On February 26th 2020 – SEO veterans took on the Rising Stars of the industry to compare new and old approaches to link building.
Is experience from before 2010 beneficial or even relevant to Link Building in 2020?
Dixon Jones was joined by:
- Frank Watson, an author on Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Watch. Frank also co-hosts the “SEO Rockstars” podcast.
- Helen Pollitt, Managing Director and lead SEO at Arrows Up.
- Alina Ghost, SEO Manager at AmaraLiving and has her own Podcast – “SEO with Mrs Ghost“.
Listen to the podcast
Hello everyone! Thanks ever so much for coming to another Majestic webinar and again it’s going to be Old Guard vs New Blood.
So I’ve got some great people here: on the old side we’ve got myself and Frank Watson and on the much younger side we’ve got Helen and Alina.
So guys I think the best thing to do is to let you give quick introductions.
I’m Helen Pollitt, I am managing director of Arrows Up. I’ve been in digital marketing for about a decade now but specialize now in SEO. I’m also an associate lecturer at the University of Kent, teaching about web marketing and analytics.
I’ve been doing this since the 90s. Right now I’m the senior SEO strategiest for Master Electronics – we have nine million electronic components, I’ve got a lot of things to play with, it’s a dungeon I think. But a large part of that is link building so we’re in the right field for this discussion today.
Hi guys so I’m Alina Ghost. Basically I’ve been in-house SEO familiar decade now I work for the likes of like Tesco, Debenhams, Carpet Right and I am currently SEO manager at Amara, and I’ve got my own SEO podcast called SEO with Mrs. Ghost.
If you have any questions happy to answer them.
We’ll get some URLs at the end for everybody to touch base with each of you as well.
Before I get into things proper I’d be happy if anybody in the chatroom gets this link and you want to shout it out to people then please feel free and that will get them straight into the room, they don’t need to register or anything.
Also a shout-out to majestic for helping us get this off the ground. Without them I probably wouldn’t get my act together to do this kind of thing. They’re sponsoring this event and they sponsored last one as well and last month’s webinar had so many questions around links that I decided that we should have another Old Guard vs New Blood theme, but this time just talk from the perspective of links, and to get the generational divides in the industry but try and do a whole presentation.
I’ve got hundreds of questions here we’re never going to get to!
We’ve got some great panellists here and I’ll jump straight in with question 1: “How has link building changed over the decades, and what is one thing we should all be doing with Link Building?”
I would say probably one of the biggest changes that I’ve noticed is there every single interesting news story that I read these days turns out to actually just seen some SEO agencies digital PR campaign.
So you just contrast the news at all because it’s all been orchestrated by SEOs!
But other than that I would say that I think there is a greater awareness of publications outside of the industry of the value of links so there’s much more in terms of linking out policies that publications have these days and people are just a little bit more suspicious when you get in touch with them and ask for a link out to your website, so I think there’s just a greater awareness in general.
The difference is in the very, very early days of Google, which is the late 90s, we still had a few years you literally could do anything to get a link.
You could create a bunch of mini sites and all that sort of thing, you could have a pile of links from the same page, from different pages within the same website, and they all gave you some value.
It didn’t matter whether you were an electronics company and you were getting links from a janitorial service – they didn’t care.
It was a purely about account and then the if a lot of people pointed specifically to one place, if that was the common play you know.
This is why we have Wikipedia pop up, because everyone used that as a reference.
We could do anything back in link building. In those days a link was a link was a link.
Now after Penguin they’d be more structured and they became aware of us manipulating it with anchor text and it became a lot more qualified and I think that’s the difference nowadays and what you need to do when your link building and why it’s so much harder is because there has to be a relevance.
You can get a few throw-aways, you can get a few reciprocals, but the true value of what you’re getting is with those quality links that you’re getting within your own niche.
I totally agree. I think it’s the fact that the value of a link has been relevancy.
It’s changed a lot. I remember first starting out doing press releases in order to create links back to a site, which is hideous, but at the same time the fact that it’s harder to get a link and how it’s actually ranked within like the full like ranking system, the algorithm, it’s actually completely different now.
