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The Rise Of Paid SEO Thru Advanced Targeting

Posted by David Konigsberg

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The Rise Of Paid SEO Thru Advanced Targeting

For years, SEO professionals have been able to use PPC to further their goals. Be it in the form of keyword research or testing the projections of ROI gains from a particular keyword, it was a way to conduct real world field tests before launching a full-blown SEO strategy. With Google crushing the SEO schemes and easy tactics one by one via manual and algorithmic penalties, I believe that the time for SEOs to embrace new technologies and pay for content promotion and audience engagement is upon us.

The cost of doing retargeting or PPC for a content piece has always been daunting for an SEO due to the difficulty of procuring budget for it, until recently. With avenues such as modern content amplification and retargeting based on various data sources, a trend is forming to use PPC to further your outreach and SEO goals.

Below I will show you a quick overview of some of the advanced targeting options that we have available today to us.amplified.jpg

Amplification Platforms

Content amplification platforms such as Outbrain, nRelate and Taboola provide targeting options and social layer of engagement that are just too good to ignore.

In essence, these services suggest your content along with the trusted and related content to an audience who is already engaged. They’re already interested in what they’re currently viewing, so they’re very likely to check out your article, infographic or video that’s well within eyeshot.

If your asset happens to be great, the magic will practically happen on its own. It will generate shares, links and possibly retweets from influencers, which is something we’d gladly pay for.

Compared to spending tens of thousands annually on someone to get links to get link juice so that you can be seen, but with no actual and measurable assurance of it, this is money well spent.

Best of all, these are “Google Approved” paid links; there’s no risk of getting penalized: You can read more about it here in a slideshare Will Reynolds wrote http://www.slideshare.net/wilreynolds/the-10000-paid-content-paid-linking-test-that-is-100-google-safe

These sites like Taboola have even integrated retargeting abilities to further add to the effectiveness of the platforms by targeting users who have been to your site already.




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Creating a New Remarketing List (Beta) Using Analytics-based Retargeting

With Adwords remarketing, it is now possible to show the amazing new content piece you’ve made to people who have been on your site and have done micro conversions. SEOs can finally target users in such a way that justifies the fees associated to it. So time to learn PPC or make friends with someone on the PPC team.

Example use: Show content ads to people who have been on site over x amount of time and have not seen that content.

This can be setup in analytics in the admin panel -remarketing Follow the steps and run ads through adwords.

Furthermore, Analytics now has audience data that can be utilized for further targeting and research - Learn to setup this here.



This can be taken even further by building content based on the persona interests seen in the new analytics interest category and showing ads to promote the content to only those users with that interest.

This gives us the ability to show our clients that we know who our audience is made up of, strengthening our case for creation of content based on those interests and then targeting them using the new remarketing lists.facebook.jpg

Facebook Targeting by ID, number, and email

Now while google requires you to be anonymous in your targeting social networks do not. You can use Facebook ads to deliver your content in an even more targeted manner to an individual. Have Facebook use your list of IDs, phone numbers or emails of competitor fans, top editors, top fans who share your content, or virtually anybody who has expressed interest in your product or service. This will make targeting via age group and gender pale in comparison. This will make your social media manager your best friend.

You can also get a user’s ID and name using this: http://graph.facebook.com/username

Read more on it here

http://blog.wishpond.com/post/64215441993/how-to-target-facebook-ads-based-on-email-address


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Twitter Targeting by email

Twitter also follows suit by recently launching their Tailored Audiences program for ad retargeting. I think is a leaner and meaner way to retarget since it is now possible to show ads to say, editors, just by breaking out your email marketing list, while excluding those who are not on it. Retargeting via keywords might be nice, but it certainly isn’t this precise.

Read more on this heresocialad.jpg

Social Ad Platforms

Social platforms effectively segregate people by interests, and with most people active on social networks during the workday, it is not something to miss out on. For example, LinkedIn is the perfect place to do retargeting if you want to capture an audience of professionals movers and influencers. Another one would be a targeted ad placed in the appropriate subreddit, or using stumbleupon ads. This is a great way to get your content seen by thousands of people and give your content that viral boost it needs. Because even the best content won't attract attention if nobody sees it.

As you can see, PPC allows SEOs to target content with surgical precision. It is also able to generate links in less time and effort, with even lesser hands doing work. This is not to say that PPC is a must, but rather, anybody running an SEO campaign can benefit from teaming up with your ppc and social media departments. The future of SEO is obviously moving in this direction and those who recognize this will emerge winners. I would love to hear in the comments how you have gained wins mixing seo with ppc or social to hit multiple marketing goals at once.

David Konigsberg is the CEO of Optimal Targeting, a full service internet marketing agency based in New Jersey. He is an online marketing strategist who uses his expertise in Analytics, PPC, Link building, Social and Infographics in a holistic approach to marketing. As a person with an unending thirst for learning and improvement he's also speaker and presenter.


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Competency Based Interview Questions for Hiring SEO Professionals

Posted by vidge007

Any HR professional will tell you that Interviews are not a good predictor of candidate behaviour. In fact statistics by the Chartered Institute of Personnel (CIPD) in the UK suggest that only 11% of individuals you appoint using an interview only process will turn out to be the best candidate for the job. This has real consequences for businesses, because the cost of hiring and firing can often be substantial. The biggest cause is poor interview questions, conducted by poorly trained interviewers.

If you are to embark on an Interview only candidate selection process to hire SEO professionals, then a competency-based interview will improve your candidate selection as it involves asking questions about a candidate's past behaviour, rather than future based questions (what would you do?). A candidate's past behaviour is a better prediction of how they are more likely to behave in the future, humans are of course creatures of habit. Any knowledgeable individual may know what good link building should consist of, but have they actually done it, and done it well? Hence, why you ask questions about past behaviour. Individuals who have actually carried out this process will be able to give good, clear examples with substantial evidence in a timely manner.

I've read many previous internet articles on the subject, including those on Search Engine Watch and Moz, and for me there seems to be a real shortage of guidance and good examples of competency based questions and scoring for the SEO community. So I thought I would provide details of poor SEO interview questions, followed by some good SEO examples. Prior to me working as an SEO professional, I was heavily involved in recruitment, in particular the execution of a competency-based assessment centre process for the Home Office.

Types of Interview Questions

Poor Example:

How would you go about evaluating the on-page SEO ranking factors of a web page? What would you do if you found issues?

Good Example:

Please provide an example of when you evaluated a web page for on-page SEO ranking factors and you found issues?

Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 name of website provided
1.2 keyword/Phrase provided
1.3 starting Rank Provided
1.4 identified issues e.g keywords missing in title, on-page content etc
1.5 provided details of changes made
1.6 provided details of software used
1.7 provided closing rank and outcome

You would provide them five minutes to provide a suitable answer. If the interviewee were providing insufficient evidence, you would then ask them probing questions (these are below). Note: you would only ask each probing question once. If they still failed to provide a suitable response, then you would score the behaviour as weak. You would not mark them down for having to be prompted with a probing question. At five minutes, you would stop and move onto the next question regardless if they have finished. You would not allow them to provide an alternative answer. It is useful to provide the candidate a copy of the question on a sheet of card as you progress (do not include the probing questions). This prevents the candidate from having to repeatedly ask you the question.

Probing Questions:

What was the name of the website in question?
What issues did you face?
What did you do?
How did you overcome the issues?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?

Scoring
You should use the Scalar to mark individual behaviours. If they provided strong evidence, you would mark them 4 on the Scalar. Weak evidence would be marked as 1.

At the end of the interview, you would then simply add the total up. The candidate with the best performing scores is the most suitably skilled, because they have demonstrated strongest evidence of performance and desired behaviours.

As communication is often an essential requirement you could also score them overall for effective communications:

Scalar
Clear 4 3 2 1 Unclear

Verbal communication over the duration of the interview

Structured 4 3 2 1 Unstructured

Information provided


ANOTHER EXAMPLE

Poor Example:

How would you go about analysing a competitor’s backlink profile and use the information to target links for your own client?

Good Example:

Please provide an example of when you analysed a competitor’s backlink profile and you used that information to successfully acquire a quality link for a website?

Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 name of website analysed
1.2 provided details of software used
1.3 outlined how information gathered was used in decision-making process
1.4 reviewed the information and provided details of authority and strength of potential targets
1.5 established how they went about obtaining the link for the website
1.6 provided details of the new link

Probing Questions:

What was the name of the website you analysed?
What did you do?
What sources did you use to gather your intelligence?
What were your findings?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?


ANOTHER EXAMPLE

Poor Example:

How would you go about link building for a client, explain the process?

Good Example:

Please provide an example of when you successfully sourced a new high quality inbound link for a website? What process did you follow?

Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 explained the type of link
1.2 mentioned the importance of quality and relevancy of the link
1.3 explained how they identified the domain
1.4 talked about software used to identify authority and quality
1.5 mentioned the importance of building relationships
1.6 identified the importance of driving quality traffic rather than just rankings
1.7 mentioned the avoidance of Exact Match Anchor Text

Probing Questions:

Where on the website did the link feature?
What did you do?
What sources did you use to gather your intelligence?
How did you approach the other party?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?

Negative answers: directory submissions, blog comments, page rank and exact match anchor text. Focused too much on rankings, rather than driving quality traffic.


ANOTHER EXAMPLE
(this is a generic competency question related to team working and would be useful if the role involved line management responsibility)

Poor Example:

How would you deal with an underperforming member of staff and how would you improve their performance?

Good Example:

Please provide an example of when you dealt with an underperforming member of staff and you helped improve their performance.

Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 provided actual time and date
1.2 identifies how they were under performing
1.3 identifies the importance of performing within the team
1.4 were willing to help / support team member
1.5 was open and approachable to other’s issues

Probing questions

What did you do?
How did you encourage the other individual to perform?
Were there any problems that arose?
How did you overcome them?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?


I hope the Moz community find this interesting and it contributes to SEO talent management.

About me: I run my own inbound marketing business davidvidgen.co.uk and I have worked with a variety of clients up and down the UK. Feel free to say hello and pop me any questions on Twitter @davidvidgen.


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Link Audit Guide for Effective Link Removals & Risk Mitigation

Posted by Modestos

This step-by-step guide aims to help users with the link auditing process relying on own judgment, without blindly relying on automation. Because links are still a very important ranking factor, link audits should be carried out by experienced link auditors rather than third party automated services. A flawed link audit can have detrimental implications.

The guide consists of the following sections:

  1. How to make sure that your site’s issues are links-related.
  2. Which common misconceptions you should to avoid when judging the impact of backlinks.
  3. How to shape a solid link removal strategy.
  4. How to improve the backlink data collection process.
  5. Why you need to re-crawl all collected backlink data.
  6. Why you need to find the genuine URLs of your backlinks.
  7. How to build a bespoke backlink classification model.
  8. Why you need to weight and aggregate all negative signals.
  9. How to prioritise backlinks for removal.
  10. How to measure success after having removed/disavowed links.

In the process that follows, automation is required only for data collection, crawling and metric gathering purposes.

Disclaimer: The present process is by no means panacea to all link-related issues – feel free to share your thoughts, processes, experiences or questions within the comments section - we can all learn from each other :)

#1 Rule out all other possibilities

Nowadays link removals and/or making use of Google’s disavow tool are the first courses of action that come to mind following typical negative events such as ranking drops, traffic loss or de-indexation of one or more key-pages on a website.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that whenever rankings drop or traffic dips links are the sole culprits.

For instance, some of the actual reasons that these events may have occurred can relate to:

  • Tracking issues – Before trying anything else, make sure the reported traffic data are accurate. If traffic appears to be down make sure there aren’t any issues with your analytics tracking. It happens sometimes that the tracking code goes missing from one or more pages for no immediately apparent reason.
  • Content issues - E.g. the content of the site is shallow, scraped or of very low quality, meaning that the site could have been hit by an algorithm (Panda) or by a manual penalty.
  • Technical issues - E.g. a poorly planned or executed site migration, a disallow directive in robots.txt, wrong implementation of rel=”canonical”, severe site performance issues etc.
  • Outbound linking issues – These may arise when a website is linking out to spam sites or websites operating in untrustworthy niches i.e. adult, gambling etc. Linking out to such sites isn’t always deliberate and in many cases, webmasters have no idea where their websites are linking out to. Outbound follow links need to be regularly checked because the hijacking of external links is a very common hacking practice. Equally risky are outbound links pointing to pages that have been redirected to bad neighbourhood sites.
  • Hacking – This includes unintentional hosting of spam, malware or viruses that come as a consequence because of hacking.

In all these cases, trying to recover any loss in traffic has nothing to do with the quality of the inbound links as the real reasons are to be found elsewhere.

Remember: There is nothing worse than spending time on link removals when in reality your site is suffering by non-link-related issues.

#2 Avoid common misconceptions

If you have lost rankings or traffic and you can’t spot any of issues presented in previous step, you are left with the possibility of checking out your backlinks.

Nevertheless, you should avoid the falling victim of the following three misconceptions before being reassured that there aren’t any issues with your sites backlinks.

a) It’s not just about Penguin

The problem: Minor algorithm updates take place pretty much every day and not just on the dates Google’s reps announce them, such as the Penguin updates. According to Matt Cutts, in 2012 alone Google launched 665 algorithmic updates, which averages at about two per day during the entire year!

If your site hasn’t gained or lost rankings on the exact dates Penguin was refreshed or other official updates rolled out, this does not mean that your site is immune to all Google updates. In fact, your site may have been hit already by less commonly known updates.

The solution: The best ways to spot unofficial Google updates is by regularly keeping an eye on the various SERP volatility tools as well as on updates from credible forums where many site owners and SEOs whose sites have been hit share their own experiences.

SERPs volatility (credit: SERPs.com)

b) Total organic traffic has not dropped

The problem: Even though year-over-year traffic is a great KPI, when it’s not correlated with rankings, many issues may remain invisible. To make things even more complicated, “not provided” makes it almost impossible to break down your organic traffic into brand and non-brand queries.

The solution: Check your rankings regularly (i.e. weekly) so you can easily spot manual penalties or algorithmic devaluations that may be attributed to your site’s link graph. Make sure that you not only track the keywords with the highest search volumes but also other several mid- or even long-tail ones. This will help you diagnose which keyword groups or pages have been affected.

c) It’s not just about the links you have built

The problem: Another common misconception is to assume that because you haven’t built any unnatural links your site's backlink profile is squeaky-clean. Google evaluates all links pointing to your site, even the ones that were built five or 10 years ago and are still live, which you may or may not be aware of. In a similar fashion, any new links coming into your site do equally matter, whether they’re organic, inorganic, built by you or someone else. Whether you like it or not, every site is accountable and responsible for all inbound links pointing at it.

