SEO OFF-PAGE OPTIMIZATION - PART 1

OFF-PAGE OPTIMIZATION


There are essentially two parts to any SEO effort once you’ve completed your keyword research: on-page optimization and off-page optimization . Off-page optimization is just as important as on page optimization and in fact may be a more powerful factor when it comes to increasing your search engine results on Google. In my experience, about 60 percent or more of your results are directly correlated to off-page optimization.

In fact, after years of consulting for large companies, I’ve proven in some instances that it’s possible to achieve positive results without actually applying on-page optimization if using off-page techniques properly. However, going down the path of skipping on-page optimization is a difficult one and no longer an option when trying to achieve top rankings. Always begin your SEO campaign with on-page optimization to build a powerful foundation.
Now that we’ve discussed the importance of starting with on-page optimization, it’s time to focus on the next step of any effective search engine campaign—off-page optimization.

WHAT IS OFF-PAGE OPTIMIZATION?

In its simplest form, off-page optimization can be referred to as increasing a website’s authority. This authority is defined by the number and types of websites that link to a given website or URL. I also like to think of off-page optimization as what you do on the Internet, not directly on your website , to improve search engine result placements.
The best part of off-page optimization is that there are a handful of proven techniques you can start using today to improve your SERPs on the world’s largest search engine.
Off-page optimization is one of the most important SEO strategies for those seeking number one placement on Google. The fastest and most effective way to achieve this goal is by developing quality links to your website. When I refer to “quality,” I’m referring to links from sites that:
  • Have an equivalent or higher Google authority than your site
  • Include similar content to your web page
  • Use related meta tags
  • Come from diverse sources
  • Have been around for a while, i.e. age
  • Have a large number of quality sites linking to them
Even more important than the what (quality websites) is the how . Specifically, how these quality websites link to you is an essential key to Google dominance.
Did you know?
Your success on Google is DIRECTLY correlated to how well you implement off-page optimization—the types of websites that link to you and how they are linking to you.
This is the biggest secret to Google dominance – especially over the long-term. Using this “secret” has changed my failure into success. Let me give you some examples to reinforce the point.
Let’s explore the importance of inbound links, links that point to your website, using a little more context. Assuming that all on page factors are equal, which they never are, the site that has more quality inbound links will rank higher than the site that has fewer inbound links. It’s important to note that we never know which factors Google is weighing more heavily, on-page or off-page, but we do know that both matter and that inbound links are an essential part of off-page optimization.
This can often be seen when we do a search and find a top ranked website that has many more inbound links compared to the 2nd or 3rd result. Conversely, there will be situations where the number one ranked website doesn’t have a ton of inbound links but their on-page optimization is on-point. This is why researching your competition is so important and why tools like SEMrush, Moz, etc. are so vital to begin using. They provide insights into why certain sites or page rank the way they do.
Even though Google is all about mobile first, natural language, etc. I still see sites in position zero, or position one, that are not as authoritative as those in position 2 -10. A good example of this is “Free marketing articles”. If you Google that phrase you’ll notice a very outdated site on top of search results. This is probably due to the age of the domain and the focus on marketing articles. Google clearly views this as being the closest match to my query, so that’s the results that comes out on top. In this case, inbound links are still important but it looks like on page factors are being weighted heavily as well. The reality is you can’t do one without the other. That’s why it’s important to understand the anatomy of an inbound link and how to use them to your advantage.
As I’ve already mentioned, having more inbound links alone will not give you a higher ranking. Based on years in this industry and working with over a 1,000 clients, I can tell you that it’s not just a numbers game. It goes well beyond quantity. Google caught on to link farms and other attempts to game the system years ago. Yes, you need as many inbound links as you can get but only if they have value.
Your rankings have more to do with link quality than anything else. Although link quality can be difficult to define because there are so many parameters to consider, some basic ones include link age, anchor text, and site authority. You also need to consider where the link is coming from. Is another site linking to you from their home page often referred to as a top level domain (TLD) or some obscure page very low down in their hierarchy? As we’ve already covered, pages that are far from the root domain have very little authority. If that’s the case, then linking to you doesn’t pass much if any authority to your website.
The other area to consider is that of anchor text, the text users see and click on to visit the URL destination. Google has made a very big deal of this concept which essentially tries to weed out all of the SEO’s who are intentionally trying to optimize for a specific keyword. For example, if all the sites linking to your page said, “this is the best product ever” instead of “ http://www.samplesite.com”, “samplesite.com”, “top 10 products…”, or “click here”, their search engine value to Google would be diminished. What I’m trying to say is that you need some diversity in your link anchor text. That’s because if 100 out of 100 inbound links all use the same anchor text, Google would see this as unnatural, a deliberate attempt to game off-page optimization factors. This is why it’s important to stress how external links are designed when pointing to your website so they appear natural, creating a normal link profile (more on proper link building strategies and techniques in the section: ‘How to Link’).
Achieving top rankings for your website is based on a combination of on-page factors and off-page factors including the quality of inbound links, link authority, and link text. By keeping this in mind when considering link structure, you can make sure that any inbound link you receive provides SEO benefit. If you set down the road of link building without the proper framework, inbound links may not pass all the value you’re hoping for.

