make money?
  • What drives your profits every year?

The answer you're looking for is the one that makes the business survive, and the answer will be in line with why the company exists. This is the starting point that we need because from here, every decision we make is driven by it. This is why it is important to start with these questions. Once you've got this clear, you're in a much better position to start defining a strategy that will not only deliver links, but links that will help the business hit its goals.

Don't measure success by links built

Some may not agree, but this is what I feel about link building right now:

The deliverable of a project isn't links; the deliverable is a clear improvement in what matters to the client – revenue.

I'm not keen on working on the basis of building x number of links per month, with little or no thought as to why. Why do you need 50 links each and every month? What type of links are they? If you build them every month, will you improve revenue for your client?

Let's look at a quick example. You're hired by the Head of SEO at a mid-level company and you agree a target of 50 links per month to be built and a three month contract. At the end of three months, you've built 150 links, so you go in for another meeting to discuss the project and declare it a success.

At this meeting is the CEO of the company who hears that you've hit your target. They ask how much extra revenue you've generated as a result of these links. The Head of SEO doesn't know, and neither do you. The CEO then asks how your work has helped improve the brand image of their company. You look at the list of 150 guest posts on unrelated blogs and stay quiet.

See the problem?

If we want to be taken more seriously as an industry, we need to be able to confidently deliver results that the CEOs of large companies will relate to and understand.

The CEO doesn't care if Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO shows an improvement in your backlink profile. They care about paying the salaries of their employees on time, paying the office rent, and making a profit. Links alone, with no thought or strategy behind them, will not do this. They used to work when link building was a commodity and less risky, but no longer can we think like this.

We're hired to make more revenue for the company, if we can do this by building 50 links a month and it happens, that's great. But we start with why we're doing what we're doing – not starting with links as the default answer.

It may not always be as straight forward as though and I know that it isn't simple to get to this point. So here are a few ways to take steps towards it.

Focus on the metrics that matter to your client

If your client doesn't make direct revenue from their website, you need to find an alternative. Imagine you're working with a B2B website who doesn't sell online. In this case, your work should be measured on leads/inquiries which lead to revenue.

The bottom line is that your deliverables should make a difference to the business you're working for. Figure out the key metric, then figure out how to improve it.

Real example: I used to work with a SaaS client in the UK who were B2B. A single sale of their service could give them £100k+ revenue a year, but a conversion would take many months to complete. I could track enquiries from organic search, but I wouldn't necessarily know if they converted into a customer, so I made a point of having face-to-face meetings with the Marketing Manager each month to see how good those leads were. She was able to tell me if they were on the way to converting into real customers or not. This communication let me see that we were adding huge amounts of value to their business through search.

Try not to sell short-term projects

To be able to focus on this as a metric that you're measured by, you need to agree on being given enough time to make it happen. Doing a one-off piece of link bait that lasts four weeks is probably not going to help, whereas agreeing a contract for at least six months of activity is much more likely to lead to you having the chance to improve the bottom line.

The only time I think that a short-term project can work is when you're working on a very specific problem, such as lifting a penalty or training an intenral team. I don't think it is a good idea to take on very short-term link building projects because it encourages short-term thinking.

Choose a strategy that helps you improve the bottom line

This is where it all comes together. By this point, you may decide that to improve revenue for your client, you need to come up with a good link building strategy. You then choose the tactics that fit into this strategy.

You should see the clear difference between this approach and just saying, "We need links," within a few minutes of talking to your client.

When we pick the link building tactics in this way, we're choosing ones that will help us improve revenue for the client – not ones that will just let us deliver 50 links per month. If we're driven by pure number of links, our standards naturally drop, and we will be happy to get any types of links we can just to hit the target we've been set.

Examples of getting it right

Let me give you a direct example of a smarter approach: Turning Link Building into Audience Profiling by Richard Baxter. This is link building, but it is driven by a smart strategy that means the links built will mean much more to the company they point to. They will hit that sweet spot where the potential customers of a business hangout and absorb content online.

What about guest blogging? There has been lots of talk about this as a tactic, and it can be a great tactic. But it is also easy to scale, which naturally reduces the quality of the output. Instead of scaling guest blogging, what about doing something like this. This was a guest post that drove more sales of a book than TV and newspaper coverage.

