Friday, December 15th, 2017

Posted by Aaron Wheeler

It’s here! Google has released Panda update 2.2, just as Matt Cutts said they would at SMX Advanced here in Seattle a couple of weeks ago. This time around, Google has – among other things – improved their ability to detect scraper sites and banish them from the SERPs. Of course, the Panda updates are changes to Google’s algorithm and are not merely manual reviews of sites in the index, so there is room for error (causing devastation for many legitimate webmasters and SEOs).

A lot of people ask what parts of their existing SEO practice they can modify and emphasize to recover from the blow, but alas, it’s not that simple. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand discusses how the Panda updates work and, more importantly, how Panda has fundamentally changed the best practices for SEO. Have you been Panda-abused? Do you have any tips for recuperating? Let us know in the comments!

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Video Transcription

Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re talking about the very exciting, very interesting, very controversial Google Panda update.

Panda, also known as Farmer, was this update that Google came out with in March of this year, of 2011, that rejiggered a bunch of search results and pushed a lot of websites down in the rankings, pushed some websites up in the rankings, and people have been concerned about it ever since. It has actually had several updates and new versions of that implementation and algorithm come out. A lot of people have all these questions like, "Ah, what’s going on around Panda?" There have been some great blog posts on SEOmoz talking about some of the technical aspects. But I want to discuss in this Whiteboard Friday some of the philosophical and theoretical aspects and how Google Panda really changes the way a lot of us need to approach SEO.

So let’s start with a little bit of Panda history. Google employs an engineer named Navneet Panda. The guy has done some awesome work. In fact, he was part of a patent application that Bill Slawski looked into where he found a great way to scale some machine learning algorithms. Now, machine learning algorithms, as you might be aware, are very computationally expensive and they take a long time to run, particularly if you have extremely large data sets, both of inputs and of outputs. If you want, you can research machine learning. It is an interesting fun tactic that computer scientists use and programmers use to find solutions to problems. But basically before Panda, machine learning scalability at Google was at level X, and after it was at the much higher level Y. So that was quite nice. Thanks to Navneet, right now they can scale up this machine learning.

What Google can do based on that is take a bunch of sites that people like more and a bunch of sites that people like less, and when I say like, what I mean is essentially what the quality raters, Google’s quality raters, tell them this site is very enjoyable. This is a good site. I’d like to see this high in the search results. Versus things where the quality raters say, "I don’t like to see this." Google can say, "Hey, you know what? We can take the intelligence of this quality rating panel and scale it using this machine learning process."

Here’s how it works. Basically, the idea is that the quality raters tell Googlers what they like. They answer all these questions, and you can see Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts were interviewed by Wired Magazine. They talked about some of the things that were asked of these quality raters, like, "Would you trust this site with your credit card? Would you trust the medical information that this site gives you with your children? Do you think the design of this site is good?" All sorts of questions around the site’s trustworthiness, credibility, quality, how much they would like to see it in the search results. Then they compare the difference.

The sites that people like more, they put in one group. The sites that people like less, they put in another group. Then they look at tons of metrics. All these different metrics, numbers, signals, all sorts of search signals that many SEOs suspect come from user and usage data metrics, which Google has not historically used as heavily. But they think that they use those in a machine learning process to essentially separate the wheat from the chaff. Find the ones that people like more and the ones that people like less. Downgrade the ones they like less. Upgrade the ones they like more. Bingo, you have the Panda update.

So, Panda kind of means something new and different for SEO. As SEOs, for a long time you’ve been doing the same kind of classic things. You’ve been building good content, making it accessible to search engines, doing good keyword research, putting those keywords in there, and then trying to get some links to it. But you have not, as SEOs, we never really had to think as much or as broadly about, "What is the experience of this website? Is it creating a brand that people are going to love and share and reward and trust?" Now we kind of have to think about that.

It is almost like the job of SEO has been upgraded from SEO to web strategist. Virtually everything you do on the Internet with your website can impact SEO today. That is especially true following Panda. The things that they are measuring is not, oh, these sites have better links than these sites. Some of these sites, in fact, have much better links than these sites. Some of these sites have what you and I might regard, as SEOs, as better content, more unique, robust, quality content, and yet, people, quality raters in particular, like them less or the things, the signals that predict that quality raters like those sites less are present in those types of sites.

Let’s talk about a few of the specific things that we can be doing as SEOs to help with this new sort of SEO, this broader web content/web strategy portion of SEO.

First off, design and user experience. I know, good SEOs have been preaching design user experience for years because it tends to generate more links, people contribute more content to it, it gets more social signal shares and tweets and all this other sort of good second order effect. Now, it has a first order effect impact, a primary impact. If you can make your design absolutely beautiful, versus something like this where content is buffeted by advertising and you have to click next, next, next a lot. The content isn’t all in one page. You cannot view it in that single page format. Boy, the content blocks themselves aren’t that fun to read, even if it is not advertising that’s surrounding them, even if it is just internal messaging or the graphics don’t look very good. The site design feels like it was way back in the 1990s. All that stuff will impact the ability of this page, this site to perform. And don’t forget, Google has actually said publicly that even if you have a great site, if you have a bunch of pages that are low quality on that site, they can drag down the rankings of the rest of the site. So you should try and block those for us or take them down. Wow. Crazy, right? That’s what a machine learning algorithm, like Panda, will do. It will predicatively say, "Hey, you know what? We’re seeing these features here, these elements, push this guy down."

Content quality matters a lot. So a lot of time, in the SEO world, people will say, "Well, you have to have good, unique, useful content." Not enough. Sorry. It’s just not enough. There are too many people making too much amazing stuff on the Internet for good and unique and grammatically correct and spelled properly and describes the topic adequately to be enough when it comes to content. If you say, "Oh, I have 50,000 pages about 50,000 different motorcycle parts and I am just going to go to Mechanical Turk or I am going to go outsource, and I want a 100 word, two paragraphs about each one of them, just describe what this part is." You think to yourself, "Hey, I have good unique content." No, you have content that is going to be penalized by Panda. That is exactly what Panda is designed to do. It is designed to say this is content that someone wrote for SEO purposes just to have good unique content on the page, not content that makes everyone who sees it want to share it and say wow. Right?

If I get to a page about a motorcycle part and I am like, "God, not only is this well written, it’s kind of funny. It’s humorous. It includes some anecdotes. It’s got some history of this part. It has great photos. Man, I don’t care at all about motorcycle parts, and yet, this is just a darn good page. What a great page. If I were interested, I’d be tweeting about this, I’d share it. I’d send it to my uncle who buys motorcycles. I would love this page." That’s what you have to optimize for. It is a totally different thing than optimizing for did I use the keyword at least three times? Did I put it in the title tag? Is it included in there? Is the rest of the content relevant to the keywords? Panda changes this. Changes it quite a bit.

Finally, you are going to be optimizing around user and usage metrics. Things like, when people come to your site, generally speaking compared to other sites in your niche or ranking for your keywords, do they spend a good amount of time on your site, or do they go away immediately? Do they spend a good amount of time? Are they bouncing or are they browsing? If you have a good browse rate, people are browsing 2, 3, 4 pages on average on a content site, that’s decent. That’s pretty good. If they’re browsing 1.5 pages on some sites, like maybe specific kinds of news sites, that might actually be pretty good. That might be better than average. But if they are browsing like 1.001 pages, like virtually no one clicks on a second page, that might be weird. That might hurt you. Your click-through rate from the search results. When people see your title and your snippet and your domain name, and they go, "Ew, I don’t know if I want to get myself involved in that. They’ve got like three hyphens in their domain name, and it looks totally spammy. I’m not going to get involved." Then that click-through rate is probably going to suffer and so are your rankings.

They are going to be looking at things like the diversity and quantity of traffic that comes to your site. Do lots of people from all around the world or all around your local region, your country, visit your website directly? They can measure this through Chrome. They can measure it through Android. They can measure it through the Google toolbar. They have all this user and usage metrics. They know where people are going on the Internet, where they spend time, how much time they spend, and what they do on those pages. They know about what happens from the search results too. Do people click from a result and then go right back to the search results and perform another search? Clearly, they were unhappy with that. They can take all these metrics and put them into the machine learning algorithm and then have Panda essentially recalculate. This why you see essentially Google doesn’t issue updates every day or every week. It is about every 30 or 40 days that a new Panda update will come out because they are rejiggering all this stuff.

One of the things that people who get hit by Panda come up to me and say, "God, how are we ever going to get out of Panda? We’ve made all these changes. We haven’t gotten out yet." I’m like, "Well, first off, you’re not going to get out of it until they rejigger the results, and then there is no way that you are going to get out of it unless you change the metrics around your site." So if you go into your Analytics and you see that people are not spending longer on your pages, they are not enjoying them more, they are not sharing them more, they are not naturally linking to them more, your branded search traffic is not up, your direct type in traffic is not up, you see that none of these metrics are going up and yet you think you have somehow fixed the problems that Panda tries to solve for, you probably haven’t.

I know this is frustrating. I know it’s a tough issue. In fact, I think that there are sites that have been really unfairly hit. That sucks and they shouldn’t be and Google needs to work on this. But I also know that I don’t think Google is going to be making many changes. I think they are very happy with the way that Panda has gone from a search quality perspective and from a user happiness perspective. Their searchers are happier, and they are not seeing as much junk in the results. Google likes the way this is going. I think we are going to see more and more of this over time. It could even get more aggressive. I would urge you to work on this stuff, to optimize around these things, and to be ready for this new form of SEO.

Thanks everyone for watching. Look forward to some great comments, questions, feedback in the post. I will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Posted by Aaron Wheeler

 Link building can be the most tedious and time-consuming task of SEO. At least, that’s how a lot of people feel about it. Ever want to know how to scale link building to avoid the pitfalls of wasted time and effort? This week, Tom Critchlow from Distilled interviews Ross Hudgens, an SEO currently working at Full Beaker in Bellevue, Washington, about some strategies you can use to scale your link building and get more links with less effort. Hiring people with hustle is a big part of it, but using APIs and outsourcing development can help too (though some aspects of linkbuilding simply are not outsourceable, as Tom and Ross explain). Do you have any strategies you use to scale your linkbuilding? Let us know in the comments below!

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Video Transcription

Tom: Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I am here today with Ross Hudgens, and we’re going to talk a little bit about scaling link building. So we talk about link building all the time in SEO. It is obviously one of the most important parts of any SEO campaign, but there is this kind of divide between an individual, maybe it’s a business owner, maybe it’s an individual in-house SEO, and he has to figure out how to scale link building. The company is growing, you’re doing a lot more stuff. How do you go from one individual to a team of people doing link building? We’re going to talk through some of the challenges. Ross Hudgens, where are you at the moment? Let’s talk a bit about your experience.

Ross: I currently work at Full Beaker in Bellevue, Washington, and basically, what I am doing is building out a multitude of websites in-house and a team to basically go from a few websites to a huge team of link builders, properties, etc. So, with that there are a lot of problems with hiring, scaling link building, making it cost efficient, etc.

Tom: Sure. I have come up against challenges with hiring link builders all the time.

Ross: Right.

Tom: It’s a very unique blend of skills, I think.

Ross: Yeah.

Tom: I’d love to get your take on it. But some of the things that we look for when we’re hiring link builders at Distilled is kind of this weird mix of understanding the Internet, so it’s kind of you need to understand what Twitter is, what a blog is, how social networks work, all that kind of stuff. But you don’t necessarily need to understand all that much about SEO, per se. Right?

Ross: Yeah, definitely.

Tom: You can teach somebody easily what anchor text is.

Ross: Right. It’s interesting in general, like in my experience if you don’t have a huge website or brand to leverage off of, you’re almost better off saying you want to hire an internet marketing specialist rather than SEO, because no one really knows what SEO is or they’re going to fake it, maybe.

Tom: Absolutely.

Ross: But there is also a good part, if you have a big personal brand, or like Distilled, you guys have the power of being this recognizable figure, so you can say, "We’re hiring," on Twitter and you can find those people that are inexperienced but still have a modicum of knowledge that they are probably going to be great link builders for you guys.

Tom: Absolutely. I have actually found some of the best kind of people we have hired that are good at link building are just guys that hustle. Right? So there is this concept I think you talked about on your blog. We’ve talked it before. It’s this idea that one of the most effective, actually across any SEO discipline, but particularly about link building, is just this idea of hiring people who know how to get stuff done. Right.? It is the kind of person who they send an email to somebody saying, "Hey, can you check out this content we’ve created?" They get an email back saying no, and they just don’t take that for answer.  Like you see this in Justin. Justin does this all the time.

Ross: Yeah, Justin is great at that. Definitely.

Tom: Yeah. He has this attitude of kind of approaching a problem, and this would be like sales. You get a no, but at least you have replied to me.

Ross: Right.

Tom: I know you’re alive. Right?

