Huge, Amazing Changes at SEOmoz: A Documentary of My Success

Posted by Aaron Wheeler

My name is Aaron Wheeler and, up until a couple of weeks ago, I was the manager of the Help Team here at SEOmoz. Rand's been out of the office at conferences and I've decided it's time to make my move. I've been waiting for this moment for 2 years now, sitting idly by, watching SEOmoz use a bunch of robots to tell us about websites and links and the internets. Robots! Robots don't have brains or morals! How could they possibly find links? Build reports? I played the Portals. I know what happens when you let robots run things.

Needless to say, I've decided to make a few changes since Rand's been gone. Let's get these engineers off their robot-loving keisters and out into the world, finding links. Let's stop pretending a bunch of magical "computers" can somehow "build" you a report (they think they're human!). As part of my takeover, I've hired a personal, top-tier videographer, Nick Sayers, to document all of the amazing things I'm doing here. Watch and bask in the glory of the new SEOmoz!

Hope you enjoyed that! Let me know what you think about my new strategies in the comments below.

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The New On-Page Optimization – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by JoannaLord

In this week's Whiteboard Friday, we are covering some advanced techniques that you can use to optimize your landing pages. The typical web user has evolved and it's important for web marketers to evolve with them. By taking a look at how the web has changed we can make more informed decisions on how to optimize our pages and maximize their impact.

Please enjoy and don't forget to leave your comments below. Happy Friday Everyone!


Video Transcription

The transcription for this video isn't quite ready yet. We'll have it up soon though!

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Building Awesome Relationships For Links, Likes, and Love

Posted by Fryed7

Link building isn't really link building. It's relationship building. Links are just the proof of the relationship, as are the tweets, likes, sales… relationship building is link building. Your social graph is your linkerati.

Tom Critchlow encapsulates this with one of these Distilled Pro Tips:

Here's a few tactics and strategies to build and leverage relationships that lead to links, likes, sales and more. Outreach is for tomorrow. Relationships are for life. Let's go!

First, Work Out Why You Do What You Do

The single most important concept in SEO, marketing, business and life can be summed up with Simon Sinek's talk here. His theory of 'The Golden Circle' is central to everything you and I do, and yet is remarkably simple to understand.

Watch the following TED talk, if not now then today at lunch…. (I promise, it's worth it!)

Read more at Start With Why.

Everyone knows what they do. Some people know how they do it, whether that be a unique selling point, proprietary process or secret tactic. But very few people know why they do what they do. Very few people know why they get out of bed in the morning (it's not to make money or profit: that's a result). People who know why they do what they do prove their belief in what they do.

  • Rand and the folks at SEOmoz believe in making the internet, and internet marketing better. They firmly believe this is possible by advocating inbound marketing. They so happen to make and promote SEOmoz PRO software
  • Apple was built around the idea of challenging the status quo. They do this by creating products that are beautifully designed, easy-to-use and user friendly. They so happen to make computers.
  • 37signals believe in simplicity. They do this by creating software that anyone can use and understand "out of the box". They so happen to make productivity software.

What do you believe in?

It's incredibly frustrating working with people, doing SEO or anything, who don't know why they do what they do. It's also incredibly frustrating working with link prospects who don't know what they do!

This is your big action point before you move forward. Find your why. Use your why to identify other people and organisations who share your why. Find people who share your beliefs, and if you clearly understand your why, you don't necessarily need Followerwonk, Buzzstream or any of these link prospecting tools to find people who share your belief. Connect with people who share your why, who share your mission.

You need a reason to get in touch that isn't totally selfish ("gimme a link" just doesn't cut it). Find something they believe in and orchestrate a message, event or project around that. An interview for a blog post or guide, product review or maybe just some advice on a project? Of course, you could get your in by pointing out broken links to a webmaster. Ask yourself, if they knew what you were doing and knew you didn't reach out to them, would they be upset?

So, how to get in touch with these people…?

First Touch Contact Methods That Work A Charm

First touch methods

Your first touch needn't be as weird as this…

First touch methods should never interrupt or inconvenience your prospect, so I'd avoid cold calling (no matter how successful folks say it is, it ain't long haul!). Don't pin your prospects to the spot when you barely know them. Become respected by respecting your link prospects. Remember, you're building the relationship now. The links all come later :)

So…

Don't use email. Not for your first touch. Your inbox is bomb-proof fortress, as is your link prospects. Email from relatively unknown senders is just as bad as anonymous email (why should they care?). With email, it's too easy to be lazy and become less authentic.

As Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, it's as if we're all 19-year old dudes in a bar. We try to close on the first encounter. Don't. You've got to put a ring on it. You've got to get in the long haul game. Get their respect as well as their attention.

That was an extract from Gary Vee's Q&A at Inc500 Seminar 2011. You should *totally* watch the full thing here :)

Of course, events are a great way to acceptably meet your link prospects, without appearing as an unknown contact. To casually introduce oneself over a drink is not just acceptable, but welcomed. Of course, this is even better is to have already had your first touch.

In the SEO world, attending events like LinkLove London has been incredible for building relationships. It's not too often you get to casually talk SEO with a guy like Wil Reynolds (and all the speakers really loosen up at the after parties! :D). But that's where relationships were formed…

LinkLove 2011 was in March. September 1st 2011, the Distilled Linkbait Guide went live and I called back upon those relationships to help get the word out. That's the not-so-amazing secret to getting links from places like Seth Godin's blog!

Pssst! If you're coming to LinkLove London and want to build deep and meaningful relationships with dozens of other smart SEOs showing up there (seriously, that's half the reason for going) then do what I do and try hovering around the registration desk where Distilled SEOs tend to gravitate to, and the nearest door to the main congress hall where speakers tend to stand between sessions. The Distilled guys will really thank me for that… :p

Oh, and at the after party, just make sure you're the first guy to get a drink into the hands of whoever you want to talk to, and you're away. You really can get one-on-one time with a speaker… you just have to be the one in front of them. See you there! ;)

There are plenty of opportunities where people are reaching out publicly for a response; there's a goldmine of relationship building opportunities at search.twitter.com. (You've read the awesome diet coke story on SEOmoz? And the response?) As a link building professional, you need to get as familiar with Twitter advanced search as you are with Google advanced search. There's a goldmine of relationship building opportunities on Twitter, and you don't have to be huge to make it work. Anyone can do this!

Alternatively, you can try an "inside job". Scour your Facebook friends, LinkedIn Contacts and Twitter followers for useful names and organizations to be introduced to. Names that share the same beliefs you do, then politely ask for the brief introduction. Again, make sure you have a reason, be it an interview, business deal or some way you can help them out.

When was the last time you checked where all your Facebook friends worked (oh, and your non-facebook "real life" friends too)…? I discovered a cousin of mine had ended up at Google. Through various Facebook messages, phone calls and emails I managed to fix a lunch in their London Victoria office with the Head of University Programmes there. Eating deliciously seasoned steak and ice cream whilst talking with folks at Google.

As an SEO, you're conditioned to spotting all sorts of link building opportunities… now you need focus yourself on relationship building opportunities. Think long haul :)

You can do this!

But if you really are out of ideas to get a 'strangers' attention…

…like, if I put a gun to your head and asked you if you had ANY other way of contacting this person…

Then try some of these tricks….

Invariably, you've got to initiate the conversation and the relationship. And for that you've got to send something physical.

Send a box. Yes, a box. A package in the mail. Spend your link building budget with FedEx. You can ignore emails… You can hang up the phone… You can shred letters… But it's really, really hard to ignore a box. People simply can't ignore a mysterious package marked "express delivery" sitting on their desk. *ooooh* shiny package!

So long as they don't think it's a bomb (!!), it's brilliantly effective for getting positive attention. Put something in the box that proves your belief, and don't ever be afraid to go bold with your budget here. You're making friends for life, remember? I tested this with Distilled last year, by shipping a 3D-printed model of their logo with messages in the package. Here's a (bad!) picture of it still in production…

Distilled 3D logo

This was produced via a 3D-printer before the final lacquer was added.

The great thing with couriering goods is you know whether or not they've received it (tracked delivery for the win!). The big bonus of a box is you get the *WOW!* effect. Naturally, surrounding people will come and have a look for themselves. Suddenly, you've sparked a conversation which will only lead to them reading your message with that degree of fascination.

