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Show Me The Links: Open Q&A




Julie Joyce: So I'm Julie Joice, your host. I own Link Fish Media. We've got Gisele Navarro, Joe Hall, and Marie Haines. So Gisele, if we could start with you, I just wanted you to introduce yourself and also tell everybody what type of work you do maybe and what kind of clients you work with.

Gisele Navarro: My name is Giselle. I'm the operations director at an agency called NeoMam Studios in the UK, and I specialize in building links with content. I kind of prefer working with content because it's more fun to me.

We like to work with in-house SEO teams, so any company that has an in-house SEO team that is strong and savvy in terms of the technical side of things. We have many big clients like Expedia or Angie's List or Home Advisor and then smaller clients that are startups like Resume IO.

Julie Joyce: Joe, do you want to talk about yourself a little bit?

Joe Hall: I've been doing SEO for around 10 years now. I currently work for a company called Proficient Digital, and we are a larger agency that does full-service digital marketing and development, but our clients are mostly enterprise-level clients, so we're looking at big brands, and we do everything under the sun for them as it relates to digital.

I spent about two or three years aggressively doing nothing but link building, and now I'm more technical, but I have a lot of experience with link building.

Julie Joyce: Marie, do you want to go?

Marie Haynes: My name is Marie Haines, and we have an agency here in Ottawa, Canada, and what we mostly do is look at websites that have lost traffic, usually because of an algorithmic update or something like that. For years, my main line of work was in doing Google penalty work and also working with Penguin-hit sites, and I've seen almost every type of link scheme that's out there.

I've seen thousands and thousands of examples from Google... they have given manual penalties as examples of unnatural links, and so my specialty in links is in knowing what kind of thing complies with Google's guidelines and what doesn't.

Disavowing Backlinks

Julie Joyce: Excellent. Well, we've got a lot of questions about that that people have submitted. Well, I will jump right in, then. How do I evaluate whether or not disavowing URLs has actually benefited my site? Marie, do you want to take that?

Marie Haynes: So, the question is, how do you know was it actually effective? And it's really hard to say. I believe that most websites these days don't need to disavow unless you have a history of links that are there for SEO purposes, so if you're seeing a bunch of spammy image links and really spammy blogspot sites.

So, let's say that, in the past, we hired an SEO company and they built links that we know are kind of questionable in terms of whether Google would like them, and so you've put together a disavow and you've filed it, then really we're going to see one of three things. One is that everything stays exactly the same, and that's usually the case because Google's already ignoring those links, and disavowing them shouldn't cause any improvements.

We do see some cases where traffic drops. This is usually if somebody files a disavow and doesn't really know what they're doing. If we do see improvement, it can happen anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks after filing the disavow, and you don't tend to see this massive jump up. It's more of a gradual increase that you could pinpoint to happening shortly after you filed the disavow.

I should say there is a fourth scenario, too. Sometimes Google will put out link-related updates and we suddenly see a jump up. I think that whatever happened on September 27th recently was maybe connected to links in some aspect because we've had some clients where we've filed a disavow and then suddenly they started to see a gradual improvement starting on that date. If it's going to improve, you should see things change within a couple of weeks would be my experience.

Julie Joyce: What's the longest you've seen it take?

Marie Haynes: When Penguin was older and you could only recover once Google re-ran the algorithm, we went a timeframe where it was two years almost before people could even recover.  

And then the thing is, if the recovery starts happening more than a few weeks past where you filed your disavow, it becomes hard to say whether it was my disavow or was it a quality change, because most of us are working on multiple things on the website, so it's hard to answer that exactly. But I think if it's been two or maybe three weeks and you've seen no improvement, then there's a chance that you're not going to see future improvement.

Guest Posting to Build Links

Julie Joyce: Okay. Marie, we actually just got another question for you. Do you think guest posting on related industry sites is a good strategy for sites that have used black hat SEO in the past?

Marie Haynes: I think that there is some place for guest posting, but not a lot, and so what I'm seeing now is a lot of people are guest posting as their sole way of getting links. Google can see if all of your links are coming from guest posts, and probably Google doesn't want to count those.

