How To SEO Your WordPress Website Part 3: Off-Site Optimization

Cartoon by Dave WalkerIt’s time for the most difficult part. You’ve got excellently written content, optimized titles and descriptions, submitted your sitemap to every search engine in the world. You should be on the first page of every search engine. Right?

Wrong. In order to rank highly you also need incoming links. On its front page Google want sites which are an authority on their subject. In the world of SEO it’s not possible to get by just by claiming to be an authority. You have to demonstrate that you are one.

Link Farms

There are two major types of link farm:

  1. A farm set up by a webmaster who registers multiple domains in order to link one to another
  2. A website that is just a list of unrelated links

Neither type of link farm is good. Both of them can harm your SEO and, in the worst case, get your website blacklisted.

Unsurprisingly, since you can do pretty much everything with WordPress, there are commercial plugins that will extend your WordPress multisite installation to spin content, comment on blogs, scrape websites and create link farms. They may seem like a simple way to raise your ranking but, believe me, you could end up doing much more harm than good.

screenshot of top negative search engine ranking factorsHere’s what Google has to say about it:

Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.

And

  • Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
  • If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.

My advice is to avoid them. Some things just aren’t worth it. Check out this SEOMoz video for more info:

SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday – Link Farming from Scott Willoughby on Vimeo.

Backlinks

External links provide four of the top five ranking factors as reported by SEOMoz in 2009. I bet you can see why link farms are so attractive. It doesn’t matter how much you optimize your site – without external links you won’t be going anywhere. Whereas on-site SEO is something you can get on with by yourself, off-site SEO involves building relationships. You can’t just fiddle with your code, you’ve got to interact with people.

screenshot of top SEO ranking factors

When you are trying to build up back links here are some things to keep in mind:

Popularity – You will gain a higher ranking if a website that is both popular and trusted links to you. It’s kind’ve like being back at school – someone who is popular makes friends with you and you instantly become more popular. And, of course, vice versa. If you hook up with the nasty kid you’ll see your rankings fall.
Diversity – You want lots of links from lots of unique root domains. It will also help your SEO out if you are linked to in an article that is relevant to your own site. A random link on a totally unrelated site will not have the power of one on a site that is relevant.

Popularity, Diversity, Relevance – these are what you want. Getting involved in link farming isn’t going to get you the sort of targeted links that you want. Successful off-site SEO is about getting involved and building up your own credibility so that people see you as a trusted source and link to you.

The Power of NoFollow

Here are a few sites that attach rel=“nofollow” to their links:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • WordPress (comments)
  • Wikipedia
  • Flickr

What is rel=”nofollow”? NoFollow is a value that can be assigned to a link that tells a bot not to follow it. Actually, they often will follow it but they won’t let the link affect the page ranking. That means if you are using Google analytics or another stats program you’ll be able to see the incoming link but it won’t have affected your page ranking.

image of a can of spamIt’s basically a method of combating spam. You’re less likely to get spam on your blog if your comments are NoFollowed.

When it comes to direct SEO NoFollow links won’t be adding anything to your overall ranking. However, they are important tools in your off-site SEO toolbox. Let’s take a look at how you can use them.

Comments

Commenting on other people’s blogs is a great way to build relationships. If you comment on a blog with authority then the owner of that blog might click on the link to your homepage. That one click won’t affect your rankings but the owner of that blog might like what they see. They could put a link to you on their homepage or link back to you in one of their posts.

The same is true for anyone else who reads that blog regularly. By commenting on other blogs you raise awareness of your own WordPress website and people will be more inclined to link to you.

U Comment, I Follow

U comment I follow badgeThis is a movement amongst bloggers who are turning off the NoFollow command on their comments. The ethos is that it will encourage commenting on blogs and therefore enrich the blogging community. This is a great idea as NoFollow is really method for deterring spammers but has ended up deterring genuine commenters as well. However, if you have a very popular blog, like Yoast, you may find yourself overwhelmed by spam as a result.

If you want to get rid of NoFollow on your comments you could add a plugin like WPDoFollow to Blog Comment links. You could also add a badge that lets people know that search engines do follow the links in your comments.

Twitter

twitter birds iconTwitter is another great way of developing relationships with your readers. Okay, so all of those hundreds of hits that you get from Twitter won’t affect your ranking (not yet, anyway – this may change as Search Engine algorithms develop) but it does equate to people physically seeing your website. Sending someone to your website can lead to another person posting a link to you directly on their website. Twitter offers potential exposure to thousands of people who are interested in the same things as you.

