Inbound's Event Fundraiser 2012

This year we held an event for business owners and managers who wanted to better understand inbound marketing in 2012. A series of seminars took 70 delegates through the world of modern online marketing; from finding the appropriate domain to engaging with an audience and ultimately converting visitors into sales.

inbound event

But the event had a more important aspect to it; a total of £800 was taken from the proceeds and donated to two charities, Rainbows and Unique Home for Girls. Thanks to everyone for their support; we hope you had a fantastic evening and took away a great deal of value for your own business.


How Pinterest Made Insurance, Electricity & Floor Boards Cool!

Pinterest could be called an unchartered social media platform when it comes to using it for business purposes.  Whilst the corporate world is slowly waking up to the benefits of using it, the fact that it now drives more referral traffic to users websites than Bing organic search being a big push,  it is still relatively virgin ground from a marketing point of view. 

Pinterest Referal Traffic Graph

There are some companies who are blazing a trail and I predict that it won’t be long before these trails become tracks carved out by the bandwagon.

Pet Plan

Pet Plan is an American Pet Insurance Company. Pet Plan has used Pinterest to thaw the ice of a traditionally cold and corporate industry. Not only have they crafted an engaging personality using their pin boards, the ‘meet the team’ board being the best example, they have also tried to provide valuable content to their users with boards like ‘pet health tip’s'. 

pinterestblog1

pinterestblog2

General Electric

General electric is not your traditional type of social media fodder. Tweets and status updates from a company that provides energy, finance and industrial services will generally not be shared as much as a picture of a cat in a funny hat. Period. However, they have used Pinterest to create boards with content that is typically very social but with a GE twist. Take their ‘badass machines’ board which is dedicated to unique pieces of machinery, the ‘that’s genius’ Thomas Edison quotes board and finally their ‘Hey Girl’ board which is all about geeky inventor style chat up lines as an example.

Pinterest Case Study GE machines

Pinterest Case Study GE Quotes

Pinterest Case Study GE Hey Girl

McKay Flooring

McKay Flooring are a UK based flooring company who have been using Pinterest in conjunction with Instagram to great success. The area of interior design and DIY is very popular on Pinterest but McKay have taken this a step further and broken these themes down even further. Take their ‘reclaimed’ board which has images of old windows converted in to picture frames and wine racks made from whiskey barrels. Their ‘Polished Concrete Flooring’ board is also worth a look with images of ornately decorated concrete floors from around the world. McKay flooring said:

“We have found that Pinterest has driven a high amount of traffic to our website. With Pinterest finding a common ground with your audience is a must. We try to make our boards interesting to our audience without boring them with all our own products.”

Pinterest Case Study  Mckay Reclaimed

Pinterest Case Study mclay polished

Overall I think that with a little bit of creativity most businesses can think of and create boards that are engaging. None of the companies featured here typically lend themselves to social media but all have found an angle whether that be cute, humorous, helpful or inspiring!

What will your angle be?

P.S Checkout our Pinterest for Business board for loads of help and inspiration! 


Link Building's Shameful History: 1998 - 2012

If you’ve been in the SEO industry for even just a couple of years then you would have noticed just how fast things can move. On numerous occasions over the last several years, link building practices that were a staple of any SEO campaign were completely dropped overnight. Link building has had its ups and downs, but it’s widely accepted that it still remains the most important ranking signal. So how did it all start, and where are we now?

PageRank in 1998

PageRank was the SEO success metric for about a decade. Webmasters would judge their efforts based on their website’s PR and for a good chunk of time this was pretty accurate. PageRank would be passed from site to site through links and the size of the PR passed would depend on the PR of the site that was linking outwards. Google updated the index’ PageRank every few months and when rumour spread that an update was coming, webmasters would feverously check to see if their PR had changed.

pagerank

PageRank was a basic tool for describing the importance of webpages on the web. But what PR did more than anything was introduce a link buying market that Rand Fishkin of 2005 estimated to be worth $500-$700 million or more.

