Link Building in 2016: Is It Still Worth The Effort?

Link Building 2016

2016 isn’t the first year that predicted to be link building’s swan song and most likely won’t be the last year predicted either. However, link building has become much more nuanced and has come a very long way from the era of spam and botted links from the pre-Penguin days. Today, I’m going to share with you my perspective on link building and why it should still be an integral part of your digital marketing strategy.

Link Building: A History

When the web was young, and Penguin hadn’t hatched yet, link building was almost like the wild west of the internet. It was riddled with black-hat SEO tactics from super-spammy links built on sites meant to be a repository for links and bots inserting links into website’s comments or forums all over the place. Quantity mattered more than quality, and that was the way of the web until Penguin showed up. Now, I’m not saying that Penguin has eliminated all of the spam, but, the majority of the shady link spam industry has been penalized or devalued into oblivion, and has helped clean up the link building industry tremendously.

Links have always been an important ranking signal, and will continue to be, especially since they were a core element to Google’s original search engine algorithm back in the early 2000′s. This algorithm is what separated Google from the rest of the search engine pack, making their results better than their competitors. Today, links continue to be a powerful ranking signal because Google continues to invest in links as votes of confidence about a website.

There was, however, a hitch in their plans. With the “hatching” of Penguin in 2012, digital marketers began to move away from link building. Some of the reasons cited were that Penguin devalued link spam, making link acquisition harder, they made link spam “high-risk” since spammy sites were punished severely, Google’s vagueness on the details of what caused Penguin penalties made people fearful and uncertain, which lead to doubt and a glut of misinformation involving links and what would trigger Penguin to attack.

These factors helped to create a perfect storm of misinformation. Many SEOs saw content marketing as their new golden goose, a replacement of link building with link earning. A build it and they will come sort of strategy where high level content would be created and naturally attract links. However, unlike Field of Dreams, the links never came.

Content Marketing is Good to Do, But Link Building isn’t going Anywhere

First off, let me say that content marketing is a very important part of any digital marketing strategy, and shouldn’t be shunted off by any means. However, I wouldn’t pool content marketing with link building and SEO. The theory of link earning, as preposed by the shift from Penguin, is based on the assumption that high-quality content will organically gain links through social engagement (i.e. re-tweets, Facebook/LinkedIn shares, +1′s, etc.). However, it seems that this isn’t the case.

Back in the Fall of 2015, Moz and BuzzSumo conducted a study, analyzing over 1 million pieces of content and their shares and the links they earned. From this study, they came to the conclusion that there is no discernible correlation between social shares and links. The sample size was mostly composed of highly shared articles that had already proven popular in the niches that they were published in.

These findings indicate that while some content may be viral hits and be shared far and wide across social media, that does not naturally translate into links, either to the piece of content or to the content’s home site. While compelling content is an integral piece to the link building process, it is not the be-all-end-all of link building, manual effort is still necessary to take advantage of content’s link opportunities.

Links Will Continue To Matter in Digital Marketing

Links are one of the foundational ranking signals on the web. As long as you need to market your business, you’ll need to include link building as part of your digital marketing strategy. Regardless of how any search engine tweaks or modifies their algorithm, links will continue to be a cornerstone of the web, not because of how Google values them, but because of their own inherent value to the web itself. Links are what we use to navigate the vast sea of the internet, without them, it would be extremely difficult to find anything we were looking for. Ignore links at your own peril, because if you do, you’ll be missing out in search and in turn, missing out on some great marketing opportunities.

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PPC Crash Course for e-commerce Part 1

So you’re selling a product and you’ve come up with a fantastic e-commerce site. But, you seemed to have reached the ceiling when it comes to growth in your different marketing channels. You’ve seen the ads on Google’s search results and have seen the ads when researching different products, and it made you curious. Congratulations! You’ve just discovered PPC, which is going to be our focus topic for this week. So follow along, we’ll get you started down the road of making sure you know what platforms there are to choose from, what analytics you should pay attention to, and how to get started becoming a PPC monster!