My advice for guest posting is to only guest post on sites where there's a good chance you're actually going to get some business from that guest post. So if I guest post for SEMRush, there's a good chance that I'm going to actually get clients from that, whereas if I'm guest posting for just this random site that says they'll publish my post and get a link, probably that's not even going to help me.

And this is controversial, but I actually think that Google is ignoring the vast majority, like maybe even as high as 95% of the links that are on the web. The short version is, if you guest post in places where you're going to get business and you don't do it on a massive scale, then it has the potential to help you, in my opinion.

Julie Joyce: Okay. Does Google ignore bad URLs or should you disavow them?

Marie Haynes: Really, I say, again, only if you've got a history of very manipulative links, and maybe in some negative SEO cases, if you already have a link profile that you wouldn't be comfortable showing the webspam team.

Otherwise, I think the vast majority of people who are filing disavows, you have more chance to do more harm than good. What do you think, Joe?

Joe Hall: I agree with you on the disavow stuff. What my comment was going to be about was related to guest posting, and what I've seen with guest posting is, the difference between a guest post that gets traction for SEO and a guest post that doesn't is that one has links that are relevant.

One of the strategies that I've implemented for guest posts in the past is I'll trade a piece of content on my site or my client's site that is kind of structured in a way where there are individual points being made within the content, or maybe the content is broken into sections.

And then, if I'm going to do a guest post, I'll take one of those sections in the original article that I wrote, and write an entire blog post just about that one topic. And that gives me a relevant excuse to link back to the original article, and so I've got this new piece of content that I'm going to use as a guest post somewhere, and I can say, "Hey, I mentioned this, the same topic briefly on a previous article or a previous piece of content that I developed on my own site. Here's a link to it," that kind of thing.

You can utilize that same strategy in pretty much every topic, and it ensures that the link is relevant and you're not just spamming guest posts for links. But I like the idea that you said, Marie, about how focusing on will the link get me business, will it get me traffic? That's definitely another kind of factor to put in for guest posting.

What Constitutes A Valuable Link?

Julie Joyce: I'll move on to another question we had that's really good. How do you calculate the value of a link?

Gisele Navarro: I think for me a valuable link is a link that I didn't manipulate in any way. The most valuable link is going to be a link that I didn't chase, so the one that you wake up in the morning and say, wow, look at that, I didn't build that link. That's a valuable link to me. Now, of course then we cut off metrics and we say, well, we want it to be from an authoritative domain and we want to the right traffic, and there are all these additional things that we could put on top of that.

Personally, I think a link that I didn't build and it's organic; those are the links that to me are the most valuable.

Then, of course, if we go into the agency discussion, I would say you want traffic, so a link that actually gets clicked: that's a good link. Having a link for the sake of having one just because it's a high DA page or whatever, I think that's useless really because it will get to a point where if a link doesn't get clicked, it's not good enough, so traffic is always a good measure.

If we actually want to just keep it simple and you are building links, I would say try to stay within what would be a clean way of building links, so not going just for specific links from specific pages to specific sales pages. Even if it's a super high DA link, the reality is that if you manipulate it too much, eventually it's going to get caught.

So that's a very long-winded way of saying an organic link. But that is hard to measure. It's not a number, is it?

Joe Hall: We actually have an analysis here that we use at Proficient. We call it the “URL priority analysis”, and what it does is basically you push in a handful of URLs and then we pull in a bunch of metrics for those URLs. And one of the metrics that we've been experimenting with lately has been internal page rank that we calculate and apply that to a URL.

So that helps us understand the link authority on a metric level that a page gets, and so we can know that from a relative standpoint, we're not looking at one metric. We're looking at like six metrics per URL, so we know from a relative standpoint and that a link on this page on this domain is likely more beneficial from an SEO perspective than a link on that page.

Now, the big caveat is that that's just numbers, right? It doesn't look at the link's value from a nuanced approach, like the potential for traffic and the potential for sales, and the potential for brand exposure and other things that links can provide that's outside of strictly just algorithmic SEO. But if you do want to approach a value in a link based on numbers, then the best way that we found is to do it with a set of numbers and not just one or two or three. We want to see every metric relevant to that URL and make a sort of a relative kind of assumption that that URL is more valuable than another one.