Ross: Definitely. So what’s interesting to me about that is how do you measure that upfront? Do you just have this sixth sense when you’re hiring someone that they have that pure hustle?

Tom: Actually, what we find the easiest thing is just go ahead and ask for it. Right? Go ahead and ask.

Ross: Right.

Tom: Say when was a time when you went and did something where no one had told you to do it, it wasn’t like on your job spec, but you just figured out a problem, identified it, and then gone and done it, like taken ownership of the problem. You’ll find that these people stick out like a sore thumb. You ask this question and some people will be like, "I don’t know. I cleaned the photocopier once." And you ask some people and they’re like, "Oh, yeah, in my part-time, I organized a conference," and it’s like oh. It’s like just those people you get a sense for being able to get stuff done.

Ross: A good citation of that kind of event. Right.

Tom: Absolutely. Then so to come back to something I was saying earlier, we find it really good to hire people who are kind of popular online.

Ross: Okay.

Tom: Like, if somebody has like 500 Facebook friends, that’s usually a good indication they understand the Internet quite well.

Ross: Right, that’s true.

Tom: They understand the psychologically of attention, which I think is important for link building. So it’s not necessarily kind of, like, they’re not a celebrity necessarily. It’s not like they’d have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers.

Ross: Right. But they’ve built up some kind of rapport and they know what’s going on, clearly.

Tom: Absolutely. Yeah, and they’re clearly like communicating with people. They are clearly comfortable spending a lot of time online, because at the end of the day, that’s what is going to happen.

Ross: Right. Yeah, because it’s the healthy balance, because you’re probably going to be hiring someone at the beginning stages when you are building out these teams. So it takes these little tiny bits about them to make sure they can be that Justin Briggs or that other great link builder for Distilled or any team. Right?

Tom: Absolutely. These people with personal social networks are often great assets, because you say, "Oh, I need to get some links for this gardening shed website." They’ll be like, "Oh wait, I’ve got a buddy who is crazy about garden sheds." Just let me send him a Facebook message. Then the next thing you know, you’ve got a guest post or link or whatever. So it’s kind of interesting this mix of skills that you need.

Ross: Yeah, definitely.

Tom: But I think, if I could sum it up, I think hustle is super important, and I think kind of just getting the ins and outs, even if it is not SEO, just getting like how stuff works online is really important. So let’s move on, because we’ve got other stuff to cover.

Ross: Sure.

Tom: Let’s imagine that we’ve hired a few link builders into our team.

Ross: Okay.

Tom: How do you go about training link builders? This is an interesting question.

Ross: Right. So one of my problems has been at first I would go and try and drop all my knowledge like a waterfall on the link builder, and that never works out. I will say look at this, this, this. The better thing to do is give them a few things to look at, and then constantly have them go out, find links, say we should target this website, we should target that website, and then give them feedback on a case by case basis and keep that going for a long time until it becomes this evolution where clearly they are progressing in their knowledge. They know how to value a link appropriately. Then you can let them go to be able to pick links and do that link building themselves, without your guidance basically.

Tom: Okay. That sounds like it takes a lot of time.

Ross: Right.

Tom: Talk me through kind of how much time you reckon that takes to kind of train somebody up. Do you micromanage? I’m curious like if the . . .

Ross: No, not at all. It’s more of just, yeah, at the beginning stages, hopefully, that’s why I definitely look for someone that’s a 1A when I am hiring a team,

Tom: Yeah.

Ross: It’s never I want to hire just an intern up front. Like, sometimes there is going to be that bigger cost of that first SEO. Ideally, a lot of SEO teams are built on interns and stuff like that, because it’s low cost for efficiency. But if you bring in a 1A that you can trust, and definitely, yes, it is time intensive at first, but I find you want them to have all the skills, and it is worth it upfront to sometimes . . . .

Tom: You mentioned this kind of concept of valuing a link.

Ross: Right.

Tom: So that’s some kind of a test they have to pass. It’s like, can this guy value a link properly or not? Talk me through how you might evaluate that.

Ross: One way, good way to do things is like we’ll get a giant link list of emails or just of URLs. We’ll say, just sent general link begging emails to these people. You can tell just based on who they email and etc. whether they can tell . . . one part is the weight of the link, how much power is it going to pass. Another part is are they going to link to us? So that’s an important dichotomy that they have to interrelate.

Tom: Okay.

Ross: So going through that process, looking through all those websites, it gives you a gauge of do they have the knowledge to determine what’s a good link, what’s spammy, what’s super strong, will never link to us. Through that process of looking at tons of websites and they’ll send you links, or you can just see their email gathering list, and you’ll say, this is bad, this is bad, this is bad, XY why that is, etc.

Tom: Yeah. Well, that’s really interesting. I think more generally like I’ve done a lot of SEO training. Kind of all kinds. I think the one thing that is universal across any kind of training is that feedback loop that you mentioned. Even if it is just for a very small subset of the kind of work they’ve been doing. So let’s say they’ve done like ten campaigns or ten reports or whatever, just focus down on one or two and just go through them in real detail. I think giving that feedback on every report, so this is okay, but you could have done it like this. . . .

Ross: Right.

Tom: Or why did you do it this way? Couldn’t you have done it a better way this way?

Ross: Yeah, exactly.

Tom: Or wouldn’t it have been quicker to do it this way? I find that just that small bit of feedback, that’s how people learn. When people say that you learn by doing, it’s true to a certain extent. But it’s almost like self-teaching, learning by doing, because you have to learn your own mistakes and do it the hard way. But if you have somebody else to go over the stuff with you, that’s much more effective.

Ross: Yeah, definitely.

Tom: So, I think that’s really important.

Ross: One good management tactic I have used in the past is when you’re explaining something to someone, you say at the end, "What do you think?" Like, "Does that make sense?"

Tom: Yeah.

Ross: So you want that positive feedback. Let them reiterate what you just said back to them, because sometimes there can be this curse of knowledge that you think they know everything you know, they are going to great it easily. That’s not the case. So you have them quickly reiterate at the end of every little explanation. What do you think? It’s a good way to make sure that they actually have takeaways from these kinds of things.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. I have actually found something very similar, which is if somebody comes to you with a problem, don’t necessarily solve it straightaway. Even if you know the answer, I find it useful sometimes to say, "Well, what do you think might be the right answer?" I get them to think it through a little bit, and then it’s like you kind of lead them in the right direction. But that makes them understand it a lot better. It’s almost the difference between reading a page of notes or writing your own page of notes. It’s like if you write, if you physically go through all the steps, you’re going to remember it and take it in much better.

Ross: Yeah. It’s like looking at all the answers in the back of the book, basically. Right?

Tom: Exactly, yeah.

Ross: No one ever learns anything from that really. No.

Tom: No. I mean, you pass the test.

Ross: Right. You should get more points for just working on it, rather than looking at the odd answers. Right? So yeah.

Tom: Absolutely. So let’s move on because we’re short on time. But efficiency and cost control. So I think this is a really interesting problem to kind of solve. We talk in SEO a lot about raw SEO, but we never talk about the business side of it. If you have a team of link builders, somebody is paying for those people. Somebody is paying their salaries. At the end of the day that’s measured against some kind of cost, some kind of revenues coming in. What are the kind of things that we can do to improve efficiency and cost control?

Ross: One thing I think is building the value of your business. I know for Distilled you guys do a great job of this. You’re a big brand name. So you can bring in people and based on the recognition of working with you or another big brand if it’s in eBay, Amazon, etc., they can command a lower salary. They can build out a bigger team based on people want to work for that company whether or not they’re paid a lot and because it gives them a lot of benefit. It’s not like you’re ripping them off or anything. It is because you have a lot of value to offer them, and it is going to save you money as well. So that building up your personal brand, your business’ brand, is a great way to save money in the long run, rather than being under the radar because it is hard to get good people.

Tom: Absolutely.

Ross: It is hard to get cost efficient people.

Tom: There are some really cheap perks that you can offer as well. It’s like we run conferences. So sending our staff to conferences is very cheap for us.

Ross: Right.

Tom: But it has big value to the employees.

Ross: Yeah, definitely.

Tom: I hope there are no Distilled employees listening, You didn’t hear that. We love you guys.

Ross: So there are other things like some people like outsourcing stuff to India, etc., using Mechanical Turk, those kinds of things.

Tom: Does that work for you? Have you tried that?

Ross: For gathering emails, it’s okay.

Tom: Okay.

Ross: I have actually heard people have used developing. I haven’t actually done that myself yet. But it is something that is interesting having developers actually work for you in India or abroad. I don’t’ know. Have you tried that before?

Tom: Not outsourcing development per se. We do outsource a lot of content creation at Distilled, so we have a kind of a network of very trusted freelance writers. So it is not like we are outsourcing it to India or anything. We typically have met them. We typically have actually worked directly with them in the past. But those people are almost employees, I guess, but on a contract basis. That allows our consultants to not spend time actually writing content too much.

Ross: Right. It’s definitely time intensive.

Tom: Absolutely. Writers are good at it. That’s their job.

Ross: Right. Yeah, exactly.

Tom: You can’t necessarily expect SEOs to know how to create content just because they know SEO.

Ross: Right. Yeah, exactly. Everyone has their dynamic skill set.

Tom: Absolutely. So those are two of the ways that we have approached efficiency is outsourcing the bits that you can outsource. Content creation is something that we found can work okay, as long as it’s to good people. We haven’t found outsourcing outreach.

Ross: Okay.

Tom: I think that never works. Like, outreach is just such a creative . . .

Ross: Yeah, it’s too creative. Right.

Tom: You need to keep tight control on it. You look at someone like Justin doing outreach. You can’t outsource that.

Ross: Yeah, exactly. You can’t put hustle and get someone on Mechanical Turk to hustle for you.

Tom: Exactly, yeah. There is a great phrase we use within Distilled, where we say, "You can’t outsource giving a shit."

Ross: Yeah, that’s true.

Tom: Which is true. When you are in-house or in an agency, it’s like you really want to succeed. You want to build up. But when you try to outsource it, it is a paycheck.

Ross: Exactly. You’re connected to that brand, that job, that business. It’s part of you. It’s a paycheck they’re trying to make.

Tom: So that’s one of the ways that we’ve done efficiency and cost control. The other way is kind of processes. So trying to build internal tools that save time. So, for example, we built a tool internally that does a whole bunch, like a bulk lookup on the SEOmoz API. So if you’ve got a list of 200 URLs, you can plug them into the spreadsheet and get all the metrics back straightaway. So it’s like that kind of thing can just incrementally save all your guys time.

Ross: Right.

Tom: It’s like you think about how many times you have to query, go into Open Site Explorer and stuff.

Ross: Oh, it’s huge.

Tom: You can just save time doing that.

Ross: Yeah, for sure.

Tom: So little things like that, and then there’s a whole bunch of other tools, like keyword research and all that kind of stuff.

Ross: Right. Building that proprietary. I mean, keeping your ear to the floor too. There are a lot of people doing great things in the tool world. Obviously SEOmoz, Raven, all these people put out great things that dramatically cut time for people, and if you’re not taking advantage of them, you’re wasting money and time and scalability.

Tom: Absolutely. Yeah. There’s a great app that Justin mentioned as well, called Tout app that helps you kind of scale your link building. It allows you to send emails to people right within your browser. You click a little JavaScript bookmarker, and then you can suddenly email them right within the app, which is pretty cool.

Ross: Yeah, that is cool.

Tom: I’ll link to it in the blog post. Cool. So we have kind of gone through this idea. You’ve hired some link builders, you’re trained them up. We’ve looked at cost control and making them efficient. But hiring, like scaling people isn’t the only way of scaling link building.

Ross: Right.

Tom: What are some of the other ways we can scale link building?

Ross: One thing is you’re going to start as a link builder. You’re going to have likely no network at all. Over time, you’re going to develop a long list of people who have linked to you. One thing I like to do – I call it the black book for SEOs – is just put in all the contacts, what the vertical was, who you emailed it from, etc., and you have this laundry list of people that you developed relationships with, what vertical it is, what asset you used to get that link. You can reflect back on that and that can develop to be a massive list over time, and that can save you a lot of time for sure.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. At heart, link building is about relationships. So, don’t just start a list of links, start a list of relationships. We do exactly the same thing at Distilled.

Ross: Yeah, it’s huge definitely.

Tom: Then some of the other ways I think you can scale this are by trying to actually develop partnerships with people. So it’s like, for example, we’ve written some guest blogs for media publications and online magazines and online newspapers, those kinds of things. They’re time intensive. They’re hard to get. They give you a great link at the end of it. But then you can actually scale it up and take them out for lunch or take them out for coffee and be like, "Hey, we have a whole bunch of content we can create. We can save you a whole bunch of time. Why don’t we write a guest column? Or why don’t we get featured weekly in some kind of feature or something?" Trying to kind of entrench that relationship. Kind of go from that kind of one-off relationship of one piece of content to we’re sending something every week or we’ll help you out any time you need some data or whatever it might be.