The solution: First, make sure you’re regularly auditing your links against potential negative SEO attempts. Check out Glen Gabe’s 4 ways of carrying out negative SEO checks and try adopting at least two of them. In addition, carry out a thorough backlink audit to get a better understanding of your site’s backlinks. You may be very surprised finding out which sites have been linking to your site without being aware of it.

#3 Shape a solid link removal strategy

Coming up with a solid strategy should largely depend on whether:

  1. You have received a manual penalty.
  2. You have lost traffic following an official or unofficial algorithmic update (e.g. Penguin).
  3. You want to remove links proactively to mitigate risk.

I have covered thoroughly in another post the cases where link removals can be worthwhile so let’s move on into the details of each one of the three scenarios.

Manual penalties Vs. Algorithmic devaluations

If you’ve concluded that the ranking drops and/or traffic loss seem to relate to backlink issues, the first thing you need to figure out is whether your site has been hit manually or algorithmically.

Many people confuse manually imposed penalties with algorithmic devaluations, hence making strategic mistakes.

  • If you have received a Google notification and/or a manual ‘Impacts Links’ action (like the one below) appears within Webmaster Tools it means that your site has already been flagged for unnatural links and sooner or later it will receive a manual penalty. In this case, you should definitely try to identify which the violating links may be and try to remove them.

  • If no site-wide or partial manual actions appear in your Webmaster Tools account, your entire site or just a few pages may have been affected by an official (e.g. Penguin update/refresh) or unofficial algorithmic update in Google’s link valuation. For more information on unofficial updates keep an eye on Moz’s Google update history.

There is also the possibility that a site has been hit manually and algorithmically at the same time, although this is a rather rare case.

Tips for manual penalties

If you’ve received a manual penalty, you’ll need to remove as many unnatural links as possible to please Google’s webspam team when requesting a review. But before you get there, you need to figure out what type of penalty you have received:

  1. Keyword level penalty – Rankings for one or more keywords appear to have dropped significantly.
  2. Page (URL) level penalty – The pages no longer ranks for any of its targeted keywords, including head and long-tail ones. In some cases, the affected page may even appear to be de-indexed.
  3. Site-wide penalty – The entire site has been de-indexed and consequently no longer ranks for any keywords, including the site’s own domain name.

1. If one (or more) targeted keyword(s) has received a penalty, you should first focus on the backlinks pointing to the page(s) that used to rank for the penalised keyword(s) BEFORE the penalty took place. Carrying out granular audits against the pages of your best ranking competitors can give you a rough idea of how much work you need to do in order to rebalance your backlink profile.

Also, make sure you review all backlinks pointing to URLs that 301 redirect or have a rel=”canonical” to the penalised pages. Penalties can flow in the same way PageRank flows through 301 redirects or rel=”canonical” tags.

2. If one (or more) pages (URLs) have received a penalty, you should definitely focus on the backlinks pointing to these pages first. Although there are no guarantees that resolving the issues with the backlinks of the penalised pages may be enough to lift the penalty, it makes sense not making drastic changes on the backlinks of other parts of the site unless you really have to e.g. after failing a first reconsideration request.

3. If the penalty is site-wide, you should look at all backlinks pointing to the penalised domain or subdomain.

In terms of the process you can follow to manually identify and document the toxic links, Lewis Seller’s excellent Ultimate Guide to Google Penalty Removal covers pretty much all you need to be doing.

Tips for algorithmic devaluations

Pleasing Google’s algorithm is quite different to pleasing a human reviewer. If you have lost rankings due to an algorithmic update, the first thing you need to do is to carry out a backlink audit against the top 3-4 best-ranking websites in your niche.

It is really important to study the backlink profile of the sites, which are still ranking well, making sure you exclude Exact Match Domains (EMDs) and Partial Match Domains (PMDs).

This will help you spot:

  1. Unnatural signals when comparing your site’s backlink profile to your best ranking competitors.
  2. Common trends amongst the best ranking websites.

Once you have done the above you should then be in a much better position to decide which actions you need to take in order to rebalance the site’s backlink profile.

Tips for proactive link removals

Making sure that your site’s backlink profile is in better shape compared to your competitors should always be one of your top priorities, regardless of whether or not you’ve been penalised. Mitigating potential link-related risks that may arise as a result of the next Penguin update, or a future manual review of your site from Google’s webspam team, can help you stay safe.

There is nothing wrong with proactively removing and/or disavowing inorganic links because some of the most notorious links from the past may one day in the future hold you back for an indefinite period of time, or in extreme cases, ruin your entire business.

Removing obsolete low quality links is highly unlikely to cause any ranking drops as Google is already discounting (most of) these unnatural links. However, by not removing them you’re risking getting a manual penalty or getting hit by the next algorithm update.

Undoubtedly, proactively removing links may not be the easiest thing to sell a client. Those in charge of sites that have been penalised in the past are always much more likely to invest in this activity, without any having any hesitations.

Dealing with unrealistic growth expectations it can be easily avoided when honestly educating clients about the current stance of Google towards SEO. Investing on this may save you later from a lot of troubles, avoiding misconceptions or misunderstandings.

A reasonable site owner would rather invest today into minimising the risks and sacrifice growth for a few months rather than risk the long-term sustainability of their business. Growth is what makes site owners happy, but sustaining what has already been achieved should be their number one priority.

So, if you have doubts about how your client may perceive your suggestion about spending the next few months into re-balancing their site’s backlink profile so it conforms with Google’s latest quality guidelines, try challenging them with the following questions:

  • How long could you afford running your business without getting any organic traffic from Google?
  • What would be the impact to your business if you five best performing keywords stop ranking for six months?

#4 Perfect the data collection process

Contrary to Google’s recommendation, relying on link data from Webmaster Tools alone in most cases isn’t enough, as Google doesn’t provide every piece of link data that is known to them. A great justification for this argument is the fact that many webmasters have received from Google examples of unnatural links that do not appear in the available backlink data in WMT.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense to try combining link data from as many different data sources as possible.

  1. Try including ALL data from at least one of the services with the biggest indexes (Majestic SEO, Ahrefs) as well as the ones provided by the two major search engines (Google and Bing webmaster tools) for free, to all verified owners of the sites.
  2. Take advantage of the backlink data provided by additional third party services such as Open Site Explorer, Blekko, Open Link Profiler, SEO Kicks etc.

Note that most of the automated link audit tools aren’t very transparent about the data sources they’re using, nor about the percentage of data they are pulling in for processing.

Being in charge of the data to be analysed will give you a big advantage and the more you increase the quantity and quality of your backlink data the better chances you will have to rectify the issues.

#5 Re-crawl all collected data

Now that have collected as much backlink data as possible, you now need to separate the chaff from the wheat. This is necessary because:

  • Not all the links you have already collected may still be pointing to your site.
  • Not all links pose the same risk e.g Google discounts no follow links.

All you need to do is crawl all backlink data and filter out the following:

  • Dead links – Not all links reported by Webmaster Tools, Majestic SEO, OSE and Ahrefs are still live as most of them were discovered weeks or even months ago. Make sure you get rid of URLs that do no longer link to your site such as URLs that return a 403, 404, 410, 503 server response. Disavowing links (or domains) that no longer exist can reduce the chances of a reconsideration request from& being successful.
  • Nofollow links – Because nofollow links do not pass PageRank nor anchor text, there is no immediate need trying to remove them - unless their number is in excess when compared to your site’s follow links or the follow/nofollow split of your competitors.

Tip: There are many tools which can help crawling the backlink data but I would strongly recommend Cognitive SEO because of its high accuracy, speed and low cost per crawled link.

6# Identify the authentic URLs

Once you have identified all live and follow links, you should then try identifying the authentic (canonical) URLs of the links. Note that this step is essential only in case you want to try to remove the toxic links. Otherwise, if you just want to disavow the links you can skip this step making sure you disavow the entire domain of each toxic-linking site rather than the specific pages linking to your site.

Often, a link appearing on a web page can be discovered and reported by a crawler several times as in most cases it would appear under many different URLs. Such URLs may include a blog’s homepage, category pages, paginated pages, feeds, pages with parameters in the URL and other typical duplicate pages.

Identifying the authentic URL of the page where the link was originally placed on (and getting rid the URLs of all other duplicate pages) is very important because:

  1. It will help with making reasonable link removal requests, which in turn can result in a higher success rate. For example, it’s pretty pointless contacting a Webmaster and requesting link removals from feeds, archived or paginated pages.
  2. It will help with monitoring progress, as well as gathering evidence for all the hard work you have carried out. The latter will be extremely important later if you need to request a review from Google.

Example 1 – Press release

In this example the first URL is the “authentic” one and all the others ones need to be removed. Removing the links contained in the canonical URL will remove the links from all the other URLs too.

Example 2 – Directory URLs

In the below example it isn’t immediately obvious on which page the actual link sits on:

http://www.192.com/business/derby-de24/telecom-services/comex-2000-uk/18991da6-6025-4617-9cc0-627117122e08/ugc/?sk=c6670c37-0b01-4ab1-845d-99de47e8032a (non canonical URL with appended parameter/value pair: disregard)

http://www.192.com/atoz/business/derby-de24/telecom-services/comex-2000-uk/18991da6-6025-4617-9cc0-627117122e08/ugc/ (canonical page: keep URL)

http://www.192.com/places/de/de24-8/de24-8hp/ (directory category page: disregard URL)

Unfortunately, this step can be quite time-consuming and I haven’t as yet come across an automated service able to automatically detect the authentic URL and instantly get rid of the redundant ones. If you are aware of any accurate and reliable ones, please feel free to share examples of these in the comments :)

#7 Build your own link classification model

There are many good reasons for building your own link classification model rather than relying on fully automated services, most of which aren’t transparent about their toxic link classification formulas.

Although there are many commercial tools available, all claiming to offer the most accurate link classification methodology, the decision whether a link qualifies or not for removal should sit with you and not with a (secret) algorithm. If Google, a multi-billion dollar business, is still failing in many occasions to detect manipulative links and relies up to some extent on humans to carry out manual reviews of backlinks, you should do the same rather than relying on a $99/month tool.

Unnatural link signals check-list

What you need to do in this stage is to check each one of the “authentic” URLs (you have identified from the previous step) against the most common and easily detectable signals of manipulative and unnatural links, including:

  1. Links with commercial anchor text, including both exact and broad match.
  2. Links with an obvious manipulative intent e.g. footer/sidebar text links, links placed on low quality sites (with/without commercial anchor text), blog comments sitting on irrelevant sites, duplicate listings on generic directories, low quality guest posts, widget links, press releases, site-wide links, blog-rolls etc. Just take a look at Google’s constantly expanding link-schemes page for the entire and up-to-date list.
  3. Links placed on authoritative yet untrustworthy websites. Typically these are sites that have bumped up their SEO metrics with unnatural links, so they look attractive for paid link placements. They can be identified when one (or more) of the below conditions are met:
  • MozRank is significantly greater than MozTrust.
  • PageRank if much greater than MozRank.
  • Citation flow is much greater than Trust Flow.
  1. Links appearing on pages or sites with low quality content, poor language and poor readability such as spun, scraped, translated or paraphrased content.
  2. Links sitting on domains with little or no topical relevance. E.g. too many links placed on generic directories or too many technology sites linking to financial pages.
  3. Links, which are part of a link network. Although these aren’t always easy to detect you can try identifying footprints including backlink commonality, identical or similar IP addresses, identical Whois registration details etc.
  4. Links placed only on the homepages of referring sites. As the homepage is the most authoritative page on most websites, links appearing there can be easily deemed as paid links – especially if their number is excessive. Pay extra attention to these links and make sure they are organic.
  5. Links appearing on sites with content in foreign languages e.g. Articles about gadgets in Chinese linking to a US site with commercial anchor text in English.
  6. Site-wide links. Not all site-wide links are toxic but it is worth manually checking them for manipulative intent e.g. when combined with commercial anchor text or when there is no topical relevance between the linked sites.
  7. Links appearing on hacked, adult, pharmaceutical and other “bad neighbourhood” spam sites.
  8. Links appearing on de-indexed domains. Google de-indexes websites that add no value to users (i.e. low quality directories), hence getting links from de-indexed websites isn’t a quality signal.
  9. Redirected domains to specific money-making pages. These can include EMDs or just authoritative domains carrying historical backlinks, usually unnatural and irrelevant.

Note that the above checklist isn’t exhaustive but should be sufficient to assess the overall risk score of each one of your backlinks. Each backlink profile is different and depending on its size, history and niche you may not need to carry out all of the aforementioned 12 checks.

Handy Tools

There are several paid and free tools that can massively help speeding things up when checking your backlinks against the above checklist.

Although some automated solutions can assist with points 2, 4, 5, 8 and 10, it is recommended to manually carry out these activities for more accurate results.

Jim Boykin’s Google Backlink Tool for Penguin & Disavow in action

#8 Weighting & aggregating the negative signals

Now that you have audited all links you can calculate the total risk score for each one of them. To do that you just need to aggregate all manipulative signals that have been identified in the previous step.

In the most simplistic form of this classification model, you can allocate one point to each one of the detected negative signals. Later, you can try up-weighting some of the most important signals – usually I do this for commercial anchor text, hacked /spam sites etc.

However, because each niche is unique and consists of a different ecosystem, a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work. Therefore, I would recommend trying out a few different combinations to improve the efficiency of your unnatural link detection formula.

Sample of weighted and aggregated unnatural link signals

Turning the data into a pivot chart makes it much easier to summarise the risk of all backlinks in a visual way. This will also help estimating the effort and resources needed, depending on the number of links you decide to remove.

9 Prioritising links for removal

Unfortunately, there isn't a magic number (or percentage) of links you need to remove in order to rebalance your site’s backlink profile. The decision of how much is enough would largely depend on whether:

  1. You have already lost rankings/traffic.
  2. Your site has been manually penalised or hit by an algorithm update.
  3. You are trying to avoid a future penalty.
  4. Your competitors have healthier backlink profiles.

No matter which the case is it makes common sense to focus first on those pages (and keywords), which are more critical to your business. Therefore, unnatural links pointing to pages with high commercial value should be prioritised for link removals.

Often, these pages are the ones that have been heavily targeted with links in the past, hence it’s always worth paying extra attention into the backlinks of the most heavily linked pages. On the other hand, it would be pretty pointless spending time analysing the backlinks pointing at pages with very few inbound links and these should be de-prioritised.

To get an idea of your most important page’s backlink vulnerability score you should try Virante’s Penguin Analysis tool.

