Search Engine Optimization (often abbreviated as SEO) is a very important part of your website and online marketing strategy.
While Search Engine Optimization might seem pretty complicated this post will break everything down and give you a pretty good understanding of how everything works.
Table of Contents
- Meta Tags
- Optimizing the Content on Your Website
- Other On-Site Factors that Influence SEO
- Authorship and Publisher Markup
- White Hat vs. Grey Hat vs. Black Hat
- What is Google Looking for When it Comes to Links?
- Not all Links are Created Equal
- Anchor Text
- Nofollow vs. Dofollow
- Putting this all Together into Some Kind of Strategy
- Link Pillows
- Blog Networks
- Guest Posting
- Broken Link Building
- Automated Software, Link Pyramids and Buying Links
What are Keywords?
The first thing you need to understand is keywords. These are the words people are typing into search engines like Google that you ideally want your website to rank for.
There are two kinds of keywords, the head and the long tail. Take a look at the graph below:
Head keywords are simple one or two word phrases like “SEO” or “learn SEO” while the long tail are much more detailed with lots more words for example “the best online guide to learning seo”.
On the graph above you can see that head keywords get a large number of searches while long-tail keywords get a much lower amount of searches.
Head keywords have a much larger number of sites competing to rank and as a result require a lot of time, effort and money to rank your site highly for keywords like this.
Long tail keywords on the other hand receive a lot less searches but the competition is much lower. As a result these keywords require a lot less time, effort and money to rank for.
Furthermore, people who search for head type keywords are usually at the beginning of the sales or research process and are much less likely to convert and buy your product or service.
People who search for long tail keywords are much further along in the sales or research process. They know what they want and as a result are much more likely to convert into buying your product or service.
Lets look at another example.
Say you run a Honda dealership. A head keyword would be something like “Honda” or maybe “Honda Civic”.
It would be awesome to rank your website for keywords like this however you’re competing with sites like honda.com, car magazines and blogs, other dealerships and a lot of other websites.
Therefore it’s going to require a lot of time, effort and money to rank your site highly for these keywords. Plus people who search for “Honda Civic” are probably at the start of the sales process. They know they need a new car but they’re researching different ones and trying to decide what they want to get.
Take a long tail keyword now like “used 2012 Honda Civic for sale in <my city>”. This is a much more detailed search. The person has probably done their research and decided they want to buy a 2012 Honda Civic.
Now you’re only competing with a small amount of sites like maybe some classified sites and other dealerships in your city. As a result this phrase will be much easier for your site to rank.
If you have a very small or no budget for SEO you’re better off spending your effort to rank for long tail keywords. You might get less traffic than ranking for one of the head keywords but the traffic you do get will be more relevant and easier to convert.
No matter how big your budget though or how much work you put in you’re never going to outrank a big site like honda.com so your efforts are better spent elsewhere.
The more specialized or narrow your niche or industry the easier it’ll be to rank for long tail keywords too.
Before you do anything SEO related you should probably take a few seconds to do some keyword research.
There’s no point spending a lot of time and effort into optimizing around a keyword only to find out that it gets 1 search a month.
Fortunately Google has a fantastic and free keyword research tool. It’s part of their Search Engine Marketing platform Google Adwords so head over to adwords.google.com, create an account quickly if you don’t already have one and then log in.
In the menu at the top click on Tools then on Keyword Planner
Click on Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category.
You’ll see a screen that looks like this:
This tool is used primarily for helping with Google Adwords campaigns but since we’re just doing some quick research we can ignore almost all the options here.
Under Your product or service enter the keyword you want to research. You can type more than one word here with spaces if you want to check a phrase.
If you have a local business and you specifically want to find out the search volume in your local area then under Targeting select your location. You can select your language here too if that’s relevant.
The rest of the options you can ignore. Click on Get ideas when you’re ready.
You’re going to see a ton of information that’s relevant if you want to run an Adwords campaign. Click on the tab that says Keyword ideas.
Now you’ll see a table of keywords and this is the information you want.
For this example we used “learn seo” as our search term. The search term you use will be at the top by itself and then in the table below are related terms that you can compare to.
Avg. monthly searches is simply the number of people who type that keyword into Google in a month.
If no one is searching for the keyword then you probably don’t want to waste your time trying to rank for it. If lots of people are searching for it then it might be worth your time.
Competition is a little bit misleading. This is simply the number of websites that rank for that keyword, it’s not people actively trying to compete for that keyword.