Ross: Right.

Tom: You can scale that up, not in a way of scaling more people that you know, but scaling the benefit you get from that one relationship is a great way of doing it.

Ross: Yeah. That definitely makes sense. I think in general and expounding upon the relationship thing is the problem with that general link list is that they’re in a lot of niches that can only help you with one website. Maybe you will never get back to it for five year. But if you find those super high quality, maybe general newspaper type contacts, etc., in the media, those can be diversified, use them in a lot of different websites in a different way if you are creative and use that relationship intelligently. So that sounds like exactly what you guys are doing.

Tom: Absolutely, yeah. There are a whole bunch of other ways you can do it as well. We’re kind of developing these partnerships, almost link building at a kind of business-to-business level almost. It can be really valuable. We’ve worked with some companies where you develop a widget, and then you give that widget to a partner website and suddenly it is on every page of their site. Not always necessarily a good thing.

Ross: Yeah.

Tom: But you start to scale up the kind of benefit you are getting from that stuff.

Ross: Right, definitely.

Tom: That can really help. Some of the stuff you can do in return is sometimes pretty easy for you. Like SEOmoz, for example, I know we’ve developed a few partnerships where they get benefit back, whether it is driving conversions or whether it is driving links, and in return give away like either cheap or free access to their API. That doesn’t cost them anything too much. It costs them in their back-end resources.
But that kind of thing is a great way of using the assets you have as a company rather than as an individual to leverage that kind of business-to-business relationship.

Ross: Right. Yeah. You could do it from the personal side as well. Your SEO skills are so valuable, rarely does a contact you are going to make have that SEO skill and everyone, SEO is growing, there is more and more investment in it. So people are looking for that and definitely if you have high level SEO skill and a lot of people are going to charge into the five digits for a side audit, maybe more sometimes, when you can just give free advice, they’ll love you for that and favors will come back in droves basically.

Tom: I am a huge fan of that kind of karma.

Ross: Yeah.

Tom: Do something nice for somebody when you’re not asking for anything in return, but that will come back to you in time. You see Rand. Right? Rand is like the most giving person you have ever met.

Ross: Right. Yeah.

Tom: Anyone can email him. Sorry, Rand, you’re going to get all kinds of email now.

Ross: A lot of apologies here.

Tom: People grab him at conferences. People grab him in the SEOmoz comments. Randall always takes time to help people, be kind to people. Then you see that come back. It’s like Rand can pick up the phone and be like, oh hey, whether it is an entrepreneur or a business owner or a VC or somebody from the SEOmoz community. It’s like, "Oh hey, I was wondering if I could do this, or if you could do me a favor."

Ross: Right.

Tom: That stuff just comes around.

Ross: It’s easy. Right. Yeah.

Tom: It’s a nice thing to do as well.

Ross: Yeah, definitely.

Tom: For a nice person.

Ross: Yeah, exactly. I agree with you totally.

Tom: Hopefully that was some interesting tips on how to scale link building. It is a difficult challenge. I’d love to know what you guys think in the comments. Let us know any tips you have for scaling teams or anything we missed. So thank you very much, Ross, for coming on.

Ross: Thank you, Tom.

Tom: Talk to you soon.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Posted by Aaron Wheeler

 When most of us talk about SEO, the search engines we implicitly refer to are Google and Bing/Yahoo, but that’s about it. Do you know which of these search engines is most popular in Russia? Neither! The largest search engine in Russia is Yandex, with millions of users and more market share than either of the other guys. You may have been wondering how to optimize your site for Yandex or other international search engines. While international SEO is fundamentally the SEO best practices we know and love, there are some nuances to consider when trying to optimize for search engines like Yandex. On Wednesday at SMX Advanced, Rand spoke with Andy Atkins-Krüger, the founder and CEO of international SEO firm WebCertain, about strategies for optimizing your site for Yandex and being conscious of international SEO. Have any tips of your own for optimizing for Yandex or other engines? Let us know in the comments!

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Video Transcription

Rand: Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to this special edition of SMX Advanced Whiteboard Friday. There’s no whiteboard. It’s actually a Wednesday, and even better, I’m joined by Andy Atkins-Krüger, founder and CEO of WebCertain. Andy, thank you so much for having me.

Andy: Hi, Rand. Thank you for asking me.

Rand: Andy, can you tell us a little bit about what WebCertain does? Just give us a brief introduction.

Andy: Well, WebCertain is an international specialist in social marketing. So we operate in 36 languages and look after people with international campaigns.

Rand: Right. One of the countries that you operate in and help people with is Russia.

Andy: Yeah.

Rand: In Russia the primary, dominant search engine, with I think it’s 60% to 70% plus market share, is Yandex.

Andy: And going up, the share is going up, yeah. We mainly find ourselves operating in those markets that are more difficult. So Russia and China are principal markets for us. We do a lot of work in both of those markets.

Rand: That makes sense. I mean, one of the big challenges that we have that I know a lot of people in the SEOmoz community have, is they basically have very little knowledge of what’s going on in those particular two markets. I think South Korea is the other big one that’s sort of uncertain for us. Can you give us a brief background, particularly with Yandex, how did they win the Russian market? Why do they continue to increase share against Google? What are some big differences between how Google operates and how Yandex operates?

Andy: Right. Well, Yandex actually launched in Russia. In fact, Yandex launched at the same time as Google. They’re about the same age as Google.

Rand: Okay.

Andy: And a lot of the developments there are base around handling the Russian language. It was based on some software that was written before search engines were invented, that was extracting data from Russian language text.

Rand: This is like Cyrillic characters, which are . . .

Andy: Yeah. It’s not the Cyrillic characters that’s the problem though. It’s the structure of the language. The words in Russian, the endings are very critical, and Google did not handle that very well for years. They put some investment in, in around 2006, and started to improve their handling of Russian morphology, as it’s termed.

Actually, it’s not true that Yandex has always been growing in share in Russia, because for a period of time around about 2008, they saw a bit of a dip and that was partly because Google had then started to deal with this Russian language issue. But since then, they’ve launched some new technologies that have actually been very successful for them, using particularly machine learning.

Rand: Okay. Which is something Google had historically biased against but recently tried out with the Panda update.

Andy: Yeah. Google does not use machine learning on its natural search to anywhere near the extent that Yandex does.

Rand: Gotcha.

Andy: One of the interesting things that I discovered, I was over in Moscow early this year, and virtually everything that’s written about Yandex from an SEO perspective is wrong. It’s out of date.

Rand: Well, I’m lucky to have you then.

Andy: Because the issue with Yandex is the way that they use machine learning comprehensively for their algorithm. So their algorithm is created basically by what human assessors think of web pages, and they set those as targets and then the algorithm tries to achieve those targets.

Rand: Right.

Andy: Now what that means is that if you’ve got a set of results and in those results there’s a kind of a certain approach that should theoretically get you to the top of those results, and you launch a site that matches that format, then the algorithm is going to say, "Oh, no, that’s not what we wanted," and it will shift. So as an SEO, you’re in a fairly difficult position because it’s going to move around all the time.

Rand: So you kind of have to think, "What would quality raters want in their search results? That’s what I need to produce." Then the algorithm will figure out the right metrics to get me to the top.

Andy: Yes. It actually points to having a bunch of assessors judging websites and saying which ones are great.

Rand: Now, can you pay these assessors to just say that you’re great?

Andy: No, because they’re not actually working on the websites that are found. They’re working on a typical set that is adapted by the machine learning programs, which they call MatrixNet.

Rand: Interesting.

Andy: But they also use it for keywords categorizations. That’s called Spectrum. So it basically decides what type of results people are looking for from a machine learning perspective, and then it goes into MatrixNet to find the right algorithm to deliver the right . . .

Rand: It’s so interesting, because it’s the complete opposite of Google, right?

Andy: Yes.

Rand: They produce an algorithm that gets results. They have quality raters that tell them how good that algorithm was, and then they try and tweak tune it rather than having the quality raters say, "We wish these sites were sort of in the top ten in these formats, etc. Build me an algorithm that’s going to get them there."

Andy: But the interesting thing from a Google SEO point of view is that Yandex, having taken a significant market share back off Google in Russia – it’s something like 5% – as result of machine learning, you’ve got to say, "Well, Google’s likely to follow suit."

Rand: Yeah. Well, Panda was certainly right. So there’s this Google engineer, and his last name is Panda. He comes up with this scalable machine learning technique, and they implement it. Then they name the update after him, and this is the first we’ve seen of that.

Andy: Yeah.

Rand: So maybe they’re going in that direction.

Andy: I think it’s inevitable.

Rand: Wow.

Andy: But Yandex has made that something of a core skill. So there are these machine learning competitions around the globe, and if you look at those competitions, they’re often run by Yahoo, funnily enough.

Rand: Yeah.

Andy: But if you look at those competitions . . .

Rand: Well, Netflix had a very famous one, right?

Andy: Right. And you’ll find that Yandex will have put in several teams competing to succeed, and they are quite often in the top ten, sometimes first, second, and fifth, that kind of result. They’re really very keen on it.

Rand: That’s very fascinating. So, Andy, real quick, if I’m doing SEO for Yandex, I want to rank well there, what are a couple or three things that I can do actively to help my site?

Andy: Well, it’s going to sound a bit straightforward really. You need great content. It needs to look good. It needs to handle the Russian language well. It needs to have plenty of good inbound links, and some of them can be paid, because Yandex has a different approach to paid links to Google.

Rand: Wow. Okay.

Andy: They don’t like paid links, but they accept that sometimes they have to count them, and they will say publicly that they have to count paid links.

Rand: Fascinating.

Andy: But basically, you’ve got to try and predict what the Russian human assessors are going to think is great content and they’re going to want to match that in the particular search that you’re targeting.

Rand: So maybe surveying your own small group of folks and saying, "What would you want to see here?" Try and produce that content.

Andy: Yeah, and you have to say that it looks like that’s likely to be what we in SEO do much more of in the future.

Rand: Fascinating. I love it. Well, Andy, thank you so much for joining us.

Andy: No problem.

Rand: Thanks for sharing so much about Yandex.

Andy: You’re welcome.

Rand: And good luck to you.

Andy: Okay. Thanks, Rand.

Rand: Cheers.

Andy: Cheers.

Rand: Take care, everyone.

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Posted by Aaron Wheeler

 This week, SMX Advanced has taken over Seattle – and we’ve managed to get a piece of the action! That’s right – we’ve got Duane Forrester, the Senior Project Manager of Bing’s Webmaster Program, to talk with us about some of the new updates to Bing and Bing’s Webmaster Tools. Rand talks to Duane about the new Facebook integration on Bing SERPs, the adoption of Schema.org metadata markup, and the Honey Badger update to Webmaster Tools (just like that most ferocious of animals, the Honey Badger update is really pretty bad-ass).

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Video Transcription

Rand: Howdy, SEOmoz fans, and welcome to this special edition of SMX Whiteboard Friday. No whiteboards, it’s not Friday, but we do have Duane Forrester of Bing. Duane, thank you so much for joining us.

Duane: Thank you, Rand. Pleasure to be back.

Rand: Really appreciate it.

Duane: Yeah.

Rand: So Bing’s doing some really awesome stuff. First off, gain in searches.

Duane: Yep.

Rand: Gain in some market share.

Duane: Yep.

Rand: Putting out some kickass new features.

Duane: Absolutely.

Rand: So there are three things we want to talk about. The first of them is tell me about this new Bing/Facebook integration. It happened about three weeks ago. Now, I’ll do a search and I’ll see this friend and this friend and this friend shared this on Facebook, and so did 312 other people.

Duane: Yeah. It’s a really keen thing. This is an opportunity. We realize that people make decisions, and they generally want feedback from their friends.

Rand: Totally.

Duane: So you’re looking to buy a cordless drill, and you want to know, well, what’s the best one? As these searches come up, if your friends are connected in this network and there’s feedback on this, then results will come up annotated with people that have liked a particular product, or liked a post, or liked an event they’ve gone to, or a location they may have been at.

Rand: So this is like sort of a social proof thing, right?

Duane: Yeah.

Rand: There’s this psychological element. Is there also a ranking element? Like if you see things that people are liking a lot on Facebook, or if my friends have liked something on Facebook, does that mean that it might be higher in my results in Bing?

Duane: Yeah, no.

Rand: Okay.

Duane: So I could tell you that the social annotations, they do not change the ranking. Okay?

Rand: Gotcha. Even based on a personalization algorithm?

Duane: Right.

Rand: Okay.

Duane: Now, what can happen, however, is we can expand real estate on the page to show something for you. Okay?

Rand: Okay.

Duane: So the stack of ten that would normally show up would be there, and we may show something within the middle of that page that’s a social annotation from one of your friends that was against a result that was buried in the results farther back.

Rand: Ah, so something new might pop in.