Infographics that matter

No, they're not dead, but they will become less effective if they're not good quality and worth sharing. Rather than creating a regular tower graphic and visualizing things that should never be made into an image, why not create something relevant and helpful to your customers? Like this:

What about content marketing for consumers?

The new SEO buzzword that has actually been around for years and years. Instead of producing a piece of content where the goal is just to get links, what about producing a piece of content that is useful to your real customers? I have a great example here from Swissotel, hat tip to the guys at SEOgadget for showing me this one: 


What about content marketing in B2B markets?

I have two great examples here, starting with American Express who work with a lot of small businesses. They have the Open Forum that publishes content that small businesses will find useful:

Simply Business have done the same with their guides for small business owners:

Both of these companies are creating content that fits with why they exist – to service small businesses. This is smarter than creating an infographic on a random topic just to get a few links that month.

The CEO test

Next time you build a piece of content, ask yourself, "What would the CEO think of this?"

This can be a good way to sense check what you're doing and to make sure that it is in-line with the business and will help them hit their goals. Will the CEO be proud of seeing the content on their website? Will they be proud to see the external websites where they're mentioned?


Yes, links matter – a lot. This isn't changing anytime soon and our clients need links more than ever. But I'd love to see our industry step up and build links that stand the test of time, and not waste time being worried about Google updates.

This isn't easy to do – I'm not 100% there yet myself. It involves quite a big change in thinking for a lot of people. But I firmly believe that if we can alter our approach so that we become focused on the goals of a business rather than purely looking at links, the following will happen:

  • You will win more business because the clients will see that you focus on what matters to them
  • You will be forced to use the tactics that really make a difference to the bottom line
  • You will be able to demonstrate that you've increased a key metric for a business, not just number of links or rankings which most CEOs don't worry about

Overall, SEOs will start to be taken seriously as we're being measured on the right business metrics – not pure rankings or number of links we manage to build.

On a related note, I've just released an eBook focused 100% on building links. At 65,000 words, it covers the whole link building process (including a fair amount of information on this topic) and discusses kicking projects off on the right foot to establish business goals early.

I hope you enjoyed this post – please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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Answer Customer Needs by Building a Customer Advisory Board

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Posted by JackieRae

We sure do love feedback at Moz. One of our biggest contributors to feedback is our Customer Advisory Board (which we lovingly call CAB). Who doesn’t love sharing the work they do with a group of awesome people, hearing their insights, and learning how to provide the most value to users based on their feedback?

Dana Lookadoo sporting her Customer Advisory Board shirt at MozCon.

A few weeks ago, our VP of Growth Marketing, Joanna Lord, did a Whiteboard Friday about 10 Ways to Get Feedback. I’d love to expand on this topic and share how we developed our CAB, what's worked well, and how we've improved.

Framing the CAB

We started the process of creating our Board over a year ago. Fortunately, our Director of Product, Samantha Britney, already had a fabulous framework formulated for us (how’s that for alliteration). It was important for us to flesh out and gather ideas in a document so we could define the purpose of the CAB, understand what it would take to be successful, and mitigate any risks that might occur.

First, we defined the purpose. Our Board members would weigh-in and validate product decisions, and they would provide feedback during early stages of product planning and design. The feedback gathered from the Board would need to be strategic and tactical, and would be used to help unveil any issues that may arise and expand on ideas we might not have thought about yet. We also wanted to develop relationships with folks in the industry in order to better understand our customers' needs. Finally, if CAB members love the work that we do, they may, over time, turn into our biggest evangelists.

Once our goals were set, it was time to move on to the "what ifs" of implementing this new program. There were a few risks we acknowledged before creating the Customer Advisory Board, which allowed us to think critically about the feedback we would received. For example, many of our contacts are relatively close to our company, brand, and/or product. This is awesome! However, their feedback might be swayed by their preconceptions about us and potentially lead to “group think.” We took steps to move away from these notions and help keep our CAB members neutral.

