chrislynch.link

Backlinks for SEO

Picking a Domain Name When There’s No SEO Bonus For Keyword-Based Domains

In a boost for digital agencies with names like “Tangarine Kangaroo” or “Excessive Aubergine”, brands that took the name of a thing and just shoved “ly” or “ify” on the end, and former digital marketing CTOs who have decided to dump nearly all their domain names and put all their content on one site… Google has confirmed that there is no specific SEO bonus for keyword-based domains.

Yep, call your domain anything you want… it won’t make a difference. Or will it?

What if you domain name matches the search?

The obvious problem with saying that keyword-based domains don’t offer any SEO bonus is when it comes to Exact Match Domains (or “EMD”s). If I’m looking for a business called “Tangerine Kangaroo”, I really want to find that business. I don’t want pictures of orange marsupials.

The trick appears to be not to be too “spammy” with your EMD. tangerinekangaroo.com is OK. bestplumberscardiff.co.uk is not. The difference? User intent – matching what the user is searching for in a way that isn’t trying to cram keywords into a domain (unless your business is actually called Best Plumbers and you happen to be in Cardiff, I suppose).

Search Engine Journal has a good article about this very topic, charting the success of Hotels.com and noting how this extremely popular site suffered after a Google update the impacted exact match domains and how this was eventually reversed.

Overall, it seems pretty clear that you can still benefit from including a keyword in your domain name as long as this matches your brand name and content. Like most things in SEO, consistency matters and doing anything “for the search engine” is generally a bad idea. Generally speaking, including the name of a town in your domain is now considered a particular spammy move, probably because of the huge numbers of these domains that were sold back in the late 90s/early 00s.

What if you’re buying a domain today?

As a web-veteran, here’s how a lot of businesses got their names if they were incepted after the advent of the Internet:

  1. “I’ve got a great idea”
  2. “What are you going to call it”
  3. “I’m going to call it Best Invention Ever”
  4. “… the .com of that is gone. And the .co.uk”
  5. “Oh right. OK, well… how about Most Amazing Invention Ever?”
  6. “… that’s gone as well. Oh, there is a .biz domain for £50”
  7. “Hmm. OK, well, how about Tangarine Kangaroo?”
  8. “Yeah, that’s available.”
  9. “Buy it!”

I’ve been through this process myself quite a few times and had many clients fail to go through this and then be thunderstruck when they discover that the domain name for their Next Big Idea isn’t available. I’ve also seen clients tie themselves in knots trying to squeeze a keyword into a brand that also has a domain name available.

The best advice I can give is to build a brand you believe in and then go hunting for the domain name. If you’ve stayed away from keywords then chances are good that you will still be able to find a domain name to match your brand (unless you went and called your next big idea “Amazon” or something).

“Amazon” is a great example of a brand name that everybody now knows and that, on first inspection, has nothing to do with where the company started – selling books.

Chris Lynch

Actually, when Amazon was founded, Jeff Bezos allegedly chose the name in part because it began with A and a lot of web directories were alphabetical at the time. So, maybe he was thinking about SEO a little!

Good news for “Christopher’s Big SEO Experiment”

Why does this matter for me particularly right now? Well, I’m in the middle of a Big SEO Experiment, trashing a whole load of domains I’ve had for some time and redirecting all my traffic and links to one platform (this one). It’s a pretty big risk from an SEO perspective as it means moving out of my various niche websites and into one “brand” that I am going to have to work hard to get Google to understand.

There are no keywords in my domain name – just my name, which is now effectively my brand. It’s a far cry from domains like thetruthaboutseo.co.uk that I used to own.

Google Says Total Number Of Links Is Completely Irrelevant For SEO

For approximately the three thousand and forty-seventh time, Google have said that counting the links coming into your website is pointless. The total number It’s a question, and answer, we’ll over twenty years old… so why are people still asking about this?

Well, because it matters – and because the answer that Google gives doesn’t make complete sense.