Duane: Exactly, exactly. And the intent there, again, is to draw attention to the fact that your social network has an opinion on something. You’re trying to make a decision. Your social network is willing to help you make that decision. We can showcase this information.

Rand: Fascinating.

Duane: Yeah.

Rand: Very cool. Does Bing have any plans to include other potential networks, Twitter, other stuff like this?

Duane: Well, we actually do integrate Twitter data now.

Rand: Oh, okay.

Duane: So if you were to do a search, for example on Hulu, you would actually see a result come up for Hulu that’s very customized for Hulu. We pull in a lot of information, including their current tweet status. So anything Hulu’s tweeting out, we’re going to see. You’re going to that at the bottom of the results. It’s an enhanced result at the top of the page. We’ve seen that data.

Rand: Right, I’ve seen that. That’s very cool.

Duane: Beyond that, there’s not much I can really talk about on the future facing, sorry.

Rand: But maybe you like the social annotation, maybe it might have legs. If it does, it might go other places?

Duane: Maybe the users are setting direction and we follow.

Rand: All right. So if you guys like it, then Duane will make it happen. Awesome.

Duane: Yeah, that’s not quite what I said, but sure. It works. It works.

Rand: I make up my own. It’s correlation, right?

Duane: Yeah, exactly. He’s the cause.

Rand: So the second thing that’s really interesting that Bing came out with, you cooperated with a couple of other companies, Yahoo! and Google, to come out with this new Schema.org

Duane: Schema.org.

Rand: Schema.org.

Duane: This is what I’ve been telling myself what it is.

Rand: So with schemas, I can now add some rich metadata to on-page content to help tell the engines more about what it is. It’s sort of like microformats or RDFa, but it’s a different format and it’s supported by all the engines.

Duane: Okay. So, we have a few things to cover here. Okay?

Rand: Okay.

Duane: Here we go. Schema.org is a partnership, much like Sitemaps.org or Robots.txt. It’s a protocol.

Rand: No follow.

Duane: Right, exactly. So all three of the engines agree on it. The major engines have come on board this. In this schema, we support microformats, microdata, and RDFa. We don’t care which you chose to use. That is totally your choice. We support them all. In fact, if you’re already using Facebook’s Open Graph, we still support that as well. So it’s not an either or choice here. We’re not trying to dictate investment for a website. What we are saying, however, is help us understand your content better, deeper.

So Rand mentioned metadata to describe things, and it’s really at this point that we describe what we’re talking about, because the metadata we’re referencing is not meta tags, as a lot of people want to think about immediately.

Rand: Yes, yes.

Duane: What we’re talking about are these little, they are tags, and they’re descriptions. So the metadata is actually a description, for example a video or an image or a produce. So remember when the crawler shows up on your website, we don’t really see the video itself. We don’t really see the image itself.

Rand: You not going to watch the video and try to pull out what that is. Yeah.

Duane: Exactly. The rich snippet allows you to say, "Hey, there’s a video of this beautiful man in blue T-shirt talking with some other guy, and they’re talking about things I don’t understand." Now you can put all of that into your rich snippet tag. So when the crawler comes through and consumes your code, it says, "Wow, look at that, this page is marked up. They’ve done some extra work on here. Now what is this video about? It’s about two wackos talking about something weird somewhere.’

Rand: Blue shirt, Schema.org.

Duane: Exactly.

Rand: Gotcha.

Duane: So we pull that data out and we understand. So now when somebody does a search on an engine and says, "I’m looking for some wacky guy in a blue shirt on video."

Rand: Right, right.

Duane: You know what? We may realize then that the video is the best answer. When we take the video back to serve the answer, along with that comes your web page, your navigation, and everything else. So Schema.org allows you to tell us very specific things. You want to see an example in action?

Rand: Yeah.

Duane: Do a search on something like Avatar movie on Bing, and you will see what are called tiles in action from websites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. What this does is allows IMDb to actually put data in via these tags on the rating of the show, with their logo, click actions that are included there, which can go to a different location than the organic results. Okay? So these rich snippets enable all of this to happen. All right?

So what I’ve been telling people, every show I go to, "This is something you need to start considering investing in. You’ve got to start getting this into your dev pipeline and figuring out when you’re going to implement it."

Rand: Early adopters can get outsized returns because they’ll be the first ones to have this data.

Duane: Exactly. It’s always the same case, exactly. And because there’s a variety of formats, you can mark up pretty much anything any way you want and we’ll be able to consume it.

Rand: And, Duane, just to be totally clear, is this an element that could influence rankings, or is this just an element that influences this snippet, the look and feel of the UI in the search results, those kinds of things?

Duane: Right. So right now, this is the signal, but the main portion, the main detail we get from this is understanding the content.

Rand: Ah-ha. So this is another way to deliver content.

Duane: Right, exactly. It’s a way to describe the content. So instead of looking at the Internet as a series of URLs that have content appended under them, we actually are now able to catalog the Internet as a series of pieces of content that are related to each other. These tags will help us understand the relationship. It makes it a lot easier for us long term. It’s really the only way to be able to keep up with the explosive growth of the Internet, and it puts the control of the content management in the hands of the website. You guys control it.

Rand: Gotcha.

Duane: So, as Rand said, early adopters tend to see a rise in things, and over time, that’s a signal for us.

Rand: Very, very cool.

Duane: Yeah.

Rand: This is fascinating. There are now these two new ways, the Schema.org stuff and the social stuff of getting things into being or on the front page that might not have been there before.

Duane: Absolutely.

Rand: That is awesome.

Duane: Plus, when you look at the social component, there’s also an overlap here of you being an influencer of your network, or your network being an influencer of you. So I recently did a search for brunch in Hawaii. I’ve never been to Hawaii. No idea where to go, wouldn’t know it if I looked it up.

Rand: Brunch is the best meal of the week.

Duane: Exactly. So I know I don’t want to miss it because it’s brunch. So I really didn’t have any frame of reference. Now I can go to the usual review websites, and that’s fantastic, but I’d really rather have my friends tell me, who’ve been there, that they like it. We see that data coming in from Facebook. So the people that came back were people that told me that they went to this brunch and it was outstanding. I’m done.

Rand: Interesting.

Duane: I don’t need to look any further, because I really don’t know what I don’t know. This is enough for my network to help me understand it’s a safe choice.

Rand: Makes total sense.

Duane: Yeah.

Rand: Awesome. So one last thing that I would love to cover, just today, just this morning or late last night, you rolled out this Honey Badger update.

Duane: Honey Badger cares.

Rand: That’s not what I hear. I think someone’s going to tweet something different to you. This Honey Badger update includes actually a lot of stuff in Bing Webmaster Tools.

Duane: Yes.

Rand: Now is this an algorithmic update as well. This is just a Webmaster Tools update.

Duane: No, this is just strictly Bing Webmaster Tools.

Rand: OK.

Duane: Essentially, what we’ve done is we’ve rolled out an entire new content suite. So I spent the last two months writing SEO help content for everybody. That’s what I’ve been up to.

Rand: That’s kind of nice of you.

Duane: Yeah, you know.

Rand: We appreciate it.

Duane: That’s kind of what I do. So we have all new help content. We cover everything, SEO, link building . . .

Rand: Does it say more than write good content?

Duane: Yes, as a matter of fact, I have a different message than just that, although that features prominently. Don’t kid yourself. We cover all kinds of topics in there, even topics like how to view our data, how to interpret the data, how to find the data, and how to use the tool set. So there are all kinds of that very helpful information.

Rand: One of the things that was most exciting to me was this new Index Explorer.

Duane: Yeah.

Rand: Tell me what is Index Explorer is doing?

Duane: Index Explorer is essentially taking a snapshot of your website in the Bing index and everything we know about it and bringing it into one module. So you will click on it. You will see a tree scenario with your root domain and then the folders and everything else underneath it. If you click on anything in there, it will bring up a popup window that will tell you when we indexed it and what kind of header response code we’re getting, so an HTP code that’s being returned. It will allow you tools to block a URL, block the cache version of it, that kind of thing. It will show you how many external links are pointed at that, and if you click on that, it will then list the domains that are linking to you, the URLs, and the anchor text, that kind of thing.

Rand: Do you have separate counts of links and linking domains?

Duane: No, it’s actually the URL level. That’s what we’re looking at.

Rand: Oh, okay. The URL level.

Duane: So you will see them stacked. It’s obvious the domain is there, that’s it.

Rand: Right.

Duane: And everything is exportable.

Rand: Oh, fantastic.

Duane: If you end up in a scenario where, like my own websites, you have a signature on a form that you go to and you see 1,400 of those, you want to filter them out, just do a sort in Excel and drop them, and then it’s easy to manage. So we’ve got that, that is fantastic. Our essential investment in that has been on the backend to make sure that the data’s robust and that things are much faster on a return.

Rand: And this is the same stuff that you guys use in the main Bing index. It is serving the same data?

Duane: Yes, it is. The Webmaster Tools actually pulls from Bing’s search core. That’s where we get our information from.

Rand: That’s awesome.

Duane: So you guys are seeing it directly in there. A couple of other really cool features, crawl settings. So you want to tell Bing when to crawl, how hard to crawl, how soft to crawl. Not a problem, drag and drop across the graph, set it based on your time frame against your server and against the load, so you know exactly when your users get your bandwidth and you tell us to stay away. Then when it’s dormant, there’s no one around your website, you’re in bed, you’re dreaming, you tell us come on in and crawl it all. It’s totally in your control now.

If you’ve got Ajax components in the site, you can actually check a box and give us a heads-up. It’s an Ajax website. We can crawl slightly differently, but it gives us the heads-up, so now we know when we see characters and we see certain things how to interpret that.

Rand: So this is like the hash-bang or seem to have to . . . yeah.

Duane: Exactly. We now know how to interpret this stuff now. It’s not just some random thing that’s in there. It’s there for a purpose. So you can do that in the crawl settings. Role management.

Rand: Role management? I didn’t see that one.

Duane: Yeah, role management. Role management’s awesome. So you validate one account and then tell people, "You can come on in. Here’s your permission and here’s your level of it."

Rand: This is my consultant, and I want him to see . . .

Duane: So, specifically, for consultants and agencies, this is fantastic, because you guys will actually be able to go now, validate one account, and then bring your clients into this environment and actually say, "Okay, this is your account in Webmaster Tools. You’re going to have read-only data. You can see everything, but you can’t change the settings." That’s why you have Bing.

Rand: We don’t want you blocking anything.

Duane: Exactly. Or if you’re in your company, maybe you want to have senior management read everything, but you only want a handful of people having read/write authority.

Rand: Sure, makes sense.

Duane: Anyone can go pull reports, but only a few people can twiddle the knobs and pull the switches, right?

Rand: Sure.

Duane: So that’s pretty cool. And as always, inside the tool, there is a direct pipeline submission for URLs. So if you want to make sure you get one of your URLs directly into the Bing index, you can submit it. 10 per day, 50 a month is the limit. But you can stick it in and it bypasses everything and goes direct to the index.

Rand: Can I do that for an URL you’ve already crawled, if I’m like, "Oh, I updated this and Bing hasn’t seen the new one and I really want them to see the new one"?

Duane: Yes, you can do that.

Rand: That’s fantastic.

Duane: Yes, that’s it. And if you do it with something that we already about and it’s kind of a duplicate, then we just kind of, ‘Nah, nice try."

Rand: You’re already on. Duane, these are awesome updates.

Duane: Yeah.

Rand: I really, really appreciate it. Thank you for being so transparent, sharing so much with us, and we hope you’ll join us again.

Duane: Absolutely, Rand. And I want to give a big shout out to the Bing Webmaster Tools team.

Rand: Oh, yeah. Great job, guys.

Duane: Because those guys did amazing work, so thanks guys.

Rand: Phenomenal. Take care, everyone.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Posted by Aaron Wheeler

 Time management is one of the toughest parts of any job, but in web marketing, it’s impossible to do your job if you can’t manage your projects. Since web marketers are wearers of many hats, it’s helpful to collaborate, regroup, and organize often enough to keep on top of things. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Tom Critchlow from Distilled and SEOmoz’s VP of Marketing, Jamie, discuss some ways we maintain control here at SEOmoz and how you can adopt parts of our marketing team’s project management methods in your own practice. Have a great project management tip? Let us know in the comments!

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A Photo of Marketing Project Whiteboard

 

A few notes: we use the larger Super Sticky Post-It in four colors, which represents a few different areas of focus SEO/Site, Social/Community, Performance, and Marcomm.  We have colored magnets which represent different things like "Requires Development", "Requires Design", "Waiting For Someone Else".

Video Transcription

Tom: Howdy, SEOmoz. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This is Jamie.

Jamie: This is Tom.

Tom: And today we’re going to talk a little bit about the SEO project management system. I came over from Distilled, and I have implanted some of the ways that we do things at Distilled, and between us, we’ve come up with this kind of way of managing projects, managing tasks across the marketing team, and we thought we’d share with you a little bit about how it works. So, Jamie, what are we looking at here?

