Last month, I talked about The Seven C’s of Content Quality, as a way of helping you develop higher quality content. Why is this important? Because the Google Panda algorithm rewards quality content above any other on-page signal, and the Seven C’s serve as a proxy for Panda’s content quality algorithm. Still, on-page factors are less important to Google ranking than links and social signals—how Google determines the relative importance and context of the page to other experiences on the web. That’s what we’ll cover today.
The good news is linking appears to be every bit as important as it has ever been. Also, if you start with high-quality, shareable content, you will have an easier time garnering links to it. The bad new is that Google Penguin builds negative ranking factors into the algorithm that punish apparent link building efforts. Prior to Penguin, the Google Spam Squad, led by its fearless leader Matt Cutts, would do manual intervention if it detected black-hat link tactics. Now, it is all algorithmic. Whether you are trying to game the system or not, you are subject to these penalties if you merely appear to be engaging in link buying or swapping. And it’s just not worth the risk. So my advice on building links focuses only on what Penguin will not punish you for:
1. Internal Links
In the days before Penguin, we used to discredit links between pages within the same domain. Sure, they might help Google crawl and index your site, but the conventional wisdom was they didn’t pass much link juice—that mythical substance that results in actual ranking benefits. Recently, I’ve discovered that internal links actually can pass considerable link juice, as long as the authority of your domain is high and the referring source is tightly relevant to the page to which it is pointing.
Domain authority: Post Penguin, whether a link is worth much is based more upon the domain authority of the source than other factors. According to SEOmoz, ibm.com has a domain authority of 100 on a scale of 1 to 100. So internal links within the ibm.com domain actually carry a fair quantity of link juice. Your mileage may vary (ibm.com has millions of ranking pages in Google). But if you have a strong site, internal links can help.
Relevance: Before you rush off and create links from every page in your domain to every other page in your domain, a loud note of caution. This will look like gaming the system. The key is to create relevant links. With each internal link you build, ask yourself if your target audience will want to click it. If the answer is, “probably not,” don’t bother. You still are designing your experiences for your users first. But in the age of Penguin, high-quality, relevant internal links can help with ranking.
2. Blogger Outreach
Prior to blogs, the primary way to build external links was to work with media relations to get links and descriptions into press releases, where you hope some editor will pick them up and publish them on his site. That almost never happens. If your PR system publishes the releases to syndicators such as PR Newswire, that is an external link. But it is of questionable value. It’s still worth making sure those links and related anchor text are highly relevant to the link source. But there’s a better way.
When I look into IBM’s search tooling to find good linking opportunities, blogs dominate the listings. Again, it’s all about domain authority. For a large swath of the keyword landscape, the best and brightest bloggers have a lot of domain authority. The reason is simple: They are recognized experts in a fairly narrow field and they update their content regularly. Google Caffeine—another of Google’s more recent algorithm changes—places a lot of importance on content freshness. Because the content is typically high quality by Panda’s standards, the best blogs tend to rank well. And their external links into these blogs typically satisfy Penguin. This is why blogs tend to have high domain authority.
Still, you probably need media relations to reach out to bloggers, and getting them to link to your pages in this fashion can be tricky. Again, there’s a better way. If their content is relevant to what you offer, chances are there are SMEs within your company who already are connected to these bloggers through legitimate social channels. Perhaps one of your SMEs follows and is followed by the blogger you want to target. Perhaps they comment on each others’ blogs. Obviously, SMEs with ties to external experts take on new importance to your link building efforts. Build a database of these SMEs and regularly reach out to them on all your great content efforts. It will pay dividends in blogger outreach.
If your SMEs are not as active in social circles as their credibility might suggest, it is worth helping them transition from the traditional journal publishing model to digital. At IBM, we run residencies in which our top SMEs come together for blogging and social media training. At the end of the residencies, they go back to their desks with new connections and resources to help them blog, tweet, share and post. A key resource we give them is a database of relevant links to pages within our environment, which they can embed in their social efforts where appropriate.
3. Social Sharing
Before such social applications such as Facebook, the only way to promote a source of information on the web was to link to it from your website. This is why links are so important to Google. But as linking is being supplemented by social sharing and ratings, which Google is now using to help it rank pages. The trend is expected to continue to the point where social signals will become as important as linking in Google’s algorithm.
Considering the emerging importance of social signals, it is imperative that you enable users to share and like your content. Of course, they’re not going to share a bunch of hype about your products. They will only share quality content that has value outside of your pages. So before you start slapping share and like and +1 buttons all over your pages, make sure you have a content strategy that supports quality, fresh, shareable content. One easy way to do this is to find a way to curate your SME’s content in areas on your site. If you have content like this on your site, it’s a no-brainer to build social sharing and rating buttons into your page designs. These will result in lots of natural links into your pages, not just on the sites that enable sharing, but on sites that scrape social media for relevant links.