It was also important to set goals to ensure that our CAB was functioning like we intended it to. We defined indicators to use as benchmarks, such as participation of the CAB, quality of the feedback loops, and amount of CAB member's time we use (that last one was important, because we didn’t want to violate any promises we made to those helping us). This allowed us to gauge our success and to determine when it was time to revise our original framework.

Selecting the team

The final piece of our framework was to list the type of candidate we want to engage with. We used written "personas" to group potential candidates into more manageable sectors during our selection process. We originally called for 20-25 people (although the number has currently been upped to 35). These CAB members are open and honest with us, even if they provide negative feedback. They represent a diverse segment of our users and work in small to large companies, from in-house SEO’s to independent consultants.

To make the selection process as neutral as possible, we compiled of a list of candidates from internal recommendations, active community members, and folks who gave feedback to our Product Team in the past to make our final selections. With our final group, we were sure that we would not only hear praise, but would be provided with a significant amount of "tough love" that was needed to make the CAB project a success.

CAB members challenge us, allowing us to make better products. 

Getting to know our CAB

Now that you know the driving factors behind our process, it's time to learn a little bit more about who makes up our Customer Advisory Board.

The folks on our Board have very different backgrounds, areas of expertise, and passions, which means their feedback can be quite diverse. When a CAB member first joins, we ask them to fill out a little “getting to know you” survey. The goal is to understand that no two people are going to want the same thing, and it helps set context around the feedback that we receive.

We have 35 CAB members from seven different countries, including the U.S., Portugal, Spain, England, Austria, Australia, Brazil, and Canada. They’ve been customers of SEOmoz’s anywhere from 1 to 6 years, and some have more experience with our brand and product than others. They work in different a variety of  different environments so we can field customer needs from all sides of the inbound marketing process.

Every CAB member has different expectations at work.

So, have we been successful?

Success? I think YES! We’ve had several formal feedback loops (11 and counting), and many more informal conversations with our Customer Advisory Board members. From these meetings, we've been able to collect the following data:

  • Of the original 15 members that joined, all 15 are still active members.
  • We have an average of 9 out of 10 Customer Advisory Board members giving feedback when asked (although we’re getting closer to 9.5 out of 10!).
  • Every member that opts-in to a feedback loop (whether the loop is a survey, email, or in-person interview) has finished the feedback loop.
  • We've found the feedback is so useful that we went a step further and created a Local Customer Advisory Board for GetListed last month.

We've been thrilled with the success of our CAB so far. Though it took some time to get this process in place, our gains from answering to and gaining feedback from our CAB have far outweighed the time and effort it took to get it up and running. 

A quick thanks

Our Customer Advisory Board is doing us a huge favor by putting in time and energy towards keeping us awesome. We constantly bounce ideas off of them, show them product plans, introduce crazy new content and designs, and the list goes on and on. We are benefiting from their help in a million ways. CAB members help drive us to success (pun intended). To all our CAB members, THANK YOU!

Does your team have a Customer Advisory Board? What are the results you've seen? Please leave your tips and thoughts in the comments below!

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Building Community with Value

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Posted by Mackenzie Fogelson

Building a community around your company is hard work. Just like SEO, there are no tricks. Nothing you can buy in bulk. There really is no ‘easy’ way to do it. Even when you’re working with an agency, you can’t just put in an order for a large community at the drive thru window and expect it to happen over night. You’ve got to do the work.

Building community is about building awareness, and that involves a cohesive blend of many crucial components, including SEO, content, and social media marketing.

If you want to effectively use social media to grow your company, then you have to build a community around it. At the heart of building community is sharing and providing something of value.

What is value?

Simply put, value is something that holds worth. Something that is important to someone. Something that serves a purpose. Something that has significance to someone for one reason or another.

In the world of content and social media marketing, value can translate to a video, a photo, a blog post, a checklist, a whitepaper. With value, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you’ve got to know what constitutes value for your audience. If you’ve got music lovers on your hands, maybe that’s the latest soundbite or leaked video. If it’s engineers, maybe it’s an infographic that beautifully lays out all the data they need to quickly digest (rather than, perhaps, a narrative or a spreadsheet).

Value is something good. But if you only remember one thing about this post, make it this:

Value is not all about you.

