Link Prospecting the Efficient Way with Buzzmarker for Chrome

There are all sorts of awesome link metrics available to us these days, many people reading this may not remember the days when we didn’t have Domain Authority, Trust or Citation Flow or when Yahoo Site Explorer was the go-to place for backlink checks. Now we have lots available to us and they’re great for sorting and filtering huge lists of link targets.

There is one thing though that, in my opinion, a metric can never replace – your gut feeling.

I feel like a few years ago, you could have argued that metrics alone were good enough when it came to link prospecting. You can’t argue that now, the bar has been raised far too high in recent years and when it comes to building links, there is no point in taking unnecessary risks as the consequences can be severe.

Any scalable link building technique will be moved outside Google Guidelines at some point. Ironically for a company that is all about doing things that scale, Google doesn’t like link building techniques that can be scaled. This is because they feel (and they’re right) that scaling something and maintaining a high level of quality is very hard. It can be done, but it isn’t done very well by the majority of people when it comes to link building.

Over the years, the question I’ve been asked over and over again is “how do I scale link building?”. The fact is, you shouldn’t unless you’re prepared to take some significant risks. So the problem is no longer asking yourself how do I scale my link building, it becomes “how do I make my link building more efficient?”.

One of the best tools that I know for this and one I’ve recommended for years now, is BuzzStream. The product just keeps improving and they’ve just released a new feature called the BuzzMarker for Chrome.

I’ve had the chance to play around with the extension over the last few weeks as it was being developed and I really think that it helps take link building efficiency to a new level.

Use cases – how to use the BuzzMarker for Chrome

I’ve been playing around with a few ways to combine features of other link building tools with the extension, let’s take a look at a few examples so far.

Majestic SEO and the BuzzMarker

There are a couple of ways to use Majestic SEO that immediately stood out to me which I’ll outline below using an example.

Let’s imagine that you were working on a piece of content for a client in the music industry, the content will focus around the history and evolution of rock music. One technique for finding potential places to get links from is to take a look at what similar pieces of content have been published before and seeing who linked to them. There is an added benefit here in that if you find that previous pieces of similar content didn’t get many links, it may question whether or not you have a good idea!

Something else to point out here is that if similar content has been done before, you really do need to bring something new in the piece you create. It can be some new data, a new type of visualisation or a much better design, either way, you can’t just rinse and repeat old content and expect it to perform better than previous pieces.

After a quick search, I came across this website – Rock Music Timeline. It has some great information but let’s be honest, the design isn’t great. I know that our piece can do a better job of design and visualisation. A quick backlink check using the Majestic SEO plugin shows me a few links going to the domain which is a good start:

majestic-1

 

Trust and Citation flow doesn’t look too bad so I take a look at some of the backlinks themselves by clicking on the backlinks tab:

majestic-2

 

There are a fair few in here with matching anchor text which makes me a little sceptical, as well as a few /links pages which may not be great in terms of sending traffic, but the metrics look decent for a few of these so it’s worthy of exploring a little more. Now I’m doing to click on the tools tab and open a report directly in Majestic SEO:

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Now, this is where things get a bit more interesting and efficient. You have a nice list of backlinks in Majestic SEO, next you need to right click on the page and select “start prospecting”:

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The following will appear on the right hand side of the screen which is basically a scrape of the links on the page:

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There is a slight flaw here in that the tool will also pull in non-relevant links, for example in the screenshot above you can see the Majestic SEO Facebook account which is obviously one we’re not interested in! If you hover over the prospect though, you can remove it from the list:

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Next up, click on “start prospecting” and you’ll see something like this:

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You can navigate your way around the website and the Buzzmarker will remain in place, so in the example above, I can also go to the contact us page and start entering information:

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I’m sure you can imagine the possibilties here but the key for me is that this doesn’t require me at any point to go to BuzzStream. I can use my existing workflow and prospecting process and basically enter information into BuzzStream as I go. This makes the process much more efficient and makes prospecting and keeping quality high very easy.

Using BuzzSumo with the BuzzMarker

I love BuzzSumo, it’s a really quick and easy tool and considering it’s relatively new to the market, the data it gives back is pretty good. Let’s stick with our rock music content example and go and do a simple search on BuzzSumo:

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The results will look like this:

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As we can see, this content is getting a decent amount of social shares which is another good signal to get as you’re doing this work.

Now we do what we did before with Majestic SEO, right click on the page and start prospecting, you can start going through the list of sites very quickly.

I want to keep going with this example and show another feature of BuzzSumo which can be tied in nicely with the new Buzzmarker. Let’s switch the example to change things up a little bit and imagine we’re working on a piece of content for photography, so we may want to look for influential photographers using a search like this:

buzzsumo-3This gives me the following list:

buzzsumo-4

You can do all sorts of things with this list but in this case, I’m going to sort by the column for number of retweets:

buzzsumo-5

 

As you can see, most of these results also have websites which is great because it may also mean they have a blog where I could get coverage or a link from – on top of their social influence. So now we just right click on the page again, click start prospecting and get a nice list of websites to go through:

buzzsumo-6

 

When I click start on prospecting, I can cycle through this list very quickly.

The fact that I’ve used BuzzSumo to gather and sort this list of influencers means that I’m spending time trying to connect with the right kind of people – again making me more efficient.

Using Followerwonk with the BuzzMarker

Followerwonk can be great for finding influential people in certain niches who are active on social channels, so I wanted to show an example of how to use it to prospect for influencers. Also, Followerwonk doesn’t allow for you to scrape contacts from the page in the same way Majestic and BuzzSumo do, so I wanted to show a little hack that fixes this.

