Do bad links still work?

I’m not going to get into what makes a good or bad link in this post, lets just say by bad links I mean blog networks, obviously paid links, forum spam and pretty much all the stuff the majority of SEOs would hammer up until 2012/2013.

Recently I’ve seen a surge in tactics that were used over a decade ago, paid blog posts on barely readable websites and even whole networks reappearing to support low level cheap links. I’ve seen some that seem to be working effectively, developing top rankings in a very short space of time. However, is that it? Are these sort of tactics back in?

Probably should clarify at this point, connective3 don’t engage in these tactics, we don’t feel we need to as we can deliver quality and quantity without it; however I know lots of businesses and agencies still do. I make no judgement, I believe there are some pretty serious risks, but if both agency and client are transparent about it, best of luck.

I’ve been following a handful of businesses that were seemingly benefiting from these tactics, building a lot of links, fast, not necessarily using anchor text but across blog networks, forums and paid advertorials. (If you’ve worked in SEO spotting a paid/spam link isn’t hard).

Below is an example of one such site:-

As you can see there was a huge spike in visibility as these tactics started to kick in, around March 2018. However, by November the same year rankings started to decline massively, pretty much inline with Google’s core update. I know from speaking with the business that they panicked and tried to build even more links at this point using the same tactics. This produced a small increase but by April they were in the same position falling away again.

What’s interesting in April 2019 they tried to do it again, an influx of new links but using the same paid blog posts, blog network and forum strategies. This time the links just didn’t stick, even though they were on completely new websites/IPs. It’s almost like Google has got on top of it or decided this site won’t have links counted for a while based on quality.

This isn’t out of the ordinary, we’ve seen it across 4-5 different websites using similar tactics. 6-month spike in performance followed by a complete flat line. It’s for this reason I could never recommend this style of link building anymore, especially when digital PR and content marketing talent is so strong.

I have no doubt Google can still be manipulated, but I’m not seeing any longevity from it at all. Happy to see/hear otherwise though, and would love to hear from others with their opinions on this.

For many marketers link building is a necessary evil that they have to undertake in order to increase their organic visibility.

Link building, if we like it or not, is around to stay for the foreseeable future so brands need to prepare (even in challenging times like today).

I have worked agency side for eight years and in that time have worked with hundreds of clients. There are several key challenges I hear from clients before launching link building campaigns, these are the time required to launch the campaign is limited, the budget isn’t big enough (to build the campaigns), or they think that their brand is not ‘newsworthy’.

To address the last point on how ‘newsworthy’ a campaign is, I would like to say on record that any brand, working in any industry can build links – check out my interview on building links in hard to market industries for some inspiration.

When we address the challenge over time and money its worth noting that not every digital PR campaign needs to cost the world, in fact there are things you can do without any budget which will deliver you high authority links. I have detailed down five of these tactics below:

1. Newsjacking

“Newsjacking is the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.”

– David Meerman Scott

Not every brand can newsjack, however for the majority of brands this is a legitimate tactic that should be used to gain high-tier, national relevant links.

Put simply, if you have an opinion on a planned topic or a breaking news story you could send it to journalists covering that topic and gain links back to your site.

You will need a spokesperson and some time to read the daily news, but that’s it! A great example of how a brand adopted this tactic and picked up some seriously good links (and visibility) was money.co.uk

Using their spokesperson they worked with the media on relevant topics such as house prices, Brexit and company updates to give the media and customers an insight into how these updates will impact consumer finances. Some examples of these links can be seen below:

https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/whats-on/shopping/expert-says-debenhams-not-putting-2615161

https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/breaking-honda-set-close-entire-14015449

2. Unlinked Mentions

Unlinked mentions happen naturally as a journalist will often mention your brand without even considering a link.

As SEO’s we would love every mention to be linked, however we need to be aware that this won’t always be the case.

However if you do see an unlinked mention (about your brand) it may be worth asking the journalists to link to a relevant resource on your site.

Please note that you should never demand a link, ask for a link from a negative article, or ask when the link wouldn’t add any value. All in all it just takes common sense to work out which unlinked mentions could actually be turned into links.

The easiest way to find unlinked mentions is to:

  1. Set up alerts (via Google, Buzzsumo, ect…)
  2. Search Google for mentions of your brand. The best way to do this is to use search operators. For example if I was looking for mentions of connective3 I would need to ask Google to show me who, other than myself, has talked about the site. You can do this by running a search query [“connective3” -site:connective3.com]

This will show mentions of your brand but exclude your brand URL from the SERPs. Always make sure the mentions you are chasing are recent (you can do this by changing the date range within Google Search).

