Is Link Building a Job “a Monkey Could Do?”

Monkey on a Mac imageWhen I found out that an acquaintance of mine – who I looked up to and respected – had badmouthed and insulted my main area of expertise, I was pretty hurt. I had been informed that when he was asked by someone if he thought there was any value in link building as an SEO practice, he said that he didn’t think there was and that it’s a job “a monkey could do.” Charming!

Although his line of work isn’t primarily SEO, it is closely related, so I was quite shocked – but also somewhat relieved – to find out that his thoughts were based on the ignorant belief that there’s only one thing link builders do, and that’s simply to “submit links to general directories.” Although directories can still be included as part of an all-round link building strategy, gone are the days when SEOs could rely on link directories alone.

Of course, with Google’s on-going changes to its search engine’s algorithm, for an SEO to concentrate on just directories, they’d have to be absolutely bananas! (Sorry, couldn’t resist – there had to be a monkey-related pun in this post somewhere!) Some SEOs argue that link building (a major element of off-site SEO) is a stronger SEO signal than on-site SEO (although many will also argue that both should be considered for the best possible chance of success, as one element being weak can let the side down overall). So it’s crucial that an SEO strategy involves a well-rounded and varied link building strategy, particularly in competitive industries.

Then there’s the subject of how many factors come into Google’s search engine rankings, and how often the search engine algorithm is updated. The answer? They “use more than 200 signals… and [they] update these algorithms on a weekly basis” (source). 200… Two years ago, when it was first mentioned by Matt Cutts, folks over at WebmasterWorld made an attempt to list them, and the provisional list had at least a dozen variables affecting the finer details of an individual in-bound link, including the anchor text used, its position on the page, its relevancy to the content as well as a whole bunch of other factors. It’s complicated stuff. And that was two years ago! There’s probably more now, or if now then at least they’ll have changed, with some variables gaining more importance over time; others less.

Then there’s the type of links an SEO can go out and obtain. Sure, there are your bog-standard general directories, but there’s also article marketing, reciprocal linking, paid links (boo!), blog comments, blog rolls, guest blogging, forums signatures, linkbait ideas including infographics, online tools, badges, etc. etc. – some of which have become less important compared to others as time has passed, and I’m sure there’s a lot, lot more than what I’ve just covered. It’s enough to make someone go ape… (Last pun, I promise.)

But don’t just take my word for it. When I first heard about the monkey comment, I decided to get the feedback and opinions of a few fellow SEOs via Twitter.

Profile pictures of the three tweetersThree got back to me, with the following:

Brighton-based SEO Yousaf (@ysekand) said: “Anyone can build links but it takes creativity & outside the box thinking to build quality/juicy links, that is the difference.” (Just realised that I misspelt your name in my original tweet to you – I apologise sir!)

Recent Liberty starter Andrew (@Andrew_Isidoro) has a similar opinion: “Most people could link build with training, but the best guys are web-savvy, intelligent & work with a high level of creativity.”

Tweet #3 by Mike (@Koozai_Mike) – on the other hand – seemed to be more concerned with the monkeys’ supposed confusion over their occupation: “I thought monkeys were busy writing the works of Shakespeare? If they can’t finish that yet, then they’ve got no hope.” An unusual comment, but good on him for countering the comment with a bit of humour, rather than writing an epic, probably-OTT blog post about it (we all have our ways of dealing with things, I suppose…)

However, the link building fun doesn’t stop there. It’s occurred to me typing this now that Yousaf, Andrew and Mike could possibly share this post via their Twitter profiles and possibly link to it from their own sites because they’re mentioned in it. In fact, there’s a chance that others in the SEO industry will be interested due to the industry’s strong sense of community (you only have to take a look at the likes of SEOmoz’s thriving SEO community and the WebmasterWorld Forums to see how strong the communities can be as well as the simple fact that most SEOs like to help each other out). Plus we like to defend hurtful, attacking comments made towards SEOs (remember the guy who called us “SEO bastards,” and the SEOs who wrote blog posts in response?)

I wrote this post because I wanted to defend what we do from a silly, harmful comment. But if this blog post – and my website domain as a whole – garners links in the process then I’d consider it an added bonus. This post is potentially a link-earning bit of content – a link building consideration in itself.

But hey… We’re only monkeys, right?

[“Monkey on a Mac” image credit: thegarethwiscombe – cheers also to Yousaf, Andrew and Mike for their contributions as well (their images courtesy of their respective Twitter profiles)]

Dislike a company? Leave your review somewhere other than Google…

Evil laugh at the ready?Have you been a naughty, naughty company? Have your actions resulted in bad reviews on Google? Well now, don’t shake your fist and curse the ‘good guys’ just yet. Get ready to tweak your evil mustache, pet your Bond villain-esque feline and prepare your best maniacal laugh, for you’re about to find out how you can make them disappear!

