I realise that’s quite a bold title for me to choose when I do work in the SEO industry and I guess what I really means is; I hate how old school SEO has impacted the industry we work in today and how everyone is obsessed with quantifying everything – but that wouldn’t have made for a snappy title.
I didn’t work in the industry in the times when people were buying links left, right and centre, using article spinning, comment spam etc. But despite that, it’s all still haunting me today in the job I try to do.
Heading up the Comms team at Branded3, it’s my job to oversee all link acquisition and PR activity that we undertake for clients – which probably explains why I hate old school SEO so much as this has made my job, and more importantly my team’s job (who also didn’t work in the industry then as they’re all PR), so difficult!
We’re constantly faced with people asking us why we can’t guarantee a certain number of links, why a massive publisher won’t give them a followed link, why we’re getting links on sites with DA below 30, the list goes on. It’s a big challenge to explain.
So I thought I’d write this post to explain our stance on these kinds of obsessions that still seem to exist in the SEO industry and why I think we need to move on.
In the old days when you could just buy links (and get away with it) SEOs guaranteed clients a certain number of links per month, well hasn’t that come back to bite us?! We still have clients and go to pitches where they ask how many links we can guarantee this month. I’m going to put this out there – nobody can guarantee you a number of links a month anymore. And if they try, they are definitely not going to be natural links and chances are they’ll be paid links that eventually (if not immediately) will be identified by Google and devalued.
Now I do understand that it’s tough for someone client side who’s used to being guaranteed a number of links to then be told we can’t give them an exact number anymore. But we can’t do anything else – we can have a guess at how many links we think something will attract but that’s all it ever can be – our best guess. We can’t control the news agenda; if a bigger story comes out then the people we want to cover our story will cover that and that’s just how it works.
If we set hard targets for the number of links we have to get each month or for each campaign then all that’s going to do is pressure people to acquire the wrong kind of links. We still have people saying “Well can’t you just buy them?” No, not unless you want us to get you a penalty.
SEOs bloody love a good metric. Now I get the need for metrics, they sometimes are good indicators but it’s the same as being obsessed with quantity. You can’t quantify quality – yes you can have indicators but that’s all they are.
If you obsess over metrics you’re not going to have a natural linking profile – I could find you a site with a really high PageRank and Domain Authority and thousands of Twitter followers – does that make it a good site? Absolutely not. We know you can still manipulate PageRank and Domain Authority and you can easily buy Twitter followers. These metrics are meaningless. Stephen Kenwright covered this really well in his Link Viewability post.
I could then find you a blog with really low PageRank and Domain Authority and only a few hundred Twitter followers – if all we do is focus on metrics then we’re not going to work with them because their links aren’t going to pass nearly as much weight right? Wrong. That site might only have a small following, but if that following is really engaged with the site and visit it daily and trust it and click on the links in blog posts or search for the brands covered then that’s going to help you a lot more than a link on a site that has good metrics but nobody really visits and if they do they certainly don’t engage with the links in the posts.
We need to get away from metrics and just focus on our audience – when we’re looking at sites all we need to be asking ourselves is:
- Is it relevant?
- Will it help establish me/my client as an expert and authority?
- Would I trust it?
If the answer to all those questions is yes then who cares about its metrics? It’s absolutely the site you should be working with.
Follow links obsessed
This is another of my biggest headaches. Everyone is obsessed with just getting followed links – now I’m not stupid, I know that nofollow links don’t pass PageRank (although I will point out Google says they generally don’t follow them not that they absolutely do not) and so they’re not going to directly improve rankings.
However, I have a few problems with only chasing follow links which I’ll go into below but the first thing to note is that if you only have follow links in your link profile then that looks completely unnatural so you need to have a mix.
I’ll give some examples of where we haven’t got a follow link but it has still been an amazing link.
We secured coverage and a link on The Sun for a client, now we know The Sun sits behind a paywall so Google can’t crawl it – ok in SEO terms we shouldn’t’ work with them because the link won’t pass PageRank? Well what if I told you that we know that one link on The Sun made the client over £30K in revenue? Do you want the link now? Absolutely.
Let’s look at another example, links on the Daily Mail are generally nofollow so again we don’t want to focus on them right? Not at all, the MailOnline is the most-read newspaper site in the world therefore the brand awareness for being featured is massive.
We really need to get away from being obsessed with whether a link is followed and while we’re at it whether there’s even a link at all. Being featured somewhere like MailOnline or Buzzfeed is massive in terms of brand awareness regardless of whether there’s a link and can lead to more people searching for your brand on Google which is then a good signal again. Tim covered the impact of brand searches on rankings in his recent post How social engagement drives popularity, associated search & rankings.
Plus there’s always talk about co-citation, lessening the need for links all the time. For one of our clients, half the links in the report we send them each month are coverage online without links, do they mind? No, because they understand that it’s all still great PR. Has it affected their rankings? Absolutely, since we implemented the strategy their rankings and visibility have increased significantly.
It’s actually got really hard to secure natural follow links as these days a lot of blogs will advertise the fact that they sell advertising on their blogs – so they’ll have a disclosure policy saying they’ll do sponsored posts. If I looked at that as Google that would be a massive warning sign, I’d then look for the sponsored posts and check whether the links are follow or not (they should obviously be nofollow to adhere to Google guidelines if they’re in a marked sponsored post) if the links aren’t nofollow as Google I’d probably devalue the site and any of its external links.
So when our team is looking at working with bloggers, that’s one of the checks we do and if a blog does advertise that it does sponsored posts and the links aren’t nofollow then we won’t want to place a follow link on there for our client for fear that it may then reflect badly on them (even though our post won’t be sponsored).
However, that blog might still be absolutely spot on for reaching our target audience so in this instance we still want to work with them so we’d work with a nofollow link in the hope that people will still click on that link and it’s still raising brand awareness and sending good signals to Google. Plus all that traffic still has the potential to convert on our client’s site so it’s still worthwhile.
We need to get away from trying to quantify everything – all that does is lead you down the wrong path. We need to focus on creating campaigns that are genuinely engaging for our target audience and if we do that we’re doing what Google wants but more importantly we’re doing what our customers want and that will follow through with improved rankings and the most important thing – conversions!