Quality score in 2017: Should you care?

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You’ve got to hand it to the folks at Google — the idea of quality score is pretty brilliant. Unlike most search engines born in the ’90s, Google realized that the success of paid search advertising was directly tied to the quality and relevance of their paid search ads.

After all, if someone searches for “best dog food for rottweilers,” and the first result they see on the SERP is a handful of text ads selling Toyota hatchbacks, they aren’t likely to be wowed by your search engine. If people think your search engine is lousy, they won’t use it… which means no one will pay to advertise on your search engine, either.

But, if you incentivize advertisers to create ads that are relevant to a user’s search, you can maintain the quality of your SERP and still make money from paid search advertising.

The solution? Quality score.

Now, if you’ve been doing paid search advertising for a while, quality score probably isn’t a new concept. Paid search platforms like Google look at your click-through rate, ad relevance and landing page experience and assign your ads a quality score. As your quality score goes up, your average position tends to go up and/or your average cost per click tends to go down.

Seems simple enough, right? The better your quality score, the better your advertising results will be.

But is it really that simple? Sure, quality score is great for Google, but should optimizing quality score be a key part of your paid search advertising strategy? To answer that question, let’s take a look at the data.

Quality score and cost per conversion

When it comes to quality score and cost per click, the evidence is pretty clear: improving your quality score decreases your cost per click. Since your cost per conversion is essentially your cost per click divided by your conversion rate, you’d expect that improving your quality score would also improve your cost per conversion.

Sadly, that’s not how it actually works out.

Now, you might be thinking, But Jake, I know I’ve seen research somewhere showing how a higher quality score is associated with a lower cost per conversion. And it’s true. Odds are, you’ve probably run into an article discussing the results of this study by Wordstream or this study by Portent.

In both of these studies, cost per conversion typically dropped by around 13 to 16 percent for every point of increase in quality score.

the relationship between cost per conversion (CPA) vs. quality score in adwords

At Disruptive Advertising (my employer), we’ve audited thousands of AdWords accounts, so we decided to use our database to replicate Wordstream’s study. Not surprisingly, we got about the same results: Every point of increase in quality score resulted in a 13 percent decrease in cost per conversion.

A graph with thousands of data points (like the one above) is a bit hard to interpret, so I’ve used a small representative subset of our data to make things easier below:

Given the consistency of this data, you’re probably wondering how I can say that improving quality score does not reliably decrease cost per conversion. I mean, look at the graphs! There’s clearly a connection between quality score and cost per conversion!

Or is there?

Unfortunately, while these graphs look compelling, it turns out that the trendline has an R2 of 0.012. In non-statistical speak, that means a one-point increase in quality score only actually produces a 13 to 16 percent decrease in cost per conversion about 1 percent of the time.

Would you put a lot of time and effort into a marketing tactic that only behaves predictably 1 percent of the time? Neither would I.

Why quality score is a poor predictor

There are a lot of reasons quality score is an unreliable predictor of cost per conversion. However, I believe that the biggest reason is also the simplest reason: Quality score is Google’s metric, not yours.

Quality score matters to Google because it helps Google make money, not because it helps you make money. No one sees your ad on the SERP and thinks, “My, what a fine quality score they must have! Anyone with a quality score like that deserves my business.”

While Google cares about providing a relevant experience to their users, they don’t really care about whether or not you’re sending potential customers to your page or getting conversions at an affordable price. You got your click and they got their cash, so Google’s happy.

You, however, still need to drive conversions at an affordable price.

To do that, though, you can’t rely on the metrics Google cares about. Sure, your ad might make Google happy, but if that ad isn’t driving the right people to the right page, you could be wasting a ton of money — even on a keyword with a quality score of 10!

Case in point, over the course of our AdWords audits, we’ve discovered that the average AdWords account wastes 76 percent of its budget on keywords and search terms that never convert.

Here’s how that wasted ad spend affects your cost per conversion (using the same data subset as before):

As it turns out, this data is even scarier than the quality score data. Each 10 percent increase in wasted ad spend increases your cost per conversion by 44 to 72 percent. And, while this correlation isn’t 100 percent accurate, it has an R2 of 0.597, which means that it explains about 60 percent of your cost per conversion.

That’s a lot more compelling than 1 percent.

In fact, we’ve frequently helped clients significantly reduce their cost per conversion by reducing their wasted ad spend. For example, here’s what happened to one client as we reduced their wasted ad spend from 91 percent to 68 percent:

If you think about it, it makes sense that core account factors like wasted ad spend would have a much bigger impact on your cost per conversion than an external metric like quality score. After all, as we pointed out earlier, you can have a great quality score and still be driving people who will never buy to your site.

How to use quality score

All that being said, I still believe that quality score is a valuable metric to track and optimize. Quality score affects your cost per click and average position, which can do wonders for your account — provided that you aren’t hemorrhaging money in other areas.

If, however, you’re not wasting a ton of money on irrelevant clicks, and you feel confident in the quality of your traffic and landing page, quality score can be a great way to improve your paid search account.

First, open your AdWords account, go to the Keywords tab, and ensure that you’ve added Quality score as a column:

Next, pick a meaningful date range (I’m always partial to the last 6 to 12 weeks), and export your results as a spreadsheet. Open your spreadsheet in Excel, and create a pivot table:

The following settings will allow you to see how much you are spending on each level of quality score:

Looking at the data above, it looks like 12 percent of this client’s budget is being spent on keywords with a quality score of 1. If we assume that those ads are driving relevant traffic (maybe they’re bidding on the competition’s branded terms?), bumping the quality score of those ads up from 1 to 2 could save them thousands!

Alternatively, if you want to see exactly how much you’re spending on specific keywords with a given quality score, you can set your pivot table up like this:

In this case, I’ve included a filter for cost that allows me to see keywords with a quality score of 1 that the client has spent more than $500 on. This gives me nine high-priority keywords (representing the majority of ad spend on keywords with this quality score) to focus on, which should be a fairly workable number.

With a few ad copy and landing page adjustments, I may be able to nudge these keywords up to a quality score of 2 and save the client thousands in ad spend.


In the end, quality score is Google’s metric, not yours. It’s not a very good predictor of cost per conversion (and, by extension, return on ad spend), so if you’re looking for quick ways to improve your account performance, it’s usually best to focus on low-hanging fruit like wasted ad spend.

However, if you’re looking for ways to eke better results out of a high-performing account, a little quality score optimization can produce meaningful results. After all, if your account is driving the right traffic to the right page, your interests and Google’s interests are aligned. As a result, improving your quality score will be a win for everyone.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Important ranking factor SEO

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Important ranking factor SEO

A recent interview with James Murray, EMEA product marketing manager at Microsoft Bing, and Laura Hampton of Impression talked about Important ranking factor in SEO adopted by Bing. It will decrease the impact of links in overall search ranking algorithms.

Here is a snippet of the interview;

“What we might see is that links start to decrease in importance that they have in the general context of the various factors that we use to determine relevance.”

A Microsoft spokesperson from Bing told us, “There are a variety of factors that come into play with ranking signals, links being one of them.” They also explained that links are still a very important ranking signal, and they don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Bing seems to be focusing a bit more on conversational search, but the core 10 blue links are still very dependent on link data for ranking, as well as other conversational search ranking algorithms.


How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Niche and Build Your Brand

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How do you build brand recognition and develop brand authority in your niche?

As we say in the industry, “Content is king.”

After selling my old company, I started a new company. That meant building an entirely new brand from the ground up. Fortunately, I was able to use my personal brand to bring in an audience for my business and establish trust in the quality of my work.