Firstly, start with a simple search on Followerwonk:

followerwonk

Unfortunately, right clicking on the page and starting to prospect doesn’t work very well with Followerwonk, it only pulls in Twitter handles (which is ok) but we also want the websites that these people control too. So hit the download button in the top right corner:

followerwonk-2

Now this gives you a CSV file where you have a list of URLs for each of the people in your search:

followerwonk-3

Now, copy and paste this list of URLs into URL Opener and click submit:

url-opener

You’ll get something like this:

url-opener-2

Don’t click open all! Right click on the page and select the Buzzmarker and select start prospecting:

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 20.03.30

Done! You can use this little hack on pretty much every website where the Buzzmarker has trouble pulling the right links from a page or where the URLs are present in the source code.

Collaboration

Aside from the tool uses above, another really cool feature of the extension is that it allows for better collaboration when link prospecting. Under the old system, you wouldn’t know whether a colleague had approached the same website as you until you tried to add it the the database. Now, BuzzStream can highlight links on a page that are already in your account. To do this, right click on the page that contains your list of prospects and select “highlight contacts in BuzzStream”:

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For me, this was the effect on my search results:

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See how the top two results are highlighted in light blue? This means that are already in BuzzStream.

This also works nicely if you’re doing prospecting and come across a site that is already in BuzzStream, like the following example where I can see the previous note that has been placed:

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In this case, anyone prospecting who comes across this will know to speak to me about the prospect before proceeding which can be really useful when you’re part of a large team.

That’s about it! I’m sure more blog posts will appear over the coming weeks with uses for the Buzzmarker, if you have any ideas already, feel free to add them to the comments below and download the extension here. If you don’t have a BuzzStream account yet, you can get one here.

Blackhat vs. Whitehat SEO – My Opinion

Should you use link building techiques that are outside of Google guidelines?

Before we get too deep into this, the definition of Blackhat SEO can vary. As I mentioned in this article, I tend to think of blackhat as activity that is illegal or bordering on illegal. But for the purposes of this article, let’s say that blackhat is anything that is outside Google (or other search engine) guidelines.

Here is the summary of where I stand:

  • I don’t have a problem with blackhat SEOs in most circumstances
  • If you do blackhat SEO for someone else’s website – you must be clear about the risks to their business
  • If you do blackhat SEO for yourself, you need to be comfortable with the idea that Google can switch off your income overnight
  • I’m not comfortable building someone else’s business on blackhat SEO techniques, but that’s just me and why I don’t practice it for clients
  • I don’t want to come into work every day and think is this the day of the Google update that will affect my client

Few SEOs would argue that techniques such as buying links can give you a big boost in traffic as a result of higher rankings, the fact is that right now, a range of link building techniques that are outside of Google guidelines can work. Buying links is one of them. Link building can also be very hard, so it is little wonder that SEOs take the easy route and put budget into buying links in order to get results. Part of me doesn’t blame them.

But should you do it?

I’m sharing my own experience to try and explain my thinking here.

I learnt SEO via black / greyhat tactics

I first got into SEO at University when I was meant to be studying for my law degree, I was short of cash and eventually found my way to Google Adsense and a bit of CPA / affiliate marketing. I built some websites and wanted to get them to rank so I could make some money (mainly for beer) and I didn’t really care whether what I did was inside Google guidelines or not. I messed about with a bunch of techniques that, looking back, were pretty spammy and shouldn’t have worked, but they did. I didn’t make a fortune but I made enough to go for a few good nights out every month with my mates and not worry about buying a round of beers.

I was far from being a blackhat, but I wasn’t whiter than white either. Mainly because I didn’t even consider what I was doing to be that wrong, loads of other people were doing it and it worked. I knew it wasn’t illegal so where was the problem?

After a while, I started learning more, reading more and become more aware of this thing called web spam and that apparently, Google had a team of people dedicated to fighting it. So I started to look into the techniques they were fighting and low and behold, it was pretty much the kind of stuff I had been doing.

Meh. I still didn’t care. What’s the worst that was going to happen? If I got caught, I’d lose a bit of beer money. I wouldn’t be in the position of not being able to pay bills or lose my home or my car. I knew it was risky but I was fine with it, it was only me that would get “hurt” if Google caught me.

This is the key thing you need to consider when deciding the level of risk you’re willing to take.

Let me be clear:

I was taking risks with my own websites and my own income, 100% my decision.

If you are comfortable with the idea that your income could be pretty much switched off overnight, then why worry? I was comfortable with this and knew what I was doing. I know that many may not agree with this but it is your choice, if you want to get in, make some cash then get out, that is up to you.

Irish Wonder published a very timely post showing how a certain group of spammy websites were ranking for a very competitive gambling related keyword. The techniques used to rank this site (not just those pointed out in the post) are very spammy and I’m positive they will be caught by Google. However for such a competitive keyword, you only need to rank for a short amount of time before you’ve made a profit. It’s a case of get in, make enough to profit, get out. Rinse, repeat and scale.

I know some blackhat SEOs who have made a fortune through spam, they have then taken that money and invested it offline. Part of me can’t blame them for doing this, I think I actually admire them! They’ve found a way to make money, done it, then got out and done something smart with what they earned. They haven’t broken the law to earn what they have, you could argue that what they have done is unehtical, but I’m not getting into that here because it’s too subjective.

The bottom line for me, is that if you’re comfortable with the churn and burn approach, fully aware that any day, your income could be turned off, then go for it.

