Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Link Networks: Don't Build Your SEO Strategy on a House of Cards

Link Networks: Don't Build Your SEO Strategy on a House of Cards
Links are important for rankings. We all know that.
However, in the rush to get those rankings (that lead to converting traffic of course) webmasters and business owners can be tempted to take shortcuts for easy wins.
One of the most popular (and dangerous) ways that you can grab up a bunch of links quickly is by using a link network (also called a blog network, site network, or sometimes article network). It's one-stop shopping for links in large quantities.
Sounds great, right? You deal with one person, give them the keywords you want to rank for, and you can get 500 links tomorrow.
Again, an easy win – until you remember that in link building, there really are no easy wins.
Here's how you can better understand what a network is, how to identify networked sites, and whether those easy links are too good to be true.

What is a Link Network?

It seems there is mass confusion about link networks. Heck, even in my own office, we'll occasionally argue about whether we've actually found a true network, and if we have? We will argue about whether it's a bad one.
Simply, a link (or site/blog/article) network is a group of sites that are connected. They can be owned by one person or multiple people, their connections can be as obvious as a badge displayed that proudly identifies the site as a member of X network or as covert as a footprint uncovered by lots of digging.
From my experience, there are many immediate site tells that indicate a site may be a member of a network:
  • Language on the site. From "Proud partner in ABC Network" to "See our other networked sites" the key here is the wording about networks.
  • Network badges.
  • Page that lists a ton of other sites. This can be linked with the anchor "Friends" or "Partners" and doesn't always indicate a network, but it does indicate the need for attention.
There are a few others that require some digging once you think sites are connected as network members. I mention these because my experience has been that many webmasters won't be upfront with you and will offer you links on various sites while swearing they aren't connected in any way.
  • Same or very similar template used for multiple sites.
  • Same Google Analytics number or Google AdSense number used. You can use ewhois for this. 
  • Same site owner for loads of different sites.
  • Same IP address. This one is tricky in case there's shared hosting involved but it can be useful. It just doesn't guarantee that the sites sharing the same IP address are networked of course.
There are also immediate webmaster tells if you're in contact.
  • Email signature lists 10 or more other sites.
  • Webmaster contacts you and says he has some great new sites for you to look at.
  • Webmaster sends you a list of sites he owns without you asking.

Recent Issues With Networks

Go search for [network penalized] or [network deindexed] and see those results. Scary stuff isn't it?
Networks can get deindexed or their links can be devalued, which is the same result for you if you're basing your link foundation off those sites.
My biggest concern with networks is the quality, though. Unless it's a really good one, the quality of the sites connected tends to be pretty low. There's a lot of duplicate content, excessive cross-linking between sites, and duplicate social signals.
One other giant problem? Networked links aren't free. If you get caught using them, you're getting caught for buying links, basically.

What Does Google Think About All This?

Let's not forget to check Google's Webmaster Guidelines, which, as they related to links, seem to be getting tighter and tighter. They warn against the use of link schemes and specifically mention “using automated programs or services to create links to your site.”
Getting links on a network takes very little time and is obviously quite unnatural. If that's not a scheme, I'm not sure what is.
Even if you aren't dealing with a true network (and are instead dealing with a lone webmaster who has an unofficial one where he just happens to own 100 sites and can quickly add your link to each one) the key here is the shortcut taken to get links.
Many times you'll immediately know that the sites putting up your links are members of a network simply because you've contracted with someone for that exact service. However, as with anything, there are unscrupulous companies who will simply not inform you that the sites they're getting links on are networked. Therefore you need to ask questions and do your own research so that you aren't solely relying upon the word of someone who may not have your best interests at heart.
Now, I have no problem with people understanding risks and asking for risky techniques. My problem is with clients not understanding risk and getting talked into doing something detrimental without being properly informed of the danger.
Just as it isn't enough to say "buying links is risky" it's not enough to say that networks can be risky. Clients need to be informed of what can happen if the networks hosting their links get caught and deindexed.
My link building agency runs into networks every single day. Some of them are good but many of them are bad if not downright dangerous.
Many potential clients still ask for that kind of service, too, despite all the publicity surrounding some of the big ones getting caught. I'm much less paranoid about the ones we encounter doing discovery than I am about the ones that come to my link builders in a giant spreadsheet, unsolicited.
In my mind, the worst networks are a house of cards. Think about what would happen if your site ranked well off a network that got deindexed or penalized.
I've known people with sites made up of links that mainly came off a network and when it got hit, they lost a lot of money. Fast forward a year and some of them are still struggling to get back to where they were.

Link Networks: The Good (Or OK For Now)

As I said, some of them seem ok for now. I do worry about the future in case they get nailed, but it would be silly to say that all networked sites are worthless or dangerous.
Members of the network are indexed in Google, ranking for key terms and their brand, not excessively cross-linked to other network member sites, don't share the same ip address with the majority of the sites, aren't all owned by the same person or couple of people, and don't seem to exist just to sell links. There isn't a giant master list of members posted on every networked site. The majority of the sites have decent Google Toolbar PR. Searching for the network name doesn't generate tons of negative results.

The Not-So-Great Link Networks

A few of the members of the network are not indexed in Google. Some of them don't rank for any terms that you can find. Many of them share the same ip address. Searching for the network name generates lots of negative results.

The Really Bad Link Networks

Most sites have no Toolbar PageRank, are not indexed in Google and if they are, they don't rank for the brand/URL or any snippets from the homepage. Most sites post a list of the other members and link to them. Duplicate or very thin content is obvious. Wording on site is poorly done.

