Categories
SEO

How to Get Backlinks? Stop Chasing Them

As an SEO professional, I'm not a big fan of building links or, better said, chasing them. I know; this is one of the most utilized methods in SEO. Most SEO experts out there talk about building backlinks as immensely important to SEO.

They're 100% right. Links are important.

But building them can be a risky business.

Google's John Mueller outright said that most attempts at building links are unnatural and despised by the search engine. Asking other websites to link back to yours seems a little sleazy to me. Granted, there are ways to do this ethically, of course. But it's still risky.

Most reputable SEO experts agree. Bruce Clay, the grandfather of SEO, outright said that building links unnaturally runs the risk of being penalized by Google. I've worked with many clients whose rankings dropped as a result of being engaged in questionable link-building practices.

The solution is to earn and attract links back to your site naturally.

That's where content marketing comes in. After all, it makes sense: post a really good piece of content on your own site, and promote that instead of links. If people like it, they will link to it.

Not only that, but it will create a compounding effect. People will talk about it. They will share it. They will post their thoughts about it. They will write their own articles sourcing it. This, in turn, will reach other people who have never heard of you, and they will talk about it and link to it, too. And so on.

In fact, Google also pays attention to “mentions,” sometimes just as much as they do backlinks. Also called “brand mentions, they are often referred to as implied links. (I'll come back to this later as it is important.)

But there's one important side benefit to content marketing.

Content Amplifies Your Credibility

Content marketing is often called “content amplification” in SEO circles. The reason is, by amplifying content (e.g., promoting it, sharing it, advertising it, repurposing it, spoonfeeding it, etc), you not only reach a wider audience, but also it helps to amplify SEO signals, too.

But content amplifies a lot more:

  • It establishes you as an authority in your field.
  • It creates more awareness of your brand and your business.
  • It attracts ideal prospects, patients, and clients to your business.
  • It helps to prequalify your prospects before they approach you.
  • It advances the sale and lowers buyer resistance.
  • It creates less cognitive dissonance once they buy from you.
  • It cuts through the clutter and bypasses ad blockers.
  • It distinguishes you as a trustworthy thought leader.
  • It communicates and solidifies your value proposition.
  • It positions you above your competition in the mind of your market.
  • It attracts opportunities for creating strategic marketing alliances.

I could go on and on. You get the picture.

All this amplifies something essential in SEO, especially with plastic surgeons. And that's credibility. Because of Google's quality guidelines of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, or E-A-T, credibility is crucial.

In 2006 at the height of the dotcom boom, when all people cared about was traffic and conversions, I wrote about the third missing element in marketing (i.e., building credibility is just as important as building traffic and sales).

A few years later, Google cracked down on less-than-credible websites with its updates (called “Panda” and “Penguin,” which devalued poor content and poor backlinks, respectively). Literally, millions of websites lost traffic and rankings overnight. It killed many businesses, too.

Back then as today, it made sense to me that trying to game the system in any way, shape, or form is going to come back and bite you.

This is why as an SEO consultant, I believe that…

Building Credibility > Building Links

You can work hard at building traffic and sales. But if you don't build credibility, your practice will not grow as fast as you wish, you will stagnate, or you will be virtually non-existent ⏤ let alone crushed by competitors.

Build content. Build more content. Build good content. Do so and you will build credibility as a byproduct, which is far more powerful. You will attract backlinks naturally. More importantly, you will attract better backlinks, too.

This brings up an important point: another reason why building credibility is more important than building backlinks is the issue of quality versus quantity.

Does the quality of inbound links matter? Quantity helps, for sure. But a site with less but higher quality backlinks will almost always outrank one with a ton of lesser quality backlinks. By focusing on building credible content, you will also increase the likelihood that more authoritative sites will link to you.

The more credible you are, the more credible your backlinks will be.

One of the most common tactics for SEO, which many SEO experts swear by, is to build as many backlinks as possible. In fact, some of the most prominent SEO agencies out there (I won't mention names, but they have a popular YouTube channel) tout that building backlinks is the most important SEO strategy.

However, I disagree.

Backlink Quantity or Quality Backlinks?