As a thought leader in the search industry, I frequently deliver keynote speeches, write guest blogs, and produce content for my company’s website to gain exposure for my personal brand and my business. The added exposure amounts to increased leads for my business and greater brand authority for me and my business.

Google holds a sweet spot for major brands in its organic results, as they usually get first pick for crawling and indexing. This is why we must utilize content marketing to establish ourselves as thought leaders and gain trust and authority for our brands.

Thought leadership and brand authority essentially go hand-in-hand.

Brands are built on the backs of leaders who can choose to emerge from underneath their brand.

So how do you become a thought leader for your brand?

How to Become a Thought Leader

Create Your Platform

You can’t just declare yourself a thought leader — that is up to others to decide.

The first step to becoming a thought leader is building your brand and establishing your credentials.

For personal branding, it’s key to leverage your social media accounts, especially LinkedIn and Facebook. Fill out a detailed bio of your accomplishments and career skills. These will become important channels for brand outreach and content promotion.

To beget your brand, you must ultimately improve your web presence. Go through the proper channels to position your website to gain exposure:

  • Establish a branded domain name.
  • Create a unique logo and complementary color scheme.
  • Acquire local citations for your website.
  • Optimize on-site technical factors to provide quality user experience.

Most importantly, discover an underserved niche in your industry that presents room to scale and that you’re proficient in. Conduct your keyword research to gather a better understanding of how to meet the demands of your customer base.

Now, it’s time to formulate your ideas and disseminate them to the masses.

Building a Branded Blog

Most marketers realize the value of branded blogs in conducting their SEO campaign and creating brand awareness for their business.

Branded blogs allow businesses and individuals to express their ideas about topics important to their niche.

Consistent blogging allows you to provide commentary on current industry trends and display your command over their subject matter.

Google rewards content that is relevant, fresh, and presents a unique spin on a topic. Producing evergreen content strategically positions your web pages to acquire backlinks, develop page authority, and help your website rank organically for targeted keywords.

More importantly, building a consistent blog establishes your brand’s authority over its niche through quality content. The higher the quality of your content, the more customers trust your brand. This, in turn, amounts to greater brand loyalty, which contributes heavily to your return on investment (ROI).

Building Your Content

Following Your SEO Talents

You want to develop thematically related categories for your content to position your web pages to index and rank for a wide range of semantically similar keyword phrases.

With machine learning technology, Google can evaluate the quality of your content and determine its relevance to user intent better than ever.

Expand your content marketing strategy to different sources to acquire backlinks and establish your value to customers in your niche.

Providing comments on relevant blogs, participating in niche forums, and writing industry reviews all get you engaged with your community and communicate your command over its most important topics.

Everything you put your name on could be a valuable backlink and traffic source for your website.

You should also consider producing content that serves to display original research, such as a white paper or an e-book. In terms of writing, long-form content is shared at a much higher rate than short-form content and typically ranks higher than thin content.

Other content with high shareability include:

  • Infographics
  • Images
  • Lists
  • Videos
  • ‘How to’ articles
  • ‘Why’ articles

Identify your brand to customers through keyword terms utilized in your content and across all web pages of your sales funnel. Optimize all meta tags with appropriate keywords from your research and include social media buttons to encourage easy shareability.

Marketing Your Content

Social media marketing is an absolute must today.

Leveraging social media can help increase your brand’s exposure, expand your audience, and allow you to engage with your audience to create brand loyalists.

Your Facebook and Twitter feeds allow you to syndicate content with backlinks that will improve their rank. Compounding posts will also grant your content more inbound links.

Connect with influencers in your industry that would benefit from your sponsorship. Not only does your content reach a wider audience but also a more relevant audience. Look on BuzzSumo for ideas on topics that are going viral on social media.

Use different channels to market your content, whether through paid promotion or email marketing campaigns. Email marketing often has a higher ROI than search marketing and is effective at retaining existing customers and keeping them up to date with your brand. My business uses monthly newsletters to keep customers updated and to create social value for our products and brand.

Building a brand should not necessarily seek to acquire a wider audience, but to retain your existing one to foster a community and create brand loyalists. One way to do this is to always respond to user comments and reviews, whether on your native website or your social media page.

Establishing Expertise

Finally, a syndicated blog or podcast may be effective to curate thought leadership, but it’s critical to become more active within your community.

  • Interview other thought leaders in your industry. Publish the interviews on your website.
  • Quote thought leaders: Reach out to a thought leader for a comment or quote next time you’re writing an article.
  • Ask a thought leader to share some of your content with their audience. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties, generating valuable backlink and content promotion opportunities. I regularly post and share content from other influencers in the SEO industry on my social media accounts.
  • Write a book. I wrote a best-selling book on Search Engine Optimization, which gave my personal brand (and various businesses) immense exposure and established myself as a thought leader within the SEO field.
  • Speak at industry conferences. This will allow you to present your ideas in a professional setting. Public speaking engagements put your name in front of some very powerful influencers and put a face to the brand name.

It’s also important to establish the value of your products and business to your customers.

Publish testimonials on your website to show successful case stories and have someone else brag about your expertise. Online reviews and word-of-mouth advertising affect consumer decisions more than any other advertising factor out there.

The Advantages of Thought Leadership for Your Brand

It’s no secret that brand authority and thought leadership reaps multiple benefits. Businesses considered as thought leaders enjoy more sales, profitability, and are less price sensitive.

Consider IBM’s Smarter Planet Program that launched amid the 2008 recession. It generated $3 billion in revenue in 2010 alone and increased their brand value in every region globally.

Thought leadership makes brands more innovative and creative and differentiates them from the competition. Consider how valuable brand authority remains in today’s highly competitive consumer market.

More importantly, becoming a recognized thought leader in your industry usually comes as a result of measurable SEO results–more average shares per post, high conversion rates, and more authoritative backlinks than your competitors. This all communicates trust for you and your brand, which means higher organic rank and greater brand exposure.

There are more benefits to being a thought leader and making your brand authoritative:

  • Higher indexing and crawling rates for your website
  • Larger audience to market content
  • Increased leads for your business
  • Higher CTR based on brand recognition


It’s important to realize that SEO is not static. It requires consistency and years of churning out content to get your voice recognized as a thought leader.

Historically, I’ve been experimental and ambitious in my business strategies, which is why I’ve enjoyed many successes up to this point. Go against the grain and establish yourself as a thought leader and brand authority in your niche.

Becoming a thought leader boils down to the quality of your content and what you can provide for it. What can you say that no one else has said before?

Image Credits
Featured Image: Pixabay

The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors 2017

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The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors 2017

Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors has been updated, with its fourth edition now available. It sees factors related to mobile, direct answers and site speed increase in importance. Factors related to search history have decreased. Factors related to site identity and personal social sharing have been dropped entirely.

Below is a further explanation behind the changes, along with a reintroduction to the table, for those who are new to it. For those who just want the latest table to download, scroll to the end.

The table’s goal & philosophy

Our goal with the Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors is to help publishers focus on the fundamentals needed to achieve success with search engine optimization.

To do this, the table doesn’t try to list all of Google’s 200 major ranking factors (most of which aren’t publicly known) or detail the search engine’s 10,000 subfactors. It doesn’t try to decipher if the keywords you want to rank for should be at the beginning of an HTML title tag or the end. It’s not about whether Facebook Likes count toward a ranking boost or not.

Rather, the table is intended to broadly guide both those new and experienced with SEO to focus on major areas of importance. Title tags are generally important; you should ensure they are descriptive. Social sharing is often generally seen as indirectly benefitting SEO. Aim for social shares, without worrying about the specifics.

