This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti of Sparring Mind.
Many bloggers are very much averse to participating or learning anything about SEO, and truth be told, I think that’s a real shame.
Maybe my time with my SEO agency has made me biased, but I personally think most bloggers are missing out on a huge potential source of traffic by just plain ignoring how search engines work and what practices are most effective.
The truth is, SEO for blogs doesn’t have to be overly complicated or require “black magic” in order to work.
My “World’s Simplest SEO Formula for Great Rankings” is:
Craft amazing content that’s built for readers, not search engines.
Get great links to that content.
Okay, so SEO can obviously be a lot more complex than that, but if you’re a blogger just looking for the essentials, that two-step process is actually relevant.
The problem most bloggers run into is this: how do we actually get those “great links” to our content?
Today I’d like to break down a “no-nonsense” guide to attracting (and outright earning) some powerful links. We’ll skip stuff like forum profiles and social media bookmarking. The links we’re going after are going to be powerful and actually send us traffic. Let’s get started.
1. Check your competitors’ backlinks
If there is one great way to find good backlink ideas, it’s to check out what your competition is doing.
While “old faithful” (Yahoo! site explorer) is now a part of Bing’s webmaster tools, there are still a few great options around.
My current favorite is the Open Site Explorer, an excellent backlink tool created by the knowledgable folks over at SEOmoz.
With the free version, you can check where links are coming from (that is, domains and pages). While the premium offering gives you far more insight, you can generally get a good idea with just the free version.
Did your competitor get linked to from a publication/blog that covers your niche? Email the author personally and let them know about a piece of content that you created (or about your site in general) and offer to give them a story to help them out.
That part is essential. Emailing people with direct requests or not-so-subtle begging to “please link to me!” is not going to work.
Fixing a problem that they have (for journalists, this is generating new stories, for bloggers, new guest posts could fit the bill) is the key to getting a link.
You may also find other communities that have linked to your competitors: relevant sites, resource pages, etc. If your competitor can get a link there, so can you.
2. Create a site for readers, not Google
This may seem counter-productive, but hear me out.
As time goes on, search engines (notably Google) are beginning to become more and more in tune with following people, rather than with following links.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that links won’t matter in a few years (they will, for a long time), but I am telling you that the more you focus on creating a site filled with content that’s meant to be enjoyed by real people, the better your site will do in search results.
With Google recently making moves to punish “over-optimized” sites, you have to recognize that fact that a site built just to rank runs the risk of being penalized and losing all of its traffic.
Conversely, a site that has built an audience can withstand any rank drops because a thriving following does not depend on search traffic. Also, a site that is built with useful content and reader enjoyment in mind is going to garner natural links much more easily than a “built for search” site. Content for people generates discussion, and where discussion comes, links will follow.
3. Write for other blogs, and become a regular contributor
By now, you likely know all about the unique power of guest posting to give you a trifecta of goodness in the blogging world in the form of:
Better yet, if you are able to become a regular contributor to a large blog (either paid or for exposure only), you have the opportunity to build links on a very consistent basis, even to your oldest content.
I can give you examples of both: I am currently a hired content creator for HelpScout and DooID, as well as being a regular (unpaid) columnist for the BufferApp.
All outlets allow me to link to my previous work, and because I’m consistently writing for them, I can build links into deeper pages on my sites, including linking back to old posts in addition to citing my most recent content.
While this strategy is optimal, regular ol’ guest blogging every now and then works just as well. Better yet, I highly advise you attempt the “Guest Blogging Blitzkrieg” technique to build links.
What is that exactly? It’s writing numerous guest posts and attempting to get them published simultaneously, or very close together.
Bamidele Onibalusi, a freelance writer and blogger at YoungPrePro, as well as Kristi Hines, a regular contributor for KISSmetrics and blogger at Kikolani, both use this strategy—with stellar results.
Both contribute paid posts (freelance gigs) as well as guest posts (Kristi probably not so much anymore, I’m sure she has enough work to do!), and do so consistently, on numerous blogs, all the time. If you read marketing/blogging content regularly, you cannot miss their names, as they are everywhere.