When this changes

I will say this though – this is NOT an acceptable approach if you’re employed to do SEO for another company or individual. This, for me, is where the line gets drawn. If you’re doing SEO for a small business that has been offline for 30 years and are just moving online, you should not be risking their online business and growth by using churn and burn tactics. That is not your decision to take.

As an SEO company, you’re paid to get results for your client, but all too often I read and hear “it works and gets results so what’s the problem?”

The problem is that the duty to get results doesn’t give you license to take risks with your client’s business. But what if the client demands results right now?

I feel like you have two choices here:

1 – Full disclosure

Full disclosure to the client of what tactics are outside Google guidelines and the consequences of getting caught using those tactics. They could do very well in the short term but you can’t guarantee that they will never get caught. Showing them something like this can probably help demonstrate what could happen if things goe wrong:

penalty

If the client is comfortable with this and happy with the risks, then you may decide to go for it. This sits better with me because the client is deciding to take the risk with their company in the full knowledge of what may happen. This is very different to the SEO company who offer the moon on a stick and don’t give a shit what tactics they use.

2 – Don’t compromise

The second option is to not compromise on your tactics because of the risks involved and walk away from the client project. If you do this, I bet that at least once in a while, they will come back 12 months later saying you were right. At which point they’ll be paying you to take links down rather than build them!

Whichever you choose, is clearly your choice and I wouldn’t judge anyone on what they do. But as stated above, there is a line that should be drawn and if you’re doing blackhat SEO for a website without being clear about the risks, then I don’t think that is right.

What I do now

In terms of my agency life, I can’t recommend blackhat SEO to clients, even if they understand the risks. I don’t want to live a life where with each Google update I have to log into analytics and see if my client has been hit.

Having said that, I do experiment and test stuff with my own websites. I think all SEOs should test for themselves and not blindly take the word of others. This is an old post from Rishi but it is still relevant today and to this discussion.

I don’t earn money from Adsense or affiliate sites anymore, those sites were burnt a long time ago. Plus, it was a LOT easier back then. Now, you have to actually work hard to even make spam work enough to make a good income 🙂

BuzzBar – New BuzzStream Feature

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of BuzzStream. I’ve written about using it for guest posting, infographic link building and broken link building before. They have just released a new feature which I’m really pleased to see. Before going into the detail of the new feature, I wanted to explain why I think it is such a great addition.

If you wanted, you could use BuzzStream to pretty much automate and scale every step of the link building process. You could do prospecting, import all the websites that you find, keep the ones where you have contact details, then send outreach emails to them all – without ever actually looking at the target websites.

For obvious reasons, I do NOT advise this.

With BuzzStream, I’d still go into each and every link target and open the website to check it manually before doing outreach to it. Whilst this isn’t a time killer, it did probably take a bit longer to do it than I’d have liked. But this is where I had to draw the line and not compromise on the quality of websites that I was contacting.

The new feature is called the BuzzBar and allows me to still manually check websites, but at a much quicker pace than before. Below I’ll go through the steps for using this feature.

Step 1 – Add a link prospecting search

From within BuzzStream, you can do link prospecting using your own advanced search queries. The advantage of using this over just searching Google is that the results are automatically pulled into BuzzStream along with various link metrics.

Click on Prospecting at the top of your screen:

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Now select your options:

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It will take a few minutes for BuzzStream to gather your results.

Step 2 – Open up your prospecting results

After a few minutes, your search will be done and you can view the results by clicking here:

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Step 3 – Filter your results

Now you will see a screen that looks something like this:

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With the old BuzzStream system, you’d accept or reject the websites by clicking on one of the options highlighted in the red box above. But to do this, you’d have to open up each website individually, then come back to BuzzStream to accept or reject the websites. This worked fine but wasn’t massively efficient.

Now, you can do this instead:

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Now click on Research in the top menu, then select this:

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This will open a new tab in your browser that looks something like this:

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This is awesome, in this example, I can go through 34 link prospects one at a time and accept or reject instantly. My decision will then be fed directly into BuzzStream and all I’ll be left with is the link prospects that I want to reach out to.

I also have various metrics that I can take a quick glance at too but I usually scan the page first to get a feel for it before looking at metrics. If the page looks a bit spammy and not great for users, then I probably don’t worry too much about metrics and I’ll just reject it.

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Generally, I’ll reject any site that has a homepage PageRank of 0 and perhaps a DA of 25 or below. It depends on the client and how wide their niche is though. If it’s a pretty small niche, then I’ll bend the rules a little.

Then I’ll click on one of the following:

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The thumbs up means that it is a good site and you want to outreach to it later. The thumbs down means that it is a good site but not quite right for your current campaign, so pressing this will remove it from your project. The last option is to blacklist the domain which isbest used for very spammy results that you not only want to reject for this project, but to stop BuzzStream from suggesting them in the future. This can also be used for sites that you’re probably never going to get a link from such as Amazon or YouTube etc.

That’s about it!

Link Building Tip: Boomerang and Canned Responses for Outreach Follow Up

A really quick and easy link building tip for Gmail users today. I’ve mentioned before that I always get more outreach responses when I follow up with prospects. Chances are that you won’t catch everyone at just the right time first time around, so following up is always a good idea.

However this requires you to be reasonably organised so that you not only remember, but don’t make the mistake of following up with the wrong people. You can use BuzzStream to keep yourself organised but if you’re looking for something a bit more basic, this tip may be for you.