Reviews… Some people think they’re a waste of time, when others relish the fact of sharing their experience with others, good or bad. Although some might argue that we leave reviews for purely self-obsessed reasons, I’d actually argue that it’s probably the other way around…

  • The Positive – A company’s done you well and you want to return the favour by spreading the good word about them.
  • The Negative – Usually a result of being stung by a bad service or sale and therefore wanting to warn others.

My reviews tend to fit those categories. I love giving good reviews who deserve them, especially if they’re hardworking people who mean well (e.g. small, local suppliers). Likewise, I hate shoddy service and I hate seeing people get duped, so if I’ve been stung, I’ll happily warn others of my unhappiness towards the company responsible.

My personal weapon of choice? Google. Leaving a review on a Google Places listing (a.k.a. Google Maps, Google Local – call it what you will!) can help with a listing’s ranking, so if you truly want to help a company to get more business then that’s a good way to do it. The same applies with some third-party sites, such as Qype and Yelp. (See? I do actually talk about SEO from time to time on this blog!)

But what does a company do when it receives lots of negative reviews? Well, y’know… They could just delete their own listing…!

That’s what happened to a company I (negatively) reviewed recently. Well, I don’t know for sure if they deleted it, but I can’t see any other reason. It makes sense that they’d want to delete it, as I’ll go on to explain…

They had received six (SIX!) 1-star reviews, with the stars showing even before you clicked-through to the listing – i.e. a company needs 5 reviews for the stars to show, otherwise it’ll still say the number of reviews there are but won’t show the stars until you click onto the profile itself. This meant that people could see that their average rating was 1 out of 5 when they did a Google search for their name. Worse still, if they showed up amongst the Map listings with their competitors for a general search relating to their service, it would show then, too (and their competitors either didn’t have any or enough reviews, or had more positive reviews).

So what’s a company to do? Hell, if they’re lousy enough in what you do to annoy that many people that badly, why not do the unethical thing and wipe the slate clean rather than to accept the (potentially) deserved onslaught? Your Google Places listing disappears, along with your chances of ranking in the Map results amongst your competitors, but hey, maybe it’s better that people find out about you another way, rather than via Google and they witness the negativity surrounding your brand. As businesses are able to create or claim listings, they’re able to un-list and delete them, too. Like I say, I don’t know if that’s the case for sure, but I can’t see it being anything else. They knew the reviews existed, as they tried to contest them (they commented on mine and others apologising and asking us to call their customer services person), so maybe they decided they’d go one step further? Well it’s one way to sort out your brand reputation woes, I guess!

The review still lives in my Google account. I can login and read it. The link’s still there, but if I click it, I see this page:

Screenshot of Google Places 404

“We currently do not support the location,” which I’m pretty sure is the Google Places equivalent of a blank page or a 404 error.

So when you next think of leaving a negative review of a company online, it might be best to look beyond Google. Maybe use another site instead? Then again, with other review sites possibly providing the same option (how else can someone remove a listing of a business that’s no longer operating?) and the likes of Yelp supposedly letting people pay to remove their bad reviews (which I’ve heard about but can’t seem to verify), where else can you go…?

…Customary moan on Twitter and Facebook? Sounds like a plan.

[Green Goblin image credit: doug88888]

Recent posts on other sites and SEOno news

Just a quick post covering two things…

Recent posts on other websites

Just like with SEOno’s first post, every now and again I want to link to blog posts that I’ve written for other sites. There’s only two this time round…

Firstly, I’ve written another post for the online marketing blog of Liberty (my employer). It examines the difference in search volume between head terms vs. the long-tail. For example, a keyword like “shoes” may get a lot of people searching on it, but it may be more important for a business to focus on less popular (but less competitive, cheaper, easier-to-convert) keywords, such as the likes of “buy mens shoes.”

The second is a YOUmoz post, which is the UGC (User-Generated Content) section of SEOmoz, one of the world’s biggest SEO resources and my personal favourite. I’m a massive SEOmoz fan (read: I’m a massive geek), so it’s an absolute pleasure and honour to have had my post accepted. It’s about the word limit affecting the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, which could majorly affect people’s SEO keyword research, especially if they’re looking into short terms and phrases.

In the pipeline, there’ll be more content for the Liberty blog, another YOUmoz post and a guest article for Fresh Business Thinking. I’m also hoping to do a post for Cardiff Blogs (@cdfblogs on Twitter), after having attended their most recent event last month. If any of the above come off then I’ll be sure to link to them in a future post.

