Saturday, December 14th, 2019

Posted by Geoff Kenyon
Over the past few years, our industry has changed dramatically. We have seen some of the biggest removals of spam from the search results, and a growing number of people are starting to focus on building quality links rather tha…

Posted by Geoff Kenyon

We all want to deliver actionable site audits, but doing the research can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t have a process in place to systematically go through a site. I have created a site audit checklist that will walk you through how to do a site audit. This will work for most sites – in many cases you will need to customize the checklist a bit as some aspects won’t be relevant or are unable to be changed.
 
Make sure to look at really important pages (high priority landing pages, pages with a lot of links, pages flagged by crawl tools, or pages that the client has specifically asked for help with) in addition to the template pages.
 
At the end of your audit, don’t write a document that says what’s wrong with the website. Instead, create a document that says what needs to be done. Then explain why these actions need to be taken and why they are important. What seems to be really helpful is to provide a prioritized list along with your document of all the actions that you would like them to implement. This list can be handed off to a dev or content team to be implemented easily. These teams can refer to your more thorough document as needed.
 

Quick Overview

Check BoxCheck indexed pages  
  • Do a site: search
  • How many pages are returned (this can be way off so don’t put too much stock in this)?
  • Is the homepage showing up as the first result?
  • If the homepage isn’t showing up as the first result, there could be issues, like a penalty or poor site architecture/internal linking, affecting the site.

Check BoxSearch for the brand and branded terms

  • Is the homepage showing up at the top, or are correct pages showing up.
  • If the proper pages aren’t showing up as the first result, there could be issues, like a penalty, in play.
Check BoxCheck Google’s cache for key pages
  • Is the content showing up?
  • Are navigation links present?
  • Are there links that aren’t visible on the site?
PRO Tip:
Don’t forget to check the text only version of the cached page.

Content

Check BoxHomepage content
  • Does the homepage have at least one paragraph?
Check BoxLanding pages
  • Do these pages have at least a few paragraphs?
  • Is it template text or is it completely unique?
Check BoxSite contains real and substantial content
  • Is there real content on the site or is the “content” simply a list of links.
Check BoxProper keyword targeting
  • Is the intent right?
  • Are there pages targeting head terms, mid-tail, and long-tail keywords?
Check BoxKeyword cannibalization
  • Do a site: search Google for important keyword phrases.
  • Check for duplicate content/page titles in the SEOmoz Pro Campaign App.
Check BoxFormatting
  • Is the content formatted well and easy to read quickly?
  • Are H tags used?
  • Are images used?
  • Is the text broken down into easy to read paragraphs?
Check BoxGood Headlines on Blog Posts
  • Good headlines go a long way. Make sure the headlines are well written and draw users in.
Check BoxAmount of content v ads
  • Since the implementation of Panda, the amount of ad-space on a page has become important to evaluate.
  • Make sure there is significant unique content above the fold.
  • If you have more ads than unique content, you are probably going to have a problem.

 

Duplicate Content

Check BoxThere should be one URL for each piece of content
  • Do URLs include parameters or tracking code – This will result in multiple URLs for a piece of content.
  • Does the same content reside on completely different URLs?
Pro Tip:
Exclude common parameters, such as those used to designate tracking code, in Google Webmaster Tools. Read more at Search Engine Land.
Check BoxDo a search to check for duplicate content
  • Take a content snippet, put it in quotes and search for it.
  • Does the content show up elsewhere on the domain?
  • Has it been scraped? – If the content has been scraped, you should file a content removal request with Google.
Check BoxSub-domain duplicate content
  • Does the same content exist on different sub-domains?
Check BoxCheck for a secure version of the site
  • Does the content exist on a secure version of the site?
Check BoxCheck other sites owned by the company
  • Is the content replicated on other domains owned by the company?

Accessibility

Check BoxCheck the robots.txt
  • Has the entire site, or important content been blocked? Is link equity being orphaned due to pages being blocked via the robots.txt?
Check BoxTurn off JavaScript, cookies, and CSS
Check BoxNow change your user agent to Googlebot.
PRO Tip:
Use SEO Browser to do a quick spot check.
Check BoxCheck the SEOmoz PRO Campaign
  • Check for 4xx errors and 5xx errors.