More information on how to find links can be seen at my recent post here.

3. Charity work or partnerships

Most brands have newsworthy content that they may not be aware of.

For example do you have a chosen charity? If so have you considered sending your charity news updates to sites such as fundraising.co.uk?  Or how about working with the charity itself and gaining links with their press office?

Or do you have partnerships/sponsorships? If so you should definitely be negotiating links on their sites as part of any contract agreement.

I understand this is not possible for all brands but for many it’s a quick win.

4. Local stores

I’ll caveat this point as this point only applies to brands with a store presence. f you work in a business that does not have brick and mortar stores you should probably move on to the next section 😊

If you do have physical locations then this tactic is a must for you.

Imagine you own a shop in a shopping centre, all you have to do to build links in this instance is contact the shopping centre website and ask for a link to the relevant store page.

Or imagine you own multiple entertainment outlets such as Bingo halls – you should certainly be working with local visitor sites such as Visit York or Visit Manchester (or the relevant local sites) to build links with them/

These sites will deliver high quality relevant links and support your local strategy. In fact, I previously did this for a client of mine and gained 60 links with no campaign.

5. Interviews and thought leaders

Everyone loves the limelight right? Well maybe not, but many people do so why not give it to them?

Your business is most likely filled with experts working in different fields such as HR, marketing, finance etc.

Well my link hungry friends, there is a wealth of really good sites that accept interview and thought leadership articles with these experts. Sites such as https://realbusiness.co.uk/ and https://www.entrepreneur.com often accept interview or opinion features – so make your colleagues famous and gain links at the same time.

Summary

Link building is hard, and its getting harder. This being said its our job to ensure we make our businesses as ‘digital as possible’ and make every web mention work harder and deliver more than just coverage.

Be creative, talk to different internal teams and I guarantee you will find link opportunities without running content campaigns.

 

In a time of uncertainty amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, what we’re seeing with our ecommerce clients is a big spike in searches for generic product keywords with ‘online’ at the end of the search query as consumers turn their reliance to online retailers.

With this in mind, this blog post will explain how you can reach new customers (who didn’t already know about your products/services) by getting your brand at the forefront of their minds by making your current website content work harder to drive more traffic to your website and ultimately more sales.

Content Relevance

What we often find with new clients who work with us, is that content is rather thin, there’s not enough helpful content or there are too few guides available to capture consumers in the research phase of the buying process. Therefore, what you need to consider is ‘what are the questions consumers are wanting answers to around our product/service?’ and how can we facilitate this by providing the best answers available to get at the forefront of their minds? Google naturally want to rank the best content available on a topic and their core algorithm in a nutshell is largely focussed on this.

Keywords in content

It might sound rather simple, but do your product or service pages include all the relevant keywords that the page deserves to rank for? Are they optimised for search engines, can search engines easily crawl and index this information? If the answer is no, focus on your heading tags. Your H1 tag (often the title of the page) should give search engines an idea of what content it is expecting to crawl and structure your subheadings with relevant h2s, h3s, h4s etc…

Google are a lot better at understanding search intent and semantically relevant keywords, so consider optimising for these types of search query. For example, don’t just focus on the word ‘cheap’ if that’s relevant to your product or service, consider using keywords such as ‘budget’, ‘bargain’, ‘sale’ or ‘low-cost’ in the headings on the page.

On top of your keyword research, look at what keywords your competitors are choosing to target to spot further opportunities you may not have considered.

What information should you include in your content?

If you are struggling to find inspiration on what information to include in your guides there are some great free tools which can provide you with exactly that. Here are some ideas that can point you in the right direction.

This is a great keyword and search query research tool to find all the questions users are searching for around a product/service. Simply enter the topic you want to find questions for and write content which answers that query in your product/service guides.

  • People Also Ask

The PAA SERP feature is essentially gives you topics you may want to include in your product/service guides. Just conduct a Google search of your product/service and you’ll see a list of queries related to that topic which users are searching for. Take this further and click the question which will drop down an answer to the query. That answer should be the benchmark of the quality of the content you produce to better the answer for an opportunity to gain the answer box for the given search query.

This example is for the search query ‘mortgages for first time buyers’ as you can see, there are some examples of the type of things to include in your guide below:

  • Google Keyword Tool

Google’s keyword planner is a great way of discovering keywords related to your product/service which you may want to optimise your content for (along with search volumes). Simply add the keyword (s) your content is focused on and click the ‘keyword ideas’ button.