Here’s a recent quote from Google’s John Mueller

“I don’t think we differentiate like that in our systems. From my point of view, I would tend not to focus on the total number of links to your site, or the total number of domain links to your website, because we look at links in a very different way.”

https://www.searchenginejournal.com/googles-john-mueller-total-number-of-backlinks-doesnt-matter/396638/#close

So it’s quality over quantity… until it isn’t

Rule one of back-linking is that quality matters more than quantity. A fistful of links from low quality sites won’t make as much difference (or even any difference) to your site when compared to one good link from a reputable, relevant site.

“We try to understand what is relevant for a website, how much should we weigh these individual links, and the total number of links doesn’t matter at all. Because you could go off and create millions of links across millions of websites if you wanted to, and we could just ignore them all.”

https://www.searchenginejournal.com/googles-john-mueller-total-number-of-backlinks-doesnt-matter/396638/#close

So, what’s the problem? Well, some SEOs are working on trying to get sites their first eleven back-links. Some SEOs are working with sites that have large backlink profiles and this would seem to be where this answer breaks down. At this stage, assuming the links are generally of good quality, the individual quality of any single link becomes irrelevant unless it is so massively good or bad it can “bury the needle” on the average link quality you are receiving. Many SEOs believe that the law of averages comes into play here and that and having more good quality links than your competitors is undoubtedly a “good thing”.

So, what should I do? Should I stop building backlinks?

Ultimately, Google’s answer on this isn’t helpful at all unless you don’t have many links and just want to feel better about that. Ultimately, links drives traffic to your site, raise your brand profile, and help your search engine optimisation. Build good links, then build more good links, then have a cup of tea, then build some more good links. Your site will thank you for it.

How many links do you need? Well, over 65% of web pages have no backlinks at all.

I’m a firm believer that any statement that begins “A question I’m often asked is…” is usually a total lie. Nobody has asked you about that thing, people aren’t even often asking you stuff, it’s just a lead in to a topic you want to talk about.

But… a question I’m often asked is “How many backlinks do I need?”

The problem with this question is that there is no right answer. The answer is almost certainly not an actual number. There’s no threshold you’re looking to cross, no magic number that you need to reach for Google to “like” you. In fact, Google has categorically said time and again that it’s not quantity that matters, but quality (not that everyone believes them).

In my experience the quality of your backlinks is definitely more important than their quantity, as many a webmaster has found out after buying a shady “1K backlinks for £5” plan on Fiverr.

All of which is basically useless when it comes to building a backlinking plan and motivating ourselves to do one of the toughest things in SEO… backlink outreach. Building backlinks is hard, gruelling work that involves a lot of manual work, tons of research, a lot of time, and a lot of rejections. Is it any wonder that people want to set a benchmark by which they can say “I’m done! I built my links!”

So, I’m going to give you a number. Your target number of backlinks is… 11.

What the actual hell? Eleven ? Is that it?

Eleven links doesn’t sound like an awful lot does it? Surely you need a lot more? Well, there are three reasons that I’ve picked this number and I stand by all of them:

  1. Quality matters over quantity. I’m only asking you to find eleven links – make it eleven good ones
  2. If you have eleven links, you’re probably in the top seven percent of websites
  3. If you fall short by one, you’ve still got ten and that puts you above 92% of other websites

No way, sites must be getting more links than that?

Nope, it turns out not. Following a recent analysis of data for 1 billion pages in Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, a new report revealed that over 65% of web pages have no backlinks at all.

How can this be right? Well, the vast majority of websites don’t have an SEO consultant, or anyone who knows about SEO working on them. They don’t have anyone doing “outreach” and trying to build links. They’re sitting there, minding their own business, not bothering anyone and relying on other people to graciously and spontaneously link to them.

For you that’s not a problem – it’s an opportunity.

Eleven links is all you need.

Caveat

There is, of course, an exception to this rule (and, seriously, this is not an actual rule). The reason that there isn’t a fixed number of backlinks that’s right is because backlinks are only part of your overall SEO strategy and, rather than it being you vs. Google it’s actually you vs. your competitor.