Site Architecture

Check BoxHierarchy
  • Are category pages set up in the appropriate way to flow link equity to key pages?
Check BoxLanding pages
  • Do they have landing pages high enough in the architecture to receive enough link equity to compete for competitive terms?
Check BoxNumber of category pages
  • How many category pages are there?
  • Have they been scaled out too much?
  • Category pages should be built out only when there is enough demand for new or sub category pages.
Check BoxPagination/Faceted Navigation
  • Is pagination or faceted navigation more appropriate? Or, should they be used in tandem?
  • Does pagination exist to help long tail content get indexed?
  • Is the pagination prohibitive to crawling (uses JavaScript).
Check BoxNumber of clicks to content
  • Pages targeting really competitive head terms should be one or two clicks from the homepage.
  • Pages targeting moderately competitive keywords should be 2 or three clicks from the homepage.
  • Pages targeting the long tail should be 5 clicks away (obviously exceptions must be made here for sites with a ton of content).
Check BoxPrioritized content
  • Most important content should be higher up in the pagination

Technical Issues

Check BoxProper use of 301’s
  • Are 301’s being used for all redirects?
  • If the root is being directed to a landing page, are they using a 301 instead of a 302?
  • Use Live HTTP Headers FireFox plugin to check 301s.
Check BoxUse of JavaScript
  • Is content being served in JavaScript?
  • Are links being served in JavaScript? Is this to do PR sculpting or is it accidental?
Check BoxUse of iframes
  • Is content being pulled in via iframes?
Check BoxUse of Flash
  • Is the entire site done in flash, or is flash used sparingly in a way that doesn’t hinder crawling?
PRO Tip:
Flash is like garlic. A little bit of garlic in your food can make it taste better. Eating a plate full of garlic would be quite terrible. Likewise, Flash can be added to a site in a way that improves the user’s experience, but creating the entire site in flash is not a good idea.
Check BoxSite Speed
Check BoxAlt text
  • Is alt text present?
  • Does the alt text use keyword phrases?
  • Does the alt text reinforce the topical themes presented in the content?
Check BoxCheck for Errors in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Google WMT will give you a good list of technical problems showing up on your site that they are encountering (such as: 4xx and 5xx errors, inaccessible pages in the XML sitemap, and soft 404′s)

Canonicalization

Check BoxCanonical version of the site established through 301’s
 
Check BoxCanonical version of site is specified in Google Webmaster Tools
 
Check BoxRel canonical link tag is properly implemented across the site
Check BoxUses absolute URLs instead of relative URLs
  • This can cause a lot of problems if you have a root domain with secure sections.

URLs

Check BoxClean URLs
  • No excessive parameters or session ID’s
  • URLs exposed to search engines should be static.
Check BoxShort URLs
  • 115 characters or shorter – this character limit isn’t set in stone, but shorter URLs are better for usability.
Check BoxDescriptive URLs
  • Get your primary keyword phrase in there.

Internal Linking

Check BoxNumber of links on a page
Check BoxVertical Links
  • Homepage links to category pages.
  • Category pages link to sub-category and product pages as appropriate.
  • Product pages link to relevant category pages.
Check BoxHorizontal Links
  • Category pages link to other relevant category pages.
  • Product pages link to other relevant product pages.
Check BoxLinks are in content
  • Does not utilize massive blocks of links stuck in the content to do internal linking.
Check BoxFooter links
  • Does not use a block of footer links instead of proper navigation.
  • Does not link to landing pages with optimized anchors.
Check BoxGood internal anchor text
 
Check BoxCheck for broken links
  • Link Checker and Xenu are good tools for this.

Title Tags

Check BoxUnique title tags
  • Every page should have a unique title tag.
Check BoxKeyword rich
  • Pages should contain the primary keyword phrase.
  • Is possible to use the secondary keyword phrase in a non spammy way?
Check BoxPrimary keyword phrase at the beginning of the title tag
 
Check BoxPage titles include branding
  • In most cases the brand should be included at the end of the page title to help build a brand or entice users if you are a well known brand
Check Box65 – 70 characters in length
  • If the title is longer than this, the entirety will not be displayed in the SERPs.
Check BoxHave they been keyword stuffed by someone else?
 