If we say that before it used to be link has to really help a site even if you do any, now it might not impact it as much as you think or as much as you want.
I’ve heard down the grapevine that brand has a lot to do with it.
So even if you get links to a brand, you might actually not gain as much value from that if you still have really bad reviews.
So it’s thinking about the whole holistic view and not just the links these days.
Ok so Helen says every mainstream news story is run by an SEO agency, which is brilliant thing to say, Frank says it used to be that anything goes but now all the links need to be qualified and Alina’s saying yes to
value and relevancy but you also suggested that the reviews or basically the reputation of the site impacts.
So I’m going to come back to those ones in a bit and quiz everyone a little bit more, but I wanted to go onto another question: “How do you maximize productivity when carrying out link building research and acquisition?”
I think obviously it depends what kind of and link building tactic that you’re using.
In terms of productivity, you can be smarter.
The thing is in this day and age you can literally Google anything, so you can find other people and see how they’ve gone about link building.
Let’s say you are going for that authority so you’re speaking to press. If that’s the case then you know what tools you can use, such as HARO, such as Get Response, and it’s essentially about getting those emails on a regular basis, it’s about speaking and creating those relationships.
In terms of productivity it’s about just being savvy with the quality of site that you use, so going back to what Frank said, if you’re looking at relevancy you have to make sure that the site that you’re talking to is actually relevant to your audience.
You don’t want to be just talking to any website and getting them to link back because that’s not going to be relevant.
I read something in the last three or four days where they were talking about authorship again, and there was an article when they were talking about medical information where you’re either quoting a doctor, you’re quoting that’s authoritative, then you’ve got apprentice level, which are medical students, and then you’ve got the general public – so I think that’s where we’re going.
I mean obviously like I said earlier it used to be that anything went, now we’re getting down and down and down and there are methodologies that work better, you can reverse engineer your competitors and see what directories that they’re in or what forums that they’re involved with where see the links and whether or not there’s any quality or follow a link to that.
One of my best ways of doing it is I’ll find a university professor around a particular topic that I want to write about and I’ll interview him, quote him, and then sent him a link to the article.
A lot of the times, and it’s not a hundred percent, but I’m getting at least sixty percent of those people will drop a link to that article in there edu bio.
So an edu link still has a little bit more value than a regular commercial link.
You’ve got to look at what’s being done in your space and what seems to be the go-to places that other people in your industry are getting value from. Are they taking the time to either be involved with a particular forum or a particular directory? Because directories still have a minimum value. They don’t have the value that they used to, but there are some that are very specific to your industry that may have value, so it takes work but there are methods to it.
I would say that the key to productivity in any SEO task is caffeine!
For link building specifically, I think you have to always have an always-on approach to link building.
Always be looking for the industry niche, we were talking about that earlier, but where are the audiences hanging out for that particular niche, where are they spending time, what other publications are they reading, getting to know that ahead of any attempt to start link building because then you get to know who are the key actors within those communities.
Who are the people who are the publishers, the editors, who do you need to start getting in contact with now and just interacting with, so that when it comes to the time and you want to actually try and pitch a story you’ve already made contact with them it’s not going to be a cold pitch.
So getting to know people who, in the future, you might want to contact up ahead of time means that when you then decide you want to start a link building campaign you’ve actually already done some of the legwork.
I think there’s an interesting thing that came out there.
So we talked about author value maybe coming back, and we talked about that edu links might have more value than normal, we said a good brand may carry more value than a bad brand.
So there’s quite a lot of signals in there which seem slightly esoteric and I wonder whether that’s correlation or causation?
Certainly the tests I did for edu links, and the way I understood the algorithms, there was never a fundamental reason why edu links were anywhere better than others.
What happened was that those links were ostensibly from websites that had good links going into them and then the internal link infrastructure of those little websites would make the difference.
Similarly, with brand, if you take a good brand, like if you take a reputable brand like the BBC, but then you’ve got a page that’s buried well into the system page, like I have one to my old agency in the BBC, but it’s got no links going into it, not even internally, and I can’t see any evidence of any juice coming out.
