DISCLAIMER: This blog post contains a bunch of hilarious and awkward stock photos because I love them so very much. This post was originally created when New Why was part of Commerce Kitchen.
For all you out there interested in doing well online, the only way to guarantee long term success in search is to create a good product, reach out to the appropriate audience, and engage with a community that will be interested in what you have to offer.
That’s it. It’s simple, it’s time consuming, and it’s not something you can pay someone a couple hundred bucks to do for you. With that said, many small business owners have tried to rank well with cheap and unsustainable tactics.
Several years ago an effective way to rank higher in search was to pay an SEO company very little money to spam the Internet with links to your site. They’d create blogs like this, write crappy articles, and link to you. Boom.
Google thought, hey, you must be popular since so many people link to your site. Poor Google was like a kid in middle-school, assuming that the guy with the coolest clothes was automatically worth the popularity.
But then Google went through puberty, got a little bit of life experience, and realized that popularity has to be earned. You have to create something that real people care about in order for Google to take you seriously.
The authority of those fake links (i.e. links created by an SEO company and not by a person who actually respects you) began to crumble, and sites that were doing well in search began to plummet.
If you’re one of those people, if you’re a small business owner who had effective, if slightly unethical, SEOs generating thousands of low-quality links for you and you find yourself slipping in search, here are some tips for rescuing yourself from bad link building.
Disavow Your Bad Links
Google doesn’t want you to suffer if you’re willing to change your evil link-building ways. So they’ve created the disavow tool, which allows you to tell them which links you don’t want them to look at any more.
They prefer for you to ask the webmaster of the site with the bad link to remove you first, but since most of these sites are cloaked in anonymity, it’s nearly impossible to do.
In fact, you may not even know what your old SEO did. But you can get an idea. Make sure you have access to your Webmaster Tools.
In the traffic section of your dashboard, you can view incoming links to your site. When we go through the disavow process for a new client, we download the entire list of incoming links, then we carefully try to find out why the site is being penalized in search.
Go through these links one by one. How is the link placed? Is it in an article that’s unrelated to your product? Is it part of a long list of links that don’t seem to be related or relevant to the rest of the content of the site?
Often your link will be in a blog post that is so poorly written that it’ll become clear to you that even if your SEO company was based in the U.S. or the U.K., they outsourced link building abroad.
Curious what bad links actually look like? Check out this blog post:
I feel bad for Mark Gray, the Australian photographer who hired this SEO firm to build links for him. Mr. Gray, please add this link to your disavow list.
For more information on how to disavow links, check out Google’s instructions. If you don’t feel comfortable using this “advanced feature” contact us and we can talk about working with you to disavow.
Now Build Good Links
Now that you’ve disavowed those hundreds or thousands of links, you’ll need to get some good, high quality links. There are many ways to do this, and I recommend checking out my post Offsite SEO in Five Hours a Week to get some more ideas.
But for the sake of not making you click around too much, here are a few ideas for building good links. And technically you can’t really “build” links. What it comes down to is creating something interesting, interacting with the appropriate people, and being willing to give a little.
Create Something Interesting
Your product or service is probably pretty interesting to you, but that alone may not get attention. I like to use Commerce Kitchen as an example here. We are a Denver web development and internet marketing shop. Great, right? But it’s not a unique service in Colorado. Denver is a big tech hub, and while our approach is what makes us stand apart, we’ve had to showcase ourselves by creating something different and interesting.
Recently we built a very simple web application that takes quotes from director and writer Joss Whedon, who has a very excitable cult following, and turned them into an ipsum generator.
Because many of us at Commerce Kitchen are huge Joss Whedon fans, it was a fun project for us. And, guess what? It got us almost 300 real links that we didn’t have to ask anyone for. Those links will never be penalized by Google because they come from real people sharing a real product.
If you’re reading this blog post, there’s a good chance you’re not a web developer, so you’re not going to be able to build an app like Whedon Ipsum (though you could hire someone like us to!). But I’m sure there is something creative and interesting that your team could put together if you can’t yet afford to hire an ethical internet marketing firm.
Interact With Influencers
Even if you’ve created something great, no one will know about it unless you share it with the right people. When we created Whedon Ipsum, we tweeted it and tagged Whedonesque in the tweet, because we know they’re influential. How did we know that? We did our research.
However, don’t assume that you should tag every influential person in every tweet that you post. Please don’t do that. Instead, begin by interacting with people who inspire you in your community and industry. Build trust with them by starring their tweets, responding to their blog posts, and being a good online friend to them.
For more details on how to do this, check out my blog post on interacting with bloggers. Your goal should be to build your community and make connections. It’s an extension of networking, something that all business owners should do.
If you’ve built trust with your online community, then they’re more willing to share your blogs, post about your upcoming events, or tell their followers about the fun or interesting things you’ve created.
Be Willing to Give
Finally, to get good links you’ve got to be willing to give. Sponsor charitable events, throw online fundraisers, give away your product for free, or give regularly to your favorite nonprofit. This is good for the world and good for your business.
Currently Commerce Kitchen is running an Office Dogs to Watch contest, and we’re donating $10 per entry to Freedom Service Dogs. Admittedly we haven’t gotten a ton of links for this project (maybe four or five), but giving to an organization that we like is just as important to us as getting links back to our site.
As far as giving away your product or service for free, this can be a great way to get good links to your site. Find out who is writing online reviews for products like yours and send them a free sample. Or, give away your service as an online contest.
Commerce Kitchen gave away free SEO setups to Denver-area organizations in exchange for a link on a blog post explaining what we do. Most of the websites we helped were pretty small, and the value of the links wasn’t huge, but it was a nice gesture for our friends and community, and it got us some authentic links.
To summarize this post, in order to rescue yourself from bad link building, you need to first disavow the bad links, then you need to begin to build good links by creating a business that people want to link to and building a community that will support you.
It’s time consuming and it’s not instantaneous. But Google will never penalize you for it, and they’re links that will last. While some SEO firms remove the links they’ve built for you as soon as you’re not longer working with them, this type of link building is long lasting. And it makes the internet a better place.
We’re always looking for organizations who want to be and do better on the Web. If that’s you, contact us and we’ll examine with you how your business can do better online.