Jamie: So, what we’ve done is we have taken every team member and created a column for them on the whiteboard. Now, just for the purposes of this Whiteboard Friday, we’ve got just the two of us. The idea is that we have these Post-it notes that represent projects or outcomes of things that we’re all working on. The idea here is that we have this line. If a project is above the line, that is a project I am going to be focusing on today, that particular day. Things below the line are things that we would consider to be in sort of a holding pattern. Maybe you’re waiting for somebody to get started on this. Maybe it’s the next thing that you’re going to work on.

Tom: So, you can really quickly and easily see everything that’s on my to- do list now broken down by what I am directly working on now, either like today or tomorrow, but also stuff that I’m waiting on other people. This is like end of the week, next week, further out. These are just kind of like they don’t have a specified date, but this stuff is the stuff that I am working on like right here and now.

Jamie: Yeah. I will say though I think one thing that we’ve tried to do here is keep this simple and not necessarily have these be the most atomic or the smallest task. But instead be some sort of measurable outcome. So, for example shoot Whiteboard Friday, when I am done shooting Whiteboard Friday, I’ll be done with this. I’ll take it from here and I’ll put it into a different column, which is accomplishments or achievements. The idea is that by the end of the week this should be filled up with between 10 and 30 different Post-it notes of the progress that you’ve made that week. But I think the clear distinction that we’ve made is that everyone has their own sort of project management system that they use. I use the software for my Mac. You use I believe . .

Tom: I use Remember the Milk.

Jamie: Some people use notepads next to their desk. But this, for example, may have ten different tasks that I go through, but the team really only needs to see this. So that’s what we’ve tried to do here by making these certain size projects. So, what is the right size of a project to go up on this board would you say?

Tom: I think basically any project that goes up on the board here should be a sizable chunk of work that has, like you were saying, a defined outcome. So anything really that’s like maybe less than an hour’s work or isn’t going to be that measurable or impactful. Like, I’m not going to put on here a meeting with somebody necessarily. That’s not something that is particularly important for the team to know that I am working on. But it is useful for the current defined output. So rewriting copy for a new page on the website, that’s like a task that is going to take me some time. Everyone else might want to know when that’s done, when I’m working on it. That leads into, I think, one of the powerful things of this system is really the simple, the ease with which you can see what everyone else is working on. It’s like everyone on the team can see what everyone else has on their plates, see what they’re not working on, and see what they’re working on and adjust their schedules accordingly. So, for example, let’s say that you have this task here for wireframing category pages.

Jamie: Actually, I moved it up here.

Tom: Lets’ say this is top of your list. I can be like, "Oh, so I see this is important. So I should probably move up the copy for the category pages on my to-do list." I can just move stuff around like this really quickly and easily. That’s the power, and it is not too restrictive. There aren’t too many rules going on here. But it gives us a really quick and easy way of seeing what’s going on. But the whiteboard is only one part of the project management system. We also have these daily stand-ups where we have the whole marketing team. We come together for like maybe no more than 10 to 15 minutes. Do you want to talk us through that, Jamie?

Jamie: Yeah, sure. So, every morning at 10:00 a.m., that’s the time that we chose, and it may be different for your organization.

Tom: Well, we’re lazy here at SEOmoz. So 10:00 a.m. feels like a nice. gentle . . .

Jamie: I would say it’s between 3 and 10 minutes.

Tom: Yeah.

Jamie: It really depends. But really what we do is each person just does a quick once over of what’s on their roadmap or their radar so to speak. So, if this was the stand-up right now, I would say, "Well, today I am going to work on the wireframe for the category pages." As soon as I am done with that, then it will go off to you so you can work on the copy.

So that’s why Tom would probably move that up there or consider doing that. Then, I’m going to say, "I am going to work on the presentation for SMX Advance and that will probably take me a day or two." So that will be kind of the two things on my roadmap. Then, I might say, "Something I have on deck is to shave." If you’re going to do Whiteboard Friday, it’s actually probably not a bad idea to shave before you do it. So that’s why I have that next on deck. Then Tom, you would kind of go through your projects in the same manner.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. By doing this, like it’s really important that the whole team then gets a sense of what we’re all working on. It’s really quick. It doesn’t take anyone’s time too much, but we all get that top-level visibility, which I think is really important for a team, particularly for the marketing team where we might be working on a whole range of disjointed tasks. Some of it is something to do with the website, some of it is to do with emails, some of it is the affiliate program. We don’t all need to know the nitty-gritty of all those different projects, but it is useful for us to just understand broadly what we’re working on and when those things are achieved.

Jamie: And what those outcomes are.

Tom: Exactly.

Jamie: I think some other things that we get in that daily stand-up processes are help. So, if I throw this up and I talk about it in stand-up, Tom might say, "Oh, let me help you with that. I’ve got some time today." So it really helps you to help each other. It also helps you to provide feedback. So, if Tom puts this up, I or someone else on the team might say, "I don’t know if that’s the most important thing. I don’t know if we need that this week." So he might swap these.

Tom: Yeah.

Jamie: It’s something that we do throughout the day, in fact. Not only do we move things in stand-ups, but you’ll notice people walk up during the day and they move things around. They take things that are completed and they move them over.

Tom: Yeah. Yeah.

Jamie: Talk to me a little bit about the line and where you think it should be, because it’s something that we’ve played with a little bit.

Tom: Yeah. I don’t know if we have this perfectly working in our system at the moment. But I think that this line really, it’s kind of a line in the sand to try and differentiate between what tasks I am actively working on right now versus tasks that are just like, eh, someday, when I get around to them. Or maybe it’s important but I am waiting on somebody else for something.

And I think that we’ve tried to play around with keeping these tasks just stuff I am working on today, but I think it works a bit more broadly like today you stroke the next few days. The top of mind is things that I am actively thinking about and working on now. Because there are loads of subtasks involved with these, you might end up working on a whole bunch of things at once. Right?

Jamie: Yeah.

Tom: You don’t just single focus and go for a whole day I am just doing this task. You kind of work on bits and pieces here. You maybe send something off to somebody and you wait for feedback. There has to be a room for a few different projects or a few different tasks going on at once. But I think the idea being that having this line . . . we tried it without the line to start with. It didn’t work so well. But having a line really separates, mentally primarily, like what’s really active right now and what’s not active.

Jamie: I see this sort of in focus and out of focus. I think we did, we did play with the line. I think different organizations are going to have a different point where the line makes sense. But we’ve sort of gotten to the point where the lines is, if the number of projects you have above the line is crowded, like they don’t fit, that’s probably not going to be a successful day. You’re not going to be successful at touching all of those things. I think ours can fit about four.

Most days, most of us have two or three above the line. I don’t know if we mentioned this idea that whatever is closest to your name is sort of the highest focus, if that makes sense. Below the line we sort of similarly use the same sort of prioritization, but it is very simple. It is very easy to move things around by just saying, "Oh, this has been delayed, so I am going to do that." So that folks can kind of see what may be up next on your plate.

Tom: Yeah. This has been working pretty well for us the last couple of weeks. I think the team really appreciates having the stand-ups especially. Getting that high-level view across everyone else’s projects I think is really valuable, but also I think it’s really important for the whole company. We have this whiteboard behind the marketing team. It has everyone’s tasks on it. It is very colorful. Anyone who walks by, like Rand can walk by, anyone from the exec team can walk by, and they can just instantly see, oh, what is the marketing team working on right now?

Jamie: Yeah. It’s right here.

Tom: What’s in the queue?

Jamie: What have they recently accomplished?

Tom: I think this achievement section is really that kind of positive reinforcement for like, "Oh, we’re achieving loads of stuff at the moment." This is good.

Jamie: Yeah.

Tom: Keep that momentum going. That’s one of the big differences I’ve found coming from agency to kind of an in-house role is you guys don’t really have that kind of external motivator so much. It’s not like there is a client on your back hounding you all the time to like get this done, get those done, or I need a report or whatever. You are your own bosses.

Jamie: We need to choose what we work on.

Tom: Exactly.

Jamie: And this helps us do that. Because as a team, we’re able to say, "I’m working on this week," and someone else can say, "Oh, this is a supporting project. Let me help you out with that."

Tom: Yeah. And there have been a few times in the stand-up where everyone will go through all their tasks, and then somebody will put their hand up and be like, wait, what, who is owning X? Like some . . .

Jamie: We’ll literally do this. We’ll put the project on a thing and, you know, I will.

Tom: And that’s great. Everyone feels like someone’s got ownership of it. We don’t forget the task. There isn’t that situation where everyone goes, oh, I thought that you were working on it. Oh, I thought you were working on it.

Then it falls through the cracks. So it feels quite simple, but it is actually a surprisingly powerful way of managing projects and tasks, and that visibility, I think that communication between the team is really key to making it work.

Jamie: Yeah. I think two other things that we’ve done that have been sort of interesting is that we take the achievements from a given week, so first thing Monday morning, we take all the achievements from last week and we put them somewhere else. What we do is we’ve been drawing a box around it and then writing the week. So we can actually see these boxes that have 20 or 30 of these in them, and not only does it help us say, what did we do two weeks ago, but it helps us see that progress and what we have actually noticed is that there have been more Post-its each week.

Tom: Absolutely. Yeah.

Jamie: We’ve been doing more each and every week. I think it’s not just because we’ve been doing smaller things. I think that we have become more efficient as a team.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Jamie: Then we also have these little magnets that we’ve been using a little bit. These are sort of an optional thing, but what we meant to do is that we have some projects that involve our development team and some projects that involve our engineering team. So we have a few different colors of these magnets, and it allows someone from our engineering team or from our design team to walk up to the board and say, "Oh, that’s a project that’s going to require some help from my team." It gives them a visibility on what projects are going to need their help. So it’s a way that we signal to other teams in the company that those are projects that need their help.

Tom: Again, internally in the team, if we have a whole bunch of tasks here that all require development, we can decide to deprioritize some of those because we know we aren’t going to get all of them done straightaway.

Jamie: Yeah. We’ll look and say, "Oh, jeez, we have way too many development projects. This one is not important. It’s going below the fold."

Tom: Absolutely. Yeah.

Jamie: Cool.

Tom: Awesome. Thanks guys. I hope that was helpful. We’ll post some photos in the blog post down below, as well, of the real whiteboard. This is just a dummy one for the Whiteboard Friday. I’d love to know how do you guys manage your projects. I’d love to hear in the comments as well.

Jamie: Yeah. And how do you think we could improve this? Because it’s just something that we sort of came up with over the last few months.

Tom: Absolutely.

Jamie: Great. Thanks a lot.

Tom: Thanks.

Video transcription by SpeechPad.com

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Posted by Aaron Wheeler

We all use our cell phones (and those of us lucky enough, tablets) to figure out where we are and what’s around us while we’re on the go. While GPS is a godsend, location isn’t the only thing you need to find when you’re out. Facebook, Google, the SEO Blog… (I know a lot of you are watching this on a train, plane, or… well, I hope you’re not watching this in your automobile!) – whatever you look for at home, you’re likely looking for it while you’re away from your desktop as well.

Fortunately, most of the bigger sites out there have mobile versions of their pages so we don’t have to pinch and squint to be be able to read anything. However, most organizations aren’t willing or able to dedicate the time and resources towards maintaining multiple mobile versions of their site. How are you ever going to be able to optimize your mobile web presence when you don’t have one?! Fret not! On this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Cyrus from SEOmoz’s very own SEO team gives some pointers on how to keep sites optimized for cell phones and tablets without breaking the bank or the brain. You’ll find that we used an extremely relevant device to bring you today’s WBF, so check it out! Also, read over the transcript for links and let us know any secrets you’ve discovered in the comments below.

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Video Transcription

Hi, SEOmoz fans. My name’s Cyrus. I am on the SEO team here at SEOmoz. Today we’re going to be talking about SEO for mobile devices. Mobile devices are becoming huge obviously. It really hit home this year when I realized that 60% of the staff here has an iPad. That’s amazing. Just in the last few months the amount of usage and the amount of searching we’re doing using mobile devices has grown incredibly. We’re using iPads so much that today we thought we’d try something special and actually film the Whiteboard Friday on an iPad. So it’s kind of something new for us. Hopefully, you can search for the Whiteboard Friday on your iPad, watch it on your iPad, and it is recorded on your iPad.

1. Why Mobile SEO is Hard

One of the challenges of doing mobile SEO is it’s really hard. Mobile applications are great.
You know, things like Rotten Tomatoes, Urban Table (Urban Spoon + Open Table) they
have great apps. But for most people, 80% to 90% of us, doing these mobile sites are really
hard because what you end up with is three different sites really that you’re trying to optimize
for. You have your regular website, you have a mobile optimized version of your website,
and then you have an app. That’s really hard to maintain. It’s expensive. It’s time consuming.
It uses a lot of engineering resources. It is hard to maintain just one website, let alone three
different versions of your website. If you do it wrong, sometimes you end up with duplicate
content issues, which causes a lot of problems.