Suggested Bid is a much better indication of the competition for the keyword. This is an estimate of how much you’ll have to pay per click if you decide to run an Adwords campaign to show an ad when someone searches for the keyword.
As you can see “learn seo” has a suggested bid of $7.87 which is kind of high. The fact that companies are willing to spend that much money to get one click to their website tells you that the actual competition for this keyword is very high.
The other two columns aren’t important so you can ignore them.
You can play around with this tool and try different keywords, different suggestions and then sort of get a feel for your market or industry and what kinds of keywords you want to optimize your site around.
Now that you understand keywords and keyword research it’s time to get into how to actually optimize your website!
On-Site Search Engine Optimization
There are two main categories of search engine optimization, on-site SEO and off-site SEO.
For sure you’re going to want to get your on-site SEO as good as possible and then you’ll have to decide the amount of time, effort and money that you’re going to want to put into the off-site part.
But we’ll get to that later.
No one outside of Google knows exactly how their ranking algorithm works but it’s safe to say that there are a number of different factors that all contribute to the “score” your site receives.
The first main part of your site’s SEO is the meta tags, specifically the Title and the Meta Description.
Remember when you learned about the Head section of your website? The Title and Meta Description are sections of code that go in the head of each page on your website.
These tags tell search engines what the title of the page is and a quick description for what the page is about.
Google also pulls the title and the meta description and that’s what it shows in its search results.
The title is a short 50 to 60 character long title for each page on your site. Google tries to fit in as many characters it can into 512 pixels so if you keep to 50 to 60 characters almost all your titles will fit. Google will ignore the rest of your title if you go over this and just cut it off with a …
It also won’t read anything past that so if you put keywords after 60 characters Google won’t read them and they won’t count to your site’s SEO.
Make sure you have a title for every page on your site. You want it to not only accurately describe the page but you also want it to contain the keywords that you want to rank the page for.
Also keep in mind that this is the title that Google will show in its search results. If you just fill it with keywords anyone who searches on Google will just ignore your site because the title doesn’t make sense.
So in summary a good title has:
- Between 50 to 60 characters max
- Contains the keywords you want to rank the page for
- Is descriptive of what’s on the page
- Is catchy and will entice people to click on that link in the search results.
The HTML code for the title goes in the head section of your code and looks like this:
<title>This is the Title for Your Web Page</title>
This is a quick summary of what the page is about that goes with your title.
The meta description gives you about 150 to 160 characters to play with. If you go past that Google will cut it off with a …
Like the title you want to write a description that accurately describes the content on the page, includes the keywords you want to rank for and that entices users to click through to your website.
The HTML code for the meta description also goes in the head section of your code and looks like this:
<meta name="description" content="This is the description for your web page. It should be awesome and no more than 160 characters long.">
There’s another meta tag called the meta keywords where you can also enter various keywords to further describe what the page is about.
Tons of SEO experts no longer use the meta keywords and we don’t use them any more either.
In the olden days of the Internet people could just enter anything they wanted into their meta keywords and get their site to rank for that. It didn’t take very long for Google to put an end to that which is why most people, myself included don’t use meta keywords anymore.
However, we have heard that the meta keywords tag does help your site rank on some foreign search engines like Baidu. We have never verified this but it might be something worth looking into if you have a non-English website trying to get traffic from non-Western countries.
The code for the meta keywords also goes in the head section of your code and looks like this:
<meta name="keywords" content="keyword 1,keyword 2,keyword 3,etc.">
Do I Have to Use HTML Code?
Don’t worry! You don’t actually have to go into the HTML code for each page to enter this information. There’s a fantastic Search Engine Optimization plugin for WordPress that makes all of this super easy.
We cover how to set this up and optimize your WordPress website here. This post explains what the different elements of SEO are and how they work so we recommend you read this one first.
There are two main types of sitemaps, HTML sitemaps and XML sitemaps.
An HTML sitemap is simply a page on your website that acts like an index and has a link to every other page on your website.
You don’t actually need an HTML sitemap to help your site’s SEO so only make one if you think it’ll make things easier for your visitors to find content on your website.
The XML sitemap is a file that no regular visitor to your site will ever see but that contains important information about your website for search engines to read.
Unlike the HTML sitemap you definitely need to have an XML sitemap.
The XML sitemap provides:
- An easy to index list of all the pages on your website
- How important those pages are in relation to other pages
- When the pages were last updated
This might sound pretty complicated but remember that awesome WordPress plugin we mentioned earlier? It’ll create and manage your XML sitemap for you so you barely need to worry about this.