Keyword Anchor Text in 1998

One of the earliest published cases of an SEO picking up on anchor text was back in 1998 when a post on searchengineprojects.com mentioned:

On top of that, you want proper anchor texts. If you are selling "baseball bats", then you want those keywords in your links. The search engines determine the overall theme of your website by looking at the keywords that you use as anchor texts.

Keyword anchors set the tone of SEO until around 2010. Search optimisers would incorporate keyword anchor texts into all of the links they built from this point on... whether it was a ton of spam blog comments or legitimately solicited links.

Of course the irony was that putting your awkward exact keyword anchor into a spammy blog comment was a lot easier, and therefore a lot more powerful than soliciting a genuine link from a legitimate site.

Reciprocal link building

One-for-one link exchanges remain popular today. But they are as useless as ever.

Once the SEOs of 1998 had figured out that links held a great deal of power, they quickly became keen to swap links whenever possible – the idea was that were no losers as each link passed value. Sites would have pages with literally hundreds of links pointing to other sites that returned the favour.

This was possibly one of the easiest illegitimate SEO tactics for Google to pin down; but it wasn’t until the mid 2000s that the value of this was diminished.

Paid links

PageRank opened the door to a paid linking model that allowed webmasters to easily and transparently charge for monthly or permanent links. Valuing a link was pretty easy and the temptation for webmasters to sell was high. A paid link’s value was a function of PageRank, relevance, no. of other outbound links and the niche.

Paid links have always been strictly against Google’s guidelines; however the number of reported penalties for link buying/selling were very scarce, but where it was proven, offending sites were driven out of the index - the most recent with iAcquire in 2012.

Article and Link Directories

Article and link directory submissions formed a huge part of SEO’s (so far) short history. In decades to come, we’ll all look back at search and wonder how the Google machine could have been so primitive to let strategies like this work.

Content was written, spun and submitted for free to article directories like EzineArticles.com; each article would have a keyword link that passed link juice to the author’s website. The content often made no sense and added no value – yet the link value was at this time... huge! This went on until February 2011 – the month of Google’s Panda update that went after content directories like this one. Below you can see just how much search traffic dropped off following the change:

ezine articles

Link directories were more or less the same. Websites submitted links to directories that users never even saw, but the value for SEO made it worthwhile. Free submission tools like DigiXmas made submitting to hundreds of directories in just a few minutes a piece of cake. Again, this sort of tactic was crushed by Panda.

Infographics

infographics

Infographics took the SEO world by storm but were soon placed into the most short-lived and over-hyped link building strategy of all time. Infographics became so popular so quickly that companies were set up with the sole intent of designing them. The idea was that if you had interesting content, you could turn it into an easily sharable graphic with links that pointed back to the source i.e. you.

The reality of it was that an infographic may look great, but the content is more or less incomprehensible by Google (it's an image). This meant that for a link to work well with an infographic, it required several hundred words of quality text-based content to go with it ... and with infographics costing several hundred pounds a piece, why not just write the content? Infographics are still used and shared today, but their perceived value in SEO was hit even harder when Matt Cutts hinted at discounting them:

I would not be surprised if at some point in the future we did not start to discount these infographic-type links to a degree. The link is often embedded in the infographic in a way that people don’t realize, vs. a true endorsement of your site.

Penguin and Post Spam SEO

google penguin

Google’s Penguin update rolled out in early 2012 and it has so far been very successful at clearing up exact match anchor spam and low quality link sources. We came from an era of automated spam bots all the way through to semi-valuable infographics and now totally legitimate best practices.

The old SEO strategies simply don’t work anymore. Directories add zero value to your website and if anything, they could harm your rankings; and keyword anchors need to be treated with caution. The world of post spam SEO involves quality onsite content development, press releases and public relations efforts both offline and online; it requires legitimate link building from outreach and relationship building as well as a social effort (at least on Google+). There is no longer a quick fix to SEO or an automated hands-free process; SEO requires a multi channel approach and the time and effort of a dedicated team. Sure, there will still be tricks that you can use to get quick gains, but Google is moving faster than ever and SEOs that don’t future proof simply won’t keep up.