Urban Table

Giant iPhone by Table Connect

For most people, it is just too much, especially the people who are going to benefit most from
mobile SEO. These are the local people, the mom and pop restaurants, the mechanic. They
don’t really have a lot of budget. If your clients fit in this demographic, it’s really hard to
justify spending money on all these different mobile versions of your site. But just because
we can’t do different mobile versions – do what the big boys do – that doesn’t mean that we
can’t optimize for mobile and take some really actionable steps to improve our mobile SEO
experience. What we’re going to do is we’re going to take advantage of the low-hanging fruit,
the opportunities that already exist.

2. Take Advantage of Your Own Data

The most important thing, the first thing that you want to do is mine your own data. Take
advantage of the statistics you already have. Can you tell me right now, on your major
website, what percentage of your visitors this month came from mobile devices? Most SEOs
don’t know that, but that’s something you should be checking every single month. Now what
we do here at SEOmoz is, very simply, we create a Google Analytics advanced segment, and
it is just one setting in the advanced segments. You just click mobile equals yes. You call that
profile mobile. You check it once a month. You’re going to get incredible information about
what your mobile visitors are doing.

Mobile SEO Analytics

What you’ll find is that it is a lot different than what your desktop users are doing. The
keywords are going to be different. The bounce rate is going to be different. Landing pages
are going to be different. You really get some good information into the behavior of your
mobile users. One of the most important things to check for within that profile is the different
devices that are visiting your site. You can see if one device has a particularly high bounce
rate or their time on site is really small, then that’s the device that you can look at. Here at
SEOmoz, we found that we do really poorly on BlackBerries. Not sure exactly why, if the
site is not rendering right or if BlackBerry users just aren’t our demographic. But that is
something that we can look into and focus just on that.

We can also focus on just the landing pages that the mobile visitors are using. Instead of
spending all of our resources doing an entire site, we can focus on just those pages that our
mobile visitors are using. It is incredibly more effective and it improves the experience for
your desktop user and your mobile users as well. So, that’s that. You can use emulators to test
those pages out and make sure they are really working for everyone.

3. Act Global, Think Local

Now, the next point, when you think mobile, it is so important to think local. Google released
a study
that showed that 95% of mobile searchers search local info. So a lot of those
searches have local intent. Again, talking about those restaurants, local shopping experiences,
garages. What does that mean if they are searching for local intent? The pages that they
are looking for are contact information, phone numbers, directions to your place. These are
the areas that you want to make sure work really well on mobile devices. Personally, it is
very frustrating looking for a restaurant here in Seattle and you go to their contact page and
you can’t find their address, it’s really small, or that page just doesn’t work well on a mobile
device. If you make sure those pages work well, you’re really doing yourself a favor.

Mobile Contact Info

Secondly, if you can’t afford these mobile apps, because mobile apps are great, right? They
integrate GPS, location awareness. They can dial a number for you if they are integrated.
But if you can’t afford that, there is no harm in taking advantage of third party applications.
Instead of listing your address on your Contact Us page, link to a Google Map because
Google does a very good job of giving directions, dialing phone numbers, and having your
contact information there. If you are a restaurant, use applications like OpenTable that can
make the reservation for you. Instead of spending the money yourself on these applications,
take advantage of the third party apps. Generally, we don’t like sending traffic off your site,
but in this case if it is really going to help your business out, it is a good idea to invest.

When we’re thinking local, we need to think about Google Places because they are almost
one and the same. Those local searches are going to be much more focused on Google Maps
coming up. So, if you’re optimized for the Google Maps, if you have your good business
profile information there, you have a lot of reviews, and you’re doing a good job here, you’re
going to do a good job getting those mobile visits. Along with that, you want to make sure
your other local SEO is up to date. Getting included in review sites like Yelp, OpenTable,
Angie’s List, those are all going to help those local references.

4. Go Social

So even if you’re not local, one thing that everybody can keep in mind, and as an addition
to thinking local, think social. Can you guess what the number one search phrase is
on mobile devices
? Facebook. I think Facebook is also the number one searched term
on desktop devices, but on mobile, it blows it away. People are using Facebook, Twitter,
LinkedIn. Their social applications are huge on mobile devices.

Rand Fishkin on Twitter

As a side note, I have also read that something like 90% to 95% of people when they are
using their mobile phones use them in the restroom. That was very surprising to me. I am not
a bathroom mobile device person. I guess they’re replacing magazines. But getting away from
the point there.

The point is, if your content, if your website content is being shared on these social sites,
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, all the other social sites, you are much more likely to get
those referral visits
. So if you are doing a good job in terms of social, you’re going to get
those referral visits, and we see from our own analytics here at SEOmoz, we get a huge
amount of referrals from Twitter and Facebook, and those visits predominantly go to our
blog. They have a much different profile of content that they’re visiting than users using
desktops. So we want to make sure they are having a good experience.
In addition to that, you want to make sure your content is easy to share, because when those
people are coming from these social sites on their mobile devices, they are much more likely
to share the content again back to these social sites
. So make sure you have your Facebook
buttons, your Twitter buttons, your LinkedIn, whatever social sites that you want to use.

Taking care of these low-hanging fruits, these are something that you can just spend a few
hours a month on instead of building out these huge apps, and you’re going to get a lot of
wins out of it. That’s it. Thank you very much. 

Video transcription by SpeechPad.com

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Posted by Aaron Wheeler

 Last week, Rand discussed the importance of correlation data in general and how you can use it for SEO research. It’s a lot easier to get things done if you know which tasks are high priority and which are low, and correlation data can help. This week, Rand finishes off this two-part series on correlation data by discussing some specific observations we’ve made about correlations between SEO tactics and their effects on rankings. There are some very interesting conclusions, so check it out! Also let us know in the comments below if you’ve been able to draw any correlations of your own.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week the second in our two-parter on correlation data for SEO and social media analysis. I’m really excited about this one. We’re going to be talking about very specifically a few of the really interesting things that we’ve observed from correlation data.

Last week, if you recall, we talked about a lot of the basics of correlation data. I showed some simple examples why it’s useful both in aggregate and when studying some of your own stuff.

Today I’m going to be talking about some of those big aggregate average numbers collected from thousands of points of data to see what predicts better rankings over all. I want to be really clear, just to reiterate from last week. Remember that correlation is not causation.

One of my favorite examples, the one I like to use a lot is the one with dolphins. So, dolphins swim in pods, and some of the ones that swim in the front of the pods have different characteristics than ones that swim at the end of the pods, just like things in the search results have different features at the front of the search results – the top of the search results position 1, 2, 3 – than the things that are further down on the search results, 5, 10, 15, 20. Right?

So, we look at an analysis of what makes for front of the pod swimmers in both scenarios. With dolphins, it’s things like, well, they have larger dorsal fins and they’ve got stronger flippers. They also have more damage. They’ve got like scars and pieces of glass or something like that, like cuts and scrapes in their flippers.

So two of those things, the bigger dorsal fins and the stronger flippers, that probably is causal. That’s what’s causing them to be front of the pod swimmers. But the damage is that really, it has a high correlation, it’s got a good correlation with swimming at the front of the pod. Does that mean that more damage means you’ll swim at the front of the pod? If we were to bash up a dolphin’s fins who’s swimming at the end of the pod, would he suddenly move to the front?

No. Right, it’s correlation not causation. It’s features that predict what people will look like up there. So when we are looking at things that are rankings, just remember this is correlation, not causation. Some of the features here might be things like damaged flippers, not stronger fins. So keep that in mind as we’re looking at this.

That said, let’s talk about some of these cool things. Number one, one of the things that we saw last June, we did a big analysis of Google versus Bing and the different ranking factors, looking at correlation across 11,000 search results in both. We had a very, very small standard error so that we can be very sure that these correlation numbers go across probably all the search results at the time.

We looked at things like number of linking root domains and the keyword in the title, the keyword in the domain name, document length. We looked at the length of the title and mozRank and PageRank and dozens of other features. What we found was that Google and Bing are not so different. In fact, on a lot of the SEO basics, the things that you would do for Google or for Bing are the same that you would do for the other engine.

That’s really cool to learn because it means that we don’t have to develop one site that’s trying to rank well in Google and one site that’s trying to rank well in Bing. We do different things for different ones of them. No, in fact, these engines are really, really similar. Then, of course, we found out in January of this year that Google had been running these experiments because they thought Bing’s rankings looked too close to Google rankings. They were worried, and so they did this click stream, honey pot, and, of course, discovered that Bing was essentially measuring through Internet Explorer where people click after they perform search on any engine, including Google. Google got upset about this.

Nevertheless, I think that says, oh well, our analysis that these two engines are pretty similar, kind of verified by some other data including Google people thinking, hey, wait a minute these are looking really, really similar, right?

We get this big takeaway that, unlike the late ’90s or even the early 2000s when SEOs used to build different websites targeting different search engines because they wanted different things, today we can really build one. That’s a great takeaway. God, it saves us a ton of time and worry.

Number two, Facebook shares are highly correlated with Google rankings. This was one of our takeaways very, very recently, in March of this year, so just about a month ago, maybe a little less, depending when this Whiteboard Friday airs. You can see here that Facebook shares, in fact, were our single highest correlated, number one. Highest correlated metric with ranking higher, predicting that you would rank higher in Google among all the things that we measured.

We measured about 150 different factors, everything from keyword usage on the page to link metrics, to things like tweets and that kind of stuff. Those Facebook shares just seem to have an incredibly good correlation. A correlation so high, especially in, remember this 0.29 on a scale of 0 to 1 would not be that high. In a really simple system, where there’s only one or two metrics that predict, 0.29 would be probably kind of low. But in a system where there’s supposedly 200 plus unique ranking factors – probably much more than 200 plus at this point – but in a system with that much complexity to see one metric that predicts such a high correlation is extremely rare. In fact, we’ve only seen a few metrics that are up in that 0.29, 0.3 range ever in the history of looking at correlation data.

We can kind of say, huh, seems like Google must be using these Facebook shares. Not necessarily directly. They might be getting more data from Facebook, but there’s something going on there. Of course, Google themselves and Bing as well admitted in an interview with Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land that yes, we use data from Facebook and from Twitter directly in our web rankings to help with our algorithmic search. Facebook shares, you can see that correlation. You’ve got to be thinking, as an SEO, how do I get me some of those Facebook shares on my pages?

Number three, we looked at, one of the weirdest things to come out of our March 2011 data was the fact that no-follow links seemed to have a positive correlation with rankings. One of the things we did when we saw no-follow links having a really high correlation was we went, well that’s just weird. Maybe what’s going on here is that no-follow links and followed links have a high correlation with each other, and in fact, they do. If you have lots of no-follow links, you tend to also have lots of followed links. So, that makes sense. All right maybe that’s all that’s causing it. But then there’s this one weird, weird data point – well, there’s several weird ones – but there’s this one weird data point around the percentage of followed links having a negative correlation, kind of a strong negative correlation with rankings, which sounds weird, but it suggests that websites and web pages that don’t have any no-follow links aren’t performing as well as those who have at least some or some reasonable percentage of them.

You kind of think about it. You scratch your head, like, "What? Wait, does Google want me to have no-follow links?" When you think that way, just remember correlation, not causation. So, it’s not necessarily that Google’s saying, "Oh, well, this website doesn’t have a lot of no-follow links so let’s rank them lower." That seems kind of crazy to me. I don’t think that ‘s the case. Possible but I don’t think that’s what’s happening.

What I think that’s happening is that people who do natural things, normal websites, this is not normal. It is not normal to have a website that only has followed links. It’s almost like, man, you must be doing something funny because normal websites earn links from no-follows. They get linked to on Wikipedia, which is no-follow. They have blog comments that people leave and point to them. Those are no-follow. They have social media profiles. Almost all of those are no-follow. People tweet about them. Those are no-follow. There are all of these no-follow links that exist from sort of good places on the Web where you would naturally be mentioned if you’re a good website.

So, to have only followed links is weird. No wonder . . . I don’t what it is exactly. We don’t know what it is exactly that Google’s measuring here, but I’m sure they’re looking at this, not at this but at metrics that say, huh, this website does not interact in its ecosystem. One of the things that predicts those is no-follow links, and that’s why you see that negative correlation.

Lots and lots of cool stuff, interesting data that we can take away from correlations even though we know it’s not causal. We can say to ourselves, huh, this probably means, right? This probably means, oh, I’d better be interacting in the environment, and I shouldn’t worry about getting no- follow links. This is not going to hurt me. In fact it might actually predict that I’m doing more good things on the Web.