If every other linking factor is equal, the quality and quantity of your links vs. those of your competitor could well be what it comes down to. So, if you’re looking to go up against Amazon, or Wikipedia, or Spotify… you may need more than eleven links.

But eleven would still be a start…

Google may rewrite your content to fix the web

If you’re serious about SEO, just doing what everyone is doing won’t cut it. You have to look ahead at what search engines might want or need tomorrow and try to get ahead of the curve.

Normally, I say the best way to do this is to think about users need but, sometimes, the way to do this is to think about the mistakes search engines have made and how they might try to fix them.

YouTube player

First, a quick history lesson on how Google created the link-economy

The vast majority of SEOs agree that backlinks have a big impact on how well your site performs in Google’s algorithm and where you appear in search results.

Google loves to play down the importance of links but the amount of guidance they provide, and the priority they give to link management tools like the disavow tool, tells a different story.

Today, the answer is simple: Links to your site affect your ranking. Good links improve ranking, bad links can damage ranking. Forget Bitcoin, links are the true currency on the web.

The unfortunate side effect this has had is to make links things people are reluctant to give. Theories about “link juice” (🤢) abound and SEO practitioners continue to frett about how much value they may be giving away with external links. This all leads, overall, to fewer links between sites and that’s a bad thing for the web.

How Hypertext was supposed to work

The original vision of hypertext (that’s what the HT in HTML stands for) was for documents where any term that might be unknown, confusing, or alien to the reader was linked to additional information. This idea was powerful and is the cornerstone of the web as we know it today. Hypertext was supposed to make reading more interactive and information more accessible but it can’t do this without links being freely given.

Just imagine how much better the Internet would be if every article you read freely linked to other supporting material, citations, and definitions and how much easier to would be spot things like fake news articles if they lacked all of these… because this was how it started out, before Google.

Google treating links as a form of online currency, a “vote” by one site in favour of another, was the secret to their algorithms early success in returning high-quality search results. It was ingenious because it leveraged the efforts of everyone writing for the web and creating links between sites at that time, turning their individual knowledge of where “the good stuff” was into a tradeable commodity for Google.

Even back then Google made its money off the back of other peoples’ effort. Nothing has changed for them… but for the rest of us, we now live in a world where most webmasters are more selective about who they’ll link to than Regina George from Mean Girls.

So, Google broke linking, so what?

Google still understand the importance of links in terms of establishing the value of content and in understanding it in context. As they push forward with their use of Featured Snippets, yanking content out of your website and displaying it on theirs, they may also have noticed that these out-of-context snippets need a little something to make they really useful. Featured Snippets need links.

But, of course, this is Google and nobody but nobody tells Google what links are going on its first page. So, don’t expect links that are in the text that Google scrapes from your site to survive the transformation into being a featured snippet. No, instead Google appears to be experimenting with rewriting your content with links they’ve chosen.

It was @brodieseo who brought this to my attention, capturing a well-timed video of one of Google’s experiments.

Better for the web, worse for web makers (again)

There’s an ongoing cognitive dissonance at Google that prioritises the wants and needs of people searching for information over what is good, or even acceptable, for people creating the information that Google has made a business out of indexing.

Quite simply, many people think that Google mistreats content creators. It takes their content, repackages it, reuses it, recycles it, and makes billions through wrapping adverts around it. It moves into sectors that already have good quality search tools and disrupts them with its own offerings, prioritised its own products its search results above competitors. It even rewrites the rules on technologies it doesn’t like, forcing technologies like AMP onto developers by prioritising sites that follow its rules over those that don’t.

How does Google get away with it? Google gets away with it because it has a colossal monopoly. There are more sites for any one useful topic than can fit on Google’s front page and so businesses of all sizes continue to follow Google’s rules and pay for its mistakes.

What might happen in the future?

Google love to experiment and do lots of things to search that are only ever seen by a few users and never truly see the light of day in the widely available version of the search.