You technically have multiple URLs for all of the pages on your website.
Firstly you have the www and the non-www version of each page.
Remember when you installed WordPress and it asked if you wanted to install it on the www or non-ww version of your domain? That ties into this.
“www.yoursite.com/a-page” takes you to the same page as “yoursite.com/a-page” and this can lead to Google indexing the same page twice and then penalizing you for having duplicate content.
Google really does not like duplicate content.
Lots of other pages can be indexed multiple times under multiple URLs. For example your home page could possibly be reached at www.yoursite.com/home, www.yoursite.com, www.yoursite.com/home.html, etc.
The solution here is to choose the canonical URL for each page and redirect all the other variations to the canonical URL.
For example, if you decide that the www version of your site will be the canonical URL then typing in any of the following URLs:
Permalink’s are the permanent, static URL for any page on your website.
You want the permalink for each page to be something clear that describes the page and contains keywords.
Usually this will be the title of the page or post.
A lot of sites use really messy permalinks for pages like www.yoursite.com/index.asp?fxoid=FXMenu,6&cat_ID=12.
This url is a mess and doesn’t make it easy for a search engine to understand what the page is about.
Instead you want clear, descriptive permalinks such as www.yoursite.com/latest-posts or www.yoursite.com/contact-us.
Optimizing the Content on Your Website
Optimizing the content on the pages of your website is also very important. This includes all the text and images on each page.
Optimizing the Text on Your Website
Text is the easiest thing for search engines to read and the more text you have on a page the better. Ideally you want to aim for 500 to 1000 words although some times this might not be possible and that’s fine.
In the early days of the Internet you used to be able to insert all kinds of random keywords into your text to help you rank but this doesn’t really work anymore.
Today the best thing to do is to write quality text that’s aimed at humans and easy for them to read. You can then tune your text a bit to include keywords in relevant places in a natural way.
The first thing you should do is use headings and sub headings on your page, make sure they’re descriptive and that they include keywords.
Heading 1 (<h1> in HTML code) is generally reserved for your page or post’s title. Make sure your title is eye catching, descriptive and includes keywords.
Then for the major sections of your page or post create descriptive sub headings with keywords and use Heading 2 (<h2> in HTML code). If you have any sections under these sub headings use Heading 3 and give these sections sub headings as well.
Not only does this make things much easier for people to read but it also helps search engines figure out what the different sections of your page or post are about and what keywords are important.
When it comes to the text on your website one of the most important things for search engines is the quality. If your writing is terrible, full of spelling and grammar mistakes, plagiarized and no body reads it these are all signs of low-quality.
Google wants to show the most relevant and quality websites in its search results so whatever you do make sure you aim for quality content.
Optimizing Images on Your Website
Your website most likely has a bunch of images however when search engines crawl your website they can’t read images and they have no idea what the picture is.
To help them out you want to use what’s called Alt Text for each image.
The Alt Text is a little bit of text that you insert into the HTML code for the image which tells the search engine what the image is.
The best thing you can do here is write a relevant description of the image, if you can get some keywords in here then that’s even better.
The Alt Text is the most important thing when it comes to images but there’s also a Title for them too, this is the text you see when you mouse over the image.
If the Title affects SEO it’s impact is really small but we always give our images a title anyways just to be safe.
<img src="path-to-image" alt="this is your descriptive alt text" title="this is your descriptive title">
Other On-Site Factors that Influence SEO
There are still lots of other factors that influence the search engine rankings of your website.
Site Load Speed
The speed at which pages on your site load has an impact on your search engine results. The faster your site loads the better.
There are lots of ways to improve your site’s performance:
- Upgrade to a faster and more expensive web server.
- Install a caching plugin to cache all the data on your website and improve load times.
- Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network) which stores copies of your site on servers around the world to improve load times in other countries.
- Optimize the file size of all the images on your website. The lower the file size the faster everything loads.
- Use a quality WordPress theme with clean and optimized code.
If you google something like “website speed test” you’ll find lots of different websites where you can enter a URL and test the load speed of that page.
Mobile Friendly Design
With the massive increase in smartphone and tablet usage Google has made it very clear that mobile friendly design is important.
They’ve even gone so far as to say that if your site isn’t mobile friendly you could be penalized in the search results.
One of the best solutions is to use a WordPress theme with Responsive Design.
Responsive Design means that your website will automatically resize and rearrange the content to fit smaller screens on tablets and smartphones.
Take this website for example and resize the window making it very small. You’ll notice how everything rearranges and resizes.