#10 Defining & measuring success

After all backlinks have been assessed and the most unnatural ones have been identified for removal, you need to figure out a way to measure the effectiveness of your actions. This would largely depend on the situation you’re in (see step 3).There are 3 different scenarios:

  1. If you have received a manual penalty and have worked hard before requesting Google to review your backlinks, receiving a “Manual spam action revoked” message is the ultimate goal. However, this isn’t to say that if you get rid of the penalty your site’s traffic levels will recover to their pre-penalty levels.
  2. If you have been hit algorithmically you may need to wait for several weeks or even months until you notice the impact of your work. Penguin updates are rare and typically there is one every 3-6 months, therefore you need to be very patient. In any case, recovering fully from Penguin is very difficult and can take a very long time.
  3. If you have proactively removed links things are vaguer. Certainly avoiding a manual penalty or future algorithmic devaluations should be considered a success, especially on sites that have engaged in the past with heavy unnatural linking activities.

Marie Haynes has written a very thorough post about traffic increases following the removal of link-based penalties.

Summary

Links may not always be the sole reason why a site has lost rankings and/or organic search visibility. Therefore before making any decision about removing or disavowing links you need to rule out other potential reasons such as technical or content issues.

If you are convinced that there are link based issues at play then you should carry out an extensive manual backlink audit. Building your own link classification model will help assessing the overall risk score of each backlink based on the most common signals of manipulation. This way you can effectively identify the most inorganic links and prioritise which ones should be removed/disavowed.

Remember: All automated unnatural link risk diagnosis solutions come with many and significant caveats. Study your site’s ecosystem, make your own decisions based on your gut feeling and avoid taking blanket approaches.

…and if you still feel nervous or uncomfortable sacrificing resources from other SEO activities to spend time on link removals, I’ve recently written a post highlighting the reasons why link removals can be very valuable, if done correctly.


Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don't have time to hunt down but want to read!

Read more...


Link Audit Guide for Effective Link Removals & Risk Mitigation

Posted by Modestos

This step-by-step guide aims to help users with the link auditing process relying on own judgment, without blindly relying on automation. Because links are still a very important ranking factor, link audits should be carried out by experienced link auditors rather than third party automated services. A flawed link audit can have detrimental implications.

The guide consists of the following sections:

  1. How to make sure that your site’s issues are links-related.
  2. Which common misconceptions you should to avoid when judging the impact of backlinks.
  3. How to shape a solid link removal strategy.
  4. How to improve the backlink data collection process.
  5. Why you need to re-crawl all collected backlink data.
  6. Why you need to find the genuine URLs of your backlinks.
  7. How to build a bespoke backlink classification model.
  8. Why you need to weight and aggregate all negative signals.
  9. How to prioritise backlinks for removal.
  10. How to measure success after having removed/disavowed links.

In the process that follows, automation is required only for data collection, crawling and metric gathering purposes.

Disclaimer: The present process is by no means panacea to all link-related issues – feel free to share your thoughts, processes, experiences or questions within the comments section - we can all learn from each other :)

#1 Rule out all other possibilities

Nowadays link removals and/or making use of Google’s disavow tool are the first courses of action that come to mind following typical negative events such as ranking drops, traffic loss or de-indexation of one or more key-pages on a website.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that whenever rankings drop or traffic dips links are the sole culprits.

For instance, some of the actual reasons that these events may have occurred can relate to:

  • Tracking issues – Before trying anything else, make sure the reported traffic data are accurate. If traffic appears to be down make sure there aren’t any issues with your analytics tracking. It happens sometimes that the tracking code goes missing from one or more pages for no immediately apparent reason.
  • Content issues - E.g. the content of the site is shallow, scraped or of very low quality, meaning that the site could have been hit by an algorithm (Panda) or by a manual penalty.
  • Technical issues - E.g. a poorly planned or executed site migration, a disallow directive in robots.txt, wrong implementation of rel=â€�canonicalâ€�, severe site performance issues etc.
  • Outbound linking issues – These may arise when a website is linking out to spam sites or websites operating in untrustworthy niches i.e. adult, gambling etc. Linking out to such sites isn’t always deliberate and in many cases, webmasters have no idea where their websites are linking out to. Outbound follow links need to be regularly checked because the hijacking of external links is a very common hacking practice. Equally risky are outbound links pointing to pages that have been redirected to bad neighbourhood sites.
  • Hacking – This includes unintentional hosting of spam, malware or viruses that come as a consequence because of hacking.

In all these cases, trying to recover any loss in traffic has nothing to do with the quality of the inbound links as the real reasons are to be found elsewhere.

Remember: There is nothing worse than spending time on link removals when in reality your site is suffering by non-link-related issues.

#2 Avoid common misconceptions

If you have lost rankings or traffic and you can’t spot any of issues presented in previous step, you are left with the possibility of checking out your backlinks.

Nevertheless, you should avoid the falling victim of the following three misconceptions before being reassured that there aren’t any issues with your sites backlinks.

a) It’s not just about Penguin

The problem: Minor algorithm updates take place pretty much every day and not just on the dates Google’s reps announce them, such as the Penguin updates. According to Matt Cutts, in 2012 alone Google launched 665 algorithmic updates, which averages at about two per day during the entire year!

If your site hasn’t gained or lost rankings on the exact dates Penguin was refreshed or other official updates rolled out, this does not mean that your site is immune to all Google updates. In fact, your site may have been hit already by less commonly known updates.

The solution: The best ways to spot unofficial Google updates is by regularly keeping an eye on the various SERP volatility tools as well as on updates from credible forums where many site owners and SEOs whose sites have been hit share their own experiences.

SERPs volatility (credit: SERPs.com)

b) Total organic traffic has not dropped

The problem: Even though year-over-year traffic is a great KPI, when it’s not correlated with rankings, many issues may remain invisible. To make things even more complicated, “not provided� makes it almost impossible to break down your organic traffic into brand and non-brand queries.

The solution: Check your rankings regularly (i.e. weekly) so you can easily spot manual penalties or algorithmic devaluations that may be attributed to your site’s link graph. Make sure that you not only track the keywords with the highest search volumes but also other several mid- or even long-tail ones. This will help you diagnose which keyword groups or pages have been affected.

c) It’s not just about the links you have built

The problem: Another common misconception is to assume that because you haven’t built any unnatural links your site's backlink profile is squeaky-clean. Google evaluates all links pointing to your site, even the ones that were built five or 10 years ago and are still live, which you may or may not be aware of. In a similar fashion, any new links coming into your site do equally matter, whether they’re organic, inorganic, built by you or someone else. Whether you like it or not, every site is accountable and responsible for all inbound links pointing at it.

The solution: First, make sure you’re regularly auditing your links against potential negative SEO attempts. Check out Glen Gabe’s 4 ways of carrying out negative SEO checks and try adopting at least two of them. In addition, carry out a thorough backlink audit to get a better understanding of your site’s backlinks. You may be very surprised finding out which sites have been linking to your site without being aware of it.

#3 Shape a solid link removal strategy

Coming up with a solid strategy should largely depend on whether:

  1. You have received a manual penalty.
  2. You have lost traffic following an official or unofficial algorithmic update (e.g. Penguin).
  3. You want to remove links proactively to mitigate risk.

I have covered thoroughly in another post the cases where link removals can be worthwhile so let’s move on into the details of each one of the three scenarios.

Manual penalties Vs. Algorithmic devaluations

If you’ve concluded that the ranking drops and/or traffic loss seem to relate to backlink issues, the first thing you need to figure out is whether your site has been hit manually or algorithmically.

Many people confuse manually imposed penalties with algorithmic devaluations, hence making strategic mistakes.

  • If you have received a Google notification and/or a manual ‘Impacts Links’ action (like the one below) appears within Webmaster Tools it means that your site has already been flagged for unnatural links and sooner or later it will receive a manual penalty. In this case, you should definitely try to identify which the violating links may be and try to remove them.

  • If no site-wide or partial manual actions appear in your Webmaster Tools account, your entire site or just a few pages may have been affected by an official (e.g. Penguin update/refresh) or unofficial algorithmic update in Google’s link valuation. For more information on unofficial updates keep an eye on Moz’s Google update history.

There is also the possibility that a site has been hit manually and algorithmically at the same time, although this is a rather rare case.

Tips for manual penalties

If you’ve received a manual penalty, you’ll need to remove as many unnatural links as possible to please Google’s webspam team when requesting a review. But before you get there, you need to figure out what type of penalty you have received:

  1. Keyword level penalty – Rankings for one or more keywords appear to have dropped significantly.
  2. Page (URL) level penalty – The pages no longer ranks for any of its targeted keywords, including head and long-tail ones. In some cases, the affected page may even appear to be de-indexed.
  3. Site-wide penalty – The entire site has been de-indexed and consequently no longer ranks for any keywords, including the site’s own domain name.

1. If one (or more) targeted keyword(s) has received a penalty, you should first focus on the backlinks pointing to the page(s) that used to rank for the penalised keyword(s) BEFORE the penalty took place. Carrying out granular audits against the pages of your best ranking competitors can give you a rough idea of how much work you need to do in order to rebalance your backlink profile.

Also, make sure you review all backlinks pointing to URLs that 301 redirect or have a rel=�canonical� to the penalised pages. Penalties can flow in the same way PageRank flows through 301 redirects or rel=�canonical� tags.

2. If one (or more) pages (URLs) have received a penalty, you should definitely focus on the backlinks pointing to these pages first. Although there are no guarantees that resolving the issues with the backlinks of the penalised pages may be enough to lift the penalty, it makes sense not making drastic changes on the backlinks of other parts of the site unless you really have to e.g. after failing a first reconsideration request.

3. If the penalty is site-wide, you should look at all backlinks pointing to the penalised domain or subdomain.

In terms of the process you can follow to manually identify and document the toxic links, Lewis Seller’s excellent Ultimate Guide to Google Penalty Removal covers pretty much all you need to be doing.

Tips for algorithmic devaluations

Pleasing Google’s algorithm is quite different to pleasing a human reviewer. If you have lost rankings due to an algorithmic update, the first thing you need to do is to carry out a backlink audit against the top 3-4 best-ranking websites in your niche.

It is really important to study the backlink profile of the sites, which are still ranking well, making sure you exclude Exact Match Domains (EMDs) and Partial Match Domains (PMDs).

This will help you spot:

  1. Unnatural signals when comparing your site’s backlink profile to your best ranking competitors.
  2. Common trends amongst the best ranking websites.

Once you have done the above you should then be in a much better position to decide which actions you need to take in order to rebalance the site’s backlink profile.

Tips for proactive link removals

Making sure that your site’s backlink profile is in better shape compared to your competitors should always be one of your top priorities, regardless of whether or not you’ve been penalised. Mitigating potential link-related risks that may arise as a result of the next Penguin update, or a future manual review of your site from Google’s webspam team, can help you stay safe.

There is nothing wrong with proactively removing and/or disavowing inorganic links because some of the most notorious links from the past may one day in the future hold you back for an indefinite period of time, or in extreme cases, ruin your entire business.

Removing obsolete low quality links is highly unlikely to cause any ranking drops as Google is already discounting (most of) these unnatural links. However, by not removing them you’re risking getting a manual penalty or getting hit by the next algorithm update.

Undoubtedly, proactively removing links may not be the easiest thing to sell a client. Those in charge of sites that have been penalised in the past are always much more likely to invest in this activity, without any having any hesitations.

Dealing with unrealistic growth expectations it can be easily avoided when honestly educating clients about the current stance of Google towards SEO. Investing on this may save you later from a lot of troubles, avoiding misconceptions or misunderstandings.

A reasonable site owner would rather invest today into minimising the risks and sacrifice growth for a few months rather than risk the long-term sustainability of their business. Growth is what makes site owners happy, but sustaining what has already been achieved should be their number one priority.

So, if you have doubts about how your client may perceive your suggestion about spending the next few months into re-balancing their site’s backlink profile so it conforms with Google’s latest quality guidelines, try challenging them with the following questions:

  • How long could you afford running your business without getting any organic traffic from Google?
  • What would be the impact to your business if you five best performing keywords stop ranking for six months?

#4 Perfect the data collection process

Contrary to Google’s recommendation, relying on link data from Webmaster Tools alone in most cases isn’t enough, as Google doesn’t provide every piece of link data that is known to them. A great justification for this argument is the fact that many webmasters have received from Google examples of unnatural links that do not appear in the available backlink data in WMT.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense to try combining link data from as many different data sources as possible.

  1. Try including ALL data from at least one of the services with the biggest indexes (Majestic SEO, Ahrefs) as well as the ones provided by the two major search engines (Google and Bing webmaster tools) for free, to all verified owners of the sites.
  2. Take advantage of the backlink data provided by additional third party services such as Open Site Explorer, Blekko, Open Link Profiler, SEO Kicks etc.

Note that most of the automated link audit tools aren’t very transparent about the data sources they’re using, nor about the percentage of data they are pulling in for processing.

Being in charge of the data to be analysed will give you a big advantage and the more you increase the quantity and quality of your backlink data the better chances you will have to rectify the issues.

#5 Re-crawl all collected data

Now that have collected as much backlink data as possible, you now need to separate the chaff from the wheat. This is necessary because:

  • Not all the links you have already collected may still be pointing to your site.
  • Not all links pose the same risk e.g Google discounts no follow links.

All you need to do is crawl all backlink data and filter out the following:

  • Dead links – Not all links reported by Webmaster Tools, Majestic SEO, OSE and Ahrefs are still live as most of them were discovered weeks or even months ago. Make sure you get rid of URLs that do no longer link to your site such as URLs that return a 403, 404, 410, 503 server response. Disavowing links (or domains) that no longer exist can reduce the chances of a reconsideration request from& being successful.
  • Nofollow links – Because nofollow links do not pass PageRank nor anchor text, there is no immediate need trying to remove them - unless their number is in excess when compared to your site’s follow links or the follow/nofollow split of your competitors.

Tip: There are many tools which can help crawling the backlink data but I would strongly recommend Cognitive SEO because of its high accuracy, speed and low cost per crawled link.

6# Identify the authentic URLs

Once you have identified all live and follow links, you should then try identifying the authentic (canonical) URLs of the links. Note that this step is essential only in case you want to try to remove the toxic links. Otherwise, if you just want to disavow the links you can skip this step making sure you disavow the entire domain of each toxic-linking site rather than the specific pages linking to your site.

Often, a link appearing on a web page can be discovered and reported by a crawler several times as in most cases it would appear under many different URLs. Such URLs may include a blog’s homepage, category pages, paginated pages, feeds, pages with parameters in the URL and other typical duplicate pages.