You will need: Gmail + Boomerang + Canned Responses

Step 1 – Install Boomerang

Head over to Boomerang and install the plugin. Once it is installed, you’ll see this added to your compose email screen:

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Step 2 – Install Canned Responses

Canned Responses is a Gmail Labs feature so you’ll need to enable that first. Once you’ve done this, go to Settings, then Labs where you’ll see this screen:

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Step 3 – Write your responses and save them

Now you need to write your follow up emails. You’ll probably write a range of these depending on the link building campaigns that you’re running. You can save them all within canned responses:

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Step 4 – Remember to Boomerang outreach emails as you send them

The feature of Boomerang that we’re going to use is the one that will send the email back to us if we haven’t had a response in a certain period of time. When you send an email, select the following:

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I tend to select either 4 days or 1 week, depending on the campaign.

If you get a reply, Boomerang will not remind you to follow up. If you get a reply then Boomerang will send the email back to you, at which point you can hit reply and insert your pre-made canned response. I recommend personalizing if you can with at least their name:

Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 20.38.01

Click send and you’re done! You’ll make sure that you follow up on every outreach email you send and better still, it hardly takes you any time!

Non-SEO books that SEOs recommend

I enjoy reading books that are not about SEO but still influence my work in some way. I think that SEO is still a relatively young industry and we have lots to learn from elsewhere. There are lots of things we can learn from other fields if we open up to it a bit.

I randomly thought it would be interesting to find out what books my peers recommended so I emailed them and asked. I thought it would be nice to share it publicly so I’ve created the list below to share with everyone. You will notice a few books are repeated, this is deliberate as I wanted to show the popularity of them.

On a related note, my link building book is starting to take shape so if you’d like to hear about it when it’s released, sign up using that link.

Sam Crocker recommends

Switch: How to change things when change is hard
  E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
  In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives
  Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions
  Persuasion: The Art of Influencing People

Dr Pete recommends
  Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
  Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Duncan Morris recommends
  Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
  First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
  The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Wil Reynolds recommends
  Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing
  The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything
Switch: How to change things when change is hard

Ian Lurie recommends

 

  Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
  The Ultimate Question 2.0: How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
  Confessions of an Advertising Man
  My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising

Mackenzie Fogelson recommends
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose; A Round Table Comic
  E-Myth Mastery: The Seven Essential Disciplines for Building a World Class Company
  The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Rework
  The One Minute Manager

Rand Fishkin recommends
The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Made and Gave Away a Fortune Without Anyone Knowing
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
  The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic
Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

Joanna Lord recommends
Fire Starter Lessons
Rework
  The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business
  The Phantom Tollbooth

Will Critchlow recommends
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
  E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
  First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
  The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
  Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way

I’d love to hear your own recommendations in the comments, although I should really hold back on downloading yet more books for my Kindle!

An Outreach Experiment for Paid Links in the Travel Industry

Update: Given the various comments this piece has generated, I just wanted to reiterate that the point of this article isn’t to criticise travel bloggers or SEOs. If you own a blog, it is your choice to charge for links if you want. If you’re an SEO, you can buy links if you want. The type of outreach conducted in this experiment is not what I’d normally do and is not what I’d recommend other SEOs do, but it was necessary in this case. I accept it may have altered the outcome of the experiment slightly but not significantly.

One of the common problems I come across when doing outreach is bloggers replying but asking to be paid for the link.  It seems to be a common problem for others too judging by the number of times that other SEOs have asked me how to overcome this problem.  The fact is, it is a hard problem to overcome, only once can I recall turning a paid link into a free one from my own experience.  To be honest, most of the time I’ll just make a note of the domain selling links and move on.

I decided to run an experiment and get some hard numbers on this. This is by no means definitive or a full representation of the travel industry, I’m one person doing this test, hence the relatively low numbers, but since very few people publish this kind of stuff, I still wanted to share.

The numbers are probably not as bad as I expected, but are things only going to get worse?

Also let me say this (I wish I didn’t have to make it this clear): I am NOT outing anyone here. I am not publishing the list of who I contacted, who replied and who were prepared to sell links. If you happen to work in this industry and are in the business of buying / selling links, that is your choice. I very much doubt this post will change anything for you.

Bottom line outcomes:

  • Of 122 emails sent, I got 53 replies
  • Of those 53 replies 26 would only link to me if I paid for it
  • Of the 53 replies, 10 immediately said yes to a guest post
  • The remainder, 17 wanted more information, neither saying yes or asking for money
  • 9 people quoted prices in their reply, the average cost of a link was $285

The experiment itself:

  • To keep things fair, the same email was sent to each website but was personalised to that website in several ways
  • I was offering a guest post but didn’t mention which company I was representing
  • I didn’t mention that I wanted a link in return
  • I didn’t offer money
  • I only contacted travel websites
  • I used a persona, not my own name for obvious reasons

A few thoughts occurred when I looked at these numbers:

  • Have SEOs brought this upon ourselves?
  • What would Googles opinion be on this? What’s the advice for SEOs?
  • Is the problem only going to get worse?
  • Is this normal and the same across other industries?

I’m not drawing conclusions based on this rather small experiment, but here are some of my own thoughts.

Is this our fault?

Judging by the wording used in the replies (see the section on advertising below) it is clear than these bloggers are quite savvy when it comes to SEO and they know the value of a link. Is this a result of constant outreach emails from SEOs? Have we sent so many that they have realised that they can make money from this? To be honest, I don’t blame them! Blogs can be a nice source of income and as they are a hobby for most people, who wouldn’t want an extra few dollars a month?