To understand more about our philosophy behind the table, see our post from when the first edition debuted in 2011. You can also read how it changed with the second edition in 2013 and the third in 2015.

What the SEO table covers

There are two major classes of factors:

  • On-the-page SEO: These are factors largely within the control of publishers.
  • Off-the-page SEO: These are factors influenced by others or not directly tied to a publisher’s site.

Within these two classes are seven categories of factors, which are:

  • Content — Factors relating to the content and quality of your material
  • Architecture — Factors about your overall site functionality
  • HTML — Factors specific to web pages
  • Trust — Factors related to how trustworthy and authoritative a site seems to be
  • Links —  Factors related to how links impact rankings
  • Personal — Factors about how personalization influences rankings
  • Social — Factors on how social sharing impacts rankings

Overall, there are 35 individual factors, which range from making use of descriptive HTML title tags to whether a site has success with visitor engagement. Here’s a close-up of the table, focusing on just the factors:

How to understand the table

Each factor has a two letter symbol. The first letter represents the category a factor is part of, such as “A” for Architecture. The second letter represents the element itself, such as “m” for Mobile, giving “Am” its symbol.

Each factor also has a weight. This is a relative guide to how important it is to focus on a particular factor versus others and overall. Those with a +3 are most important, with +2 and +1 indicating factors of lesser importance.

It’s also important to understand that the factors work together. No single factor guarantees success. But several factors working together, even if they are minor ones, can increase the odds in your favor.

Violations are negative factors, spam activities that can harm your visibility. Don’t do these! Violations, unlike the other elements, all begin with “V” regardless of what category they are in, so that they can more easily be identified as violations. Factors marked -3 are considered worse than -2 and -1.

Our Search Engine Land’s Guide to SEO has been updated to reflect all the changes to the table, and it goes into more depth about each factor.

What’s changed?

As with previous revisions, Search Engine Land’s editors considered new elements that should be included, pondered ones that should be dropped and reviewed those that deserved an increase or decrease in weight.

We also ran a survey asking readers to give their own opinions of how existing elements should be weighted, along with open comments about adding new elements. We received over 300 responses in all, and thanks to all those who helped!

For 2017, no new elements were added. Three elements had weight increases; two had weight decreases. Two elements were dropped entirely. The summary is below.

Factors with weight increases: Mobile, speed & direct answers

Am: Mobile — Google continues to push for content to be mobile-friendly, no surprise given that more than 50 percent of Google searches are done on mobile devices. In addition, by the end of this year or in 2018, Google will use a mobile-first index, even for desktop users.

All of this made us feel the mobile factor should increase to +3, a rise over the +2 it had in 2015 and the +1 when it was first added to the table in 2013. Those surveyed agreed, giving it a 2.8 average weight.

As: Speed — Google has continued to emphasize the importance of speed as a ranking factor, including widely implementing the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) format that it backs. AMP didn’t even exist when our SEO table was last updated in 2015.

With so much attention on speed, it made sense to increase this factor’s weight from +1 to +2. Those surveyed gave it an average weight of 2.6, but we decided to be conservative with our increase.

Ca: Direct Answers — Both Google and Bing are increasingly showing direct answers that are culled from web pages above regular listings, something Google calls featured snippets.

Some publishers worry these are harmful, because if an actual answer is shown, why would people bother clicking to the source page? However, many others compete to be an answer, finding they do indeed drive traffic. Google’s featured snippets also serve as the single spoken answer that’s often given by the Google Assistant on mobile devices or in Google Home.

This factor was added in 2015 with a conservative +1 weight. Given the increasing prominence of direct answers, it made sense to raise the weight to +2. That also matches up with survey respondents, who gave it a 2.1 average weight.

Factors with weight decreases: Site and personal search history

Th: History — Google seems to have downplayed, in public statements or a lack of them, the importance of a site’s age or history versus years past. Given this, we felt dropping this factor from +2 to +1 made sense.

The factor was raised to +2 for the first time in 2015, when we agreed with the average survey response of 2.0. This year’s survey saw that drop to 1.8, giving us further reason to feel a decreased weight was in order.

Ph: History — Someone’s personal search history also felt to us like a factor that has decreased in importance. That’s why we’ve dropped it from +3 to +2. Survey respondents put it at 1.7, further reassuring us that the decrease was justified.

Factors that were dropped: Site identity and personal social sharing

Ti: Identity — We heavily debated dropping site identity as a factor when doing the 2015 edition, because Google had ended support for Google Authorship, which was the primary way identity seemed to be having an impact. However, those surveyed then gave it a 1.6 average score. Google also suggested that authorship was still being determined in other ways.

Since then, Google has backed away from authorship entirely. This year’s survey also saw it drop slightly to a 1.5 average. To us, there seemed little reason to continue listing this factor at all. We decided to drop it.

Ps: Social — Google+ was the primary way Google was using personal social sharing to influence someone’s search results. Google+ might continue in name, but its impact on Google’s search results seems all but gone — along with the users and brands that were active on the service. Because of this, we decided this factor deserved to be dropped. Survey respondents gave it an average weight of 1.6.

Factors considered but not added: App indexing and AMP

We wondered if we should add new elements for app indexing and AMP pages. People were asked to rate these on the survey. The average for app indexing was 1.7; for AMP, it was 1.8. We ultimately felt those were better considered as part of the existing mobile factor (Am) and decided not to add them as new elements.

Not changed but notable

As shown above, we don’t always go with what our survey suggests for a factor’s weight. Ultimately, we try to be a bit more cautious than what the survey suggests, plus we take into account things we’ve seen the search engines say or do.

Here are some notable diversions from the survey, where factors did not have their existing weights changed.

Au: URLs — The survey had keywords in URLs at 2.1, but we felt keeping it at +1 was fair.

Ah: HTTPS — The survey had the impact of running a secure site at 2.0, but we felt it was appropriate with its existing lower weight of +1. However, this could change in the future — and there are good reasons beyond SEO to make a site secure.

Ah: Titles — The survey gave keywords in title tags a 2.3 average weight. We kept it at +3, viewing it as an easy and still important area of focus.

Ah: Headers — The survey gave the use of header tags (H1, H2, etc) a 2.2 average weight. We felt that was too much and kept it at +1.

Ta: Authority — The survey gave the idea that a site or page has authority that helps with ranking a 2.4 weight. Google has certainly downplayed the idea of site or domain authority, as we covered recently. But it has given even further emphasis to the idea of page authority. We felt keeping this factor at +3 made sense.

Ln: Number of links — Those surveyed gave an average weight of 1.9 to the idea that sheer number of links is an important ranking factor. We remain conservative on this, keeping it at +1.

Pc: Country — Survey respondents gave a 2.1 average weight to the importance of someone’s country on the impact of the search results they receive. It’s easily demonstrated that country location has one of the most important influences on search results. Just ask anyone in a country different from the one you’re in to do the same search. They’ll usually have widely different results. We kept this at the highest +3 weight.

Pl: Locality — The survey gave a 2.3 average weight to the importance of someone’s city or locality on the impact of search results. As with country, we know — and anyone can easily test — that a city or regional location can have a huge impact. We kept this factor at +3 weight.

Ss: Social shares — The survey gave a 1.6 average weight to the idea that the sheer number of social shares can have an impact on search rankings. Social is generally an indirect benefit, in terms of Google. It has repeatedly said that it doesn’t try to measure social signals from Twitter or Facebook to rank results. But social sharing might lead people to link to and engage with sites, which are direct factors. Overall, we felt remaining conservative here with a +1 score made sense.