Meta Tags

Check BoxMeta keywords tag used
  • This data should be removed as competitors can scrape this data.
Check BoxMeta description is appropriate
  • Each page has a unique meta description.
  • Meta descriptions are representative of the content and entice users.
Check BoxRewrite meta descriptions for key pages
  • For key landing pages, write meta descriptions by hand instead of systemically implementing.
Check BoxMeta robots tag
  • Noindex pages only appropriate pages.
  • Not blocking important pages.
 

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Posted by Geoff Kenyon

 As increasing number of searches have local intent behind them, Google is showing Places listings in many more SERPs. This presents an opportunity to either gain a spot on the first page for many businesses or to gain more space on the first page for companies already ranking on the first page. Here are five things that I’ve seen impact rankings in Google Places.

Completeness & Consistency

There are several fields to fill out when creating or editing and some of them may not seem like they are really necessary. Google wants to give users the best experience possible; in most circumstances the user will have a better experience if there is more information present on the Places page. This means not only filling out the required text fields but also the optional ones:
 
  • Email address
  • Website
  • Description
  • Categories
Further, you should make sure the hours are accurate, that you have filled out additional details, as well as uploading photos and videos of your business. While these may seem auxiliary, they all count towards profile completeness and should be submitted. When filling out your profile, be as thorough as possible, doing much more than the minimum required.
 
Think about it like being back in in school and writing a paper; you’ll pass doing the minimum set forth but a little extra effort can go a long way. Don’t fill out some of the extra details, fill them all out; and don’t just add one photo, add several photos.
 
 
Additionally, it is important to make sure that this information is consistent across all your different citations. Accuracy across all, or almost all, citation sources helps associate trust with a Places page. If you are looking for citation sources, Get Listed has a good overview of local citation sources.
 

Keywords

As with traditional SEO, having your keywords in the right places is important for ranking while stuffing keywords in the wrong places will make you look like a spammer. Avoid placing your keywords in the business name (unless the keyword is part of your business name) and the business categories. Both of these will bring the wrath of Google upon you and end up with your Places page removed.
 
Do make an effort to strategically use your keywords in your description. Don’t keyword stuff, but word your description carefully and use your primary keyword phrases.
 

Service Area

Specifying a service area is a great idea for many businesses that come to you such as tutors, maids, and handymen. If you are unfamiliar with the service area option, it is simply being able to set an area that your business serves rather than specifying an address for your company; it will show up on the map as a circle rather than a pinpoint. The problem is that we have seen a decrease in rankings when businesses have selected to display a service area rather than their business location. While I hope this is something that Google changes in the future and it becomes a viable option for business, but in the meantime, stay away from the service area feature.
 
 

Encouraging Reviews

Reviews are one of the best ways to increase your local search rankings but good reviews can be difficult to come by as it seems the only folks motivated to write up a review feel they have been treated unfairly. While you can’t incentivize reviews (Google calls this a conflict of interest), you might try some of the following:
 
  • Send a message to your Facebook fans or email list and ask them to leave a review at your Google Place page
  • If you send out follow up, or reminder, post cards (such as many dentists) incorporate a call to action to review your business
  • Put a call to action (and link) asking for a review on your web site
  • Display a sign by your cash register or hand them a flier with their receipt asking for a review

Make sure to make the process as easy as possible, provide a link to your Places page and give detailed instructions on what they need to do leave a review.

Bulk Uploads

While the idea of bulk uploads, creating multiple places pages (10+) at a time by uploading a data file to Google, is a godsend for many companies with franchises or several locations, it can be a long process to get the listings approved. There are a few things you should keep in mind when you are doing a bulk upload:
 
Brand Name in the Title
While this might be the only option for companies like Pagliacci Pizza, a Seattle Pizza chain, where all of the locations have the same name, some businesses have names that vary by the individual performing the work or by the location (such as West Coast Athletic Clubs, which own several athletic clubs operated under different names). For businesses doing an upload for branches with different names, make sure the parent company name is incorporated
 
Aggressive Keyword Placement
Putting keywords in places they don’t belong, such as the business name, categories, or keyword stuffing the description, is a surefire way to get your entire bulk upload denied. If you have a lot of different listings always err on the side of caution here.
 