It’s supply and demand. These bloggers have seen a demand for something and decided to charge for what they have.

It is tempting

I can see why SEOs would say yes when offered the chance of an easy link, it can sometimes be hard to just get a reply from a blogger so when they do reply, it can be tempting to just accept it and pay up. It is still clearly against Google guidelines and as mentioned previously, I just make a note of these and move on if I’m outreaching for a client, many wouldn’t though.

They didn’t want to sell me advertising

Advertising online has always been normal, you pay for exposure on another website and get traffic to your own. But it was clear from the replies I got that I was not being quoted advertising rates, many mentioned “links” “SEO” “backlinks” “anchor text” which is not what I’d expect if the blogger was just trying to sell me a banner ad. They knew what I wanted and the value of it.

How hard is it for Google to do this?

I’m one person doing this test and I can easily repeat it, scale and gather data for 1000s of travel blogs. What could Google do?

I know that Google have always verged on the side of caution and have always wanted to build scalable, algorithmic solutions to web spam and paid links rather than manual work. But this has changed in the last year, Google are getting aggressive and have shown they will take manual action when needed (or pushed).

I wonder what would happen to the link graph if Google did this for say 100,000 blogs and turned off the PageRank for all websites that sold links.

How much is a link worth?

The average quoted price was $285. The highest quoted price was $700! Is this worth it? I can certainly think of better ways to spend $700 on a client’s SEO campaign that would probably get them more links without buying them.

How to use a Google Custom Search Engine for SEO

One of the tips I gave away at MozCon was to use a Google custom search engine (CSE) to dig through your competitors links and find easy wins.  I wouldn’t advise this as your only link building tactic because ultimately you want to get the links that your competitors can’t get as these will make the difference.  But a few easy win quality links is always welcome and can give you some diversity.

Since MozCon, I’ve had a few people ask me more about this tactic so I thought I’d write a blog post and go into a bit more detail.

What a Google CSE is

You can get an idea of the basics from this page too but I’ll go into some of them here and provide some SEO context.

A custom search engine allows you to use Google search technology to search pages and domains that you specify.  So rather than doing a standard search on Google.com and having to filter down to the level you want, you can define exactly what you want to search which can cut down the number of results to a more manageable and reasonable size.

You specify the domains and pages you want to search by copying and pasting into your CSE – nice and simple by copying and pasting your list.  At this point you can tell Google whether you want to search an entire domain or just the pages.

How this helps you if you’re an SEO

There are a number of uses but the one I talked about at MozCon was using a CSE to dig through your competitors backlinks to find easy win links.  So let’s go through the process for this.

How to create a Google CSE to mine your competitors backlinks

Step 1 – Go to your link analysis tool of choice, in this example we’ll use Open Site Explorer and enter your competitors URL:

Tip – exclude links from your own domain so you have a cleaner of results.

Now export the report to a CSV from the right hand side:

You’ll have to wait a few minutes for the CSV, then you can download it.

Step 2 – Create a Google Custom Search Engine, start by going to this URL whilst logged into your Google Account.  Then click on the big blue button on the right hand side:

Now you just need to fill in the fields which are easy:

Now you need to copy and paste your list of links from your CSV into this bit:

Agree to the terms and conditions, then click next.

If you want, you can define the colour scheme of your engine, I usually leave it at default but you can change it if you want:

Now we need to give the engine a quick test before finalising it, just type a word into the search box:

You’ll get a feel for the results very quickly and see how good they are.  Remember, depending on your competitors strategies, you may not find a certain type of link such as guest post if they haven’t done them.  So try a few and see what you can find.  If all is well, click on next.

Step 3 – Paste onto your chosen page using the code that Google gives you:

I tend to put this code up on a hidden page somewhere on one of my sites.  So the URL is accessible to anyone that needs it but it can’t be crawled or found easily.

That’s it!  Once you’ve done it once, it will take you a few minutes to do again.

 

Broken Link Building using BuzzStream

This is the third in a series of posts focusing on how I use BuzzStream to build links.  See the previous two posts on infographic link building and guest post link building to catchup on these techniques.

In general, there aren’t many “quick win” link building techniques out there which delivery good quality links.  Most high quality links take time and effort to get, however this technique can get you good quality links without the need to spend tons of time on it.  There is still a catch though, the same rules of link building apply – you need a site that deserves links.

Having a site that deserves links is a post for another day, let’s focus on the process of broken link building using BuzzStream.

Essentially with broken link building, we’re looking for that “hook” or “way in” to a link prospect.  Approaching link prospects can be hard because you need to give them a good reason to link to you.  When you tell them that they have broken links on their site, you are doing just that.

Step 1 – Finding the broken links

There are a couple of ways of finding broken links.  I have to admit that I very rarely actively go looking for them, most of the time I’ll be looking for potential link opportunities and just happen to spot broken links.  If I do, I’ll take advantage and use that as my hook or at least part of the hook.  For this reason, I rarely approach a website owner asking them to replace a broken link with my own, I’ll simply ask them to add my link and inform them of the broken links that need fixing.

By far the easiest way to do this is to install this nice little Chrome plugin which highlights broken links on a page automatically:

Anything highlighted in red is a broken link and anything in green is a good link.  In general I’ll come across these types of link opportunities when doing link prospecting for resource pages.  Here is an example search query that I may use for this type of link prospecting:

The first result I came across from this search was from the European Beer Guide.  I activated from HREF Chrome extension and straight away found 36 broken links on this single page:

If I was running a beer selling website online, this is the perfect type of site for me to approach.  Something to be aware of here is that sometimes, 403 errors can be wrong.  Some websites will sometimes block automatic requests from sources they don’t know or trust.  So you just need to be careful and actually check the link yourself.

