Here’s the thing: no one really knows the exact formula Google uses for ranking websites, and no one knows exactly how sites are ranked for various keywords. Google has set out some guidelines to live by, and by trial-and-error, top SEOs have uncovered some a few factors for optimizing a site for search.
Let’s analyze six of the most important off-site SEO factors you should always pay attention to, based on the rules by which Google — and other search engines — want us to play the SEO game.
Backlinks are one of the foundations of SEO. Backlinks are outside links that point back to your site. In other words, they are links from other people’s websites. People choose to link back to your content because they have found it to be relevant and useful.
However, you can also create backlinks yourself by posting content that links back to your site via social media profiles and directories.
These days, one of the best and most powerful ways to create backlinks is to do guest posting on other authoritative and high-PR blogs.
Also, if you want to attract tons of high-quality backlinks to your site, it inevitably comes back to this: You have to create interesting, timely, and relevant content that people active in your niche would want to link to, and you have to do it on a consistent and continual basis.
That is the ultimate guarantee that links around your site will be created naturally.
Linking back from sites with higher pagerank than yours will help jack up your own pagerank.
However, you need to be careful when picking sites from which to link back. Before Google did a major overhaul on their algorithm, quantity seemed to be the dominating factor behind successful off-site SEO strategy. Today, quality trumps quantity.
Quality backlinking calls for links from very relevant and high authority sites. You want to create links from sites with good reputation, and ideally they will relate only to your niche.
The more relevant the site you are linking from, the better. There’s little advantage in creating backlinks from home improvement sites if you are working around the gadgets and electronics industry.
Don’t just link from one source or one type of site. Link back from as many different kinds as possible. Create links from blogs, industry directories, article directories, forums, and social media properties.
The more you diversify, the more you’ll attract traffic from a variety of sources. This will increase your chances of winning a favorable ranking from Google.
Creating several hundred links to a new site within days is a recipe for disaster. It raises red flags and runs the risk of being deemed unnatural. Keep the process natural by building several links at a regular pace; say, two to five per business day.
Here’s where Google Penguin has lowered the boom on many thousands of sites. The norm used to be for SEOs to create tons of exact-match anchor texts.
These days, the Penguin wants to see variations or you will pay a huge price and see a significant drop in rankings and traffic.
You can still use exact-match anchor texts, but keep them to a minimum. Use related terms for variations.
Almost every strategy under the SEO umbrella can be categorized as “onsite” or “offsite.” Onsite refers to all the site structuring, basic setup, and ongoing work you do on your domain, while offsite refers to anything that happens away from that domain. Strategies like guest posting, link building, and social media marketing all fall into the offsite category, and are critical if you want to rank for any cluster of keywords.
Depending on the size of your site and on how many people have access to it, odds are your onsite structure and content aren’t going to change frequently. Occasionally, you should run an onsite audit to ensure no new pages have gone untitled or no duplicate pages have been indexed, but unless there’s a serious performance issue with your site, it’s unlikely that an onsite hiccup can cause your rankings to fall. If you see unexpected volatility and your onsite SEO is in order, the only reasonable possibility is that something has gone wrong offsite.
There are five common offsite SEO hiccups that can interfere with your rankings, but fortunately, all of them have relatively easy fixes:
If you’re experienced in SEO, you know the deal; offsite links are necessary for building authority and building on low-quality sources is easy, but can actively damage your reputation depending on the source. A rogue link pointing to your domain on a scam site or a virtually unknown publisher could drive your domain authority down and prevent you free gaining any positive momentum.
There are a few ways links like these could pop up. They could be remnants from an older strategy, or links you forgot you built. They could be links built by someone else on your team without your knowledge. They might have even been built without your company’s consent. In any case, you can find them using a link search tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer, and usually get them taken down with a simple request to the webmaster in question.
Just because your link is on a medium- to high-authority source doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. Google’s Penguin update detects the natural or unnatural presence of links, and can penalize those that appear to have been built for the sole purpose of manipulating rank. For example, if your link appears randomly in an online forum thread about a topic completely unrelated to your industry, it could register as spam. If your link is embedded in keyword-dense anchor text with no legitimate purpose, it could register as spam.
These links are a little harder to detect, so you’ll have to be dutiful in your scan. Again, a search tool is useful here, but you’ll have to dig a little deeper and use your best judgment if you want to estimate the perceived “naturalness” of the link in question.