Internal Linking

A common mistake some clients make is they have great content on the website, but it’s buried deep within the website and search engine bot’s find it hard to crawl and/or index it.

Consider the internal links going to the content you’ve produced and ask yourself the following questions;=-= Are there any? How easily accessible is the content to users first and then to search engines?

There’s no point producing great content if users and search engines can’t find it.

Internal links are the only links a webmaster can manually control so you can be quite strategic in the anchor text you use for internal links pointing your content. Use the keyword research you have conducted and include your most important keywords in the anchor text linking to the page.

As an additional tip, a good and seamless way of internally linking through to content is to add a related articles shelf to the page at the end of your content to keep users on your site and the provide a good user experience to those wishing to read further information. Keeping with the topic of mortgages, this is an example of how moneysupermarket.com do it:

It’s also worth bearing in mind that as this content is likely to bring new users though to your site, you should include product/service page links to more commercial pages where natural, to drive traffic through to product pages and to help convert new users visiting the site.

Whether you love link building or loath it, there’s no denying that finding a new link pointing to your own or your client’s domain is an exhilarating feeling.

At connective3, our digital PR team run multiple link campaigns on a weekly basis. However, 95% of the journalists we email, tweet, or call don’t let us know if they cover the story.

Now, this isn’t a problem, but it certainly does raise one or two challenges.

Firstly, you will want to report on that link and show off the great work you have achieved. Secondly, the journalist may have covered the story with no link and on occasions (if relevant and appropriate) you may want to approach them to see if they will link to your site.

So, what is the best way of finding new backlinks? I have broken down my morning checklist to ensure you are seeing as much of the picture as possible when searching for links:Buzzsumo

1. Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo is a great tool which allows users to input keywords and discover the top performing content surrounding your chosen keywords.

Buzzsumo also has a link index feature which allows you to look for new links pointing to a domain in the past 24 hours, the past week, 6-month, 1 year and 2 years.

Make sure you check this everyday to see new links pointing to your domain.

P.S also set up Buzzsumo alerts to receive emails every time a site mentions your client

Ahrefs logo

2. Ahrefs

Ahrefs is a more complex SEO tool showing everything from organic visibility, top performing content and offering gap analysis.

Similar to Buzzsumo, Ahrefs has an impressive link index allowing you to see new links pointing to a chosen site or page.

 

3. Google Search operators

Going back to basics is sometimes the best option. Using manual searches in Google will bring up any new links and coverage.

Every morning I change my Google search settings to show only results from the past 24 hours and then use search operators to find mentions about my campaigns and clients.

Using search operators will allow you to be more specific with your searches. I recommend using the following two:

  • “”
    • If you search for keywords used within your campaigns or your clients name with speech marks around them, it will only bring back sites who have used those exact phrases. For example, “connective3” AND “Digital PR”.
  • -site:
    • When looking for coverage, often your client’s site will be presented to you. In order to exclude this from your search you can use the operator -site: (example -site:connective3.com)

 

4. Referral traffic

Google analytics is a great way to find new links. Often when a link is built you will receive referral traffic from it.

Using Google analytics, you can look at the overall traffic to your campaign page, add a secondary dimension titled ‘Full referrer’ and see all the links that have driven traffic.

 

5. Batch analysis

Batch analysis is a great function from Ahrefs. This cool little feature allows you to input up to 200 URLs and see how many referring links each of them have gained.

If you add the links, you have built into this you can see if journalists have read your coverage and linked to these pages instead of your campaign. Again, if appropriate and relevant you can approach them to update the link.

I am obsessed with Instagram, mainly because I like to be nosy but also because I am amazed at how well it has grown and how brands use it as a marketing platform.

In the last five years, Instagram has gone from having 90 million users to one billion users. That is incredible growth, and if brands aren’t already using it to engage with customers they should be.

Source: Statista

But how do influencers manage to build themselves from nothing to signing big contracts, and why do brands want to work with people like this? I have broken it down by industry because each one does it slightly differently.

Health Industry

There are many reasons why working with influencers has been successful in the health industry but something I have especially noticed is the hunger for real-life stories. Gone are the times of product placement, consumers want to see real results to believe that something works.

A great example of this is Alice Liveing. She took to Instagram to log her progress for her new lifestyle change and by doing so she has created a following of 640k and now works with the likes of Women’s Health and Primark on a regular basis.

 

Brands know that Alice’s followers trust her, her followers grew because she was posting real, honest and personal content and people connected with what she was going through. Instead of taking advantage of free products that are sent to her, Alice works with brands she really believes in, so when she speaks about them to her followers it is taken in a ‘good advice from a friend’ kind of way.