Letters I've found to be less effective, since they can quite literally be mistaken for spam and you don't get the "WOW! Gather Round!" factor of a box. You'll have to make your letter stand out such that it doesn't look like a commercial too.

Take a leaf out of direct marketers books and try handwriting your addresses rather than mass-mailing, mass-printed stickers. Try varying the size, colour and shape of your envelopes. And please try my personal favourite – origami envelopes – just make sure you print onto good thick paper!

Don't mislead your prospects. "Traditional" outreach etiquette that Mike King talks about here still applies. Make sure you indulge in sharing your beliefs – prove your why – and show some enthusiasm for what you do. And since you share something in common, talk about something related, but off-topic to what you're mentioning.

Heck, you're an SEO consultant so maybe something to help them out with their marketing. That's a really easy win to show you care about them, what they do and are kind and human enough to offer help. You care about them, remember?

And of course, always make sure you personalise each method of outreach and give a very, very clear call-to-action with ideally just a yes/no decision needed from them. Something like "if you're interested in meeting on 1st April at 9am at The Epic Sandwich Shop, drop me an email at … or call me at …". Do the thinking for them, and people love it.

Next, use these relationship building tools.

Once you've established a relationship with someone, its kinda rude to use form letters. You don't form letter your mum, so don't form letter your link prospects. We live in a world where authenticity rules. It cuts through the noise and clutter. Caring about people and relationships really does build links! So throw out your f-ing form letters and start writing some real messages and building a real relationship.

Nothing… nothing beats a real face-to-face meeting. Meet someone for lunch or a coffee. They'll relax and you'll be able to have a casual conversation about whatever. Don't call it a meeting if you don't have to.

Why not ask if you can spend some time in their offices or with them actually working? Ask to help them out some day… you share the same beliefs and mission, and you have the rest of your working life to seal these kinds of relationships, don't you? Besides, it's fun!

Go out of the way for your new friends. My favourite link building tools aren't Google Docs or Buzzstream, but train tickets and a telephone. I travel the length of the country, and these days you can still get work done whilst travelling (gotta love midday off-peak first class fares!). Yes, this can be practical too!

Link building with trains

This is how I build links (and yes, those trains are supposed to tilt!).

For busier people, this may be difficult, but assuming you've identified people who share your why and your beliefs, the only resistance should be the logistics of where and when. If you run out of options, there are always relevant industry events to take people to.

Even better, if you've got many link prospects in one location, then run an event and meet them face to face. Spend budget on hosting an awesome party, and your link prospects will never, ever forget you. I think this was one of Tom Critchlow's tips again, but for $5k (about the budget of a decent infographic project?) you could put on a really, *really* awesome party!!

Keep in touch. Write (short!) emails now and again. Banter over Twitter. Share interesting links. Keep people in mind, like you do your friends.

Writing for Likes is Writing for Links

Remember, your social graph is your linkerati. Keep them happy by writing content they'll read and love sharing over time. Don't count on them "just reading it" either… ask them what they thought. Solicit comments from them. Get them involved, in a follow-up or response post or something. How can you provoke regular, positive responses?

The big point to building relationships is the benefits over time. You're not just shooting for one link like you might in your previously outreach emails, but hundreds over several years to the day you retire… and invitations to countless events. And sales. And referrals, Christmas cards, bottles of wine… you're not changing the status of a contact in a spreadsheet – you're making genuine friends!

Seth Godin sums it up…

Would your link prospects be happy putting you up for a night? And vice versa?

One of my favourite ways to create intrinsically social pages is to create pages about individual people. It's egobait, and it works. Write detailed, flattering content about people and they'll pick it up and be over the moon. They'll share it, their social graph will see it and share it and you'll begin to build momentum.

Pssst… you don't have to target the page around a person. You can still target it around a keyword, but make it about a person. Case studies like "How Barry Learnt Ruby in 4 Weeks" work well! You gain the social shares as well as the keyword focused page. Double-win :)

It's slightly more difficult to do with brands, since few brands are treated like people. Make pages about individuals. If you're targeting a bigger brand, then pick a big name from that brand. You don't know how a brand might react (there may be protocols to control tweeting etc.) but a person is much more likely to react in the way you want. It's easier to flatter a human than a brand.

Comb through your keyword lists and work out how you can make a page about a person. This can work with product pages, case studies, blog posts, landing pages, sales pages… pretty much anything :)

"Hmmmm… I'm Not Convinced…"

Maybe you can't be bothered to commit to such long term results. Maybe you've got to deliver by tomorrow to get your next paycheck, or renew your SEO contract or win budget or whatever…?

Or maybe it just sounds too much like hard work…?

Maybe, just maybe you're one of those guys who still uses comment spam, article spinning and other grey or "black hat" tactics day to day that make Rand sad. And maybe they even work! That's kinda cool, right? Covertly breaking the system?

I'll tell you what's cool. Being undisputed king of a SERP for years and years to come. Links are just one part of the signal, the signal of a relationship and approval. Google's algorithm is changing and Google's algorithm is all around us. Making friends is such a central part of what we SEOs do (and arguably, the most fun part!), but we don't pay nearly enough attention to it.

You're In It For The Long-Haul, Aren't You?

You've got to have the relationships around you that will last for years and years on end. The internet is still incredibly young (Google's just hitting puberty). And don't worry… you've got plenty of money to do this, because your marketing budget stretches for many years to come, as will your future relationships.

How long is your endgame? You've got to start thinking how you can build a system that build links. If you want to dominate in 5, 10, 20 years time then you need to set out the signals now.

You've got to start thinking long haul. If you're not "in bed", so to speak, with all folks in your industry, someone else is going to take your cake and eat it. You know your industry, so imagine your fiercest competitors cosying up with key industry figures over some joint venture, collaborative linkbait or something else.

Google+, Pinterest, Twitter…

The rise of all these social networks isn't the point. The point is you can now connect easier with these tools to people who share your why and your beliefs. You can build and maintain these incredible relationships that will make you win in the long run. Aim for where the game is going to be, not where the game is now.

This is how I build links, get jobs and make sales. These tactics and strategies will only become more effective over time, not less. Use them to chase your dream links…

…then let me know how it goes in the comments. :)

Thanks for reading!

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Uncrawled 301s – A Quick Fix for When Relaunches Go Too Well

Posted by Everett Sizemore

A lot of things can go wrong when you change most of the URLs on a website with thousands or millions of pages. But this is the story of how something went a little too "right", and how it was fixed by doing something a little bit "wrong".

The Relaunch Timeline

On February, 28 2012 FreeShipping.org relaunched with a new design and updated site architecture.The site's management and developers were well-versed in on-site SEO issues and handled the relaunch in what many SEOs might consider "textbook" fashion. This included simultaneous 301 redirects from all previous URLs to their specific counterparts using the new URL structure. All internal links were updated immediately, as were the sitemap files, rel canonical tags and all other markup.

They had expected some lag-time and a temporary loss in rankings, but traffic had started a dramatic decline immediately after the relaunch, and a week later it was still falling.

On March, 7 FreeShipping.org contacted seOverflow to make sure they had done the redirects properly. Everything seemed to check out. A scan of the site revealed only a few 404 errors from internal links, those being relegated to a few outlying blog entries. All of the old URLs were serving a 301 response code to the new URLs, which returned a 200 response code. The XML sitemap was using the new URLs, as was all internal navigation, rel canonical tags and other on-site links. By all indications, the developers had implemented a major site redevelopment flawlessly…

Too flawlessly. A site:domain.com search revealed that many of the old URLs were still indexed alongside the new ones, and had not been re-cached since the relaunch of the site a week earlier. Log files revealed that Google had not been back to visit most of the old URLs. They had no link path available to reach most of them, so any page with a preivous version that had not been recraweled yet (i.e. any page without prominent external links) was seen as a duplicate.

