SEO is More Than Link Building

by Jason Acidre on June 13, 2012 · 28 comments · Search


This entry is a guest post by Peter Attia, a search marketing specialist residing in Austin, TX. You can find him on Twitter: @PeterAttia

The number one thing I get asked about regarding SEO, is link building. Everyone wants to know how to get links. While I admit that linking is damn important, I don’t consider it a golden ticket.

Link building is not and never will be a magic bullet for your SEO problems. Most sites and companies that ask me about link building, have a plethora of other issues they need to work out beforehand. For example…

User Experience and Design

I consider this the most important factor above all. If you have poor UX and design, your site will have a high bounce rate, a low conversion rate, and a lower chance of gaining organic links.

user experience and design

The sad part is sites with poor design usually don’t want to redo their site. They’re willing to pay someone to link build, but for some reason the concept of development frightens them.

If you work for a site like this, you need to prove to your client how important a redesign is. Try showing them increased sales numbers from another project that had a positive redesign.

Basic On Page SEO

Getting the on page basics worked out will propel your link building efforts. It’s like putting a little jet pack on your links. Also, these are usually fairly simple to implement.

Things like:

  • Title tags and meta descriptions
  • Alt tags on images
  • Internal linking structure
  • Proper h1 tag implementation
  • Duplicate content issues

Steady Content Creation

I know this has been said a million times over, but you need to create a source of content. However, you can’t just throw up a bunch of content and forget about it, you need to push it out regularly.

creating content

Obviously the easiest way to do this is through a blog. I know it’s time consuming, I know it sucks, but do it. Depending on your niche, it might even be less expensive to hire someone to run a blog than link build.

If done right, creating fresh content is worth more than link building.

Technical SEO Fixes

This is another huge one. Here are several technical fixes that you should implement prior to link building.

Your URL Structure: There are a lot of great articles about URL structure. You don’t have to do anything too crazy, even if you just implement the basics, you’ll help your site out dramatically.

Robots.txt: Implementing robots.txt allows you to block spiders from crawling certain pages of your site. There are going to be pages that are meaningless for search engines to index, for example print friendly sections of your site.

Canonicalization: If you have duplicate content issues, the canonical tag is one way to solve it. Basically, it passes all the juice from one page to another. So you if you have several pages with the same content, you can point them all at your strongest page with the canonical tag.

Crawl Errors: You should do a full site crawl and find any errors. Mainly, you want to spot 404′s and redirect them. Screaming Frog is a great tool for this.

Afterwards

After you’ve gotten these things fixed, you can start putting more focus on link building. However, this does not mean you shouldn’t continue to tighten your on-page SEO. This is merely a few things that should be focused on more heavily than link building in the beginning.

One thing to watch out for is clients “forgetting” about these fixes if they see link building working. They’ll start to think those other factors aren’t as important as you ranted about, that’s simply not true. There are other values that may not be realized immediately. For example, if you run a solid blog, you can get quite a bit of traffic from social media channels. This has nothing to do with search. It can also help you rank for the long tail, which is easy to forget about.

Going Above and Beyond

Once you’re pretty happy with all your on page SEO, you have steady link building going on, and you have a decent content stream, there are other areas to expand into. These are mainly advanced traffic targets, but can be very high value.

PPC: Everyone knows what PPC is, but not nearly as many understand the dedication and effort it takes to do it right. PPC is not a “set it and forget it” avenue. It needs to be constantly tweaked and maintained, especially if you’re traffic changes seasonally.

Landing Page Testing: People usually relate landing page testing to PPC, while it’s especially important to test out pages for PPC, this doesn’t mean you should ignore testing out different pages for your organic visits. One way to do some testing, is by serving up a different page for people coming in on a new IP address. This way your regular users don’t get confused by new design elements, but you get the chance to test out variations on new visitors.

Retargeting: Retargeting may not have high traffic, but if done properly, it can have a fantastic conversion rate. You’re only serving ads to people that have been to your site before, which means they already have interest.

Email Marketing: Newer companies seem to forget about this guy. Email is still a great marketing channel, because like retargeting, it’s focused on people that are already familiar with your site.

Social Media: You need a social presence. People tend to shrug this off, because they’re not impressed by the traffic, but it’s not just about the traffic. It’s about being present in your community and about growing relationships. If you have a dedicated social following it will propel everything else you do.

