UPDATE 2019 – the article below was originally posted in 2013, and a lot of terminology and practices, particularly in SEO (do we even talk about PageRank any more? Remember those PR toolbars? Remember toolbars!?!), have moved on apace since then, but the general principles still hold true today…
A lot of the time, when discussing SEO, we talk about avoiding “unnatural” practices. We tend to really focus on not doing anything out of the ordinary to try to influence the search engines.
This is because any unnatural activity is likely to be outside of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and, as a result, is likely to wind up with your website receiving a penalty in the medium to long term, when Google has come up with an algorithm for systematically working out what tactics you have been employing!
Google uses a ranking system, known as PageRank to measure the “weight” or importance of websites, which can be improved in many ways (including, but not limited to, having more high quality websites linking to a domain). However, fishing for links, or buying links, are unnatural processes, so in this brief blog post, I’m going to describe some “safe” ways to gain links, and, consequently, PageRank.
Things to Avoid
First up (and this is mostly reiteration from other things I’ve written in the past!), some things you should avoid doing, because they are obvious to search engines:
- AVOID Reciprocal Linking – reciprocal links are links in return for links. Google can easily spot if you only link to websites which link back. Google will not count these links when weighing the importance of your website, and too many reciprocal links (i.e. ONLY reciprocal links) can be a clear sign of a spammy domain, which is likely to be penalised. Try to avoid link-for-link relationships especially if they come from cold emails and calls!
- AVOID Buying Links – buying and selling links is specifically against Google’s webmaster guidelines. Do so at your peril. It may work in the short term, but once Google identifies websites which are buying or selling text or other links (which are capable of passing PageRank – i.e. links which are “dofollow” – more on this in other articles!), it is likely you will be punished. Paying for inclusion in “dofollow” directories is grey, but I would avoid.
- AVOID link directories and link farms – avoid anything designed to get backlinks like the plague. Google will discover these link networks (this includes almost any three way link scheme, too!) and you’ll eventually find you are languishing in page 99 of search results, which is the opposite of the aim of the game!
- AVOID any SEO who emails you cold – think about it, these people are collecting thousands of email addresses and hammering out messages to all of them. If they were brilliant at SEO, you’d be finding them, not the other way around! Even Google gets these emails. Just hit delete and go on with your day.
Safe Ways to Build PageRank
So we’ve got a few of the most obvious mistakes you might make covered, but what can be done to increase your website’s PageRank, and, consequently, improve the search engine ranking your website achieves?
- ASK businesses you deal with for a link – in person, on the phone, and in your business communications There is no harm in asking. Just don’t promise them a link in return. This is particularly effective with complementary businesses (i.e. firms you don’t compete with!).
- ADD your website to a number of free, high quality, business directories. Each time, make sure to add unique descriptions and titles for maximum effect (Google HATES duplicate content, and will filter it out where it finds it).
- CREATE and MAINTAIN social media profiles which contains links back to your website. ENCOURAGE your customers to connect. Social Media following is a growing metric in search engine results. PLUS, Google delivers things people follow higher in their logged in search engine results than other results – great for customer retention.
- WRITE LINKBAIT – what’s that? Linkbait? Yes, write pages of content which are likely to be useful to others, in the hope that other websites will link to the resource you have created. The internet is made of content and links, so, in order to get links pointing at you, you need to first create content worthy of linking to! Easier said than done, but get your thinking cap out: what value can you add to the web?
- SOCIAL SHARING – your content might be worth linking to, but nobody will do this if they cannot discover it! Give your pages the best possible chance by “pushing” them using social sharing tools (Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Stumbleupon, etc). Don’t share EVERYTHING, just the things you think have the potential to become popular, like that infographic you just posted(!).
- CREATE AN EXCELLENT WEBSITE – better looking websites hold visitors’ attention for longer (a metric in search rankings), load quickly (a metric in search rankings), and are easy to navigate, meaning more pages are loaded by your web visitors (a metric in search rankings). Silicon Dales are able to help you create a stylish, speedy, focused website which is easy to navigate. Good websites get more links. More links = higher PageRank.
- BE CLEAR ABOUT WHO YOU ARE – many many websites hide their contact information, and don’t tell their readers, clients and customers who they are. There is some kind of fear of exposure. Trust is important, though. Most webmasters will only link to websites they trust, which means putting your real name, your real address, and your real telephone number up onto your website. Customers are more likely to buy from people they trust, too.
Golden Rules of SEO
These rules, while from another era, when PageRank was more of a thing, still apply today. Golden rules are:
- Do: Build genuine relationships – with your customers, colleagues, related and un-related businesses
- Don’tL Try to game Google.