Up Close @ SMX: Link Acquisition & Auditing For The Advanced SEO

Link acquisition and auditing issues for the advanced SEO was probably one of the most popular sessions at SMX Advanced.upclose_adv14

The panelists framed the discussion around three areas: Preventative Link Building, Link Earning  and Site Auditing. However, the tips — at least as far as I could tell — did not number the exact “25” described in the session title, so, for the sake of this post, I am going to pick those twenty five “nuggets” that I thought would be useful to Search Engine Land readers.

Elisabeth Osmeloski of Third Door Media did moderating duties, and panelists included:


Let’s start with Kaila Strong’s discussion on preventative link building tactics.

 1. Old Tactics Suck

Kaila started out saying, “Much of what you’ve been doing doesn’t work anymore, and it may get you penalized.” Understand that many old tactics like guest blogging, comment links, link wheels, paid links, blogrolls and many others are obviously not working. You cannot build links the old way; lots of links will not work and there is no value to them.

If you do not have the time or money to invest in the hard work it takes to get great quality content out there that earns the right to be linked to, then you will fail. Link earning is not right for you if you are just looking for links.

 2. Brand Mentions Without Link

By making brand mentions without links, you are still putting information out there that references your brand. It may not be a link, but a brand mention is still something of  a “keyword” — and a keyword that mentions your brand has value.

Kaila wrote a great article about this tactic.

 3. Get EDU & GOV Links

Getting .edu or .gov links have always been a challenge. Unlike some others, this is one of those old tactics that could be better described as “tried and true” — they are still very valuable.

Search Google for “site:gov keyword” and check out the results, then do the same for “site:edu”. You’ll quickly realize that these sites do, in fact, provide the opportunity for discussions about practically everything — from career resources; nutrition and educational resources; to travel and tourism and many others.

4. Utilizing Resources & Lists

Industry resources and lists are a valuable and powerful source for links. Learn what resource and list pages exist in your industry. Here are some searches to help you identify these sites.

  • inurl:resources
  • inurl:helpful-resources
  • inurl: + “[industry keyword]” + Site: (.gov, .org, .edu .mil)

5. Convincing Webmasters To Give You A Link

Understand the best practices for outreach. For example, find the right contacts, avoid using the word “link,” test subject lines and several other tactics to get their attention. Brainstorm with the team and have a “Turn Nos into Yes’” Meeting.

Another way is to think outside the box, consider connecting via social media first: follow, subscribe, wait and then connect.

6. Preemptively Prune & Disavow Links Even If You Are Not Penalized

The old adage is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, this may be the wrong attitude to have when dealing with Google. A penalty today doesn’t mean there won’t be a penalty tomorrow. Try to future proof your links.

7. Do Quality Control Issues With Back Link Analysis

Understanding your pruning and disavow process is key. Make sure you have quality control tactics in place.

8. Sometimes Google Says Links Are Bad & Then They Take Back Their Words

It’s important not to believe everything; you will find at times that Google may come out with an algorithm that doesn’t quite work right, and then it will be fixed it to make it right. Trust your gut; it is possible that Google could be incorrect. Put your logic hat on and think about the “why.”

Next up was AdLift’s Prashant Puri to talk about link earning.

From a Content Marketing perspective, link earning starts with a three-pronged approach: creating share-worthy content, identifying link-worthy sites and mitigating risks.

9. Start Formulating Your Strategy With Keyword Targeting

Ask yourself “what are my customers looking for and how do I begin?” Use keyword research tools to identify the topics of the content you are going to create, which will result in a link.

One great tool to use is Ubersuggest. It will help you get data to understand the value of your most important keywords. GrepWords is another tool that can help — it allows you to segment your keyword set.

10. Discover Sites That Are Topically Relevant To Cover Target Keywords

Utilize ahrefs.com to check out your backlinks, and drill down and analyze the sites with a lot of social signals. Social signals is a great indicator of value.

Another cool site to use is ContentRunner.com – it has an Idea Engine that can take your keywords and generate popular search queries. It also pings Twitter for relevant conversations.

 11. Use Topsy.com For Influencer Outreach By Leveraging Their Social Media Data

By using Topsy’s filter, you will be able to identify those who actually share. Then out of those, you can identify the influencers talking about the keyword phrase that matters to you the most.