Knowing how fast and accurate their developers are, I proposed they turn the old linking structure back on for awhile so the internal links on categry pages would send crawlers through the redirects first. This ensures they see the 301 status code and can update the index accordingly, rather than assuming that the old page is still active along-side the new page for weeks or months. This is slightly different than what I used to prescribe, which involved resubmitting an old sitemap (more on that later). It is important to note that only the navigation links changed back – all other markup still reflected the new URLs. Changing the rel canonical, Open Graph or Schema, for instance, would not be recommended. All they needed was an easy crawl path to the now-redirected URLs.

On March, 8  about half way through the day they flipped the switch to turn on the old internal link URLs and traffic from search more than doubled on the same day. They maintained a steady climb until traffic from search stabilized above pre-relaunch levels.

On March 12 the new internal links were again changed over to the new URLs and traffic from search has remained at or above pre-relaunch levels.

Google Analytics Timeline for Redirects

Rethinking Overthinking Sitewide Redirect Best Practices

I'd seen this situation before and had always advised resubmiting the old XML sitemap to ensure the legacy URLs got recrawled faster than the weeks or months it could take search engines to revisit a page without a link from somewhere. But recent statements from Bing caused me to think twice about that recommendation. And this great post by John Doherty had me wondering the same about submitting a "dirty" sitemap to Google.

What Bing Says…
"Only end state URL. That's the only thing I want in a sitemap.xml. We have a very tight threshold on how clean your sitemap needs to be…  if you start showing me 301s in here, rel=canonicals, 404 errors, all of that, I'm going to start distrusting your sitemap and I'm just not going to bother with it anymore… It's very important that people take that seriously." - Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager, Bing Webmaster Tools

“Your Sitemaps need to be clean. We have a 1% allowance for dirt in a Sitemap. Examples of dirt are if we click on a URL and we see a redirect… If we see more than a 1% level of dirt, we begin losing trust in the Sitemap”.Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager, Bing Webmaster Tools

In preparation for this post I asked for some clarification. I'm not sure how "clear" this makes it, as the seriousness of the statements above seem to be at odds with the following advice:

Duane Forrester on Redirects in XML Sitemaps

What I Took Away From All of This…

#1 Despite what I've heard during several interviews and straight from him at conferences, it seems like Bing will let you get away with more than 1% of "dirt" on your sitemap, at least if it isn't an ongoing thing. Sometimes I get the feeling Duane Forrester makes some stuff up as he goes along, which is fine. Sometimes it is better to be decisive and give an actionable answer than to hedge your bets by talking on and on without actually saying anything (*Ahem).

#2 As long as your old URLs redirect to the new ones it is OK, perhaps even preferable, to leave the old internal links up for awhile. Best Practices for redirects has always been to update all of the links you have control over. This is for several reasons. First, it helps you avoid multiple redirect hops if/when it comes time to change all of the URLs again. It is also good htaccess housekeeping since old redirect rules can often get broken without being noticed during the QA process. Last but not least, according to Matt Cutts a 301 redirect does not pass 100% of pagerank on to the destination page. However, losing out on a tiny percentage of inherited pagerank for a few days and having a good excuse to procrastinate on housekeeping is better than having your traffic drop off a cliff for weeks or months at a time.

#3 The old adage about "Knowing enough to get yourself into trouble" is as true as ever.

#4 Leaving the old links up for a few days seems to work equally as well across major search engines. The Google Analytics screenshot above shows traffic from all search engines, but looking at just Yahoo, Bing or Google individually tells pretty much the same story.

#5 You can do it either way. Since every site is different it is good to have more than one option. One could stick with the XML sitemap resubmission to each of their webmaster tools accounts as a best practice, and that "should" work just fine. Given the results of this case study I'm going to recommend that most clients leave up the old internal links (especially nav and category links) for about one week after re-launching a website with new URLs on the same domain (a new domain is slighly different, and you can use the change of address tools).

#6 Domain Authority doesn't necessarily mean squat for weak internal page crawling. Free Shipping Day was the third largest online shopping day of the year in 2010 and 2011. FreeShipping.org is the only official sponsor, and benefits from massive amounts of press coverage. The site has about 12,700 links from about 1,110 domains, including the New York Times, CNN, MSN, TIME, Huffington Post, Mashable, USA Today, Forbes… Not bad for a coupon affiliate. Yet it was a week after the relaunch, and both Google and Bing were uninterested in revisiting any of the FreeShipping.org pages in their indexes that didn't have their own strong external links.

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Outreach Letters for Link Building [Real Examples]

Posted by Peter Attia

opening letterOutreach letters are a primary element in any quality link building campaign: If you're not getting responses, you're not getting links. It takes a lot of trial and error to find what works, which can be difficult for new link builders. To make things easier for everyone, I wanted to give several outreach letters I use for contacting different sites.

Although I have done a lot of testing with different letters, I’m by no means suggesting mine are the best of the best. These are what work for me and I do use the conversion rate of my emails as a factor.

Guest Posts

For guest posting, you want to have a more personal approach in your email. However, you don’t want to be overly personal and invade their bubble. I like to do some light digging and find something I can personally connect with them on (if you can't find something in 5 minutes, move on). I find this works better than trying to explain why the article would be a great fit for their site. Also, I found that adding a small incentive boosts the response rate.

Hey Taylor,

I recently came across BanjosOnTheGreen.com and saw that you play a Deering Banjo. I broke the neck on my banjo a few days ago so I’ve been looking for a new one. I’ve never played a Deering before though: what’s your take on them?

Also, I’ve been writing up music articles and would love the chance to write on your blog. I’d be happy to send over a new set of banjo strings as a thanks!

Cheers,
-Peter

Michael King wrote a great article with a scenario on how you can be personal to leverage a link. This is a perfect example of the quality links you can obtain through manual outreach.

Real Correspondence Example:

guest post correspondence

Broken link building

I target personal sites for broken links. These can be blogs or enthusiast sites and usually have a page of resources or a blogroll. I’m a fan of keeping emails short, so I try not to get personal on these.

Hey David,

I was looking through your suggested links on SportRacerHeaven.com and noticed a few broken links. Let me know how to reach the webmaster and I can send a list their way!

Also, if you’re open to suggestions, I think KingKongBikeParts.com would be a great fit. They have a large variety of customized parts that I’ve had trouble finding elsewhere.

All the Best,
-Peter

The webmaster will nearly always be the person you are contacting. I just use the second sentence as a buffer to get a response before providing a list. Once I get a response (And hopefully a link) I provide them with a list I’ve acquired. You can see a great correspondence example of this on Nick Leroy's broken link building post.

Also, If broken link building is still a new concept to you, Anthony Nelson wrote a tutorial on broken link building that's definitely worth checking out!

Links to a Local Business Site

Local businesses are great to target if you have something to provide in return. For example, if you have a tool that would be beneficial for them to use on their site.

Judy,

My name is Peter. I work for StrictlyBusinessRealty.com and we’ve recently created a tool for real estate businesses to help their visitors find movers in their area. Since we’re located out of Charlotte, we’re offering this tool to Charlotte businesses for free for a limited time.

You can customize the tool at StrictlyBusinessRealty.com/moving-tool/

If you have any questions or need any help setting it up, let me know!

Thanks,
-Peter

Real Correspondence Example:

Correspondence Example

Outreach Through Blog Commenting

This is what you can resort to if you can’t find any contact information on a blog. You want to be fairly vague, so that you’re not publicly displaying who your client is. I’ve seen bloggers get quite upset about outreaching to them through a comment and you obviously don’t want them publicly talking about your client negatively.

Hey Todd,

I was wondering if you accepted any guest posting on MyBliggidyBlog.com. I couldn’t manage to find your email on the site. If you could get a hold of me at notmyrealemail@gmail.com, I would greatly appreciate it!

Thanks,
-Peter

Note: Sometimes people will respond through another comment first, so you want to make sure you’re subscribed to get emails on comments made on that post.

Real Correspondence Example:

blog comment correspondence

 

I then got a response via email and was able to negotiate from there.

Paid Advertising

This is more for bloggers than businesses. Businesses that have paid advertising are pretty straightforward about it. You just need to find the “advertise” button on their site and wait for them to send you an obnoxiously long media kit.

Hey Jay,

My name is Peter. I’m doing promotions for a dog related site and would like the chance to put up a small advertisement on RufusTheAllMighty.com. I think it would be a great fit considering the relevancy. If this is something you’d be interested in, just let me know! Thanks in advance!