Focusing on the customer vs. focusing on you

People like to talk about themselves, and when you’re a company who has something to sell, it’s easy to think that the more you talk about yourself (specifically on social media), the more people will see you, hear you, and want to buy from you.

I’m thinking…not so much.

There is a HUGE difference between sharing value and self-promotion.

When you’re promoting yourself 100% of the time, the focus is, of course, on you, which means you’re basically saying that you’re the most important part of the company/customer equation. That gets old. It doesn’t leave you with a whole lot to talk about or share in the social space, leaves no room for growth, and certainly doesn’t provide much value for your customer.

When you focus on the customer and you think about what their interests are, what they need, and what they’re challenged by, suddenly the opportunities and choices for sharing value and making a connection with them are much greater.

Growing your online community with value

You can grow your online community (and transform your business) simply by focusing on your customer and sharing some value with them.

Take MailChimp for example. They have developed a plethora of resources on their website that help their customers do email marketing. Their guides cover everything from getting started with their product, to managing your list and using Google Analytics with your email marketing.

These guides don’t directly make them any money, but they are focused on the customer and provide them with value. These are the perfect things for MailChimp to share on social media. Even though they are indirectly promoting their own product, they are still focused on offering tremendous value to their customer.

Simply Business is another great example. Maybe this is an easy one for them because their sole purpose is to be a source of knowledge for UK businesses, but all Simply Business does all day long is provide a whole boat load of value: from resources on business insurance and fitness tips for business owners to the Small Business Guide to Google Analytics. All focused on the customer and all focused on providing value.

But wait, there’s more

All of this high quality content that both MailChimp and Simply Business creates is awesome, but I know first hand that this stuff takes a ton of time, energy, and a good amount of budget to generate. There is one simple, additional thing that both MailChimp and Simply Business could do that would serve their own customers and grow their community, but wouldn’t cost them a thing (except for a little bit of time).

They could leverage the communities of other companies.

What the heck does that mean? Well, Simply Business was almost on to it here:

They’re asking their community if they have anything of value to share. This is a great start, but what if Simply Business took the initiative to find for themselves the valuable content that’s out there, connected with the businesses generating it, and made this a part of their normal community management routine?

In addition to asking their customers for valuable things that they’d like to share, what if every few days Simply Business shared value from other companies that they respect, trust, and believe in?

Wouldn’t this help their customers and build community?

I’m thinking…yes.

Tap into neighboring communities with value and the 80/20 rule

Now this is where we get to the good part. You can try a new routine that will do several things:

  1. Save you from always having to originate quality content.
  2. Provide your customers with additional (and diverse) value.
  3. Cultivate and grow your online community and your relationships with other awesome people and businesses.

Win. Win. Aaaaand more win.

Here’s how you do it:

80% of the time, share value that you did not actually generate

That’s right. The deal with this is that if you’re spending 80% of your time on social media working to share other people’s value, you’ll end up building relationships, a more satisfied community, more fans, and bigger brand advocates. That means more supporters and more people who want to spread the word (i.e. do the work) about you (for free!).

Your quest is to find other people or companies online that you like, that may hold similar values or have a similar approach, and that produce good content. Get to know them. Read what they write. Share their stuff. Become their friend. It's not what's in it for you, it's what's in it for your customer and your community.

Even if the companies and people you are seeking out are a so-called competitor, if they align with your personal and company values (and have valuable content to share), they will appreciate you featuring their stuff, your customers will benefit from it, and they will want to become friends too (which means eventually they will return the favor). You can help each other learn and grow each other’s communities.

It’s real easy to do on Twitter:

And even more beneficial (for SEO reasons) on Google+:

But in order to do this and make it work, you’ve got to read. A lot.

Sharing value means you’ve got to be reading and learning. All the time. In addition to making friends with other companies, putting them on your radar and reading their blogs, make sure you’re following people on Twitter who are continually sharing value, or circle in people on Google+ who share good stuff. Find all of the useful information that you can get your hands on (the stuff that you know your community would love).

The benefit of this, of course, is that you will always have something useful (and valuable) to share with your community, and you will discover new niches and opportunities (i.e. other neighboring communities to tap into).