LINK TYPES

Before going any further, let me go deeper on linking by explaining various link types. This is essential to understand if you want to master off-page optimization through link building. There really are only three types of links you need to know about: one-way links , reciprocal links , and three-way links .
  • One-way links. These are links from a website that is not your own. Also referred to as third-party websites, these sites place a link from one or more of their web pages to your website or digital asset (blog, landing page, etc.).
Google values one-way links above all else. One-way links are incredibly powerful, if they’re quality links, because you are receiving a vote from an independent third party.
  • Reciprocal links. When you exchange links with another website, commonly referred to as swapping links , you’re providing a link to their site, from your own, in exchange for a link from their website to yours. Reciprocal links have some value, but are much less valuable than one-way links.
  • Three-way links. Three-way linking is when you partner with another website (site B) and provide a link from your site (site A) to their site. In turn, they provide a link from another site they own (site C) back to your site. Essentially a one-way link.
I’m often asked about outbound links in addition to in-bound links. An out bound link would be a link from your website to someone else’s site or an authority website like a social media account or reference site. Google has said that outbound links do not necessarily help you, but they certainly don’t hurt either. That is, unless linking out to a shady website. Make sure outbound links are to authority websites only and related to your site content.

HOW TO GET LINKS TO YOUR WEBSITE?