Identifying the authentic URL of the page where the link was originally placed on (and getting rid the URLs of all other duplicate pages) is very important because:

  1. It will help with making reasonable link removal requests, which in turn can result in a higher success rate. For example, it’s pretty pointless contacting a Webmaster and requesting link removals from feeds, archived or paginated pages.
  2. It will help with monitoring progress, as well as gathering evidence for all the hard work you have carried out. The latter will be extremely important later if you need to request a review from Google.

Example 1 – Press release

In this example the first URL is the “authentic� one and all the others ones need to be removed. Removing the links contained in the canonical URL will remove the links from all the other URLs too.

Example 2 – Directory URLs

In the below example it isn’t immediately obvious on which page the actual link sits on:

http://www.192.com/business/derby-de24/telecom-services/comex-2000-uk/18991da6-6025-4617-9cc0-627117122e08/ugc/?sk=c6670c37-0b01-4ab1-845d-99de47e8032a (non canonical URL with appended parameter/value pair: disregard)

http://www.192.com/atoz/business/derby-de24/telecom-services/comex-2000-uk/18991da6-6025-4617-9cc0-627117122e08/ugc/ (canonical page: keep URL)

http://www.192.com/places/de/de24-8/de24-8hp/ (directory category page: disregard URL)

Unfortunately, this step can be quite time-consuming and I haven’t as yet come across an automated service able to automatically detect the authentic URL and instantly get rid of the redundant ones. If you are aware of any accurate and reliable ones, please feel free to share examples of these in the comments :)

#7 Build your own link classification model

There are many good reasons for building your own link classification model rather than relying on fully automated services, most of which aren’t transparent about their toxic link classification formulas.

Although there are many commercial tools available, all claiming to offer the most accurate link classification methodology, the decision whether a link qualifies or not for removal should sit with you and not with a (secret) algorithm. If Google, a multi-billion dollar business, is still failing in many occasions to detect manipulative links and relies up to some extent on humans to carry out manual reviews of backlinks, you should do the same rather than relying on a $99/month tool.

Unnatural link signals check-list

What you need to do in this stage is to check each one of the “authentic� URLs (you have identified from the previous step) against the most common and easily detectable signals of manipulative and unnatural links, including:

  1. Links with commercial anchor text, including both exact and broad match.
  2. Links with an obvious manipulative intent e.g. footer/sidebar text links, links placed on low quality sites (with/without commercial anchor text), blog comments sitting on irrelevant sites, duplicate listings on generic directories, low quality guest posts, widget links, press releases, site-wide links, blog-rolls etc. Just take a look at Google’s constantly expanding link-schemes page for the entire and up-to-date list.
  3. Links placed on authoritative yet untrustworthy websites. Typically these are sites that have bumped up their SEO metrics with unnatural links, so they look attractive for paid link placements. They can be identified when one (or more) of the below conditions are met:
  • MozRank is significantly greater than MozTrust.
  • PageRank if much greater than MozRank.
  • Citation flow is much greater than Trust Flow.
  1. Links appearing on pages or sites with low quality content, poor language and poor readability such as spun, scraped, translated or paraphrased content.
  2. Links sitting on domains with little or no topical relevance. E.g. too many links placed on generic directories or too many technology sites linking to financial pages.
  3. Links, which are part of a link network. Although these aren’t always easy to detect you can try identifying footprints including backlink commonality, identical or similar IP addresses, identical Whois registration details etc.
  4. Links placed only on the homepages of referring sites. As the homepage is the most authoritative page on most websites, links appearing there can be easily deemed as paid links – especially if their number is excessive. Pay extra attention to these links and make sure they are organic.
  5. Links appearing on sites with content in foreign languages e.g. Articles about gadgets in Chinese linking to a US site with commercial anchor text in English.
  6. Site-wide links. Not all site-wide links are toxic but it is worth manually checking them for manipulative intent e.g. when combined with commercial anchor text or when there is no topical relevance between the linked sites.
  7. Links appearing on hacked, adult, pharmaceutical and other “bad neighbourhood� spam sites.
  8. Links appearing on de-indexed domains. Google de-indexes websites that add no value to users (i.e. low quality directories), hence getting links from de-indexed websites isn’t a quality signal.
  9. Redirected domains to specific money-making pages. These can include EMDs or just authoritative domains carrying historical backlinks, usually unnatural and irrelevant.

Note that the above checklist isn’t exhaustive but should be sufficient to assess the overall risk score of each one of your backlinks. Each backlink profile is different and depending on its size, history and niche you may not need to carry out all of the aforementioned 12 checks.

Handy Tools

There are several paid and free tools that can massively help speeding things up when checking your backlinks against the above checklist.

Although some automated solutions can assist with points 2, 4, 5, 8 and 10, it is recommended to manually carry out these activities for more accurate results.

Jim Boykin’s Google Backlink Tool for Penguin & Disavow in action

#8 Weighting & aggregating the negative signals

Now that you have audited all links you can calculate the total risk score for each one of them. To do that you just need to aggregate all manipulative signals that have been identified in the previous step.

In the most simplistic form of this classification model, you can allocate one point to each one of the detected negative signals. Later, you can try up-weighting some of the most important signals – usually I do this for commercial anchor text, hacked /spam sites etc.

However, because each niche is unique and consists of a different ecosystem, a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work. Therefore, I would recommend trying out a few different combinations to improve the efficiency of your unnatural link detection formula.

Sample of weighted and aggregated unnatural link signals

Turning the data into a pivot chart makes it much easier to summarise the risk of all backlinks in a visual way. This will also help estimating the effort and resources needed, depending on the number of links you decide to remove.

9 Prioritising links for removal

Unfortunately, there isn't a magic number (or percentage) of links you need to remove in order to rebalance your site’s backlink profile. The decision of how much is enough would largely depend on whether:

  1. You have already lost rankings/traffic.
  2. Your site has been manually penalised or hit by an algorithm update.
  3. You are trying to avoid a future penalty.
  4. Your competitors have healthier backlink profiles.

No matter which the case is it makes common sense to focus first on those pages (and keywords), which are more critical to your business. Therefore, unnatural links pointing to pages with high commercial value should be prioritised for link removals.

Often, these pages are the ones that have been heavily targeted with links in the past, hence it’s always worth paying extra attention into the backlinks of the most heavily linked pages. On the other hand, it would be pretty pointless spending time analysing the backlinks pointing at pages with very few inbound links and these should be de-prioritised.

To get an idea of your most important page’s backlink vulnerability score you should try Virante’s Penguin Analysis tool.

#10 Defining & measuring success

After all backlinks have been assessed and the most unnatural ones have been identified for removal, you need to figure out a way to measure the effectiveness of your actions. This would largely depend on the situation you’re in (see step 3).There are 3 different scenarios:

  1. If you have received a manual penalty and have worked hard before requesting Google to review your backlinks, receiving a “Manual spam action revoked� message is the ultimate goal. However, this isn’t to say that if you get rid of the penalty your site’s traffic levels will recover to their pre-penalty levels.
  2. If you have been hit algorithmically you may need to wait for several weeks or even months until you notice the impact of your work. Penguin updates are rare and typically there is one every 3-6 months, therefore you need to be very patient. In any case, recovering fully from Penguin is very difficult and can take a very long time.
  3. If you have proactively removed links things are vaguer. Certainly avoiding a manual penalty or future algorithmic devaluations should be considered a success, especially on sites that have engaged in the past with heavy unnatural linking activities.

Marie Haynes has written a very thorough post about traffic increases following the removal of link-based penalties.

Summary

Links may not always be the sole reason why a site has lost rankings and/or organic search visibility. Therefore before making any decision about removing or disavowing links you need to rule out other potential reasons such as technical or content issues.

If you are convinced that there are link based issues at play then you should carry out an extensive manual backlink audit. Building your own link classification model will help assessing the overall risk score of each backlink based on the most common signals of manipulation. This way you can effectively identify the most inorganic links and prioritise which ones should be removed/disavowed.

Remember: All automated unnatural link risk diagnosis solutions come with many and significant caveats. Study your site’s ecosystem, make your own decisions based on your gut feeling and avoid taking blanket approaches.

…and if you still feel nervous or uncomfortable sacrificing resources from other SEO activities to spend time on link removals, I’ve recently written a post highlighting the reasons why link removals can be very valuable, if done correctly.


Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don't have time to hunt down but want to read!

Read more...


Link Audit Guide for Effective Link Removals & Risk Mitigation

Posted by Modestos

This step-by-step guide aims to help users with the link auditing process relying on own judgment, without blindly relying on automation. Because links are still a very important ranking factor, link audits should be carried out by experienced link auditors rather than third party automated services. A flawed link audit can have detrimental implications.

The guide consists of the following sections:

  1. How to make sure that your site’s issues are links-related.
  2. Which common misconceptions you should to avoid when judging the impact of backlinks.
  3. How to shape a solid link removal strategy.
  4. How to improve the backlink data collection process.
  5. Why you need to re-crawl all collected backlink data.
  6. Why you need to find the genuine URLs of your backlinks.
  7. How to build a bespoke backlink classification model.
  8. Why you need to weight and aggregate all negative signals.
  9. How to prioritise backlinks for removal.
  10. How to measure success after having removed/disavowed links.

In the process that follows, automation is required only for data collection, crawling and metric gathering purposes.

Disclaimer: The present process is by no means panacea to all link-related issues – feel free to share your thoughts, processes, experiences or questions within the comments section - we can all learn from each other :)

#1 Rule out all other possibilities

Nowadays link removals and/or making use of Google’s disavow tool are the first courses of action that come to mind following typical negative events such as ranking drops, traffic loss or de-indexation of one or more key-pages on a website.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that whenever rankings drop or traffic dips links are the sole culprits.

For instance, some of the actual reasons that these events may have occurred can relate to:

  • Tracking issues – Before trying anything else, make sure the reported traffic data are accurate. If traffic appears to be down make sure there aren’t any issues with your analytics tracking. It happens sometimes that the tracking code goes missing from one or more pages for no immediately apparent reason.
  • Content issues - E.g. the content of the site is shallow, scraped or of very low quality, meaning that the site could have been hit by an algorithm (Panda) or by a manual penalty.
  • Technical issues - E.g. a poorly planned or executed site migration, a disallow directive in robots.txt, wrong implementation of rel=â€�canonicalâ€�, severe site performance issues etc.
  • Outbound linking issues – These may arise when a website is linking out to spam sites or websites operating in untrustworthy niches i.e. adult, gambling etc. Linking out to such sites isn’t always deliberate and in many cases, webmasters have no idea where their websites are linking out to. Outbound follow links need to be regularly checked because the hijacking of external links is a very common hacking practice. Equally risky are outbound links pointing to pages that have been redirected to bad neighbourhood sites.
  • Hacking – This includes unintentional hosting of spam, malware or viruses that come as a consequence because of hacking.

In all these cases, trying to recover any loss in traffic has nothing to do with the quality of the inbound links as the real reasons are to be found elsewhere.

Remember: There is nothing worse than spending time on link removals when in reality your site is suffering by non-link-related issues.

#2 Avoid common misconceptions

If you have lost rankings or traffic and you can’t spot any of issues presented in previous step, you are left with the possibility of checking out your backlinks.

Nevertheless, you should avoid the falling victim of the following three misconceptions before being reassured that there aren’t any issues with your sites backlinks.

a) It’s not just about Penguin

The problem: Minor algorithm updates take place pretty much every day and not just on the dates Google’s reps announce them, such as the Penguin updates. According to Matt Cutts, in 2012 alone Google launched 665 algorithmic updates, which averages at about two per day during the entire year!

If your site hasn’t gained or lost rankings on the exact dates Penguin was refreshed or other official updates rolled out, this does not mean that your site is immune to all Google updates. In fact, your site may have been hit already by less commonly known updates.

The solution: The best ways to spot unofficial Google updates is by regularly keeping an eye on the various SERP volatility tools as well as on updates from credible forums where many site owners and SEOs whose sites have been hit share their own experiences.

SERPs volatility (credit: SERPs.com)

b) Total organic traffic has not dropped

The problem: Even though year-over-year traffic is a great KPI, when it’s not correlated with rankings, many issues may remain invisible. To make things even more complicated, “not provided� makes it almost impossible to break down your organic traffic into brand and non-brand queries.

The solution: Check your rankings regularly (i.e. weekly) so you can easily spot manual penalties or algorithmic devaluations that may be attributed to your site’s link graph. Make sure that you not only track the keywords with the highest search volumes but also other several mid- or even long-tail ones. This will help you diagnose which keyword groups or pages have been affected.

c) It’s not just about the links you have built

The problem: Another common misconception is to assume that because you haven’t built any unnatural links your site's backlink profile is squeaky-clean. Google evaluates all links pointing to your site, even the ones that were built five or 10 years ago and are still live, which you may or may not be aware of. In a similar fashion, any new links coming into your site do equally matter, whether they’re organic, inorganic, built by you or someone else. Whether you like it or not, every site is accountable and responsible for all inbound links pointing at it.

The solution: First, make sure you’re regularly auditing your links against potential negative SEO attempts. Check out Glen Gabe’s 4 ways of carrying out negative SEO checks and try adopting at least two of them. In addition, carry out a thorough backlink audit to get a better understanding of your site’s backlinks. You may be very surprised finding out which sites have been linking to your site without being aware of it.

#3 Shape a solid link removal strategy

Coming up with a solid strategy should largely depend on whether:

  1. You have received a manual penalty.
  2. You have lost traffic following an official or unofficial algorithmic update (e.g. Penguin).
  3. You want to remove links proactively to mitigate risk.

I have covered thoroughly in another post the cases where link removals can be worthwhile so let’s move on into the details of each one of the three scenarios.

Manual penalties Vs. Algorithmic devaluations

If you’ve concluded that the ranking drops and/or traffic loss seem to relate to backlink issues, the first thing you need to figure out is whether your site has been hit manually or algorithmically.

Many people confuse manually imposed penalties with algorithmic devaluations, hence making strategic mistakes.

  • If you have received a Google notification and/or a manual ‘Impacts Links’ action (like the one below) appears within Webmaster Tools it means that your site has already been flagged for unnatural links and sooner or later it will receive a manual penalty. In this case, you should definitely try to identify which the violating links may be and try to remove them.

  • If no site-wide or partial manual actions appear in your Webmaster Tools account, your entire site or just a few pages may have been affected by an official (e.g. Penguin update/refresh) or unofficial algorithmic update in Google’s link valuation. For more information on unofficial updates keep an eye on Moz’s Google update history.

There is also the possibility that a site has been hit manually and algorithmically at the same time, although this is a rather rare case.