Vd: Piracy — The survey put the impact of having pirated or copyright-infringing content at -2.6. Sites with pirated content can indeed be hit hard by Google, but most sites don’t do this and so don’t need to worry about it. Hence, our lower weight of -1.

Va: Heavy ads — The survey put the impact of having sites heavy with ads or intrusive interstitials at -2.4. We agree that Google certainly seems to be looking harder (and penalizing) for this. Still, we decided to remain conservative and keep it at -1. However, there’s an excellent chance this could change in the future.

Vp: Paid links — The survey average for buying links was -2.1. We think that underestimates the negative impact on a site that’s caught doing this. We kept this at -3.

Factors not mentioned & the importance of quality

Above, we’ve only covered factors that had changes from the last edition or where we deviated from how survey respondents felt. There are many more factors than these, however — so please do review them all.

More than anything else, Cq: Content Quality, remains the bedrock of success. It’s the first factor on the chart and heavily weighted for a reason. If you have great content, all things good SEO-wise flow from that. Survey respondents agree, giving it a 2.8 average.


As always, updating the Periodic Table of SEO is a lot of work. Thanks again to all our readers who participated in our survey. Your feedback was appreciated.

Special thanks goes out especially to our news editor, Barry Schwartz, who watches over the SEO space like no one else. His thoughts and feedback were incredibly valuable.

Finally, a huge thank-you to the good folks at Column Five Media. They helped create the original table in 2011 and have continued to support it since through each edition, giving it a fresh new look for 2017.

Google adwords PPC campaign tips

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Google adwords PPC campaign tips

None of us set out to have our PPC programs fail. But sometimes they do, despite our best intentions.

Why do these programs fail? There can be many reasons. But sometimes, behind those failures, is some inadvertent self-sabotage — sabotage that will virtually guarantee a failed PPC program.

To help you avoid inadvertently setting your PPC programs up for failure, I’ll use this column to describe four ways to “help” your PPC programs falter or self-destruct.

1. Put too many options on your landing page

I know, I know. I’ve talked before about how landing pages are critical to PPC success and how important it is to keep them focused. But I’m going to repeat myself because it’s that important.

As you know, the purpose of landing pages is to facilitate conversions. You want people who’ve clicked on your ad to take the next step, whether it’s requesting a quote, giving you a call, downloading a package or something else.

Landing pages go astray when they provide too many options for visitors. Ideally, you want to limit the number of actions that landing page visitors can take to just one or two.

When you give visitors too many options, they’re likely to get sidetracked or confused and take no action at all.

Let’s look at this example:

PPC programs

As you can see, this landing page sends visitors in all kinds of directions, taking them down a wandering path that may never lead to a conversion.

In this case, I would narrow the options to a phone number (and use website call tracking to see if it’s getting any traction) and either a download or a contact form (preferably one landing page for each so you can test which option works best in this market).

2. Don’t touch your PPC account for six months or more

Whenever I log into a new client account and find it hasn’t been touched in six months or more, I have to pause. How did this happen?

Sometimes, it’s just one of those things. Maybe the client’s marketing team opened the PPC account and assigned it to a team member. Then that team member left, and the team hasn’t gotten back to it. These things happen. And while it’s not ideal, it’s understandable.

But sometimes we find that accounts haven’t been touched in months when we take them over from an ad agency. (It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.)

How is it that an agency-monitored account hasn’t been touched in six months? It might be neglect. Or it might be a difference in strategy.

Some agencies make risk management their highest priority. (And, to be fair, sometimes the client is highly risk-adverse.) Some have tight budgets they need to adhere to. Either way, the agency locks down the account settings like Fort Knox. They choose conservative settings — such as exact match, shared or limited budget settings, tight ad schedules and standard ad rotations — so there’s no chance of “wasted” ad spend or overages.

Perhaps coincidentally, these settings also minimize the need to manage the account. If you choose nothing but the most restrictive settings, there’s little to monitor and few decisions to make.

But the problem with this kind of “batten down the hatches” approach is that it’s extremely limiting. You’ll never get awesome results unless you’re willing to experiment, try different strategies and tactics, and, yes, take some risks. And that means putting some money behind your efforts and monitoring daily, even hourly, to see what happens.

Will a “batten down the hatches” approach cause your PPC program to fail? Possibly. If your results remain unimpressive, there might be pressure to move budget and resources to other marketing initiatives with a higher ROI.

More importantly, this kind of approach closes the door on mega-results that could take your PPC marketing program to the next level.

3. Don’t include sitelinks

Most of us can agree that sitelinks are a key component of almost any PPC campaign or account. They offer advertisers many advantages.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, sitelinks are an important way to add additional links to your ad and take up more ad real estate. They’re a great way to send visitors directly to the most relevant page for their needs (a win for everyone).

They can even improve ad rank, as noted in the AdWords blog:

Ad extensions and formats … influence the position of your ad on the search results page. If two competing ads have the same bid and quality, then the ad with the more positive expected impact from extensions will generally appear in a higher position than the other.

But even with all these advantages, clients will occasionally ask us not to include sitelinks in their ads. When we ask why, we get one of these responses:

‘I don’t think they’re necessary.’

Sometimes clients state that they only want to send visitors to their one landing page. And because the ad is sending visitors there already, sitelinks aren’t necessary.

What they don’t realize is that we can use sitelinks with different messaging to capture visitors who might otherwise not have clicked on the ad — all while continuing to get the visitors who are clicking to the main landing page. Having the extra ad real estate is well worth the effort.

‘My competitors aren’t using them.’

If your competitors aren’t using sitelinks, that’s exactly why you should be using them. Sitelinks will help you stand out from the competition and may even help rank your ads higher.

‘I don’t want to draw too much attention to my ad.’

I have to question the logic of this one. As an advertiser, you want to draw attention to your ads.

Will a lack of sitelinks cause your PPC program to sputter and die? Perhaps. If it indicates a general reluctance to explore different AdWords features, then it could be the canary in the coal mine.

4. Focus on the ‘wrong’ metrics

One of our clients likes to test things — and we love that about him! Thanks to his willingness to let us experiment, we’ve been able to discover and deploy some highly effective and profitable strategies in his accounts.

Recently, he read an article that said having a high Quality Score can save money on ad spend due to lower costs per click.

This makes sense. But generally, we don’t focus too much on Quality Score as a metric. In our experience, if you have relevant keywords, which trigger relevant ads, which land on relevant landing pages, then your Quality Score will take care of itself.

In this case, our client’s Quality Score was already good (his lowest was a seven), so we weren’t totally convinced that bumping his score to an eight or nine was going to make much difference. But he was adamant in wanting to try it, so we agreed.

We reviewed his ads and landing pages and bumped up bids to improve his click-through rate. After a month and a half (with an accompanying BIG increase in ad spend), we did see an increase in sales. But at the same time, we saw a decrease in year-over-year ROI and no change in Quality Score.

How helpful was this exercise, ultimately? Not much. True, it might have contributed to the lifetime value of these clients, but it’s hard to say for sure. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to convince our client to change his focus to other, more relevant and informative metrics.

It’s easy to get fixated on one or two PPC metrics, to the detriment of the others. This is especially true when the metric seems to encapsulate everything into one simple number. But if you steer your PPC program based on one metric, and one metric only, you’ll probably end up in the ditch.

No one wants their PPC program to fail

Of course, no one wants their paid search program to fail. And in some cases, you can do everything absolutely right and still struggle.

But at the very least, you can improve your odds of success by not sabotaging your own efforts with these four PPC duds — guaranteed!