So on the authorship one for example, if I write something about the solar system, I have no experience or expertise in the solar system, but if Brian Cox the renowned physicist then blogs in my comments, he’s just doing a blogger comment and I get no reputation whatsoever from him but he’s the authority in that conversation.
So I guess my question is “Do these concepts of a brand or value of authorship bear up to testing or are they something that we kind of have felt is true?”
I think the real difficulty is that you just can’t isolate these things, because if we are talking about some of the associated signals with links, such as potential traffic going through them or a sentiment analysis, so the ‘why the link is there in the first place and are people talking about it with a positive or a negative spin in terms of the brands’, I think you can’t just isolate the link and test that alone.
It’s really hard to work out whether these other factors are having an impact or not.
Authorship for instance, that also is probably being spoken about, so is it is it that that’s having the impact rather than their expertise within the industry, or is it the fact that they are on being mentioned on a website that’s their dot edu website, but actually it’s because that website is so very specific and niche and relevant to the page that’s been linked to that that’s what’s having the effect.
I think you can’t just take one of those attributes in isolation and test just that.
Essentially we might never know with any certainty.
I just don’t think that it’s about testing either.
I totally agree with what you say, I think it’s about actually the holistic view.
So if you do try and get links to a brand, and the brand is actually getting really awful reviews and not fulfilling that customer end journey, then people will find out about it so essentially you’re amplifying a bad brand.
But that’s not to say that it’s any good and Google can then see that, I think that’s what’s interesting, the fact that it needs to work side by side.
So you need to ensure that you actually have really great view, that you have great relevant links and you can’t be doing it one way or the other.
So you’re saying that it doesn’t matter that it’s correlation not causation. It’s a fact of life that if you are in bad company then you’re going to do badly?
That’s the whole thing. I mean we’re talking what’s happening right now versus what was happening five or six years ago.
Remember the eyeglass guy that had really bad… he was the one that got a bunch of links from the New York Times and all these different places and he very openly said there’s no such thing as a bad link.
He was getting people writing crap about his services, but he was getting all these links from the New York Times, from various publications, and medical places and it didn’t matter – he used that stuff to rank number one for all of these eyeglass terms.
It’s really hard, yes Google is becoming a lot more qualified and filtered in how they’re looking at a particular link, but I think there is still going to be peripheral garbage links that have a value coming to you and that’s the other random surfer theory thing, where if you just had, and that’s how penguin came in, everyone was using the same anchor text to point to their particular pages in their website, like black dress or whatever it was, and there were more of those than what should have been normally links that just included your domain.
Penguin came through and filtered that, but that filtration, that degree of how far can Google or anyone that’s measuring and giving points to something for a ranking it’s really difficult to be able to have a pure system.
That’s why causation and correlation and everything else can’t be isolated because of the fact that there needs to be some random there. If you don’t have some reciprocal links, if you don’t have a few links from sort of questionable or non-associated places, and I’m getting links from the best publications in my industry, from professors in my industry and the university down to the particular discipline at the University, and they’re only coming from that discipline, then yeah, that in and of itself manipulation.
It’s tough, you’re going to get a lift from the quality but if you don’t have any of the crap then you’re going to get questioned of whether or not you’ve manipulated the entire thing in the first place.
Okay I’ve got lots of questions that people asked before the event, I’ve got over a hundred questions, so I’m going to just head on and just do a few more.
This was a really interesting question: “Is Google going to become more and more of a walled Garden and in that case how does that change link building?”
I personally think that Google is already going in the way to find a different way of calculating Trust and Authority, and the reason why we can’t just do link building or just go for, as Frank said, for the top quality links and you have to have the whole view, is because it needs to be realistic.
It’s a bit like that stat that says we don’t actually trust five-star reviews because you need to have somebody who has something bad to say about you as well.
But I guess going back to your question of ‘is it a walled garden’, I guess it will be going that way in the sense that it’s continuously changing, continuously adapting to our new view of creating links and the thing is once we find a way to manipulate link building, Google then goes in there and says ‘actually where we’ve changed the ballpark here, we think that you should be doing this in a different way, stop manipulating search results’.
