- Sep 3, 2014
Today we will discuss Off-Page SEO, a very critical aspect of search engine optimization that helps your site rank and receive organic traffic.
Although it's one of the more technically simple aspects of SEO (and can even be done without ever doing it!) off-page SEO is perhaps the most confusing aspect for newcomers. What worked even one year ago doesn't work today. What was safe yesterday will get your site penalized tomorrow. What's a Builder to do?
The first step to understanding off-page SEO, often called link building but that doesn't tell the whole story by a long shot, is to understand the three types. Any definition someone creates can have holes poked in it, because these three types or areas all blend and bleed into each other. So don't get caught up in the particulars. Just seek to understand the concepts, and they are...
Technically, any type of link building is manipulation of the SERPs. So the proper way to think about White Hat off-page SEO is to think of the term link acquisition instead of link building. The goal here is to simply be an internet marketer who knows how to produce top quality content and put it in front of the right people in order to attract links and social signals. A white hat link acquirer doesn't care about concepts such as no-follow, do-follow, anchor text, etc. They just keep promoting and allow the nature of the web to run it's course.
This is the safest type of off-page SEO and usually the most powerful due to it's ability to acquire links on the most powerful websites online.
The color grey is a mixture of white and black, which is exactly what Grey Hat off-page SEO does. Typically, it's someone with the capability of performing White Hat marketing but with the impatience or the ability to play it more risky. When you hear of topics such as Tiered Link Building and Private Blog Networks, this is usually an attempt to be Grey. This means you usually present a clean layer of links (or what appears to be clean) and then power those links up with Black Hat efforts hoping that this buffer layer will keep you safe.
This may provide more longevity than than Black Hat tactics and quicker results than White Hat efforts, but the castle does eventually come crashing down.
In the general world of SEO, Black Hat typically refers to spamming links where ever possible. But those serious about achieving results without earning them will go as far as to hack other websites and inject their links. They may bribe editors of large websites to insert links for them or even blackmail individuals. If you wanted to summarize Black Hat tactics, you could say that any activity meant to manipulate the rankings of the search engines are included, whether they are fairly innocent or completely nefarious.
This used to be a viable method to earning a lot of money very fast, and still is, but Google has become increasingly effective in making sure these campaigns take long enough to become effective that they are caught before much money is made. You should never apply these tactics to your long-term assets. They will crash and burn quickly.
In general, we are going to focus on White Hat SEO in this guide, although we will introduce you to Grey and Black principals and tactics, largely so you know what to avoid. If you're interested in making fast money, cheating the search engines is no longer the best approach. You'll find yourself most enticed by our discussion on Pay Per Click advertising and media buying in the future days.
The Terms You Should Know
Before full-blown discussion and guidance can be offered, you need to understand certain terms and their definitions. We're going to cover those now.
This is a metric created by the founders of Google that allowed them to dominate the search industry, named after Larry Page but fittingly since it is a measure of the power of each web-page on the internet. Every webpage creates out of thin air a small amount of "Page Rank Juice." When a page links to another webpage, it passes some of this juice (estimated around 70% of it's total). So naturally pages that receive more links receive more juice and rank higher. This is an important ranking factor, but only one of hundreds.
It is a logarithmic scale that measures a page from PR 0 to PR 10, where a PR1 is exponentially more powerful than a PR 0, and so on.
This metric used to be public facing but hasn't been updated publicly in over a year at the time of this writing, due to it's contribution to helping spammers find target domains and pages to use.
Do-Follow & No-Follow
These are relational attributes that exist on HTML anchor tags. These are your two options. By default all links are do-follow and don't need to be explicitly stated as such. Do-follow links DO flow page rank juice to the destination page.
No-follow links do NOT pass page rank juice. Links must be explicitly coded as no-follow or they will default to do-follow. There is a lot of misconception regarding no-follow links. They do allow page rank juice to flow through them, but that juice never makes it to the destination link. Some people believe that a no-follow link acts as a plug allowing you to preserve page rank juice. This is incorrect. You still leak the juice, it just doesn't boost the page you link to.
This was created as a way for webmasters to link to websites without "voting for them" in a positive fashion. It is also meant to be used on any user-generated links that aren't controlled by the webmaster, and therefore not votes for higher ranking.
Trust / Quality Metrics
While it's not clear exactly what makes up these factors, we know they exist. Generally we accept that they include items such as content without grammatical and syntactical mistakes, factual statements, source citations, contact information, etc. Anything you would expect out of a real institution contributes to being trusted and perceived as quality. For instance, an eCommerce website with a security certificate is going to be more trusted than one without.
