Link Analysis Using Competitors Websites

On 3 occasions last month our SEO Liverpool blog was asked how to obtain quality links.

This is an interesting question, what is a quality link? We think the evaluation of potential links and finding those that are causing harm, are the most important factors when understanding which links can provide value.

We all know the Panda and Penguin updates have focused link-builders on link quality, this means we should really be evaluating all potential links!

I thought I’d post a little on how and which links you should evaluate from your competitors websites, so you better understand strategy and improve your link profile.

Choose your competitors

It’s probably the hardest start to make, all you know so far is that a particular competitor pops up in your space. This can either be in terms of products and services or keywords. I usually choose 5 competitors based on keywords and 5 on comparative services.

Find your link analysis tool of choice.

I’m a fan of the Open Site Explorer, but it can be a bit costly! I have been known to use software such as link-assist.  The standard wisdom states that you should look at your competitors results for followed links and 301 redirects. Obviously, these are great, but I like to download every links and evaluate them.

You can get a better feel for the strategy they use to generate links, or they may have lots of websites that you can easily post on too.

Check The Status Codes

You want the best links and at the very least to replicate those of your competitors. Adopt and adapt is the best policy, but for now we’re concerned with not getting the same rubbish links that all websites can accumulate.  Eliminate from your list all those links that are corrupt, 404, 302 or any other you think are suspicious. I have used screaming frog for this in the past, but their are plenty of other ways to this simply and manually.

Another review

Cross off the links you’ve found that already link to you. So you should only now have good links, that are functioning and are followed

Establish a base

Set a benchmark of those links that are a) very valuable b) could be difficult to achieve c) bread and butter. What I mean by this is have an overall score e.g for Page Authority, Google Cache frequency or at the least PageRank use a tool that evaluates the page in SEO terms.

Now rank them in order of importance and attainability.

Manually review

For each link, give the PageRank score, detail the type of site, links out and domain age.

Go Get Them then rinse and repeat with other competitors

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Links And Big Brands

In my mind, one of the most rewarding parts of being a search engine optimisation consultant here at SEO Liverpool, is the reverse engineering of websites. Any SEO consultant worth his or her salt analyses a site in an attempt to discover why they rank so well.

We’ve always found link building a little different!

The small businesses wonder how the bigger brands succeed with their link building efforts. In a big corporation, it would take jumping through a lot of hoops to get the correct managers to sign off on link building approval, especially as they may want to verify that every site that they link build upon is desirable.

Do big brands really do link building? I think not so much. They are already pretty well known and established so well within the sphere, that their links usually come naturally. However, if they really wanted to engage in building other links, it’s suggested that they participate in some viral marketing campaigns and linkbait.

Once you’re so a big company, you may not have to worry about “link building,” perse, but other strategies

I suppose you could say that past a certain point its more a matter of being aware of links, how they work & the value they do or do not bring. When opportunities come up, maximise them.

 

 

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Old School SEO… The Sacrificial Website

At SEO Liverpool we try to look over old techniques for driving traffic to particular digital assets. Last week we started talking about the sacrificial site.

You’ve all seen full page adverts in magazines, at certain points it can be beneficial to move this offline advertising strategy to online.  Internet marketing and leveraging websites can help replicate this strategy for your business. A lifestyle magazine will generate ad revenue for a client in an almost totally unrelated field, just through sheer value of people using that site.

So if you’re looking to generate sales, either via affiliate links or to a product, then create two sites. One for the product and one for ads.

Important Point – The first point is ad sites are penalised depending on the amount and position of the adverts. We’ve found this particularly with Ad Sense.

Important Point  – The second point, it will be beneficial to host your domains on unique IPs, which can result in a big advantage for you in terms of search engine rankings and to help stop getting penalised.

How The Sacrificial Site Works

Let me explain… A good example would be a website in a competitive category, such as Travel . Advertise your digital camera site on it. The two are related as complimentary sites but one generates income for the other. You own both, and one site will advertise on the other.

