Off page SEO refers to all activities you do that do not require making any changes to your website or your content but it can still help with ranking, the most popular off page SEO activity is link building, before explaining more about link building I want you to be aware that historically the harshest penalties applied to websites by Google are all driven by link building activities that are against Google' guidelines. I have been through this myself as I relayed on artificial link building activities (mainly article syndication with keyword rich anchor text) and ended up with manual actions for some websites in March 2012 then hit again by Penguin update in April 2012. So take your time to learn more about link building before start acquiring any links or hiring someone to do that for you.
Why inbound links are the backbone of Google's ranking algorithm?
Think how marketing happens in the offline world, you can say anything you want about yourself in a resume but at the end of they day the employer will call some referrals to verify that. When we hire a business or buy a product we try to find other people that use them before and hear their experience (in other words reviews). We watch celebrities doing TV ads all the time and as marketers we know those ads work well as people like and trust those public figures so an endorsement from them will be higher impact on people. Ask yourself if you have the opportunity to choose between putting the prime minster of Canada as a referral on your resume or put a 15 old child what do you change
Let us take the above analogy to the web, you can see anything on your website and do a perfect on page SEO, but so other 1000 websites so how search engines can rank a 1000 website or more optimized well for a keyword like "web hosting"? In the early days of search engines Yahoo could not figure out a solution for that and they ended up showing spammy and low quality results which opens the door for Google to come up with Page Rank (will talk about it more here) which is a scoring from 0-10 for every web page in Google' index based on the page rank and number of links pointing back (voting for) to that web page, and they gave PR a big weight in their algorithm, and the result was a huge improvements in the quality of their results
What makes a quality link:
When I started doing SEO in 2004 and until 2010 the answer was clear and easy it is Google' Page Rank you simply need to get as many links as possible from pages with high Page Rank (hopefully 10 if you can), in 2010 Google started to delay page rank updates then totally stopped updating page rank before totally making PR invisible to all webmasters, that doesn't mean it is not used by Google any more, it is still a big part of their algorithm but it means webmasters can not see it anymore. Many third party tools saw an opportunity with that and started building their version of page rank (DA PA by MOZ, TF CF by Majestic, UR DR by AHREFs , Authority Score by SEMrush) but none of these was successfully able to replace PR, new people to the SEO industry and in-house manager swear by some of them like DA, link traders using them a lot to sell links also.
What is the public metric that you can safely use to evaluate the quality of a web page? How to do link prospecting? The answer is not very difficult considering that there are two metrics provided by Google that we can use to decide the quality of a link:
- The ranking of that page of keywords relevant to our target keywords, could be done simply by searching Google for that keyword. This is a manual process that can take a long time but it works so well
- The organic traffic of the root domain which you can find using services like SEMrush and Ahrefs, if you are asking how do they get those numbers assuming they do not have Google Analytics access to all websites on the web, they actually guess it with a good level of accuracy, thy have the ranking of billions of keywords in their database including their search volume, not only that they know the first 100 websites that rank for every one of these keywords, so by applying some database quires with some educated guessing work (for example #1 ranking gets 25% of clicks, #2 12% etc) they can predict the monthly organic traffic. For link prospecting purposes this number doesnt have to be accurate, as far as this domain has 500+ organic visit according to SEMrush for example then the link is worthy
- The relevancy of the link is a helping factor also, not only for search engines but also they can generate useful traffic that can turn into business. If you are providing link building services you need to worry more about relevancy as many customers can not differentiate link building from branding an public relationship, they will not be happy to see a link form an irrelevant website or poorly designed website.
- A good link (from SEO prospective) should not be contained in a "nofollow" tag which was created by search engines to signal not passing any authority or link juice to the destination URL <a href="https://www.targeturl.com" rel="nofollow">click here</a>
Link profile Anatomy:
It is very important to analyze the link profile on any new website your are working on to decide if you need a link building campaign or not, tools like SEMrush, Majestic and Ahrefs can help you a lot with that, they also can help you to conduct a link profile competition analysis to find the link gap with other competitors. Analytics the anchor text will be also very helpfully to decide the gap with the competitors, in some case analysis the anchor text can reavle some link building activities that are again Google' guidelines, if you find these for your client then you need to find out more about the link building campaign that led into those links, if those links caused a big damage you need to make that clear to your client and lower their expectations about the success of your own link building campaign.
Then you need understand the type of links your client is getting and how are they acquired, this will help you to find opportunities and build your link building strategy.
If you are an active business in North America you will be naturally attracting links for business profile pages like Yellow Pages and business directories. Other business avenues that you are registered in like chamber of commerce will link back to you also. Large businesses will have partners that link back to them, they are also in the news on a regular basis (for good or bad) which attracts more links, people talk about on forums and link back to them, they sponsor lots of events and they do digital PR.
