When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), it all comes down to the 800-pound gorilla: Google. Google is the main arbiter of value in the universe of Internet websites. Google changes how it weighs and assigns value on a regular basis, which means that what you were doing last year may hurt you next year, depending on Google’s latest efforts to assure that it has fairly assessed the true value of each site. This is not capricious on Google’s part, just good business. The trust that a Google user places in the quality of the search results brings them back to Google time and again. This allows Google to continue to expose users to paid advertising on the Google site, which is the largest part of Google’s overall income stream.
Early on in the history of Google, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, created a method of determining how sites relate to other sites in the web as a whole called PageRank. Google’s notion was that links should stand as a vote of support for the value of a page because someone took the time and trouble to create the link and point it at your site. To be counted as valid, the link had to come from another site with some relationship to your site in terms of type of business, field, area of expertise, etc. The higher the PageRank of the referring site, the greater the value assigned to the link
The original calculation of PageRank value drove the idea in the SEO world that more links were always better, no matter where they came from. As a result, a lot of people approached link building in a mechanical manner. People sent out thousands of emails (all worded the same) to thousands of websites, inviting them to link to your site in exchange for your link to theirs. The idea was that more links equal higher value, thus propelling your heavily linked site to the top of the heap.
Google viewed this practice with disapproval, and for good reason. Having a chaotic collection of retail stores, auto supply companies and dating services linking to your insurance site was a meaningless guide to the value of your site to users. Google is constantly tweaking the PageRank algorithm, which means you have to pay attention to stay current.
Link Building and Social Media
If you were under the impression that building links on social media would be quick, automated and easy, now is the time to shed the illusion. This is a time-consuming, painstaking process. We all expected that computers would make our jobs easier and faster through automation. Now the time we saved must be spent on relationship building. It does pay off in the end.
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Successful link building requires a clear understanding of Google’s criteria for a high PageRank. Sites are rewarded for good, original content and what Google views as “natural” link development.
Good content leads the way to successful link development. If you are offering value to your intended audience and offering it in an attractive and accessible manner, people will naturally want to link to your site. Having the greatest content in the world, however, won’t help if people don’t know about it.
Here is where link building begins to overlap with social media. Google looks at social media as one of the ways to assign value to your site. How many people are talking about it? Are they talking positively or negatively? More importantly, who is talking about it—are the people considered experts or gurus in your field? Are these comments one-offs, or do conversations continue over time? All these are taken into consideration.
Social media tools don’t help with developing content, and content is the source of value. Make sure you are contributing original, interesting and valuable content to the social media sphere (and this includes your blog). It’s also fine to be a content “curator”: that is, to cast a wide net to discover content that your audience will find interesting and direct them to it via links.
Step 1: Identify the gurus and thought leaders in your space.
You can use keyword searches to identify the people in your field whose content and ideas are considered valuable. This can be determined in some cases by number of followers or friends or connections associated with their social media feeds.
Step 2. Reach out.
Reach out to the thought leaders and gurus. Try to get a conversation going. Initially, this will be at the cocktail-party level—but don’t start tooting your own horn too early. If your “conversation” is all about me, me, me, expect them to lose interest quickly.
Step 3: Take advantage of Google+.
Google+ is not the most active or fastest-growing social media channel, but it is steadily growing in popularity. It is in a separate category from other popular social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn because Google places more weight on Google+ than it does on the others. Link your blog to your Google+ page just as you would to Facebook or Twitter.
Rules To Link By
Here are some guidelines to remember while you are building links:
- Stay current with Google’s algorithm changes. Check sites such as Search Engine Land and Webmaster World from time to time to check on the latest changes.
- Have a dedicated team working on social media. There are many reasons a company may want to use social media in addition to link building. It is a time-consuming, detailed, hands-on process that requires both strategic skills and dogged persistence. Don’t imagine you will achieve outstanding results by skimping on resources.
- There are no shortcuts. Link building is not a mass media effort and automation does not assist with link building (though it may assist with other aspects of social media).
- Remember that links must be built in an organic manner. Seek out thought leaders and opinion makers in your field and build relationships with them (and key followers).
- Invest in developing original content that will be valued by your target audience. Good content is the foundation for building links and building PageRank.
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