If you don’t have time to read the stuff you’re collecting during your day, use Pocket and save it for later. Then, make sure you’re setting time aside at least a couple times a week to read all the good stuff that you’re collecting so that you can then share that valuable content with your community on social media.

Bottom line, just make it part of your routine to share other people's valuable content approximately 80% of the time.

20% of the time, share stuff that you yourself created

When you’re focusing on sharing your own content, make sure it’s good. Real good. And remember, the stuff that you originate and share on your own blog and social media outlets should serve your community, not you.

And here’s a great tip that I stole from Rob Ousbey that will make an even bigger impact in your community and reach more people with your value: before you even create it, try asking for feedback. Interview your customers, survey them, ask them questions about their challenges, anxieties, and pain points. This helps you to get buy-in even before the effort is spent, and you’re ensuring that you’re developing something that really matters to them.

Then, once the content you’ve been working on is ready, show those people who provided you with feedback what you created. Now you have fostered trust because they were a part of the process. So when you go to do outreach and get the word out on social media, you’ve already got someone who is personally invested and wants to help you with outreach.

It's not that you want to avoid promoting your company or helping people understand what you do. It's that blatant self-promotion won't get you anywhere, and it certainly won't help build a community. When you are promoting yourself, make sure it's backed by value.

Always bring it back to value

No matter what, make the commitment to share value (and again, not just your own). Maybe your ratio isn’t 80% other people’s stuff and 20% your own (though that’s been the ratio that has worked best for us). Maybe it’s 60/40 or 70/30. Whatever the balance is, always share value and try (seriously, try hard, kids) not to make it all about you (at least a little bit of the time). Play around with it. Test it out and find the right mix for your customers and your community.

When in doubt, think about your customer first. How can you really be of service to them? If you can’t, refer them to someone else who can. They may not become your customer, but they will always be your fan, support your community, and refer you to their friends. That’s what cultivating community with value is all about.

Take the 80/20 challenge

People like to share. When you focus on other companies (and people) and not always on yourself, it will naturally catch on and those people and companies will start sharing your stuff. But the ‘trick’ to this whole thing is that you have to start with value.

So try it out for yourself and see what happens. Chances are, you’re going to become a lot smarter (with all of that hard core reading you're gonna do), you’re going to help others, and you’re going to grow your business (with a seriously awesome community).

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Semantic Web and Link Building without Links > The Future for SEO?

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Posted by simonpenson

Rand’s recent WBF about co occurrence was a real wake up call for those still transfixed with link building practices of old. While anchor text based links may still have some effect there is little arguing the fact that the factor’s importance is dwindling. In its place are things like social signals, link age and most importantly a growing reliance on relevancy and how that is deciphered.

For those that haven’t read it yet, I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about what I felt recent Google penalties are really trying to solve. My view is that Google is really trying to clear up the link graph and with it valueless links so that it can clearly understand relevance and associations again.

It’s something that web ‘creator’ Tim Berners Lee first wrote about back in 2006 in this magazine article and Google has been talking about ever since, ploughing lots of cash into acquisitions to get it there.

So, why invest so much time, effort a resource into such a game-changing project? Quite simply because its existing keyword based info retrieval model is in danger of being bettered by semantic search engines.

To understand why this is the case we must first delve into semantics and why it changes the way search engines work.

Semantic Association

Put simply Google wants to better map the associations between content so it can deliver what it believes will be a more personalized and effective result.

The nirvana for the engineers working on the project is to map the associations between types of content with an understanding of the intent of the user when typing in a query.

So, let’s say I type in ‘what’s the weather today?’ At present Google might know where I am but would find it difficult to associate other content to that query. The reason I’m searching for it may well be because I want to know whether I can BBQ, or complete that landscaping project I’ve been researching online.

Google can improve its results by ‘knowing’ why I’m searching for the weather so it can also throw up food offers or home improvement guides.

It can only do this if its data set is clean, and right now there are far too many spammy links muddying the waters; hence why Penguin came in to begin addressing that issue.

Why is Relevance important?

It is quite clear to see why relevance is therefore important and why search engines may reward those helping them out or working to this new system.

How does Google Measure this?