You might have posted heavily on your first guest posting opportunity, rather than seeking out newer sources. You might have two separate sites and link between them to boost each other’s rankings. Whatever the case, if you have too many links pointing to your site from one source, it can make Google think you’re trying to game the system. You can use a search tool to evaluate this, but chances are, you won’t need one. If you’re engaging in a link exchange like this, even an innocent one, you’ll need to supplement it with other outside sources and more nofollow links.
This is a specific problem for local SEO, but no matter what your goals are, it’s worth fixing. Your NAP information refers to your company’s name, address, and phone number—the information Google thinks is most important to searchers. If this information exists on third party directories and review sites, but is inconsistent with the NAP info you have on your site, you could miss out on achieving a local rank. Work with these directories to ensure that all your information is accurate, complete, and up-to-date, and reach out to new directories to prevent the problem from recurring.
This one comes with a clarification—few actions on social media directly influence your domain authority or rank. However, Google does index social media content, and your presence on these external profiles could give it more accurate information to index on your company (especially for queries with rich answers). Similarly, neglecting to include social media icons on your site stifles users’ abilities to share your content, restricting the social signals your company can earn and reducing your potential reach. To prevent this, claim all your major social media profiles, fill out your information completely, and make it easy for users to share your onsite content.
When you see your rankings shift, don’t panic. It’s something that happens even to the best and most experienced search marketers of the world. The key is to track down the source of the problem quickly and resolve the issue with surgical precision. Even if you don’t see volatility in your rankings, it’s a good idea to occasionally check your link profile, local citations, and social media profile statuses, as it’s easy to overlook common issues or slip up and inadvertently damage your own reputation. Still, if you work quickly and remain vigilant, there’s no reason these small offsite hiccups should be anything more than a minor, temporary inconvenience.
There’s one critical fact you must consider above all others: Google still relies on offsite links to evaluate domain authority. That means even though links are more rigidly evaluated, they’re still an important factor for your SEO campaign. Building links isn’t the problem; instead, it all comes down to how you build them.
If you build links with the sole intention of artificially increasing your rank, you’re going to get penalized. If, however, you focus on building links with quality offsite content, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of a large-scale offsite link building strategy without facing the risks. The question then becomes how do you write high-quality offsite content for link building?
There are two demands for onsite content. First, you must write in a way that’s pleasing to your users—your goal is to show off your brand voice, entertain or inform your users, and make them want to come back for more. Second, you must write in a way that informs search engines about the nature of your business, using keywords and topic choices that convey accurate ideas to its hyper-intuitive crawlers.
Offsite content has a different set of goals. You’ll want to make sure your content is valuable, but making a striking impression isn’t quite as important. In fact, you may want to write in a style other than your brand voice, depending on your goals. For example, if you’re looking to guest post and build your reputation offsite, you should focus on maintaining a consistent brand and quality. However, if you’re merely looking for a vessel to build links, you can spend less time and focus on a standard production.
Assuming you’re trying to write content solely as a vessel for link building, there are several qualities you’ll need to consider.
The length of your link building content needs to be substantive, but not over-the-top. Anything less than 300 words isn’t worth writing because it barely registers as a full article. Anything longer than 1,000 words is too much effort. As for the ideal range between those two extremes, that’s up to you. What type of content are you writing? How detailed do you need to be? The answers to these questions should point you in the right direction.
Because your offsite articles aren’t going to be directly posted on your main site, you have much more flexibility with the range of topics you offer. You won’t have to adhere to a certain theme or follow any particular protocols. However, you will need to select topics that are at least peripherally related to your industry. The goal here is to ensure that Google reads and categorizes your content appropriately; otherwise, it could get mixed signals about the nature of your business and your keyword rankings could become unpredictable.
Like with any piece of content online, your offsite link building content should be structured in a way that’s inviting to a reader. Include subsections, headings, bullet points, and stylistic differences that make it easy to navigate the greater article. This will make your article seem more valuable, and stray readers might eventually wander to your site, giving you some bonus referral traffic in addition to your domain authority building strategy.
The number and type of links you include in the body of your article both affect how Google crawls and interprets your material. If you include too many links, it could register as spam. If you include too few, you could waste your effort. If you include too many of the same link across multiple articles, your domain authority could suffer.
Unfortunately, there’s no single rule that dictates the best link types to include. Your best bet is to diversify your strategy, using as many different links as you can and varying your link frequency from few links to many links. On the whole, one link per 300 words is a good rule of thumb, but you should still diversify regardless.
Your content needs to be well-written, no matter what. Google’s search bots can detect the unnatural use of language, so it’s going to tell if you’ve simply outsourced your article writing to developing countries. Double check your content for spelling, syntax, or grammatical errors, and make sure all your facts are both accurate and cited. Just because your content is offsite doesn’t mean that Google won’t dock you for the quality of your work.