If you decide to use the Genesis framework for your site you don’t have to worry as all of its child themes are responsive.
If you choose to buy a premium theme from ThemeForest.net any theme made in the last couple of years should be responsive but just double check in the theme features.
If you’re using a free WordPress theme then you have to be careful because it might not be mobile friendly.
If you have a website and you want to check to see if it’s mobile friendly Google has a free tool where you can just enter the URL and find out right away.
The search engines crawl through the code on your website and if that code is a mess it’s going to have a hard time properly indexing your site.
If you decide to use the Genesis Framework you don’t have to worry at all as its code is super clean and optimized.
Most themes from ThemeForest.net are quite clean as well.
If you’re using a random free theme though the code might not be as optimized as it could be so be careful.
Time on Site and Bounce Rate
Google will also take into consideration the behaviour of visitors on your website. Two major measures it uses for this is time on site and the bounce rate.
The time on site is simply how much time a visitor spends on your website.
If someone enters your site and leaves after a few seconds that’s bad. If someone enters your site and stays there for a long time reading all your content then that’s a good sign and Google thinks your website is full of quality content.
One excellent trick you can use to improve the time on site is to embed videos from YouTube or wherever else on your site. If someone stops to watch the video that easily increases their time on site. If you’re a real estate agent then adding video walkthroughs to your listings can have a huge impact on your time on site metric.
The other major metric that Google looks at is the Bounce Rate. This is a measure of how many people visit your site and then leave without clicking through to any other page on your site.
If people read an article on your site and then click to another page in theory this is a measure of the quality of your site.
Some tricks to improve your bounce rate include:
- Adding related post links at the bottom of your post.
- Putting obvious and enticing links to other pages and posts in your side bar.
- Adding a message to the bottom of a post instructing the reader what to read next.
The Age of Your Domain Name
The older your domain name is the better. This is partly why really terrible sites that were created 10 or 20 years ago can rank decently well.
Don’t worry as you most likely just registered a brand new URL for your site though.
The impact an old domain name has is minimal and there are lots of other factors you can control to improve your site’s SEO.
Adding New Content to Your Site
How often you post new content or make updates to existing content also has an effect on your rankings.
The more often you add or update new content the more often Google will return to crawl your site and the faster this new content will be indexed.
This is why on massive news websites that are constantly posting new news multiple times a day can have their new posts show up right away in the search results.
A lot of people will claim you need to constantly be making changes to your site in an attempt to trick Google but we wouldn’t bother with this. Instead concentrate on putting out new quality content whenever you can.
Google would rather see quality well-written blog posts that come out on an irregular basis instead of a bunch of minimal effort posts that come out every day.
Having a feed of new home listings on your website that updates regularly can help with this a lot, especially if it’s automated and you don’t have to spend time adding all the information for the listing yourself.
Authorship and Publisher Markup
If you do some research into SEO you might come across Authorship and Publisher Markup.
A few years ago Google introduced Authorship Markup which was a bit of code that linked your website to your Google+ profile.
If your Google+ profile picture meet their requirements it would show up in search results next to your posts.
The idea was to build trust by linking content to authors.
Everyone got really serious about this for awhile but it wasn’t long until Google discontinued this. We were never really a big fan of this so that’s fine with us. Today there’s no need to worry about authorship.
Google also introduced something called Publisher Markup which is similar to authorship except it links a Google+ business page with your website.
This is still in use today and is much more relevant because it will affect what shows up in the search results for your brand.
If your Google+ business page is optimized correctly extra items can show up in the sidebar of the search results such as the latest posts from your site or other information about your business.
Social Media Optimization
You might be wondering if social media has any affect on your site’s SEO. The short answer is that it doesn’t and you don’t have to worry about how many Facebook likes or Twitter followers you have for example.
Matt Cutts from Google explains exactly how Google looks at social media pages in the below video.
Now while social signals don’t affect your search rankings links back to your site do (we’ll get into this in more detail later in this post).
Setting up a Facebook page or Twitter page with a link back to your site helps your rankings. Having people share your posts and content on social media pages creates more links back to your site which further helps your site’s SEO.
To make things easier some of the major social networks like Facebook and Twitter have created their own special meta data that you can add to your site to make it easier for people to share your content.
Facebook Open Graph Meta Data
When you share a link on Facebook it tries to pull the meta title, description and an image from the page to create a post. Unfortunately this doesn’t work as well as it should and sometimes it fails to pull this data and end up with a broken looking post.
