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.

Imagine pushing a big, heavy flywheel from a standing start: it takes a lot of effort just to get it moving and a strong, sustained effort to keep it accelerating as momentum builds.

Considering the flywheel concept in business, there are clearly quite a few ways a company can make it spin faster. Better marketing, a bigger sales team or cheaper products can all give a business more momentum. In the book ‘The Everything Store’ Brad Stone describes how the flywheel concept can be used to model Amazon’s early growth:

“Bezos and his lieutenants sketched their own virtuous cycle, which they believed powered their business. It went something like this: lower prices led to more customer visits, with increased sales attracting more commission-paying third-party sellers to the site. That allowed Amazon to make efficiencies around the website’s fulfilment centres and servers and this enabled further price reductions. Feed any part of this flywheel, they reasoned, and it should accelerate the loop.”

In an agency – especially one in a fast-moving environment like search or digital marketing – momentum feels paramount. An agency with momentum wins exciting clients who have thousands of fans; clients that deserve to rank on Google and have budgets large enough to afford amazing campaigns and a fantastic website. Larger budgets and big brand clients attract top staff who can deliver amazing results for those clients, who then renew their contracts, refer their friends and enjoy winning awards at glitzy events.

An agency without momentum is like a flywheel with a brake on: everything is much harder.  The exciting clients go to the other agencies and you are stuck with the low-budget clients that nobody has ever heard of and who don’t deserve to rank. Top-tier marketers don’t want to work with small brands, so they don’t apply for jobs at your agency, and any good staff you have are quickly poached by the agency down the road with the big brand clients and higher salaries.

Ups and downs are normal and every business experiences fluctuations in momentum. We experienced the importance of momentum at Branded3, where happy clients led to happy staff, which in turn led to happy clients. We knew that if part of the chain broke, the whole thing could fall apart.

At connective3 we are doing a real-life experiment to see what happens when you launch a new business with no clients in a crowded market when all your major competitors have a 10+year head start. Plenty of businesses do the same every day, but the remarkable thing is we are doing it having owned one of those large agencies with momentum and a flywheel spinning round at seemingly unstoppable speeds. We were that agency but now here we are, sitting on the carpet on day one with no chairs, no desks and no Wi-Fi, waiting for the phone to ring.

Clearly we have some finance behind the business and a great team on board, but our flywheel is hardly moving (we are four days old as I write this). Gone are the thousands of blog subscribers and the dozens of quality inbound leads we used to get every week. Our pipeline has to be rebuilt from scratch and the site doesn’t even rank for its own name yet.

However, we believe that momentum is not the most important thing in running an agency in the long term. The single most important thing is getting the right people on the bus.

While the old footballing cliché that says “form is temporary, class is permanent” feels a bit arrogant, the whole “people are vectors” analogy resonates with us. Remember the concept in maths of a vector having both direction and magnitude? This applies to people too. So a group of people pulling in different directions are far less effective than if they all pull in the same direction. At some point in a business, your momentum will be slowed by everybody suddenly pulling in different directions.

At connective3 we’re insulating against the usual peaks and troughs. Our founding team have skin in the game and have been pulling in the same direction together for nearly 10 years. We leave our egos at the door and worry more about keeping clients happy than looking good in front of the boss. We believe that being built to last is the most effective way to run an agency, and that over the long term – even from a standing start – an agency that is built to last will excel.