Unique New York
If all of your listings have the same contact information, you are going to run into trouble. Make sure that all of these listings are as unique, differentiated, and complete as possible. In particular, make sure that the following are all different:
 
  • Phone numbers (and make sure they are a local area code)
  • Contact emails
  • Addresses (this should be a no-brainer)
  • Description – make this unique to the location
  • Categories/extra fields – if anything varies by location, you should note it.
  • Website – if you have different URLs for different locations, use the specific URL for the location instead of the root (don’t worry, only the root will be displayed).
 After you have gone through all of the work to create good listings, don’t forget you need to verify your listings.
 
Please share any tips for local search that you’ve learned in the comments.
 
If you want to learn more about local SEO, I recommend the following these folks on twitter and reading their blogs:
 
 
Other Local Resources:
 

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Posted by Geoff Kenyon

When Google made their “page speed is now a ranking factor” announcement, it wasn’t a significant new ranking factor, but it is significant because it means Google wants to use usability metrics to help rank pages. Your site speed should be a priority as slow sites decrease customer satisfaction and research has shown that an improvement in site speed can increase conversions.

To better understand how fast the web is (as of February 2011), I collected site speed data from approximately 100 different sites. This data allowed me to create a very close approximation of the equation that Google currently uses to report (in Webmaster Tools) how fast sites are relative to each other:

y = 122.32e-0.31x
 
In this equation, x is the time it takes your page to load (in seconds) and the result, y is approximately the percent of pages that your page is faster than. If you grab your load time from Google Webmaster Tools, you can use this equation to gauge how fast you are compared to the rest of the web. If you don’t want to bust out your calculator, grab this spreadsheet and use the calculator I set up.This equation is charted in the graph below.

site speed load equation

The x axis in this graph shows the page load time (in seconds) and the y axis represents the per cent of sites that the corresponding time is faster than. So if a page loads in 4.3 seconds, it is faster than 31% of other pages on the web.

This data set allowed me to view the following data points:
 
  • If your site loads in 5 seconds it is faster than approximately 25% of the web
  • If your site loads in 2.9 seconds it is faster than approximately 50% of the web
  • If your site loads in 1.7 seconds it is faster than approximately 75% of the web
  • If your site loads in 0.8 seconds it is faster than approximately 94% of the web
So now that you can test how you stack up to the rest of the web, the next question becomes how do you compare to your competitors. You can check this pretty easily a couple different ways. Web Page Test is a good web interface you can use to check page speed and Show Slow has automated tracking tools that let you continually monitor pages. I really like using Web Page Test as you can set the location to San Jose (fairly close to Mountain View).
 

How Important is Site Speed?

My interpretation of what Google has said
At this point, the question becomes how important is load time. While increasing your site speed is really important and should be done for the user’s experience, it can also improve your conversion rate, this section will only look at how page speed affects SEO.
 
If we look at Google’s official blog post announcing site speed as a factor, we read:
 
“While site speed is a new signal, it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal”
 
I think this means that site speed will affect only queries where other ranking signals are very close or when the load time is exceptionally poor. If competing pages have high relevancy scores and close link metrics (which isn’t probable), page speed may come into play. Additionally, I believe that site speed could negatively hurt you if your page takes an excruciatingly painful amount of time to load.
 
Matt Cutts was nice enough to blog about this topic when he was on vacation and added onto the above statement with:
“That means that even fewer search results are affected, since the average search query is returning 10 or so search results on each page.”
 
Basically, this isn’t going to shake up the top ten; when it is seen, it will probably be seen in keywords ranking much lower than the top ten.
 

My Unscientific Experiment

I decided to do a bit of unscientific research, I took a few of the most popular search terms for 2010 (iPad, chatroulette, free, Justin Bieber) as well as two keywords that get a lot of link love (here, home) and collected the load time for the top 20 results of each keyword. The data ranged from 1.062 to 58.881 seconds.
speed of search results
 
As you can see in the above chart, there are some REALLY slow sites ranking in the top 20. I wanted to see if these sites just happened to be running slow at the time or if a second measurement would show that the slow sites are really faster. A week after I took the original measurements, I re-timed any page with a time over 15 seconds (which totaled 18 pages). While some sites showed significant variance the majority did not change that much. The average change was an improvement of 1.72 seconds, or 4%.
 