There are two SEO schools of thought on the subject of backlinks:

  1. Having a higher backlink quantity is more important;
  2. Having higher quality backlinks is more important.

Some SEOs will say both are just as important, while others will say it's neither.

Before we go further, let's define “quality.”

What is a quality backlink? For some, it's a backlink from a site with a lot of high rankings, a lot of traffic, or a lot of backlinks itself — in fact, some SEO research tools offer scores based on these and similar factors.

But these scores are just guides created by these tools and not Google. Regardless, some will specifically chase a backlink from sites with a high “domain authority” score, like one with a DA score of 50/100 or higher.

For example, here's mine from Ahrefs as of today, where UR or “URL rating” is 52/100 (i.e., the home page), and DR or “domain rating” is 55/100. (And yes, I get spammed by these link-seekers all the time.)

MichelFortin.com domain authority score and SEO backlinks profile.
MichelFortin.com domain authority score and SEO backlinks profile.

But is it better to focus on getting top-rated backlinks? Or on as many backlinks as possible, regardless of score? Are you of the SEO school of thought that says it's better to have 50 authoritative backlinks than 5,000 more-or-less good ones? Or are you of the other that says the converse?

Either way, you have to do what I call “backlink begging.”

What I consider to be “quality” are backlinks from authoritative websites with great recognition and rankings. In other words, they have credibility. Often, backlinks from a credible website will provide (or, better said, pass on) that credibility to the site it's linking to.

Speaking of which, there's the issue of “dofollow” and “nofollow.” Meaning, should backlinks be “dofollow” so that the SEO signal (or “link juice”) is passed on to its destination? It's basically a link telling search engines to please “follow and consider this site to be as credible.”

Google has often said that links that are less than natural — which is a major point of contention among SEOs — are fine as long as they are set as “nofollow.”

Break Free From The Burden of Backlinks

My contention is that focusing on backlinks can chain you down.

I understand that some SEO experts have dissected this to a science and have weighed on either side of the spectrum. I also understand that links, in general, are good SEO signals, regardless of where on that spectrum they happen to be.

But there is something to keep in mind: links are signals. They are not indicators or gauges. They only suggest to search engines and users alike that the content being linked to is valuable, relevant, and worthy of consideration.

I'm of the SEO school of thought that backlinks are dying (or that their signals and importance are dying). While Google has never outright stated this, we see more and more evidence of this through something called “inferred links.”

For example, there are a growing number of websites ranking with little to backlinks at all, and some just as successfully as sites with high-quality backlinks, a high quantity of backlinks, or both. What gives?

I do believe that links are still an important ranking factor, but they are only one of many hundreds of SEO signals. A strong and increasingly important signal nowadays is UX (user experience), which explains the emergence of UXO (user experience optimization) as an SEO strategy.

The latest changes in algorithms and new ranking factors from Google (called “Core Web Vitals“) is a tell-tale sign that Google is paying more attention to one thing in particular: quality, namely quality content and quality experience.

Why Backlinks For SEO is Losing Ground

There are four main reasons why backlinks are falling out of favor.

First, other signals are becoming increasingly important.

Backlinks may be a signal of authoritativeness. But they are not quality-centric signals. They do not contribute anything to the determination of a site's content quality or usability. Internal links can help because they create relationships, provide context, and help navigation. But not external links.

Second, Google is becoming more sophisticated.

With the help of machine learning and natural language processing, the authoritativeness of a site's content can be determined through context, topical relationships, and brand mentions, and less on hyperlinks.

Third, backlinks can be easily manipulated.

People can sometimes buy backlinks, which is frowned upon and can even cost you dearly down the road. Most of these links tend to be of low quality, too. Keep this in mind: no authoritative site would ever directly sell links.

Fourth, backlinks can also hurt your rankings.

If you follow the quantity philosophy, you could end up with toxic backlinks from spammy sites, hacked sites, and black-hat sites (i.e., sites with scraped, stolen, or useless content created for the express purpose of farming links).

In my opinion, as search engines become smarter, backlinks are going to become less relevant. We see this happen with each algorithm update that decimates ill-gotten rankings through attempts at manipulating backlinks.