In this case, right, it’s saying, oh, you know what, Facebook likes have a much lower correlation, because liking something on Facebook, clicking that thumbs up button is so much easier than sharing and actually posting to your wall. I know the like textually posts to your wall, but it doesn’t show up in top news. It only shows up in recent updates. So sharing, oh, that’s a good behavior to start encouraging. Maybe I should be encouraging more shares than likes on my pages. Having this, the Google and Bing data says, oh, I can build one website and do a lot of the key basics that are going to be the same for all of them.

This type of data is incredibly useful. We love doing it. We plan on doing a ton more. If you’ve got requests for things that you would like to see us do, please put them in the comments and we will be happy to try to measure them in the future.

Hope this data is interesting for you. Hope lots of you start doing more correlation analyses, rigorous data analyses of this type. I think it will be assume if we, as a community, start to make a lot of our insight and our intuition a little more scientifically based, math based. I’m very excited for it.

All right, everyone. Thanks for watching these two Whiteboard Fridays. We will see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by SpeechPad.com

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Posted by Aaron Wheeler

 One of the most helpful aids in doing SEO is knowing what factors actually affect your rankings. It seems obvious on its face, but not everyone prioritizes their SEO work with the knowledge of how changes to a site and link profile actually affect the SERPs. It’s important to at least have some heuristics to use in pursuit of higher rankings, and while it’s not always easy, it is possible to correlate optimization techniques with positive (or negative) movement in SERPs.

SEOmoz tries to establish these correlations in our bi-annual Search Engine Ranking Factors project by running tests and consulting with professional SEOs; for instance, in 2009, we discovered that keyword-focused anchor text from external links was highly correlated with positive rankings (we’re currently working on a new iteration of the report for 2011, so keep your eyes peeled!). As you probably know, and as Rand spends a little time explaining in this week’s Whiteboard Friday, correlation is not causation. That being said, correlations are still important and useful information! In today’s post, Rand begins a two-part series on how to use correlation data in your SEO and social media research.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we’ve got a great topic, really exciting topic. We’re going to be talking about correlation data and how you can use it in SEO and social media analysis.

A lot of you already use correlation data, and many of you have probably seen on our blog and in our early release of data from our Ranking Factors Survey this year that we’re going to be presenting a bunch of correlation data. We’ve done this a number of times over the past few years. It’s always very, very interesting to look at. Sometimes it’s potentially controversial because some of the data is really interesting and surprising.

In this case, correlation data is something that I know many folks in the SEO field and the social media field who don’t have a substantive background in statistics, like me. I mean, let’s face it. I think I got a D in my statistics class in college, and I’m pretty sure I skipped the last three classes and didn’t even go to the final because I was sure I was going to fail. Then somehow I skated by. But that’s beside the point. I dropped out of college anyway, so I didn’t need that D.

Correlation, it sounds like a big fancy word, but it’s actually really, really simple. It’s essentially the degree to which one metric, a predictor, has a correlation, a connection to another. Let me give you a couple of really simple examples just so you can understand this, and then we’ll talk about some ways to use it in SEO and social.

Let’s imagine, for a second, that you are a contractor. You’re doing some content writing and you bill the companies that you write for on an hourly basis. You do ten hours of labor, at $10 an hour, let’s say, and you get $100. The hours billed and the dollars received have a very, very good correlation. In fact, they’d have a correlation of 1.0 hopefully. Hopefully, you don’t bill some hours and then people don’t pay or they pay you more hours than you billed. Maybe those things will happen, but usually it’s 1 to 1 correlation. It’s 1.0 is the correlation. Remember all correlation numbers, at least statistically speaking, from a math perspective are between 0 and 1 positive correlations, at least. Then we do have negative correlations as well. We’re not going to worry about those for a sec.

In the dollars received, hours billed, that’s a perfect correlation. You see I billed for 1 hour, I got $10. I bill for 2 hours, I got $20. I bill for 3 hours, so perfect linear, nice 1.0 correlation. You can imagine there are lots of systems, simple systems that function like this. For example, the number of steps that you take and the distance that you travel. Those have sort of a perfect, nice correlation.

Then there’s stuff that has a correlation but the correlation might not be as perfectly predictive, and we want to have numbers around what those correlations are. Here’s a pretty simple example. This is the number of days that I wear yellow shoes. You can see I’m not wearing them today. But number of days that I wear yellow shoes and the number of days where I give a professional presentation. Oftentimes, these are quite connected. But it turns out there are also days where I wear the yellow shoes and I don’t give a presentation, or where I give a presentation but I don’t wear the yellow shoes. Those things do happen. It’s not a requirement that every time I get up on stage I have to wear yellow shoes, but it happens a lot.

So we can map those. We can say, oh, well, there were five days where Rand wore yellow shoes and all five of those days he gave a presentation. Then a couple of days later, oh, you know what? Rand wore the yellow shoes just around town. He was breaking in a new pair. So there are a couple of more days where he wore them, but only one more day where he gave a presentation. So we get a little chart like this.

What correlation scores can do is they can help give a number like 0.7 to the connection between these two numbers. You can sort of say, huh, well, there’s a good correlation between them, but it’s not certain that every time Rand wears yellow shoes, he’s giving a presentation, or every time he gives a presentation, he wears yellow shoes.

That’s exactly what these numbers are designed to predict. Now, in really simple scenarios like this, a correlation score of 0.7, that’s relatively high. But we’d actually need quite a few data points to be able to predict something called “standard error.” So, standard error tells us the degree to which we’re certain that these two things are connected.

If we have a standard error of let’s say .25, that might be a pretty high standard error because we only have a few data points. That means that there’s potentially a lot of fluctuation. This could be a much lower correlation than we think it is or a much higher one, depending. But if we got thousands of data points, if we had every data point around when I wore yellow shoes, every data point around when I’ve given a professional presentation, this standard error might drop dramatically to let’s say .05. Now, we can be more certain that, oh, yeah, there’s clearly a connection there, and with a little bit of fluctuation, we know pretty much what the correlation number is. So we can predict how often when Rand gives a presentation he’s going to be wearing yellow shoes based on an average of previous data. That’s what this is designed to tell us. That’s exactly what correlation can be used for.

Let’s talk about some ways to use correlation data in your SEO and your social media campaigns. First off, in a lot of the cases, you don’t actually need a huge data set. Let’s talk first about ways that you’re probably already using correlation data, which is with individual data points. These are things where you gather, you look at search results, or you look at how you perform in social media. You look at how other people are doing. You form correlations in your mind. Like, boy, you know what, every time I see someone write a top ten list about something, that seems to get a lot of links and a lot of retweets and a lot of attention. It seems like top X lists are a really good way to produce content. People really like these top ten lists, or top X lists. Maybe that’s a good way to go. That type of data point connection in your own mind is correlation. It’s something where you’re connecting these things seem to predict success, and so I am going to potentially imitate them and see if they predict success for me.

That’s actually a fine thing to do. You could do something, like, hmm, it seems like when I have a tweet with a link that gets higher click-through rate, it also gets more retweets. So if I can figure out the formula to get one of these, chances are I’ll do well with both of them. I’m going to work on my click-through rate. I’m going to work on things that predict higher click-through rate. I’m going to get those short punchy titles. I’m going to get a good URL shortener. I’m going to keep the . . . whatever it is that the format of the tweet that you send that gets one of these is, you can generally predict you’ll get the other one, maybe in some cases.

This doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. A lot of the time it’s just your personal experience, and that’s a fine thing to use. Facebook shares, you might notice that in your Facebook account, when you share content that has a picture of a human face. So, it’s got a little, oh, look, there’s a nice picture of Rand. I appear quite “stick figurey” today. Yes, I draw like a second grader. It’s weird that I do Whiteboard Friday. Facebook shares that have a human face as the thumbnail get more clicks. You think to yourself, huh, all right, maybe I need to start using more human faces in the thumbnail of what I put on Facebook, you know, the image that you choose when you share content on there. That might be a fine thing to discover. You could use that from an intuition basis, or you could actually measure it. You could go back through your account and look at all the click-through rates that you’ve earned, if you’re using an URL tracker or shortener like bit.ly. Then you could see is this really the case? Put the numbers into Excel and run the data, see on average how you’re performing. It’s a pretty simple way to do things.

You might also notice something like an observational notice. Links with keywords in the anchor text provide more of a rankings boost in Google. When you get links, external links, and they contain the keyword you’re targeting somewhere in the anchor text, then you get more rankings boost. So, you think to yourself, huh, anchor text. That must be a powerful signal. I’m going to start trying to do that. When I get anchor text on other sites, maybe I’m going to put it in my bio, so when people link to me, they’ll use that particular keyword and pointing to the pages that I want.

This observational correlation is something that SEOs and social media marketers and digital marketers of all stripes have used for ages. They’ve used forever, this observational type of correlation. But there’s cool stuff that you can do on a research basis that we call sort of aggregated or average correlations that produces lots of really interesting stuff too. I’ll give you some examples of those.

So, over at HubSpot, their social media scientist, Dan Zarrella produces something called the “Science of Retweets,” talking about how retweets are spread over the Web and what correlates well with things getting more retweets versus less retweets. He also does one that’s great on the science of timing, talking about when is the best time to tweet or produce a blog post.

This correlation type of data is used all over the place, in tons and tons of different fields, definitely in digital marketing. We do some cool stuff here at SEOmoz where we collect hundreds or thousands of data points to be able to show aggregate or average correlation with two different metrics.

So for example, in our recent survey, we collected 10,000 different search results. The reason we collect such a high one remember is because we want that low, low standard error that comes from having a lot of data. So, we collect 10,000 and then we see, oh, how do tweets correlate with higher or lower rankings in Google? How do Facebook shares correlate with higher or lower rankings in Google?

You can see, actually, that some of the interesting things we’ve noticed from collecting this type of data is that, hmm, keywords in the alt attribute of an image, for example, predict higher average correlation than using the keyword in the H1. So a lot of SEOs tell you, oh, you know, that H1 tag, that’s a really important tag. You’ve got to get the keywords in the H1 tag, got to have H1s on every page.

Looks to us like the correlation with H1s, keywords in the H1 is no better than having the keyword just near, at the very top of the page, which H1s usually predict anyway. So, maybe it’s not the H1 that’s helping. You don’t know. It’s correlation data. It’s not causation. We don’t know for sure that this is what’s causing it, but we know that there’s a connection numerically between these metrics.

That alt attribute, huh, it looks positive. We never thought, oh, maybe we should recommend that. So, for the last few years, we’ve been recommending put a good image on the page and make sure your keyword is in there.

You can see we did this with Twitter data. We did a cool study with Twitter data where we looked at a large number of tweets. We said, “What predicts higher click-through rate?” It turned out that shorter tweets produced higher click-through rate. Probably no surprise, right. So instead of using all 140 characters, you only use 60 characters, 80 characters. Looks like more people click on the links in those shorter tweets. That’s kind of interesting, kind of cool. Maybe it suggests that when we’re writing titles and headlines of things we want people to click, we should make those tweets very short. We looked at putting the link in the tweet at the front of the tweet versus the end of the tweet versus the middle. The middle looks slightly better than the other two.

You can learn all sorts of interesting stuff. This is what’s awesome about correlation data. It doesn’t necessarily mean it predicts things, but what it does mean is that things that have these features have a higher propensity to do well. So, in some cases, at least for me, I care a lot less about whether there’s causation there. I do care, but I care much less about the causation than the raw correlation.

The reason I’m so interested in the correlation is because it says things that have this feature do better or worse. So, whether that’s the cause of them or not, I like to imitate the things that do better and not imitate the things that do worse. I don’t know whether it’s directly causation or whether it’s a second order effect or a tertiary effect or just some fragment of an effect. It doesn’t matter to me. I want to look like the people who are successful. I want to do what successful people do, and that’s what correlation data is so good for.

So, in part two, next week, we’re going to talk about some really cool stuff that we found with correlation data and give you some ideas of where we’re going in the next phases. Take care everyone.

Video transcription by SpeechPad.com

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Posted by Aaron Wheeler

 Sure, you know SEO like you know the back of your hand. You know how to linkbuild, and you know how to do keyword research. Of course you’ve got a lot of SEO knowledge – you’ve been watching these Whiteboard Fridays every week, right? =P Well, now it’s time to get crackin’! Unfortunately, it feels like you never have enough time to get done all the things you know you should do. Maybe the people in charge aren’t willing to do the things you know they need to do to get positive results, or maybe you can’t implement all the changes you’d like to in the short time you have because you’re too busy building an encyclopaedic report for your client. There’s a lot of ways to make SEO not happen for your client’s site, but this week, Tom Critchlow from Distilled will show you how to avoid stagnation and keep the SEO ball rolling!

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Video Transcription

Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Tom Critchlow. I’m currently here in Seattle helping SEOmoz with a few various bits and pieces, and today I’m going to be talking about how to make SEO happen.

