Giant sequoia at Mariposa Grove, Yosemite (photo by JD Lasica)

Giant sequoia at Mariposa Grove, Yosemite (photo by JD Lasica)

Tips on optimizing your online presence by building links & making your content more valuable

Guest post by Rand Fishkin CEO, SEOmoz

I‘ve gotten to spend some time recently with folks who run small,  personal blogs. Many of them have asked me whether SEO, in particular link building,  is an activity they can take on to help grow their online presence.

I  sympathize with the challenges – from reading many of the guides and posts about link building, you could be forgiven for  feeling “in over your head” or that “only real businesses can do this  kind of stuff.”

This post is intended to provide answers  specifically targeted to organizations and individuals running their own blog, personally  or semi-professionally, on how to engage in activities that will draw in  links from other sites and grow your potential to rank in the search  engines.

Generic directories aren’t your best bet

1Thinking of spending a few dozen or a couple hundred dollars on a  generic directory listing like Yahoo! or Best of the Web? For personal  bloggers, my advice would be to save your money. These directory listings may provide some small amount of value, but there are dozens of  different activities you could engage in that cost less or have higher return on investment. Generics are also extremely unlikely to send you direct traffic, and what’s more, Yahoo! only lists 46  personal blogs now; it might be hard to make the cut.

yahoo-directory-submission

Not  worth the $299 for personal bloggers

Even directories like the  long-neglected Open Directory Project have  such long wait times, tough criteria and poor acceptance rates that  it’s barely worth submitting these days. There may be a few exceptions  here and there, but on the whole, I’d urge personal bloggers to shy away  from large, subject-agnostic directory sites.

Note: These generics may make sense for  larger operations and sites, depending on your goals.

Niche blog listing sites can be much more effective

2Don’t give up on directories or listing sites entirely. For personal blogs,  particularly those with a targeted niche, there are a lot of good places  to create listings or fill out a submission form. For example, here are some blogs in specific niches I’d encourage you to check out. You can find these types of  sites quite easily through searches, but looking at the link profiles of  other blogs in your niche that perform well in the search rankings can  also provide a lot of value.

You  can use search queries like “niche+blogs,” “niche+bloggers,”  “niche+blogs+list” at Google or Bing or try Yahoo! Site Explorer or Open Site Explorer –  plug in the blogs you’re most jealous of (or most similar to) and you’ll  often find a few dozen to a few hundred opportunities.

A few well-targeted searches can reveal hundreds of link opportunities

3Finding quality, targeted directories and lists can be a good start,  and may bring traffic as well as better search rankings, but if you get creative with your searches, you’ll often find even more specific and  sometimes valuable opportunities. Think of these queries on three levels: overall blog topic (similar to the suggestion above), category theme  (of or related to one of your primary, consistent topic areas) and  post-specific (related to an individual piece you’ve authored or are  considering writing).

For category  themes, you’ll want to identify a particularly strong category-focus on  your site. For example, my wife has a collection of posts about air  travel, and could find opportunities for links specifically to this  section or posts in them using queries like air  travel blogs suggest or air travel  resources. Don’t give up if you don’t find opportunities on the  first page of results. Dig deep. It’s often where you’ll find the best  opportunities.

You can also use this  tactic on individual posts – particularly those that tackle important,  controversial or high-demand topics – the kind that fit nicely into  resource collection lists.

2link-acquisition-assistant-

This  Labs tool can help make running the right queries easy.

Once you have a few posts or categories in  mind, leverage link  searches from this SEOmoz list, this  one from SEJournal or this  one from SELand. You can also use the Link Acquisition  Assistant from Labs and this free tool from  SoloSEO to help.

Answer questions in online forums / Q+A sites

4When you participate positively in  online forums, it often sends referrals to your site from those who  check out your profile. Many of these are nofollow (meaning they don’t  pass link value in the search engines’ eyes – more on this here),  but the traffic you receive from those who ask the questions or who  find value in your response can be useful – and earn you links.

As an example, for the past six months, I’ve been answering a question or two each week on Quora, a relatively new but well-regarded Q+A site focused on technology and startups. My answers page shows that I’ve left 77 total answers since April (~11/month) and  you can see the impact that has had on traffic back to SEOmoz:

3quora-referring-visits

SEOmoz’s  traffic from Quora (past 30 days)

While not stellar, it has been building as the site grows and the answers get indexed by search engines and seen by more people. For personal  bloggers, spending a few hours each month contributing to 5-10 relevant  Q+A sites or forums can have a substantive impact on your traffic and on  links that you generate inside your community. It’s a great way to interact with those who, otherwise, might never stumble across your  site.

