At Digital Third Coast, we spend a lot of time thinking about, pursuing, analyzing, and generally obsessing over links. And we don’t mean the bar near our office, although we're fans of that as well. If you happen to be in our cozy corner of Wicker Park, it's a great place to get a unique and interesting beer....and the food isn't too shabby there, either. These are buried alive fries at Links Taproom. They are very bad for you. Beer is recommended as a side dish.
Now that I have your attention by showing you pictures of delicious food, let's discuss the inbound links to your website. Anyone with the most basic of experience in SEO can tell you that links are one of the most critical parts of the Google algorithm. We can debate all day on exactly how much those links matter, but the general consensus of SEO professionals is they are likely the largest or one of the largest factors in the search engine algorithm. In general:
- Having more inbound links, and the higher the quality of those links, makes Google see your website as more authoritative.
- Because Google now sees you as more of an authority on a given subject, you rank higher for related keywords
- Since you rank higher, you get more organic visitors
- And the more visitors you get, the more leads you get, meaning more money.
Seems like a pretty straightforward process, and we do have some projects where we go through this exact process. Create awesome content, get great links, traffic goes up, everyone is happy! But that's the thing....it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes we have a huge success of a content piece.....and nothing really happens. Then we get questions like "I thought you said the links would help!" and "I read about this guy, who does SEO WITHOUT LINKS, LINKBUILDING IS DEAD, I heard so on this marketing blog over here!" Let's put those questions to bed. Yes, sometimes you'll get quality links and the traffic won't move upwards. Rather then panicking and getting all crazy, let's look at the logical reasons why your traffic might not be moving upward, even when you have quality links coming into the site.
As advanced as Google is, it's still dealing with billions and billions of websites. Same thing with tools like Moz, Ahrefs, etc. - these are very advanced tools, but they have a lot of data to chew through. And when it comes to links, it gets particularly complicated - Google has to go to the website that is linking to you, evaluate their site, then take that link into consideration with the rest of your inbound links, and then compare your site against other websites to figure out what results to provide. Even for a company as brilliant as Google, it's a complicated process, and crawling all this data takes time. In general, with on-site changes, you're looking at 2-4 weeks after the change before Google really fully crawls, analyzes, and factors in those changes and your results change due to it. You can probably safely add another week onto that for linkbuilding - if you're getting links in the beginning of September, they're not really going to kick in and start affecting results until anywhere from 2-6 weeks, depending on a variety of factors. If we don't see movement after 4-5 weeks after the links have been built, that's a sign to us there's another problem. But rarely are you going to see the results of linkbuilding within a few days. At the earliest, the results from your linkbuilding efforts will be two weeks out. So wait before sounding any alarms.
Measurement Beyond Traffic
We often tend to focus on overall organic traffic - traffic to every single page of the website. But does that really tell the full story? In my experience, with most clients, there are certain areas of the website which are more valuable then others - be it a certain location, a certain service offering, or a particular line of products. And it's important to look beyond the overall traffic number and look at where the actual traffic is going. Also, not only measuring traffic, but the conversions as well. An example: I had a client who dealt in business software. They had a page on their site that was attracting a lot of traffic for a term similar to "free file converter"....which they obviously don't want, as they are in the business of selling things, and they don't even really deal with this type of file. We removed the page attracting traffic for that term from the website, launched an amazing content piece, and got about 10+ quality links in the course of two weeks. Next month's report rolls around three weeks later.....we're up 1% year-over-year. But guess what? That 1% is the overall number for all organic visits. We lost a ton of traffic by removing the 'free file converter' page and our other landing pages focused on key terms went up 20-30%. Conversions rose 25%. Keyword rankings climbed significantly. Just because the overall amount of traffic isn't moving upwards, doesn't mean that SEO isn't working. We want to drive traffic to the right areas, and we want visitors who convert. I realize I sound like a broken record about this but it's just that important. Make sure you look at the full picture and the areas of the site which drive business, rather then simply the overall number of visits.
Bad Apples Spoil The Bunch
If you throw a bunch of shiny, new, tasty red apples on top of a bucket with rotting apples currently in the bottom of it, what happens? Your shiny red apples will rot into mush and be no good. We certainly don't want that! (I should stop using food metaphors, I could really go for an apple about now.....) While one bad link isn't going to spoil your entire link profile, there's something to be said for removing bad links before building new, fresh links. If your current link profile contains 500 crap links that lead nowhere, guess what - 20 great placements on relevant blogs and newspapers aren't going to help you much. Those links will try to help your website, but ultimately the sheer amount of garbage is going to outweigh your good links, and you won't see the results from those quality links. I get excited about working with Kyle and Tom and Alex to create great, relevant content for my clients - but before we even go that far, we start with a website audit, and we evaluate the link profile of a given website. If we see a mass of rotten links then we need to remove those links by contacting webmasters, disavowing, etc. before we even begin to think about creating content that attracts links. Otherwise, all those quality links aren't going to help much.
Put Some Words on The Page!
Even with quality inbound link building, you're not going to rank well for your key terms unless your pages which are targeted to that term provide quality content. Yes, linkbuilding content is great, and yes, it's hard to write 400 words about plants or whatever it is that you sell - but that's the Panda quality guideline. In general Google prefers to see pages with 400+ written words on the page - personally, I like to see at least 325 if we can't quite get to 400 words. 400 is a rough guideline; you should go with what feels natural. But 50-word pages are a no-go. You absolutely need to have pages that have written content, with the appropriate keywords and headings in that content. Links can only help so much if you're building them to a website which doesn't have the perquisite written content on the page.
House Technical SEO: "Disorganized and Un-optimized"
Remember how I talked about that site audit we perform before running off on the linkbuilding journey? There's a reason for that. We want those inbound links to have the biggest impact possible. And that only occurs when we're building links to a website that's in the best possible shape. That means checking things like sitemaps, the robots.txt file, title tags, canonicalization, local business listings, and more. You can build links all day to your website but if you have a mess of a sitemap, a robots.txt file that blocks Google from reading your pages, duplicate content all over the place that's not canonicalized properly, and you don't have your business listed on the appropriate local citation sources- then links don't matter. They may be the biggest factor in the algorithm, but that doesn't mean they supersede all others - if everything else on your site sucks, that means you're only doing 25-35% of the job right, and that's not enough to get you to where you want to go. Links are important - but they aren't the end-all, be-all. Links work best when paired with a strong on-site SEO foundation - and remember that just because the overall traffic isn't moving up, doesn't mean you're not winning the SEO game. Look deeper - look at your conversions, look at which areas and landing pages and performing and which will not. Boiling your success down to one metric is a recipe for disaster. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go home and have some sausage for dinner while pondering content ideas. Cheers!
Learn more about the technical side of SEO that's necessary for your digital marketing success with our free e-book, SEO for Site Migrations!