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Posts Tagged ‘Link’


Link Madness

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Link paranoia is off the scale. As the “unnatural link notifications” fly, the normally jittery SEO industry has moved deep into new territory, of late.

I have started to wonder if some of these links (there are hundreds since the site is large) may be hurting my site in the Google Algo. I am considering changing most of my outbound links to rel=”nofollow”. It is not something I want to do but … “

We’ve got site owners falling to their knees, confessing to be link spammers, and begging for forgiveness. Even when they do, many sites don’t return. Some sites have been returned, but their rankings, and traffic, haven’t recovered. Many sites carry similar links, but get a free pass.

That’s the downside of letting Google dictate the game, I guess.

Link Removal

When site owners are being told by Google that their linking is “a problem,” they tend to hit the forums and spread the message, so the effect is multiplied.

Why does Google bother with the charade of “unnatural link notifications,” anyway?

If Google has found a problem with links to a site, then they can simply ignore or discount them, rather than send reports prompting webmasters to remove them. Alternatively, they could send a report saying they’ve already discounted them.

So one assumes Google’s strategy is a PR – as in public relations – exercise to plant a bomb between link buyers and link sellers. Why do that? Well, a link is a link, and one could conclude that Google must still have problems nailing down the links they don’t like.

So they get some help.

The disavow links tool, combined with a re-inclusion request, is pretty clever. If you wanted a way to get site owners to admit to being link buyers, and to point out the places from which they buy links, or you want to build a database of low quality links, for no money down, then you could hardly imagine a better system of outsourced labour.

If you’re a site owner, getting hundreds, if not thousands, of links removed is hardly straightforward. It’s difficult, takes a long time, and is ultimately futile.

Many site owners inundated with link removal requests have moved to charging removal fees, which in many cases is understandable, given it takes some time and effort to verify the true owner of a link, locate the link, remove it, and update the site.

As one rather fed-up sounding directory owner put it:

Blackmail? Google’s blackmailing you, not some company you paid to be listed forever. And here’s a newsflash for you. If you ask me to do work, then I demand to be paid. If the work’s not worth anything to you, then screw off and quit emailing me asking me to do it for free.

Find your link, remove it, confirm it’s removed, email you a confirmation, that’s 5 minutes. And that’s $ 29US. Don’t like it? Then don’t email me. I have no obligation to work for you for free, not even for a minute. …. I think the best email I got was someone telling me that $ 29 was extortion. I then had to explain that $ 29 wasn’t extortion – but his new price of $ 109 to have the link removed, see, now THAT’S extortion.

if it makes you sleep at night, you might realize that you paid to get in the directory to screw with your Google rankings, now you get to pay to get out of the directory, again to screw your Google rankings. That’s your decision, quit complaining about it like it’s someone else’s fault. Not everyone has to run around in circles because you’re cleaning up the very mess that you made

Heh.

In any case, if these links really did harm a site – which is arguable – then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess the next step. Site owners would be submitting their competitors links to directories thick and fast.

Cue Matt Cutts on negative SEO….


Recovery Not Guaranteed

Many sites don’t recover from Google penalties, no matter what they do.

It’s conceivable that a site could have a permanent flag against it no matter what penance has been paid. Google takes into account your history in Adwords, so it’s not a stretch to imagine similar flags may continue to exist against domains in their organic results.

The most common reason is not what they’re promoting now, its what they’ve promoted in the past.
Why would Google hold that against them? It’s probably because of the way affiliates used to churn and burn domains they were promoting in years gone by…

This may be the reason why some recovered sites just don’t rank like they used to after they’ve returned. They may carry permanent negative flags.

However, the reduced rankings and traffic when/if a site does return may have nothing to do with low-quality links or previous behaviour. There are many other factors involved in ranking and Google’s algorithm updates aren’t sitting still, so it’s always difficult to pin down.

Which is why the SEO environment can be a paranoid place.

Do Brands Escape?

Matt Cutts is on record discussing big brands, saying they get punished, too. You may recall the case of Interflora UK.

Google may well punish big brands, but the punishment might be quite different to the punishment handed out to a no-brand site. It will be easier for a big brand to return, because if Google don’t show what Google users expect to see in the SERPs then Google looks deficient.

Take, for example, this report received – amusingly – by the BBC:

I am a representative of the BBC site and on Saturday we got a ‘notice of detected unnatural links’. Given the BBC site is so huge, with so many independently run sub sections, with literally thousands or agents and authors, can you give us a little clue as to where we might look for these ‘unnatural links

If I was the BBC webmaster, I wouldn’t bother. Google isn’t going to dump the BBC sites as Google would look deficient. If Google has problems with some of the links pointing to the BBC, then perhaps Google should sort it out.

Take It On The Chin, Move On

Many of those who engaged in aggressive link tactics knew the deal. They went looking for an artificial boost in relevancy, and as a result of link building, they achieved a boost in the SERPs.