How to get quality backlinks from traditional press release activity

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How to get quality backlinks from traditional press release activity

If you’re doing search engine optimization (SEO) properly today, then a significant portion of your effort will overlap with traditional public relations (PR).

This is because over the last few years, Google has minimized the effects of easily gameable ranking signals and refined their algorithm to better represent user experience. In other words, websites that satisfy their users tend to rank better than those that do not.

Inbound links are still a critical component of any SEO campaign, but the easy link-building tactics of the past have been wiped off the board, largely thanks to Google’s Penguin update(s). This includes buying links, guest blogging at scale, embedding links in plugins or themes and more.

The only type remaining as valuable and effective over the long term are the proverbial Holy Grail of link building: natural editorial links from high-traffic, authoritative websites.

And therein lies the challenge: How do we earn these coveted editorial links? Well, it’s a two-part equation.

The first part is to produce amazing content. I know, that dead horse has been beaten to a mushy puddle of goo at this point, but the fact remains that without amazing content, no one will link to your website.

The second part is where traditional public relations comes into play, because all of that amazing content is useless if no one knows about it. And despite Google’s frequent claims, no, your content won’t just magically earn links by virtue of existing and being amazing.

link building magic

Effective link building requires outreach, and that requires you to truly understand what motivates people — contributors and/or editors in this case. You have to introduce yourself, frame your pitch and demonstrate how you’ll make their job easier all in a couple of hundred words.

That’s no easy task, which is why most people do it so poorly. But once you master that skill, it produces tremendous leverage for your link-building efforts. When you’re featured in a major publication like Forbes, Entrepreneur or Fast Company, you tend to get noticed by contributors at other major publications, which makes it a lot easier to pitch them to be featured in the publications they work for as well.

Increased exposure typically equals other publications wanting to cover you, too, resulting in even more exposure and links. It’s a powerful cycle.

This works on the concept of social proof, which basically means that people see you as trustworthy and authoritative because they perceive others they already trust as seeing you that way.

The evolution of search algorithms has resulted in link building and public relations becoming incredibly similar today. In the past, link building was simply about building links. It didn’t matter if they came from obscure little blogs with zero traffic or from media powerhouses with millions of visitors.

Obviously, links from authoritative websites have always been preferred, but the goal for most link builders has always been to simply acquire more links to move the needle in terms of organic ranking. Google’s algorithm updates over the last few years — especially in regard to Penguin,

RankBrain and their growing use of artificial intelligence — have helped them move away from ranking websites based primarily on the volume of links, and instead base rankings on quality, user intent and user experience.

This is where public relations comes in, because it focuses on getting real humans who work at legitimate, authoritative publications genuinely interested in and talking about your story. It’s about truly adding value, which in turn tends to generate inbound links, as opposed to simply producing garbage links on websites that no one visits.

Part of the beauty of this strategy is that since your links are based on relationships, it will be more difficult for competitors to replicate them, giving you a more dominant position in your market.

If you think it sounds like a lot of work, you’re right! But it’s also well worth the time and effort.

Making PR work for you

So now the million-dollar question: How do we get people talking about us?

The first thing you need to do is find a newsworthy angle to your story. In order to do this, you’ll need to look at it from an outsider’s perspective, because frankly, no one cares about you yet.

Contributors are typically juggling dozens of deadlines while engaging with their audience on social media and keeping up with the content in their industry — so your self-serving pitch will get moved to the trash folder with the dozens of others they receive every day.

You may claim that you’re “the premier real estate agent in Tampa Bay,” but how is that newsworthy? (And what does it even mean, anyway?)

A few examples that might be newsworthy for a real estate agent could include:

  • If a contributor recently wrote a story about falling home prices in the area, you could pitch them on interviewing you about inexpensive home improvement projects that have the biggest impact on how much a home sells for.
  • If you’re a veteran of the US military and a real estate agent who specializes in working with fellow veterans (riches are in the niches, right?), then you could pitch a story about what veterans should expect when purchasing their first home as a civilian. (This transition is something that only a veteran can truly understand.)
  • If your area has experienced an influx of millennials looking for housing, you could pitch a story about how to engage with them, since many older Americans seem to find that difficult and frustrating.

Cheryl Snapp Conner, CEO of SnappConner PR breaks it down:

“In all you do, add meaningful value. The writer’s only constituents are their readership (and by extension, the editors or producers they write for) — so knowing this, offer the information and angles that you believe will meet agenda for them. It’s that simple. Yes, you (or your client) will be cited and linked as the source of this information. But even better than getting the link, the link will be associated with high value add in an area that speaks to the value proposition of your product, your service or your area of expertise. This, in a nutshell, is the best of PR combined with the best of SEO. Furthermore, your willingness to add meaningful value and to follow through on commitments to the reporter will instill a trusted working relationship with that individual for the future as well.”

Conner speaks from a wealth of experience. In addition to being the CEO of a respected PR firm, she’s also a contributor to several high-profile publications, which gives her ample experience in both sending and receiving pitches.

Cheryl Snapp Conner at the American Association of Orthodontists 2016 Convention, Moscone Center, San Francisco

Depending on the circumstances of your story, you may need to pitch a contributor cold. This will usually be the most difficult and least likely way to get you the coverage you’re looking for compared to the results you’ll achieve after you have an established relationship. That’s why I recommend being proactive and engaging with them long before you need anything.

You do that by first compiling a list of contributors in your niche who produce content that is valuable to your target market. Next, follow their work. When they share something that you find particularly valuable or useful, share it with your audience; when possible, link to their work from your own articles.

Over time, you’ll get to a point where they will welcome your pitches — so long as they provide value to their audience. It’s important to remember to treat them like humans, not objectives, because they will see right through that, and it will hurt both your personal and company brand. If you can’t do that, be a decent person and don’t waste their time.

In fact, Conner notes, if you are in a conversation with an editor and realize you do not have a fitting proposition for their need, you should ask two questions:

  1. Is there someone else you can suggest that I talk to?
  2. How can I help you right now?

Be generous with connections and support, even (and perhaps especially) in the cases where you have no direct benefit or vested interest. Your willingness to support even when it doesn’t advance your personal agenda will go far in reinforcing the working relationship over time.

Whether you’re pitching cold or warm, you’ll follow the same basic structure.

A short introduction followed by a value proposition — why will your story matter to their audience? Follow that with a little bit of relevant information for the story, and if you want to put some icing on the cake, mention that you’re happy to share the data you’ve already compiled on the topic to save them some time and work.

You should also include your phone number because they might prefer to simply call you rather than go back and forth over email.

But it’s not over once they publish your story, because you’re not like all the other self-absorbed marketers out there, right? So your next step is to share it on social media, link to it from relevant websites that you manage, include it in your social media share rotation going forward, and then continue engaging with that contributor and sharing their other content whenever it seems useful for your audience.

Link building today is a lot more like traditional public relations in that it is all about quality — in terms of publications, people and exposure, rather than just the volume of links. Approach it with that mindset, put in the necessary work that most others won’t, and you’ll enjoy the results that they can only dream about.


The Complete List of Google Penalties & How to Recover

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The Complete List of Google Penalties & How to Recover

There is lots of confusion about Google penalties. The most common one is mistaking an algorithm for a penalty.

High-profile updates like Penguin and Panda aren’t actually penalties; they are algorithms. Algorithms rely on a set of rules and calculations to automatically deliver the desired outcome.

In the case of Panda and Penguin, the end game for Google is to reward websites in the search results that meet their “quality standards,” as defined by webmaster guidelines. Google also employs an army of human reviewers to manually review and rate websites that slide through the algorithms but don’t meet Google’s quality standards.

