For those who have abandoned buying links or greatly curtailed their budgets for such activities, don’t simply turn that into PPC or display money. You can leverage it for three SEO tactics that are lasting and promote positive user experiences.
Link Buying & Outing: A Brief History
In February 2011, a dark New York cloud came over the practice of securing inbound web links for search engine optimization purposes. This cloud was manifested in two distinct New York Times and Wall Street Journal investigative reports, which detailed tactics that JCPenney and Overstock.com had used to game the search engine algorithms.
In order to pass authority to pages, which is one of the key elements to getting exposure in the “free” (organic) search results, each of these huge ecommerce players took a calculated risk in order to skip line and get to the top.
JCPenney likely spent more money because they were actually buying links (and promoting the American Way), but Overstock.com also had to provide some additional support to their students that were exchanging links for discounts. Now there are signs that the dust has settled, and Overstock.com's penalty has been lifted.
SEOs who were buying links before February, especially in large or expensive quantities, suddenly faced a decision on whether to continue the practice and hope to remain under the radar, or to discontinue paying brokers to obtain links. Although a few folks chose the former, I’ve spoken to many senior SEOs who report they are discontinuing the practice.
Here are three ways you can leverage the budget that was formerly allocated to link buying for 2011.
1. Digital Asset Optimization
The practice of optimizing all content on a website in order to promote increased universal search exposure is one of the most important tactics for SEO going into the future (see this short video interview from SES in 2010). Unfortunately, few marketers have made it a reality as part of their regular content development process. Non-text content such as videos, images, infographics, and rich Internet applications (RIAs) are worth their weight in the gold that they cost.
The problem is that one needs to successfully secure large budgets for many DAO tactics, especially Video production or the development of RIAs. Yes, sometimes other marketing and PR budgets could be tapped for this function, but if you have an extra 5-50K (or more from what I’ve heard) lying around that formerly was budgeted for buying links, use it to make something really cool!
Leading with SEO/DAO as the primary value to be delivered from these efforts may not go over so well, especially with creative or finance directors. The best thing about DAO is that you will improve the site experience nearly 100 percent of the time by adding a properly planned and targeted digital asset.
2. Social Media Involvement
One of the natural benefits of DAO is that you will likely get great buzz from evangelists within your targeted segments. If you can help to promote the potential for Facebook Shares and Likes (especially if your segments are likely to use Bing), links from tweets and mentioning/linking to your pages from blogs or other social/community platforms – you will gain incremental SEO value.
The ability to leverage social media to support brand evangelism (and the side effect benefits for SEO) requires “building it so they can come.” Investments should be made with care, and under the supervision of a social media expert with a full understanding of your broader marketing plan and target consumers.
In the past, Google’s algorithms appeared to give “buzz” (timeliness) link credit to links found within press releases – with the advent of real-time results and with millions of Likes and tweets a day, their pool of buzz authority has certainly increased. You have to be standing in this river to catch fish.
3. Good, Old-Fashioned SEO
Every year things get more complex within many SEO strategies. The basics of technical, content, and linking, however, are still the primary drivers to performance within organic results – universal or not.
Local optimization is another huge tie-in that should fit under the primary SEO umbrella in 2011 and beyond. Take signals from the search engines, such as when Matt Cutts, who launched Google’s quality assurance team and program, states that it may be a good idea to develop a page on your Web site link to for each of your bank branches or physical stores.
Translating signals like this and other emerging strategies into recommendations that can be afforded and implemented requires budget, which may now be available as a result of no longer investing in links.
“Blocking and tackling” link building tactics also require a serious investment commitment, if the goal is scale. SEO really is an art and science that requires the appropriate investment level to be able to compete within your own industry. It also requires constant understanding of your target market.