Footer Link Optimization for Search Engines and User Experience: It’s huge – seriously big. And while it’s valuable for users and even contains some interesting content, it’s not really accomplishing the job of a footer – it’s more like a giant permanent content block on the site
Web Analytics Tips for Setting up Google +1
After all the talk, Google’s +1 button is now officially here. In a low-key blog post, Google simply announced that the button has launched with a handful of web properties, comprised of the usual suspects.
Ways to Set the Button Up
Currently, there are few options:
When adding the button you have your choice of four sizes ranging from 15 pixels to 60 pixels tall, set the language annotations will appear in, and the option to display (or not) a counter indicating the number of +1s your page has received.
For advanced Webmasters, you may also specify callback functions in the form of a JSON object. You can also pass a URL to the +1 button code. This is especially useful for bloggers who want to put the +1 button in their list of recent posts or category pages. By default, the +1 button uses the URL of the page it is on. By passing a different URL, you can +1 a page using a button on a completely different page. Twitter’s Tweet button allows this functionality, too.
Do You Really Need it?
Aside from yet another social button by which to share, what does this mean for you and your Web site? Although you would not know it from the low-key announcement, this is Google’s most important push towards social search, with so much riding on it that Larry Page has made a bonus plan for Google employees.
Annotations will now be seen by people you (and others) are connected to via Google. However, Google has yet to prove that +1s will have the same far-reaching impact that Facebook likes currently offer.
However, a close reading reveals that Android Market, YouTube, Blogger and Product Search will all see +1 buttons arriving soon. This has the potential to be a game-changer as it will be the first time that user data is really exchanged between these properties. In particular, Android Market definitely stands to successfully differentiate itself against the Apple AppStore – which has no means to bookmark apps or recommend them to friends, even via iTunes Ping.
New Data Nuggets
Web analytics may not necessarily need another metric but +1 button promises to help measure engagement. Official details on what data will stream from Google’s +1 button are not available yet, but Jim Prosser from Google confirmed to SEW that “we’re bringing data to Analytics, Webmaster Tools, and AdWords frontend soon”.
Did Google Just Kill SEO?
In Short. No. Never
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!
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.
Tom: It’s a very unique blend of skills, I think.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tom: Let’s imagine that we’ve hired a few link builders into our team.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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. . . .
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Dictionary.com defines a link as “anything serving to connect one part or thing with another; a bond or tie.” Interestingly, the given definition for a relationship is “a connection, association, or involvement.” From a semantic point of view, these two words seem to be synonyms. Yet from an SEO point of view, all too often they are mortal enemies.
Let’s be honest, link building is not the most glamorous task out there. We all know it has to be done. We all know search engine algorithms heavily weight link metrics. But no one ever looks forward to sitting down and building links.
I believe this paradigm is self-defeating. If you don’t want to do something but still do it because you have to, how can you expect to be successful? In sports you hear phrases like “the other team just wanted it more” or “they didn’t show up to play” or something similar. When athletes are just going through the motions it is pretty obvious. What would make link building any different?
I think it is time to offer a new perspective on link building. Let’s start thinking of it as relationship building instead. Please bear in mind, I’m not talking about low level linking tactics like social bookmarks, directory submissions or article publication. No real relationship is involved in acquiring these links.
However, for those who like to leave blog comments, request link exchanges or email webmasters, it’s time to get your head in the game.
Building A Relationship Online
I’m not talking about eHarmony here. I’m talking about the relationships we can build with webmasters, which in turn naturally play out in their websites and ours. Let me start with a personal example.
I started a college football blog a few years ago. After about a year of the routine link building tactics, I decided it was time to start building relationships. For those of you familiar with the BCS, I am aggressively opposed to it. I did, however, know of a blog or two that favored it.
I decided to reach out to one of these webmasters. I suggested that he first post an argument in favor of the BCS. I would then respond on my blog and reference his original argument. The debate ended up going back and forth over a few months and several blog posts.
Naturally, I followed his blog and he followed mine. I linked to his blog and he linked to mine. My readers visited his blog and his readers visited mine. All the good things you are supposed to get from a successful SEO campaign naturally came to both of us through that relationship.
What would have happened if I was just another link in his blogroll? What would have happened if he was just another link in my comments? Perhaps our rankings would have improved slightly, but we both would have missed out on the extra visitors and subscriptions.
A Case Study: Danny Sullivan
If you have been in the SEO industry for more than a day you probably know who Danny Sullivan is. Suppose you have a new blog about search engine marketing and really want a link from Search Engine Land. Is the best way to do this to simply scan the blog for an hour and then email the webmaster, asking for a link exchange?
Probably not. You probably want to build a relationship with Danny, which would in turn do more for your blog than that one link anyway. So how could you go about doing this?
First, find as much information as you can about Danny without being a creepy stalker. A quick Google search could tell you he runs Search Engine Land, has a personal blog at Daggle.com, has a Twitter and Facebook account, uploads photos to Flickr, answers questions on Quora, shares stories on Digg, posts videos on YouTube and even has a Wikipedia entry.