Being on the wrong side of an algorithm sure “feels” like a penalty. The net result can be the same — a huge and sometimes devastating loss of organic traffic.

Understanding the difference between having your website impacted by a manual penalty vs. triggering an algorithm is important. It determines how to proceed in terms of developing a recovery strategy.

The most notable difference in dealing with a penalty vs. dealing with an algorithmic event is the need and opportunity to interact directly with Google.

A website that is penalized by Google will receive a manual action report via Google Search Console. Once the noted violation is fixed, there is a requirement to explain the origins of the problem as well as the resolution in a “Reconsideration Request”. Conversely, there is no need (or ability) to file a reconsideration request to escape an algorithmic smack-down.

This post will focus on known manual penalties and steps for recovery.

Cloaking and/or Sneaky Redirects

A magician's black hat and wand to represent cloaking

Cloaking is the act of showing different pages to users than are shown to Google. Sneaky redirects send users to a different page than shown to Google. Both actions violate webmaster guidelines.

This penalty comes in two forms:

  • Partial matches affecting portions of your site.
  • Site-wide matches affecting your whole website.

The Fix

  1. Navigate to Google Search Console > Crawl > Fetch as Google, then fetch pages from the affected portions of your website.
  2. Compare the content on your web page to the content fetched by Google.
  3. Resolve any variations between the two so they end up being the same.
  4. Check all redirects and remove redirects that:
    • Send users to an unexpected destination.
    • Conditionally redirect (ex: only redirecting users coming from a certain source).
    • Are otherwise “sneaky”.
  5. Submit a reconsideration request after fixing these issues.

Pro Tip: These types of redirects are often created by CMS plugins, may be in your .htaccess file, or could be written in JavaScript.

Cloaking: First Click Free Violation

This cloaking penalty is levied against websites that show full content to Google but restrict content viewable to users, specifically users coming from Google’s services in accordance with Google’s First Click Free policy. A website is not in compliance with the policy if it requires users to register, subscribe, or log in to see the full content.

This is another penalty that comes in two forms:

  • Partial matches affecting portions of your site.
  • Site-wide matches affecting your whole website.

The Fix

  1. The content shown to users coming from Google’s services must be the same as that shown to Google. Make any edits necessary to come into compliance.
  2. Submit a reconsideration request after fixing the issue.

Pro Tip: Utilize Google’s “First Click Free” policy. Allow users to see a full article on your site without registration, subscription, or logging in when coming from Google’s services.

Cloaked Images

Cloaking applies to images too. For example, serving images that:

  • Are obscured by another image.
  • Are different from the image served.
  • Redirect users away from the image.

These would all be considered as cloaking.

The Fix

  1. Show the exact same image to Google as the users of your site.
  2. Submit a reconsideration request after fixing the issue.

Pro Tip: Check any plugins you have installed to ensure they aren’t creating an image cloaking issue.

Hacked Site

Hackers are constantly looking for exploits in WordPress and other content management systems to inject malicious content and links. This is often cloaked and difficult to find and fix.

When Google picks up on this, a notification that “This site is hacked” is inserted into the search result for affected pages. This often leads in a demotion in the organic search results.

The Fix

    1. Contact your web host and build a support team.
    2. Quarantine your site to prevent any more damage.
    3. Use search console to help identify the hacking type.
    4. Assess the damage if spam or if malware.
    5. Identify the vulnerability to figure out how the hacker got in.
    6. Clean your site to close the vulnerability that let the hacker in.
    7. Request a review and ask Google to reconsider your hacked labeling.

Pro Tip: Be proactive. Always have a clean and recent backup of your website. Install website security features on your site. If you are technologically challenged, use a website security platform like Sucuri for protection.

Hidden Text and/or Keyword Stuffing

The heading says it all. Google has discovered your website is guilty of using hidden text or keyword stuffing.

This is another penalty that comes in two forms:

  • Partial matches affecting portions of your site.
  • Site-wide matches affecting your whole website.

The Fix

  1. Navigate to Google Search Console > Crawl > Fetch as Google then fetch pages from the affected portions of your website.
  2. Look for text that is the same or similar in color to the body of the web page.
  3. Look for hidden text using CSS styling or positioning.
  4. Remove or re-style any hidden text so that it’s obvious to a human user.
  5. Fix or remove any paragraphs of repeated words without context.
  6. Fix <title> tags and alt text containing strings of repeated words.
  7. Remove any other instances of keyword stuffing.
  8. Submit a reconsideration request after fixing these issues.

Pro Tip: Don’t confuse tabbed content or JS dropdowns with hidden text. In an increasingly mobile world, those are perfectly acceptable ways to add content to a page.

Pure Spam

Unlike many of the other penalties, no one can plead ignorance when it comes to this one. It is reserved for websites that aggressively engage in a combination of spammy techniques, including the use of automated gibberish, scraped content, and cloaking, among other egregious violations of webmaster guidelines.

This is another penalty that comes in two forms:

  • Partial matches affecting portions of your site.
  • Site-wide matches affecting your whole website.

The Fix

  1. If this is the first offense, get your act together and comply with  Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
  2. Submit a reconsideration request after fixing the issue.

Pro Tip: If this is the second offense, shut it down and start over. It’s highly unlikely that Google will give you another chance after breaking their trust.

Spammy Free Hosts

There’s no such thing as “free hosting.” What may be saved upfront in hosting fees will be flushed down the toilet in spotty reliability and spammy ads that you can’t control. Google has threatened manual action against entire hosting services. There is no point in taking that risk.

The Fix

  1. Migrate to “name brand” shared hosting.
  2. Submit a reconsideration request once the migration is complete.

Pro Tip: Avoid “free hosting” and suck up the $40 bucks a year for reliable shared hosting.

Spammy Structured Markup

If you don’t follow the rich snippets guidelines and markup content invisible to users or markup irrelevant or misleading content, you will be penalized. This penalty also comes in two forms:

  • Partial matches affecting portions of your site.
  • Site-wide matches affecting your whole website.

 The Fix

  1. Update existing markup or remove any markup that violates Google’s rich snippets guidelines.
  2. Submit a reconsideration request after you’ve made these changes.

Pro Tip: Resist the temptation to succumb to rich snippet spam; follow the guidelines.

Thin Content With Little or No Added Value

Low-quality or shallow pages that trigger this penalty generally come in the form of:

  • Auto generated / spun content.
  • Thin affiliate pages with OEM descriptions, no added value, and/or no unique information.
  • Scraped content from other websites.
  • Low-quality (often guest) blog posts.
  • Doorway pages.

This is another penalty that comes in two forms:

  • Partial matches affecting portions of your site.
  • Site-wide matches affecting your whole website.

The Fix

  1. Identify and remove auto-generated or spun content.
  2. Identify affiliate pages that don’t provide added value beyond what the manufacturer or retailer offers. Thicken or eliminate those pages.
  3. Use duplicate content detection software to identify content found elsewhere on the web. Remove and/or replace that content.
  4. Identify content with low word counts and where appropriate, thicken those pages to be useful and informative.
  5. Identify and remove doorway pages.
  6. Submit a reconsideration request after fixing these issues

Pro Tip: Invest time and resources into creating content that is both unique and useful.

Unnatural Links to Your Site

This is far and away the most common penalty. The root cause is always the same: buying links and/or participating in link schemes to boost organic SERPs. This is a clear violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines.