Step 2 – Adding the prospect to BuzzStream

Next up we’re going to use the trusty BuzzMarker to get this prospect into BuzzStream.  I also tend to create a new project within BuzzStream called “Broken Link Building” which this prospect will go into.

Something important to remember here is to take a note of the exact URL where the broken link is, as well as the number of broken links you’ve found.  I’ll tend to do this in the notes section of the BuzzMarker:

We’ll come back to how we’ll use this information later.  For now, you just need to keep doing prospecting and adding contacts to BuzzStream.

Something to note here, you’ll still want to do some due diligence on the site and try to work out if it has updated recently.  There is a chance that the website has been neglected for a while which is why it has broken links.  So I tend to look for signs of activity such as an updated blog or news section.

Step 3 – Outreach using a personalised template

The one thing I love about BuzzStream is that it allows you to scale outreach without being spammy.  The outreach module makes it super easy to send lots of emails quickly whilst having the ability to edit them individually if needed.

The first thing you’ll need to do is create an outreach template within BuzzStream:

 

Now you can just save this template in the bottom right corner.  When it comes to sending the emails, here is what your screen will look like:

Click send and you’re done!  You can imagine how quickly this can scale and how many of these emails you can send in an hour or two.

If you’re looking for more resources on broken link building, I’d suggest checking out these awesome guides:

http://citationlabs.com/broken-link-building-how-napoleon-suarez-gets-8-12-conversions/

http://citationlabs.com/36-broken-link-building-resources/

http://www.seomoz.org/blog/broken-link-building-guide-from-noob-to-novice

http://www.seerinteractive.com/blog/broken-link-building-feast-on-your-competitors-this-thanksgiving/

http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2136985/Broken-Link-Building-for-Content-Promotion

MozCon 2012 – My Thoughts and Slidedeck

This year I was fortunate enough to speak at MozCon in Seattle, it was one of the best conferences I’ve spoken at.  I’ve not spoken at loads of conferences but I’ve attended a fair few and I was seriously impressed with the speakers, content and audience of MozCon.  A few people have been asking for copies of my slidedeck so you can find them at the bottom of this post or just click here.  It is an edited version, I’ve taken a couple of bits out which referenced client work and the odd tactic I don’t want shared too publicly.  All photos below are from Rudy Lopez.

Summary of MozCon

There were some over-arching themes during the conference which came out during the three days for me.  None of them that unexpected to be honest, but it is good to see the industry taking these kind of things seriously.

  • Content marketing and strategy are at the forefront of people’s mind (kinda expected)
  • The companies that will win in years to come will be doing things that reach beyond just SEO and quick wins
  • We are marketers, not just SEOs – our budgets and the levels we sit at within clients should reflect that

My favourite talks over the three days were from Wil Reynolds, Mike King, Dr Pete and Richard Baxter.  Two of them (Wil and Mike) very motivational and with good messaging.  The other two (Pete and Rich) very data driven.  You can see the slidedecks at the bottom of this post.

MozCon

Where SEO is going

Getting into more detail, the messaging from a few speakers from MozCon was clear – SEOs need to get over short term tactics and start doing stuff that makes a big impact to their clients beyond links.  This was a little tough to hear for me personally because I opened MozCon with a talk about 35 (ended up being 37) link building tactics which arguably, went against the overall message.  One attendee picked up on this:

and my reply:

Ultimately, I think you need balance at SEO conferences.  My message sat within the overall message in that my link building techniques (with the odd exception!) are totally legitimate and ones that will build good relationships with the right people.

Yes, if companies want to win online they need to deserve to.  But it isn’t that easy.  With many clients, this involves change, people don’t like change, change takes time.  Yes we should totally be thinking big and influencing change within our client companies, however it won’t happen overnight.

In the meantime, 37 ways to build links that you deserve won’t hurt right 🙂

I actually think that if we were telling a story, the three talks from Wil, Mike and myself compliment each other well.  Mike did a great job of explaining how to pitch content marketing and addressed the fact that this stuff can be tough.  I also favour actionable talks, both as a speaker and as an attendee so Mike’s was good because it laid out a good process which many people could use and adapt.  Whilst Wil was very blunt and to the point about why we need to change our mindsets and it ended up being a pretty motivational talk with a few actionable tips as well.

My own talk

I loved every minute of it.  I was really, really nervous beforehand and felt like I may be sick.  Particularly having to follow Rand’s introduction and be the first speaker of the three days.  But it was amazing and I’ve had some great feedback on Twitter and in person from many attendees.  If you were at MozCon and have some feedback on what I can improve or do better, please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment below.

I had a number of people say it was the most actionable which was great to hear because this was exactly what I was pitching for.  Let’s be honest, I’m never going to out-perform Wil Reynolds, Rand or Mike King!  So actionable and hands on stuff that people can use is the best way I know to present stuff.  Hopefully it was useful to as many people as possible.

The social time

I think there is one thing that impressed me more than anything else at MozCon – the audience.  Both during the conference and at the social events, everyone was just so nice and friendly.  I talked to some very smart people and certain learnt a lot from chatting to many of the audience, it is a shame sometimes that the smartest SEOs aren’t keen on public speaking because some of the smartest SEOs I’ve met have never spoken at conferences.