This is also a difficult metric to measure that nonetheless exists. It is why Edu and Gov links tend to be more powerful. It works on the "King of the Hill" concept where the search engines have decided upon a list of the most authoritative websites in existence. For example, we can assume that WhiteHouse.gov is among these. It can be assumed that this juice flows like any other metric, being dampened by about 30% per link. So the less number of leaps you have to make from page to page between WhiteHouse.gov and your website, the more authoritative your site can be considered.
This is one of the most easily manipulated factors in link building and therefore the one that is being most closely guarded by the search engines. A link can either be naked, in which it appears as a raw URL such as www.BuilderSociety.com, or it can appear with an anchor text such as BuSo Forums. Search engines read this anchor text to help them understand what the page being linked to is about and what terms it should rank for. Using the exact match keyword for your anchor text more than 5% of the time these days (unless it's your Brand term), is likely going to result in a penalty. The game goes much deeper than that and we will discuss it further into today's guide.
These are your core link metrics and factors. Google likely measures each vertical and niche separately and uses statistical models to find outliers. If you're the nail that is sticking out, the hammer is likely to come down on you unless you can validate being an outlier, in which you'll likely rank in the number one spot. Manipulating this has become increasingly difficult, shorter lasting, and less valuable. Expect this trend to continue.
Other Off-Page Factors
Like it or not, you are judged by who you keep around you. You can't always control every little aspect of what your neighbors do, and especially not thieves and vandals who wander in, but in general birds of a feather do flock together.
The same goes for your website.
There are all kinds of ranking signals that lead to your website's current ranking in a specific SERP. Talking about each at length is simply going to be a waste of time, as they are largely self-explanatory. Let's list some of them off below:
- The on-page optimization around the topic of the page linking to you
- All of the above and below metrics of the page linking to you
- The total number of referring domains linking to your domain
- The total number of referring domains linking to your page
- The total number of referring pages and number of links going to your page
- The user metrics such as click through rating and pogo-sticking on the SERPs
- The number of social signals pointing to your page that actually receive traffic through them
- The age of your domain and of those linking to you
Various Link Types and Concepts in the Wild
As you venture into the world of off-page SEO, you'll encounter all types of situations where you can "get" a link. Not all are equally powerful, not all are safe for your long-term asset.
Here are some types of links out there. You'll notice they largely are named for the platform on which they exist:
- Blog comments
- Forum profiles, posts, and signatures
- Wiki links
- Social bookmarks
- Social signals
- Sitewide links in the footer or sidebar
- Contextual links within articles
- Profiles on sites where users interact
- Trackback links
- and on and on...
Anyone can capture a squirrel or possum. Nobody cares. You capture the rare and elusive Sasquatch and your life is going to change forever. The same goes for links.
If an off-the-shelf piece of software can automate the platform, such as Scrapebox does with blog comments, then they aren't going to be very valuable. Most blog comments are no-follow for this reason. However, many blogs moderate every comment and your contribution may earn you a no-follow link there that others haven't been able to receive easily. That is valuable. Any site that is moderated and requires human intervention to receive a link will be the most powerful, unless they ask for payment (even under the guise of a moderation fee).
The Strength & The Weakness of Different Black & Grey Hat Approaches
As a spammer, you may get links all over the place on various IP's and domains. But you get greedy and use the same set of anchor texts too often. Or other spammers ruin those sites. Or you receive too many links compared to others in your niche. Or your link velocity isn't remotely natural during indexing. Then someone panics and lists every site in the disavow tool for Google. Eventually all of the sites become devalued, the link types become devalued, and the guilty parties are deindexed or penalized.
You know that data only becomes statistically relevant when there's a large enough population to gain confidence in the numbers. So instead of spamming a million links, you decide to purchase 100 extremely powerful ones. Following that logic then, going onto a forum and purchasing posts on someone's Private Blog Network should be extremely powerful right? Nobody will know you paid for them. The problem is that there are a million ways to uncover a footprint that links all of these sites together. Some other buyer will spam his or her site and then the investigation begins. They find that one of the sites linking to the spammed site has a statistically unusual pattern of outbound links that match a handful of other websites and they all use exact match anchor texts. Some of them even share IP addresses or C-blocks, which isn't very likely. The investigation continues and the whole game unravels.
Maybe you were smart enough to use the Tiering methods where you build layers of links to keep your site safe behind a buffer layer or two. It all still crashes down and your buffer layers lose the power they once held and possibly become deindexed or devalued themselves. It's always back to ground zero with these methods. So the question is, can you turn a large enough profit in the small window of time in which your site thrives before it crashes to make it worth the effort? Unfortunately, the niches where this is possible are watched more closely, even with sets of human eyeballs watching beyond just algorithmic thresholds.