Clearly we are still a long way from a purely semantic engine and Google may never get to that point. The important thing is that they are certainly motivated to make much more of relevance to diversify search results.

As a search marketer your first thought will undoubtedly be ‘how can I ensure I work in a way to take advantage of this change?’ The answer to that question begins with an understanding of some of the patents Google currently holds that may help it do this.

(Hat tip to Bill Slawski and Dan Thies on some of the below)

Topical PageRank

Google had a busy time of it back in 2003, bringing in Taher H. Haveliwala, the genius PHD student behind a new way of applying topical relevance to the company’s faltering PageRank model.

His research around applying greater relevance to links from topical pages as graded by their newly acquired Applied Semantics’ CIRCA Technology meant that they could start developing ways of measuring relevance.

Reasonable Surfer Model

This theory is then taken another step further by applying differing weights to different links on that same page based on their ‘likeliness to be clicked on’. The more likely it is they will be ‘used’ the more authority handed to them. Everything from font size to position and even colour are taken into account in this computation.

Phrase Based Indexing

To further complicate the picture Google then also looks at co-occurrence of words and phrases on a page to work out their ‘meaning’. If you take the phrase ‘hair of the dog’ for instance, Google needs a way to understand its meaning.

To do that it will look at other pages that mention that same phrase to see what else they mention. If they also mention things like ‘drink’ and ‘the morning after the night before’, for instance it will understand that it, and the page it is linking to is talking about a drink to offset the impact of a heavy night out it will assign more authority to that link as it is extremely relevant.

Had it talked about dog hair’ it would be less relevant and therefore a less valuable link.

This is a key development as it is most likely responsible for a lot of the penalties we are currently seeing as a result of spammy link building practices. To stop a page ranking Google can simply remove the connection between the page and any particular term in its index.

It also throws up some interesting opportunity and new ways of working for those looking at how to optimize sites, and we’ll come onto that a little later.

Metaweb Acquisition

While this wasn’t a direct algorithm patent or algo change Google’s purchase of Metaweb, an open source entity database of people, places, things, powered the development of ‘Knowledge Graph’ and fast-tracked its move to add more diversity and ‘user intent understanding’ to search results.

It’s addition allows Google to better understand associations between pages based on their real life connections, not just how they are linked to.

How can you develop a Semantic Strategy?

Knowing all of the above is useless with some actionable ‘next steps’ in terms of how it affects your own search marketing efforts.

So let’s look at some of the ways in which this kind of knowledge has helped me structure our own on and off page process at Zazzle.

Mapping Relevance

The first thing you must work on when considering your off page plan of attack to proactively improve your own relevance profile is to understand what is considered ‘relevant’ to you, and how, in a semantic world. Below is an example of related words to ‘content marketing’ and how they are connected:

Semantic relevance map

The good news is that there is no need to use guesswork here. Tools exist to take the hard work out of the process and a few of the best are listed below: – this is a great tool to enrich your on page content. Effectively semantically optimizing your own site. By pasting in snippets of your post the engine finds semantically associated images and other content for you to link out to and add. – a few great blog posts have been created recently around the subject of LSI, or Latent Semantic Indexing, including this one linked to on our own blog.

We wrote about it, as it’s a key part of our own outreach process now. For every piece of work we do we will use a tool like this to ensure we stay relevant.

LSI Keywords is one of a handful of tools that will present a list of semantically relevant keywords and phrases for you to widen your outreach approach. – is a tool I have mentioned before here and its great for a multitude of things, especially big data led content cu ration. One of its ‘tools’ however is great for understanding degrees of relevance separation. Once you type in a keyword you have the option to scroll through a number of different tools but the one that we want to use for this is the Sonar+. It visually maps real time semantic relationships between concepts based on Twittersphere sharing and other big data.

Google Semantic Operator – not a tool per se but a really useful operator to help define semantic keyword relationships. By adding the ~ Tilde symbol when searching Google for your key phrase (e.g.: ~travel) you will see other words that Google has mapped against that word, such as Hotels, Flights, Holiday, Tours. although it is not officially a semantic tool ubersuggest is built on Google predictive search engine and so by default it delivers semantically relevant searches, which makes it great for building outreach keyword lists.