The link will still work but that’s not a great looking post and no one’s going to want to click on it.
Fortunately Facebook has a solution. They created their own set of meta tags called Facebook Open Graph Meta Data.
This lets you specify a specific title, description, image and a few other interesting things that Facebook will use any time someone shares a link to the page.
There are a few different tags that you can use with Facebook:
- og:image lets you specifically control what image is shown in the post
- og:title will show whatever you want for a title instead of the default meta title
- og:description will show whatever you want for a description instead of the meta description
- og:url will show a specific URL for the page (this should be the canonical URL for the page)
- og:site_name lets you give a specific site name like a business name
- og:type lets you specify the type of the content, is it an article or a product for example
Here’s what the HTML code looks like for these meta tags:
<meta property="og:image" content="http://path-to-image.jpg"> <meta property="og:title" content="The Title of the Page"> <meta property="og:description" content="Your custom Facebook description"> <meta property="og:url" content="http://canonical-url-of-page"> <meta property="og:site_name" content="Your Site Name"> <meta property="og:type" content="article">
Because this information is only shown when someone posts a link to the page on Facebook you can get a little bit creative.
Twitter Card Meta Data
Twitter also has it’s own set of meta data called Twitter cards that let you include extra things in the tweet when people share your link on Twitter. Today there are 5 different kinds of Twitter cards:
- Summary Card: includes a small image and custom description and title
- Summary Card with a Large Image: Just like the summary card except with a much larger and more eye catching image.
- App Card: includes your app description, title and link to the relevant app store.
- Player Card: includes a media player to play audio or video content in the tweet
- Product Card: for eCommerce sites that want to display some product information like a description or image.
Here’s an example of the code used for a summary card, this code is added to the <head> section of the web page:
<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary" /> <meta name="twitter:site" content="@yourtwitterusername" /> <meta name="twitter:title" content="The custom title for Twitter" /> <meta name="twitter:description" content="The custom description for Twitter" /> <meta name="twitter:image" content="the-path-to-your-image.jpg" />
The Summary Card with a Large Image is probably our favourite.
There used to be a couple of other Twitter cards such as the image card or the gallery card but they’ve been discontinued by Twitter.
That’s it for On-Site Optimization
That’s pretty much all you need to worry about when it comes to search engine optimizing your website itself.
All search engine rankings are dependent on your competition. If you have lots of competing websites going after the same keywords it’s going to take more work to out rank them.
However, you probably have zero competition for your brand or business name and by properly optimizing the content on your website you should have no problem ranking #1 for your own name after some time has passed.
If you have some sort of local business this should also be enough to get you ranking at least slightly decently for keywords like “your product or service + your location” although again, this depends on your competition.
Now that we’re all good with on-site optimization it’s time to get into the much more interesting world of off-site SEO.
Off Site Search Engine Optimization or Link Building
This is where SEO starts to get crazy and interesting as there are all kinds of different strategies.
Off-Site Search Engine Optimization is focused around getting links back to your website. These links are often referred to as backlinks.
Google looks at every link back to your site as sort of a vote for the quality of the content. In theory the more links a site has the higher quality it’s more likely to be. Google wants to show the best quality and relevant things in its search results.
White Hat vs. Grey Hat vs. Black Hat
When it comes to building links there are all kinds of different strategies and they’re usually divided into the categories: white hat, grey hat and black hat. There are lots of different definitions of these terms but here’s how we would define them.
White hat strategies are completely safe and Google approved.
An example of a white hat strategy is to create really good content that people naturally want to link to. The more people who link to that content the better your rankings will get.
Since you most likely care a lot about your business and website we recommend you only use white hat strategies to avoid being penalized by Google and losing your rankings.
Grey hat strategies are where you start to get a little bit less safe. You might annoy people with these strategies and you run a pretty good risk of getting yourself penalized by Google.
An example of a grey hat strategy would be using automated software to post a bunch links to various websites in their comment sections.
Black hat strategies are going to get you in trouble for sure and some might even be illegal.
What is Google Looking for When it Comes to Links?
Remember that Google’s goal is to show the best and most relevant content for whatever keywords someone puts in.
It uses links as a measure of the quality.
If someone creates an amazing piece of content lots of people will link to it. People might share it on social media, link to it in a blog post, link to it from the resource page on their website, etc.
The more links like this that the content receives the more it looks to Google like really good quality content.
The goal with link building then is to create links back to your website that look as natural as possible so Google sees lots of votes, believes your content is high quality and ranks it better.