When Alice isn’t posting about brands, she offers her followers free workouts and recipe ideas that they can use. For her, it has always been about helping others and because of this, consumers aren’t constantly bombarded with product placements, and when she is promoting a brand it’s because she loves it and believes it can help her followers.

Similarly, Healthy Chef Steph was started by Steph Elswood as a way to help her think positively about her body but now she has 205k followers and keeps them up to date with what she is doing on a regular basis. It gives a sense of lust to consumers and leaves people wanting what she has.

People want to go to the gym she does to achieve the same results, others want to visit the hotel she does to get the perfect picture she has and people want to buy the jacket she wears to look as good as her. It is all about lusting over a life they see and buying into a lifestyle.

 

The health industry has blown up over the last few years and Brits are more aware of their lifestyle choices. This has had a real impact on health brands and has helped influencers grow even quicker. Consumers want to follow people like this on Instagram to maintain a healthy lifestyle and remind themselves of what their end goal could also look like.

Fashion Industry

Influencers in the fashion industry are very different, I have noticed that smaller influencers are promoting products but the true success for this industry is working with emerging celebrities.

A brand that has understood how this can work well is In The Style, by working with a range of influencers from Binky Felstead, Sarah Ashcroft and now Dani Dyer they are reaching over 5 million target customers on Instagram alone.

All of these stars have their own clothing range, and all promote them online with regular links to what they are wearing. Both brand and influencer benefit from this partnership and consumers have a constant flow of outfit inspiration on a platform that they use regularly.

 

In a way, In The Style are much more forward-thinking than big brands like John Lewis. Although the big retailer captures the hearts of many during their Christmas campaigns, they don’t work with influencers in the same way.

Other brands like Very and New Look are starting to make similar decisions and working with the likes of Michelle Keegan and Rochelle Humes. Celebrities that are much more established in their careers but fit their target customer just the same.

Beauty Industry

When it comes to the beauty industry, YouTubers are still a popular choice for beauty addicts but Instagram stories are a great way for consumers to have a similar experience on this platform and get an insight to influencers lives. Influencers that are successful in this industry include Zoella, Pixiwoo, Dani Mansutti, and Estee Lalonde as well as other smaller influencers like Eltoria.

Consumers can relate to real people and Instagram helps to magnify this for the beauty industry. It creates another platform that beauty fanatics can find new brands or products to see snippets of reviews quickly and easily.

 

Instagram can be used as a search engine using hashtags. When I type in #lush, it brings up an option to ‘watch #lush videos’. A series of short videos that influencers, as well as ordinary people, have uploaded to their own profiles. An easy way to see a review of a product or brand.

So rather than using this platform to buy products, beauty consumers can use this platform to research and review products before buying through content from influencers.

Travel Industry

Instagram is the perfect place for any travel brand or influencer. Consumers are constantly seeing inspiring posts of their next holiday or travel adventure but rather than it being a space for promotion, similarly to the beauty industry, Instagram is more a research platform for Brits.

One of the best Instagram profiles to follow for this to see content that will make you want to travel is Marie Fe and Jack Snow. They are travelling the world, staying in amazing hotels and experiencing it all because of Instagram.

 

They met while on their travels and they decided to share the experience together on one Instagram profile. Now with 200k followers’ consumers are constantly following their journey and they are able to carry on travelling the world because they work with brands and hotels on a regular basis.

This works in the travel industry because consumers want to get the inspiration in a platform that they are using daily. Again, it is the sense of lust that keeps people following profiles like this.

Social Media is ever growing and has caused a shift in the way marketing and PR works. Brands and agencies are aware of this change and are adapting from the conventional methods and trying to evolve to an ever-changing world. First, it was to work with bloggers to gain exposure and now it is to work with Instagrammers because most brands’ target audiences are using this platform daily.

Almost 1 in 5 people between the ages of 18 and 34 are using Instagram regularly, which is why brands are too. Digital is shifting the way we will shop forever.

Source: Statista

Social Media has allowed consumers to have more of an insight into what is real and what is not and as long as brands and influencers don’t jeopardise this, consumers will continue to trust them.

Brands should be working with social influencers to create a good social presence because Instagram is going to continue to grow and it is the easiest way to connect with customers. Building your brand on social media is all about having a good relationship with consumers and knowing what they want to see, this should be your next step to understand what kind of influencers your target customer relates to and to find out how you can work with them in the future.

Something to note though, consumers have started to pick up on the #ad so how long will it be until the next shift starts?