This is where you hope to see the majority of the links in a client link profile, if you are working with a big brand you will see sometimes million of links coming organically without anyone from the client's side trying to build them, for client like that you can focus more on on page SEO if the competition analysis shows that there is no big gap in the link profile.
Editorial links refers to links that you gain by having great content on your websites that got bloggers and news website to link back to it, this type of links is very valuable is it comes in most cases from content rich pages, it is normally contextual with a keyword rich anchor text (depending of the content you have)
Examples of content that can attract editorial links:
- Original research and surveys
- Case studies, guides, white papers and infographics
- Funny or Entertaining original materials
- Tools and calculators
- Blog posts if you are the authority in your space
Please note that in some cases especially when you do not have your own user base (subscribers or followers) you need to do some content marketing to get people with interested aware with this content, here few content marketing activities you can do:
- Blogger outreach (mainly relevant blogs) and influences outreach in your space, there are many tools and search queries to find them, write a nice email explaining how this content can benefit their users
- Social media marketing: promote your content on your social media accounts and give it a boost using paid social media marketing like Facebook, the level of targeting you can reach with Facebook is unprecedented and can put your content quickly in-front of the right people, native advertising with websites like Taboola could be an option also
- Share it on relevant forums where possible without too much self promotion, check the guidelines of any forum sometimes sharing third party content even if it is very useful is not allowed
Manually created - (not editorial but also not paid)
Manually created links are not against Google's guidelines but in some cases they are. When you artificially build a dofollow link you can control the anchor text and when you used a keyword rich anchor text that matches exactly your keyword you could be violating Google's guidelines
Popular forms of manually acquired links in 2019:
- Digital press releases
- Guest posts
- Forums signature
- Embeddable widgets and infographics
With artificial link building you could be easily tapping into the gray or the black area and violate Google's guidelines, two rules that can keep you safe form doing that:
- Make sure that manually created links to don't contribute to a large percent of your link profile
- Avoid using keyword rich anchor text while you are doing link building
Exchanging links for money is totally against Google' guidelines, many people are still doing it, lists with websites selling links based on DA still circulating the web. I do not recommend buying links however; if you decide to do it in the future keep the same quality standards that you use for outreach, the website should have organic traffic, add value to users and relevant to your website.
Machine Generated links (automated):
Those links are generated by a software totally against Google's guidelines, those software target websites that allow users generated content (mainly forums and blogs) and submit auto generated content with link, this was a big thing back in the days but it almost has 0 impact on ranking as of 2019, also chances to see any clients with this type of links is very low now unless a competitor is trying to do negative SEO for them which also has a very low chance to work.
Xrumer, SEOnuke, Scrape box are poplar software that are used for auto generated links, their main targets are blog comments, forums and social media profiles
Branding and reputation signals:
Google never admitted using branding signals as a ranking factor but that seems to be hard to believe, let us check what branding signals could be available for Google:
- Mentions, could be the brand name mentions or the domain name mention without a link
- links with the brand as an anchor text and
- The search volume of the brand name
All the signals about are almost fool proof for Google, even if Google is not using them for now they are very good comparison point for competition analysts especially the brand name search volume, if your competitors brand name 10 times more search than your then they are doing better job in marketing and most likely they will rank better in search engines for different reasons, one of them is attracting more natural links as people tend to talk and link more to big brands
Social signals as a ranking factor:
I believe Google when they say they do not use social signals like likes and shares in their ranking algorithm but I know for sure when content gets good exposure on social media it tends to attract more link, actually it is very popular for content marketer to boost their content on social media outlets like Facebook hoping for users that how the power of linking (bloggers for example) to find it and link back to it
Online Reputation and Customer reviews GMB (Google my business):
When do any local search like city + dentist you will see 3 local results above the organic results which we call the 3 pack, the 3 pack includes business information like location and phone number it also includes reviews. Google did not admit using reviews as a ranking factor but it will be difficult to believe that Google will have no problem ranking a one star business in the 3 pack or even on the first page organically
The link building process (mainly for blogger outreach)
Find if your customer needs links or not at least at the beginning, you can do quick link profile comparison using Majestic or Ahrefs to find if there there is a link gap or not. In most cases especially when you are working with big brands link building will not be your low hanging fruit, you will be better off starting with on page optimization and a technical SEO audit.
Explore your likable assets: Building links to the company's home page is not easy and it will not look natural, building linkable assets like cases studies or ifnographics can open the door for editorial links to come and makes your blogger outreach task easier. If you find good to go linkable assets you can start your outreach immediately otherwise you need to build them
Start link prospecting using tools like Pitchbox, Buzz stream or Google (search for keyword + blog), then build your list of blogs to reach out to
Write personal friendly email explaining how the blogger's users will benefit from linking to this content.