All of the above tools give the user the ability to create a keyword-based map of where to outreach to if links are your project aim.

Building the Outreach Plan

Once you have a view on where you want to outreach too then the next step is to construct a plan to do that.

The next stage is to create a time-based project plan to detail each and every step of the process. This is extremely important when carrying out outreach, as it can be very easy to get distracted and pulled sideways and out of your defined semantically relevant zone.

We use a simple excel table to plan this and below you can see an example based on a two week outreach campaign for a fitness brand.

outreach plan

As you can see we have planned time days on specific areas to ensure we cover off as much semantically relevant opportunity as possible. Into this plan we would then add outreach contacts and note what communication we have had with each.

How to outreach well has been covered in detail by posts like this, this and this and this post is already far too long to delve into this right now but one tip that must be followed is to be as exhaustive as possible in exploring each avenue. Think Face to Face, Phone, Twitter and finally email in terms of contact medium hierarchy as the further you get down the list the lower the conversion to placement will be.

Where things get VERY interesting in a semantically driven project, certainly in terms of off page activity, is when you begin to consider what the real value of that work is; the metrics you’ll be monitoring as your KPIs for the campaign.

Posting without links

Posting content without the need to obtain a link may seem like an insane proposition, especially if you are measuring success by ranking and search engine visibility metrics, but that may not be the case.

Real marketing is not about links. It’s about connecting your brand or business to people with similar interests and beliefs. Links are simply a mechanism that drives Google visibility to get you in front of more of those people more often.

Google understands that while its entire business is built on links it really needs to get away from that model and motivate us to act like above-the-line marketers. And that is where Lexical co-occurrence comes in.

For those really interested in this, both Bill Slawski and Joshua Giardino wrote great technical pieces on what it is and how it works.

In simple terms however it is a way of ranking websites and pages not on inbound links but by how many times they are MENTIONED in close proximity to key phrases.

That’s game changing.

If Google can work out what you are relevant for not by looking at dumb anchor text but what people write about you and what other phrases you regularly appear close to it changes the way you outreach and market your content.

Imagine being able to outreach awesome content without having to look for links. Simply make people aware of what you are doing and get them to talk about you. It’s how it should be and it would have a profound effect on the type of content you might produce and brand-marketing activity you might pursue. Expect PR stunts galore!

On Page Semantic Optimisation

Another key element of semantic ‘link building’ is to build out your relevance to widen the scope of what you are ‘about’. If Google is looking to diversify results then the more words and phrases you can associate yourself with the better.

This means expanding your repertoire. Writing more about those peripheral semantic phrases that are still on brand but may help you rank for a greater number of related searches.

In many ways this is not dissimilar to how any good content strategy should be constructed anyway but below are a few simple reminders and additional points to consider when designing content for a semantic engine:

  1. Proximity > keyword mentions, as we know are useful for helping keyword-based retrieval engines like Google work out what you are about. To improve this further augments the phrase with synonyms, as these are strong semantic signals that you are relevant for a cluster of phrases. Try and then align URL, H1, bold and italic text etc. to ensure continuity, as you normally would to strengthen the page. How close keywords are to key modifiers, and to other links, and the higher up in the code they are the better.
  2. Relevant Shingles and Keyword Co-Occurrence > Use the aforementioned tools and ensure you are adding in those co-occurred phrases within the copy of the page.
  3. Synonym keyword linking > Ensure you link from semantically relevant keywords back to key landing pages for bigger terms to create a strong semantic theme. So link internally using ‘holiday’, ‘hotels’ and other terms back to a key ‘travel’ landing page.
  4. Linking out > again this is not new but by choosing ‘Authority’ or ‘Expert’ documents within the niche, as described by the Hilltop Algorithm. This means looking for high authority sites already ranking for the term you want to be relevant for.


We have covered a lot of ground in this lengthy piece. My hope is that it gives a solid overview of where Google, and other key search engines, are heading. More importantly is gives some actionable tips and suggestions for you to begin implementing now to ensure your site benefits from these forthcoming changes.

Simon Penson is founder and MD of Zazzle Media, a UK digital content marketing and SEO agency. Catch him on Twitter.

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