Now that you know the importance of links, the first question you must ask yourself is how to get other websites linking to yours? There are a variety of strategies to apply here for attracting quality one-way links. Regardless of which strategy you choose, begin with a mindset of attracting quality links! The goal should always be to produce something of such value that other sites are pointing their respective audiences to your specific content, webpage or website. This is what’s been driving the content marketing revolution and for good reason. “Getting links” is not as easy as it used to be, so earning them has become the name of the game. There are entire books and websites dedicated to developing a content marketing strategy that works, so I won’t attempt to explain it here, but know that effective link development begins with quality content that others want to share by linking to your website, social media, and blogs. When focusing on local SEO, there are some specialized link building strategies that we’ll cover in a later section.
If you build it they will come. While you’re producing content and pushing it out through social media channels, you should simultaneously take a proactive approach to build quality inbound links to your site content. If you work this strategy in conjunction with your content development efforts, there are a few shortcuts that can save time and help you get quality link placements. 
Getting links starts with knowing which links to get. Before you move ahead begging and pleading for just anyone to link to your site, first decide who you want links from.
The most effective way to identify the “right” sites to get links from should be based on who is linking to your competition, which is defined by who outranks you on Google for your target keyword. This is a very important strategy and one that is frequently overlooked for achieving top rankings. Simply stated, you should be evaluating who links to the number one search result in Google for your target keyword phrase and try to acquire links from the same websites. I know it sounds obvious but very few sites use this basic strategy for developing their link program.
Did you know?
If you get the same sites to link to your site using a natural link profile, and you’ve optimized your site well, in time you will outrank your competition on Google for the same keyword phrases.
Many methods can help you determine which sites are linking to the number one result in Google for the keyword phrase you’re targeting. Begin by identifying which site is in the first position for your search term. You can do this by visiting Google and typing in your search term. Record the URL of the number one search result. Once you’ve identified this site, do one of the following:
  • Google search. Go to Google.com and type in your target search term. After reviewing the first website search result, type the following text into the Google search bar, Link:www.nameoftoprankedcompetitor.com , making sure to replace the targeted phrase “nameoftoprankedcompetitor” with the name of the site you’ve identified as having the number one position on Google for your search term.
The result will be a series of sites linking to your competitor. The only downside to this method is that you won’t know which sites are more important than others (e.g., the number of links linking into those sites, authority, keyword content on pages, etc.), but it will certainly identify all of the sites you need to target for link-building purposes. It will also reveal the internal links that are giving the site some ranking authority.
  • Online SEO tools. I have found that using online marketing tools to automatically generate a list of sites linking into your competitor’s website, as well as link details such as Google PR, link text, page title, and so on, can be the most effective way to generate a list of targeted sites for your link-development efforts.
I’ve personally bought and used about a dozen different products to help me keep an eye on my competition and, more importantly build an effective linking campaign. I regularly use SEO software because in less than thirty seconds, I know exactly which sites are linking to the number one positioned website for my target phrase and receive information that helps me prioritize my efforts like the Page Rank of each inbound link and domain age. As I mentioned previously, I prefer SEMrush , Moz, or a plugin. You can often accomplish the same outcome without purchasing SEO software. However, these tools save you a significant amount of effort, reducing the time required for acquiring in-depth link-building information.
You can use whatever SEO or link analysis software you want as long as it provides you a list of sites linking into your competitors and a way to prioritize that list. If you start to develop links from the highest quality sites first, your climb to the number one spot on Google will happen that much faster.
  • Identify authority websites . Authority websites are those sites linking to three or more of your competitors. If you don’t have a SEO tool at your disposal, you can accomplish this manually using the following method:
    1. Search for competitive sites by visiting Google and searching for your most important search term.
    2. Create or download a spreadsheet of the top one hundred sites “linking in” to each of your top five competitors (Microsoft Excel is a good tool for this).
    3. Sort by authority.
    4. While looking at the list see if any of the website URLs are duplicated across your list or use the “find” function. If the site appears two or more times, highlight it.
    5. Once you’ve developed your list of authoritative sites, visit each one to determine how your competitors are listed and how you can acquire a link to your website.
Model the strategy your competitors have used. If these sites are directories, look for a directory submission form. If the links are from articles that your competitors submitted, submit your own. If all you can locate is an e-mail, ask the webmaster to include a link to your site. You may also suggest a link exchange if the opportunity arises.
If the website is already linking to your competition, they are a prime target for a link exchange or for adding your link because they see value in linking to sites covering similar subject matter.
The fastest way to achieve top rankings is to try to get links from the same sites that are linking to the number one, two, and three top search results for your desired keyword. You won’t be able to get links from all of them and, in fact, may only be able to get a few, but each inbound link can benefit you.
After applying the competitive link strategy, the next step is to build quality inbound links to your website through a natural link profile. Before I cover specific strategies for acquiring links, you must first understand the proper way to format an inbound link and achieve a natural link profile for maximum results.

HOW TO LINK

Now that you know how to find the sites you want to receive links from, you need to learn the proper way to develop a Google-friendly link. Google-friendly links are links that improve the search engine results of a given website. This is one of the ways that I’ve been able to get much better rankings for my web pages even though I may have fewer links pointing to my site compared to competitors.
I always cover the formatting aspect of linking in detail because your links are virtually worthless if they’re not displayed correctly on other websites. Let’s begin with the anatomy of a link; for example, let’s take a look at http://bigfinseo.com .
As an individual browsing the web, you would likely look at this link, know it was a link, and click on it if relevant to your search. This common application of link design is pervasive throughout the web and used consistently (blue and/or underlined). Another way to present the same link is with alternate link text. For example: Affordable SEO
Link text can also be referred to as anchor text and is essential for Google optimization. Embedded behind the link text is an active URL. In the example above, if you were on a web page and positioned your mouse over the Affordable SEO text, you would discover the URL of https://bigfinseo.com embedded within.
The question I often get is, “If you’re trying to get links to your website from other sites, why wouldn’t you want them to simply place the URL of your website on their website?” There are a number of important answers to this question. The reason you wouldn’t just include a URL is because Google wants to see a natural link profile, and having tons of links with the same anchor text is negatively viewed by their most up-to-date algorithm.
Anchor text is vitally important because it passes signals to Google identifying what your content is all about. You want to give Google the right signals so it appears as though third parties, not you, are developing inbound links to your website, blog, or other digital assets. That’s why we call it organic search. Google is trying to mirror the process that each of us go through naturally to find relevant content.