E.g.

Jokes and funny t-shirts. The joke site itself, has very few jokes on it. It acts more like a directory leading to other joke sites. There are a total of 10 internal pages with different categories of jokes. On each category page, You would list 5-10 joke websites, with a quick two sentence review, taken from the headline of each destination site.

So what’s the purpose of my jokes site? It’s to sell or generate traffic referrals to t-shirt sites. To the visitor, it looks like a directory of the top 50 joke sites, with ads strategically placed on it. It’s really just a way to leverage the entire jokes site to advertise another product. If you find a popular category, you will make sales due to the amount of traffic you can generate. You’ll also generate a varied link profile as you leverage one web property to advertise another.

Evaluation

It can be a lot of work. It will cost you to set up. It will be a disater if not implemented correctly.  But… I do think in some situations it’s a valid strategy, and it is proven to generate income for certain businesses. Affiliate links will probably get the most value but those sites with affilate links to Amazon can generate serious revenues.

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How Many Links Would be Too Many?

When I’m reading over notes for SEO Liverpool and Summit Online Marketing, I feel it’s quite important to revisit important information, especially if I’m receiving questions around the subject.

I received an enquiry about a website that had lots of links and believe they’re getting penalised for it. The copy seemed succinct, keyword rich and the meta data looked good.

A few years ago I remember reading that over 100 links on a page can be considered a link farm.

My quick bit of advice revolved around PageRank sculpting to enhance search engine ranking. The classic way to negotiate lots of links is in changing them to no-follow links. This is a quick and easy way of not passing on your hard earned ‘juice’ to unnecessary third parties.

Although how much juice still gets through is debatable.

On closer inspection they had gone with the classic ‘ball’ linking structure (Every page links to every other page). It’s not very effective at conserving and spreading the link juice (PageRank, link reputation and link popularity).

I wasn’t saying this was a bad thing, but with SEO, testing is key. I advised changing the structure to what is known as a ‘pyramid’ linking structure.

A pyramid linking structure

Typically all the links leaving the home page are no-followed, except the one leading to the sitemap. The sitemap has normal links to everything, except the home page. With internal pages, everything is no-follow except the link back to the home page. It creates a feedback loop, concentrating all the link love back to the home page. This could mean you’ll be getting a lot of traffic from your internal pages… depending on your content!

Food for thought.

 

 

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Link Building: Where We Are?

At SEO Liverpool we’re always stressing the importance of link building as a key strategy for high search engine placement.

Like all Web marketing, the greatest aspect of link building is the trackability. This helps you quantify your progress and prove your worth to your superiors and clients.

However, there hasn’t really been a standardised tool that the industry accepted as “the” link monitoring tool. In fact, there are more tools that will tell you wrong information than there are tools that will tell you right information.

Most of the major search engines have link identifying queries that you can do. The standard search query is: link:www.example.com.

If you do that search, you’ll get a list of pages linking to that page. Because I can get you the complete set of data, I’ll do this for a current client.

Doing this query on Google returns about 14 pages linking to that URL. Doing this query on Yahoo returns 1,103 pages linking to that URL.

That’s a major difference! This is because Google intentionally doesn’t want to disclose all of the links it knows about a domain, which explains 14 links versus 1,103 inlinks. Google only gives a small sampling.

The more realistic number is 1,103. Yahoo is more open when it comes to link disclosure. Virtually every link analysis tool you use (such as SEOQuake) relies quite heavily on Yahoo’s link data.

Incidentally, you can do those searches for specific pages to see how many links point to that particular page on your site. That information can be telling of how a particular story or link bait tactic is fairing in gathering links.

However, the link reporting trail doesn’t end there. There’s one final way of getting a much more comprehensive tally of the links pointing to you. The most comprehensive, detailed list of links pointing into your site is found at Google’s Webmaster Tools.