If you are going to use twitter effectively you should know a little about twitter etiquette (twetiquette?) Twitter is about trust and interaction. Here are some tips on how to do it:

  • Don’t only post links to your website
  • Don’t ignore @replies
  • Do retweet
  • Post at least once a day
  • Add people who mention you and then @reply them to thank them
  • Don’t send automated Direct Messages

You can use the Twitter Tools to tweet all of your new posts. Don’t become over reliant on this though! You need to make sure you are keeping up the conversation with your followers as well.

Remember! There is a huge difference in SEO power between a link from a link farm and a link from a major reputable source. By engaging with bloggers and webmasters on twitter you are exposing them to your content and you never know when they might pick it up.

Content

content iconLast time I talked about how important great content is and it’s worth talking about it again. Content is what will get people linking to you. This is why I hate link farms and link directories so much. There’s a conceit that you can just buy your way to a good ranking which will automatically make you a good webpage – that just chucking cash at a problem will fix it. No matter how much money you have, there is no substitute for good content. Admittedly, you could just pay someone to write a whole load of great content for you but even in that case you are contributing something to the community.

The internet is about as close to a proper meritocracy as you can get. If you write great content and interact with the community, people will link to you and your rankings will increase. Great content is rewarded with a high page rank. Make it top of your SEO list!

Link bait

Using link bait is like having a big juicy worm when you go fishing. Have a sccartoon of a man trying to trade his wife for linksrawny maggot and you’ll only catch yourself a little fish, but the best link bait could hook you a massive one. Here are some great types of link bait that you can use to increase traffic to your WordPress website:

  • Tutorials & How-tos
  • Write a “history of”
  • Write something controversial
  • Write something that people will hate
  • Interview someone prominent
  • Run an event
  • Give something away for free
  • Produce something well researched
  • Develop a theme or a plugin
  • Have an exclusive piece of news

These are great ways to get people to blog about your website. As you can see, you don’t have to say something nice to get people to link to you. If you write something contentious then you could start up a blogging storm of people disagreeing with you. The only problem with is that you may find that people aren’t interested in you over the long term.

Article Submission

For me, the big problem with article submission is duplicate content. Any piece of content will only be indexed for one site. That means that if you have a piece of content on your blog and also have it submitted to a directory only one of those sites will receive any SEO benefit for it. After all of the hard work you’ve put into crafting your article, why would you want to dilute the link love that you could potentially receive?
Here is Scott Willoughby from SEOMoz talking about article submission:

Guest Posts

Guest posts are a much better method of off-site SEO than article submission. They can be a great way for two blogs to mutually increase each other’s traffic. You can do it once or twice without the need for an ongoing relationship and both sides can benefit from increased traffic and visibility.

Guest Posting

Writing a guest post for another blog can give a boost to your traffic. Say you’ve got a tiny little website but you have some great content on there. Go to one of the major blogging sites that are looking for guest posts and pitch an idea to them. This will mean that all of the people who visit that site every day will see you. And many of them are likely to follow a link to your blog and see all that lovely content you’ve been working away on. Here are a few tips on how to submit a guest post:

  • Make sure your post is relevant to the blog you want to write for
  • Write about something you know
  • Don’t spend the post advertising yourself
  • Make sure that the thing you want to blog about hasn’t been covered already

cartoon of sign that says wanted: bloggerFinding a Guest Poster

Getting someone to produce a guest post for your blog can get you new insight and a fresh perspective on your niche. It also a way of tapping in to the traffic that person has already generated on their own blog. Here are some tips on finding a guest poster:

  • Post an invitation on your front page asking for guest posters
  • Clearly state what your guidelines are
  • Ensure that you are not getting recycled content
  • Call in a few favors – if you’ve got a friend with a highly ranked page, ask them to guest post for you.

Off-site SEO really is important and in neglecting it you could be undoing all of the work that you put in to get your site optimized in the first place. Remember, my first two posts were all about making your site as easy as possible to crawl. Off-site SEO involves getting people to read it.

However, by using WordPress you’re already miles ahead than other people in terms of SEO. Here’s an immensely helpful talk by Matt Cutts given at WordCamp San Francisco 2009 on why WordPress is great and how to SEO your website.

To finish, here’s a list of all of the Plugins and resources we’ve used:

Part 1: Tweaks and Plugins

Part 2: Content and Plugins

Part 3: Off-site