This is where all your link building strategies come in.
Not All Links are Created Equal
Before we get into strategies it’s important to understand about links, how they work and why some links are better than others.
There are many factors that influence how good a link is such as relevance or the site it’s coming from.
One of the most important things about building links is that the links come from relevant sites.
If you’re a dentist and you’re trying to get links back to your dentistry site getting a link from a website about something completely irrelevant like tropical fish is going to send some red flags to Google.
If you’re a dentist then you want to get links from sites related to dentistry or oral hygiene. These are the kind of websites that would be most likely to link to a dentist’s website and everything appears much more natural.
If you’re a local dentist the you might want links from local websites such as local news websites as well.
As a realtor getting links from local websites in your community or other real estate themed websites is what you should aim for.
The Quality of the Website Linking to You
You also want to get links from really high quality websites while avoiding links from very low quality sites such as adult websites full of malware.
Lots of links from really low quality websites and especially websites in industries like gambling or adult content could very well get you penalized.
What if someone makes a bunch of low quality links to my site? If a competitor or some idiot on the Internet sends a ton of bad links to your site don’t panic. If you set up Google Webmaster Tools you’ll be able to see a list of sites that link to you and use their “Disavow” tool to remove those links so they don’t count toward your ranking.
So what makes a quality website?
Google uses a bunch of different metrics to evaluate the quality of a site such as the backlink profile, page rank, domain authority and page authority.
The backlink profile is the collection of links back to the site. If a site has a ton of natural looking links from quality websites then that’s great. If the site has a bunch of spammy looking links from some questionable websites then that’s bad.
Page Rank is numerical value that Google assigns to pages based on how many links they get. Page Rank (PR) ranges from PR0 to PR10 and the higher it is the better. The more links a site has from higher PR sites the higher its PR.
So in theory, a link coming from a PR5 site would increase your search engine rankings a lot more than a link coming from a PR1 website.
Domain Authority is a metric developed by an SEO company called MOZ which is sort of a predictor of how well that site ranks on search engines. Domain Authority (DA) is on a scale from 1 to 100 and the higher the value the better.
Domain Authority measures the strength of a specific domain and if you get a link from a website with a DA of 70 that’s much better than a link from a site with a DA of 10.
Page Authority was also developed by MOZ and is much like Domain Authority except it measures the strength of a specific page.
For example you could have a giant site with a high DA (something like cnn.com or facebook.com) that creates a brand new post. Because that post is new and doesn’t have any links yet it’ll have a low Page Authority (PA).
A link from a page with a PA of 80 is going to be much better than a link from a page with PA of 10.
So all I Need is a Bunch of Links from High PR, DA and PA Sites Right?
Now this is where things start getting complicated.
Remember how Google wants everything to happen naturally? Anything that doesn’t look natural is a big red flag and makes it obvious that you’re doing SEO.
If you have only links from a few high PR/DA/PA websites that’s going to look suspicious.
If people were naturally linking to your website you would have links from a variety of different sources from a variety of sites with a mixture of high and low PR, DA or PA.
Just try to still avoid links from spammy or adult websites. Those won’t help you in any way.
The anchor text of your link is very important for getting your site to rank for specific keywords.
The anchor text is simply the text that people click on for your link.
Remember when we went over basic HTML code?
<a href="http://yoursite.com">This is the anchor text for this link</a>
The bold part there is the anchor text of that link.
With anchor text what you want is links back to your website with the keywords you’re trying to rank for as the anchor text.
So for example if you’re trying to rank your site for “homes in Seattle” then you need lots of links back to your site with “homes in Seattle” as the anchor text.
So all I Need is a Bunch of Links with My Keywords as the Anchor Text Right?
Once again the answer here is yes but no.
In theory yes, you need links with your keywords in the anchor text to rank for those keywords however if you have 90% to 100% of the links back to your website with the same anchor text that is clearly not natural and you’re going to be hit with what’s called an Over Optimization Penalty.
What you need to do then is diversify your anchor text.
If you think about a bunch of people naturally sharing links to your site the anchor text is most likely going to be something like:
- The site name
- Your business or brand name
- Your URL
- The title of the page
- Text like “click here” or “learn more”
Therefore to appear natural you’re going to need a lot of links like this and then you can think about getting links with your keywords as the anchor text.
You might have heard that Google really loves brand names, this is partly why. A large percentage of the links back to your site will most likely be your brand name and that’s completely natural no matter what your business or industry is.