All the Best
-Peter

Real Correspondence Example:

Paid Advertisement Correspondence

 

How to Increase Your Response Rate

I do this for hard to get links, like EDU's. I basically open with a "soft email" to get a response. After that response, I'll hit them with my actual proposal. This works well for propositions that require a long explanation, where people tend to just skim through instead of actually reading your email.

Hello,

I’m trying to get in contact with the person in charge of the CollegeUniversity.com/housing/ page. If you could point me in the right direction, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks in advance!

All the Best,
-Peter

After I get a response, I give my full pitch. Since they've already committed to a conversation with me, they will read my email word for word instead of skimming through.

Real Correspondence Example:

increase response rate email

Conclusion

Keeping your emails short and sweet is a great way to go. I constantly try new forms of outreach and always end up reverting back to small quick emails. They grab attention at a glance and someone can see the point of your email right away. They're also easier to construct on the fly, which allows you to send out several emails faster.

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The Lowdown on Structured Data and Schema.org – Your Questions Answered!

Posted by Daniel Butler

First of all, thank you to everyone who listened in to the Microformats and Schema.org webinar with Richard Baxter and myself. If you are a PRO member and haven't had a chance to listen in, be sure to check it out!

During and after the webinar we received a ton of great feedback and questions which we unfortunately just didn't have time to cover off (ah man!). But…as they were awesome questions, SEOmoz have given us the chance to rock out a blog post as a follow up. So, sit back and enjoy as we take your head from confusion to conclusion.

1. Can you show/speak about pros and cons of using Schema versus using micro formats?

I don't think we can really compare micro formats to schema.org directly – micro formats are a form of structured data, like microdata and RDFa with a limited set of pre-defined properties. The sole purpose of Schema.org is to extend the vocabulary used in structured data, and at the moment only microdata can be combined with Schema.org. Although there has been talk of plans to start using RDFa.

Due to the extensive vocabulary on offer and universal support from the major search engines, the future is looking bright for the growth of Schema.org. Can the same really be said for micro-formats? IMO no, it's an easy to understand mark up but doesn't have the universal support to maintain growth.

2. What are other advantages of using schema and microdata except for getting better rich snippets?

Marking up items on a web page creates a stronger overall definition of what the content is really about. Aaron Bradley wrote a great blog post on seoskeptic.com deciphering Google's semantic search intentions.

You only need to look at Google's recipe search as an example of what is starting to evolve from the data contained within the mark up we install.

3. Did you guys notice any improvement in rankings after implementing schema?

I personally haven't seen a direct impact on rankings from integrating any form of structured data, but that doesn't mean it won't happen in the near future. With the purchase of Metaweb/Freebase back in 2010, and new developments for its Semantic search on the horizon, we can only guess this will be playing a greater role.

4. What are some practical applications of micro data or micro formats with a higher education institute? Is it possible to define a new "item type" such as courses, degrees, etc?

Ok, let's break down a few ideas which have the potential to generate a rich snippet for an Educational institute, first up ‘Place'.

There is a schema type for Educational Organization that allows us to mark up the name and location of the institute, resulting in the address featuring in the rich snippet. The mark up would resemble something like:

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/EducationalOrganization">
<span itemprop="name"></span>
<div itemprop="address" itemscope itemtype="schema.org/PostalAddress">
<span itemprop="streetAddress"></span>
<span itemprop="addressLocality"></span>
<span itemprop="addressRegion"></span> <span itemprop="postalCode"></span> </div>

With regards to the courses themselves, why not gather some reviews from recent graduates for each course. This can then be marked up with standard Review schema, but then combined with some additional mark up to describe the actual person who left the review as a recent graduate. This can be done using the itemprop="alumni":

<span itemprop="alumni" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Person">
<span itemprop="name"></span>

So now that we have a few reviews and ratings from recent graduates, why not take this one step further and create an aggregate rating with schema.org, which will ultimately lead to the star rating rich snippet.

If the resource is available another awesome addition to a course page would be a very quick introductory video of each course. This in turn can be marked up using schema's VideoObject, which when combined with video XML sitemaps, correct video formatting and a bunch of other items described in this cool post by Geoff of Distilled, will lead to a video thumbnail being generated in the search results. Here is a quick piece of Schema video mark up:

<div itemprop="video" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/VideoObject"> <span itemprop="name">[feature the exact title of the video]</span> <meta itemprop="duration" content="[duration of the video in the format: T0M53S]" /> <meta itemprop="thumbnail" content="" /> <meta itemprop="uploadDate" content="[the upload date and time of video in ISO format e.g. 2012-03-14T09:00:00+09:00]"> <span itemprop="description"></span>

Here are a few other things which could result in a rich snippet for an educational institute:

  • Selling books/resources for use with each course online? – This content could be marked up using a combination of Book and Product schema.
  • Are you running open days/workshops for related courses? – Perfect opportunity to use the EducationEvent schema.

As for defining new ‘item types' it is totally possible, check out the extension mechanism. This will allow applications to develop a basic level of understanding of the mark up used, but it's unlikely to lead to a rich snippet being generated unless there is a large/growing popularity for the particular item type.

However the Schema vocabulary is growing, so although there may not be a defining type right now there could well be in the near future. For example there has been recent talk of collaboration between ESPN and Google to define a new Sports schema.

5. With the review section… wouldn't this allow websites to manipulate their ratings? How will this be monitored by Google?

Yes, and it's been happening, A LOT! Originally there was an approval process for a domain to become white-listed for rich snippets, which involved informing Google via a simple form submission. But I remember it having a pretty heavy waiting list, anything from 4 weeks to 6 months.

This eventually changed, and the approval speed for websites significantly improved (relying primarily on algorithmic validation). Within a day or so of implementing a set of mark up, rich snippets were being generated. This of course then led to a lot of the abuse, and a crackdown on spam by Google allowing people to report rich snippet spam.

There are always going to be questions on the validity of review data, but it's a really tricky one to judge. I wonder whether trusted third party review platforms could play a greater role in helping to filter out spam in a similar way to that seen in Google Shopping, but even then they are still open to abuse.

6. In the IMdb example the image has an item property on it but it is not in the search result. Why is this?

Very good question, this would make for such an awesome rich snippet. Outside of video thumbnails, software applications, recipe search, and news/articles, rich snippet support for the image property is still quite restricted.

7. Do you have an example of breadcrumbs showing up in results?

Motorauthority.com uses microdata to mark up its breadcrumb trail, resulting in the following snippet:

8. Do you know of any way to mark up a "product category" page? Not a product aggregator page (a list of the same products available from different vendors), but, say, an e-commerce category page that lists different products?

Ok, let's say we are a kick ass clothing store and stock merchandise from a number of cool brands like Animal, Quicksilver, Rip Curl etc. Let's take a broad category like ‘Animal' as our example, which includes products like bags, shirts, shorts and hoodies – there are a couple of things we could affectively do:

  1. Aggregate review data across all Animal products to create an overall rating (– or ‘popularity' score if you like) for the brand category.
  2. Aggregate the price of all products in the category using schema.org/AggregateOffer – marking up the total number of products available in the category, and the min and max price of associated products to add the price range to the rich snippet.

The code for this would resemble something like:

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Product"> <span itemprop="name"><span itemprop="brand">Animal</span></span> <div itemprop="aggregateRating" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/AggregateRating"> Products in the Animal category have been rated <span itemprop="ratingValue">5</span> out of <span itemprop="bestRating">5</span> based on <span itemprop="ratingCount">387</span> reviews. </div> <div itemprop="offers" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/AggregateOffer"> There are <span itemprop="offerCount">120</span> clothing products on sale, ranging from <span itemprop="lowPrice">$10.00</span> to <span itemprop="highPrice">$120.00</span> </div>

Using the above code, here is an example rich snippet:

9. Does associating CSS with these microformat classes have any negative effect?

Applying CSS formatting directly to any of the properties of the mark up language shouldn't affect the rich snippet code in any way. As long as the correct naming conventions have been used, there shouldn't be any trouble.

10. Is there a Rich Snippet Generator and Schema Generator you would recommend?

There aren't a huge amount of actual code generators, but here are the ones I'm aware of:

Here's a list of some other tools and plug-ins which may also be of use.