^ There it is. Your tiny black hat window of opportunity. It's a purposefully moving target. You go for it, Google slides it over by two feet, you splat against the wall, and they paint over your smear mark. You might as well have never existed.
The Logical Approach of White Hat Marketing
Google's Penguin algorithm filter changed the SEO game forever. It has ruined entire careers and fortunes, raised the barrier to entry tremendously for newcomers, sent all hobbyists and hopefuls in search of other get-rich-quick schemes. The off-page SEO game has quickly become one of just typical marketing, which is actually much more difficult and much more rewarding for you, your site, and your brand.
Obviously, as you've studied through the days of this guide up till now, you realize how much effort it takes to properly execute in the online arena while seeing no results for as long as six months or longer. It's simply not the path to take to manipulate and crash and burn any more. PPC is where you want to be, or anywhere else other than trying to earn organic search engine traffic.
Too much is asked of you before seeing a reward, unless you plan on sticking it out for the long-term. That's how they keep the spammers out. And this long-play will be the focus of the rest of the Off-Page SEO guide, because we are builders of businesses, not scams, schemes, and snake oil.
When it comes to internet monies, you're destined for one of the two options above. There's not much in between. If you can be patient and disciplined, you can enjoy the right hand side.
Walking Through an Example Link Building Campaign
Before you take a single step, you need to know the rules of engagement. Not Google's rules, not Hot-Shot Blogger #1824's rules... but the rules that'll make sure your site never comes under fire no matter how many times Google changes the rules and no matter who spams you. Stay the path, be diligent, and persevere and you will find off-page SEO success.
The off-page SEO portion of your career may seem intimidating, but it really boils down to a few simple axioms that all center around not being greedy. They are...
- Never buy or hack a link.
- Never accept or acquire a link on a site that is obviously spammy or compromised.
- Watch your backlink profile and build a disavow list as you go to negate any spam and scraper links that come your way that you didn't ask for that aren't natural.
- Any time you are able to choose the anchor for a backlink, choose a raw URL, Brand name, or let the other webmaster decide.
- Never scale link building with computer automation. If it can be automated, only take the link if it is relevant to your website and on a website that is itself clean and clear of spam.
- In general, don't build links. Acquire them through traditional marketing methods.
The only rule that has any wiggle room is number six, and that's why it is prefaced with the term "In general." There are times you can build links that are totally acceptable.
For instance, if you sign up for Pinterest, you should definitely place your URL in your profile. If you pin a photo from your website, go ahead and use your page as the reference link. If you sign up for a forum, it is perfectly acceptable to place your link in your profile (as long as you aren't using software and doing this en-masse on 100,000 unrelated forums). You're probably better off not placing your site in your signature if you intend on actually using the forum, or you'll end up with a quickly scaling number of links from the site that can be misunderstood by the algorithm as spam.
The only other concern of yours should be the speed at which your site is receiving backlinks. Consider a link "received" when it is crawled, not necessarily indexed. You want to receive a steady stream of links without spikes, unless the spikes are natural and from the viral spread of a piece of content on yours. Google knows how to validate that this spread is genuine and reward you greatly for it. Don't fear spikes. Embrace them. But in general keep a steady pace by planning ahead with a calendar or list of some sort for your marketing and promotional efforts. Think of it like the Freshness Factor for publishing and indexing content. Slow and steady wins the race and quality always trumps quantity. Quality and Quantity together will rock your world.
With that being said, here's one way you could approach the link building for a brand new site that you truly care about and intend to earn a living from...
Tip: Save all of your login details to every site, and use randomized passwords. You never know when you'll need to return to one, and there will be hundreds that you will want to return to and keep using.
Claim your Main Social Profiles
The first set of actual links coming into your site should be the main social profiles. You'll want to register these as soon as you choose your brand name.
The best time to claim your social profiles is before you register your domain, because spammers have bots that crawl registration lists and will steal them out from under you and try to sell them to you or hold them hostage. You will also begin to receive do-follow and no-follow links immediately from sources that scrape registry lists and Alexa and the like. Start building your disavow list immediately and comment them out by link type and date. If anything ever happens in the future, this will be your meal ticket right out of penalization.
Register your social profiles on sites such as:
As time continues, you can begin to populate them with content, news, and images from your vertical. Your goal is to build a following of your brand as an information and entertainment hub where you can slip in promotions of your own content as well.