ANCHOR TEXT FOR THE IDEAL INBOUND LINK PROFILE

One of the past Google algorithm updates changed the game when it comes to link building and diversifying anchor text . Although many people in the search engine optimization field had been aware of the importance of diversifying anchor text in the past, the evidence at the time suggested that diversification didn't matter all that much. Although anchor text never really weighed into my optimization process in any significant way, recent Google algorithm updates have required all SEOs to rethink their anchor text strategies.
The good news is that we've learned a lot about how Google uses anchor text to identify link and site quality. Google is now looking for a natural inbound link profile supported by branded anchor text using your brand or site name and non-branded anchor text which uses keyword phrases that describe your product or service. Even Google confirms that a natural linking profile – one that utilizes many forms of anchor text, has an impact on rankings. This is further supported by tests conducted by third party SEO's using a generic link profile, without the benefit of social signals like Facebook or Instagram Likes, generating an increase in rankings.
 
To begin, let’s consider the 4 main anchor types that most commonly define the largest portion of an inbound link profile:
  • Naked URLs  consist of some variation of the actual URL to a website’s internal page or, more commonly, the home page. Naked URLs are the strongest signal to Google of a “natural” inbound link profile. In fact, they typically comprise the majority of anchor text distribution in healthy websites, approximately 70%. Examples include: searchenginejournal.com , http://www.searchenginejournal.com, www.searchenginejournal.com, and even searchenginejournal.com.
  • Brand Anchors  are comprised of some variation of the brand name for the destination website. Even small variations such as differences in capitalization are noted by search engines. Examples include Search Engine Journal, SearchEngineJournal and SEJ , a common abbreviation for this particular website example.
  • Brand-keyword hybrid anchors  are comprised of some variation of the brand name of the destination URL mixed with a relevant exact-match or LSI (latent semantic indexing) keyword. Examples might include SEO blog, Search Engine Journal ,  Search Blog, Search Engine Journal , and  Search Engine Journal a search blog .
  • Universal/junk anchors  are comprised of words that could apply to any destination website, or are universal in nature, such as “click here,” “visit this website,” and “more.” They are commonly known as “junk” anchors because, prior to the latest Google update, SEOs and webmasters used to try to avoid these types of anchors since they passed no definitive signals of relevance to the destination website. However, I wouldn’t consider them junk anymore! They are definitely a key part of developing a natural link profile for your website.
Most of the variations you’ll see through online link building consist of these four types of anchor text. As you move forward with your inbound link building strategy, avoid the urge to rack up keyword-rich links which were pre-BERT update best practices and instead pick one of the four anchor types above. Also, build links to more than just your home page.
This is extremely important as some SEO's suggest that nearly 60% of all inbound links should not be pointing to your home page but rather other pages on your website. In my thinking I'm not quite there yet because intuitively, most other sites, when referencing a third party site, point to their home page not a sub-level page. Personally, I think it's more important that social related links dig down through key website pages. Remember, search engine optimization can be as much art as it is science.
To rank on top for a particular keyword or keyword phrase, you want third-party websites to place your link with the proper anchor text on their website. Top level domain links are best – links from their home page to yours. Make sure your anchor text includes each of the link types mentioned above when it’s in your control. If not, you’re still better off getting a link from a quality website regardless of the anchor text.
The makeup of inbound links has an impact on your rankings. Getting value from your inbound links is a combination of your anchor text and the weight that’s being passed from the sites you are getting links from. In the past, you could focus on specific non-branded anchor text when building inbound links. For example, I used Marketing Expert as my anchor text again and again. When one of the past Google updates started penalizing sites for focused anchor text being used over and over again, my ranking dropped from number one to page 3 overnight. Why? Because it wasn’t considered a natural link profile - especially when more than 50% of inbound links to my site used this keyword phrase instead of my brand of naked URL. I've had to modify my link building strategy to be primarily comprised of my domain URL and only slightly versioned for keywords I'm optimizing for. This could again change in the future. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of the latest Google algorithm updates but also use a diversified inbound link strategy.
Using another example from the section on keyword research and title tags, you can vary your link text by using more than one keyword variation. For example, in addition to including women’s tennis shoes in anchor text, we can add another keyword phrase like Nike tennis shoes.  You can even add multiple keyword phrases (example: Womens Tennis Shoes Featuring Nike Tennis Shoes ). The corresponding result is that each time you get your link placed on a third-party website, you’re actually optimizing for two keyword phrases instead of one! The HTML code you can use to get this effect, if you’re not using a WISYWIG editor, is as follows:
<a href=“http://www.yoursitename.com ” title=“womens tennis shoes” target=“_blank” rel=“dofollow”>Womens Tennis Shoes Featuring Nike Tennis Shoes</a>
As always, be sure to replace http://www.yoursitename.com with your own website URL and obviously use the appropriate title including your keyword phrase. I also like my links to open in a separate window (a.k.a. target= “_blank”) and be marked as “dofollow”. This tells search engine spiders to follow the link back to my site. When engaging in reciprocal link exchanges, three-way link exchanges, or if simply requesting a link from a site, provide them with the link formatting noted above.
Make sure that every time a website links to you they are using the specific linking format you want using anchor text that includes your URL, keyword[s] or keyword phrase[s]. I can’t tell you how many times possible link partners have asked me for a link exchange and submitted their link to me without specifying exactly what they wanted for anchor text. Personally I don’t like leaving link building to chance if I can avoid it. Make sure links are “do follow”. This tells Google that a link placed on a page should be followed to the destination and indexed. If someone is placing a “no follow” link to your website on theirs, it’s recognized by Google but doesn’t necessarily pass all the authority it could to your webpage. If you’re proactively engaging link partners, be transparent about what you’d like to happen. The same is true with regard to the links you’re providing in exchange.
Applying proper link formatting is vital to the success of your search engine optimization campaigns.