Conversion Rate Optimization: I know I mentioned landing pages above, but this is beyond that. There are more ways to tweak your CRO. For example, trying out different check out processes, different call to actions, different messaging, etc.

Conclusion

Everything is going to work a little differently for every site. Also, your staff will have different strengths and weaknesses than others. You need to find the channels that works best for you and focus on your strengths. After that, you can start to work on your weaknesses and figure out what you can do better.

If you liked this post, you should subscribe to my feed.

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe Robison@Technical SEO Blog June 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm

I really like the idea of grabbing new visitors with fresh IP’s coming to your site. I’ve done A/B testing before but haven’t done it only for new visitors, and it makes so much sense to prevent your regulars from being confused.

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Peter Attia June 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Hey Joe,

Yeah, I found the easiest way is just to target new IP’s. Especially if your traffic has a back end that customers use. They can get confused (and a little upset :) about a site they’re used to changing up on them.

-Peter

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Kaushalam June 14, 2012 at 12:04 am

Yes it is. Powerful content and on page optimization will automatically build links. You need to put less efforts on building links if your site is perfect for users in terms of user experiences and usability.

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Anton Koekemoer June 14, 2012 at 12:20 am

I do agree with you – Link-building has been in the spotlight the recent amount of weeks with the new Google penguin update – But at the end of the day there is a lot of other important aspects of SEO that needs to be considered.

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Peter Attia June 14, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I agree Anton. It’s important to focus on a little bit of everything. That way if there’s a major change or update in one thing, it won’t hurt you… It’s a good practice of “don’t keep all your eggs in one basket” so to speak.

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Aasma @ Ranchor Infotech June 14, 2012 at 12:27 am

Hey Peter,

It’s very true, SEO is not just link building. I think every SEO person is aware that On page Optimization is really crucial before focusing on link building. Unless you’re targeting right keyword, you’re just wasting your time and efforts.

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Alessio June 14, 2012 at 1:51 am

Good one! basic, simple things every SEO should consider, every day. I think that many SEOs sometimes tend to forget about the basic because they are so advanced, but that’s a pity.
Everyday I’m seeing sites with a lot of errors, and fucked up UX, poor design, with no or really poor SEO. Sometimes I think you can solve a lot of problems just doing little things.

For example, some bloggers don’t even realize they don’t have an about page, where they are telling name , email and why they have that blog. And if I want to collaborate I don’t even know where to start to contact them. So I try to help with these little things, and the situation is a lot better after my advices. They write me email saying “you saved my life”. No, I didn’t…the true is that basic things sometimes are the best to implement from day one.

But really, don’t spend time asking for links when nobody WANTS to link to your site anyway, because it’s sooooooooo bad. Fix the site first.

Nice one Peter, and thanks Jason!

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Peter Attia June 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Glad you liked it Alessio! I think it’s easy to get distracted by shiny objects and end up trying to walk before you can crawl. It’s always important to really examine everything before you think about doing anything. That way you can make sure you don’t leave anything out.

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Hendarto June 14, 2012 at 6:16 am

Yes its right SEO work is not only about Back Linking but standard SEO method is also important in order to make our website loved by Mr. Google. I know that most people can’t hardly wait for the positive result of their SEO basic work as it will takes a little bit more time before we can get a good result on Google listing then that most people doing something that we can say a ‘don’t do’ method or black hat SEO method…It’s pathetic but real !!

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Randy Hillyman June 14, 2012 at 8:09 am

I do admit link building helps in enhancing the condition of your business but it’s not really your golden ticket for success. If businesses really want to excel in their field, then I recommend studying the background of SEO more deeply to see where they should really focus on mending.

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Pavel June 14, 2012 at 10:25 am

UX is the hardest thing to implement because they hate changing their website. It’s a hard sell but if you do manage to convince them to do it, it has great implications for visitor retention and conversions, which have real staying power. Great post Peter and thanks for posting Jason

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bloomtools June 14, 2012 at 9:42 pm

hey, thanks for such useful information on how seo could be done in a better way. And you are right about powerful content on the page. Link-building is just an addition to the optimization done, it would obviously add traffic to your website and get back- links but proper keyword analysis, crawling and so many other things are also things that help to achieve proper and best optimization for the website.