If you haven’t setup your site in the Webmaster Tools section, I strongly encourage you to do so. All you need is a Google login. Then they ask you to either upload a page with a strange custom URL they give you or add some meta code to the of your site. Doing that verifies you own the site.

This gives you complete access to a ton of great information about your site. Not the least of which is your link information. If you recall, the total number of links Google showed on their front-end search query for my client was about 14 links pointing into that URL. Yahoo had 1,103. Google Webmaster Central has 1,471.

I have seen client data that is shockingly different.

Additionally, Webmaster tools nicely lays out how many links are pointing to each page of your site.

This information is interesting because I can instantly see that my clients blog gets nearly three times the number of links than the home page. This tells me that people are more interested in linking to the blog than the home page. So, as I move forward in asking for links I probably would want to suggest people link to our blog.

I also see that one particular page has 24 links. This is new for us in 2011. We’ve done no link building campaigns for this service. So, I’m encouraged to see that people are already linking to it with no suggestion on our part.

Finally, I would be able to take this data to a client or superior every month and track the progress of any link initiatives taking place. I would easily be able to chart link growth on a page-by-page level.

However.

Google discusses their link reporting at the bottom of that page, they write, “Note: While the External links page provides a larger sampling of links to your site, not all links to your site may be listed. This is normal.”

So, even in the Webmaster Tools section, we still may not know everything Google knows…. but it’s a decent start.

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Let’s get your website ranking quickly

At Summit, our online marketing company we’re always asked to speed up the process.

If your site is brand new and you want to compete against established sites directly on their most important keywords then you need to be good at public relations, have a better brand strategy, or have some remarkable feature that makes people want to talk about you. Without conversation and links it is hard to pass up sites that have been accumulating links for years.

But what if you could roll back the clock, and quickly grab those top search engine placements. You can.

The easiest way is to buy an old site that is not well maintained, and then build it up. But if that is outside the scope of your budget or marketing strategy and you are trying to rank a new site the key is not to attack directly, but to attack indirectly.

Of course many of your product pages will contain keywords that are the same or similar to that which the competition is targeting, but the more obscure long tail words are going to be easier to rank for. Here are 6 strategies to help you get lucky with your ranking quickly:

Tip 1

Use the less popular version of a keyword. If most your competitors are targeting Knowledge Management but nobody is targeting Knowledgemanagement then it is going to be easier to rank for that alternative version. And even if the alternate version only gets 5% or 10% the search volume of the related keyword, you are still going to pull in more traffic by ranking #1 for it than you would ranking #30 for the more popular version of the keyword.

Tip 2

Use many keyword modifiers. If you can’t rank for the core keywords then try to add some related keyword modifiers to the page title. Is credit cards too hard of a keyword? Then consider targeting a phrase like best credit cards. Cheap search engine optimization contracts will usually concentrate on this particular tactic.

Tip3

Mix up your on page optimisation. Rather than placing your keyword phrase all over the page consider mixing up how you use it. If the page title contains best credit cards consider using something like compare top credit card offers in the on page H1 header. Notice the change between plural and singular versions of the keywords. Popular CMS programs like WordPress have plug ins like the SEO Title tag plug in that make it quite easy to vary your page title and on page heading.

Tip4

Go deeper than the competition is going. In some fields I have been lucky enough to find niche low volume keyword topics that bring in a couple searchers each day. The ongoing maintenance cost of this content has been negligible, but as an added bonus for ranking for these long long tail keywords is that some of the people who search for them are people who really care about those topics, and many of them link to our websites. And so my new sites start benefiting from the self reinforcing effects that older sites benefit from, even though it is still new.

Tip5

Move away from the commercial keywords. If you stay within a small basket of well known commercial keywords it is hard to compete with strong competitors that have been targeting them for years. Niche how to content that solves a searcher’s problems is likely to build inbound links. These inbound links boost your domain authority and pass PageRank internally to other pages on your site, which is much of the general goal of many SEO linkbait projects…some pages are good at building inbound citations while other pages leverage that link authority and generate revenue.