Tips for manual penalties

If you’ve received a manual penalty, you’ll need to remove as many unnatural links as possible to please Google’s webspam team when requesting a review. But before you get there, you need to figure out what type of penalty you have received:

  1. Keyword level penalty – Rankings for one or more keywords appear to have dropped significantly.
  2. Page (URL) level penalty – The pages no longer ranks for any of its targeted keywords, including head and long-tail ones. In some cases, the affected page may even appear to be de-indexed.
  3. Site-wide penalty – The entire site has been de-indexed and consequently no longer ranks for any keywords, including the site’s own domain name.

1. If one (or more) targeted keyword(s) has received a penalty, you should first focus on the backlinks pointing to the page(s) that used to rank for the penalised keyword(s) BEFORE the penalty took place. Carrying out granular audits against the pages of your best ranking competitors can give you a rough idea of how much work you need to do in order to rebalance your backlink profile.

Also, make sure you review all backlinks pointing to URLs that 301 redirect or have a rel=�canonical� to the penalised pages. Penalties can flow in the same way PageRank flows through 301 redirects or rel=�canonical� tags.

2. If one (or more) pages (URLs) have received a penalty, you should definitely focus on the backlinks pointing to these pages first. Although there are no guarantees that resolving the issues with the backlinks of the penalised pages may be enough to lift the penalty, it makes sense not making drastic changes on the backlinks of other parts of the site unless you really have to e.g. after failing a first reconsideration request.

3. If the penalty is site-wide, you should look at all backlinks pointing to the penalised domain or subdomain.

In terms of the process you can follow to manually identify and document the toxic links, Lewis Seller’s excellent Ultimate Guide to Google Penalty Removal covers pretty much all you need to be doing.

Tips for algorithmic devaluations

Pleasing Google’s algorithm is quite different to pleasing a human reviewer. If you have lost rankings due to an algorithmic update, the first thing you need to do is to carry out a backlink audit against the top 3-4 best-ranking websites in your niche.

It is really important to study the backlink profile of the sites, which are still ranking well, making sure you exclude Exact Match Domains (EMDs) and Partial Match Domains (PMDs).

This will help you spot:

  1. Unnatural signals when comparing your site’s backlink profile to your best ranking competitors.
  2. Common trends amongst the best ranking websites.

Once you have done the above you should then be in a much better position to decide which actions you need to take in order to rebalance the site’s backlink profile.

Tips for proactive link removals

Making sure that your site’s backlink profile is in better shape compared to your competitors should always be one of your top priorities, regardless of whether or not you’ve been penalised. Mitigating potential link-related risks that may arise as a result of the next Penguin update, or a future manual review of your site from Google’s webspam team, can help you stay safe.

There is nothing wrong with proactively removing and/or disavowing inorganic links because some of the most notorious links from the past may one day in the future hold you back for an indefinite period of time, or in extreme cases, ruin your entire business.

Removing obsolete low quality links is highly unlikely to cause any ranking drops as Google is already discounting (most of) these unnatural links. However, by not removing them you’re risking getting a manual penalty or getting hit by the next algorithm update.

Undoubtedly, proactively removing links may not be the easiest thing to sell a client. Those in charge of sites that have been penalised in the past are always much more likely to invest in this activity, without any having any hesitations.

Dealing with unrealistic growth expectations it can be easily avoided when honestly educating clients about the current stance of Google towards SEO. Investing on this may save you later from a lot of troubles, avoiding misconceptions or misunderstandings.

A reasonable site owner would rather invest today into minimising the risks and sacrifice growth for a few months rather than risk the long-term sustainability of their business. Growth is what makes site owners happy, but sustaining what has already been achieved should be their number one priority.

So, if you have doubts about how your client may perceive your suggestion about spending the next few months into re-balancing their site’s backlink profile so it conforms with Google’s latest quality guidelines, try challenging them with the following questions:

  • How long could you afford running your business without getting any organic traffic from Google?
  • What would be the impact to your business if you five best performing keywords stop ranking for six months?

#4 Perfect the data collection process

Contrary to Google’s recommendation, relying on link data from Webmaster Tools alone in most cases isn’t enough, as Google doesn’t provide every piece of link data that is known to them. A great justification for this argument is the fact that many webmasters have received from Google examples of unnatural links that do not appear in the available backlink data in WMT.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense to try combining link data from as many different data sources as possible.

  1. Try including ALL data from at least one of the services with the biggest indexes (Majestic SEO, Ahrefs) as well as the ones provided by the two major search engines (Google and Bing webmaster tools) for free, to all verified owners of the sites.
  2. Take advantage of the backlink data provided by additional third party services such as Open Site Explorer, Blekko, Open Link Profiler, SEO Kicks etc.

Note that most of the automated link audit tools aren’t very transparent about the data sources they’re using, nor about the percentage of data they are pulling in for processing.

Being in charge of the data to be analysed will give you a big advantage and the more you increase the quantity and quality of your backlink data the better chances you will have to rectify the issues.

#5 Re-crawl all collected data

Now that have collected as much backlink data as possible, you now need to separate the chaff from the wheat. This is necessary because:

  • Not all the links you have already collected may still be pointing to your site.
  • Not all links pose the same risk e.g Google discounts no follow links.

All you need to do is crawl all backlink data and filter out the following:

  • Dead links – Not all links reported by Webmaster Tools, Majestic SEO, OSE and Ahrefs are still live as most of them were discovered weeks or even months ago. Make sure you get rid of URLs that do no longer link to your site such as URLs that return a 403, 404, 410, 503 server response. Disavowing links (or domains) that no longer exist can reduce the chances of a reconsideration request from& being successful.
  • Nofollow links – Because nofollow links do not pass PageRank nor anchor text, there is no immediate need trying to remove them - unless their number is in excess when compared to your site’s follow links or the follow/nofollow split of your competitors.

Tip: There are many tools which can help crawling the backlink data but I would strongly recommend Cognitive SEO because of its high accuracy, speed and low cost per crawled link.

6# Identify the authentic URLs

Once you have identified all live and follow links, you should then try identifying the authentic (canonical) URLs of the links. Note that this step is essential only in case you want to try to remove the toxic links. Otherwise, if you just want to disavow the links you can skip this step making sure you disavow the entire domain of each toxic-linking site rather than the specific pages linking to your site.

Often, a link appearing on a web page can be discovered and reported by a crawler several times as in most cases it would appear under many different URLs. Such URLs may include a blog’s homepage, category pages, paginated pages, feeds, pages with parameters in the URL and other typical duplicate pages.

Identifying the authentic URL of the page where the link was originally placed on (and getting rid the URLs of all other duplicate pages) is very important because:

  1. It will help with making reasonable link removal requests, which in turn can result in a higher success rate. For example, it’s pretty pointless contacting a Webmaster and requesting link removals from feeds, archived or paginated pages.
  2. It will help with monitoring progress, as well as gathering evidence for all the hard work you have carried out. The latter will be extremely important later if you need to request a review from Google.

Example 1 – Press release

In this example the first URL is the “authentic� one and all the others ones need to be removed. Removing the links contained in the canonical URL will remove the links from all the other URLs too.

Example 2 – Directory URLs

In the below example it isn’t immediately obvious on which page the actual link sits on:

http://www.192.com/business/derby-de24/telecom-services/comex-2000-uk/18991da6-6025-4617-9cc0-627117122e08/ugc/?sk=c6670c37-0b01-4ab1-845d-99de47e8032a (non canonical URL with appended parameter/value pair: disregard)

http://www.192.com/atoz/business/derby-de24/telecom-services/comex-2000-uk/18991da6-6025-4617-9cc0-627117122e08/ugc/ (canonical page: keep URL)

http://www.192.com/places/de/de24-8/de24-8hp/ (directory category page: disregard URL)

Unfortunately, this step can be quite time-consuming and I haven’t as yet come across an automated service able to automatically detect the authentic URL and instantly get rid of the redundant ones. If you are aware of any accurate and reliable ones, please feel free to share examples of these in the comments :)

#7 Build your own link classification model

There are many good reasons for building your own link classification model rather than relying on fully automated services, most of which aren’t transparent about their toxic link classification formulas.

Although there are many commercial tools available, all claiming to offer the most accurate link classification methodology, the decision whether a link qualifies or not for removal should sit with you and not with a (secret) algorithm. If Google, a multi-billion dollar business, is still failing in many occasions to detect manipulative links and relies up to some extent on humans to carry out manual reviews of backlinks, you should do the same rather than relying on a $99/month tool.

Unnatural link signals check-list

What you need to do in this stage is to check each one of the “authentic� URLs (you have identified from the previous step) against the most common and easily detectable signals of manipulative and unnatural links, including:

  1. Links with commercial anchor text, including both exact and broad match.
  2. Links with an obvious manipulative intent e.g. footer/sidebar text links, links placed on low quality sites (with/without commercial anchor text), blog comments sitting on irrelevant sites, duplicate listings on generic directories, low quality guest posts, widget links, press releases, site-wide links, blog-rolls etc. Just take a look at Google’s constantly expanding link-schemes page for the entire and up-to-date list.
  3. Links placed on authoritative yet untrustworthy websites. Typically these are sites that have bumped up their SEO metrics with unnatural links, so they look attractive for paid link placements. They can be identified when one (or more) of the below conditions are met:
  • MozRank is significantly greater than MozTrust.
  • PageRank if much greater than MozRank.
  • Citation flow is much greater than Trust Flow.
  1. Links appearing on pages or sites with low quality content, poor language and poor readability such as spun, scraped, translated or paraphrased content.
  2. Links sitting on domains with little or no topical relevance. E.g. too many links placed on generic directories or too many technology sites linking to financial pages.
  3. Links, which are part of a link network. Although these aren’t always easy to detect you can try identifying footprints including backlink commonality, identical or similar IP addresses, identical Whois registration details etc.
  4. Links placed only on the homepages of referring sites. As the homepage is the most authoritative page on most websites, links appearing there can be easily deemed as paid links – especially if their number is excessive. Pay extra attention to these links and make sure they are organic.
  5. Links appearing on sites with content in foreign languages e.g. Articles about gadgets in Chinese linking to a US site with commercial anchor text in English.
  6. Site-wide links. Not all site-wide links are toxic but it is worth manually checking them for manipulative intent e.g. when combined with commercial anchor text or when there is no topical relevance between the linked sites.
  7. Links appearing on hacked, adult, pharmaceutical and other “bad neighbourhood� spam sites.
  8. Links appearing on de-indexed domains. Google de-indexes websites that add no value to users (i.e. low quality directories), hence getting links from de-indexed websites isn’t a quality signal.
  9. Redirected domains to specific money-making pages. These can include EMDs or just authoritative domains carrying historical backlinks, usually unnatural and irrelevant.

Note that the above checklist isn’t exhaustive but should be sufficient to assess the overall risk score of each one of your backlinks. Each backlink profile is different and depending on its size, history and niche you may not need to carry out all of the aforementioned 12 checks.

Handy Tools

There are several paid and free tools that can massively help speeding things up when checking your backlinks against the above checklist.

Although some automated solutions can assist with points 2, 4, 5, 8 and 10, it is recommended to manually carry out these activities for more accurate results.

Jim Boykin’s Google Backlink Tool for Penguin & Disavow in action

#8 Weighting & aggregating the negative signals

Now that you have audited all links you can calculate the total risk score for each one of them. To do that you just need to aggregate all manipulative signals that have been identified in the previous step.

In the most simplistic form of this classification model, you can allocate one point to each one of the detected negative signals. Later, you can try up-weighting some of the most important signals – usually I do this for commercial anchor text, hacked /spam sites etc.

However, because each niche is unique and consists of a different ecosystem, a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work. Therefore, I would recommend trying out a few different combinations to improve the efficiency of your unnatural link detection formula.

Sample of weighted and aggregated unnatural link signals

Turning the data into a pivot chart makes it much easier to summarise the risk of all backlinks in a visual way. This will also help estimating the effort and resources needed, depending on the number of links you decide to remove.

9 Prioritising links for removal

Unfortunately, there isn't a magic number (or percentage) of links you need to remove in order to rebalance your site’s backlink profile. The decision of how much is enough would largely depend on whether:

  1. You have already lost rankings/traffic.
  2. Your site has been manually penalised or hit by an algorithm update.
  3. You are trying to avoid a future penalty.
  4. Your competitors have healthier backlink profiles.

No matter which the case is it makes common sense to focus first on those pages (and keywords), which are more critical to your business. Therefore, unnatural links pointing to pages with high commercial value should be prioritised for link removals.

Often, these pages are the ones that have been heavily targeted with links in the past, hence it’s always worth paying extra attention into the backlinks of the most heavily linked pages. On the other hand, it would be pretty pointless spending time analysing the backlinks pointing at pages with very few inbound links and these should be de-prioritised.

To get an idea of your most important page’s backlink vulnerability score you should try Virante’s Penguin Analysis tool.

#10 Defining & measuring success

After all backlinks have been assessed and the most unnatural ones have been identified for removal, you need to figure out a way to measure the effectiveness of your actions. This would largely depend on the situation you’re in (see step 3).There are 3 different scenarios:

  1. If you have received a manual penalty and have worked hard before requesting Google to review your backlinks, receiving a “Manual spam action revoked� message is the ultimate goal. However, this isn’t to say that if you get rid of the penalty your site’s traffic levels will recover to their pre-penalty levels.
  2. If you have been hit algorithmically you may need to wait for several weeks or even months until you notice the impact of your work. Penguin updates are rare and typically there is one every 3-6 months, therefore you need to be very patient. In any case, recovering fully from Penguin is very difficult and can take a very long time.
  3. If you have proactively removed links things are vaguer. Certainly avoiding a manual penalty or future algorithmic devaluations should be considered a success, especially on sites that have engaged in the past with heavy unnatural linking activities.

Marie Haynes has written a very thorough post about traffic increases following the removal of link-based penalties.

Summary

Links may not always be the sole reason why a site has lost rankings and/or organic search visibility. Therefore before making any decision about removing or disavowing links you need to rule out other potential reasons such as technical or content issues.

If you are convinced that there are link based issues at play then you should carry out an extensive manual backlink audit. Building your own link classification model will help assessing the overall risk score of each backlink based on the most common signals of manipulation. This way you can effectively identify the most inorganic links and prioritise which ones should be removed/disavowed.

Remember: All automated unnatural link risk diagnosis solutions come with many and significant caveats. Study your site’s ecosystem, make your own decisions based on your gut feeling and avoid taking blanket approaches.

…and if you still feel nervous or uncomfortable sacrificing resources from other SEO activities to spend time on link removals, I’ve recently written a post highlighting the reasons why link removals can be very valuable, if done correctly.