You don't want to ever assume that any one metric is right or that any one metric is better than the others. You want to just look at all the metrics at your disposal that's available, and then make relative assumptions on which pages are more important or more valuable.

Julie Joyce: Cool. Marie, do you have anything to add?

Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (EAT)

Marie Haynes: I mean, page rank is probably always going to be a major part of Google's algorithms. I have this theory that page rank is closely connected to EAT, which we've been talking about with a lot of these quality updates, and that I think it's possible that Google only wants to count links that sites that have decent EAT, and so a site that is known as an authority in their space, a site that is trusted like the New York Times, things like that.

Joe Hall: Marie, just for the benefit of everyone, can you go through what EAT means for everyone?

Marie Haynes: We talk about it so much that I forget it's actually kind of a relatively new concept in SEO. It's mentioned throughout Google's quality raters guidelines, which you can find online. They're 160 pages, and it's a way that Google determines expertise, authoritativeness, and trust. And it's not just about if I'm a doctor and I'm writing a medical article, I might have the expertise, but I might not be recognized online as an authority.

Gary Illyes from Google has said that EAT is primarily based on links and mentions on authoritative sites, which really sounds like link building to me, right? In the past, we'd get links from pretty much anywhere. If somebody was willing to give me a link, I would take it. And now we recognize that these low-quality directories, these article sites that nobody's ever going to read, like those links aren't good. Our ultimate goal if we're link building it to get links from sites that are authoritative.

Joe Hall: I think Bill Slawski wrote about how Google has their own version of trust rank, but trust rank is essentially just an engine that will pick a couple thousand very authoritative domains, you know, at Wikipedia, New York Times, some universities probably, and they will measure the distance between your page and one of those domains within a link graph, and the closer you are to that trusted set, the more trustworthy or authoritative your site is.

I don't know if Google is actually implementing something like that, but I really get the feeling that what Marie is saying with EAT is maybe an evolution of that sort of approach and understanding that they will not, like Marie said earlier, rank 90% of the links on the web. They're really going to be focused on the ones that actually move the needle for people for business and traffic, and so in order to do that, they're only going to focus on trustworthy sites.

If you want to learn more about how EAT might work on a metric level, think about trust rank and think about links that bring in influence and authority, you know.

Brainstorming Ideas For Link-Worthy Content

Julie Joyce: How do you brainstorm content ideas?

Gisele Navarro: Okay. Develop content that sites will actually want to link to.

Julie Joyce: Yes.

Gisele Navarro: So when I talk to a team about content, I always say the same thing, which is most people go to the Internet for two things. One is to find out how to do something. In most cases when we want to find out how to cook, how to fix something that we just messed up, or how something works. And the other side, we go online to entertain ourselves; to read a review of something, an opinion piece or something, to go on Reddit, to watch a video.

We want to find out how to do something, how something works, or we want to entertain ourselves. So when we think about content, we try to look at those big pillars, and if we can bring them together, that's when the magic happens. If we can teach something and be entertaining at the same time, magic. You get links. If we can explain how something works and also make it super simple and super engaging, again, magic.

So you probably want to chunk up and say, okay, we're going to do something about cleaning carpets, but let's go online and see what are the things are getting the most links about cleaning carpets and let's see what else can we bring to the table. Can we add a layer of entertainment to it? Can we make it more digestible? Can we add new information?

What else can we add to the stuff that is already there? And focus particularly on what brings value in terms of how practical it is because it's teaching you something, or what brings value because it's entertaining. Those are the best ways to start instead of just put people in a room with Post-It notes, which doesn't end well.

Julie Joyce: Is there a minimum number of links that you try to get for each piece of content?

Gisele Navarro: Yes. When we are looking at our campaigns, we're looking at a minimum of 10 links with high domain authority. When I say 10 links of high domain authority sites, I'm talking not 10 guest posts. Ten links that we wouldn't have gotten without that content.

Julie Joyce: Do you two, Marie and Joe, do you have any other thoughts to add on how to brainstorm good content ideas?