I must admit I do find the contrary opinions and thoughts by Google to be quite odd. On one hand they’re saying ‘oh yes start doing schema’ and stuff and then ‘this schema makes no difference’.
You can’t say links I are good and links make no difference at the same time.
What do you think about walled gardens Frank?
I think social signals have some sort of impact on ranking, or recognition, or whatever it is.
You can have likes you know you and you can count the likes that you’ve gotten from Facebook, so while it’s walled there’s still signals that are getting through and it’s the same thing with Google.
I mean Google is becoming… I mean pretty soon we’re just going to throw this stuff into Google and they’re just going to put it out in whatever format they want and we’re never going to get a click from Google again.
I mean we’re at what 40, 50 percent of certain search terms now don’t get a click because the answers right there in the Box.
I mean is that a walled garden or is that just the ultimate ripoff of everyone’s content in the world and they’re just shooting out the answers and doing things that they penalize everyone else from doing.
What is the wall? You hear that term ‘walled garden’ all the time but what exactly is being walled? is it a community that nothing gets out from inside of and we know that at least in Facebook that ‘likes’ and things like that, that the accounting for that can be gotten out.
So that shows some sort of relevance or particular preference for any comments or posts so there is a factor there and we know that pressing a like in Facebook increases the amount of information from that person that gets put into your newsfeed.
So it is a sort of algorithmic thing even inside a walled garden, they’re walled community
I think that it will continue to become more walled, but I don’t think it can become entirely walled because they still need to cater to advertisers.
That’s how they make their money at the end of the day and I don’t think advertisers will be accepting of an entirely walled garden, and I think Google has to continue to put them first because that’s its revenue stream at the end of the day.
I think that the knowledge base and there’s one box and things are very interesting and it’s a little bit like a sponge. So Google is it’s soaking up all the information that’s on the different websites and stuff and bring him into its knowledge graph, then when it’s in its knowledge graph the interesting thing is it’s not particularly keen on sending people back out, because they can then say right I’ve got the answer to a question I can then give an answer from various different sources and don’t have to really cite any one of them.
But then that goes two ways and I think the SEO is it going to be moving towards how do we then get the customer back out with the knowledge graph again you know from how to’s we’ve got more than eight points Google has to send you off to get the rest of the answer, to if you eventually fly on the aeroplane that the Google’s got then unless they own the airplanes and they’ve got to send you off to British Airways or whatever at some point so I think this the whole knowledge graph is an interesting thing and I think it’s going to be coming around to eventually how do you get links back out of the knowledge graph.
Okay so long form versus short form content. So the question is: “We’ve got a couple of SEO agencies that saying long form is better to get links from and another saying short form is. What do you think and why does it matter?”
I think it depends, and sadly that’s the term we never want to use, but long form gives you more opportunity for using specific keywords and associated terms and all that sort of stuff.
Short form… if it’s really concise and to the point and about a particular topic, it may become a very referenced source.
If it’s a perfect 300-word answer to a question and this is the answer and that gets shared, compared to a two-thousand-word answer… I mean it fluctuates between what the content is answering and how it needs to be answered.
To add to that, I would say that it depends on the intent.
Short form content is perfect for somebody who’s on their mobile phone and usually wants to read something really quickly and find out really quickly that information.
It just depends on the topic, it depends on your strategy as well.
What are you actually trying to gain from it? What kind of people are you trying to attract?
Have a think about where they are in the user journey – are they wanting more research? Do they want more information? How many questions should you be answering in there?
The thing is if they’re offering both short and long form, actually both could be the answer, because why can’t you have a mix?
For example, if you have one question on one, that could be a short form if it’s a short snappy question-and-answer, but then actually you can merge a few questions together if you’d like to have a page that’s relevant to a bigger topic and actually have a hub of information.
I really like what Alina just said actually!
That’s a really good way of thinking about it, is the possibility to mix long and short form content.
When I’m looking at, I don’t want to say word counts, but when I’m looking about how much detail I need to go into when I’m writing copy for a website, I will look at what other websites are doing on their site to see what else is being ranked currently, what is in the top one, two and three spots in Google, how long is their content, what sort of thing are they addressing and use that as my guide as to the depths that I should probably be going into my own copy.