Some of the broad Q+A sites I  recommend looking at include:

  • LinkedIn Answers (particularly if you have a professional focus)
  • Yahoo! Answers (depends on your  topic – some areas are very low quality)
  • Wiki Answers (gets good search  traffic, but a less active intra-community population)
  • Facebook Questions (very new, but big possibilities for the future)
  • Askville (from Amazon, generic,  but large and well trafficked)
  • Quora (the above mentioned startup – currently has a tech/valley bent, but is growing and expanding fast)

Of course, you’ll also want to identify niche and subject-specific sites  where contributions can be made. A good example starting point would be  something like StackExchange’s  list of Q+A sites on their platform or using a list of communities  (e.g. ODP’s Math  Chats & Forums).

Submit your best work to relevant social portals

5If you have posts that you feel are especially brilliant, interesting and potentially “viral” (meaning  lots of web visitors will want to share them with others once they’ve  seen it), there are a number of portals that can help drive traffic and  attention through social “voting” or editorial review. A relatively  good list is here, but I’ll  also tackle some specific examples:

  • Kirtsy – a niche social site focused  on fashion, arts, style and family.
  • Care2 News – one of the most  popular niche social voting sites on nonprofit, environmental and  societal stories
  • Hacker  News – a very popular community around startups, technology and  entrepreneurship
  • Subreddits – Reddit has grown to become one of the most trafficked social sites on  the web, and they have categories (aka “subreddits”) for many topics

Just be aware that submissions should be  carefully considered. If you spam these types of sites with everything  you write or even a few inconsistent or irrelevant pieces, you can be  banned, downvoted or simply shunned by the other contributors/voters. The best way to know what to submit vs. not is to read the site’s top  pieces regularly and get a feel for what’s appropriate.

Use Twitter (and possibly Facebook + StumbleUpon) on every post

6While you should be cautious about submitting every piece you write  to social voting sites, there are fewer reasons to hold yourself back  from promoting everything your post on Twitter, Facebook and  StumbleUpon. In fact, may of your fans, friends and followers on  Twitter and Facebook may be surprised and disappointed if they don’t see a  stream of your latest content through those channels. While subscribing  via RSS or email are still quite popular, many folks use Twitter or FB as a  way to keep up with your content.

I do  strongly recommend that if you’re sharing via Twitter (in particular)  that you use a url shortener like bit.ly that captures and displays click-through data so you can measure an  improve (see my blog post on Twitter click-through rate for a more in-depth analysis of that issue).

stumbleupon-interests

StumbleUpon is bit different in  that you earn traffic from it based on the ratio of visits to “thumbs  up” received by those seeing your work. However, unlike a Reddit, Hacker  News or Digg, there’s no stigma or restriction on thumbing up /  submitting every post you create. Providing a good, relevant description  and careful categorization is a must, and there may be cases where the  type of site you’re running just doesn’t have the relevance to SU’s  audience. But, in many cases, regular post submission, at least on the  top 50 percent of your work, can make good sense and drive very nice traffic. SU gets smart about your site, their users and the  tagging/categorization system, sending only those visitors who have some  interest in your topic to the pages you submit.

Guest post strategically

7One of the most common pieces  of advice I see on growing one’s blog audience and links is to “guest  post” (a practice where one blogger creates content for another site and  earns readers, recognition and a referring link). This is, undoubtedly,  an excellent way to reach a new audience and create value for both  parties. However, like many common tactics in link building (blogrolls,  generic directories, reciprocal links), it can easily be abused.

The past few years have seen a bevy of low-quality guest posting submissions and it’s reached an extent where many  bloggers and sites that engage with them will publicly message that they  don’t accept guest posts. A must-read piece on this topic comes from Kelly Diels on ProBlogger – Guest  Posts: How-to, Where-to, Where-Not-To.

The only other critical piece of advice I have for thinking about  and choosing guest post options is to be strategic in your decisions  about your use of time and content. If you have an amazing piece of  content that could perform well, earn lots of traffic and links, it  could be a great move to use it on your own site OR guest post it on  someone else’s. To choose correctly, you need to weigh the potential  positives and negatives:

  • Is the content evergreen (meaning it will remain useful and valuable for a long time)? If so, you may want to favor keeping it on your site, as it can  continue to build value and earn links long after publication. If the  content is highly temporal, it could work well as a guest post, earning  you immediate attention, but not costing you as much in the long run.
  • Do  you have the content/value to take advantage of an inbound traffic rush? If you guest post on a powerful site this week and 5-10% of those  visitors check out your site, will they be inspired to stay, subscribe  and read more? If you’ve neglected your own blog and don’t have content  as powerful, compelling and interesting there as the guest post you’ve  just authored, you could be losing a considerable amount of the  potential value.
  • Have you guest posted on this site  before or have they linked to you frequently? When that’s the  case, the value of the link from both a new-audience-exposure and  SEO perspective may be diminished. Preaching to the choir has its use,  but it should probably be done on your own site. You want to branch out,  find new sites and audiences to connect with and not get stuck in the  same small community. The exception to this rule is when an extremely  large, influential site wants you to write for them regularly or  semi-regularly. If the New York Times travel blog is ready to host a fourth  article from you, don’t say no.

Finally, if you’re  considering guest posting or hosting guest posts, I can heartily  recommend My Blog Guest, a great  community resource/tool for making contacts on both sides.

Maintain a smart, detailed blogroll

8A long time ago,  blogrolls were similar to “following” an account on Twitter – if someone  interesting linked to you on their blogroll, you’d likely peruse their  site and link to them. Today, it’s rare for this reciprocation to take  place unless you’ve made your site stand out in some way. Blogrolls, in  the traditional sense (long lists of sites on a sidebar), are also less  useful from a user’s perspective, particuarly when no description or  segmentation is provided.

I’d suggest  for those leveraging blogrolls on their own sites and requesting  inclusion in others, a more robust, advanced and useful way. For  example:

blogroll-segmentation

An  example of a segmented blogroll with descriptions

By separating your blogroll into  sections/categories and providing descriptions of the sites you include, you can provide more value to those skimming for interesting links and  more context for those you mention. The second part of a good blogroll  is to be strategic in focus. Listing only the biggest and most-read  industry sources/bloggers likely won’t bring you as much potential  reciprocation as finding great niche bloggers with less traffic. These  sites may indeed see a few referrals or a link from you and check out  your site, creating the beginnings of a relationship or even a possible  link.

Don’t ignore traditional media

9As  bloggers, we often think of ourselves as separate from the mainstream  media world and worry that resentment may be harbored. But, in my  experience, traditional media often wants and needs blogs as sources for  inspiration, for quotes on stories and to help understand a new niche  or topic they’re writing about. There’s a number of good ways to engage  with the press to help your personal blog gain exposure:

  • Story sources: Services like HARO and ProfNet exist to help connect reporters to “experts” or amateurs  relevant to the stories they’re writing (good piece on a blogger’s HARO experience). However, connections aren’t limited to these portals alone –  by following reporters/journalists on Twitter and connecting/commenting  on their own personal/news blogs, you can often build a relationship  that will later result in a citation/link.
  • Comment on  mainstream media stories: Many bloggers are well aware of the  benefits of engaging with their fellow blogs and bloggers by leaving  comments, but fail to do so on traditional publications. It can be daunting to see hundreds or thousands of comments on a NY Times piece,  but it also means there’s tens of thousands of visitors perusing those  comments, and leaving intelligent, robust, useful replies and references  can be a substantive brand-builder and traffic driver.
  • Reference their content in your posts: Even mainstream media folks will  look at their traffic referrers and those writing about their work, and  if you add great value to the conversation, you could be a central part  of it next time. Just writing about topics that are getting mainstream  media attention in unique, interesting ways can bring links. For  example, in October, I wrote about a study  on traffic to advertising value that had received lots of press. My  critique was then picked  up by several other sources, including the Neiman  Journalism Lab at Harvard.

The  mainstream press may have financial troubles, but they still generate  an extraordinary share of time spent online. Don’t ignore them as an  opportunity to grow your site’s reach.

Don’t buy links or link “advertising”

Ads for Buying Links

Just  because the ads are on Google doesn’t mean it’s not risky.

10You’ll undoubtedly see banners, links and advertising like those above. I’d strongly advise you against using these  paid sources to boost your blog’s links. They tend to send very low and  low-quality traffic and are high risk from a search engine ranking  perspective. While Google  has, recently, been soft on link buying and manipulation, that’s  supposedly about to change, as the web spam team gets more resources (via  GG’s Head of Webspam at Pubcon). Risk isn’t the only reason –  there’s also opportunity cost. When you spend money buying or renting  links, you lose out on the potential of those resources to be spent on  other ways of earning links the engines will want to count. This post on  8  Ways to Buy Links Without “Buying Links” is a good start.