The average site speed for the 120 different results was 9.58 seconds while the standard deviation for this data set was 9.86 seconds.
site speed distribution
 
According to the normalized distribution (as well as simply looking at the data), you are categorically slow if your page takes more than 19.44 seconds to load as only 15.86% of sites in the top 20 results from this sample were slower than this. Using the site speed equation described earlier, if your site takes 19.45 seconds to load, you are only faster than 0.3% of the web.
 

How to Improve Your Site Speed

If you want to improve your SEO, I would suggest building a link instead of focusing on speed (unless your site is currently extremely slow). That said, speed is a metric you should be trying to improve in order to improve the overall user experience. To decrease your load time, there are a few best practices you should follow:
  • Minimize HTTP Requests – Your pages will load faster if they have to wait for fewer HTTP requests. This means reducing the number of items that need to be loaded, such as scripts, style sheets, and images.
  • Combine all of your CSS into an external file and link to it from the <head> section each page instead of loading it in the HTML of a page. This allows the external page to be cached so that it loads faster. JavaScript should be handled in a similar fashion as CSS.
  • Use CSS sprites whenever possible – This combines images used in the background into one image and reduces the number of HTTP requests made.
  • Make sure your images are optimized for the web – If you have Photoshop, this can be done by simply clicking “save for web” instead of “save”. By optimizing the formats of the images you are essentially formatting the images in a smarter way so that you end up with a smaller file size. Smashing Magazine has a nice article on optimizing png images.
  • Use server side caching – This creates a html page for a URL so that dynamic sites don’t have to build a page each time that URL is requested.
  • Use Gzip – Gzip will significantly compress the size of the page sent to the browser which then uncompresses the information and displays it for the user. Many sites who use Gzip are able to reduce the file size by upwards of 70%. You can see if sites are using Gzip and how much the page has been compressed by using GID Zip Test.
  • Use a Content Delivery Network – Using a CDN allow your users to download information in parallel, helping your site to load faster. CDNs are becoming increasingly affordable with services like Amazon CloudFront.
  • Reduce 301 Redirects – Don’t use 301 redirects if possible; definitely don’t stack 301’s on top of each other. 301 redirects force the browser to a new URL and require the browser to wait for the HTTP request to come back.

If you want to do further research on improving your site speed, Google has a good list of helpful articles for optimizing your page speed here that are much more in-depth than the above suggestions. To get suggestions specific to your website, tools like YSLOW and the HTML suggestions in Google Webmaster Tools are great resources.

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Posted by Geoff Kenyon

If you make frequent updates to your site, it is easy for mistakes to have a big impact on your SEO. Sometimes page titles will contain only the company name, the noindex tag gets carried over from the test environment, or you might find that all internal links within a specific category are nofollowed. Mistakes happen but integrating SEO into the project process can eliminate many of these problems and help you discover mistakes sooner rather than later. 

There are four basic checkpoints where SEO should be integrated into the project process: the idea and planning phase, wire framing, dev review, and when a project goes live. While having those checkpoints is a good starting place, the optimal solution is to have an SEO on the project team, or meet regularly with the project team. Giving SEO advice throughout the entire project process is more efficient than having check points where you tell people to fix problems as continual input helps get the project done correctly the first time around.

Idea & Planning Phase

It is really important for you, the SEO, to get involved at this stage; it will help set the expectations for the rest of the project. Whether you are rolling out a new feature, redesigning your site, or simply adding some new content, there is a lot you can contribute to this phase of the project as you have an SEO mindset. Is there a clearly defined target audience that well benefit from this project? Will the project appeal to the Linkerati? If there is a "business development" project or "partnership" with other companies or sites, and how can you leverage this for SEO benefit?

The planning phase is a good point to go over some SEO best practices, if you haven’t already done so with the project team. Providing everyone involved on the project with a quick SEO checklist to use during the project can be a good way to remind people of all they need to take into consideration.