News about the blog

The main reason I wanted to update was to say that this’ll probably be the last post on the SEOno blog for a good month or two. The reason for the break in blogging is simply due to the fact that I’m getting married next week!

However, when I’m back, I have great plans for the blog, including a redesign (something I’ve had in mind for a while) as well as more SEO and #SMsceptic posts.

Until then, ciao…*

* A hint as to the honeymoon’s location (in fact, this font should too)! It’s my first time there, so if anyone could help out with a few vital phrases then that’d be appreciated!

The #SMsceptic: Why #FF / #FollowFriday is (mostly) pointless…

Whether a veteran or a casual user, many of those on Twitter will be familiar with the concept of #FollowFriday, which is often abbreviated to just #FF.

The concept is simple. Tell your followers – on a Friday – why they should follow another Twitter user and tag the tweet with #FollowFriday or #FF.

The concept, which was supposedly born in January 2009, has grown from one man’s tweet to a weekly phenomenon and tradition on Twitter. But the concept is flawed… or at least it is for the most part.

The right & wrong ways to #FF

I’ve talked before about how people get #FF “wrong” (see no. 8 of my first #SMsceptic post), in terms of not utilising it properly. After all, listing a ton of names is not going to benefit anyone, while mentioning one or two people and filling the rest of the tweet-space with a reason why they should be followed is much more beneficial to someone. “#FF [this person] because they blog about Cardiff” is likely to pique one’s curiosity more than “#FF [name] [name] [name] [name] [name]…”

However, a recent tweet by @miametro hit the nail on the head:

Just think about it for a moment…

Last Friday, when the people you follow all unleashed their #FF’s in near-unison, did you take the time to actually click on and look at any of the @mentions that were recommended to you, let alone follow anyone new as a result of them?

In this respect, #FollowFriday is flawed. The purpose is to follow someone’s recommendations, but we’re all too busy – and there are often so many – to actually invest the time to look at them all. If one’s curiosity is piqued (as previously mentioned) then it’s a possibility, as they might realise that they should be following a particular user recommended to them – especially if they have something in common, for example. But when someone simply lists a few dozen names in half a dozen tweets? Fat chance.

The psychology of #FF

So if very few people are actually paying attention to anyone’s #FollowFriday suggestions, then a) what is the point, and b) why does it continue to be a popular weekly activity on Twitter? I can think of a few reasons:

Stroking egos: #FollowFriday won’t go away for as long as the human race has egos. I don’t mean that in a negative, arrogant sense, but more that people love to feel loved and appreciated. I’d argue that the #FF is the online equivalent of the pat on the back more than it is a shout-out. Therefore, #FF won’t go away any time soon because people love to receive them. And when people receive, people feel inclined to give: I bet many #FF’s are a result of someone being included in someone else’s #FF and then thinking “oh yeah, maybe I should do one.” A bit like the chain emails of yesteryear – people passing on their #FF recommendations after they’ve been the subject of one.

Grabbing attention: #FollowFriday is a good way to get someone’s attention, particularly if it’s targeted someone the tweeter wants to be followed and/or noticed by. For example, a job candidate may #FF companies he/she wants to work for. They’ll appear in each company’s @mentions stream as a notification that the candidate has mentioned them. They may or may not follow the candidate, but the point is that they might not have seen him/her otherwise…

Following tradition & joining in: At the end of the day, let’s face it: Twitter is all just a little bit of fun. It’s very easy to get carried away with tradition and to join in with something because everybody else is involved. By doing a #FF yourself, you’re effectively joining in with the online “community,” if you will – “playing along” with one of Twitter’s many quirks and traditions. It may have grown out of proportion from its original and intended purpose (i.e. “follow someone because…”), but for as long as people enjoy giving/receiving them, the concept will continue to reign.

[“Cygnet file” image credit: Glenn Brown – also, kudos to Sarah (@miametro) for being ok with me referencing her tweet]

Modern music marketing: is what you don’t do more important than doing everything?

My evolution as a music lover over the years has basically gone something like this:

1. Buy everything I like on CD
2. Listen to everything on Spotify instead

Since discovering Spotify two years ago, shortly after it came out in the UK, I have stopped buying CDs. I don’t need them anymore. I’ve also run out of space for them in my house, but that’s just an aside…

These days, the majority of my music-listening takes place on a computer, so Spotify is fine for that need. 90% of the music I like is on there. I’m a proud premium user: I hate the ads and I am an iPhone user, plus I used to spend £10+ per month buying CDs (that’s about one CD per month), so I’d actually argue that the Premium is a bargain in comparison.

Even so, there’s just two albums I really, really want to buy on CD at the moment:

1. Adele’s 21
2. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs

Why?

Because they’re not on Spotify.