Marie Haynes: Something that Gary Illyes said recently was that Google knows if you get a link from Forbes, Google knows which parts of Forbes they can trust, and which parts are written by the contributors. They're getting really good at figuring out whether people link to you because they really, really wanted to recommend your content, or was it an exchange of here's an article and in exchange, I get a link. So that's important.

In terms of content creation, one of the best things I can recommend is to find the questions that people have.

The Value of Mentions and Citations

Julie Joyce: Very good. So, someone's asked do citations still have value? What do you guys think about that?

Marie Haynes: I think citations for local SEO are still important, but not to the degree that they used to be. EAT is primarily based on links and mentions in authoritative sites, and so I think that if there's a Wikipedia article on a topic and I'm mentioned in there, then, again, Wikipedia's a hard area to work your way into. If I have a mention there, that's probably an authoritative mention. It's probably a no-followed link, but I still think that mention helps me, and I think that mentions on authoritative sites are something that Google looks at algorithmically.

You can't just randomly get Wikipedia or the New York Times to mention you, but I do believe, if your brand is being mentioned all over the place and you're not getting links from it, it's still probably helping.

Julie Joyce: Anybody else?

Joe Hall: I think if you have a lot of brand mentions, it's more likely that you're going to be defined as an entity within knowledge graphs or future snippets. And that's something that is quickly becoming much, much more important. Position zero has an incredible potential to bring massive amounts of traffic, and you're not going to get there if you're not already identified as some sort of entity or some sort of authoritative presence on the web.  

I think that mentions and citations both have the potential to help move your brand or even your personal brand into that space and really move the needle as far as things like the future snippet, knowledge graph, coverage, that kind of thing.

Back to Marie's point about a link or a mention on Wikipedia, the most valuable links are the ones that build more links. And so if you get mentioned in Wikipedia, or if you get a legit link from Wikipedia, it's a no-follow link, but there will be more links down the road that come from that mention or from that link because a lot of people will look at Wikipedia and they will look at the sources that are cited in Wikipedia, and they will cite those sources in their own publications.

And so the potential for more links to grow out of a link like that is extremely high, and that's why I think that we're starting to see more of link building being more of like a PR practice. I think that citations and mentions are kind of like the first step in that process.

Gisele Navarro: Something that happens with content a lot is that you will get mentioned and then, for example, let's say Daily Mail picks it up and they run your piece of content, and they mention you but they don't link. And then that triggers other links, and they all credit Daily Mail as the original source and they might mention you, but they actually credit Daily Mail.  

What some people do at that point is they say, oh, well, bad luck there, and at least we got mentioned. But truth is, when it comes to content, getting credit to original sources of content, that's the language that journalists talk about, so that's how you should reach out.

Let's say The Daily Mail just mentioned you and they didn't link, it doesn't mean that you can't (reach out), "You just shared my content. Any chance you can link back to the original content? If anybody picks it up they can see it." Make sure that you do chase those opportunities.  

I'm not saying just chase any mention even if it doesn't make any sense. But if it's content and somebody picks it up and they mention you and they don't link, try to get those big publishers to link to the content.

Some people feel like they shouldn't chase a link, but sometimes the links are worth chasing, particularly when it comes to crediting back to the original source of a piece of content. So not being scared of going after those mentions and turning them into links.

Managing Anchor Text

Julie Joyce: So, how strictly do you manage your anchor texts, and what's the best method for determining anchor text?

Marie Haynes: If you ask Google if you have control over the anchor text, it's probably not a link that Google wants to count. Now, we all know that that's not 100% true. I mean, there's a reason we build links and we put anchor text in, and you'll hear theories of you need this much percent keyword anchor and this much brand anchor, and honestly, I think Google's way smarter than that. I would say if you get a natural link and it has a keyword anchor, that's really good. If somebody chooses on their own to link to you.

But if you have control over the link, so if it's a guest post, if it's a link that you've traded with somebody and you have control over it, you really want to be careful about keyword anchors.

I think it's okay to occasionally put in a partial match, where your keyword is sort of sandwiched in between some other words, but I think it's so obvious to look at a link profile and see when a site has been building links for the purpose of trying to manipulate their rankings.

Julie Joyce: Anybody else has anything to add to that?