This kind of exposure not only generates direct links (from their actual article submissions), but also creates buzz around their brand, and leads to people like me linking to them as examples!
4. Create a beautiful blog
Hold on just a second here… What in the world does blog design have to do with SEO?
Much more than you think.
Not only does a good blog design play a substantial role in increasing your conversions, a great looking (and streamlined) design will reduce your bounce rate, and while many have argued that doesn’t have a direct effect on SEO, it does increase your chances of people sticking around to actually read your content.
Additionally, research has found that people innately trust well-designed sites much more than poorly designed sites; and a site with trust is going to generate more links.
As for direct linking, many sites allow you to submit well-designed sites or even individual aspects of design. TheLogoMix allows you to submit any site logo and receive a backlink for it. Additionally, there are a number of design sites that allow you to submit your full site design to a showcase, and most of them will link back to your main page (CSS galleries and the like).
Lastly, if your site design is truly unique or useful, people may actually write a blog post about it (with links) for just this reason—because your site makes a great case study.
5. Implement resource pages
Not only are resource pages incredible tools for reducing your bounce rate, they also serve as excellent link bait to increase your rankings in tough topics.
I absolutely must point to Copyblogger as my demonstration for this example, as few blogs do things quite as well as they do, especially when it comes to resource pages. Their resources are extremely comprehensive, link back to their best posts on the subject, and target their most difficult keywords.
And considering they are ranking on the first or second page for terms like content marketing, SEO copywriting, and copywriting, you know that they are doing something right.
Think about the biggest topics that your blog covers. Now research a few keywords around those topics with the Google Keyword tool (remember to set it to [exact] searches) and see which terms have a fairly high search count. Then choose the ones you can realistically rank for.
If you’re having trouble brainstorming keyword ideas, try something like the free version of serpIQ to help get the creative juices flowing.
You probably won’t be able to rank for something like “diet”, but could you rank for a term like “paleo diet guide”? Doing just a little homework in this regard, and then making a few resource pages around those terms will result in a few amazing pieces of link-bait that thoroughly cover the topic, and attract a lot of links naturally.
6. Use embeddable images/widgets
This probably seems like the most boring suggestion in the entire post, so let’s get excited for a moment!
You know the humor/comic site TheOatmeal, right? Well, the guy behind that site, Matthew Inman, was actually a former consultant at SEOmoz, and he knows a thing or two about getting links.
In fact, he was able to rank his former project, an online dating site known as Mingle2, for extremely tough terms like “online dating” and “free online dating”, beating out sites like Match.com, eHarmony, and PlentyOfFish for their most sought after terms.
How? Well, among other things, Matthew is very good at creating embeddable content that people showcase on their own site. The thing is, these embeddable widgets also give a link back to Matthew’s sites.
He did this again for The Oatmeal with things like the “Are You Addicted to Twitter?” quizzes, where people could embed their own results. Beyond widgets, folks like the Mint.com content marketing team have used things like infographics with embeddable inputs at the bottom to rank for tough terms.
The reason things like this work is that people are much more likely to share a pretty infographic or a interesting widget than they are to just link to a random website. If you can give them something to share, they won’t mind using your pre-defined HTML and including your backlink.
7. Interview someone influential
When I first submitted my interview questions to Brian Gardner (of StudioPress), I had no idea what the response would be.
That was one of my very first posts to Sparring Mind, and although I knew about the power of interviews, I hadn’t ever reached out to somebody as significant in the WP community as Gardner before.
I shouldn’t have been worried, because not only did I learn that he and many other larger names are incredibly helpful and mostly willing to accept interview requests, it also lead to some significant exposure to my brand new site.
The success I saw here lead to more interviews, including ones with Alex Mangini of Kolakube, as well as Leo Wildrich of the BufferApp.