Generally, it’s unwise to post too many new links at one time. Spread your link building article publications out over the course of weeks or months, regularly and consistently posting to ensure an even build. The number of articles and links you can get away with building depends in part on the size of your organization; too many external links too soon for a new business might seem out of the ordinary, while that same number for a long-established major corporation might not trigger any red flags.
While a content strategy is usually seen as the onsite portion of your SEO campaign, it’s also critically important for the success of your offsite strategy. Once you’ve mastered the process of writing, publishing, and syndicating linked offsite articles, you’ll be able to easily and steadily increase your domain authority without interfering with your other efforts.
There’s one limiting factor holding back conversion rates from being infinitely inflatable, however: there’s a finite number of onsite changes you can make before you start running out of ideas or grasping at straws. Making your call-to-action (CTA) more prominent and making the conversion process easier will greatly increase your conversion rate, but once you’ve burned up all the standard best practices, all you’re left with are experimental changes like button colors and wording tweaks, which can only increase your conversion rate by small degrees.
My solution to this is to look outward, rather than inward. Instead of hunting down every last onsite strategy useful for increasing conversion rates, start looking offsite. In particular, there are three offsite strategies I’ve known to be useful in maximizing your onsite conversion rate:
The first strategy might be the most obvious, but it’s one that often goes neglected by busy business owners focusing on bottom-line revenues. Your brand’s online reputation is hard to accurately or objectively measure; you might use your number of social followers or your search ranking to get an indirect idea of how well you’re faring against the competition, but brand recognition and brand trust are more subjective factors, not tied to any one metric.
The more users recognize and trust your brand, the more likely they’ll be to convert. Whether you’re selling a funny T-shirt or enticing email subscribers with a free eBook, if a user encounters your CTA and thinks “oh, I know these guys!,” he/she will be far more likely to pull the trigger. The way to build this trust and name recognition is through ongoing relationship management offsite.
There are a few ways to do this. First, work on making your social media profiles more prominent and more active, and don’t be afraid to reach out to new people (especially influencers). The more active you are on social media, the more people will learn to recognize you. Second, get your material published in higher circles. If you’re already published in local news outlets or niche industry forums, strive for something more national and visible to the average consumer. The more publication outlets you have under your belt, the more your name will come up (and the more trustworthy your brand will seem when it comes time to make a purchasing decision).
Next, work on pre-qualifying your leads. This is the process of filtering out any inbound traffic that doesn’t have any chance of buying from you in favor of traffic that does. As you might suspect, there are a number of ways to do this, and most of them start offsite. One caveat to this: as you start filtering out irrelevant traffic, you’ll notice your traffic figures start to decline. As long as your conversion rates correspondingly increase, it shouldn’t concern you.
One of the easiest ways to pre-qualify leads is through highly targeted content. Whether you’re distributing your material through multiple external publishers or just syndicating your stuff on social media, put an extra emphasis on content that can only appeal to people late in the buying cycle, or those actually willing to buy from you. For example, if you sell bike tires, articles like “What’s the best bike tire for mountain bikes?” is much more targeted to interested buyers than articles like “How to prepare a mountain bike for spring.”
You can also pre-qualify leads by segmenting your audiences on social media. On LinkedIn, this could mean getting involved with specific Groups more than others. On Twitter, this could mean creating custom lists based on your follower demographics. On Facebook, this could mean utilizing geo-targeting. How you pre-qualify your leads is up to you; what’s important is the increased relevance of your inbound traffic.
This is a strategy related to point two, since it involves increasing the relevance of your inbound audience. But rather than filtering out uninterested segments of your target audience, this strategy is all about increasing the trust and interest level of your existing followers.
Post a diversity of different calls for traffic, including discount offers, different types of content, sales, and links to internal pages, then analyze the behavior patterns of traffic coming to your site from each type of post. Think of this as an AB test that occurs before your users are ever exposed to a CTA, with your CTA being consistent in both rounds. Eventually, you should notice a pattern of more users converting after coming to your site from specific types of posted content. Increase the prevalence of this type of content on your social circuits, and you should see a correspondingly higher conversion rate.
These offsite strategies, when working in conjunction with proper onsite conversion optimization, can take your conversion rate to new heights. As with any conversion optimization strategy, data is your best friend here, so try out these strategies independently against a control group before you make a final determination of what’s effective and what’s not. Eventually, you’ll find the right combination of tactics for your business to maximize its lead and sales pipeline.
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