Image Credit: ImageSource.com


The Dot UK Money Grab

As you may already know, Nominet plans to introduce the .UK extension to the UK market some time next year. If you are completely unfamiliar with what I am talking about, Nick wrote a fantastic post detailing the basics of the .UK extension earlier in the week.

In this post, I want to shed some light on why the .UK proposal is possibly the greediest thing that Nominet have ever put forward; and also why Nominet, as a governing body, is easily corruptible.

"My firm impression is that some other directors would like to eliminate the membership's control of the organisation and are not committed to the company's not-for-profit objectives."

Let’s kick things off by briefly looking at the corporate structure behind Nominet. The government does not run Nominet – it is set up as a private, not for profit organisation and is run by stakeholders as well as a small board of 9 members. The stakeholders are essentially members of Nominet that pay £500 per year for membership – Nominet members own their own domain registration tag. For instance, a company that I run has its own domain registration tag; this means that we can register domain names directly from Nominet rather than going through a domain registrar such as 123-reg.co.uk. Currently Nominet claims that they have over 2800 members that pay this yearly fee. The idea is that when Nominet look to introduce new rules/regulations the members get to have their say in what should and should not be happening. While it might seem like a very democratic system, the reality is that the board members have a majority rule. More information about Nominet's structure here.

In 2008 Angus Hanton, a director of Nominet resigned with the following statement: "The company [Nominet] is meant to be controlled by, and answerable to, its membership as well as having duties to the wider community. My firm impression is that some other directors would like to eliminate the membership's control of the organisation and are not committed to the company's not-for-profit objectives."

(Source: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/11/13/nominet_director_resigns/)

Immediately this rings alarm bells… it implies that the board may have started to operate in their own best interest, rather than in the best interests of the members and the wider community.

.UK: Who Wins?

So now you have a bit of background about Nominet and its corporate structure; so lets take a look at who wins when .UK gets introduced.

Quite obviously, Nominet stands to make a huge amount of money if the .UK gets released with an expected price point of £20 per year. With over 7 million domains registered with UK extensions, you can bet that most companies that operate on a .co.uk or similar will most be forced into buying the .UK version of their name. This means that in the first few weeks of release there is going to be a huge rush to register millions of .UKs and that money will be going directly into Nominet’s pocket.

The second group to gain will be the domain registrars and the hosting and auction services. Services such as 123-Reg will see a massive increase in registrations during this period followed by a sharp increase in yearly renewals as well. Hosting companies will also enjoy an increase in custom, simply because there are new domains available; and auction sites such as Sedo will see a rise in commission while everyone tries to buy and sell the new .UK premium names.

So why do we care about these companies gaining? Well what if I told you that out of Nominet’s 9 board members, 4 of them have or have-had a vested interest in companies that are involved in the services just mentioned. So who are they?

  • Dickie Armour - General Manager of Fibranet Services Ltd (Domain Registrar Service)
  • Nora Nanayakkara – Previously Worked at Sedo.
  • Thomas Vollrath – CEO of 123 Reg, Domainmonster and Heart Internet.
  • Sebastien Lahtinen – Director of Hosting Company NetConnex.

While it’s not fair to accuse these people of acting in their own interest based on their job titles alone, my question is… should a small group of 9 people with separate vested business interests be able to strongly influence and change a market that almost every business in the UK has an interest in? Especially with what a previous director said before resigning – I’m not a cynic, but it certainly makes you wonder.

The final winners of the .UK proposal are trademark squatters. With the way that Nominet proposes to release .UK domain names, trademark owners get first dibs on their marked name. Companies that run on a .co.uk domain but do not own the trademark to that domain will lose the right to apply for them before anyone else.

Some big ones are: Barclays who own bank.co.uk will lose Bank.UK, Tickets.co.uk will lose Tickets.UK, News international will lose News.uk and Money.co.uk will lose Money.UK. These companies will lose their right to the .UK regardless of the fact that they operate large, respected and legitimate websites on their existing .co.uk name. And all of this because of one trademark squatter who registered 30+ premium Trademarks in 2008. You can see all the trademark he owns here.