The idea of mixing long and short form content together is quite a nice one.
You could almost have a really succinct summary at the top of your page and then go into far more detail later on.
Almost the reverse of what most recipe websites do where they have two billion words about their aunties favourite recipe and how it was developed during the war, and how the troops all lived off of that recipe… and then two years later you finally get to the bottom and actually see the recipe itself.
It’s almost that in reverse. So you’ve got the succinct answer that can be used for your feature set, for instance, and then the much more in-depth content lies behind that for people who do want to read, so you’re kind of mixing both sets of user intent there.
Most websites have FAQ’s, and a lot of the times those FAQ pages will have the “click and it opens out, here’s all this content” so they’re really large pages, but if you look at search results how often have you seen an FAQ page rank for anything?
That’s true but you do see FAQs being answered in the snippets.
But I mean as far as in actual results pages, you are not seeing as many and a lot of those FAQ’s have the answers.
I think I’d add where I fully agree that the putting a synopsis right at the top and then structuring the content is hugely valuable, just look at the way in which Wikipedia for example structures content, is a really good way of thinking about how content should be structured.
What I am finding though, is at least in the traditional SERPs, most of the time the content seems to be getting longer in the results for whatever reason.
I think that the reason is because Google is using NLP much more, so it’s using NLP routines to try and understand and interpret content, and long-form content is easier for NLP programs to learn and train and understand what the content is about.
I think that might be one reason why that’s happening, but of course just because a page ranks doesn’t necessarily mean that a link from that page is particular valuable – that’s potentially a completely different piece of maths.
That’s one thing that Majestic (the sponsors) came out with, with Link Context being able to see how dense the links are, not just on the page but how dense the links are within each percentile percentiles of the page is hugely valuable to try and find out whether your links are coming from a page full of links, or bundled in the footer, or in the middle of the content, or in the middle of rich text.
The quality of a link is not necessarily related to the context of the page, regardless of if the page is ranking in the results.
Anyway we’re nearly out of time, so just before you go, I like to keep these short because after a while we ramble on and we probably come out with our best points early on.
So one final thing I’d say thank you very much from the audience for the great questions. I’m going to keep with the theme for the next time because I you say it’s quite a good one, so do come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough youngsters and put yourself forward!
Thank you also to Majestic of course for sponsoring the webinar, and of course to you guys, so would you like to finish up by telling us where people can find you, where they can follow up on questions?
I’m on Twitter so if you want to just chat about SEO or other things then you can find me @HelenPollitt1
There is a load of L’s and T’s in my name, so good luck with that!
If you want to pay me for SEO work however, then arrowsup.co.uk is where you should head.
I am @MrsAlinaGhost on Twitter, or you can just go onto my site which is aghost.co.uk where you can find information about the podcast.
If want to reach out its AussieWebmaster@gmail.com, emails the easiest one.
It’s also @aussieewebmaster on Twitter, Frank Watson on Facebook, we’re starting up the SEO Rockstar podcast again so look that up, there’s a whole bunch of old ones of those.
It’s a part of it helping and I’m learning more from the people that are coming into the industry now: the two women that here today, and then people like dawn, and it’s amazing the skill that is being brought to what we’re doing versus what it was like when we first started.
I mean it was the Wild West where you could literally do anything and there was no such thing as an idea that couldn’t be done. Off the wall stuff worked and nowadays you’ve got to be far more of a scientist. You’ve got to have a lot more skill set to be successful because the engines themselves have come in and they’ve refined their abilities and Google with the ultimate black box we really do need scientists testing and finding success.
Thank you very, very much.
I’m going to leave you with the one thought that really stood out at the start for me and that was that behind every mainstream news story is an SEO, and I think when you listen to your news tonight or particularly your news in the morning, the news in the morning seems to pretty much be the SEO is behind it, so if you don’t think you’re going mainstream then you’re not trying.
So thanks a lot guys, I appreciate it, and for every one of you coming along – we’ll see you next time!
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