So, very common in the SEO industry, and actually across all kinds of consulting, I hear a common complaint, which is I know what to do, I know what the SEO technique is, I know maybe I need more links, maybe I need to change something on the site. Figuring out the problem and solution is not the hard part. The hard part is getting stuff done. Today I am going to talk through a few tips about how to actually translate from knowing the answer to actually making the answer a reality. So, let’s start straight in.

Number one, no more reports. This is my biggest bugbear with SEO consulting. I see this all the time from other agencies, lone SEOs, in-house SEOs. I see it all the time. Big, lengthy, you know 50 to 100 page reports. I’m really not a big fan.

Here at Distilled we try really hard to keep all of our reports really, really short. That is something that I really try to instigate in everyone that I teach within Distilled, because a long report isn’t getting things done. Right? Like, you’ll send across a report. It will be 100 pages, and you’ll think, yes, this is a great report. You send it through to your client. They’re probably not going to read it. Reports don’t actually help get stuff done. So, instead of sending a lengthy report, consider the two primary functions in my eyes for what a report does.

There are two things. A report needs to convince somebody to do something, and it needs to tell them how to actually get it done. In my eyes, when you send a report through that is 50 pages or 100 pages, you are very often confusing the two. So, really, to convince somebody to make change happen, you only need one page or maybe you need a phone call or maybe you need a meeting. Let’s say it is a whole bunch of on-page changes and you say I’m going to need a huge amount of developer time to get all these changes done. You go to the marketing director or the marketing boss or whoever it is that you report to, and you go, "I need to get this stuff done." And they go, "Why?" So, you need to answer that question. But you don’t need 100-page report to answer that question. So, make sure that you convince whoever the stakeholder is, independently of the report, that this change needs to happen, and then as a secondary function, you need to actually make that change happen. But that change is often, like, go work with the developer team or go and have lunch with the guy who runs the developer team or actually go in and do the change yourself on the site.

Whatever it might be that it takes to get it done, focus on that separately from the big report. Sometimes, yes, you do need to spec things out. You need to go in and you need to say, "Well, actually, all these pages need these keywords changing, or the information architecture needs to look like this." There are things that you need to put down in writing, particularly for developers when you need a tight spec, but don’t confuse that with what a lot of consultants will do, which is sending through a big report that has both some justification in it and some nitty-gritty technical details. Try to divorce those two things so you have the convincing separately to the doing. Just generally, write less reports. Just make stuff happen.

Secondly, processes. I see this a lot again in reports that people send out and in consulting and SEO recommendations, even in blog posts. I see people saying, well, you should do X. But there is very little explanation as to how a particular company or a particular website will actually go about doing X. For example, guest posting. Let’s say that you put in a report, "Guest posting would be a great way of building links for your niche." I have seen this kind of thing in plenty of reports. But that is not actionable. How does the client actually take that recommendation, and how do they turn that into actually doing guest posting?

Well, the key lies in processes. When you’re doing consulting, when you’re trying to get things done, processes are at the heart of everything a business does. If you want to make something happen that isn’t already happening, you need a new process, or if there is an existing process, you might need to modify that process to make it SEO friendly or make it happen in a particular way.

The key to coming up with processes and improving processes is to understand what the existing processes are. So, if you go into a business or you’re consulting for a website or maybe even if you are in-house, understand how things work currently. If you don’t understand how things are working, how on earth can you go in and recommend changes or say you should be doing this or you should be doing that. If you don’t understand how things are working, you’re going to fail.

When you are putting forth your recommendation, try not to frame things as, "Go and do guest posting." That’s not an actionable thing. Instead, try to frame things as, "Here is a process for guest posting that is tailored for you." That might involve understanding who is going to do it. Do they have the staff? Do they need to hire more staff? Are there existing people who could take on the task within their existing roles? How are they going to do it? Are the people who are going to do it trained? Do they have the skills? Do they have the tools? Is other tracking in place? How much? Should there be five people doing this all day long? Should it be part of one person’s job? So, understanding these three things will really help you get closer to getting things done. Okay. Now switch over here now.

Number three, pre-deliver. So, when you are doing consulting or when you are trying to get SEO changes to happen, there’s a big tendency I think to, you want to go away. You want to work in a dark room for days or weeks or months, and then you want to come back and you want to go, "Tada!" I’ve just made this amazing thing or I have just built this big report for you, and here’s what needs to happen. The problem is if the person you are presenting it to, they’re seeing it fresh for the first time, then it’s a surprise to them, and surprises don’t equal getting things done. So, instead, consider pre-delivering what you’re going to be recommending. So say, "I need some time to figure out exactly what the information architecture looks like, but you can be sure that there are going to be some information architecture improvements or changes." That will give the person that you are reporting to, or the person that you need to convince to make change happen, that will give them the time to prepare. They’ll be like, "Okay, great. Well, we’ve got a new version of the website going live in three months. We’ll need the spec from you by the end of this month." Great. So, now you have a time frame. Now you have a framework within which to work.

There is a very natural tendency, I think, with human beings to want to kind of make things absolutely crystal right before you release it, before you let your baby be seen by other people. But actually, in reality, in the business world, you want to pre-deliver. You want to overcommunicate with people and say, "This is what I am thinking of changing. Is that okay? Does that fit with you? Are you able to make that change?" Again, understanding either the client or internal resources. Understanding how much developer time they have will be a great framework for your recommendations.

Number four, communication. So, I have written a quote on here which is that, "Change happens when people like you," which is a fantastic quote that I got from a management consultant who came in and helped do some training for Distilled. It is so true. You think of businesses as these cold, hard, rational entities, and they’re just not. Businesses are run by people like you and me. Well, maybe not like me or you. But anyway, businesses are run by people, okay. So, if you want to make change happen, you have to make people like you. So, take people out for lunch. Be nice to them. Socialize with people. Pick up the phone to people. Speak to them. E-mails are a very cold form of communication. Instead, try and build a rapport with people. Again, whether in-house or in agency, just make people like you. Make people understand where you’re coming from, understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. If people don’t value or understand why you’re doing something, they are far less likely to actually make that change happen.

So, make people like you, and face-to-face meetings are crucial to this. I think, again, whether you are in-house or agency side, face-to-face meetings and beers and lunch, all of that will actually make change happen, because when people meet you face to face, they are so much nicer, they are so much warmer, and you’re so much more able to actually convince them that what you are recommending or what you are working on is important to them.

There is a favorite saying within Distilled, which is that communication solves all problems. So, if you are ever stuck with the question of how to make SEO happen, think about communicating with somebody. Whether it is somebody on your team, whether it’s your boss, whether it’s the client, whoever it is, communicate with somebody, and that’s how change will get done. Don’t write a 50-page report.

All right. Thanks guys.

Video transcription by SpeechPad.com

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Posted by Aaron Wheeler

 Over the past couple of weeks Rand has been discussing the metrics available for link research and how to use them appropriately for different research situations. While these metrics and strategies can certainly aid in link research, they’re not the only considerations. This week, Rand discusses some of the pitfalls that SEOs can fall into, and how to avoid these pitfalls by thinking editorially about the links you build. It helps to research the types of sites that rank well despite complete neglect of on-page optimization, and which sites actively participate in their relevant internet communites. Can you think of any pitfalls you’ve fallen into or now know to avoid? Share in the comments below!

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Video Transcription

Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re talking about the pitfalls of doing SEO backlink analysis.

A lot of people in the SEO field have this idea that, hey, the first thing that I should do when I am trying to do some link building is see who is ranking in the top ten. I’ll do a search for my keyword, and I’ll check who is ranking #1, #2, #3, who is on that first page of results, and I am going to look at who is linking to them and try to reverse their backlinks and get a lot of those links for my site, because if they are helping them rank, they must also help me rank.

There are some real dangers, some big pitfalls to this type of link analysis. The first of which is it is very hard to know if links are coming into this whether they are actually helping the site or not and whether the links that you are seeing are the ones that are having the most impact. It’s also really tough to know whether these sites, particularly a lot of the ones at the top of the results for fairly competitive queries, even if they have been there for three to six months or nine months or a year, whether they are using manipulative tactics, then in the future are going to be discounted or lose value.

So, what I want you to do is when you do this, yes, definitely go U-sources, right, Majestic, Yahoo Site Explorer, Open Site Explorer can all show you some of the links that are pointing to these pages that rank really well. But once you have that data, you need to ask yourself who is linking to this and follow some rules. Use this. Imagine me, here I am, look, I am a stick figure. I seem to have lost some weight. I’ve also turned slightly purple or mauve, but imagine me standing there like, "Wait!’ Before you try to get this link, use the smell test." Don’t assume that every link is helping that URL rank there. Be very cautious.

I would encourage you not to use any tactics that don’t have some editorial endorsement behind them. If you are seeing link wheels or churn-style article marketing, that really nasty stuff where someone just publishes a ton of the same article and it is linking back again and again and again, if you are seeing reciprocal link directories on those pages that just have long, long lists of links and they’re trading links back and forth, if you see the "submit your site for $99 to 3000 search engines" kind of listings, all that junky, adds no value, no human being actually says this is a good website, those links in the short term can help some people rank well. But in the long term, they are not going to do anything for you editorial wise. They are not going to send good traffic. They are not going to be an implicit endorsement for your site. They don’t follow any of the good principles of inbound marketing. Therefore, search engines don’t really want to count them. Remember, there are going to be a bunch of Ph.D.s working at Google and at Bing trying to discount those links.

If you need to rank in the short term and you are a churn and burn spammer and you don’t have a really good site and you are just trying to play in the short run, fine, go ahead. But if you are thinking long term and you have a brand website and you are really trying to build up that credibility, you want links that are editorial endorsements.

Then I would also caution you against some common SEO wisdom, which is that, don’t ignore some link sources just because they might not be follow links. There are a lot of good links and good editorial endorsements that do come through no-follow. So, you’ll often see that, hey, this Wikipedia page is the most common one, but a lot of blog comments that the person might have left or some good posts that they put up, some good editorial articles that they’ve written for other people, maybe those links are no-followed because people are worried about search engine spam and SEO spam and that kind of stuff. But, you know what, a lot of those types of endorsements will send good visits. They are editorial. They can pass value, either first-order effect maybe or second-order effect, which is almost certainly the case.

I also check any of those links that are pointing to those top-ranking pages, go make sure that those pages rank well for their keywords. You find a page that is linking to the number one listing and you think, wow, that’s a great place to get a link. I don’t know, it’s going to cost me money or it’s going to cost me a bunch of time or I’m going to have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get it or I need to recommend some content or build some content to be able to get this link. Before you do that, jump through the earlier, easier hoop of figuring out, does that page that is linking here rank well? What about the other pages it links to? Do they rank? If they rank well for their keywords, maybe this is a good legitimate page that Google is counting. Maybe it is worth whatever effort that I need to put into it. If not, mm, questionable. I’d worry about that.

The second thing that I urge you to do when you are doing competitive link research is don’t just pay attention to the links themselves. Those matter. They’re important. You should. But be ready to think outside the box.

Check this out. One of the things that I love to do is not just look at the number one listing, the people who have the perfectly optimized title tag, perfectly optimized meta description, perfectly optimized root domain name, exact match keyword domain. Those folks often tend to be spammy, especially if they’ve got, like, two hyphens in there and a dot info and that kind of stuff, even keyword match, as opposed to the big brands. If you see a big brand ranking and they’re, oh, hey, I know them. I’ve heard of them. They’re a reputable company. Huh, they don’t seem to be doing a whole lot of SEO. The whole listing is barely optimized for the keyword. I wonder how they’re ranking so well. That’s, that’s where you want to earn those links. Who links to those guys? That’s what I would be checking out.

When I do searches and I see that someone is ranking well but has not done a whole lot of on page, doesn’t appear to have done a ton of off page manual link building or link spamming or any of those kinds of things, those are the links that I would be very much checking out.

Then, I also really like to do this. So, this is essentially finding those brands that I think are really good. The brands that are listed in there. Seeing rather than just who is linking to them, who is mentioning them? Who is talking about them? What are the important sources that are citing them? Not necessarily with a link or a follow link. You can search for the brand name minus site colon their domain name (-site:domain name) and click that search and that will bring up a bunch of listings of places that talk about that brand. The most important places, in fact, in order, in Google’s opinion, of who is talking about that brand. It could be profile pages, social profile pages they’ve got, maybe you should get those social profiles. It could be tools that they’ve built, or bloggers they’ve reached out to, or news articles, or journalists, or forums that are discussing them. All of those places are great places to start doing some inbound marketing. You want to participate in those forums. You want to contact those journalists. You want to get the content written that’s going to attract those same types of links. Who mentions them is a really big step.

If you follow this, the link analysis that you’re going to be doing for your SEO is going to be worth a ton more than if you just reverse the backlinks and try to get every one of them, and it is likely going to carry you through in the long term when a lot of these short-term manipulative tactics fall by the wayside.

All right, everyone. I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We will see you again next week. Take care.

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