Avoid using keywords in your domain name. Because your domain and brand name is going to make up a huge percentage of the anchor text in your backlinks it’s best to avoid registering a domain name with the keywords you’re trying to rank for. Just by people linking to your site naturally it’s very easy to trigger an over optimization penalty.
Nofollow vs Dofollow
In 2005 as part of an attempt to combat spam Google introduced nofollow and dofollow.
Nofollow means that the link simply won’t help with your site’s SEO. In a lot of places on the Internet, comment sections for example, if you try to post a link there it’ll automatically be marked as nofollow.
This is supposed to prevent people from spamming out links to their websites in comment sections.
To make a link nofollow you simply rel=”nofollow” to the link’s HTML:
<a href="http://yoursite.com" rel="nofollow">This is the anchor text of the link</a>
If you just have a regular link then it’s considered a dofollow link and that link will help your site’s SEO.
For example if you have a PR8 website that gives a regular link to your website then that’ll be a huge boost to your site’s ranking. If you have a PR8 site that gives you a nofollow link then it won’t help your site at all.
So all I Need are a Bunch of Dofollow Links Back to My Site Right?
Again the answer is here is yes but… “Yes but…” is pretty much the theme of off-site SEO.
Because everything needs to look natural to Google having only dofollow links is a red flag that someone is doing SEO.
Therefore it’s important to have a mixture of both nofollow and dofollow links and not too much of one or the other.
Putting this all Together into Some Kind of Strategy
Now that you know all about how links work and how they affect the search engine ranking of your website it’s time to put together some kind of link building strategy.
You have to remember though that Google is constantly updating their search engine algorithm and certain strategies that work to day might hurt you tomorrow.
Again how involved you want to get here is up to you. You could let your site grow naturally over time which is ideally how Google would like you to do it or you can use some of these strategies to help boost your rankings.
Once your on-site SEO is taken care of how involved you want to get with the off-site stuff is completely up to you. There are lots of other strategies you can use to get traffic to your site.
With that out of the way lets get started.
The absolute number one thing you have to remember is to keep everything natural. This avoids being hit by any penalties Google has now or might have some time in the future.
The way you keep everything natural is by diversifying everything.
Diversify Your Anchor Text
As we mentioned before you need a wide variety of links with different anchor text to avoid penalties but you also need links with the keywords you’re trying to rank for.
If you’re going to be building links then you need links with anchor text such as:
- Brand Keywords: site name, brand name, business name, etc.
- URL keywords: http://yoursite.com, yoursite.com, www.yoursite.com, etc.
- Generic Anchor Text: click here, learn more, more information, etc.
- Images: you can make images clickable so some of these can only help diversify your links.
- Keyword Variations: when trying to rank for “homes in Chicago” use anchor text like “Chicago homes” or “homes for sale in Chicago”.
- Partial Match Keywords: this is anchor text that partially matches like “Denver houses” when trying to rank for “Denver homes”.
- Exact Match Keywords: finally you need some links with the actual keywords you’re trying to rank for.
Your goal here is to build links with a variety of the different kinds of anchor text above.
There’s some debate over how much of each type of anchor text to use but to be safe you want to use your brand and urls as the anchor text a lot. These should probably be most of your links.
And you want to use the exact match keywords absolutely the least, like 1% maybe 2% of your links at the most.
And then fill in the rest of your links with a mixture of generic anchors, keyword variations and partial match keywords.
Diversity Your Link Sources
While you do want to try to get most of your links from relevant sites in your niche or industry you do need links from a wide variety of sites.
- Links from social media profiles
- Links from social media shares
- Links from blog posts
- Links from Web 2.0 sites such as Blogger, Live Journal, Hub Pages, etc.
- Links from industry/niche relevant websites
- Links from comments blog posts
- Links from forums and online communities
You also want to make sure you’re getting a mixture of high and low PR/DA/PA and a good mixture of nofollow and dofollow links to keep everything looking as natural as possible.
Don’t Go Crazy
If you’ve got a brand new website and all of a sudden in one day you build 100 links back to it Google’s going to take one look, decide you’re clearly doing SEO and penalize your site.
Strategies for Getting Links Back to Your Site
There are quite a few strategies that exist for getting links back to your site and you may have heard of some of them. We won’t go too in depth into these strategies but I’ll give you an over view of some of them.
Link pillows are simply a big pillow of links from diversified sources with diversified anchor text that’s mostly brand anchors, url anchors, and words that are relevant to the content of your site.
None of these links contain the exact keywords that you want to rank for.