If you want to get craft, go ahead and build a second set of profiles on these sites that aren't based on your brand itself, but on the niche in general. You can use it to disarm social users into not realizing you control it and promote your own content more heavily to them through these profiles (along with others too to keep up the facade). Don't place your URL in the profile here though.
You aren't done with these profiles EVER. Continue to post to them. Go out and follow others and gain followers. Interact with them on their profiles. Respond to any outreach to you. The more you weave yourself into the site as a whole, the more juice and other metrics you pull to your own profile, which move on to your website.
Here's a tip: http://knowem.com - They'll sign up and flesh out profiles for you on as many as 300 social networks. However, I truly doubt 300 of them are worth having or not spammy. But you can opt for the top 100 or even top 25 (that's what I'd do, except I don't. I do it by hand and control every aspect).
Find Communities in Your Niche
This step could be quite large. The first thing you'll want to do is populate a list of all of them that are highly relevant topically to your niche. Then expand out to the whole vertical. After that, you could add any generalized communities to the list as well that encompass all niches. These will largely be forums will include a spattering of other types of communities like mini-social networks.
You won't be able to smash all of these out in one day and you won't want to. The reason is is that they will largely all be profile links, and you don't want an onrush of just one type of link coming to your site all at once. It's not natural. Sign up to a few every day, flesh out your profiles, and then post to the forum or community about 5 times. This will bring more juice to your profile and on to your site and leave more entry points for spiders to come crawling. The better you flesh out your profile, the more likely it will be to be indexed as well. You can assume a link on a page that gets indexed is more powerful than one that doesn't, but they both count if crawled.
This process could go on for a month or longer. You could take a break from it and move to another type of link or marketing promotion, but the goal is to establish yourself on each site and in the community. You will return to these as you create worthy pieces of content to share with them. Over time, the power and worth of all of these profiles and links will grow as you continue to use them more. Don't waste time trying to entrench yourself in abandoned forums or communities that are obviously dead. Set up your profile and post a few times, then don't come back.
Tip: It seems that Google, like an elephant, never forgets. Even when a link is removed, the memory remains and the ghost of it still provides some benefit. So don't worry if a site goes down in the future. You lost the link but not all of the benefit.
When you find the communities with the most engaging traffic, remember the image I shared above of the Participation Inequality Pyramid. It's real easy to become a top 10% or even a top 1% member. That's how you influence your vertical and position your site as one of the most important (to visit constantly, refer to, link to, buy from, etc.).
Do a Bunch of Blog Commenting
"But guys, you just said blog comments are 99.9% no-follow!" Yep, you're right. But we also talked about increasing the number of referring domains from sites in your vertical and powerful general topic sites like newspaper sites. This is your chance to dilute your anchor text usage to make sure you stay in the safe realm and spread your brand footprint. Also, god forbid you increase your brand awareness and get some traffic!
Feel free to scrape a giant list of blogs to comment on, or just find new ones every day. A good method is to set up a Google Alerts for blogs only based on the big keywords in your niche. This will keep you filled with new blog posts that are being monitored and moderated, increasing your chance of having your comment approved.
Your goal is to skim the article and post a high quality and relevant comment. A few sentences is perfect. Asking questions helps approval rates. Don't go for the flattery path, as spammers have destroyed that. Just get involved in the conversation or start one.
Post three to five comments on new domains daily, every other day, or whatever pace you can manage. You want to aim all of these at your homepage, never your inner pages as that's not natural. Don't drop the URL inside the comment itself, but only in the URL field that appears with Name and Email. "Name" becomes the anchor text for the link, so use a real name (and be consistent) such as John B. or use your Brand name. Don't use your keywords, ever.
Other Easy Wins
You had to design a website to some degree, right? And a logo? Submit those suckers to CSS Galleries and Logo Galleries, but only if they've been updated in the past few months and aren't spammy. They should be human moderated. You can even go as far as to check their backlink profiles if you want.
Eventually you're going to create an infographic for you site. While you do outreach with it to all of the top sites in your vertical, go ahead and submit it to the high quality infographic galleries. Go back to the forums and communities and share it there too, of course with a link back to your site. A reference link is always legit, if done in reasonable quantities. No need to hit all 300 forums. Rotate through them so they don't learn to hate you.
Pay someone or do it yourself, but fire up your microphone or webcam or whatever it takes and record some kind of small jingle or song. This will allow you to build profiles on all of the music upload sites. Do the same with a video. You can even make it a music video for your new song. But now you can create profiles on all of the video upload sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Did you know there are tons of graphic artist communities out there for digital painting and hand-drawn work? Have someone draw something for your brand and join those sites.