But, they do seem very keen on Featured Snippets…

I think you have to see this change through the lens of the other controversial Google change that has rolled out recently, where Google automatically scroll the user to a relevant paragraph on your site and highlight it when you click a search result. Google are already changing the way that your site looks – is it such a huge jump to imagine that they will start to inject links into that page as well?

What should you do today?

It may sound like I’m starting a rallying cry here for blocking Google from indexing your site, but I’m not. This is about making sure that your site gets the traffic that it deserves. So, the advice is this: make more links. Link to definitions, link to citations, become a bigger part of the egalitarian web and stop listening to people with worrying prognostications about giving away your “link juice” (still 🤢) and start building your website in a way that really helps your users.

If you don’t, Google may just choose to fix this mistake for you.

Google Completes Migration of Disavow Tool to Search Console

Google continues to troll professional SEOs by bringing back the disavow tool, a tool they have repeatedly said that hardly anyone needs, whilst not completing the migration of the actually very useful request indexation tool. What are they up to this time?

If you’ve not encountered it before, the Google Disavow Tool allows webmasters to inform Google that they want it to ignore the effects, positive or negative, of an inbound link. Google maintain that only SEOs who have indulged in shady link building practices need to use it and, even then, only if they have had a “manual action” (Google speak for a ban) applied to their site.

When Google started work on the new Search Console, the disavow tool (along with a whole host of other things) was conspicuous by its absence. Google held the party line that the disavow tool wasn’t needed, that the algorithm was “really good” at understanding links, and that there was “no such things as negative SEO“. But… now they brought it back.

Like Jason Voorhies, it seems like no matter how Google they try to kill the disavow tool,
it just… keeps… coming… back.

If the Disavow Tool is back, should you use it?

The fact that Google has brought this tool back is going to put a lot of fuel into the tank of SEOs who obsess over checking link profiles and who believe in backlinking above all other techniques. It’s also going to give succour to those SEOs who play their trade picking on sites with messy link profiles and promising (but not necessarily delivering) big improvements through disavowing and cleaning up links.

It’s also, unfortunately, going to lead to lots of poor application of this tool and that’s dangerous.

Backlinks are a hugely important part of your SEO and whilst that might make you want to dive into this tool and start pruning your links like a manic gardener going at the autumn shrubbery, my advice is to hold off.

Unless you are absolutely positive that a link is damaging your SEO then you really don’t know what the impact of removing it is going to be. The time spent trawling through your list of links and looking for potential suspects would be better spent making new links or creating new linkable content.

In the meantime if you want to watch some SEOs get really snarky with Google because the “Request Indexing” tool still hasn’t been migrated, you can check out this article on Search Engine Journal: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-disavow-tool-migration-completed/387874/amp/

Outbound Links

Google likes sites that take part in the “egalitarian web”, so don’t fear linking to other useful sites and don’t listen to scare-mongers who will tell you that you’re “leaking link juice”.

While we are on the topic, “link juice” has to be one of the worst metaphors in the history of the web. I’d rather it were “Tiger Tokens” or anything else that didn’t sound like it would ruin your best shirt if you got it on you.

Don’t be afraid to link out to other sites that complement yours or would be relevant to your readers/visitors. Nobody in their right mind is going to link to a direct competitor, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t provide some useful and informative links to other sites.

What about Cost per Click Ads?

Aren’t adverts the ultimate paid for link? You wouldn’t be 100% wrong there…

Remember what we learnt in Chapter 1 – the only guaranteed way to have the #1 result on the front page of Google is to pay Google. Same goes for Bing, Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo, and any other search engine you care to mention.

Google, through its search engine at least, only sells two things:

  1. To consumers, it sells answers to questions.
  2. To businesses, it sells the opportunity to be the answer to a question.

Paying for adverts will increase your traffic. End of story. 

Paying for adverts does not, contrary to many a good conspiracy theory, improve your SEO.

Good SEO does reduce the cost of your adverts however, thanks to a little something called The Quality Score.