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Chris Williams June 15, 2012 at 2:00 am

Hi,
With Google’s updates the key is definitely content, if you write good content, have the correct title structure and tags then as long as the link building is organic, as Google would want then most people should do ok. The problems arise when people expect to be number one in an extremely competitive keyword and lose sight of what they are trying to achieve with their site as a whole.

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Peter Attia June 15, 2012 at 9:13 am

I couldn’t agree more Chris. I think the biggest issue is people losing focus in general. They start to care more about their rankings than their site as a whole.

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Fervil June 15, 2012 at 2:04 am

Hi Pete,

This is a very helpful advice especially to us who are grasping for more information about penguin aftermath. Our site had a huge decline on traffic after the update and we barely don’t know what to do next. Most of the points cited were implemented in our campaigns but nonetheless this article made me realize that we’re on the right track. Thanks Peter and Jason.

Fervil
SEO guy @ InsureDirect

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Erik Emanuelli@Internet Marketing June 15, 2012 at 3:17 am

Great points, Peter.
SEO is a big circle of a lot of things, nowadays.

I like the part of social signals building, above all because it is still fun! ;-)

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Peter Attia June 15, 2012 at 9:10 am

You gotta have fun with what you do Erik! :)

That’s how you keep from getting burnt out!

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Karen June 19, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Great Article you wrote Peter

It remids me of the “Is Link Building Part of SEO?” video from seo-theory, but you dig deeper in the “other” things that relate to SEO.

Its sad but almost every time some company wants to hire an SEO it is only looking for link building, and changing the site is a big NO-NO

(Ha! I now have a post to point all those “SEOs” who keep struggling with link building without even knowing basic HTML)

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Peter Attia June 20, 2012 at 9:52 am

Thanks Karen,

People are slowly starting to realize there’s more to it than link building, but it is still the main thing people are looking for when hiring an SEO, as you said.

As this industry grows, it’s important for SEO’s to explain to clients that link building isn’t an end all be all. That there is much more to it than that. That’s the only way we’ll be able to move forward.

-Peter

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Akash Kumar June 23, 2012 at 3:46 am

A very nice post Peter. Listing all the basic things one must take care of instead of just running after links.

Link building is still the most important important factor for rankings. But there are certain things that you need to work on before you are even in a position of getting ranked by the search engines. Like as you have listed having wrong URL structures, content issues, crawl errors, utilizing the title tags. These are the bonuses that you might be missing if you ignore them and work only on link building.

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Mike Jones June 23, 2012 at 9:19 am

I agree Anton. It’s important to focus on a little bit of everything. That way if there’s a major change or update in one thing, it won’t hurt you… It’s a good practice of “don’t keep all your eggs in one basket” so to speak.

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Melanie June 26, 2012 at 4:52 am

Absolutely agree with this! What is the point in building links and gaining high rankings if you don’t do conversion optimisation and landing pages ? The result will most likely be sending lots of traffic to your site but gaining nothing from it. which is obviously a waste of time ;). Interesting you mention Social, is this purely just for building brand image and having some form of interaction or is this from an SEO point of view too? Do you believe social influences SEO?

Mel

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Peter Attia June 26, 2012 at 7:42 am

Melanie,

While there does seem to be some correlation with social and rankings, that should never be the focus of Social. Social is about building a community and a brand. If you have a fan base and community that likes you, anything you do will be amplified by them in a positive light.

-Peter

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Duffie June 26, 2012 at 9:48 pm

You are so right about the importance of getting the structure of your site worked out properly, and someone entrusted with writing a creditable blog (and keeping it fresh) which to us has proven more rewarding than somewhat dubious link building.
Thanks for the valuable posting Peter!

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Taut Web SEO August 4, 2012 at 11:57 am

That’s correct. Onpage SEO indeed becomes the first thing to point out. Your link building will even fail if your content, your site structures, navigation, etc are not well-maintained. Nice post!

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Shalu Sharma August 20, 2012 at 3:55 pm

I agree, SEO is a more than link building. Now that the algorithms as to how search engines deliver the results page, things have changed so much. A lot of things needs to be taken into account both on page and off page.

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