Joe Hall: Commercial anchor text tends to be the higher risk anchor text, so if you do have control over anchor text, my general rule of thumb is that if it's a term that you want to rank for, it's probably not a term you want to use for anchor text because you will likely develop what I call a manipulative pattern and get in trouble if you overuse that.

Generally, the rule of thumb I like to apply with anchor text is don't do commercialization. Let it be relevant and just apply it where it makes sense.

Gisele Navarro: Something which I don't recommend is people will say, "Okay, Can you please link to the home page?" If you are creating a link to a widget and you are adding the anchor that makes sense, which has to do with learning more about this study or learning more about this widget, that makes sense. That is organic. It's naturally the way that people link.

Pushing a homepage link with a brand anchor is going to get as bad as pushing a commercial keyword to a sales page because it gets to a point where it's irrelevant where you're creating content that was one thing and has nothing to do with the homepage of your client or of your site, so I don't recommend it.

Julie Joyce: What do you think about building links in existing content?

Joe Hall: I think it's a good idea to do that. Generally speaking, when you do that, you are able to pick an older piece of content that already has some authority and already has maybe some other backlinks pointing to it, which means that if you can actually secure a link on that piece of content, then you'll likely see traction a lot quicker. It does tend to be more difficult, though, to get links on older content because the content is already built. It's hard to get someone to go back in and edit that content.

Gisele Navarro: The way I like doing that is if that content is ranking well, so then it makes sense because they are probably already getting loads of links just because they're ranking, and then if they link to you, that's great.

Joe Hall: I think really focus on the value of those pages. If you have a target list, really focus on the best targets. You don't really want to waste a ton of time on pages that aren't really ranking anymore or getting links themselves. Really focus on the pages that are already performed really well. And you're going to find that that type of outreach is, if you're new to link building, that type of outreach is so grueling and so depressing that you'll eventually begin to hate SEO and your life.

Joe Hall: And you'll question a lot of decisions you've made up unto that point. So I would say really only focus on the ones that are going to bring value and don't waste a lot of time  

Julie Joyce: Is it better to continue to build links to a page on your website that has a small number of referring domains versus building them to the homepage, which has a lot of referring domains?

Joe Hall: The link has to be relevant. The link has to go to where the user is going to find the most value, but if all things are equal, then my kind of thing has always been about deep linking. Links to the home page are going to happen automatically. They're going to organically occur. If you're out there, if you're an active participant in your communities, if you are doing things that are worth mentions or noticing, you're going to get links to your homepage pretty easily. It's much more difficult to get links to deeper parts of the site, and so if it makes sense, then, yeah, definitely try to link deep and not all of them on the home page.

Julie Joyce: We had a really good question now that I had been thinking about with somebody. You know you have a lot of developers that will do websites, and then they have a link credit on it, maybe somewhere at the bottom or something. What do you think a good strategy is for those developers for link building? Do they continue to do that?

Marie Haynes: I've built a few websites in the past for people, and in all of them I link back to my web design company.

Joe Hall: I used to do a lot of web development, and what I've done in the past is I don't normally put footer links back to my site because I thought that was a bad way to get business. It just seems like it's kind of tacky. But what I have done in the past, and this is sort of similar to footer links, is I've developed really good relationships with my customers.

If you're working with a company that you've designed their site and maybe you provide ongoing maintenance, they like you, you like them, you have a good rapport with them, you can easily go to them and say, "Hey, listen. Can I have a page on your website?" And it's basically just a landing page on the site. You keep it out of their navigation obviously. It's not meant to be something that their visitors would necessarily go to, but it's a page on their site that has a basic description of your company. Original content, and maybe you can even place a testimonial of the business.

 And then on that page, link to your site. And then you can link to that page in their footer if you want or elsewhere on the site somewhere, maybe in the sidebar or something. But the idea is that you're not building a site-wide link back to your site.  I mean, from a technical standpoint, you're funneling all the link authority onto that one page and then linking back to your site, and so what that does is from Google's perspective, that's going to look more authentic.

Julie Joyce: I like that idea. We are actually at the end of our hour, which seems amazing. Thank you so much for all the questions. We'll see you next time.

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