This can take all of 10 minutes and in that superficial research you can learn a lot about Danny as well as see other connections he has in the industry which could benefit you as well.
After doing the research, you should start engaging Danny in various ways. Some obvious methods would be to comment on his blog posts at Search Engine Land, interact on Twitter or reply to his answers on Quora. After a few weeks, Danny may start to recognize your name when he sees it.
The next thing I would try would probably be pitching a topic for SMX. If you write to Danny, who by now has a general idea of who you are, and come up with a great pitch for a great lecture at SMX, there’s a good chance you could present in front of hundreds of people in your industry.
Which do you suppose is more valuable, a link from Search Engine Land or a 15 minute introduction and presentation in front of other industry experts? Not to mention at that point you will have interacted directly with Danny as a result of being an SMX speaker. An aspiring SEO blogger would do well to have one of the most influential people in the industry as a friend on Facebook and follower on Twitter, don’t you think?
Finding Relationship Opportunities
Most of the time our existing relationships are what lead us to new relationships. You may not know Danny Sullivan or Rand Fishkin, but do you know someone who works at Search Engine Land or SEOMoz? The best relationship opportunities can be found in our existing relationships. Networking can be a very powerful tool in building new relationships.
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time is called The City Of Influence. I highly recommend it for those looking for more information on the value of relationships and how to network in order to build new relationships.
Another easy way to build a new relationship is by looking for guest blogging opportunities. For example, I just did a Google search for ‘finance + guest + blog’ and found several websites that publish guest posts as well as tips for being a guest blogger. If you were in the finance industry, these could be great relationships.
Bloggers seem to be the most open to making new connections, so another technique is to simply Google your keyword + blog. Look for blogs in your industry and find people you can reach out to. Another method would be to search Twitter for your keywords and see who you can connect with.
Speaking from personal experience, I get emails all the time from people looking for links. I ignore them. Every once in a while I get an inquiry from my personal blog, or a direct message in Twitter, or an email proposal that doesn’t involve links at all. I pay attention to these and other webmasters do too.
Rand Fishkin has a brilliant slideshow that explains the history and future of Google rankings. Evidence is pretty strong that social media is starting to have a big impact on organic rankings. In other words, relationships, not links, are poised to become the top ranking factor. Search engines openly say they calculate a users authority and trust. A tweet, like, citation or mention from an authority user is going to go a long way in the future of SEO.
So remember, links matter now and you need to have them to be successful. Don’t stop looking for link opportunities. But I would stress that the link building of the future is going to be relationship building. People are going to influence rankings more than links do.
So let’s stop focusing on the link building and start focusing on the relationship building. I believe we’ll all be better off for it.
P.S. Don’t miss Rand’s great post Head Smacking Tip #20: Don’t Ask Sites for Links. Find People and Connect that he wrote after this post was initially written.
The author’s posts are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.
Just every now and again, search engines love to throw our merry band of SEO types the occasional curveball and keep us on our toes with new toys and updates. Yesterday was one such day for the world of structured data in web page design.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you’ll be all over “rich snippets” – those fabulous little search results that help you stand out from the crowd in your organic rankings. Structured data added to web pages helps search engines parse your data into different types of search results, like recipe search. Review ratings, events, recipes, company names, contact name, job titles and even friend connections on Facebook have at some stage been visible in the search results for “white listed” web sites.
In Google’s words, “adding markup is much harder if every search engine asks for data in a different way.” – this is so true. For webmasters making the difficult decision on which markup to choose has been quite a hurdle. The simplicity of Microformats over the depth and creativity of RDFa, or the HTML5 working group approved Microdata? What about the RDF/XML based Goodrelations for ecommerce?
It seems the search engines have made that choice for us by introducing a new, standardised collaboration called schema.org.
Solving the problem of inconsistent options for structured data markup, schema.org gets on with the task of opening up a bunch of new entities for webmasters to describe in their web pages. Schemas for movies, music, restaurants, local business, TV series and “intangibles” such as offers are all in the new vocabulary. If you’ve got a website with any of the types of data described by the new schemas, you should get excited! Check out their full list – it’s incredibly extensive.
Schema.org is based on Microdata. In simple terms, each type of data or entity can be described by a vocabulary. Vocabularies for an entity are described on the appropriate page at schema.org, so, for example, if you’ve got a music listing on your webpage, you’ll just need to reference the Music Recording vocabulary at Schema.org.
To implement schema.org’s vocabularies, you only need to understand the attributes: itemscope, itemtype, itemprop and you’ll need to have the URL of the vocabulary to hand.
The instructions for basic implementation can be found on the getting started page at schema.org – let’s look at the basic elements:
Which would produce:
In this very simple example, I’m using the “itemscope” attribute to declare that the following html contains data about something. That something, “itemtype”, is a person (me!). Each property, my name, picture, job title can be found in the vocabulary at schema.org. Declaring the appropriate scheme might allow a search engine to parse the data and use it for a rich snippet or maybe a people search engine?