The Fix

  1. Download the links to your site from Google Search Console.
  2. Audit these links to identify any that may violate linking guidelines.
  3. Remove or add a rel=”nofollow” attribute to non-conforming links.
  4. Disavow any links that you are unable to get removed or no-followed.
  5. Submit a reconsideration request after you’ve cleaned up your link profile.

Pro Tip: Invest time and resources into building links the right way and avoid link schemes.

Unnatural Links From Your Site

Google loves busting webmasters for selling links. In fact, any links that exist for the primary purpose of manipulating search rankings are ripe for triggering a manual penalty. In Google vernacular, these are considered “unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links.”

This is another penalty that comes in two forms:

  • Partial matches affecting portions of your site.
  • Site-wide matches affecting your whole website.

 The Fix

  1. Remove or modify these links by adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute so they no longer pass PageRank.
  2. Submit a reconsideration request after removing non-compliant links.

Pro Tip: Use a machete and not a scalpel when cleaning up these links. Google has handled hundreds of thousands of these penalties and you won’t “get one” by them. Instead, you will only prolong the pain.

User-generated Spam

You know those daily spam emails offering cheap SEO and page one results? You can thank those “black hat SEOs” for creating this headache. (For the record, this is NOT link building.)

User-generated spam is usually found in forums, comments, guestbook pages, and user profiles. This penalty is another one that comes in two forms:

  • Partial matches affecting portions of your site.
  • Site-wide matches affecting your whole website.

The Fix

  1. Identify pages where users can leave comments.
  2. Look for spam in:
    • Advertisements posing as comments.
    • Comments that include non-relevant links.
    • Spammy usernames like “Cheap Viagra”.
    • Auto-generated, generic, or off-topic comments.
  3. Remove all spammy and inappropriate content.
  4. Prevent unmoderated content from appearing on your website.
  5. Request a review once your site is clean and no longer in violation.

Pro Tip: Be proactive. Don’t allow unmoderated user-generated content to appear on your website.

The Takeaway

You can’t game Google. If you want to build a sustainable web presence, you must know, understand, and follow Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Resist the temptation to cheat and cut corners. Now, more than ever, SEO is a marathon and not a sprint.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Pixabay
In Post Image: Pixabay

Understanding link building in SEO easy way

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Understanding link building in SEO easy way

We all kow that we need links to rank well, but some people are still unsure of what constitutes a good link or a bad one. That information is critical in making smart link building decisions. Dabble in questionable link building activities today — even unintentionally — and you will eventually find yourself on the wrong side of a penalty costing you traffic and sales.

That’s why it’s so important to understand exactly what kind of links have a positive impact on ranking and are acceptable according to Google’s webmaster guidelines.

So we’re going to delve into the good, bad, and ugly of links to explain which type will hurt your website, which will just waste your time by not improving ranking, and which will propel you to the top of the search results.

On a related note, it’s important to have a strategy rather than just blindly building links. This will save you time, money, and energy while improving your results.

The Good Links

Good links tend to be earned naturally and generally aren’t scalable.

Organic link building takes a lot more time and effort, but it also means the links you do get are more valuable because they are more difficult for your competitors to replicate.

This gives you a more dominant position in your market, and that’s what we’re all looking for, right?

Editorial Links

The most obvious example of a good link is when, unbeknownst to you, a journalist (or contributor, or blogger) is so amazed by you, your company, or your products or services that they take the initiative to write an article about you and link to your website. Contrary to what some in the SEO community (including Google) claim, this is pretty rare.

Equally as good is when a personal relationship leads to a similar situation, either directly or through an introduction to a journalist, contributor, or blogger — provided that there is legitimate value for their audience in your story. For example, in a recent article on the role of traditional public relations in SEO that I wrote for another search publication, I included several quotes and a link from a friend who runs a large and successful PR firm precisely because her insight was incredibly valuable to the audience, thanks to her extensive background.

Guest Blogging

Guest blogging, when done properly, ranks just a little below the previous two examples in terms of value, primarily because while the website it’s published on has editorial oversight, it’s still produced by you rather than a more objective third party.

It’s imperative that these articles provide value to their audience and not be there just for a link. In fact, because Google has cracked down hard on guest posting as a link building tactic, I find it best to be overly cautious by going way beyond the expectations of value and be extremely conservative in terms of outbound links to your own website.

To play it safe, any guest blogging should be done with the intent of building your brand and reaching a larger audience — rather than building links. Building links is simply a byproduct of doing a great job at that.

Niche Directories

In general, directories are all but dead. However, highly focused niche directories can still be a valuable source of links.

That being said, you may only find a handful of worthwhile directories focused on your niche, and their SEO value will vary dramatically, but it’s definitely worth looking into. You should expand your thinking beyond the traditional idea of a web directory and look at trade organizations, niche-specific networking groups, and professional associations as well because most have a members directory these days.

When evaluating a directory, you’ll want to ensure that they:

  • Have a vetting process, rather than just accepting anyone who is willing to pay the fee.
  • Regularly publish valuable content that search engines can access and index.
  • Regularly prune broken links from members who no longer have an active website.

This may sound overly puritanical, but I would avoid any directories that allow keywords in the anchor text of the listings.

Building Those Good Links…

Gone are the days of precisely matching anchor text to the keyword phrases you want to rank for. It looks unnatural, and thus easily identifiable by Google’s algorithm, which will only continue to get better at spotting patterns thanks to artificial intelligence.

When someone else links to you without your input, the anchor text tends to be pretty natural, so you don’t have much to worry about. When you’re the one creating the links, however, such as when guest posting, you need to be much more careful because your own actions (vs. those of a third party) will be viewed with much more scrutiny if you’re ever manually reviewed.

There is a time and place for exact match anchor text, but in most cases, I tend to opt for something more descriptive, like I did in the previous link to my SEJ article on artificial intelligence. You should also generally link to the most relevant internal page rather than the homepage (unless you’re citing the company, in which case you should use the company name instead of a keyword).

The Ugly Links

While it may be easy to produce these types of links in large numbers, they won’t have much impact (if any) on your organic ranking.

Investing time in producing these type of links is a waste of time, money, and energy because they will never generate much of a return on investment.

To make matters worse, if you use these link building tactics — even though they aren’t effective — you’re likely to eventually suffer a penalty.

Guest Posting at Scale

If you’ve been in the SEO industry for more than a few years, you probably remember when article directories were the hot new thing and you could simply fire up a program to submit your article to thousands of these websites at once. Most of these programs even had the capability to “spin” or modify the content, resulting in a “unique” article for each submission. This created a swath of trash websites that served no purpose other than displaying ads within mostly useless and redundant content.

Those days are thankfully behind us. However, even when performed manually and at a smaller scale, this tactic is problematic when you’re doing it primarily to build links because it creates obvious patterns that Google’s algorithm can easily identify.

Links From Non-Relevant Websites

There is virtually no value in links from a divorce lawyer’s website pointing to a general contractor’s website. Today Google is pretty good at identifying the topic of a website, and they generally only assign significant weight to links that are relevant to their target. No matter how easy it may be to acquire a link, don’t waste your time if it isn’t relevant.

Header, Footer, and Sidebar Links

Google doesn’t give much weight for links in certain areas of a web page, including headers, footers, and sidebars. In general, sitewide links are a bad idea except in a few cases:

  • Linking to a relevant sister publication that you own. For example, if Huffington Post linked to their India edition, that would be fine. However, if you ran a general contractor business and a mortgage company, a sitewide link from one to the other would be risky.
  • Identifying software that runs a website, as you see with most content management, blogging, and e-commerce systems.
  • Identifying who designed a website.

An important caveat here is that while you don’t need to use the nofollow attribute on these links, you do need to use branded terms such as the company or publication name rather than keyword rich anchor text.