Chasing Backlinks is Soul-Sucking

I remember 10-20 years ago, ranking high with just a few tactics (that were not considered blackhat yet) was incredibly easy. Back then, link-building SEO companies — some of which still exist today — thrived on selling these tactics.

Their services ranged from doing outreach (mostly by spamming, begging for links, or guest posting) all the way to creating private blog networks (or PBNs) for the sole purpose of manufacturing backlinks.

But many of these tactics violate Google's guidelines. After a few “Google slaps,” I also witnessed countless businesses go belly up as a result. Some of them were in the millions of dollars in revenue, too.

SEO and content marketing expert Jim Thornton wrote a recent piece on this very topic. In it, he explains that hyperlinks are dying, and context and relying on other algorithms (including UX mentioned earlier) are better signals.

As Jim pointed out:

Central to their web spam mitigation strategy, engineers have been working for over a decade to get away from dependence on link signals. Now it’s 6+ years after that announced experiment. I think they’ve got it figured out.

Jim Thornton in “Links are Dying”

Links are only good (or becoming only good) for finding new pages. Meaning, they can let Google know a page exists. There's a chance they might index it and rank it; there's a chance they might not. There's a chance they might not even respect the “dofollow/nofollow” directive and only see it as a suggestion.

So all this to say two important things, which I will leave you with.

Beware of “Backlink Bilkers”

If you have someone approaching you offering you SEO backlinks for cheap, often with a “brand new secret method” that can get you “top rankings overnight,” don't walk, run from these folks.

They are risky black-hatters, spammers/scammers, or “pump-and-dumpers.” Similar to stock market fraudsters, they pump your site with ill-gotten signals that, in the short term get you positive results, but eventually will get you penalized and banned by Google, which can cost you dearly.

Never buy a backlink service (or any kind of SEO services, for that matter) from spammers. Buy from reputable SEO experts or firms.

Think of it this way: if someone has to spam you to sell their SEO services, why would they need to spam you if they themselves had practiced good SEO?

It's pretty telling.

Either their own SEO is terrible or they're lying.

It's no different than buying knockoffs or stolen goods from questionable street vendors. It may look legitimate, but it's not. You know it's not. Others who know will know it's not. If they do know, you've just lost all credibility and perhaps gained the attention of authorities, too.

Now, does that mean that you shouldn't buy backlink SEO services? No.

But keep in mind that reputable firms don't buy or beg for links — let alone use deception. Legitimate, reputable firms tend to work on creating a link-building strategy that's focused on producing high-quality content, doing genuine outreach, and earning authoritative links. Naturally.

Build Brands, Not Backlinks

Part of the evolution of SEO signals is the growing importance of something called “implied backlinks.” An implied link is a brand mention, in other words. When other websites talk about you, your product, your service, or your brand, Google picks up on it just as they would an actual hyperlink.

Rand Fishkin, one the OGs of SEO and founder of Moz, wrote a recent piece on the power of inferred links, saying that someone mentioning your brand, without linking to it, is vastly superior (i.e., more credible) to actual links.

More importantly, Google and other search engines are becoming increasingly sophisticated to the point that backlinks are going to become unnecessary.

In the past, the kinds of sophisticated, nuanced analysis necessary to make an inferred link superior to a direct link were lacking. Today, they exist. In the future, they’ll get better, cheaper, and faster. Even if links rule today, I can’t see that model lasting much longer.

Rand Fishkin in “Inferred Links Will Replace the Link Graph”

That's why branding is so important.

I have talked on numerous occasions about the power of naming your product, service, or process. Productizing your services, and putting a name on them (if not at least naming your unique process or approach, even if everyone else does the same thing), creates the perception of expertise and uniqueness.

But the side (and possibly even greater) benefit is that, when people talk about your brand, your “thing,” or your business (your name, for example), they are creating implied signals that tell Google your site is recognized, authoritative, and worthy of their consideration.

It goes without saying that, if you create content that people talk about, engage with, and share, you're going to increase your brand mentions almost naturally.

So don't chase backlinks.

Focus on creating link-worthy content instead.

Backlinks are not dead. They are still important. But they are not as important as they used to be, and they're becoming less so over time. As I've said before, build your credibility, which is far more important than building links.

Credibility attracts credibility, including credible links.