The idea here is that you build a big diversified pillow of links to protect you when you later go to build the links with the exact anchor text you’re trying to rank for.
These links are typically easy to set up and some easy ways to build links here include:
- Setting up social media profiles and adding a link back to your site
- Setting up forum profiles and adding a link back to your site
- Creating Web 2.0 properties about your topic and adding a link back to your site
- Leaving comments on relevant websites in your industry with a link back to your site
These links are usually on the lower end of Page Rank, Domain Authority and Page Authority.
Then once you have this large diversified pillow of links set up you concentrate on getting a few links with your exact anchor text from sites with high PR/DA/PA and everything’s nice an natural looking.
Private Blog Networks
Private blog networks (PBNs) are an excellent and safe way to get high PR/DA/PA links but it does require a decent amount of time, money, work and if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing your network could get caught and your site penalized.
After you’ve already set up your link pillow to keep you safe you basically create a bunch of fake websites on domains with hight PR or DA and add a link back to your site.
The first step is to go to a site that sells expired domains. Domains expire every day and if they had an established site on them they quite possibly built up a decent Page Rank and Domain Authority.
We won’t get too into how to do this here but basically you want to check the domain to make sure it’s got a good page rank, good domain and page authority, healthy normal back links, etc.
You also want to look at the site in the Way Back Machine to make sure it wasn’t some low quality adult website or anything like that.
Finally you need to check that it’s the actual domain (people try to trick people into buying useless domains using tricks like redirects).
You then buy this domain, set it up with some kind of separate hosting that can’t be tracked back to any of your other sites and create a fake website on it.
You fill this fake site with everything you’d expect from a normal site an about us page, contact page, etc.
You also fill this site with content that’s relevant to the website you’re trying to rank.
Then you add a link back to your site and that’s it. Now you have a link back to your site with the exact anchor text you’re trying to rank for, from a high PR/DA/PA and relevant website. Plus because of the pillow of links you built earlier you won’t get penalized for over optimization or anything like that.
Guest posting on a website in your niche or industry is a fantastic way to get a relevant backlink from a quality website.
There’s a lot of confusion around whether or not you might get penalized for guest blogging. It might look like you paid for the link or you’re doing some kind of spammy activity.
If you build a relationship with another blogger in your industry or niche and they invite you to write a one-time quality post on their site and you include a link to your site then that’s excellent and completely allowed.
What you need to avoid is contacting tons of different websites asking them to guest post, paying someone to let you guest post, writing the same article and guest posting it multiple places, etc.
You always want to avoid acting spammy. In the two videos below Matt Cutts from Google explains how they look at guest posting and how to do it correctly.
Broken Link Building
This is another excellent white hat strategy that’s very effective. It does get kind of tedious though so be prepared for that.
Basically what you want to do is find quality sites in your industry or niche that you’d love to get a link to. Then you look through their site to find broken links.
Lots of sites have resource pages for example and over the years the sites they link to change and the links get broken.
There are several different tools to help you find these broken links but I’ll cover this in another post in the future.
Once you’ve found some broken links you basically just send an email to the owner of the website saying something like:
Hi, I’m a big fan of your site and I found some broken links.
Then you point out which links are broken and if possible what the new URL is so they can fix them.
Then you add something like:
Here’s another site that your viewers might be interested in and is a great addition to your resources page.
And that’s pretty much it although lots of different people have different scripts for the email.
If you just straight up email someone and say, “hey, add my link to your site”. They’ll probably just delete your email.
Automated Software, Link Pyramids and Buying Links
We would stay away from all of these different techniques. we’ve experimented with them in the past and never found much success with any of them.
These strategies are a lot more grey hat and Google doesn’t look to fondly on them.
If you start building automated links for example it’s very easy to screw up and trigger a penalty that you can’t recover from.
Unless you’re a super advanced SEO expert I’d highly recommend you stay away from techniques like this and stuck to just simple white hat natural stuff.
We’ve finally reached the end of this post which turned out much longer than we originally planned.
The most important thing to remember with SEO is to keep everything nice and natural.
When it comes to your on-site SEO make sure everything’s set up correctly and your content is quality and written for humans, not search engines.
When it comes to off-site SEO you’re best off following white hat strategies and no matter what you do make sure you diversify your links to keep everything as natural as possible.
Next I recommend you read the post: The Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Optimizing Your WordPress Site
Now that you have a good idea how SEO works you’re ready to optimize everything on your new website!
If you have any SEO related questions feel free to ask them in the comments or on the forums!