11. Does it matter where you put any of these markup codes on the site?

The actual location of the mark up on a web page doesn't impact the ability to generate rich snippets. The ordering of mark up can however, especially when nesting elements, so be sure to test thoroughly using the Google testing tool, or the Bing WMT equivalent.

Thanks again to all those who submitted questions. We hope that this post provides the answers you were seeking, and if there are any new questions please fire away in the comments!

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Romanians are Smart or How to Change the Google Autocomplete Suggestions

Posted by gabandrei

I am a Romanian. I am proud of it, despite of what the world thinks about Romanians. What people think about Romanians could be influenced by Google. Google is a voice in the world, which influence in a positive or negative way, even if we do not like it.

But let me start with the beginning.

In November 2011, someone noticed that if he typed in Google romanians are (English), romanii sunt (Romanian), les roumains sont (French), los romanos son (Spanish), i rumeni sono (Italian), rumanen sind intelligent (German) the Autocomplete gave only negative suggestions.

Trying to find out what's going on, he understood that the suggestions are determined based on a number of purely objective factors (including popularity of search terms) without human intervention. If you would like to find out more details about it, Danny Sullivan wrote a really nice article on How Google Instant's Autocomplete suggestions work.

Starting from this, one of the most well knows Romanian brands, ROM, launches a campaign to change the Romania's image on Google. They build a website: Romanians are smart (with a Romanian version on Romanii sunt destepti), where they persuade Romanians to search on Google on specific terms, so they will change the Google Autocomplete suggestions. The campaign's call to action is "Change with a click"; users get the option to search directly from the website in six languages: Romanian, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian with the final goal of changing the Romania's image on Internet:

On Youtube they uploaded a tutorial that helps users to understand why and what they are supposed to do:

At the launching date, in November, there were very few searches, and they were only on negative terms. As you can see in Insights for search the number of searches increased quickly, the positive terms having a higher volume than the negative ones.

Of course, some negative searches were still in use, probably a lot of users wanted to see how the results look like.

One month later, on December 21 st 2011, a Romanian blogger piticu.ro shows for the first time that positive suggestions started to appear next to negative ones.

On the website we can see live how many searches have been made in all languages (and different websites too). Today there have been already made on the website over 600000 searches:

  • 163,779 searches for romanii sunt destepti (Romanian)
  • 133,892 searches for les roumains sont intelligents (French)
  • 137,782 searches for romanians are smart (English)
  • 62,948 searches for rumanen sind intelligent (German)
  • 79,628 searches for i rumeni sono intelligenti (Italian)
  • 78,829 searches for los romanos son inteligentes (Spanish)

For some languages, the suggestions are completely changed, and only positive terms appear:

For some languages, there's still work to do. For French for example, where the positive searches appears next to the negative ones.

Google gives bad suggestions about your name or brand? With a bit of work this can be fixed.

Romanians are smart, aren't they?

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Illustrated Guide To Web Experiments

Posted by thogenhaven

Web experimentation is a great tool to increase engagement and conversion rates. The primary strength of experiments is the possibility to isolate variables, and thus examine causality between different metrics such as tagline and conversion rate.
 
Much of the literature on experimental design has its roots in statistics and can be quite intimidating. To make it more accessible, I introduce the illustrated guide to web experiments (with some help from my brother, Andreas Høgenhaven, who kindly made the illustrations).
 
Before getting started on the experiment, you need to get the basics right: Test metrics that align with your long term business goals. Test big changes, not small. And remember that the test winner is not the optimal performance, but only the best performing variation we have tested. It doesn’t mean that you have found the all time optimal performing variation. You can (almost) always do better in another test.
 

A/B or MVT

One of the first things to consider is the experimental design. An A/B test design is usually preferred when one or two factors are tested, while a multivariate test (MVT) design is used when two or more independent factors are tested. However, it is worth noting that 2+ factors can be tested with A/B/n tests or with sequential A/B tests. The downside of using A/B test for several factors is that it does not capture interaction effects.
A-B test vs MVT

MVT Face-off: Full Factorial vs Fractional Factorial

So you want to go multivariate, huh? Wait a second. There are different kinds of multivariate tests. If you have ever visited Which MVT, you probably came across terms such as full factorial, fractional factorial, and modified taguchi. Before getting into these wicked words, let's get our multivariate test down to earth with an example. In this example we have 3 different factors, and each factor has two conditions.
 
 
In this case there are 3 factors each with 2 combinations, giving a total of 23 = 8 groups. In the full factorial design, all possible combinations are tested. This means 8 variations are created, and users are split between these. In the following table, +1 Indicates condition on while -1 indicates condition 2.
 
Full Factional Vs Fractional Factorial Experiment
 
This design is not too bad when we have 3 factors with 2 conditions in each. But if we want to test 4 factors each comprising 4 conditions, we will have 44 = 256 groups. Or if we want to test 10 different factors with 2 conditions in each, we will end up with 210 = 1,024 groups. This will require a lot of subjects to detect any significant effect of the factors. This is not a problem if you are Google or Twitter, but it is if you are selling sausages in the wider Seattle area (You can calculate the test duration time with Google's Calculator and VisualWebsiteOptimizers Calculator. These calculators are, however, based on very imprecise data because the change in conversion rate is unknown. That is kinda the point of the test).
 
Enter fractional factorial design. The fractional factorial design was popularized by Genichi Taguchi and is sometimes called the Taguchi design. In a fractional factorial design, only a fraction of the total number of combinations are included in the experiment. Hence the name. Instead of testing all possible combinations, the fractional factorial design only tests enough combination to calculate the conversion rate of all possible combinations.
 
In this example, it is sufficient to run 4 different combinations, and use the interaction between included factors to calculate combination of factors not included in the experiment. The 4 groups included are ABC; A + (BC); B + (CA); C + (BA).
 
Instead of testing Factor A 3 times, it is only tested once while holding B and C constant. Similarly, Factor B is tested once while holding A and C constant, and Factor C tested once while holding A and B constant. I'll not deep too deeply into the statistics here, as the experimental software does the math for us anyway.
 
The fractional factorial test assumes that the factors are independent of one another. If there are interactions between factors (e.g. image and headline), it'd affect the validity of the test. One caveat of the fractional factorial design is that one factor (e.g. A) might be confounded with two-factor interactions (e.g. BC). This means that there is a risk that we end up not knowing if the variance is caused by A or by the interaction BC. Thus, if you have enough time and visitors, full factorial design is often preferable to fractional factorial design.
 

Testing The Test Environment With The A/A Test

Most inbound marketers are quite familiar with A/B tests. But what is less known is the A/A test. The A/A test is useful as a test of the experimental environment, and is worth running before starting A/B or MVT tests. The A/A test shows if the users are split correctly, and if there are any potential misleading biases in the test environment.
 
 
In the A/A design, users are split up like they are in an A/B or MVT test, but all groups see the same variation. We want the test results to be non-significant, and thus see no difference between the groups. If the test is significant something is wrong with the test environment, and subsequent tests are likely to be flawed. But as discussed below, an A/A test is likely to be significant sometimes, due to random error / noise.
 
The A/A test is also a good way to show co-workers, bosses, and clients how data fluctuate, and that they should not get too excited when seeing an increase in conversion rate with 80% confidence. Especially in the early phases of experiments.
 

Statistical Significance

In the ideal experiment, all variables are held constant except the independent variable (the thing we want to investigate, e.g. tagline, call to action, and images). But in the real world, many variables are not constant. For example, when conducting an A/B test, the users are split between two groups. As people are different, the two groups will never comprise similar individuals. This is not a problem as long as the other variables are randomized. It does, however, inflict noise in the data. This is why we use statistical tests.
 
 
We conclude that a result is statistically significant when there is only low probability that the difference between groups is caused by random error. In other words, the purpose of statistical tests is to examine the likelihood that the two samples of scores were drawn from populations with the same mean, meaning there is no "true" difference between the groups, and all variation is caused by noise.
 
Statistical significance in Google Webmaster Tools
 
In most experiments and experimental software, 95% confidence is used as the threshold of significance, although this number is somewhat arbitrary. If the difference between two group means is significant at 98% probability, we accept it as significant even though there is a 2% probability that the difference is caused by chance. Thus, statistical tests show us how confident we can be that difference in result are not caused by chance / random error. In Google Website Optimizer, this probability is called chance to beat original.
 