Tip6

Buy traffic. If you build high quality niche content and it does not rank as well as you would like it to then you need to actively market it. Mention it to a couple popular bloggers in your space and ask them what they think of it. Another option for instantly getting relevant traffic to featured content is to buy targeted ads. StumbleUpon (you’ll end up paying for SEO services in dollars) sells category based traffic for 5 cents a visitor, but this traffic is nowhere near as potent as search traffic – many of these visitors come and go quickly. You can also buy pay per click traffic for your quality content. If you are buying it for commercial keywords the cost per click can be significant, but if you are trying to promote a quality non-commercial topic that is linkworthy you can often get visitors from search and AdSense ads for less than 10 pence each. With the buying traffic to build links strategy, it can take hundreds of clicks to generate an inbound link, but when you consider how time consuming and expensive link building is, then $50 or $100 for a good link can be an outright bargain.

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Can long URLs hurt you?

At SEO Liverpool we’ve been having a discussion about long URLs, in the past they have been spammy. I’m sure I’ve read a thread that actually commented on some URLs being a bit too long for comfort (SEO SEM agencies take note!)

Look at my example URL:

www.thisoldsite.co.uk/some-item-like-this-and-another-keyword-like-this-and-sometimes-even-more.42html

I’m all for having descriptive URLs, but …. but on occasion this seems to be taking it a bit too far and most of the time you’ll have trouble identifying anything that matches in the content of the page. Too far? Does that mean a search engine will penalise really long URLs? Or in this case, it does it just looks spammy to a manual review?

Sometimes if you dig deeper, you’ll noticed that you can find the same page as long as you include 42 at the end of the URL. Now, this is a common CMS issue with many sites. We’d deal with this with a 301 redirect from the broken URL to the true URL.

In this illustration, the CMS identifies the page by having the ID (i.e. 42) in the URL and then returns the dynamic content. The CMS should contain a real URL and then 301 redirect any other URLs that have id 42 in them to the real URL.

So, when building a CMS or SEO training staff, you might want to do a couple things in terms of URLs:

(1) Restrict the length of the URL to something normal

(2) 301 Redirect any duplicate URLs to the real URL

Thoughts?

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SEO Basics: What Is Link Popularity?

A recent SEO Manchester discussion on what is link popularity?

Link popularity measures the quality and quantity of links pointing to a web page. All the major engines use it, it’s considered an off-page factor and is also called “link juice” (most popular), “link pop”, “link reputation” or “link love”. Link Popularity Components

There are four main components that agencies involved offering web marketing services will openly discuss:

Link quantity: The number of links pointing to a web page.

Link quality: Quality is determined by the authority of the host sites and the sites linking to them. Quality flows from one site to the next through links. The most well known quality factor is PageRank. Page Rank is a link analysis algorithm used by Google to determine the quality factor of a page based on its inbound links.

Anchor Text: Query ranking indicator, it’s an endorsement of what’s to come. Anchor text is the clickable part of the link you see; hyperlinked keyword phrases provide additional “weight” and carry semantic value.

In a rare moment of algorithm clarity, Google states: anchor text influences the queries your site ranks for in the search results. And from Bing, an equally clear comment about anchor text: …”anchor text helps define the theme of a linked page…”. Anchor text continues to be one of, if not the strongest component of link popularity.

And last but not least the most important as stated by the top seo agencies…

Relevance: This establishes your topical/geographic neighborhood within the link graph. It is commonly accepted that links to and from topically related sites convey more authority.

For maximum algorithm influence, your linking goals should be to secure large numbers of links (quantity) from quality (PageRank) pages using keyword rich anchors (anchor text) on thematically related (relevance) authority sites/pages. I know, easier said than done right?

Yes, but definitely not impossible if you focus on using tactics that hit on each component. Right now, the best linking strategy to implement revolves around the use and promotion of content because the content influences each component of link popularity.

To rank well, build brand and drive targeted traffic, it all starts with understanding how link popularity works.

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