If 2013′s link building industry could be summed up in one word, that word would be “interesting.” There were some big shakeups that other people have covered in various locations on the web, so I won’t go into that here; but, what I will discuss is what your 14 resolutions for 2014 could be.
1. Check Out Your Backlink Profile
If you’ve never run your own link report, do so now. There are some great tools out there — some that use their own databases and others that pull from other sources — and I can’t think of any major ones that I don’t like. You can get trial accounts, free day passes, or just use free versions if you don’t have a large link profile. If you do? Then go pay for a proper link analysis tool. They are completely invaluable.
Sure, you can get info from Google’s and Bing’s Webmaster Tools, but having a system that is independent of those engines is a good idea. Learn how to audit your own links.
If you think you have problems or you know you’ve been hit with a penalty, then I’d advise consulting with someone who deals with links for a living; but, every webmaster needs to know how to get a list of his or her links and do a basic analysis of the profile, even if you don’t always know how to dig into the data like a professional would.
Here’s a list of some popular tools that I’ve used before:
- Ahrefs has a free version.
- Link Research Tools does not have a free version, but there are deals you can get where you pay for a trial run at something when you tweet.
- Open Site Explorer is free, but provides limited data — for complete data, you’ll need to have a subscription.
- Majestic SEO has a free version.
- Raven Tools has a 30 day free trial.
2. Keep A Constant Eye On Your Links
You’d be amazed at how quickly things can get out of hand, especially if you have some shady types building links for you. Not everyone is transparent about their methods and the risks involved — so if you don’t know what your link team is doing and suddenly 500 networked links appear that are all from comments in unrelated forums, it’s best to slam on the brakes before you wind up with 1500 more of them. I don’t think that every single new link needs to be visited and painstakingly analyzed of course; but, in general, you should be able to tell when something’s going wrong.
3. Set Up Both Google’s And Bing’s Webmaster Tools
It’s surprising how many people don’t have at least one of these set up and then have problems that they can’t nail down. They take almost no time to set up and they’re free, so set them up for each of your sites. You’ll see info on incoming links here (though again, I’d still not rely on those being the full picture), and if you get a manual penalty in Google, you’ll be notified through WMT. Last thing? Don’t just set up webmaster tools and leave them unattended forever. They contain some fantastic tools that can help you analyze your sites.
4. Take Advantage Of Easy Local Wins If You Have A Physical Office
Set up Foursquare and Facebook accounts and use them. At a minimum, set up your business in the local sections of Google and Bing.
Note: If you’re serious about local, check out Andrew Shotland’s great piece on 5 trusted accounts you should have.
5. Stop Being Obsessed With Metrics
I’m not saying metrics don’t matter; that’s a simplistic and incorrect view. But some clients do have a total obsession with numbers.
If a site looks like a great place for your link in terms of everything but the metrics, then go for it (as long it’s not penalized somehow). You may not get any benefit out of a PR 4 page that is totally irrelevant to your site, other than a ranking boost (which is still good, of course, but shouldn’t be all we think about). So, if you have the chance to get a link on a new blog that has some great social traction but doesn’t yet have the metrics to back it up, take it.
6. If You’re Going To Use Email For Outreach, Do It Well
This can mean a lot of things. Don’t assume the person getting the email is a man (you’d be amazed at how many “Hi Sir!” ones I get). Don’t offer your service to someone who does the exact same thing (again, you can’t imagine how many offers I get to build links for my site). Make sure offer people a way to get off your email list.
Email outreach is still our primary method, and it still works well; but, we should take the time to personalize our outreach and make sure that we’re not wasting anyone’s when we send something. We should also offer the opportunity to never hear from us again.
7. Look At How Your Pages Appear In The Search Engine Results
Would you click on your site’s SERP listing? If you’re wondering why you rank number 2 but aren’t getting much traffic, look at the other sites appearing above and below you. Would you click on them? Would you click on them instead of on yours? If so, then do something about it. Links on high authority sites can boost your rankings, but you should make sure that when we move you up, you are going to generate some clicks. We aren’t magicians, you know.
8. Ask Someone To Guest Post On Your Own Site
Instead of just pounding sites with emails asking if you can guest post on their sites, try inviting them to post on yours — or ask them if you can interview them on your site. It’s a bit less “me me me” and more give and take. From my experience, you can get some amazing links by being interested in other people.
9. Do Some Brainstorming
I absolutely love brainstorming because when people feel like their ideas matter, they can come up with amazing ones. Don’t worry about making sure that every idea could actually work — sometimes when you’re being silly, the most workable ideas come out. When we had a bigger office, we’d routinely go off-site for brainstorming; so, if you can get outside the office, do it. Sometimes, being in a different environment away from your desk opens you up more. Come up with ideas for content, talk about problems and solutions, suggest new ways of reaching out and socializing your site, etc.
10. Reexamine Your Risk Tolerance
Maybe you have a giant site that generates loads of natural links, but you are using a shady service. Maybe that has worked well and never hurt you, but after all the crackdowns of 2013, you can’t be too sure. If you can still tolerate the risks associated with your link building tactics, then by all means, that’s your business; but, if you’ve just recovered from a penalty and you think you can go back to doing the same old things that got you into trouble, realize that it might be worse the next time you get caught.
11. Have A Backup Plan For If You Do Get Penalized Or Deindexed
Whether it’s a great presence on Twitter, an email list that still means your customers are kept informed about your latest big promotion or a successful Facebook page, just be somewhere else. You may accidentally get knocked out of an index, even if it’s temporary. I can’t tell you the number of sites that have been knocked out due to accidentally blocking Google in their robots.txt files. Anything can happen, so be prepared for it.
12. If You’re Going To Have A Social Presence, Maintain It
Nothing is more annoying than seeing a business that has not tweeted in 18 months. (Actually, one thing is more annoying than that, and it’s when a business account does nothing but tweet links to their own content.) If you’re doing social, do it well. Respond to people who speak to you, take care of any complaints, and spend some time giving back rather than just drawing attention to yourself. Along with this, keep an eye on what’s being said about your brand. Google has a free alerts tool that will send you a list of what’s being said, and it’s customizable. Talkwalker Alerts is a great alternative or backup that’s also free. Make sure you’re monitoring your brand and your URL at a minimum.
13. Look At The “Other Resources” Tab In Google’s Webmaster Tools
Every time I fuss about Google taking away something, I remember how awesome the tools in this tab are. The Page Speed Insights is worth the price of admission (oh but right, it’s free!), and after implementing some of the suggestions on one of my sites, we definitely saw a major improvement in performance.
14. Keep Up On What’s Going On
I’ll admit to the amazingly time-consuming nature of staying informed about all that’s happening in SEO, but if you’re marketing online — whether you’re doing it yourself or paying someone else to handle it — you need to be aware of at least the basics. Google updates their webmaster guidelines occasionally, and they add to the list of what constitutes a violation; so, bookmark this and visit it at least once a month (especially their link schemes page). Take 15 minutes a week to skim the headlines of a major SEO site or subscribe to a weekly link column. Follow the major SEO sites on Twitter.
Nothing earth-shattering to resolve to do now, is it? (Now, if I could only resolve to do all of this for my own sites, I’d be set.)
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.