As I said, “90% of the music I like is on there.” Whatever the reason for that other 10% not being on there, I’d argue that it’s potentially a good move on their part.

The musician’s mission is the musician’s dilemma

As a musician myself (from way back when), I can personally vouch for the two words that describe the goal of the little-known, unsigned musician: maximum exposure.

If/when we can afford the time and money, we market ourselves in a particular way because it’s the norm in the industry: we have to record demos or a proper album; we have to get a website made; we have to get on MySpace (once upon a time), Facebook, Spotify and various other social/music sites. The more you do, the better chance you stand. The goal is to maximise exposure, and by doing some or all of the above, you are attempting just that. I know because I did it. I even got myself onto Spotify, even though I’d stopped playing live by that point (note: for the curious among you who want to have a listen via that link, it’s the two EPs – the albums are by a different Steve Morgan).

Of course, fully-fledged signed musicians can be more selective, which their label/agents/managers/etc. will be responsible for, and yet Universal, Sony, EMI, Warner and more are all working with Spotify, according to Spotify’s Labels page.

Is this a bad thing? Yes and no, depending on how you look at it. No because it’s maximising exposure. Yes because it’s not profitable.

Spotify is not profitable to musicians. David McCandless’ infographic highlights the differences between Spotify’s royalties (£0.0012 per stream) and other ways a musician can earn money by selling their music. When Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” reached 1 million streams, the biggest news about it was the fact that she only earned £108 in royalties from it.

Pirates gonna pirate, but…

Arguably, tenths of pennies is better than nothing at all, say if someone were to download music illegally. Of course, if people are that way inclined, it’s likely that they’ll always download the stuff for free, regardless of whether it’s on Spotify or only available on CD.

However, what about those who don’t download illegally? Whether it’s a case of ethics, wanting to own ‘the real thing’ or they’re simply scared of ever getting caught, those who choose the non-piracy route (myself included) will want to hear the music by legitimate means. A CD might cost about £10, but Spotify membership is £10 monthly and I can listen to numerous albums without any ads interrupting. I know I’m basing a lot of this on my own experiences, but I’m sure I’m not the only one, and that a lot of Spotify users are in the same (or similar) boat at the moment.

So why wouldn’t a musician be on Spotify? It could be that their label hasn’t yet negotiated terms with Spotify, or maybe they simply don’t want to be on there. Adele’s latest album and Arcade Fire aren’t on there, so what’s the alternative? To buy the CDs or MP3s. If they were on there, I’d probably listen to them on there, without the need to buy the CDs.

Time for some quick maths: if I were to listen to the Arcade Fire’s album in full five times…

– It contains 16 tracks. 16 x 5 = 80. 80 x £0.0012 = £0.096, or £0.10 rounded up. 10p. Wow.

– Meanwhile, it’s £8.99 on Play.com.

Now there is the assumption that someone could listen on Spotify and then buy on CD as well, but that will still depend on a person’s needs. Someone might buy the CD so that they can listen to it on a proper stereo, in the car or so that they have the physical copy, but if someone can listen to an album for cheaper or for ‘free’ (depending on their type of Spotify membership), they probably will. Fair enough if you do, but why buy the CD if you don’t need to?

Profit comes from demand, demand comes from desire

I’m not saying that musicians have to become capitalists, plus there are other ways musicians can support themselves (e.g. touring and merchandise), but let’s be fair… The way the music industry is heading at the moment is ridiculous, with musicians expecting to pay money to record and release music that people will then listen to free or for a pittance – Spotify’s low royalty fees are reflective of that. That said, it can be argued that that’s a result of there being too much ‘supply’ and not enough demand: i.e. lots of people playing and recording music, with listeners only being able to invest so much of their time and money into a finite amount of music. Even if they are a fan of dozens or hundreds of different artists.

So what’s a musician to do? In the case of Adele and Arcade Fire, people who’d usually do all their listening via Spotify will be more inclined to buy a CD. For once, not achieving maximum exposure via every possible outlet might actually be beneficial to them, in that it forces people down a particular route, which might require spending more money than listening via a cheap or free alternative.

Of course, Adele and Arcade Fire have done really well in making themselves in demand. The former has appeared on everything recently, from about every radio station ever to the first episode of the most recent series of Doctor Who. The latter won a Grammy.

But then that’s easy for big artists like them, who are supported by big record labels. What about the small fry – the little guys – the unsigned? Well if you make all of your music available via Spotify and similar services, then less people will want to buy your CD. So give them a reason to want to buy: maybe only make your music only available via CD and at gigs. Create excitement. Create demand. After all, if you offer everything, people will gladly take everything.

Easier said than done maybe, but at the end of the day, if people want something that they can’t have for free, they’ll pay.

[Guitar case & money image credit: Brave Heart]