Categories
SEO

My Favorite SEO Experts (2021)

There are some people I follow religiously in the SEO space. These SEO experts are quite active on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. There are too many to mention, so I'll list some now and I might add more later.

Keep in mind that some of them have email newsletters and podcasts, too. I tend to be subscribed to all of them. I recommend you visit their websites, and subscribe to their blogs, podcasts, or email newsletters, too.

First off, if you want to see who I follow in one fell swoop, here's my Twitter list of SEO experts and SEO organizations. There's about 300 in total. So let me just point out some of my favorites to follow in 2021.


Updated December 22, 2020.

Marie Haynes

I've known about Marie for a few years, and I've also known that she lives and works just minutes from me (in Ottawa, Canada). But I recently subscribed to her paid newsletter and podcast (there's a free one, too), which offers truly the most usable “search news you can use.” Aptly titled.

Lily Ray

A drummer like yours truly and a DJ, too, Lily Ray is a big proponent of EAT (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness), which I appreciate. I've been shouting for ages that EAT is a fundamental component of SEO for medical professionals. Lily not only an expert but an SEO nerd when it comes to data.

Glenn Gabe

Glenn is another SEO nerd who knows Google updates like the back of his hand — or knows how to decipher them. His blog is always chock full of deep insights and analysis, and I learn so much from them. It's like having someone on the inside at Google within being on the inside.

Aleyda Solis

Creator of the SEOFOMO newsletter, Aleyda Solis is the creator of one of my favorite YouTube shows called “Crawling Mondays.” It's a weekly show where Aleyda and her SEO guests discuss the latest and greatest tools, strategies, and trends in the world of search marketing.

Kevin Indig

A seasoned SEO specialist who has worked with some of the biggest SaaS companies in the world (and is now the new SEO director over at Shopify), Kevin Indig has an informative newsletter that offers some great insights combining technical SEO and content-driven SEO.

Brodie Clark

An award-winning SEO expert, Brodie Clark is someone who understands aspects of SEO that many people overlook, such as user experience (UX), web stories, featured snippets, Google Discover, and more. Like many of the experts here, Brodie is a frequent contributor to several industry newsletters.

Cyrus Shepard

Cyrus Shepard doesn't publish often, but when he does the SEO world rumbles. His Google ranking factors post is probably his best work and one I often turn to when I need to stay on top of things. He's also a popular and prolific contributor and guest on SEO podcasts, newsletters, and websites.

Traffic Think Tank

One of my recent mastermind groups, Traffic Think Tank, put together by SEO heavyweights Ian Howells, Nick Eubanks, and Matthew Howells-Barby (who's also the VP of Marketing at HubSpot), is a mind-blowing repertoire of SEO articles, tutorials, videos, and networking opportunities.


Updated November 20, 2020.

Ryan Stewart

I've been a fan and follower of Ryan for years. Check out his blog, too. His content never ceases to impress, and his SEO Blueprint Training is probably the de facto training in the world of SEO. With his successful agency, Webris, his specialty is in more advanced SEO, like using BigQuery.

Barry Schwartz

Back when I mostly did copywriting, I have always stayed on top of SEO. Barry was someone I followed since then. He's a major staple in the SEO community, and his YouTube channel is a must-subscribe when it comes to SEO news — from Google updates, news, and interviews with other SEO experts.

Ruan Marinho

If there's anyone I listen to who can say it like it is, with no fluff or sugarcoating, even if it's controversial, it's Ruan. I consider him to be one of the best experts on local SEO, and his videos always seem to teach me something new — and I've been at this for a couple of decades, now, so it's saying something.

Brian Dean

Brian is my favorite YouTuber. The reason is simple: he knows how to capture my attention, make his point, and move me to action. Owner of Backlinko, which is an SEO newsletter I highly recommend, Brian provides some of the best, step-by-step SEO tutorials I've ever seen. A must-subscribe.

Nathan Gotch

Nathan is another SEO channel I enjoy. Although he doesn't post as frequently, his videos are still filled with front-to-back advice. His approach, much like what I try to do, is to tackle something as complex as SEO and distill it into clear, simple language. His SEO checklists are also amazing, too.