“Quality score is an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords and landing pages. Higher quality ads can lead to lower prices and better ad positions.”

https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/140351?hl=en-GB

That’s as direct from the virtual horse’s mouth as it gets and the key thing to spot there is that it’s not just how good your advert is, but how good your landing page is.

In short, the more relevant your page is to the keyword you are advertising for, the better your quality score will be. 

If you want to know definitively, on a scale of 0-10, how relevant Google thinks your page is to a particular keyword then Quality Score is about as close as you are going to get.

Keep in mind that Quality Score is also affected by how good your advert is – you’re not getting completely behind the wizard’s curtain here. You can at least see the curtain though, and that’s a start.

Is that it? You’re not going to tell me any more about CPC?

Afraid so – this is a book about SEO and the one thing I promised you in Chapter 1 was that everything I suggest in this book would be completely free for you to do. You’ve got to invest some work, some blood-sweat-and-tears time, but not one penny (or cent) down.

Tip: You can even use most of Google Ads for free – sign up but don’t put any money down. You’ll be amazed at how much data you can still access.

One more thing – you can actually get a backlink from Google…

If you search for a business by name, Google will try to “surface” (posh word “show”) a “Google My Business” entry in the sidebar of the search results.

Whilst this isn’t a backlink in the normal sense of the word, it’s a really important thing to make sure you’re in control of and have optimised – if you are a “real world” business then your Google My Business entry is going to be seen by anyone who searches for your business before they see your website. 

Reviews are particularly important here. You could have a website full of great customer testimonials but if your Google My Business rating is poor then you can expect that to have a big impact on the number of click-throughs you will see from search.

Not taking control of your Google My Business listing is like letting some random person put the signs on the outside of your building, design and distribute business cards and fliers you’ve never seen, and then dress your shop window.

It’s not Google’s job to give you the best listing they can – it’s their job to give the most accurate listing they can with the data they have.

Social Media and Backlinks

It’s one of the big questions that gets the SEO conspiracy theorists running for their post-it notes and balls of string… do search engines index social media?

If the social network in question is Twitter, the answer is a definitive “yes”. Back in 2015 Google and Twitter inked a deal that gave Google access to Twitter’s data and Google began embedding Tweets into the search engine results page when dealing with “trending” topics.

If you want to see this in action, just search Google for “What is trending right now?” and you’ll see Twitter results at the top of the search engine page.

Today’s “trending topic” is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper though (or something like that), so it’s doubtful that appearing in this part of the SERP does anything long term for your SEO.

What it will do, if you strike gold and find your tweet on the front page of Google is generate traffic. We talk so much in the SEO world about link building to improve SEO we sometimes forget that people can actually click your backlinks. They’re not just for search engines and, for me, that sums up what social media is all about.

Social media is a firework

There’s an adage that circulates on the web…

“The internet is forever”

And, unless you can convince everyone everywhere to delete your data, that’s true.

Print and be damned? Forget it. Tweet and be damned for all eternity…

But, although all of that data is there in the vast and unlimited memory of the internet, the reality is that your social media posts have a shorter half-life than an unstable radioactive isotope.

A typical tweet, without retweets, will stop being seen after 18 minutes. With 10 retweets, you might last nearly 24. 

That’s why I say that social media is like a firework – you need to get a big bang for people to remember it past the next thing they see.

So, what’s the point?

Background radiation

There’s no doubt that brands with good social media followings gain more traffic online and sell more. Whilst your tweet, Instagram picture, or Facebook post may only have a short lifespan in the digital feed that a customer sees, it has a much longer lifespan in their memory.

I like to think of this as a kind of “background radiation” – constantly reinforcing your brand’s identity with customers make it more likely that they will engage when you present a piece of content that is relevant to them at a time that it is relevant.

You can’t just send out one tweet and expect the dollars to come rolling in. 

I’ve had my own short stints in the past where I’ve walked away from social media however and know from my own experience that when you do this, that background radiation fades away. Contacts get harder to make, meetings get harder to land, pitches feel colder.