These are all fair game and legit methods of promoting your brand. Just don't get greedy. Don't submit to trash sites, unmoderated sites, any sites that are linking to sites with exact anchor texts that submitted, etc. Keep it high quality. Only be where you would be proud for your brand to be seen. Some links are toxic and will hurt you.
Get creative and you'll find a lot more of these types of ideas that will allow you to promote your brand and generally receive a legit profile link. Remember to interact on them to help the spiders find your profile.
Now for the Powerful Campaigns
The methods above are buttering up your domain... Getting it out there and prepped to be able to accept more powerful links without tanking with the Google dance for a solid week or more each time. Velocity has to do with the number of links but also the quantity of page rank juice. One powerful backlink will be enough to bounce your rankings to kingdom come for a while if it doesn't have a decent grounding before hand. Of course you can not worry about the bounce, but the tactics above should be tackled at some point, so they might as well happen early on to help establish velocities.
Once you clear out every easy win, what you should have on hand is:
- A set of social network profiles to promote your new content
- A set of forums and communities to rotate through
- A constant drip of new domains from blog comments
- And a hunger for some big boy links
You know those links people are selling on forums for $300 each from PR8 sites? Those can all be acquired for free. I won't list them here, but go find them and register to be a writer. Either take the time to write a killer article or pay for one, but make sure you get accepted. Remember that each post will be moderated by an editor moving forward as well. The way people are getting these links is to bribe an existing author or editor. But forget that. You're going to become one and save tons of money and create an insane exposure engine for your new content that will net you tons of links, social signals, eyeballs, and rankings.
Let's say you signed up for Medium, a very powerful and higher-standard web 2.0 style of website. You're struggling to submit enough different things to Reddit to stay within their 10:1 promotion ratio. Guess what you can do? Submit your Medium post, along with all of the other big sites you are now an author for. If each post is a solid piece of work, it should gain traffic and links, and some of that traffic and juice will flow through to your page. This is essentially repeatable forever, but not easily scalable. It will take time and effort, but will be more than worth your time. You'll be landing links your competitors are too lazy or broke to build or buy. And yours will be legit and not on compromised author accounts that get deindexed.
We are going to have a future day based around outreach, so don't worry about the details. The concept is that through all of these forums and communities and blog comments, your brand is receiving visibility. You've met folks digitally through your social networks and from being on Big Editorial sites. Leverage those relationships and start asking for guests posts. Ask if you can contribute out of love for the topic. Ask to be included in resource pages, since your site is good enough (I hope, unless you're not actually taking our advice here). Tap out your relationships and then form new ones through email and social message outreach.
Remember, the goal is to contribute and acquire links, not build them. Don't even ask for them. If you can provide content, it's fair to include a link back to your site or to a page of yours, but don't be greedy with the anchors.
We also have an upcoming day entirely dedicated to Traffic Leaking, so don't worry about the details, but understand the concept. You can apply this to forums and communities, blog comments, and the big editorial sites. You can leak Reddit and Voat, Stumbleupon, Buzzfeed, and more. You'll learn how to do this effectively, and you'll add this to your rotating schedule of tasks that to be done constantly.
The benefit here is immediate traffic without waiting for it to be given to you. You will land yourself in front of millions of eyeballs, some of which will link to you, share your page on the social networks, and so forth. It will build your brand in the real world, in the mind's of internet users, and in the search engine. This is one of your main weapons in marketing your brand that will never cease operation. So get ready to master this tactic.
We will cover this in the content days of this guide, but this is crucial to your success. Clickbait is killer in combination with traffic leaking. It is meant to awaken the reptile mind of your users, to draw them to your site and keep them there. You want to polarize them, make them mad, make them happy, make them feel smart. Do something to their ego and do it in a big way, and they will spread your site like wildfire through links and social signals. They will become addicted to feeling alive thanks to your work, and they will become regular visitors.
If you've been paying attention, you're convinced that you don't want to become a spammer. You don't want to manipulate the search engines. You don't want to do anything off-page that compromises the safety of your business.
Yet so many "innocent" businesses are getting tagged left and right for these bad practices for one main reason: They get greedy. They want more faster.
You can have more faster without trashing up the internet using the weapons in the arsenal above. Traffic Leaks, actual Marketing, high profile Guest Posting, journalist Outreach... If you go after traffic, the links and social shares come naturally and you rise in the search engines. Plant the right white hat seeds along the way and you'll find that your site eventually explodes in red hot, targeted, organic search traffic.
Patience is the key when it comes to search engines. If you can't wait, don't try to force them to give you more traffic. Go get it yourself and you'll be surprised at the results!
Additional Day 11 Study Materials