Kristina Azarenko

I need to shout out to my fellow Canadian experts, too. Kristina is someone I've followed for a while — both on her site, MarketingSyrup.com, and on LinkedIn. If her new YouTube channel, SEO Follow, is anything like the content she puts out on her blog or LinkedIn, then it's going to be a must-watch.

John Lincoln

John owns an agency called Ignite Visibility. Every week he does a video roundup of all the latest digital marketing news, including SEO. John is the guy I listen to when I want to keep my finger on the pulse of what's going on. I know a lot, but if there's something I may have missed, John will let me know.

Sam Oh

The YouTube face of Ahrefs, one of my favorite SEO tools that has a blog too, Sam's videos are always full of great SEO tips and tutorials. Some of them are essentially meant to help you use their tool, but even so, his videos are filled with usable information and insights about SEO.

Chase Reiner

Another Local SEO expert YouTuber, Chase has a ton of how-to videos, including several paid courses. What I like the most with Chase is that sometimes he does SEO work, live on camera, and explains what and why he does it, as he does it. His blog is also filled with great content.

Craig Campbell

This Scotsman is always full of surprises. He does provide a lot of tips for SEO, and some of them are envelope-pushing. I don't ascribe to some of what he says, but I love his no-BS style, which is refreshing and insightful. He also does a lot of presentations with SEMrush, one of my favorite SEO Tools.

Andy Crestodina

The owner and founder of another successful digital marketing agency, Orbit Media, offers a newsletter, blog, and YouTube channel with tons of ideas on all things digital marketing. His SEO videos offer best practices and insights in a way that's easy to understand and implement.

Bruce Clay

Here's another expert whom I've been a follower of for many years. Bruce Clay, often known as the grandfather of SEO, publishes some of the best, easy-to-understand content in the world of SEO. More importantly, his articles often address “what to do when” questions, which I love.

Chris Dreyer

If there's anyone who's a perfect example of power positioning by dominating a niche, it's Chris. He's an SEO expert that specializes in personal injury lawyers. His YouTube channel offers great information that any professional can apply. His Rankings Podcast (one the same channel) is one I listen to as well.

Google Search Central

Of course, there's Google Search (formerly Webmaster) Central. John Mueller, the spokesperson for SEO over at Google, offers a ton of videos on SEO. But the interesting part is that many of his videos are Q&A sessions with a lot of SEO experts, some of who I've mentioned here.

Search Engine Land

This newsletter is a must-subscribe if you're an SEO expert or someone who wants to be on top of all things SEO. If there's any news, changes, or predictions in the world of SEO, this daily newsletter will let me know. It's one of the many newsletters I never skip on.

Search Engine Journal

If there are any must-have newsletters in the SEO world, Search Engine Journal is the biggest one. And by “biggest,” I mean by the amount of content they put out. They publish a lot of how-to tutorials, tips, and strategies that I often bookmark because they're so good.

SEMrush Live

I already mentioned the Ahrefs blog and YouTube channel. Similarly, SEMrush is another that has a blog as well as a YouTube channel. But their channel is often for livestreams, such as their recent “5 Hours of Technical SEO,” that feature many of the experts I already mentioned here.

The Moz Blog

Originally created by Rand Fishkin, one of the earliest experts in the world of SEO, Moz is an SEO tool much like its competitors SEMrush and Ahrefs. But Rand used to do his “Whiteboard Fridays,” which are now done by SEO guest experts since Rand left to focus on his new startup SparkToro.

Categories
Copywriting

Your Reader Wants To Know These 5 Things

The other day, one of my readers asked me the following question, which I found rather interesting: “Why should the author of a product be included in their sales copy?”

Seems like a pretty redundant question, right? Especially to any veteran copywriter or marketer worth their salt.

But the question didn't stop there. The reader offered the following insight, which explains why this issue was such an important one to him, and why I felt compelled to answer:

“Specifically, why do my readers need to know who I am or what I bring to the table? How does telling them my qualifications increase the strength of my copy? My product solves a medical condition. But I am not a doctor and I have never had this condition myself. I've spent a year researching the best method to cure this condition. I have a list of 20,000 people with this condition and converse with them a lot. I know pretty much everything there is to know about this condition and have made it into an ebook.”