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Increasing Search Traffic By 20,000 Visitors Per Month Without Full CMS Access – Here’s How…

Posted by RoryT11

Trying to do SEO for a website without full access to its CMS is like trying to win a sword fight with one hand tied behind your back. You can still use your weapon, but there is always going to be a limit to what you can do.

Before this metaphor gets any further out of hand, I should explain. One year ago, the agency I work for was asked to run an SEO campaign for a client. The catch was, it would be impossible for us to gain full access to the CMS that the website was built on. Initially I was doubtful about the results that could be achieved.


Why no CMS?

The reason we couldn’t access the CMS is that the client was part of a global group. All sites within this group were centrally controlled on a third-party CMS, based in another country. If we did want to make any ‘technical changes’, it would have to go through a painfully slow helpdesk process.

We could still add and remove content, edit Metadata and had some basic control over the navigation.


Despite this, we took on the challenge. We already had a strong relationship with the client because we handled their PR, and a good understanding of their niche and target audience. With this in mind, we were confident that we could improve the site in a number of ways that would enhance user experience, which we hoped would lead to increased visibility in the SERPs.

What has happened in the last year since we started managing the search marketing campaign has emphasised to me just how important it is to implement well-structured on-page SEO. The client's website is now receiving over 20,000 more visits from organic search per month than it did when we took over the account.

I want to share with you how we achieved this without having full access to the CMS. The following screenshots are a direct comparison of January 2013 and January 2014.

Analytics Overview Organic Search

Corresponding figures can be viewed in the summary at the end of the post.

Analytics

When we were granted access to analytics for the website, we got our first real insight into how the site was performing, and what we could do to help it perform better.

By analysing the way visitors were using the site (visitor journeys, drop-off points, most visited pages, which pages had highest avg. time etc.), we could start to structure our on-page strategy.

We identified how we could streamline the navigation to help people find what they were looking for quicker. We also decided it was necessary to create clearer call-to-actions, which would shorten the distance from popular landing pages, to the most valuable pages on the website.

We also looked at the top landing pages, and with what keyword data we had access to, we were able to define more clearly why people were visiting the site, and what they expected when they landed on a page.

For example, the site was receiving a lot of traffic for one of its products, with visitors coming into the site from a range of relevant short and longtail keywords. However, they would almost always land on the product page.

We noticed by analysing visitor journeys from this page that they would leave to try to find more information on the item, because the majority of visitors weren't entering the site at the buying stage of the conversion cycle.

However, where this supporting information lived on the site wasn’t immediately obvious. In fact, it was nearly four clicks away from the product landing page!

It was obvious we’d have to address this, and other similar issues we identified simply by conducting some fairly simple analytic analysis.


Product Pages

The product pages were generated from a global product catalogue built into the content management system. They aren’t great, but because we didn’t have access to the catalogue or the CMS, there was not much we could do directly to the product pages.


Rewriting content

I don’t necessarily believe that there is such a thing as ‘writing for SEO’. Yes, you can structure a page in a certain formulaic way with keywords in header tags, alt tags and title tags.

You can factor low-competition longtail phrases and target keywords into the copy as well…but if you sacrifice UX in favour of anything that I’ve just mentioned, then I’ll just be honest, you’re doing it wrong.

From looking at the data in Google Analytics (low avg. time on site and a bounce rate that should have been lower), and reading through the website ourselves, it became clear that the content needed to be rewritten.

We did have a list of target keywords, but our main objective was to make the content more valuable to the users.

To do this, we worked closely with the PR team, who had a great understanding of the client’s products and key messages. They had also developed personas about the type of visitor that would come to the client's site.

We were able to use this knowledge as a foundation to rewrite, restructure and streamline sections of the website that we knew could be performing better.

Another thing we noticed from analysing the content is that interlinking was almost non-existent. If a visitor wanted to get to another piece of information or section of the website, they'd be restricted to using the main navigation bar. Not good...

We addressed this in the rewriting process by keeping a spreadsheet of what we were writing and key themes in those pages. We could then use this to structure interlinking on the website in a way that would direct visitors easily to the most relevant resources.

As a result of this we have seen time on site increase by 14.61% for visitors from organic search:

Average visit duration analytics

Working with the PR team

As I have mentioned, we also handled PR for this client. Luckily, the PR team provided brilliant support to the search marketing side of the account.

This has proved integral to the success of this campaign for two reasons:

1) The PR team know the client better than anyone. It might even be fair to say they know more about the products and target audience than the client's own marketing team.

This helped us build a firm understanding of why people would come to the site, what they'd expect to see, and what the client wanted to achieve with its web presence.

This was great in terms of helping us identify what people would search for to find the site, which in turn allowed us to structure the content rewrite more effectively.

2) By working with the PR team, we were able to co-ordinate the on-page and off-page work we were doing, to align with PR campaigns.

For example, if they were pushing a certain product, or raising awareness of a specific campaign, we knew we'd see an increase in search volume in those areas. The SEO team would then also focus efforts on promoting the same product.

When the search volume increased, our site was there to capture the traffic. Unlike in the previous example when the traffic was sent to a product page, we were able to create a fully optimised landing page.

With this approach we knew we'd get a good volume of targeted traffic - we just needed to be there to capture it and give a friendly nudge in the right direction.

Restructuring navigation

The main navigation menu on the site proved to be a source of great frustration. Functionality was extremely limited...we couldn't even create dropdown menus as that wasn't built into the CMS.

That meant we needed to be really tight with our navigation options, as well as making it obvious where each navigation link would lead.

Again, we worked with the PR team and the client, as well as using information from Google Analytics to learn about how visitors were using the site, and how the client wanted them to use the site.

Armed with this information, we streamlined the navigation to support user experience by creating better landing pages for the navigation links and making the most popular and valuable pages of the website more accessible.

The result has been that although people are spending more time on page than 12 months ago, they are visiting fewer pages. This has helped us inform the client that navigation was working better, and visitors were able to find the information they required more easily:

Page Visit Analytics

Valuable content

There’s a vicious rumour circulating at the moment that quality content (no... not 300 word blog posts) can help drive SEO success. Well, we decided to test this for ourselves…

As well as rewriting existing copy, we also created new content that we hoped would drive more organic search traffic to the site.

We created infographics (good ones), product-specific and general FAQs, video and text based tips and advice pages, as well as specific landing pages for the client's three 'hero' products.

We knew from looking at the analytics that there was definitely opportunity to get more longtail traffic, but we wanted to combine this with creating a genuinely useful resource for the visitors.

Nothing we did was hugely resource intensive in terms of content creation, but what we did create was driven by what the data told us people wanted to see.

As a result, the tips and advice pages and FAQs have both pulled in significant volumes of organic search traffic, and given users something of value.

The screenshots below illustrating this are taken from the middle of August 2013, when the pages went live, to the end of January 2014:

T&A Analytics

Fixing Errors

With the site plugged into Moz, we were pretty shocked to see the crawl diagnostics return 825 errors, 901 warning and 976 notices. This equated to almost one warning and one error on every single page on the site. The biggest culprit being duplicate page titles, duplicate page content and missing or non-existent Metatags.

The good news – I got to spend tonnes time doing what every SEO hates loves – handcrafting new metadata!

The bad news – the majority of errors were caused by the CMS. How it dealt with pagination, the poor integration of the product catalogue and the way it handled non-public (protected) pages.

As part of our initial audit on the site, we noticed the site didn’t even have a robots.txt. As you know, this meant the search engine bots were crawling every nook and cranny, getting in places that they had no business going in.

So, as well as manually crafting new metadata for many pages, we also had to try and get a robots.txt that we had written onto the site. This meant going through a helpdesk, where they didn’t understand SEO and where English wasn’t their first language.

A gruelling process – but after several months of trying, we got that robots.txt in place, making the site a lot more crawler friendly.

Now we’re down to 122 errors and 377 warnings. Okay, I know it should be lower than that, but when you can’t get change how the CMS works, or add functionality to it, you do the best you can.

Conversions

The client does not sell directly through its website, but through a network of distributors. The quickest way for a customer to learn about their closest distributor is to use the 'Contact Us' page. Again, admittedly, this is far from the best system but unfortunately, it is not something we're able to change at this stage.

Because of this, we made people visiting the 'Contact Us' page a conversion goal that would be a KPI for the campaign. We have seen this increase by over 21% in the last 12 months, which has helped us prove value to the client, as these are the kinds of visits that will have a positive impact on their bottom line. It's good to know you're not only driving a high volume of traffic, but also a good quality of traffic.

Goal Conversions

Off-page

The reason I’ve saved off-page to last is that I really don’t dwell on it. Yes, we did follow traditional 'best practices'; blogger and influencer outreach, producing quality content for people to link to – but we didn’t do anything revolutionary or game-changing.

The truth is, we had so much work to do on-page, that we kind of let the off-page take care of itself.

I’d in no way advocate this approach all the time, but in this case we prioritised getting the website working as hard as it could. In this case, it paid dividends and I’ll tell you why.

Conclusions - Play to your strengths

Google Search Traffic Analysis

Managing an SEO campaign without full access to a CMS undoubtedly poses a unique set of challenges. But what it also forced us to do was play to our strengths.

Instead of overcomplicating any of the more ‘technical’ SEO issues, we focused on getting the basics right, and using data to structure our strategy. We took an unfocused, poorly structured website, and shaped into something valuable and user-friendly.

That’s why we’ve seen 20,000 more unique visits per month than we were having when we took over the campaign a year ago – we did what many people would consider 'basic SEO' really well. I think this is what I want the key takeaway to be from this case study.

It's probably true that SEOs are experiencing something of an identity crisis, but as Rand eloquently argued in his recent post, we still have a unique skill set that can be incredibly valuable to any business with an online presence. What we may consider 'basic' still has the potential to deliver fantastic results.

Really, all we’re trying to do is make our websites more user-friendly and more crawlable. If you do that, you’ll get the results. Hopefully that’s what I’ve illustrated in this post.


Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don't have time to hunt down but want to read!

Read more...


Increasing Search Traffic By 20,000 Visitors Per Month Without Full CMS Access – Here’s How…

Posted by RoryT11

Trying to do SEO for a website without full access to its CMS is like trying to win a sword fight with one hand tied behind your back. You can still use your weapon, but there is always going to be a limit to what you can do.

Before this metaphor gets any further out of hand, I should explain. One year ago, the agency I work for was asked to run an SEO campaign for a client. The catch was, it would be impossible for us to gain full access to the CMS that the website was built on. Initially I was doubtful about the results that could be achieved.


Why no CMS?

The reason we couldn’t access the CMS is that the client was part of a global group. All sites within this group were centrally controlled on a third-party CMS, based in another country. If we did want to make any ‘technical changes’, it would have to go through a painfully slow helpdesk process.

We could still add and remove content, edit Metadata and had some basic control over the navigation.


Despite this, we took on the challenge. We already had a strong relationship with the client because we handled their PR, and a good understanding of their niche and target audience. With this in mind, we were confident that we could improve the site in a number of ways that would enhance user experience, which we hoped would lead to increased visibility in the SERPs.

What has happened in the last year since we started managing the search marketing campaign has emphasised to me just how important it is to implement well-structured on-page SEO. The client's website is now receiving over 20,000 more visits from organic search per month than it did when we took over the account.

I want to share with you how we achieved this without having full access to the CMS. The following screenshots are a direct comparison of January 2013 and January 2014.

Analytics Overview Organic Search

Corresponding figures can be viewed in the summary at the end of the post.

Analytics

When we were granted access to analytics for the website, we got our first real insight into how the site was performing, and what we could do to help it perform better.

By analysing the way visitors were using the site (visitor journeys, drop-off points, most visited pages, which pages had highest avg. time etc.), we could start to structure our on-page strategy.

We identified how we could streamline the navigation to help people find what they were looking for quicker. We also decided it was necessary to create clearer call-to-actions, which would shorten the distance from popular landing pages, to the most valuable pages on the website.

We also looked at the top landing pages, and with what keyword data we had access to, we were able to define more clearly why people were visiting the site, and what they expected when they landed on a page.

For example, the site was receiving a lot of traffic for one of its products, with visitors coming into the site from a range of relevant short and longtail keywords. However, they would almost always land on the product page.

We noticed by analysing visitor journeys from this page that they would leave to try to find more information on the item, because the majority of visitors weren't entering the site at the buying stage of the conversion cycle.

However, where this supporting information lived on the site wasn’t immediately obvious. In fact, it was nearly four clicks away from the product landing page!

It was obvious we’d have to address this, and other similar issues we identified simply by conducting some fairly simple analytic analysis.


Product Pages

The product pages were generated from a global product catalogue built into the content management system. They aren’t great, but because we didn’t have access to the catalogue or the CMS, there was not much we could do directly to the product pages.


Rewriting content

I don’t necessarily believe that there is such a thing as ‘writing for SEO’. Yes, you can structure a page in a certain formulaic way with keywords in header tags, alt tags and title tags.

You can factor low-competition longtail phrases and target keywords into the copy as well…but if you sacrifice UX in favour of anything that I’ve just mentioned, then I’ll just be honest, you’re doing it wrong.

From looking at the data in Google Analytics (low avg. time on site and a bounce rate that should have been lower), and reading through the website ourselves, it became clear that the content needed to be rewritten.

We did have a list of target keywords, but our main objective was to make the content more valuable to the users.

To do this, we worked closely with the PR team, who had a great understanding of the client’s products and key messages. They had also developed personas about the type of visitor that would come to the client's site.

We were able to use this knowledge as a foundation to rewrite, restructure and streamline sections of the website that we knew could be performing better.

Another thing we noticed from analysing the content is that interlinking was almost non-existent. If a visitor wanted to get to another piece of information or section of the website, they'd be restricted to using the main navigation bar. Not good...

We addressed this in the rewriting process by keeping a spreadsheet of what we were writing and key themes in those pages. We could then use this to structure interlinking on the website in a way that would direct visitors easily to the most relevant resources.

As a result of this we have seen time on site increase by 14.61% for visitors from organic search:

Average visit duration analytics

Working with the PR team

As I have mentioned, we also handled PR for this client. Luckily, the PR team provided brilliant support to the search marketing side of the account.

This has proved integral to the success of this campaign for two reasons:

1) The PR team know the client better than anyone. It might even be fair to say they know more about the products and target audience than the client's own marketing team.

This helped us build a firm understanding of why people would come to the site, what they'd expect to see, and what the client wanted to achieve with its web presence.

This was great in terms of helping us identify what people would search for to find the site, which in turn allowed us to structure the content rewrite more effectively.

2) By working with the PR team, we were able to co-ordinate the on-page and off-page work we were doing, to align with PR campaigns.