12. Use Moz To Understand Your Current Link Distribution

Take action if you find out that 50% of your links are from sites that have domain authority that’s less than 30 — this is a serious red flag. Remove those low quality links and get more in balance.

13. Understand Your Current Link Distribution Across A Broader Set

Analyze Ahrefs domain rank vs. unique linking domains to identify the unique sites linking to you that are particularly important.

14. Understand Your Current Anchor Text’s Distribution With Ahrefs

Look at brand vs non-brand anchor text segmentations. Prashant gave an example of a site whose link distribution was attributed to low quality link acquisition — this client experienced a 70% drop in SEO visibility because of old bad links from the past.

15. Understand Your Current Landing Page Distribution

In another example, Prashant cited a site that had around 150 sites linking to it, but the top 7 linking pages drove 51% of the links because the landing page distribution was so messed up. Change your strategy so that the majority of your links are evenly driving traffic to your preferred landing pages.

16. Watch Out For Penalized Sites Linking To You

Use SEM Rush and Search Metrics to make sure these sites aren’t penalized.

17. Combat & Stop Negative SEO Tactics

Be aware of the damage negative SEO causes and quickly employ tactics to stop it from getting it worse. You could use MajesticSeo which will help you provide a links report.  Download “latest links” on Google webmaster tools  or use Moz’s “Just Discovered” report.

Finally, Rob Woods of Rob Woods Consulting came up to talk about how to get rid of bad back links.

 18. Link Penalties In Webmaster Tools Can Be Either Manual Or Algorithmic

Webmaster Tools will provide you with the information you need to understand when you were hit by a specific penalty — just know that it can come in automatically or manually.

 19. Diagnose The Algorithmic Penalties

You can utilize Google analytics to see traffic drops, for example. You can also check Moz’ list that shows when Google has made updates and changes to its algorithm.

Also check out Barracuda Digital’s excellent “Panguin” tool (that’s Panda and Penguin combined) which provides you with Google’s algorithm updates that have impacted your traffic. If you find that your anchor text is all the same, and your traffic has dropped, you can assume you have a penalty.

 20. Recovering From Penalties

It’s obviously important to find all the bad links; there are several tools that you can use to do this, tools such as Open site Explorer, Google Webmaster Tools, Linkresearchtools.com,  MajesticSEO and ahrefs.

Google may not provide all the bad links that are providing the problem, so try and get the data from every source you can.

Evaluate your link-building history, as well. If you’ve participated in blog networks, link rings, traded reciprocal links or engaged in other such strategies, be sure to look at all of the links developed via these tactics.

You may even want to put everything into Excel and create an advanced filter to check for unique records only.

21. Evaluating Your Links

Start by deciding if you should do it manually or in an automated way. It’s best to utilize a hybrid approach by running an automatic search, then go back to confirm manually. An excellent tool to use is the Link Detox Tool from LinkResearchTools

This goes through all of your links and gives you data about the links… plus risk ratings. You could export this out to Excel and then submit that list as your disavow list.

22. Clean Up Your Links

Get rid of poor quality links; don’t just disavow, you have to clean up links manually, as well. Start by creating an outreach plan by finding contact info. You can either do it in-house manually or outsource the effort to find contact info — Odesk is one source for workers — or perhaps scrape to find the data using Scrapebox or something similar.

23. Conduct Outreach To Manually Remove Links

When you’re doing outreach, make it a practice to personalize emails, including the site name and URL. Give it at least two rounds of emails and record the results of each round.

 24. Automating Your Outreach To Remove Links

Pitchbox.com is an excellent product that can be used to automate the removal of bad links utilizing the Link Removal tool within the product. It will automatically find all of the emails associated with that domain.

25. Requesting The Removal

You could customize your automated outreach letter; but as a best practice, you should still have a look and reach out personally. Let recipients know that you have a bunch of links that you’d like to remove, and give them the list and pages. Ask if they can please clean up links.

If you can’t wait for them to respond, submit your disavow manually or via a tool like LinkResearchTools. You can also try Link Detox Boost as another alternative to cleaning up toxic links.

Once you are done, you will likely need to watch for a bounce back in traffic/rankings. Set realistic client manager expectations for traffic recovery and timelines. Don’t be discouraged as it may take more than one round to do. It usually takes 2-3 rounds of disavowing before it works.