Wireframes

In the wireframes stage, you want to review the wireframes before they are handed off to designers or developers and make sure that SEO best practices are noted in the wireframes. It is a lot easier to change a note on a wireframe than to change an H3 to an H1 after the developers have created everything. Hopefully you have been able to work with the team and give input on the project so everyone is aware of the SEO elements that need to be noted on the wireframe. It can be a good idea to create a list of SEO elements that should be included in wireframes.

in-house seo

Before you sign off on the wireframes, you want to make sure that all the notations needed for the developers to correctly set up the page are included. This means specifying the page title, URL, H1 (and only one H1), the meta description, JavaScript shouldn’t be used for pagination, analytics tracking code is present, etc. This helps eliminate the need for developers to go back and fix problems. It will save them time and prevent you from getting stared down in the hallways.

It can be really helpful to have a quick meeting with the lead developer before the project gets passed off to them. As time can be a big issue facing projects, developers can have great ideas on how to slightly change a project and significantly cut down on the time estimate or ways to improve the project in general. While they might be pulled into a more inclusive meeting to go over the entire project, it can be beneficial to have a quick five minute meeting and run through the SEO elements. Keep it short though, both of your time is valuable. If the developer working on your project doesn’t know much about SEO, you might want to refer them to the Beginner’s Guide to SEO or the Web Developer’s Cheat Sheet.

Dev Review

This step is pretty straight forward; you are going to want to review the project while it is on a dev server before it is released into the wild. You are checking that everything on your SEO checklist is implemented (where appropriate) and the SEO elements from the wireframes are present. It’s important to note that depending on how the dev environment is set up, it might not be possible to verify some elements such as a noindex,nofollow on all pages related to the project. When this happens, make sure to confirm with the developer that this is due to the dev environment and cannot be tested – you just have to take their word here. That said, when things can’t be tested it’s usually a good idea to get this confirmation via email (and get documentation).

If there are some issues that need to be fixed, go back to the developer with good documentation. Sometimes a well labeled picture is worth a thousand words, but it is still good to have a really clear description. If the developer stays in late or comes in early, it might be a good idea to say thank you with a six pack or a breakfast burrito.

Live

When the project goes live, it should be checked once more against your SEO checklist and site wide best practices, making sure that there aren’t any issues with the project that could negatively affect your SEO. This step is really important because even if everything is correct in the dev environment, things can get changed when deploying live. If you are able to catch problems right when the site is updated, the build can be rolled back and, in most cases, prevent a lot of SEO problems.

It is important to go through the entire checklist, and check all projects when a build goes live. While the projects that you were involved with may be good to go, a smaller project, which you weren’t involved in, may be included in the build and cause problems. This step becomes really important when there are multiple dev environments.

Training

Integrating SEO into the project process is really important for big sites and sites with frequent updates as they can help improve the overall optimization of a site as well as catch errors, but shouldn’t replace education and training. Everyone who is touching code or running projects on your site should have at least a basic understanding of how SEO works. This means that as the in-house SEO, you need to provide training for your team members.  Training developers and marketers will help reduce your SEO workload as people understand SEO concepts instead of simply following the “SEO rules” you have set out for them.

Another helpful tactic is to create SEO policies or an internal SEO guide based on your company’s SEO best practices and making it available on a wiki or intranet. This is really valuable as people can simply go to a wiki or document on the server and make sure that the project complies with the internal SEO best practices. When everyone is educated and can verify their projects against standards, there will be less work that needs to be redone for SEO reasons and there shouldn’t be surprises when a project goes through the SEO checkpoints.

Have a question? Drop me a line in the comments or follow me on twitter and ask away.

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Posted by Geoff Kenyon

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Building links is widely regarded as one of the most difficult and time consuming aspects of SEO. If you have a community centric site, you should spend some of your time allocated for link building on creating features that will get your users to do your link building for you.  Implementing these community link building features can result in a scalable flow of links to your site.

Profiles

If you give users a self-serving reason to link to their profile, they will be much more likely to link to it. Turn the profile into a portfolio; use a member’s profile to show off their achievements and their top contributions to the site.  Double up the incentive and enable members to be freelance through the site – have a “hire me” button on their profile. Something like this would work well for sponsorship sites like Hookit, which has done this well (image from a hookit profile below), putting a "Sponsor Me" button bellow the name and profile shot of each athlete. 