For example, if they were pushing a certain product, or raising awareness of a specific campaign, we knew we'd see an increase in search volume in those areas. The SEO team would then also focus efforts on promoting the same product.

When the search volume increased, our site was there to capture the traffic. Unlike in the previous example when the traffic was sent to a product page, we were able to create a fully optimised landing page.

With this approach we knew we'd get a good volume of targeted traffic - we just needed to be there to capture it and give a friendly nudge in the right direction.

Restructuring navigation

The main navigation menu on the site proved to be a source of great frustration. Functionality was extremely limited...we couldn't even create dropdown menus as that wasn't built into the CMS.

That meant we needed to be really tight with our navigation options, as well as making it obvious where each navigation link would lead.

Again, we worked with the PR team and the client, as well as using information from Google Analytics to learn about how visitors were using the site, and how the client wanted them to use the site.

Armed with this information, we streamlined the navigation to support user experience by creating better landing pages for the navigation links and making the most popular and valuable pages of the website more accessible.

The result has been that although people are spending more time on page than 12 months ago, they are visiting fewer pages. This has helped us inform the client that navigation was working better, and visitors were able to find the information they required more easily:

Page Visit Analytics

Valuable content

There’s a vicious rumour circulating at the moment that quality content (no... not 300 word blog posts) can help drive SEO success. Well, we decided to test this for ourselves…

As well as rewriting existing copy, we also created new content that we hoped would drive more organic search traffic to the site.

We created infographics (good ones), product-specific and general FAQs, video and text based tips and advice pages, as well as specific landing pages for the client's three 'hero' products.

We knew from looking at the analytics that there was definitely opportunity to get more longtail traffic, but we wanted to combine this with creating a genuinely useful resource for the visitors.

Nothing we did was hugely resource intensive in terms of content creation, but what we did create was driven by what the data told us people wanted to see.

As a result, the tips and advice pages and FAQs have both pulled in significant volumes of organic search traffic, and given users something of value.

The screenshots below illustrating this are taken from the middle of August 2013, when the pages went live, to the end of January 2014:

T&A Analytics

Fixing Errors

With the site plugged into Moz, we were pretty shocked to see the crawl diagnostics return 825 errors, 901 warning and 976 notices. This equated to almost one warning and one error on every single page on the site. The biggest culprit being duplicate page titles, duplicate page content and missing or non-existent Metatags.

The good news – I got to waste spend tonnes time doing what every SEO hates loves – handcrafting new metadata!

The bad news – the majority of errors were caused by the CMS. How it dealt with pagination, the poor integration of the product catalogue and the way it handled non-public (protected) pages.

As part of our initial audit on the site, we noticed the site didn’t even have a robots.txt. As you know, this meant the search engine bots were crawling every nook and cranny, getting in places that they had no business going in.

So, as well as manually crafting new metadata for many pages, we also had to try and get a robots.txt that we had written onto the site. This meant going through a helpdesk, where they didn’t understand SEO and where English wasn’t their first language.

A gruelling process – but after several months of trying, we got that robots.txt in place, making the site a lot more crawler friendly.

Now we’re down to 122 errors and 377 warnings. Okay, I know it should be lower than that, but when you can’t get change how the CMS works, or add functionality to it, you do the best you can.

Conversions

The client does not sell directly through its website, but through a network of distributors. The quickest way for a customer to learn about their closest distributor is to use the 'Contact Us' page. Again, admittedly, this is far from the best system but unfortunately, it is not something we're able to change at this stage.

Because of this, we made people visiting the 'Contact Us' page a conversion goal that would be a KPI for the campaign. We have seen this increase by over 21% in the last 12 months, which has helped us prove value to the client, as these are the kinds of visits that will have a positive impact on their bottom line. It's good to know you're not only driving a high volume of traffic, but also a good quality of traffic.

Goal Conversions

Off-page

The reason I’ve saved off-page to last is that I really don’t dwell on it. Yes, we did follow traditional 'best practices'; blogger and influencer outreach, producing quality content for people to link to – but we didn’t do anything revolutionary or game-changing.

The truth is, we had so much work to do on-page, that we kind of let the off-page take care of itself.

I’d in no way advocate this approach all the time, but in this case we prioritised getting the website working as hard as it could. In this case, it paid dividends and I’ll tell you why.

Conclusions - Play to your strengths

Google Search Traffic Analysis

Managing an SEO campaign without full access to a CMS undoubtedly poses a unique set of challenges. But what it also forced us to do was play to our strengths.

Instead of overcomplicating any of the more ‘technical’ SEO issues, we focused on getting the basics right, and using data to structure our strategy. We took an unfocused, poorly structured website, and shaped into something valuable and user-friendly.

That’s why we’ve seen 20,000 more unique visits per month than we were having when we took over the campaign a year ago – we did what many people would consider 'basic SEO' really well. I think this is what I want the key takeaway to be from this case study.

It's probably true that SEOs are experiencing something of an identity crisis, but as Rand eloquently argued in his recent post, we still have a unique skill set that can be incredibly valuable to any business with an online presence. What we may consider 'basic' still has the potential to deliver fantastic results.

Really, all we’re trying to do is make our websites more user-friendly and more crawlable. If you do that, you’ll get the results. Hopefully that’s what I’ve illustrated in this post.


Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don't have time to hunt down but want to read!

Read more...


Increasing Search Traffic By 20,000 Visitors Per Month Without Full CMS Access – Here’s How…

Posted by RoryT11

Trying to do SEO for a website without full access to its CMS is like trying to win a sword fight with one hand tied behind your back. You can still use your weapon, but there is always going to be a limit to what you can do.

Before this metaphor gets any further out of hand, I should explain. One year ago, the agency I work for was asked to run an SEO campaign for a client. The catch was, it would be impossible for us to gain full access to the CMS that the website was built on. Initially I was doubtful about the results that could be achieved.


Why no CMS?

The reason we couldn’t access the CMS is that the client was part of a global group. All sites within this group were centrally controlled on a third-party CMS, based in another country. If we did want to make any ‘technical changes’, it would have to go through a painfully slow helpdesk process.

We could still add and remove content, edit Metadata and had some basic control over the navigation.


Despite this, we took on the challenge. We already had a strong relationship with the client because we handled their PR, and a good understanding of their niche and target audience. With this in mind, we were confident that we could improve the site in a number of ways that would enhance user experience, which we hoped would lead to increased visibility in the SERPs.

What has happened in the last year since we started managing the search marketing campaign has emphasised to me just how important it is to implement well-structured on-page SEO. The client's website is now receiving over 20,000 more visits from organic search per month than it did when we took over the account.

I want to share with you how we achieved this without having full access to the CMS. The following screenshots are a direct comparison of January 2013 and January 2014.

Analytics Overview Organic Search

Corresponding figures can be viewed in the summary at the end of the post.

Analytics

When we were granted access to analytics for the website, we got our first real insight into how the site was performing, and what we could do to help it perform better.

By analysing the way visitors were using the site (visitor journeys, drop-off points, most visited pages, which pages had highest avg. time etc.), we could start to structure our on-page strategy.

We identified how we could streamline the navigation to help people find what they were looking for quicker. We also decided it was necessary to create clearer call-to-actions, which would shorten the distance from popular landing pages, to the most valuable pages on the website.

We also looked at the top landing pages, and with what keyword data we had access to, we were able to define more clearly why people were visiting the site, and what they expected when they landed on a page.

For example, the site was receiving a lot of traffic for one of its products, with visitors coming into the site from a range of relevant short and longtail keywords. However, they would almost always land on the product page.

We noticed by analysing visitor journeys from this page that they would leave to try to find more information on the item, because the majority of visitors weren't entering the site at the buying stage of the conversion cycle.

However, where this supporting information lived on the site wasn’t immediately obvious. In fact, it was nearly four clicks away from the product landing page!

It was obvious we’d have to address this, and other similar issues we identified simply by conducting some fairly simple analytic analysis.


Product Pages

The product pages were generated from a global product catalogue built into the content management system. They aren’t great, but because we didn’t have access to the catalogue or the CMS, there was not much we could do directly to the product pages.


Rewriting content

I don’t necessarily believe that there is such a thing as ‘writing for SEO’. Yes, you can structure a page in a certain formulaic way with keywords in header tags, alt tags and title tags.

You can factor low-competition longtail phrases and target keywords into the copy as well…but if you sacrifice UX in favour of anything that I’ve just mentioned, then I’ll just be honest, you’re doing it wrong.

From looking at the data in Google Analytics (low avg. time on site and a bounce rate that should have been lower), and reading through the website ourselves, it became clear that the content needed to be rewritten.

We did have a list of target keywords, but our main objective was to make the content more valuable to the users.

To do this, we worked closely with the PR team, who had a great understanding of the client’s products and key messages. They had also developed personas about the type of visitor that would come to the client's site.

We were able to use this knowledge as a foundation to rewrite, restructure and streamline sections of the website that we knew could be performing better.

Another thing we noticed from analysing the content is that interlinking was almost non-existent. If a visitor wanted to get to another piece of information or section of the website, they'd be restricted to using the main navigation bar. Not good...

We addressed this in the rewriting process by keeping a spreadsheet of what we were writing and key themes in those pages. We could then use this to structure interlinking on the website in a way that would direct visitors easily to the most relevant resources.

As a result of this we have seen time on site increase by 14.61% for visitors from organic search:

Average visit duration analytics

Working with the PR team

As I have mentioned, we also handled PR for this client. Luckily, the PR team provided brilliant support to the search marketing side of the account.

This has proved integral to the success of this campaign for two reasons:

1) The PR team know the client better than anyone. It might even be fair to say they know more about the products and target audience than the client's own marketing team.

This helped us build a firm understanding of why people would come to the site, what they'd expect to see, and what the client wanted to achieve with its web presence.

This was great in terms of helping us identify what people would search for to find the site, which in turn allowed us to structure the content rewrite more effectively.

2) By working with the PR team, we were able to co-ordinate the on-page and off-page work we were doing, to align with PR campaigns.

For example, if they were pushing a certain product, or raising awareness of a specific campaign, we knew we'd see an increase in search volume in those areas. The SEO team would then also focus efforts on promoting the same product.

When the search volume increased, our site was there to capture the traffic. Unlike in the previous example when the traffic was sent to a product page, we were able to create a fully optimised landing page.

With this approach we knew we'd get a good volume of targeted traffic - we just needed to be there to capture it and give a friendly nudge in the right direction.

Restructuring navigation

The main navigation menu on the site proved to be a source of great frustration. Functionality was extremely limited...we couldn't even create dropdown menus as that wasn't built into the CMS.

That meant we needed to be really tight with our navigation options, as well as making it obvious where each navigation link would lead.

Again, we worked with the PR team and the client, as well as using information from Google Analytics to learn about how visitors were using the site, and how the client wanted them to use the site.

Armed with this information, we streamlined the navigation to support user experience by creating better landing pages for the navigation links and making the most popular and valuable pages of the website more accessible.

The result has been that although people are spending more time on page than 12 months ago, they are visiting fewer pages. This has helped us inform the client that navigation was working better, and visitors were able to find the information they required more easily:

Page Visit Analytics

Valuable content

There’s a vicious rumour circulating at the moment that quality content (no... not 300 word blog posts) can help drive SEO success. Well, we decided to test this for ourselves…

As well as rewriting existing copy, we also created new content that we hoped would drive more organic search traffic to the site.

We created infographics (good ones), product-specific and general FAQs, video and text based tips and advice pages, as well as specific landing pages for the client's three 'hero' products.

We knew from looking at the analytics that there was definitely opportunity to get more longtail traffic, but we wanted to combine this with creating a genuinely useful resource for the visitors.

Nothing we did was hugely resource intensive in terms of content creation, but what we did create was driven by what the data told us people wanted to see.

As a result, the tips and advice pages and FAQs have both pulled in significant volumes of organic search traffic, and given users something of value.

The screenshots below illustrating this are taken from the middle of August 2013, when the pages went live, to the end of January 2014:

T&A Analytics

Fixing Errors

With the site plugged into Moz, we were pretty shocked to see the crawl diagnostics return 825 errors, 901 warning and 976 notices. This equated to almost one warning and one error on every single page on the site. The biggest culprit being duplicate page titles, duplicate page content and missing or non-existent Metatags.

The good news – I got to waste spend tonnes time doing what every SEO hates loves – handcrafting new metadata!

The bad news – the majority of errors were caused by the CMS. How it dealt with pagination, the poor integration of the product catalogue and the way it handled non-public (protected) pages.

As part of our initial audit on the site, we noticed the site didn’t even have a robots.txt. As you know, this meant the search engine bots were crawling every nook and cranny, getting in places that they had no business going in.

So, as well as manually crafting new metadata for many pages, we also had to try and get a robots.txt that we had written onto the site. This meant going through a helpdesk, where they didn’t understand SEO and where English wasn’t their first language.

A gruelling process – but after several months of trying, we got that robots.txt in place, making the site a lot more crawler friendly.

Now we’re down to 122 errors and 377 warnings. Okay, I know it should be lower than that, but when you can’t get change how the CMS works, or add functionality to it, you do the best you can.

Conversions

The client does not sell directly through its website, but through a network of distributors. The quickest way for a customer to learn about their closest distributor is to use the 'Contact Us' page. Again, admittedly, this is far from the best system but unfortunately, it is not something we're able to change at this stage.

Because of this, we made people visiting the 'Contact Us' page a conversion goal that would be a KPI for the campaign. We have seen this increase by over 21% in the last 12 months, which has helped us prove value to the client, as these are the kinds of visits that will have a positive impact on their bottom line. It's good to know you're not only driving a high volume of traffic, but also a good quality of traffic.

Goal Conversions

Off-page

The reason I’ve saved off-page to last is that I really don’t dwell on it. Yes, we did follow traditional 'best practices'; blogger and influencer outreach, producing quality content for people to link to – but we didn’t do anything revolutionary or game-changing.

The truth is, we had so much work to do on-page, that we kind of let the off-page take care of itself.

I’d in no way advocate this approach all the time, but in this case we prioritised getting the website working as hard as it could. In this case, it paid dividends and I’ll tell you why.

Conclusions - Play to your strengths

Google Search Traffic Analysis

Managing an SEO campaign without full access to a CMS undoubtedly poses a unique set of challenges. But what it also forced us to do was play to our strengths.

Instead of overcomplicating any of the more ‘technical’ SEO issues, we focused on getting the basics right, and using data to structure our strategy. We took an unfocused, poorly structured website, and shaped into something valuable and user-friendly.

That’s why we’ve seen 20,000 more unique visits per month than we were having when we took over the campaign a year ago – we did what many people would consider 'basic SEO' really well. I think this is what I want the key takeaway to be from this case study.