Attend local meetups & free events

11One of the most  obvious and enjoyable ways to earn links and branding for your blog is  to find local events and meetups for those in blogging, technology or  your particular niche, and attend. It can be overwhelming to go to an  event by yourself without knowing anyone first, so leverage Twitter and  your blog’s network to find folks who comment, read, run blogs or tweet  about your site and build those relationships online before you take  them into the real world.

Events on  Eventbrite

Several upcoming Seattle events via  Eventbrite

A few great resources for finding local events include Eventbrite, Meetup.com, LinkedIn Events and Facebook (but beware, FB  only shows events you’re connected to through existing  friends/groups). Mashable also has a great list of Ways to Find  Local Twitter Users in Your Town.

Comment, engage & build relationships

12When you’re finding new blogs to connect with and comment on, your first instinct  will be to focus on dropping relevant links back to your blog posts,  getting your name/link prominent in the comments and driving traffic  back to your site. These are all fine things – and they should encourage  you to leave valuable, useful comments, which other bloggers appreciate  (if you do anything but, your comments are likely to be erased or  marked as spam). But, you should also consider the value of commenting  regularly and productively simply to build a relationship with the few  key bloggers/sites that matter most to you.

These aren’t  necessarily the sites with the most traffic or highest metrics but  those whom you’d like to build and have a professional, friendly  relationship. That means looking beyond the content to the tone, voice  and emotional resonance between yourself and the blog author. If you  feel a connection, try formalizing the relationship after a few weeks of  chatting online (through comments, Twitter, etc). If you’re good at  emotional intelligence, chances are it could become a real friendship  and/or productive, professional relationship.

In many ways,  these are better than just earning links, because you’ll have enhanced  your online reach through another human (or many) who can then provide  recommendations, connections and advice. Just be sure you’re willing to  put into the relationship in equal proportion (or greater at the start).

Use plug-ins & site features that will enhance your reach

13WordPress, along with several other  popular blog content management systems, offer a great variety of  plug-ins and tools to help market your site, but none of them are  automatic. To have an impact, you’ll need to use these features wisely and not overburden your users with too many options/actions to take.

WP Tweet Button Options

WP Tweet Button: a plug-in with lots of customization for  Twitter buttons in WordPress

Tools that help make sharing  content easier, promoting your blog’s reach (and providing social proof –  a key element in making others interested in your work), and help you  manage, monitor and improve your site are smart choices to consider. A  few of my quick favorites include:

  • WP Tweet  Button – as shown above, it allows you to customize a link to Tweet  posts/pages for placement on your site.
  • Google  Analyticator – an excellent plug-in that integrates your Google  Analytics traffic data right into your WordPress admin home, making sure  you’re consistently aware of and thinking about traffic and metrics.
  • Feedburner  Widget – Feedburner itself is a great way to get analytics about  your feed; this widget makes it easy to share that link and attract  sign-ups (and you can customize the look/feel/messaging). It also enables  easy subscription via email; a popular option for many who don’t use  RSS.
  • Increase  Sociability – Allows you to customize a welcome message for  visitors from specific social sites; it’s particularly effective with  StumbleUpon traffic.

However, I’d be remiss to make so short  a list without referring you to some of the excellent, longer lists out  there, including SEO Plug-ins from  Michael Gray (which goes way beyond just SEO plug-ins), 21  of the Best WordPress Plug-ins from Marketing Pilgrim, JD Lasica’s 10 essential WordPress Plug-ins and Yoast’s WordPress Plug-ins. You  almost certainly don’t want all of these, but picking a choice few and  testing them out could bring better returns from every post you write.

Include strategic links in your online bio

14A person’s online “bio” follows them around the web like a bad  habit. Make yours useful, easy to embed and valuable to your site by  strategically embedding links and references. You want to come across as  authoritative, interesting, possibly humorous or at least approachable. Here’s mine:

9rands-bio-image

I’ve not only chosen links on SEOmoz itself, but also to other mentions of me online. These help those pages rank well and help pass link juice to those pages which, in turn, have good links  back to my site. It’s a virtuous circle, and whenever I’m interviewed,  speaking at an event or merely a contributor to an online article, the  bio appears. Likewise, when anyone investigates my profile, they find  those links and (hopefully) some of them follow them and possibly  reference, too.

Hopefully, if you have some  less-SEO-savvy/techy friends running their own blogs, this post can be a  valuable resource. Please do contribute your own ideas and suggestions  for personal blog link building; we’d love to see them (and please link to posts/examples in your comments).

SOURCE:

Rand Fishkin is the CEO & co-founder of SEO­moz. This post orig­i­nally appeared at SEO­moz and is repub­lished with per­mis­sion. SEO­moz is not affil­i­ated with Socialmedia

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