The Bad Links

Further down the rabbit hole are links that must be avoided at all costs.

You should disavowed any bad links you’ve used in the past because they will absolutely result in a penalty when you’re inevitably caught. From that point forward, Google will start watching your link building efforts with far more scrutiny.

When you’ve landed on Google’s radar, any actions that may have been dismissed as an honest mistake will now be viewed as an attempt to unethically manipulate ranking.

Paid Links

You might be thinking that you can get away with buying paid links because you’re doing it on a small scale and/or through personal relationships, right?

That sounds plausible until you consider that if a website owner is selling links to you, they’re most likely selling links to at least a few other people too, and those people are most likely buying links from other websites. You can see how quickly the network expands from there.

Think of how many people, buyers and sellers, are really involved, and then ask yourself how difficult would it be for an organization with the data and resources of Google to identify paid links. All they need to do is catch one buyer or seller and then follow the breadcrumbs to identify the other buyers and sellers.

Comment or Forum Spam

While it’s easy to blast thousands of links to forums and comment sections of blogs, it’s also easy to destroy your brand by doing this because you’re slapping your spammy links all over someone else’s website. Besides, links in the comment section of blogs are nofollowed, and many forums nofollow outbound links as well, so you won’t see much, if any, SEO benefit but you will open yourself to the risk of a link-based penalty. Especially since you’ll anger other website owners who will be more than happy to report you to Google.

General Directories

We’ve already discussed how niche directories have the potential to be valuable, however, you should avoid general directories like the plague. These are the epitome of everything Google hates because they typically accept any website (except those promoting porn, gambling, or violence) so long as you’re willing to pay their fee.

This is a textbook example of a paid link. The directory isn’t relevant to your website, and in most cases, it lacks any useful content.

Private Blog Networks

Why go through the hassle of building legitimate links when you can just install WordPress on a few dozen domains and link to any website you want anytime? Well, for starters, just like with paid links, it’s pretty easy for Google to identify private blog networks, leading to penalties in the short term, and more scrutiny in the long term.

The more significant reason not to use private blog networks as a link building tactic is that you’ll still need to publish loads of original, high-quality content and create inbound links to the blogs in your network in order for it to have any value at all. That time, money, and energy would be better invested creating amazing content and earning inbound links to your own website.

When you consider that owners of most legitimate websites continually work to produce new content and earn new links, the value of a link from their website to yours continually becomes more valuable.


Links are an essential part of SEO today, but if you don’t know which type violate Google’s guidelines, you can easily end up doing more harm than good. Since links aren’t going to disappear as a ranking factor anytime in the foreseeable future, it’s critical that you understand exactly which type will improve your ranking, which type won’t, and perhaps most importantly, which type will get your website penalized.

Image Credits

Featured image created by author.

Top E-commerce Link Building Strategies

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Top E-commerce Link Building Strategies

As the e-commerce industry continues to grow at a steady average rate of about 10 percent each year, competition to get sales and exposure increases. That’s where link building comes in.

Link building is an effective way to gain more exposure and traffic for your website. Building links for e-commerce sites in particular can translate into more sales and return customers.

I mentioned some of the below tasks during my webinar for SEJ, but below are a few examples and how they apply specifically to e-commerce.

1. Influencer Outreach

Running an influencer program where bloggers and other online influencers can share reviews and information about your product is an easy way to get links.

If you don’t want to do the outreach yourself, you can hire a link building or influencer agency, or work with an influencer platform.

Clever is a popular platform for e-commerce goods. They have a proprietary backend system that allows you to choose the types of influencers you want, including their demographics (e.g. location) and audience.

Influencer outreach is an art and science all its own, but it mainly deals with the following steps:

  1. Identify your target audience.
  2. Find influencers and bloggers that have the same audience.
  3. Craft an outreach email or message to send to each influencer.
  4. Work with influencers who accept a campaign.
  5. Ensure that FTC guidelines for disclosure are followed at all times.
  6. Track social shares, posts, and links about your product to gauge success.

To evaluate the success of your influencer campaigns, identify your tracking metrics and goals. For instance, you could aim for each blogger’s review post about a product of yours to translate to a certain number of sales.

Make sure your goals are as specific as possible. Several marketers follow the SMART method, where goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Having a clear goal helps better identify success or failure.

Working with bloggers and social media influencers can create more buzz about your products, which will lead to more online reviews. That’s another great way to get links.

2. Editorial and User-Generated Review Sites

Review sites usually do great on search engines and can lead to more links and exposure for your e-commerce site. There are basically two types of review sites that I’m including here:

  • Content reviews, like when TechCrunch has a reporter try out a new computer.
  • User-generated content review sites, like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

No matter the format, impartial sites like The Wirecutter, Product Hunt, or TrustPilot can help generate referral traffic and increase brand trust and loyalty.

As with influencer outreach, you’ll want to set up a strategy for getting listed on review sites:

  1. Create a list of editorial content and user-generated review sites you want to target.
  2. See if your company and products or services are already listed. If there is a profile available for your company, make sure you claim it.
  3. For editorial written reviews, identify the process for pitching to each outlet.
  4. Double check that proper disclosure is in place, according to FTC guidelines.
  5. Share reviews on social media and your own website as they become available.

Any reviews need to be impartial and honest. Don’t try to hide or delete bad reviews if they are true. Instead, publicly comment on the review to show your willingness to fix the situation.

gravity review response

Additionally, whenever you find reviews of competitor products that are no longer available, you can use a link tool like Screaming Frog to find external links pointing to their website. You can then reach out to those sites to recommend one of your own products as a suitable replacement.

Working with other websites, especially if they sell related products, is a great way to get more of your product links in front of your target audience.

3. Partnerships

If there are other retailers in your industry that aren’t in direct competition with what you sell, consider creating cross-promotional partnerships with them.

For instance, Life Time Fitness is a series of elite gyms around the United States. Throughout their website and their online store, they offer special discounts and offers for related but not competing products like protein bars or restaurant gift cards.

life time health store

Since Life Time doesn’t make their own line of protein bars, they aren’t in competition with the manufacturer. However, because their audience is interested enough in a healthy lifestyle to pay $60-140 monthly for a Life Time membership, they are likely to also be interested in purchasing protein bars and shakes. Life Time has their audience so narrowed down, they even offer a media kit for potential partners.

4. Related Internal Links

While most of the above strategies have to do with external link building through building relationships with partners, customers, and influencers, your internal link building efforts shouldn’t be ignored. Try installing a plugin or developing a solution that automatically displays products related to the one the user is currently on.

Amazon is a master of linking to related items. Their “customers who bought this also bought” widget not only shows related products but also uses social proof of past customer purchases to convince customers to buy.

Amazon's "customers who bought this item also bought" widget

Dick’s Sporting Goods also employs a similar tactic, but with a sidebar that is present with the user as they scroll down.

Dick's Sporting Goods' "You May Also Like" sidebar

Adding a related products widget or box on your e-commerce pages can help increase average purchase rate and time spent on site as customers consider other items. You can also see what products are purchased frequently together using Google Analytics data so you know what to recommend.

In addition, if you have content or a blog on your e-commerce site, you can link to mentioned products or additional content that may convince them to make a purchase.


Working with influencers, customers, and other retailers for better e-commerce link building takes a lot of effort. You need to grow relationships to make campaigns a success. However, most e-commerce sites will find a benefit to focusing on link building strategies when looking at how they can become more visible online.

Image Credits

Featured Image by Kevin Rowe

Screenshots by Kevin Rowe. Taken May 2017.