Basics of PPC

Before we dive in, let’s take a few minutes and go over, exactly, what PPC is. PPC (pay-per-click) marketing is a form of online advertising in which businesses accrue costs when users click their ads (i.e. Google Ads on the top and right-hand side of search results). These businesses bid on different keywords and audience types, which a search engine matches to different search queries and pre-defined lists.

Knitting PPC example`

 

 

 

 

 

PPC can be used for all sorts of campaign goals, including increasing sales, generating leads, and promoting brand awareness. PPC ads are all about relevance and gives businesses the ability to show a targeted ad at the exact moment someone is searching for a product that they sell. For example, let’s say someone is looking for knitting needles, and you happen to sell stainless steel, high quality knitting needles. The prospective customer searches for knitting needles, and low and behold, your product shows up in an ad on the search engine displaying your knitting needles for sale.

Advertising Platforms

Alright so now that we went over what PPC is, we need to discuss where you can advertise your products outside of Google’s AdWords. Because, if you’re just using Google you’re going to have a bad time. There are a lot, and I mean, a lot of options out there for advertising. Here’s a couple of the top ones that are great for e-commerce:

Nextag.com

Nextag claims to be the #1 comparison site in traffic, revenue, and GMV (gross merchandise value). They offer free tools such as a ROI tracking system, promotional platform for voucher codes, buyer reviews, and a trusted sellers program. Additionally, they offer no listing fees or set-up costs, and you only pay, when they “refer you to a qualified lead.”

Amazon.com

Yes, you can serve product ads on Amazon! You can upload your products manually, or send them a list via FTP. They’ll populate the ads with the information you send them. You can set and track your budget and ad space provides click through to your e-commerce store. The only fee you pay is a CPC (cost-per-click) fee. They also provide different formats, such as detail page, search & browse, buy box, and tower ads, (to find out more of these different ad formats click here). Also, when you sign up, you get $75 in free clicks to start, talk about a nice incentive.

Tracking

One of the most important things when it comes to setting up your PPC campaign is making sure that you’re implementing the proper tracking codes so that you can track goals and optimize your accounts to get the most ROI. The best place to set up your tracking and goals is with Google Analytics, since it will allow you to track your AdWords account along with the other advertising platforms you choose to use.

Google has a great guide in how to set this up and how you can implement the code on your site. Word of warning though this part is where it gets extremely technical, so if you’re programming illiterate, either find a how-to guide or hire a freelancer to set this up for you. Trust me, you want to get this right the first time.

While setting up tracking might be a hassle for you, time-wise or financially, I advise that you don’t even bother with a PPC campaign for your e-commerce site if you don’t have the proper tracking. Otherwise, you won’t know where the leads are coming from, and you won’t know what is working and what isn’t.

Keyword Research

Next, you’re going to want to start researching keywords for your campaigns. My advice is that you start with your own site, specifically, your products. Going through all your products is the easiest way to find the keywords you want to target, because it’s simply finding the keywords that people would use to find your products through the search results. Make sure you keep all these keywords grouped by product, it will help later when you’re going back to research specific products in that product category.

To make the process quicker, I recommend using the Google Keyword Tool. Let’s take the knitting needles example I used earlier, when I type it into the keyword tool, this is what I get:

Knitting needles keyword planner PPC example

Keyword listings on Google Keyword Planner

 

 

 

 

Google Keyword Planner PPC example

Ad Group Listings on Google Keyword Planner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is where the tool gets really robust, this goes into iterations and close relations to the keywords you chose, and the ad groups break down individual keywords associated with that ad group. Additionally, you can have it expand the list by having the program find more keywords like the ad group you clicked on.

Each one of these categories can be expanded to show a whole new slew of keywords. I recommend using this tool to get the bulk of keywords you’re looking for with minimal effort. Additionally, once you’re done researching you can export the list to an excel spreadsheet or you can curate the list right in the tool!

Well, that’s it for this week, next week we’ll go into detail about structuring your ads and setting up budgets for your ads. See you next week for part 2!

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