It's probably true that SEOs are experiencing something of an identity crisis, but as Rand eloquently argued in his recent post, we still have a unique skill set that can be incredibly valuable to any business with an online presence. What we may consider 'basic' still has the potential to deliver fantastic results.

Really, all we’re trying to do is make our websites more user-friendly and more crawlable. If you do that, you’ll get the results. Hopefully that’s what I’ve illustrated in this post.


Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don't have time to hunt down but want to read!

Read more...


Seven Videos To Kickstart Your Video Strategy

Posted by Wooshii

Video has become an ever-increasing part of marketing and communications strategies. Organisations of all shapes and sizes rely on videos to pitch their products, win attention from prospective buyers, and reshape the image of their brand. Yet, even if you’ve reached the point that you’re convinced of the value of video production for your marketing efforts, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Every company is different. Target markets, marketing budgets and other challenges vary from one organisation to the next. The rule that applies to any other type of campaign applies here—it should be guided by your specific goals, limitations and challenges. As a result, an assessment of your key challenges should come before any decision on what you might create.

At Wooshii, we’ve had the pleasure of working with hundreds of companies as they embark on the adventure of video production. Our clients have been as varied as their goals. We’ve helped large, global enterprises as well as small startups just getting their feet wet. Our experience has taught us that there are a handful of key video types that tend to have the greatest positive impact for our clients. We’ll highlight each of these in the hope that this information may give you a starting point for your own video projects.

CONVERSION

Ultimately, your goal is to drive people to conversion. That is, you want visitors to your website to click through to another location or take some other action during their visit. Video is a proven way to increase the likelihood of conversion. There are even sophisticated tools, like Optimizely, that can help you track conversions on your website so you can see the effects of posted videos on your site’s traffic.

1. ‘Explainer’ Videos

Video is a great way to explain products or services, especially if your target market is unfamiliar with your product or service. Dropbox, the popular cloud-based storage site, used explainer videos to great effect when launching their service. As this article highlights, “...a simple explainer video had a lot to do with early-stage (and continued) success [for Dropbox].” Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, the founders of Dropbox, used the very same explainer video to pitch to investors and to increase their customer base. Clearly, it worked. For another example of solid explainer videos, check the front page of Wistia. Each benefit of the Wistia product is explained through short, entertaining videos, making it easy for potential customers to understand what Wistia offers.

For an increasingly mobile customer base, video is an easy way to invite potential customers to explore and understand your products and services better. Attempting to read lengthy text or click through several links on a mobile device can be painful, but watching a 90 second clip is quick and hassle-free.

2. Product Demos

Similarly, videos can be used to explain specific parts of your products and services. Maybe there is a part of your ordering process some customers find confusing. Video can be used to directly address that issue, guiding users through the process with ease. If there are several elements of your product you’d like to demo through video, break these into small chunks. Ideally, each video should be between 20 and 60 seconds long.

Be sure to keep these product demos specific to the issue the user is encountering right then. If there is another issue you’d like to address, make another video. Zendesk has used videos like these to great effect throughout their website. For example, this video walks Zendesk users through the process of adding agents in less than two minutes.

Watch this awesome product demo that helps sell.

AUTHORITY & SOCIAL PROOF

Authority and social proof are two major drivers for human behavior. We are far more likely to engage and take action if either (a) an authority figure has endorsed the potential action, or (b) our peers have taken the potential action and recommend it. As this article points out, “Display[ing] content from professionals with credentials” is a powerful way to capitalize on the concept of authority. If experts in your field recommend your products or services, let your customers know!

Similarly, the same article has this to say about social proof: “because we are social creatures, we tend to like things just because other people do as well, whether we know them or not. Anything that shows the popularity of your site and your products can trigger a response.” (You can read more about the concepts of authority and social proof in Influence by Robert Cialdini.)

Video is an excellent way to highlight authority and social proof for your products and services. When real people, both experts and average Joes, endorse your products and services, potential customers notice.

3. Company Profiles

Profile videos put a face to your company. They humanize your organisation. A company name is just a label and a logo until potential customers are given an opportunity to see it as more. Profile videos can help you accomplish this.

By utilizing profile videos, you can present your company as a business that is transparent, personable and trustworthy. For some businesses, this is essential. McInnes Cooper, a leading Canadian law firm, has used profile videos to differentiate themselves from other law firms and lay the foundations for trust with potential clients. Their “Our People Make It Possible” video gives the impression that they are a talented organisation, top to bottom, with a focus on people, both internally and externally. In an industry that is often viewed with mistrust, this kind of video marketing has certainly set them apart.

4. Testimonials

There is no better advocate for your business than a previous customer. A potential customer that comes to you as a result of a recommendation is far more likely to buy than one who comes to you ‘cold’. However, websites generate a high amount of cold leads. A potential customer may know very little about you or your business when they arrive on your website. One way to present some form of a recommendation is to ask your satisfied customers to appear on camera.

While it may feel daunting to ask a customer to be filmed, video recommendations are particularly powerful specifically because the customer on camera has agreed to advocate publically for your business. Authentic testimonials can turn a cold lead warm in the absence of a direct recommendation.

ACQUISITION

Acquiring new customers is an ongoing challenge that all businesses face. There are a number of ways marketers can put their products or services in front of potential customers. Video is a powerful medium for this.

5. Content

Videos that provide value to existing and potential customers is one way to place your products and services in front of your target audience. What are some of the common challenges your potential customers face? Are there tips, instructions or insight you could share via video that would be helpful? If so, consider making that kind of content freely available on your site.

While not a video, take this post as an example. At Wooshii, we help people make videos. That’s our service. However, an increasing number of our clients have asked basic questions about how they can most effectively put videos to use in their marketing efforts. Hence, this post. We share this information in the hope that it will be genuinely helpful, knowing that those who find it helpful may turn to use in the future when they need assistance with their video production.

Since the majority of users do not convert on their first visit to a site, a video that provides useful information will give them a reason to come back and you have another shot at converting them without having to pay to re-acquire them.

6. Interviews

One way to gain attention for your products and services is to interview key people who can comment on or advise your potential customers on a related topic. For example, suppose you run a bedding company. You might consider interviewing this chap on his top ten tips for getting a great night’s sleep. This strategy benefits both you and the interview subject. It’s great exposure for him and valuable content for your website.

If your interview subject isn’t local, consider utilizing online tools like Skype or Google Hangouts to conduct an online interview. (Be sure to read up on Wistia’s notes regarding lighting and other considerations.) Preplan your questions, and even send them to your interview subject in advance to ensure a good flow of conversation. You may also find these tips from Mixergy helpful.

7. Ads

Whether you love them or loathe them, video ads are here to stay. There are a number of networks—everything from YouTube’s TrueView to Brightcove's video ad network—that can help you place your video in front of your target audience. Through these services, you can associate your video content with target keywords, demographics and web searches.

Depending on the venue used, there are rules regarding length and video structure. Be sure to familiarise yourself with these before you begin video production. (There are too many to delve into here.) Regardless of your video’s style or length, one thing always holds true: quality will make the biggest difference in reaching potential customers. To insure top quality, pay particular attention to the video’s storytelling, and don’t skimp on the planning stage.

Check out this great example of effective use of Youtube preroll ads to find missing Australians

Dollar Shave Club used this ad to shape user perception of their products and set a tone of voice that was distinctly different from their competitors

Before embarking on any ad campaign, video or otherwise, clearly define your objectives, agree on the voice of the campaign (be it fun, serious, informative or entertaining), and summarize your objectives in a written one-page brief. And, of course, have a script (30 seconds is ample) before beginning video production.


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Seven Videos To Kickstart Your Video Strategy

Posted by Wooshii

Video has become an ever-increasing part of marketing and communications strategies. Organisations of all shapes and sizes rely on videos to pitch their products, win attention from prospective buyers, and reshape the image of their brand. Yet, even if you’ve reached the point that you’re convinced of the value of video production for your marketing efforts, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Every company is different. Target markets, marketing budgets and other challenges vary from one organisation to the next. The rule that applies to any other type of campaign applies here—it should be guided by your specific goals, limitations and challenges. As a result, an assessment of your key challenges should come before any decision on what you might create.

At Wooshii, we’ve had the pleasure of working with hundreds of companies as they embark on the adventure of video production. Our clients have been as varied as their goals. We’ve helped large, global enterprises as well as small startups just getting their feet wet. Our experience has taught us that there are a handful of key video types that tend to have the greatest positive impact for our clients. We’ll highlight each of these in the hope that this information may give you a starting point for your own video projects.

CONVERSION

Ultimately, your goal is to drive people to conversion. That is, you want visitors to your website to click through to another location or take some other action during their visit. Video is a proven way to increase the likelihood of conversion. There are even sophisticated tools, like Optimizely, that can help you track conversions on your website so you can see the effects of posted videos on your site’s traffic.

1. ‘Explainer’ Videos

Video is a great way to explain products or services, especially if your target market is unfamiliar with your product or service. Dropbox, the popular cloud-based storage site, used explainer videos to great effect when launching their service. As this article highlights, “...a simple explainer video had a lot to do with early-stage (and continued) success [for Dropbox].� Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, the founders of Dropbox, used the very same explainer video to pitch to investors and to increase their customer base. Clearly, it worked. For another example of solid explainer videos, check the front page of Wistia. Each benefit of the Wistia product is explained through short, entertaining videos, making it easy for potential customers to understand what Wistia offers.

For an increasingly mobile customer base, video is an easy way to invite potential customers to explore and understand your products and services better. Attempting to read lengthy text or click through several links on a mobile device can be painful, but watching a 90 second clip is quick and hassle-free.

2. Product Demos

Similarly, videos can be used to explain specific parts of your products and services. Maybe there is a part of your ordering process some customers find confusing. Video can be used to directly address that issue, guiding users through the process with ease. If there are several elements of your product you’d like to demo through video, break these into small chunks. Ideally, each video should be between 20 and 60 seconds long.

Be sure to keep these product demos specific to the issue the user is encountering right then. If there is another issue you’d like to address, make another video. Zendesk has used videos like these to great effect throughout their website. For example, this video walks Zendesk users through the process of adding agents in less than two minutes.

Watch this awesome product demo that helps sell.

AUTHORITY & SOCIAL PROOF

Authority and social proof are two major drivers for human behavior. We are far more likely to engage and take action if either (a) an authority figure has endorsed the potential action, or (b) our peers have taken the potential action and recommend it. As this article points out, “Display[ing] content from professionals with credentials� is a powerful way to capitalize on the concept of authority. If experts in your field recommend your products or services, let your customers know!

Similarly, the same article has this to say about social proof: “because we are social creatures, we tend to like things just because other people do as well, whether we know them or not. Anything that shows the popularity of your site and your products can trigger a response.� (You can read more about the concepts of authority and social proof in Influence by Robert Cialdini.)

Video is an excellent way to highlight authority and social proof for your products and services. When real people, both experts and average Joes, endorse your products and services, potential customers notice.

3. Company Profiles

Profile videos put a face to your company. They humanize your organisation. A company name is just a label and a logo until potential customers are given an opportunity to see it as more. Profile videos can help you accomplish this.

By utilizing profile videos, you can present your company as a business that is transparent, personable and trustworthy. For some businesses, this is essential. McInnes Cooper, a leading Canadian law firm, has used profile videos to differentiate themselves from other law firms and lay the foundations for trust with potential clients. Their “Our People Make It Possible� video gives the impression that they are a talented organisation, top to bottom, with a focus on people, both internally and externally. In an industry that is often viewed with mistrust, this kind of video marketing has certainly set them apart.

4. Testimonials

There is no better advocate for your business than a previous customer. A potential customer that comes to you as a result of a recommendation is far more likely to buy than one who comes to you ‘cold’. However, websites generate a high amount of cold leads. A potential customer may know very little about you or your business when they arrive on your website. One way to present some form of a recommendation is to ask your satisfied customers to appear on camera.

While it may feel daunting to ask a customer to be filmed, video recommendations are particularly powerful specifically because the customer on camera has agreed to advocate publically for your business. Authentic testimonials can turn a cold lead warm in the absence of a direct recommendation.

ACQUISITION

Acquiring new customers is an ongoing challenge that all businesses face. There are a number of ways marketers can put their products or services in front of potential customers. Video is a powerful medium for this.

5. Content

Videos that provide value to existing and potential customers is one way to place your products and services in front of your target audience. What are some of the common challenges your potential customers face? Are there tips, instructions or insight you could share via video that would be helpful? If so, consider making that kind of content freely available on your site.

While not a video, take this post as an example. At Wooshii, we help people make videos. That’s our service. However, an increasing number of our clients have asked basic questions about how they can most effectively put videos to use in their marketing efforts. Hence, this post. We share this information in the hope that it will be genuinely helpful, knowing that those who find it helpful may turn to use in the future when they need assistance with their video production.

Since the majority of users do not convert on their first visit to a site, a video that provides useful information will give them a reason to come back and you have another shot at converting them without having to pay to re-acquire them.

6. Interviews

One way to gain attention for your products and services is to interview key people who can comment on or advise your potential customers on a related topic. For example, suppose you run a bedding company. You might consider interviewing this chap on his top ten tips for getting a great night’s sleep. This strategy benefits both you and the interview subject. It’s great exposure for him and valuable content for your website.

If your interview subject isn’t local, consider utilizing online tools like Skype or Google Hangouts to conduct an online interview. (Be sure to read up on Wistia’s notes regarding lighting and other considerations.) Preplan your questions, and even send them to your interview subject in advance to ensure a good flow of conversation. You may also find these tips from Mixergy helpful.

7. Ads

Whether you love them or loathe them, video ads are here to stay. There are a number of networks—everything from YouTube’s TrueView to Brightcove's video ad network—that can help you place your video in front of your target audience. Through these services, you can associate your video content with target keywords, demographics and web searches.

Depending on the venue used, there are rules regarding length and video structure. Be sure to familiarise yourself with these before you begin video production. (There are too many to delve into here.) Regardless of your video’s style or length, one thing always holds true: quality will make the biggest difference in reaching potential customers. To insure top quality, pay particular attention to the video’s storytelling, and don’t skimp on the planning stage.

Check out this great example of effective use of Youtube preroll ads to find missing Australians

Dollar Shave Club used this ad to shape user perception of their products and set a tone of voice that was distinctly different from their competitors

Before embarking on any ad campaign, video or otherwise, clearly define your objectives, agree on the voice of the campaign (be it fun, serious, informative or entertaining), and summarize your objectives in a written one-page brief. And, of course, have a script (30 seconds is ample) before beginning video production.


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