Sharing Call To Actions

While this is pretty basic, there are many sites that do not ask users to share their content in any visible way. This can be as simple as adding buttons to share the content in a ribbon at the end of content or in a sidebar.  Be careful not to go overboard on the buttons though.  While your users may be on many different networks, poppularity of these networks tends to follow the Pareto Principle, where 20% of networks receive 80% of your users’ submissions and attention.

CNET Sharing Bar

Sharing your content doesn’t guarantee links as social links are often nofollowed, but social is thought, by some, to be a factor in the ranking algorithm so encouraging users to share shouldn’t be neglected.

Voting Content Helpful

Do you enable users to vote content up or down? What do you do with it after it’s been voted helpful? When a user votes something up, it means they think the content is good content but they may not be thinking of sharing.  You can remind them with an async overlay that appears after voting up. This could easily become annoying, and cause people to stop voting content helpful so it might be a good idea to only do this only one out of every seven or ten times. An easier implementation of this is putting the Facebook “like” button on your site as “liking” content automatically publishes it to your wall.

Cheap MTB

Promote Controversial Content

Content that gets people riled up also has a tendancy to get a lot of links. Look at Derek Powazek’s rant on how SEO’s are a bunch of Spammers. Everyone reading the SEOmoz Blog would probably agree that Derek’s rant isn’t valid, but he got a lot of links out of it. Open Site Explorer reports 2,374 links from 423 root domains – some of them from really strong sites like Search Engine Land and Newsvine. Mission Accomplished. Regardless of whether he wrote this as link bait, it became link bait. If there are controversial threads on your site, promote them like crazy. Try and stir up that hornet’s nest and see what happens.

Derek Powazek

One really easy way to keep these threads/posts going is to promote the most active discussions in the sidebar or at the bottom of other threads. There are a lot of "top discussions" plugins that will highlight content so that you don’t have to worry about manually promoting controversial content. That said, if you do notice controversial content, it would probably be smart to promote it in other ways such on Twitter.

Awesome Community Badges

If you have a strong community that loves you, create badges for the community and make a big deal out of them when you release them. Sometimes you can get multiple links out out these badges, but you need to be really careful about how you go about this. I would suggest reading the Unofficial Google Widget Bait Guidelines and Widgetbait Gone Wild.  SEOmoz did a great job with their badges and has received links from 485 different root domains with the alt text: i <3 seomoz. Feels good to be loved.

SEO moz Badges

<a href="http://www.seomoz.org"><img src="http://www.seomoz.org/img/i-heart-seomoz.png" alt="I &lt;3 SEO moz" /></a>

Ego Boosting User Centric Badges

In addition to creating badges highlighting the community, you should create badges that are focused on the users and their achievements. This will play to the ego of your community members so these badges should really hype up how awesome your users are. Give your users the ability to “level up” and then graphically distinguish between levels of users on the badges; this gives users a) pride in their accomplishments and b) motivation to contribute more to the community. Experts-Exchange has done a great job creating badges, shown below, that show off a users’s accomplishments. In the badge below, you can see the user’s top categories, how many questions they have answered, how many articles they have written, and how many points they have.

Experts Exchange

Email Users at Critical Points

What the critical points of interaction for your site? When a users registers, contributes content, “levels up”, when the user’s content is voted up, and when users’ content is promoted by staff are some of critical action points that many community sites have in common. Identify which points of contact are critical for your site, then email users at these points and ask them to share either the site or what they have just done. For example, if a user’s review is going to be promoted on the front page or on a popular category page, email the user and let them know that they created something great and that their review is going to be promoted. Encourage the user to tell their friends about their review being promoted on the homepage.

When users register, collect their Twitter names. When their content is being promoted, as in the situation above, you should tweet about it. SEOmoz does a good job of this; when a user’s content is published on YOUmoz, SEOmoz tweets it and includes the @username.