NEGATIVE LINK JUICE

When you acquire an inbound link, the authority it passes to your website is often referred to as “link juice”. This term has been part of search engine optimization for as long as I can remember. It describes the value of a link passing value to your website in a positive manner. But what happens if you are acquiring links from less than desirable websites, blogs, or other digital assets? In the past, Google didn’t really care if you received links from shady websites but this has changed over time. This means that if you’re receiving a number of links from sites considered untrustworthy, then Google may be penalizing your rankings.
A common question that surfaces on a regular basis when it comes to the influence of inbound links is, "Does this mean that if I point a number of bad links at a website I can hurt their ranking?" Not really, Google has lessened their emphasis on the influence of SPAM sites linking to you. This happened a number of years ago when they took a leap in identifying unscrupulous websites and link farms. Google has been documented as saying they no longer pass negative link juice onto seemingly innocent websites but the jury is still out. At the time of this edition, Google still hasn’t removed their tool for disavowing these links. Until they do, the best strategy is to monitor Google Console for manual actions against your site for unnatural links to your site. If that occurs, you can use the Disavow Links tool to alert Google.
What can you do to maintain a positive link profile?
There are a number of techniques you can use to eliminate any negative link juice and maintain a healthy link profile for your websites, blogs, and other digital asses. Doing so proactively will help protect against any inbound link issues or penalties in the future. The following are my recommendations for cleaning up your inbound links and optimizing your link building campaigns for long-term success.

1. Review your existing inbound link profile.  

The best way to get started is to see what your current link profile looks like. This means identifying all of the links currently pointing to your site and evaluating them from the perspective of website quality and anchor text. There are a large variety of tools on the market that do this including MOZ’s Open Site Explorer, SEMrush, Cemper, etc. You can even use Google to give you a list of "links" but you're specifically looking for tools that provide inbound links and information about those links. In particular, what is the anchor text of each of the inbound links to your website?

2. Identify untrustworthy inbound links.  

Moz, SEMrush, and Cemper all provide a metric that allows you to determine the overall trust associated with each of the websites linking to you. The primary goal is to identify which links are untrustworthy in the eyes of Google and have them removed. At first glance, you may have some difficulty discerning which links are not fit for providing positive link juice. However, this is why it's so important to use a software tool as opposed to trying to figure it out on your own. Both of the before mentioned resources flag sites with little or no trust or authority.