The answer is quite simple, actually. In fact, in his attempt to defend himself (i.e., that he's not a doctor but has lots of experience and specialized knowledge about his market), the reader answered his own question. Let me explain…

Why should people buy from you?

This is not some new concept. John E. Kennedy, a Canadian fireman back in 1905, was the person who coined the term “Reasons-Why Advertising” in a book of the same name. (He was also the person who coined the famous term “salesmanship-in-print.”)

I'm a big fan of reasons-why advertising.

I always try to add as many reasons as possible in my copy, such as why the offer is made, why the author is making it, and why it's important to the reader.

Good, successful copy tells the reader why right upfront because they always ask. If you don't tell them, the irony is they're left wondering why you left it out. It is almost always a direct advantage to tell your prospects why they should buy from you.

Additionally, people want to know five different types of reasons. They are:

  1. Why you (the reader)
  2. Why me (the author)
  3. Why this (the offer)
  4. Why now (the urgency)
  5. Why this price (the value)

1. Why You?

Your copy should qualify the reader for the product you're selling and the offer you're making. As part of this qualification process, it should address why the reader is targeted to, and suited for, them — including in reading the copy in the first place.

For example, why is this important to them? Why is this copy, product, or offer perfect for them? Who is it not appropriate for? In other words, who should not read the copy?

2. Why Me?

Credentialization is an important element in copy. Your credentials — as the author, seller, or provider — are immensely important to build credibility and lower buyer resistance, particularly in this day and age of scams, cynicism, and competitiveness.

Tell your readers why they should read what you have to say. Whether you're an accredited expert or not, the more reasons you give, then the more credible you are, the more believable your copy is, and the more apt people are to buy from you.

(This is the section to which the reader's question above relates, and I'll come back to this in a moment as it is important — especially as it pertains to the lack of credentials.)

3. Why This?

Are you selling this product just to make money? Perhaps. But whether making money is the main reason or not, either directly or indirectly, your product exists and your offer is made for specific reasons. So why not put them in your copy?

Don't assume your reader knows or doesn't care about them, no matter how trivial you may think they are. If you don't include them in your copy, left to their own devices your readers will be the ones making assumptions. (And they won't all be positive.)

4. Why Now?

Jim Rohn said, “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.” Whether it's direct (such as a deadline or limitation) or implied (such as missing out on something important), adding scarcity and reasons to act now is important.

But by itself, urgency is almost always suspect. So back it up with reasons why your readers should act now. Don't be shy in explaining why they must take advantage of the offer immediately, or what the consequences are if they don't.

5. Why This Price?

Why did you price your product or make the offer the way you did? Perhaps your price is based on industry averages. Or you're doing a clearance sale to make way for new stock. Maybe your product is new and you're offering an introductory price.

But do your readers know? Do they, really?

Don't be afraid to tell your readers why they should pay what you're asking for. Why is it valuable to them? At least compare your price to the ultimate cost of either buying an alternative (perhaps even competing) product, or not buying your product at all.

The bottom-line? The most important word in persuasion, according to Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion , is not “you” or “free.”

The most important word in persuasion is “because.”

Now, let me go back to the original question…

In this case, this person has quite a distinct selling point. They are what is referred to as the “anti-authority.” Non-experts. Lay people. And the fact that they are not a doctor, which means they are more like their readers, can be positioned as a major advantage.

They did all this research from a layperson's perspective. They did all the legwork for their readers, which not only saves them time but also is perceived as less biased.

They did all the searching for them. They analyzed all the data (from an outsider's vantage point) and cherrypicked the best answers. And they condensed and distilled their findings into one, easy-to-read, easy-to-find place.

Add to that the fact they conversed with over 20,000 people afflicted with this condition and know almost everything about it, makes them a lot more credible than some general practitioner who may have come across just a few hundred cases in their practice.

So this person is loaded with credentials, particularly unique ones, that definitely shouldn't be avoided or hidden from the reader. In fact, it should be not only communicated but also highlighted as a major benefit in the copy.

So, to the question “why you?” Because in the mind of the reader, you are the expert on this subject. Use your unique credibility and experience as a major selling point.