That is playing the game that Google, a search engine that factors in backlinks, “designed”. By design, Google rewards well-linked sites by ranking them above others.

The site owners enjoyed the pay-off at the expense of their less aggressive competitors. The downside – there’s always a downside – is that Google may spot the artificial boost in relevancy, now or in the future, and and may slam the domain as a result.

That’s part of the game, too.

Some cry about it, but Google doesn’t care about crying site owners, so site owners should build that risk into their business case from the get go.

Strategically, there are two main ways of looking at “the game”:

Whack A Mole: Use aggressive linking for domains you’re prepared to lose. If you get burned, then that’s a cost of playing the game. Run multiple domains using different link graphs for each and hope that a few survive at any one time, thus keeping you in the game. If some domains get taken out, then take it on the chin. Try to get reinstated, and if you can’t, then torch them and move on.

Ignore Google: If you operate like Google doesn’t exist, then it’s pretty unlikely Google will slam you, although there are no guarantees. In any case, a penalty and a low ranking are the same thing in terms of outcome.

Take one step back. If your business relies on Google rankings, then that’s a business risk. If you rely entirely on Google rankings, then that’s a big business risk. I’m not suggesting it’s not a risk worth taking, but only you can answer that what risks make sense for your business.

If the whack a mole strategy is not for you, and you want to lower the business risk of Google’s whims, then it makes sense to diversify the ways in which you get traffic so that if one traffic stream fails, then all is not lost. If you’re playing for the long term, then establishing brand, diversifying traffic, and treating organic SEO traffic as a bonus should be considerations. You then don’t need to worry about what Google may or may not do as Google aren’t fueling your engine.

Some people run both these strategies simultaneously, which is an understandable way of managing risk. Most people probably sit somewhere in the middle and hope for the best.

Link Building Going Forward

The effect of Google’s fear, uncertainty and doubt strategy is that a lot of site owners are going to be running scared or confused, or both.

Just what is acceptable?

Trouble is, what is deemed acceptable today might be unacceptable next week. It’s pretty difficult, if not impossible, for a site owner to wind the clock back once they undertake a link strategy, and who knows what will be deemed unacceptable in a years time.

Of course, Google doesn’t want site owners to think in terms of a “link strategy”, if the aim of said link strategy is to “inflate rankings”. That maxim has remained constant.

If you want to take a low-risk approach, then it pays to think of Google traffic as a bonus. Brett Tabke, founder of WebmasterWorld, used to keep a sticker on his monitor that said “Pretend The Search Engines Don’t Exist”, or words to that effect. I’m reminded of how useful that message still is today, as it’s a prompt to think strategically beyond SEO. If you disappeared from Google today, would your business survive? If the answer is no, then you should revise your strategy.

Is there a middle ground?

Here are a few approaches to link building that will likely stand the test of time, and incorporate strategy that provides resilience from Google’s whims. The key is having links for reasons besides SEO, even if you part of their value is higher rankings.

1. Publisher

Publish relevant, valuable content, as determined by your audience.

It’s no longer enough to publish pages of information on a topic, the information must have demonstrable utility i.e. other people need to deem it valuable, reference it, visit it, and talk about it. Instead of putting your money into buying links, you put your money into content development and then marketing it to people. The links will likely follow. This is passive link acquisition.

It’s unlikely these types of links will ever be a problem, as the link graph is not going to look contrived. If any poor quality links slip into this link graph, then they’re not going to be the dominant feature. The other signals will likely trump them and therefore diminish their impact.

Build brand based on unique, high quality information, and then market it to people by via multiple channels, and the links tend to follow, which then boost your ranking in Google. Provide a high degree of utility, first and foremost.

One problem with this model is that it’s easy for other people to steal your utility. This is a big problem and prevents investment in quality content. One way of getting around this is to use some content as loss-leader and lock the rest away behind pay-walls. You give the outside world, and Google, just enough, but if they want the rest, then they’re going to need to sign up.

Think carefully about the return on giving the whole farm away to a crawler. Think about providing utility, not “content”.

2. Differentiation

There is huge first mover advantage when it comes to getting links.

If a new field opens up, and you get there first, or early, then it’s relatively easy to build a credible link graph. As a field expands, the next layer involves a lot of meta activity i.e. bloggers, media and other information curators writing about that activity. At the start of any niche, there aren’t many players to talk about, so the early movers get all the links.

As a field matures, you get a phenomenon Mike Grehan aptly characterised as “filthy linking rich

The law of “preferential attachment” as it is also known, wherein new links on the web are more likely to go to sites that already have many links, proves that the scheme is inherently biased against new and unknown pages. When search engines constantly return popular pages at the top of the pile, more web users discover those pages and more web users are likely to link to them

Those who got all those links early on will receive more and more links over time because they are top of the results. They just need to keep doing what they’re doing. It becomes very difficult for late entrants to beat them unless they do something extraordinary. By definition, that probably means shifting the niche to a new niche.