Bottom Line

I am definitely very paranoid about networks and have become much less tolerant of them over the past year, but I do realize that getting a link from a few networked sites here and there isn't going to seriously hurt most sites that have decent links for the most part.
The real danger lies in only working with networks. Some sites might not be a member of a network when you secure a link on them but get bought and added, so it's not something that you can completely control, either.
Just be careful with networks, as they can be too good to be true. Just remember that whether you think a blog network is good or bad, it doesn't mean that the search engines will agree with you. What they think is the bottom line when it comes right down to it.

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marketing seo

Monday, April 8, 2013

SEO Basics: 8 Essentials When Optimizing Your Site

8 Essentials When Optimizing Your Site

Basic search engine optimization (SEO) is fundamental. And essential. SEO will help you position your website properly to be found at the most critical points in the buying process or when people need your site.

What are search engines looking for? How can you build your website in a way that will please both your visitors/customers, as well as Google, Bing, and other search engines? Most importantly, how can SEO help your web presence become more profitable?

During the Introduction to SEO session at SES New York, Carolyn Shelby (@CShel), Director of SEO, Chicago Tribune/435 Digital, fully explained the extreme value SEO can deliver to a site, and stressed the importance of basic SEO using the following analogy: "Skipping the basics and spending all your time and money on social and 'fancy stuff' is the same as skipping brushing your teeth and showering, but buying white strips and wearing expensive cologne," Shelby said. Although the Introduction to SEO session was intended for industry newcomers, Shelby's tips offer important reminders for even experienced SEO professionals who have been optimizing sites for years.

What is SEO, Exactly?

The goal of foundational SEO isn't to cheat or "game" the search engines. The purpose of SEO is to:
  • Create a great, seamless user experience.
  • Communicate to the search engines your intentions so they can recommend your website for relevant searches.
1. Your Website is Like a Cake

Your links, paid search, and social media acts as the icing, but your content, information architecture, content management system, and infrastructure act as the sugar and makes the cake. Without it, your cake is tasteless, boring, and gets thrown in the trash.

2. What Search Engines Are Looking For

Search engines want to do their jobs as best as possible by referring users to websites and content that is the most relevant to what the user is looking for. So how is relevancy determined?
  • Content: Is determined by the theme that is being given, the text on the page, and the titles and descriptions that are given.
  • Performance: How fast is your site and does it work properly?
  • Authority: Does your site have good enough content to link to or do other authoritative sites use your website as a reference or cite the information that's available?
  • User Experience: How does the site look? Is it easy to navigate around? Does it look safe? Does it have a high bounce rate?

3. What Search Engines Are NOT Looking For

Search engine spiders only have a certain amount of data storage, so if you're performing shady tactics or trying to trick them, chances are you're going to hurt yourself in the long run. Items the search engines don't want are:
  • Keyword Stuffing: Overuse of keywords on your pages.
  • Purchased Links: Buying links will get you nowhere when it comes to SEO, so be warned.
  • Poor User Experience: Make it easy for the user to get around. Too many ads and making it too difficult for people to find content they're looking for will only increase your bounce rate. If you know your bounce rate it will help determine other information about your site. For example, if it's 80 percent or higher and you have content on your website, chances are something is wrong.

4. Know Your Business Model

While this is pretty obvious, so many people tend to not sit down and just focus on what their main goals are. Some questions you need to ask yourself are:
  • What defines a conversion for you?
  • Are you selling eyeballs (impressions) or what people click on?
  • What are your goals?
  • Do you know your assets and liabilities?
5. Don't Forget to Optimize for Multi-Channels

Keyword strategy is not only important to implement on-site, but should extend to other off-site platforms, which is why you should also be thinking about multi-channel optimization. These multi-channel platforms include:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Email
  • Offline, such as radio and TV ads
Being consistent with keyword phrases within these platforms will not only help your branding efforts, but also train users to use specific phrases you're optimizing for.

6. Be Consistent With Domain Names

Domain naming is so important to your overall foundation, so as a best practice you're better off using sub-directory root domains ( versus sub-domains ( Some other best practices with domain names are:
  • Consistent Domains: If you type in, but then your type in just and the "www" does not redirect to, that means the search engines are seeing two different sites. This isn't effective for your overall SEO efforts as it will dilute your inbound links, as external sites will be linking to and
  • Keep it Old School: Old domains are better than new ones, but if you're buying an old domain, make sure that the previous owner didn't do anything shady to cause the domain to get penalized.
  • Keywords in URL: Having keywords you're trying to rank for in your domain will only help your overall efforts.

7. Optimizing for Different Types of Results

In addition to optimizing for the desktop experience, make sure to focus on mobile and tablet optimization as well as other media.
  • Create rich media content like video, as it's easier to get a video to rank on the first page than it is to get a plain text page to rank.
  • Optimize your non-text content so search engines can see it. If your site uses Flash or PDFs, make sure you read up on the latest best practices so search engines can crawl that content and give your site credit for it.

8. Focus on Your Meta Data Too

Your content on your site should have title tags and meta descriptions.
  • Meta keywords are pretty much ignored by search engines nowadays, but if you still use them, make sure it talks specifically to that page and that it is also formatted correctly.
  • Your meta description should be unique and also speak to that specific page. Duplicate meta descriptions from page to page will not get you anywhere.
Title tags should also be unique! Think your title as a 4-8 word ad, so do your best to entice the reader so they want to click and read more.


You should always keep SEO in the forefront of your mind, and always follow best practices. Skipping the basics of SEO will only leave your site's foundation a mess and prevent you from fully maximizing revenue opportunities.

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