The venues were also excellent, particularly the Garage which is a great space and with such great weather, we spent a lot of time out on the terrace drinking beer in the sunshine.  The free bar and food also helped make it an awesome night!  There were also pool tables and bowling alleys for everyone to use.

If you were one of the people who handed me a pint of Guinness or beer over the three days, thank you!  If you came and said hello, thank you!  I was seriously impressed with the audience and the nice words and handshakes – I genuinely appreciate it all.

The conference venue

I liked the Westin.  The one thing I noticed was that despite there being over 800 people there, it didn’t feel like there were.  There was plenty of space to move about and I particularly liked having live streams of the talks on TVs placed around the eating and social areas, so if you had some work to do, you could do but still keep an eye on the stage.

There were moans and groans about the Wifi – yes it was very flakey during the sessions but I know that Moz did put a hell of a lot of effort into making it work.  The fact is that 800 people (all with more than one device probably) trying to use the Wifi at the same time is going to be hard.

What wasn’t talked about much

The fact that despite recent Google updates, spam can still work.  Paid links can still work.  Yes things are changing and companies should be looking to adapt their strategies and even their business models if necessary.  But right now, I feel Google have a long way to go.  I’m not convinced that the Penguin update was specifically aimed at people who bought links, I think that bought links did get caught in the crossfire though.

The fallout and the various unnatural links warning sparked a huge reaction from SEOs who opened up their link building blackbooks for Google to see – this can give them exactly what they need to start going after paid links.  They could of course have collected data on who buys and sells links themselves, but why bother when you have a community of SEOs to do it for you? 🙂

I wish this had been touched upon a bit more and a number of attendees asked my about Penguin problems after the conference.

Other roundups

These are a few other roundups I’ve seen, let me know if I’ve missed any in the comments and I’ll edit.

http://www.thogenhaven.com/dozens-of-content-seo-and-social-tools-from-mozcon-2012

http://www.seo.com/blog/

http://www.mikearnesen.com/blog/mozcon-in-memes-roundup/

http://www.blastam.com/blog/index.php/2012/07/2012-mozcon-day-three-wrap-up/ (includes links to day 1 and 2)

http://www.stateofsearch.com/the-mozcon-chronicles-day-1-morning-sessions/

Slidedecks

My own –

Mike King –

Wil Reynolds –

Richard Baxter –

You can also grab everyone’s slidedecks from this page.  I can’t find Dr Pete’s right now to embed but you can download it.
If you were at MozCon, feel free to leave any comments below and add your own thoughts, particularly if you have feedback on how I can improve my talks.

Guest Blogging Link Building using BuzzStream

This is the second in a series of posts I’m writing focused around using BuzzStream for link building.  My previous post was about link building with infographics.

Despite recent changes in the way Google handle over-optimisation particularly relating to links, quality guest blogging for me, is still a viable link building technique.  Like any link building technique, it can be abused and done wrong.  However if you’re doing good quality guest blogging as a result of building relationships, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.  In terms of building relationships, BuzzStream is certainly my tool of choice for a bunch of reasons.  In this post I’ll be talking through various processes and techniques for using BuzzStream to drive your guest blogging.

Like some of my previous BuzzStream posts, this one is pretty long and detailed.  So here is a quick summary so you can skip to certain sections easily.

Section 1 – Building a Database of Guest Bloggers

Section 2 – Finding bloggers to add to your database

Section 3 – Outreach to contacts

Building a Database of Guest Bloggers

One of the key features of BuzzStream is it’s ability to act like a searchable database of link opportunities.  Over time, you can use it as your little black book of contacts who you can use for link building.  This is particularly useful if you work on multiple websites or work at an agency.

To use BuzzStream like this, you will need to make a couple of simple changes to the default way BuzzStream is setup.  We’ll be creating new projects and folders to keep things organised and we’ll be using the custom fields feature to help us categorise link opportunities as guest bloggers.

Setting up a new project and folder

An important aspect of having a database is keeping it as organised as possible, particularly if you have a large team of people working within the same BuzzStream account.

 

 

 

What we’re doing here is creating a folder which can contain a number of projects which we can refer back to later.  Here is a view of what we have after adding a couple more types of lists:

The end goal here is to get yourself setup to efficiently build a list of guest blogging opportunities which you can use now and in the future.  So when you start a new project, you can search this master database and look for quick wins to copy into your new project. Next, let’s look at getting opportunities into our master list.

Categorising opportunities

As part of our database, we’ll need to keep link opportunities categorised so we can easily find them later.  So we’ll need to make sure that guest post opportunities are added to the database and tagged in the appropriate way.  The easiest way to do this within BuzzStream is to create some custom fields.  To setup custom fields, follow these steps:

Click on customize fields:

Scroll down to Custom Fields for Link Partners and click on New Custom Field:

Fill in the options that appear next:

It is that simple.  Now let’s see how this looks on the front end when we add guest blogging opportunities to the database.

Adding guest blogging opportunities to your database

It is important to make sure you integrate BuzzStream into your guest posting process so that it makes you more efficient.  Below I’ll outline a few examples processes and how BuzzStream fits in.  There are three core ways to add link opportunities to BuzzStream:

  • Using the BuzzMarker
  • Using the import CSV function
  • Using the link prospector

Using advanced search queries

By far one of the most effective ways of finding guest post opportunities is to use advanced search queries.  If you are unfamiliar with them, checkout this full guide from SEOmoz and this guide to using them for guest blogging from Distilled.  Here is an example to get us started though.