If you’re late to a crowded field, then you need to think in terms of differentiation. What can you offer the rest do not? New content in such fields must be remarkable i.e worth remarking upon.

Is that field moving in a new direction? If so, can you pivot in that direction and be first mover in that direction? Look not where a niche currently is, but where it’s going, then position ahead of it.

“Same old, same old content” doesn’t get linked to, engaged with, ranked, or remarked upon – and why should it? The web is not short of content. The web has so much content that companies like Google have made billions trying to reduce it to a manageable set of ten links

3. Brand

Brand is the ultimate Google-protection tactic.

It’s not that brands don’t get hammered by Google occasionally, because they do. But what tends to differ is the sentence handed down. The bigger the brand, the lighter the sentence, or the shorter the sentence, because no matter how much WalMart or The Office Of The President Of The United States Of America spams Google, Google must show such sites. I’m not suggesting these sites engage in aggressive SEO tactics, or need to, but we know they’ll always be in Google.

You don’t have to be a big brand. You do need search volume on your distinctive brand name. If you’re well known enough in your niche i.e. you attract significant type-in search volume, Google must show you or appear deficient.

This is not to say having a brand means you can get away with poor behavior. But the more type-in traffic for your brand, the more pressure there is on Google to rank you.

Links to a brand name will almost never look forced in the same way a link in a footer to “cheap online pharmacy” looks forced. People know your name, and they link to you by name , they talk about you by name – naturally.

The more generic your site, the more vulnerable you are, as it’s very difficult to own a space when you’re aligning with generic keyword terms. The links are always going to look a little – or a lot – forced.

This is not to say you shouldn’t get links with keywords in them, but build a distinctive brand, too. The link graph will appear mostly natural – because it is. A few low quality links won’t trump the good signals created by a lot of natural brand links.

4. Engagement

The web is a place.

This placed is filled with people. There are relationships between people. Relationships between people on the web, are almost always expressed as a link. It might be a Facebook link, a Twitter link, a comment link, a blog link, but they’re all links. It doesn’t matter if they’re crawlable or not, or if they’re no-followed, or not, it still indicates a relationship.

If Google is to survive, it must figure out these relationships.

That’s why all links – apart from negative SEO – are good links. The more signals of a real relationship, the better you *should* be ranked, because you are more relevant, in an objective sense.

So look for ways to foster relationships and engagement. It might be guest posting. It might be commenting on someone elses site. It might be contributing to forums. It might be interviewing people. It might be accepting interviews. It might be forging relationships with the press. It might be forging relationships with business organisations. It might be contributing to charity. It might be running competitions. It might be attending conferences. It might be linking out to influential people.

It’s all networking.

And wherever you network, you should be getting links as a byproduct.

One potential problem:

Provide long – well, longer than 400 words – unique, editorial articles. Articles also need get linked to, and engaged with. Articles need to be placed on sites they’ll be seen, as opposed to content farms.

Ask yourself “am I providing genuine utility?”

5. Fill A Need

This is similar to differentiation, but a little more focused.

Think about the problems people have in a niche. The really hard problems to solve. “How to”, “tips”, “advice”, and so on.

Solving a genuine problem for people tends to make people feel a sense of obligation, especially if they would otherwise have to pay for that help. If you can twist that obligation towards getting a link, all the better. For example, “if this article/video/whatever helped you, no payment necessary! But it would be great if you link to us/follow us on Twitter/” and so on. It doesn’t need to be that overt, although sometimes overt is what is required. It fosters engagement. It builds your network. And it builds links.

Think about ways you can integrate a call-to-action that results in a link of some kind.

Coda

In other news, Caesars Palace bans Google :)

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SEO Book

Don’t Buy Link Rich Advertorials (Unless You’re Google)

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I understand Google’s desire to have a clean editorial signal & not wanting people to manipulate the web graph.

But Google once again isn’t following the best practices they dish out for others.

Both of the following are not one-off articles, but are part of a “series” of advertorials for various Google products with direct followed links to AdWords, Google Analytics, Chromebook, & Hangouts.

Check the date on this next one: February 19th, the same day Interflora was penalized by Google. This is something that is an ongoing practice for Google, while they penalize others for doing the same thing.

Is using payment to influence search results unethical unless the check has Google on it?

None of those links in the content use nofollow, in spite of many of them having Google Analytics tracking URLs on them.

And I literally spent less than 10 minutes finding the above examples & writing this article. Surely Google insiders know more about Google’s internal marketing campaigns than I do. Which leads one to ask the obvious (but uncomfortable) question: why doesn’t Google police themselves when they are policing others? If their algorithmic ideals are true, shouldn’t they apply to Google as well?

Clearly Google takes paid links that pass pagerank seriously, as acknowledged by their repeated use of them.

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SEO Book.com

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?

Conclusion

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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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

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:

http://ctrl-search.com/blog/ – 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.

http://lsikeywords.com/ – 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.

http://bottlenose.com/ – 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.

http://ubersuggest.org/ 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.

Takeaways

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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