These interviews are great, especially for new blogs, because who doesn’t love being interviewed? This tactic lets you feature names far bigger than yours, and if you do a good job of asking insightful questions and drawing out great content from the interviewee, they are guaranteed to share the post with their following.
Even if they don’t directly link to the content itself, provided you’ve interviewed someone interesting (especially someone who doesn’t interview often), you’ll find yourself accruing links from people in their industry.
I found myself with a few links from social media sites I’d never heard of before when I published my interview with Leo about the BufferApp, and you can get your site in front of a new potential audience with the same method.
8. Create an exhaustive round-up
Creating round-up posts can be a great strategy for links. A round-up is essentially a collection of articles, resources, and actual products (books, etc.) that covers a topic in totality: exhaustive coverage is a necessity.
Two fantastic examples (one written by Kristi, no less) is The Entrepreneur’s Handbook, a collection of 101 resources for first time entrepreneurs, and the Leaving Work Behind 100, a collection of the best freelance/marketing blogs for people to get started with.
These round-up posts work so well because not only do they link out to a ton of people (who will likely tweet about the article, if not link back), they become “bookmark havens,” posts so large that people have to save and share them given the immense quantity of value that they provide.
If you create a round-up like the two showcased above, research a few keywords that you might be able to rank for before you title the post and publish it. For instance, if I was going to write a resource post for “going green,” I might look at a few search terms like “going green for beginners” or “beginner’s green guide” to see if I could feasibly rank for those terms.
Again, doing a little homework before publishing monster pieces of content like this can not only help you build links, but also bring in additional traffic from ranking well for highly relevant terms.
9. Utilize “crowdsourced” posts
Crowdsourcing is all the rage these days, but did you know it’s an incredibly effective SEO tactic for blogs as well? A “crowdsourced” post is a very interesting take on the traditional interview post discussed above. Essentially, instead of getting a lot of info from one interviewee, you’re going to collect small tidbits of information from multiple authority sources.
One clever example of this is how many hyperlocal websites, such as the Delaware Entrepreneur publication from my hometown utilize local business owners and interviews a ton of them at once to generate attention.
A more common example is the “roundup opinion” post that many blogs use to feature a bunch of experts at once (and hopefully get them to link to it). A successful execution recently was the Social Media Examiner prediction post for 2012, which featured 30 social media experts stating their predictions for the coming year.
These types of posts are a classic pieces of linkbait: the large number of big related names is sure to attract a lot of attention in your niche, so if you can pull one of these off, it’s likely to make a big splash.
10. Create a product
This is something that I feel a lot of bloggers get backwards (heck, even I’m slacking in this regard!). I honestly feel like the “build audience first, create product later” can be taken too far. I’m not saying you need a product from the get-go, but having something to sell and promote can often lead to more brand awareness.
Corbett Barr (a Problogger “blogger to watch in 2012“) from ThinkTraffic offers an interesting example of how this works. His latest course, How To Start A Blog That Matters, allowed him to land a few interviews as well as a few promotional posts on blogs promoting its release.
Corbett staunchly stands by his assertion (with data to back it up) that launching a product can lead to increased traffic for your blog, due to the natural discussion that a new product/course can generate.
This is especially true if you create a widget/resource that your niche can benefit greatly from.
One person who I feel has done this very well is Glen Allsopp from ViperChill, creating and launching both the free ViperBar plugin as well as his flagship premium plugin OptinSkin. Both plugins received big support from other WordPress users who got utility out of them, and both resulted in increased exposure and even direct links (especially from the ViperBar) back to Glen’s blog.
Consider getting your product out sooner rather than later, you could be missing out on some big promotional opportunities.
Over to you
At the end of big posts like this, sometimes we can get stuck in “information paralysis”—having too much in front of us and not knowing what to do next.
Now that you’ve reached the end:
Pick just one or two strategies from this post that you’re going to try this week.
Let me know which ones they are in the comments!
Gregory Ciotti is the founder of Sparring Mind, the†blog that takes psychology + content marketing and makes them play nicely together. Download his free e-book on ‘conversion psychology’ today for insights on influencing people online.