Pro Tip: Ramp Up Traffic To Experimental Conditions Gradually

One last tip I really like is ramping up the percentage of traffic sent to experimental condition(s) slowly. If you start out sending 50% of the visitors to the control condition, and 50% to the experimental condition, you might have a problem if something in the experimental condition is broken. A better approach is to start sending only 5% of the users to the experimental condition(s). If everything is fine, go to 10%, then 25% and finally 50%. This will help you discover critical errors before too many users do it.
 
Ps. If you want to know more / share your knowledge on experiments and CRO tools, you might want to have a look at this CRO Tools Facebook Group.

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Unnatural Link Warnings and Blog Networks

Posted by Carson Ward

Advice and Confessions from a Reformed Link Network Spammer

There was only one time when link building was the easiest, least challenging part of my SEO work. I was a link network spammer, relying upon services with names like "blog networks" and "article networks." These services allow paid subscribers to post their content to a network of sites for the sole purpose of building links. Because the sites aren't meant to be read by people, many networks accept and actively encourage spun content. The resultant content quality is absolutely horrific.

Sodium Body of water Town - Uhhh, you mean Salt Lake City?

I pulled this example from an active blog network site. "Sodium Body of water Town" is spun garbagese for "Salt Lake City."

Using blog networks, I had multiple sites penalized, re-included, and, once I had learned the ropes, I even had a few that gained rankings and escaped unharmed. I ultimately gave up my spam-content ways because it became clear that it was not an effective long-term strategy. The writing was on the wall – Google was getting smarter, and I was at risk of losing any time I invested.

And the writing was, and still is, on the wall. Google rolled out Panda, which dealt a heavy blow to some blog and article networks that had paid almost no attention to users. Starting this year, blog networks, both private and public, starting dropping. In one of the highest-profile incidents, Google crippled BMR's blog network.

Webmasters began receiving warnings in Google Webmaster Tools around the same time that now strike fear into the hearts of those using manipulative or questionable tactics to build links:


Google WMT Warning Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected unnatural links to http://example.com/


Dear site owner or webmaster of http://example.com/,

We've detected that some of your site's pages may be using techniques that are outside Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you've made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google's search results.

If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

Sincerely,

Google Search Quality Team

In short: you're caught – the game is up. Some sites received this warning without penalties, and some sites were penalized immediately. In either case, the links need to be taken down to retain or regain rankings. So what now?

Identifying Posts from Blog Networks

There are plenty of webmasters, site owners, and SEOs who have no idea what Google is talking about when they receive the warning. For example, I recently spoke with a friend from a reputable SEO agency who had the bad lack of taking over the same week his client was penalized for the previous SEO firm's work. In any case, the first step to fixing the problem is finding the links in question. We can use tools like Open Site Explorer and Google/Bing Webmaster tools to find bad links.

Because BMR's sites have already been outed, penalized, and rendered useless for the foreseeable future, we can use an old BMR site as examples of what to look for:

BMR-spam-blog-example

That's right – you can get misinformation about water shoes, Dubai shopping, and constipation remedies – all in one place! BMR posts actually had limited quality reviews, making them higher quality than most existing blog networks. 

The identifying marks of a blog network post are as follows:

  1. Terrible content and a boring template; you find yourself asking, "Why would anyone ever subscribe to this blog?"
  2. Topics are jumped, unrelated to the site's theme, and categorization is poor.
  3. There is rarely an about section, author name, or means of contact.
  4. Lots and lots of exact-match anchor text seemingly pointing to sites at random.
  5. Posts tend to be 400-500 words with 2-3 links per post – generally all to the same site.

If you have recently received an unnatural link warning, there's a pretty good chance that you have a lot of links like this in your link portfolio. You will also wish to look for footer/blogroll links, especially from irrelevant sites, and any other links that were clearly not intended to be viewed by visitors. 

Fixing and Recovering From Unnatural Link Penalties

There is a way back to Google's good graces, but it's not going to be fast, and it's unlikely that your traffic will reach the same heights it once did if you relied heavily on link networks or paid links to gain rankings. Once you're caught, you must sacrifice all paid or spammy links, submit a reconsideration request, and develop a legitimate backlink portfolio.

Removing Penalization-Inducing Links

The removal of links has to be thorough, or the reconsideration request will be denied. If you rent links on a monthly basis, the obvious step is to stop paying for the links and request their removal. If your links were built by an external company, contact them and see what they can do about taking any links from blog networks offline. For BMR users, I recommend clicking the following link, which BMR was professional enough to offer:

Take them all down! Now leave the site without exporting those low-quality posts that you won't need, thanks to the fantastic new link-building strategy you're going to develop. Other link networks often provide simple solutions to taking down your links – speak with the person who put these links up if you don't have access.

In the case of paid links not submitted through a blog network, you may have to contact the site directly and request removal of links. It's a tedious process, but a reasonable effort has to be made. 

Submitting a Reconsideration Request

If your site hasn't been penalized yet, but you received the warning, you can skip this step. Do not skip the step above, as you will eventually face into a penalty if you don't clean up your act and link portfolio. In a blog post on 6 Ways to Recover from Bad Links, Dr. Pete offers some advice for reconsideration requests:

  • Be honest, specific and detailed.
  • Show that you’ve made an effort.
  • Act like you mean it (better yet: mean it).

You have to explain that you have changed your views and your strategic focus. A good way to show effort is by including a link to an accessible Google Doc spreadsheet showing the bad links, which ones were removed, and which ones you made unsuccessful efforts to remove. Be specific, and touch on everything requested on the reinclusion request form:

Tell us more about what happened: what actions might have led to any penalties, and what corrective actions have been taken. If you used a search engine optimization (SEO) company, please note that. Describing the SEO firm and their actions is a helpful indication of good faith that may assist in evaluation of reconsideration requests. If you recently acquired this domain and think it may have violated the guidelines before you owned it, let us know that below. In general, sites that directly profit from traffic (e.g. search engine optimizers, affiliate programs, etc.) may need to provide more evidence of good faith before a site will be reconsidered.

Be open and specific about what you were doing, what you changed to comply with Google's guidelines, and what you will do going forward. Right now there is doubtless a long line of websites requesting reinclusion, so make sure you've done a good clean-up. The last thing you want is to have to go through the whole process again in a few months. You'll also have to be patient, especially if you're a smaller site or lesser-known brand. In the meantime, though, we will develop a legitimate link-building strategy.

Build a Legitimate Link Portfolio

Under most conditions, Google appears to assess link penalties algorithmically. Most of the sites that I have seen receiving warnings about unnatural links have serious problems with the over-optimization of anchor text and links from low-quality sites.

Link penalties - exact match over optimization and spammy sites

Low quality sites, in this diagram, refers to sites (and pages) that have little or no relevance, few incoming links, unnatural link portfolios of their own, and few branding signals. Having too much exact-match anchor text from legitimate domains is a hard thing to do, but it has happened through things like widgets with unnatural anchor text.

Building links from legitimate sources is hard, and in competitive and boring industries it take a lot of creativity and work. Some have taken this as a license to manipulate rankings and build spammy links.

In competitive and boring industries; however, the online world looks very much like the real world. The secret to success in both is a unique selling point (USP): what makes you different or better than your competitors? Your USP can be customer experience, site interactivity, prices, or content resources. Online businesses will profit in much the same way that offline businesses did and continue to.

It is time to start thinking of ways to build links and attract users in a way that is scalable, effective, and long-term. Building links manually is boring, difficult, and often unrewarding. There's a reason a lot of industry leaders have been talking about content marketing.

New Questions and Concerns

There's a lot of change in this industry, and we've become good at adapting and changing our roles. As with all significant changes, there have been a flood of questions about what to do. First, I do not think that this was related to Google's reported semantic search or the upcoming over-optimization penalty. The later was was pre-announced after large numbers of sites had already been pummeled my something else entirely. 

My Blog Network is Running Strong. Should I Stop?