Embed Photos

Like videos, photos are shared frequently; the catch is that most sites that host their own videos offer you the ability to embed the video. Most sites that offer photo galleries don’t offer this option. Sites like Pink Bike could stand to benefit from this by having code to “embed this image” below the photo with a couple different sizing options. This is applicable to any site, not just sites offering galleries; if you allow users to upload images to a forum or for a review, you should enable and encourage users to embed the image. Rand did a great Whiteboard Friday on Linkbuilding Through Embedded Content. There are so many opportunities to leverage embedded content, most sites could find a way to build links through embedding content. This is an example of how photo galleries should incorporate this:

 

Create a Leaderboard

Stroke your top contributors’ egos a bit; dedicate a page to your top users and make sure they know about it so that they can promote it on their own blogs. While a lot of sites do this, I think Medpedia Answers does an especially good job. They provide the avatar and name of the contributor, how many point they have, qualifications and accomplishments, and they link to each members profile and another page with their answers. Medpedia, a medical Q&A site has done a good job recognizing their top users, below is part of their leaderboard.

Combining Tactics FTW!  Creating a leaderboard can help you get links, but people might not think to link to it on their own, but with a little encouragement…it could become awesome. When users make it onto this list, they should be informed that they made it on to the list of top contributors. Email them. They can again be notified once they have cracked the top 10, top 5, and 1st place. In the notification email, give them the URL and tell them they should share it with their friends. You could also include a special badge for top contributors (with a rank number) that communicates their accomplishment. Leaderbeard, Email, Sharing, Badges. Double Rainbow.

Interview Top Users

The key to interviewing members is to promote it well. If you prominently position the interview on the site, the contributor will be more likely to feel a sense of accomplishment about the interview, as the article will inherently get more attention because of its prominence. Since they feel proud of their interview, the user is likely to blog about the interview (maybe having an active blog could be a screening requirement for choosing interviewees).

Interviewing experts is often a way to get links as these experts will want to mention these interviews either on their blog or on Twitter. Take this concept and apply it to your users with blogs and strong social media accounts.

What is really important is to always publish interviews to the same URL and make sure that this is the URL that you share with the user, for example: domain.com/user-interview/. When you have a new interview to publish, simply move the old interview to a different location (domain.com/user-interview/username-date.html) and keep the links concentrated on the interview page.

Syndicate Your Content

There are a lot of sites that are hungry for content and would be willing to feature some of your content with an attribution link. If there is a popular news site in your industry, you could ask them if they would be interested in featuring a weekly article, review, blog, photo… that they could feature on their site. Make sure you get attribution links out of it though. An example of a good attribution line would be: How to Fight Bears (link) is part of a weekly series by Adrenaline Adventures (link).

To get users to syndicate your content, offer them custom widgets that could be easily placed on their site or blog. The widget could highlight their recent contributions to the community. This widget would act like an RSS feed that would sit in a user’s sidebar. This Whiteboard Friday is a good resource if you are looking to learn more about syndicating content.

Ask Your Community to Help Grow the Site

If you have a strong bond with your community, explain the basics of SEO to them and ask them to help you out. You can ask them to link to your site and share the content through social media. If you are feeling bold, you can even ask them to link to you using your keywords as anchor text. It is really important when you are directly asking your community to help you with SEO is that you emphasize how this will help the community and how it will help the user who links to the site. Etsy does a great job of explaining what SEO is and how their community members can help to optimize their contributions.

Having a page about helping a new site grow isn’t that uncommon. On these pages, sites will often ask users to link to the community and offer the user badges they can put on their site to show their support. BallHyped, a new sports community, has done a great job of asking people to link to them by putting an emphasis on it being beneficial for the user and the community. As a result, they are having success getting users to support their site with their “Vote For Me” badges (shown below).

ball hype badges

 

While not all of the strategies in this blog post will work great for every site, there should be at least a few that will work for most sites. I hope you are able to apply some of these and have your community bear some of your link building burden. How do you get your community to build links for you? Let me know in the comments.

 

Hi everyone, my name is Geoff Kenyon and I recently joined Distilled as an SEO Consultant. This is my first post on the SEOmoz blog, but you can expect to see me writing here and on the Distilled Blog. If you have questions or want to say hi, hit me up on twitter @geoffkenyon.

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