Say we worked in the gadgets niche and wanted to do some guest blogging, we’d probably use a query such as this one:

This will return a set of search results which should be more relevant than just searching for “gadget blogs” on it’s own.  We have a couple of options here on how to get the results into BuzzStream.  Let’s first look at adding one website at a time.

Using the BuzzMarker

From your Google search results, click through to the site that offers guest posting opportunities and spend a bit of time making sure it is a good quality site.  Once you’re happy, you can use the BuzzMarker to add this site to BuzzStream by following these steps.

You should have seen the instructions for adding the BuzzMarker to your browser when you first got started with BuzzStream, but just in case, here are some instructions.

When you are on the website you want to add, hit the BuzzMarker button in your browser which should bring up the input window where you can fill in all the details you need about that contact.  The important bit to bear in mind here is the custom field we created earlier:

You can go ahead and fill in the rest of the details and hit save.  Then when you go back into BuzzStream, you should see this opportunity appear in your interface.

Now this is a good method to use and once you get into a routine, you can add websites very quickly using the BuzzMarker.  But there is a quicker way to add larger numbers of potential link opportunities into BuzzStream using the import function.

Using the import function

There is a great feature within BuzzStream which allows you to quickly import lots of link opportunities using a CSV file.  Once you’ve imported them, BuzzStream will go and gather domain metrics such as MozRank and PageRank automatically.  It will also go and try to find contact details.

We’ll need to get our Google search results into a CSV quickly, to do that, we’re going to use a nifty little Chrome extension called Scrape Similar.  This will allow us to grab Google search results very quickly and easily rather than going through them one by one.

Let’s take a look at the process you can use here.

Step one will be the same as before and starting with an advanced search query such as this one:

Next, right click on the URL of the first result and click Scrape Similar:

This should give you something like this:

From here you can either export to Google Docs and then save a CSV file, or you can copy and paste the URLs straight into Excel and save it as a CSV.

Importing these contacts into BuzzStream

Now that you have a CSV file of link targets, you need to get them into your BuzzStream project.

 

 

 

 

Click on Import Contacts and you’re done!  It will take BuzzStream a minute or so to do the import, you’ll get an email when it is done.

So once you’ve imported these contacts, BuzzStream will start to gather domain metrics.  More importantly for us, it will try and find contact details.  I usually give it a bit of time to do this and then go through and start adding them.  You can do this by sorting by the contact information column and adding email addresses:

If I’m filtering through lots and lots of targets, I’ll tend to remove opportunities where no email address was found.  I know that I may lose the odd website because of this, but you need to aggressively filter and cut out websites at this point because you will not have unlimited time.

I’ll also sort by domain metrics such as PageRank and Domain Authority and cut out very low scores.  Typically, I’d get rid of any websites below PR1 and below DA30:

At this point, you’re ready to go through these sites manually and start thinking about outreach.

Use the BuzzStream link prospector

Above, I’ve outlined a process for finding guest post opportunities which is a bit manual.  I’m a bit fan of learning the workings of processes before letting a tool do the work for you.  So I’d still advise going through the manual process.  But for after this, there is a nice feature of BuzzStream called the link prospector which we’ll go through now.

We’re going to use the same example again and imagine we’re trying to find guest post opportunities related to gadgets.  This time though, instead of using our advanced search query in Google, we’re going to get BuzzStream to do the searching for us.

Next you need to fill in the following details to define the prospecting searches:

Hit save, and BuzzStream will go off and start searching for link opportunities.  It is usually no more than a few minutes before BuzzStream is done.  At which point you can click on the link in the email you receive to open up the list of opportunities.

This particular search has returned 60 potential targets for me.  Again, BuzzStream will go and automatically start gathering domain metrics and trying to find contact information.  So after a few minutes, you will see this starting to populate within BuzzStream.

The first thing I tend to do is sort by PageRank and Domain Authority, then reject the ones below PR1 and DA30.  This is super easy to do within the link prospector by using these buttons:

These options are to Approve, Reject or Blacklist.  Blacklisting will stop BuzzStream suggesting this site in the future whilst reject should be used if it is a good site but not quite relevant for this particular project.

I’ll then sort by discovered contact info and reject sites where an email address hasn’t been found automatically:

I’ll then do a quick sense check of the remaining URLs do make sure I reject or blacklist any others that don’t look right.  For example I once managed to get Matt Cutts’ blog on my list and with respect to Matt, I don’t think I’d like to ask for a guest post there!

This leaves me with a nice targeted list of sites that I can take a closer look at and start outreaching to.  Overall, this process is probably quicker than doing this manually but you still need that manual review of sites to ensure quality standards are kept high.

Outreaching to the contacts

Now that we have our list, we need to start outreach.   There is an outreach module within BuzzStream which allows you to scale outreach easily without spamming people.  You work from a single template and have the opportunity to personalise the email as much as you want before hitting send and moving onto the next contact.

Writing your template

BuzzStream allows you to create templates for your outreach.  When doing guest blogging, this can work very well because most of the email can be templated without compromising the quality.  When doing guest blogging, I tend to pitch three or four content ideas within the first email and ask for the website owners feedback.  I’ll ask if they like any of the ideas I’ve proposed or would like to suggest a topic for me to write about.

To create a template, follow these steps.

 

 

 

 

Sending the emails

You should now see the following split screen where you can send your outreach email from.  You can use the various bits of information on the left hand side to customise your email even more.  See the example below.

That’s it!  You can quickly go through a decent sized list of contacts whilst making the emails personalised and not spammy.