Yes. Those who have not received warnings for using blog networks should recognize that blog networks are not a sustainable long-term strategy. You're spending time building bad links instead of relationships and branding. Additionally, Google has hit several blog networks, and it's likely to continue. Standing and waiting for the hammer to fall is strategy at its absolute worst.

Couldn't I Hurt Competitors?

The last defense for the link spammer is a fallacious line of reasoning: "search engines can't penalize me, because I could do it to my competitors." Yes, in theory, you could trigger a link spam penalty on a competitor site. You will find; however, that companies with strong branding signals who have built real editorial links – usually the companies that actually rank highly – are nearly impervious to link spam attacks. 

Yes, you can do horrible things to other people – but why? Ethics aside, it just doesn't make sense in this industry to waste effort tearing others rather than building a site up. Restaurant owners don't go around attacking nearby restaurant owners' stores, because it takes a lot of effort and, even if you do temporarily close a restaurant, it doesn't really bring new customers. There are a lot of restaurants in the city – and even more sites on the internet.

Note that there may be legal ramifications if you successfully harm a competitor with link spam. Once the subpoenas start falling, the invincible feeling of anonymity disappears quickly.

Strategies for Agencies

One line in the reconsideration request stood out to me:

"Describing the SEO firm and their actions is a helpful indication of good faith"

People rarely describe a company without mentioning its name. What actions might we expect from firms mentioned in multiple reconsideration requests? Direct action is unlikely, but companies who relied on networks to build links to clients' and their own sites may be wise to worry, devise a new strategy, and stop publishing crap.

I have absolutely no interest in the obnoxious and mostly-imaginary "war" between white hat and black hat SEO. Whether you care about adding value to users – and at the world of link penalties and Panda, it's insane not to – it's time to drop tactics and schemes like blog networks. The links have been low value for a long time, but now they carry with them an unacceptable risk.

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Building Links with Video Content

Posted by Jacob Klein

You've finally done it. You are in possession of the hottest video the internet has ever seen.   It combines the incomprehensibly viral nature of  Rebecca Black's vocals with the undeniable epicness of the latest Game of Thrones trailer. Phone this one in, people– this video is going to sell itself. While it's true that some pieces of great content seem able to spread without much, if any marketing behind them, you're not the type of person who likes to take chances with your premium content. You've created some beautiful, HD-quality video content that's just begging to be shared and you want to give it the christening it deserves!

I recently found myself in a situation similar to the above description. I had a great piece of video but wasn't exactly sure how to make sure I was getting the ROI I knew it deserved. I wanted to make sure my ducks were in a row before I launched so I did what any responsible SEO does when he or she needs to develop a skill:  a crap-load of research. Here are some of the more actionable nuggets I've been able to glean from my foray into video marketing.
 
The SEO Benefits of Video Content - When Google crawls your site they are looking for several indicators including page quality, relevance and keyword instances. Multimedia objects add value to all three of these metrics. Videos also increase a user's Time On Page, an important indicator of page quality which seems to becoming more and more important every day. Not to mention people are more likely to link to your content if it contains multimedia content as demonstrated in Casey Henry's Moz piece on "What makes a link worthy post".  
 

Ecommerce sites should also seriously consider placing videos in other locations such as product pages. Aside from the added stickiness and quality added to your product pages, they also help you stand out on the SERP with the addition of a video thumbnail. Zappos churned out 50,000 product description videos in a single year and doubled their linking root domains because of it. Learn more about how to get your video results to show up in Google
 
Surround Awesome with Awesome - When Google crawls your page it's looking for signals to indicate that your content is related to a given query.  A page with an H1 title and an embed code isn't sending Google the message that this page is full of awesome, related content. In fact, Google isn't able to decipher your video at all so why not send better algorithmic signals to the Big G by surrounding your already awesome video with equally awesome images and text. This also gives you another opportunity to target the keywords you're after.
 
Give your visitors a resource to acquire more information on the headline they were just linked to– give them more reasons to link to your video. Tell a story about how the video was produced or simply summarize the contents of the video.  Consider linking to other, related videos to keep the user who wants more as engaged as possible. Make your page the authority on the topic at hand and a, rich, linkable resource that people will continually reference in the future.
 
Where to Stick it – Due to its absolute ubiquity, astonishing multiplier effects and Google's unabashed favorability towards their own video outlet, many choose to host their videos on YouTube. If you've gone this route I suggest you check out Paddy Moogan's guide for tips on how to make sure you still receive precious link juice from your YT videos. There are paid services that can host your video on their servers whilst to Google, it will seem as though the video were on your domain. Wistia offers such packages for as low as $24/month and they'll even generate and submit video sitemaps for you (more on that later). Vimeo Pro might be a more affordable video hosting option at $199/year if budget is a concern. 
 
Here are a few other hosting options to help you serve your video from your own domain:
 
For more technical and video production considerations be sure to check out Phill Nottingmam's presentation from a recent Distilled meetup in London:
 

 

Offer a Full Transcript - One way to get more content on your page with video is by providing a full text transcript. You can either use a program such as Wistia's transcript service ($5 per video) or have an actual human being watch the video and type it out by hand. CaptionTube can also transcribe your YouTube videos as well. This will also help users who might not be able to otherwise hear the video for whatever reason (at work, on a bus, deafness, surfing on an odd device type etc).

 
Title, Meta Description and File Name- You want to make sure your video has a strong, viral, catchy title that could include keywords but not at the expense of the quality of the title itself. Take all of the skills you've learned writing incredible blog post titles and apply them to your videos!  Be aware that people also tend to throw the word 'video' on the end of their searches. A bit of keyword research around some of your target keywords and the word "video" couldn't hurt when trying to form a proper title. YouTube has it's own keyword research tool that could be used even if you're hosting your own videos as this data is indicative of what videos folks are searching for in general. Doing this type of research beforehand will help you target high traffic keywords for both your title and meta description. If you've decided to host the video via YouTube or some other video hosting service be sure to include the proper 'tags' as well. 
 
Treat the description of your video (on YouTube or otherwise) the same way you would a meta description. Use keywords but don't over do it. Write a paragraph that will convince someone that this video is both relevant and something worth watching. Remember that these terms show up in bold on the SERP if the Googler uses the same terms found in your Meta Description.
 
As with images, the video file should have a keyword rich file name with hyphens in place of spaces. 
 
Implement Schema for Video - At the moment it is a bit unclear how Google will choose to use schema data for video. The protocol is in place but Google doesn't seem to take any of it into consideration as of yet. It couldn't hurt to future proof your site by deploying at least the very basics of schema.org's recommendations for video objects sooner rather than later.
 
Create a Video Sitemap - As your collection of videos continues to grow it is important that Google be able to crawl and index them all. This can be assured through the creation of a video sitemap. Much like a normal sitemap the video flavor mostly just points to the URL of each video with the addition of properties such as duration, family friendly (Yes/No) etc. Phil Nottingham has put together a couple of simple templates that can be used to get you started. Also be sure to check out Google's Video Sitemap Guide or grab a WordPress plugin if that would better suit your needs.

 
YouTube Video Sitemap Template
<urlsetxmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9”
xmlns:video="http://www.google.com/schemas/sitemap-video/1.1">
<url>
  <loc>http://www.yourdomain.com/page-containing-video</loc>
    <video:video>
     <video:thumbnail_loc>http://www.yourdomain.com/thumbnail-image
     </video:thumbnail_loc>
     <video:title>Video Title</video:title>
     <video:description>Video Meta Description</video:description>
     <video:content_loc>http://www.youtube.com/v/VIDEOID</video:content_loc>               
     <video:duration>Length of Video in Seconds</video:duration>
     <video:publication_date>2012-02-29T18:30:15+00:00</video:publication_date>                                                                                 <video:family_friendly>yes</video:family_friendly>
<video:tag>Target Keyword 1</video:tag>
<video:uploaderinfo="https://plus.google.com/userid">Name</video:uploader>
<video:live>no</video:live>
</video:video>
</url>
</urlset>

