October 22, 2013

SEO for Startups – Link Building

In my last post on SEO for Startups I covered the basics of on-page SEO, which accounts from around 35% of what Google looks for when ranking your website. In this post I’m going to cover the remaining 65%, link building.

The idea is simple. The more links from other websites on the internet that point to your page, the higher Google ranks it in their search results. To get your site on the first page of those search results you first need to decide which keywords you want to rank for.

Keyword Research

Your keywords are the words relevant to your business, products or services that you think people will be searching for. You can split keywords into 2 types, short-tail and long-tail. A short tail keyword could be the word ‘software’ for example. Short tail keywords are very broad and tend to be difficult to rank for due to a large amour of competition. However, if you manage to rank for the, they can bring your site a lot of traffic. A long tail keyword could be something like ‘easy to use task management software’. Long tail keywords are much more specific, tend to have lower search volumes, but since they’re more targeted they should bring you much better quality, higher converting traffic. Aim to have a balance of both in your keyword list.

A great tool to use for building a keyword list is Google’s Keyword Planner. Start by entering a number of keywords you think are relevant to your business and then let Google generate a list of associated search terms. This list should give you an idea of which keywords correspond to the most popular search terms and how difficult they are to rank for. Ranking difficulty is based on the number of other sites Google thinks are relevant to those keywords. The higher difficulty, the more sites you’re going to have to compete with.

Another great way to generate keyword lists is to use the Keyword Planner to mine keywords from your competitors sites, just enter their site URL. This will help you understand what keywords they are ranking for, and also identify areas of opportunity.

Optimising Existing Content

You’ve probably heard the term ‘content is king’. When it comes to SEO, creating good quality content is the single biggest key to success. Creating and publishing content on your website on a regular basis shows Google you’re both an active, relevant source of information, and helps build authority and credibility in your particular area of expertise.

If you’re in the process of building your site you’ll probably have a number of static pages which won’t change much, things like product or service pages. Start by optimising your static pages and pick a unique keyword you want each page to rank for. Next you need to make sure that your keyword appears in the following areas:

  • Inside the page <title> tag
  • In the page URL
  • Inside an <H1> tag (this is often included within the “tag)
  • In the first line of the first paragraph
  • Between 3 and 5 times throughout the rest of the page
  • In an image name and image <alt> tag

I’d also recommend you include your keyword in the meta description. This is text that doesn’t appear on the page but is used by Google to display a short snippet of what your page is about in their search results. Although it doesn’t affect ranking it will affect how people see your search results, since keywords in meta descriptions are highlighted in bold. To ensure Google displays their results without text cut offs, make sure you keep your page title to no more than 70 characters in length and your meta description to under 156.

If you sell products online you’ll probably have a large number of listings pages. Make sure you refer to my previous article on how to optimise your listing for structured data so they show up as rich product snippets in Google search results.

Finally, avoid optimising for keywords not relevant to your content. For example, if you sell shoes you wouldn’t want to optimise your ‘about’ or ‘contact’ pages for ‘amazing deals on shoes’ as this will not only confuse your visitors but Google as well.

Creating New Content

Every website needs a blog. If you’re not blogging you’re not only throwing away the hard work you’ve done with on-page SEO, you’re also likely to be off Google’s relevance radar. Blogging shows Google you’re actively producing fresh, relevant content that is useful to people searching the web.

The more content you produce over time, the more Google sees you as an authority on your business area. Google loves fresh content, so to make sure you’re staying on Google’s relevance radar you need to be posting at least twice a week. This might sound tough, but with practice and determination you’ll get there. Writing tools like Markdown and iA Writer can help speed things up and make writing more enjoyable.

Make sure you follow the optimisation process detailed previously to ensure when you write blog posts your keywords are in all the right places. You should also make sure you set up <rel="author"> tags and link the authors of your posts with their respective Google+ profiles. Using <rel="author"> tags not only makes your content stand out in search, it increases your credibility too.

Link Partner Outreach

Once you’ve created content like blog posts or new service pages you’re going to need to find sites you want links from. One of the best places to get links is from blogs. To do this you can offer to guest post or link to them and ask for a link back in return. This can be so successful in fact that it can form the entirety of your online marketing strategy.

There are a number of tools available to help you find potential link partners, some are free but most demand a fee. To help get started my friend and SEO expert, Dan Clarke built his own here. Simply enter the keyword you’re looking to get a link for and mane sure the ‘blog’ button is checked. You’ll then be delivered a list of blogs that are relevant to your content.

Once you’ve identified blogs you’d like to get links from you’ll need to research a contact person and get in touch. This is an exercise in PR more than anything else and will be the determining factor on how successful you are at getting links. Outreach is all about relationship building so make sure you understand as much as possible about the person you’re contacting, their blog and their readers. If you can give them a compelling reason to feature your content, you’ll get the links you need.

The final thing you need to keep in mind here is that the links you ask for must be formatted correctly, otherwise they’ll count for nothing. The anchor text must include the keyword you want to rank for and point to the page you’ve created for it. For example if you want a link to a page on ‘great deals on shoes’ the link anchor text must include these words e.g. ‘here’s a new place to get great deals on shoes’. The HTML would look like this:

<a href=">here's a new place to get great deals on shoes</a>

Social Media

By now you’ll have some great blog posts written, will be following up with link partners and will probably be ready to post your first articles. Make sure that when you post, you also share your articles on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. A good tip is to make sure you also post on Google+. This is because Google instantly indexes everything you post meaning you don’t have to wait until the next time their search bots to crawl your site.

Social sharing is also becoming an important search metric and is a great opportunity for your to build links organically by encouraging your followers to link to your content themselves.

To Conclude

SEO isn’t rocket science, but it does require hard work, dedication and some long hours to begin with in order to get results. I’ve tried to cover the basics as much as possible in this article as well as the previous one, however it’s a big field and there are many other areas you can delve into in more detail. If there’s anything I’ve missed, or something you’d like me to cover, let me know in the comments section below. If you’d like to talk in detail about your company or a project you’d like my advice on, feel free to get in touch here.

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