“Brand Awareness” may sound like a perfectly immeasurable, ephemeral, ethereal piece of marketing guff, a piece of “ghostware” for the snake oil salesman and charlatans to sell you but… it’s real.

Social media impact can be hard to measure, even with the best tools to attribute sales to social engagement weeks or even months after the “first touch” on social. 

I prefer to measure in terms of the amount of serendipity I am experiencing in any one period, and this undoubtedly increases when I am active on social media.

Never pull the plug on your social media.

It’s not all about me (or you)

It’s very easy to get stuck in a pattern of “broadcasting” on social media, rather than creating conversations and connections.

As a rule of thumb, you should comment on or share five things from other people for every one thing of your own that you share.

Some of my most successful pieces of social content have been responses to other people’s posts. So, answer questions, offer your opinion, and above all be helpful.

The same rules of content apply – make it useful, make it unique, retain your authentic tone of voice. Just don’t be “that guy” (or girl) at the party who only talks about themselves all night.

Write Once, Publish Often

It should go without saying at this point that once you’ve created a great piece of content, you should share it on as many relevant social media channels as possible.

What makes a network relevant? I don’t believe in ignoring a particular network because you think it’s demographic might not be right for your product, but you should tailor the content to the network that you are sharing it to.

For example:

  1. Facebook users tend to like funny, inspirational, or “soft” content.
  2. LinkedIn users tend to like more serious content and the opportunity to offer their opinion.
  3. Instagram, being picture driven, requires little text but a powerful visual.

There’s no reason to think that the Facebook user, Instagram user, and LinkedIn user are not all the same person in this example; but they are operating in a different “mode” when they are on each network and the more you can tailor the content to that network the better your chances of creating engagement.

This doesn’t necessarily mean changing the content, just the way you share it.

For example, for a new product launch:

  1. On Facebook post pictures of the team celebrating the launch of the new product – tag those who are on Facebook and show your customers (and competitors) what a great team and business you have.
  2. On LinkedIn publish more details on the product and what you think it is going to do for your business, the industry at large, etc. Reach out to influencers (more on that later) and industry experts to try to get their opinion
  3. On Instagram post product shots and try to get customers to share pictures of them using the product with you

“Content is fire, social media is gasoline.”

Jay Baer

On the topic of sharing, there’s also nothing wrong with publishing content more than once.

“What?” I hear you cry (well, I don’t but…) “What about duplication. You told us about a hundred times that duplication is bad!”

And, yes, this is true. If you post the exact same content to multiple websites you’re going to devalue your content and create duplication issues for yourself. 

However…

Most social networks are “walled gardens” – you have to have a login to see some (or any) any of the content and, as we’ve already established, the lifespan of a “share” is brief.

The people leading the field in “social selling” have a back catalogue of content and they frequently repost older content either with a new “hook” – relating it to current events, a piece of business news, or in response to a question they have been asked – or just as a “you may not have seen this” or “here’s one of our most popular videos”.

Most social networks algorithms don’t appear to have a massive issue with reposted content if it generates engagement.

So, don’t worry too much if you mistime the posting of your next video. You can try again in a few days at a different time.

The Ultimate Backlink: The Returning Customer

Before we leave backlinks behind, I’d like to circle back around and revisit what an organic link really is – it’s a vote of confidence.

Of all the people on the internet (and there are quite a few of them) the ones you should want a backlink from more than any others are your customers.

It’s a well-established fact that it’s cheaper to retain an existing customer and get repeat business from them than to acquire a new customer. The ratio you’ll see quoted a lot online is that it’s five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to sell to an existing one.

So, whilst most of this book has been about using SEO techniques to increase your business, find new customers, and make new sales – never forget the customers that you have.

  • Create new content for them; answer their questions and address their issues.
  • Engage with them on social media and share their content.
  • Share more useful content with them via email lists.
  • Take their feedback on your website and implement changes that will benefit them.

Bill Gates once said…

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”

and if you ever used Windows Vista or Windows 8, you’ll see how Bill Gates got so smart.