3. Remove untrustworthy links.  

When I first went down this path of removing links it felt very awkward. I spent most of my SEO career building quality inbound links to my various websites, blogs, and other assets. Unfortunately, given the new Google updates, a number of these links were no longer supporting my goal of creating website authority so they had to go. The best way to remove a link is to do it yourself. If you've been submitting to article or directory sites that were negatively impacted by search engine algorithm updates, remove the link by logging into your profile and delete your post.
When you are unable to access links that have been deemed negative, you should browse the site to find a way to contact the website administrator. Submit a request that says, “Based on Google's latest update, I've been working to update my link profile and request to have my links removed from your website.” Be sure to include the specific link , anchor text , and webpage where the link is found - don't expect someone else to do this for you. Be polite and gracious. More often than not your link is removed.

4. Use the Google Disavow Links Tool.  

Once you’ve gone through the process of manual link removal, visit Google Webmaster tools. There you will find a very helpful tool to disavow negative links to your website. Google quickly realized after their algorithm update that even if you follow steps 1 – 3 above, there may still be an issue with sites that are either unwilling to take down your link or intentionally trying to negatively impact your rankings. To that end Google introduced the Disavow Links Tool , available through Google Search Console. The tool lets you specify inbound links you want blocked and provides instructions on how to identify them.
Begin by visiting the Disavow links page within webmaster tools. When you arrive, you’ll select your site from the dropdown list provided.
The next step is to upload a comprehensive file that includes the links you want to block or disavow.
The process of creating a file for upload is relatively simple. Personally, I was able to identify all of the links I needed blocked using link evaluation software and placed them in a spreadsheet that I saved as a text file. All that’s required for disavow link submission is a text file with one URL per line.
For example: 
   
# requested link removal but got no response
domain:baddomain1.com
# Webmaster of baddomain2.com removed most links, but missed
http://www.baddomain2.com/contentA.html
http://www.baddomain2.com/contentB.html
http://www.baddomain2.com/contentC.html
In this example, lines that start with a pound sign “#” are considered comments and Google ignores them. The “domain:” keyword indicates that you want to disavow links from all pages on a particular website (in this case, “baddomain1.com”). You can also request to disavow links on individual webpages. In the example above, this is indicated by the three individual pages on baddomain2.com. Google currently allows only one disavow file per website. If you’ve already submitted a file and want it updated, you must first download, update, and then resubmit.
Google will encourage you to use the information in your Webmaster Tools account to begin researching links. Although Google Console is a great resource for finding all incoming links to your site, you’d have to visit each one and make a guess as to whether or not it’s considered SPAMMY. In my opinion this takes way to long and is far too inaccurate. Use software to help you identify sites with zero trust or authority and include them in your file, Google takes care of the rest.

5. Build links from quality sites.  

Once you've done the work of removing unsavory links, it's time to start building quality inbound links to your website. A good portion of this book is dedicated to the practice of link building so I won't go into details here. The most important thing to remember is to build links based on quality, not quantity. Creating just a few links from quality sites can start to have a positive impact on your organic search results. Over time, development of quality inbound links that are do-follow in nature produce the best organic results. Do-follow means that links are crawled versus blocked by Google crawlers.
 

6. Create a natural inbound link profile by varying anchor text. 

Google's Penguin update was really about identifying unnatural link profiles. Through research and case studies it’s relatively clear that branded anchor text is the primary goal. Descriptive anchor text has taken a back seat but is still important. Strive for anchor text that is around 70% branded (including your company name and/or URL) and 30% focused on descriptive keywords.
One final note in the area of addressing negative link juice. A number of SEO's have started to build links to 301 redirect pages. The benefit of building links to a page, other than your home page or any active page on your site is that a 301 redirect can be shut off at any time. Said another way, if you build links to an independent page on your server and redirect that page to your home or top level pages (301 redirect), you have total control over inbound links - the 301 can be shut off at any time. This is an advanced technique and one that truly isn’t necessary but represents a creative way to manage third party links. Personally I prefer to use the Google Disavow links tool, allowing webmaster to “turn off” poor incoming links easily. Focus your efforts on building quality links, disavowing bad links when identified, and you’ll be successful at managing your inbound link profile.






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