You’re not the only one – we’re all in the same boat. The simple answer is, search engines are great at getting us to accept their standards. At some point we’ll all be using schema.org to structure our data. If you’re already on the Google rich snippets white list, don’t panic. Google will continue to support existing structured data formats for the foreseeable future. If you’ve got the development resource, or you’re in the process of a site redesign, then migrating to the appropriate schema.org vocabulary shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for a capable web developer.
For me, this is an exciting play from the search engines. They’re working to simplify the problem for webmasters of knowing which markup to choose and at the same time, offering more options for types of data to be structured. The really big deal, for me, is Bing’s entrance into the rich snippets arena. Their support for rich snippets until now has been lacklustre at best. Hopefully, with a standardised approach, we’ll be able to get the same rich snippets from all 3 engines.
Google recipe search was the first “mainstream” structured data search engine. I can’t help but think that with greater proliferation of a standard approach to structured data, we’ll see more services like recipe search from the engines soon.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Rand: So maybe they’re going in that direction.
Andy: I think it’s inevitable.
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.
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.
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: Take care, everyone.
Apple has walked back its somewhat-controversial policy regarding subscriptions sold via the App Store.
Under the company?s previous terms, media publishers were required to sell subscriptions through the App Store at rates preferable or equal to those offered via other channels, with Apple taking 30 percent of the fees.
Spokespeople for Apple reportedly confirmed the reversal to various media outlets, including Bloomberg.
?Content providers may offer In-App subscriptions at whatever price they wish,? read a June 9 posting on the Apple-centric blog MacRumors, which is widely credited with first noticing the change to Apple?s guidelines, ?and they are not required to offer an in-app subscription simply because they sell a subscription outside the App Store as well.?
Publishers hadn?t exactly greeted Apple?s original policy with glee, accusing the company of greediness in its dealings with publishers. ?An Apple-imposed arrangement that requires us to pay 30 percent of our revenue to Apple, in addition to content fees that we pay to the music labels, publishers and artists, is economically untenable,? Music-subscription service Rhapsody wrote in an emailed statement to eWEEK in February, soon after Apple announced its plans. ?The bottom line is: We would not be able to offer our service through the iTunes store if subjected to Apple?s 30 percent monthly fee vs. a typical 2.5 percent credit card fee.?
At the time, analysts also questioned whether the marketplace would tolerate Apple?s terms.
?At the end of the day, the market and customers will decide this,? Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg told eWEEK. ?If services begin pulling out of the iTunes marketplace, customers will be frustrated, and Apple will respond.?
That being said, he thought Apple had some flexibility in the matter: ?From Apple?s perspective, they can always move rates down, not raise them. Apple wants to make sure their customers are paying what they?d be paying anywhere.?
Other analysts took a much more dire view.
?What Apple has done already is sufficient to make providers of content aggressively invest in alternative means to reach the market,? James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester, wrote in a Feb. 16 blog posting. ?You can fault the company for choosing not to anticipate that seeking a 30 percent toll would bring any subscription model of any type to its knees.?
Apple?s rivals immediately rushed in to exploit the potential schism between Apple and publishers. On Feb. 16, Google announced Google One Pass, a service that the search engine described as letting ?publishers set their own prices and terms for their digital content,? with Google taking 10 percent of any revenue.
Now Apple?s chosen to modify its policy, with some caveats. ?Apps can read or play approved content (specifically magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music and video) that is subscribed to or purchased outside the app,? reads the updated guidelines, ?as long as there is no button or external link in the app to purchase the approved content.? In-app purchasing will apparently continue to earn Apple its 30 percent, according to MacRumors, which could still rub some publishers the wrong way.
Nonetheless, the change is likely to adjust publishers? dealings with Apple yet again.
A Third of Online Ads Come from Facebook Accounts
Nearly one in every three online ads in U.S. can now be attributed to Facebook accounts, according to website traffic counter Comscore. The number has doubled from what was recorded last year during the first quarter of 2010.
According to the results, 1.11 trillion ads were displayed to U.S. Internet users during the first quarter of 2011, of which, 346 billion were from Facebook accounts, thus accounting to a staggering 31.2 percent. Yahoo sites came in second with 122.5 billion impressions (10.1 percent), Microsoft came third with 53.5 billion (4.8 percent), AOL came in fourth with 33.4 billion (3 percent), while Google stood fifth with 27.9 billion impressions (2.5 percent).
Facebook’s advertising market share also increased 15 percent points from 16.2 percent in the first quarter, according to Comscore. Comscore EVP, Jeff Hackett said, “The U.S. online display advertising market maintained its strong momentum from last year with a terrific first quarter.”
Facebook Will No Longer be Free – Facebook has announced that it will charge users for holding an account on the website. Users will get two account options – Free and Pro. Free accounts will let users post photos and links, but will have size limited to thumbnail only, big banner ads and pop-ups.
The 2011 Ranking Factors offers a wealth of depth and detail, and I’m extremely excited to share it with everyone in the marketing community.