 
Self-hosted Video Sitemap Template
<urlsetxmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9”
xmlns:video="http://www.google.com/schemas/sitemap-video/1.1">
<url>
  <loc>http://www.yourdomain.com/page-containing-video</loc>
    <video:video>
     <video:thumbnail_loc>http://www.yourdomain.com/thumbnail-image
     </video:thumbnail_loc>
     <video:title>Video Title</video:title>
     <video:description>Video Meta Description</video:description>
     <video:player_loc allow_embed="yes" autoplay="ap=1">http://www.yourdomain.com/videoplayer.swf?video=url</video:player_loc>
     <video:content_loc>http://www.yourdomaincom/video-url.mp4</video:content_loc>
     <video:duration>Length of Video in Seconds</video:duration>
     <video:publication_date>2012-02-29T18:30:15+00:00</video:publication_date>                                                                                 <video:family_friendly>yes</video:family_friendly>
<video:tag>Target Keyword 1</video:tag>
<video:uploaderinfo="https://plus.google.com/userid">Name</video:uploader>
<video:live>no</video:live>
</video:video>
</url>
</urlset>

 
A video sitemap not only solidifies your inclusion in Google's index, they also help Google grab the video thumbnail to be utilized on the SERP page, which in turn should help boost click-through numbers.  It would also be prudent to include the following line in your robots.txt file pointing at your new video sitemap.
 
sitemap: http://yourdomaincom/video_sitemap.xml
 

Other Technical Considerations - However tempting it may be, avoid using iframes as Google likely won't crawl them. If possible, use an HTML5 video player with a flash video as a fallback. No one likes a video that starts blaring audio when they enter a site. Give users more control over their experience (and ear drums) by disabling autoplay. And finally if you've decided to give your users a choice between HD and standard video quality be sure to set the default play setting to HD. Users may not know they even have the option to upgrade so why not give them the best you've got up front?
 
Brainstorm to Understand Your Audience - A piece of marketing content is only as valuable as the amount of exposure, attention and hopefully links that it ultimately commands. Spend some time brainstorming a list of the people and publications who might be interested in your video so that all of your hard work isn't for naught!  Get a handful of the smartest people you can find (willing or unwilling) into a room and hammer out a list of potential targets. Understanding your audience and what might appeal to key influencers will benefit your entire outreach campaign. (image right)
 
Make it Sharable - Implementation of social media icons on the video page in question should go without saying but if you're using WordPress I'd recommend the plugins Digg Digg (which gives you a floating social bar similar to Mashable's) or Shareaholic (which gives you the 'Sharing is Sexy' banner you've probably seen before). If you're just looking for the basics I'd recommend just grabbing the appropriate code from TwitterFacebook and Google directly or throwing the AddThis widget on any page.
 
Make it Embeddable - If you're hosting your video on YouTube, check out Paddy Moogan's guide to assuring that you still get a few links from that proprietary embed code. If hosting video yourself ensure that the embed code is available to users and includes a link back to the original video page. This code should be placed into an iframe so that users can easily find and copy your embed code. Geoff over at Distilled recently posted some tips for manipulating the embed code.  
 
Double and triple check that these embed codes work on various platforms before launching. If you've ever had that sinking feeling a web marketer gets when he or she realizes that the embed code on an expensive infographic hasn't worked for three days you'll know what I'm talking about… not that it's ever happened to me, of course! Some webmasters and bloggers are more willing to embed a video than they are to directly link to your page so make sure you've got a link back to the source inside of that embed code!
 
Enable Comments - Comments are a great way to build up keyword rich, user-generated content on a page and nothing starts up a conversation like a good video! They also keep visitors returning to your domain if only to see if anyone has responded to their witty, hilarious, totally original comment. This is particularly effective if you set up a system whereby users receive an email when their comment has been replied to. Comment Reply Notification will do that for you're running a WordPress CMS. Even if a user doesn't participate in the conversation the presence of real user interaction on a page adds stickiness and authority to the page much the same way YouTube star ratings and comments help keep a video popular. Users often love when the video creators jump into the conversation themselves so don't be afraid to join in on the conversation. You may have a few reservations and I'm certainly an avid subscriber to the 'Internet Dickwad Theory', but I believe the content creation, user engagement and stickiness benefits outweigh the unpleasentries that come along with the responsibility of moderating an open forum.
 
If a video is controversial, generating unsavory responses or you simply don't want comments on your video for whatever reason this is always an option but I've often found comments to be a great way to keep people coming back for a second look.
 
Consider Releasing a Several Videos in a Series - If you've got a video that's been doing well and it allows for further development or spin-offs don't hesitate to make a similar video and/or start a series of videos in the same vein. The original Shit Girls Say video spawned an innumerable number of copycat videos with the same theme, some of the best coming from the same producers of the original. Other sites break their videos down into several 'chapters'. Video series' are a great way to encourage users to continue exploring your site for related video content.
 
Put Video Behind an Email or Social Wall - If you're just starting out with video marketing this may not be the best idea for building a loyal following. But if you're an established site with thousands of viewers who just can't wait for your next installment consider asking users for an email address before viewing your content. You could give the user Part 1 in a series and ask for an email address to view Part 2. You can choose to provide a "Skip This" button to avoid frustration. This well can be an effective way to build an email list for future marketing wins. You could also employ something similar where you'd instead ask for a Facebook Like or Twitter Follow before allowing the user to continue on.  Whether or not you make this optional will depend on the relationship you've built with your community.
 
Be sure that your marketing wall isn't interfering with Google's ability to index the page.  It should not be a URL redirect or anything of that nature. Take a look at Easy Video Player, a program that lets you embed buttons and links directly into your self hosted videos much like YouTube already allows. Overlay.tv also promises something similar without affecting a search engine's ability to crawl your video page.
 
Add Video to Old and New Content - Videos can and should be reused within other content on your domain. If you have an older post that might be supported by your new video, go back and enhance that content with a link to the new video. Likewise, in future posts you can always refer to your older videos as you would with any other piece of content. Try not to embed the video on more than one page as you want to make sure the original video page is seen by Google as canonical. As with duplicate images or text on multiple pages– it's best to avoid it at all costs.
 
Consider Submitting Video to Myriad Video Services - If you're going the YouTube route then there's no reason not to submit your video to the other video hosting sites that might get your creation some much needed exposure. After some time, if your self hosted video isn't gaining any traction you may want to consider submitting to YouTube as well as other outlets such as listed below. Distilled actually did a case study following the submission of a YouTube video over a period of time and came up with some great tips so be sure to give that a read.  
 
Check out OneLoad (formerly TubeMogul) as a simple way to hit all of the major outlets at once. Do what you can to assure that a link back to your domain is included within the video itself, the description and wherever else is possible as options vary from site to site.
 
Sites to Submit Video to:
Reach Out -  Think of video marketing the same way you would any other piece of original content. Many of the same strategies you've applied to your infographics and epic blog posts apply here. Grab your rolodex and do what it takes to get your content in front of as many web influencers as possible.  
 
Here are just some of the places you might consider pitching your video content:
  • Blogs whose audience might be interested in your video
  • Email Lists
  • Your own Social Media Accounts
  • Powerful, on-topic Twitter accounts found via services such as FollowerWonkKlout or MuckRack
  • Learn how to Market to Reddit and then post to http://Reddit.com/r/Videos
  • Thinking Local? Target local newspapers, radio stations and magazines
  • On-Topic Community Forums
  • Target blogs who often post video to their homepage
  • StumbleUpon
  • Got a funny video? Submit to 'bored' sites such as Bored At Work, At Work and Bored, or Bored.com
  • Leverage current relationships with bloggers, influencers, community leaders and other affiliates
  • If you've used YouTube and someone's linked to the YT version, contact them and ask for a link to your domain.
  • Depending on the nature of your video; consider utilizing paid video advertising on FacebookGoogle, etc.
  • Physically meet with contacts who might be willing to promote your content (do what it takes!)
  • Submit to a Video Directory (Blip.tvVideoJugWonderHowToIMBroadcastBizuns.com/videosDailyMotion etc)
  • Send personal, genuine emails to publications and influencers that might post your videos
In a recent expert video series on Grovo, VP at Distilled Tom Critchlow (one of the many speakers at LinkLove Boston) explains that businesses using video in 2012 may be considered slightly 'ahead of the curve' but if by the end of this year you're still resisting, you'll be behind. I hope you've found some of the above to helpful in your quest to build links, bolster social media metrics and future-proof your domain through the production and marketing of incredible video content.

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