Most of the trademark claims he made were very unique, such as trademarking the word ‘money’ as a class of sewing or ‘tickets’ as a type of scented candle. This squatter will be made a millionaire overnight if trademark holders get priority to the .UK domain.

.UK: Who Loses?

The main losers from .UK being released are the smaller companies that already run their business off a domain name. If I build a brand on pregnancy.co.uk and I don’t own pregnancy.uk, I will lose a certain proportion of type-in traffic to confused consumers looking for my site. If a competitor buys the .UK version, it is then very confusing to my visitors and dilutes my brand; which effectively forces me to buy the .UK version at a cost of £20/year per website. This is simply an added cost that I have to pay for in order to protect my online property.

A Final Thought...

The immediate winners from introducing .UK will be a select few of already very rich individuals. The real losers will be millions of small businesses having to fork out more each year to protect their web presence and amending marketing material.

Image Credit: imagesource.com


The Children Taking the Blogging World by Storm

Even the most experienced and proficient of bloggers will sit and stare at a blank screen from time to time wondering what on earth to write about. I have had this problem many a time and today was no exception. As I wracked my brain to think of something to write about, I remembered a story I came across the other day about a little girl and her school dinner blog, so I thought I would delve a little deeper into the world of children’s blogging.

Martha’s School Dinner Blog

Martha School Dinner

Martha Paine is a nine year old girl from Argyll who started a blog called ‘Never Seconds’ with the help of her dad. The blog featured a photo of her school dinner each day, together with her rating of the food in terms of both how healthy it was and how it tasted. Martha’s journey has been well documented in the media, as she has faced problems along the way with her school trying to ban her from taking the photos (this was subsequently lifted after an influx of complaints). Since setting up her blog, Martha has raised an astonishing amount for Mary’s Meals, a charity dedicated to providing nutritious school meals within some of the world’s poorest communities.

The success of Martha’s blog has led to her gaining support from school dinner crusader Jamie Oliver, as well as appearing on programmes such as The One Show. Martha is a fantastic inspiration to any blogger feeling writer’s block strike and a shining example of just how powerful a simple little blog can become with dedication and determination.

Gloson’s Tech Blog

Gloson Teh is a Malaysian tech blogger, nothing really spectacular about that, except for the fact that Gloson is 13 years old. He uses his blog to discuss social media trends, provide insightful information on Google Analytics and offer advice to budding bloggers. Gloson has gained an awful lot of attention for his sharp analytical skills and words of wisdom that stretch way beyond his years.

Whilst Gloson’s main blog is tech related he encourages his users to view his other blog which is dedicated to his poetry. Most notable titles include ‘Space Adventure’ and ‘My Land of Dinosaurs’, highlighting that whilst he may be a mastermind when it comes to all things tech, he does also possess the norms of a typical young boy!

Maelo’s Political Blog

Maelo Manning’s blog, ‘LibDemChild’ has fast become one of the top political blogs in the UK. Maelo is just thirteen years old yet produces thought provoking and heartfelt blog posts on a range of topics. Post titles include ‘The Speech I Would Have Given at the Welfare Reform’, ‘Will America Become the New Greece?’ and ‘A Sad Day for Coalition Politics’. Manning offered an honest and insightful child’s perspective of the 2011 London Riots which helped elevate her in the world of political blogging.

Maelo is no typical thirteen year old girl; her writing is a cut above and she can be witty and heart-breaking at the same time, but most of all she talks about the stuff that truly matters yet goes under the radar for most children her age.

The passion that Martha, Gloson and Maelo show for their subject of interest serves as a lesson to us all and just a few minutes spent scanning their blogs will surely get you fired up to create your next post.

Image Source: http://neverseconds.blogspot.co.uk/


.uk (dot uk) Domains Explained

Image Credit: imagesource.com

In 2013, the governing body of all .uk domains (.co.uk / .org.uk / .me.uk etc) Nominet plans to release the top level domain .uk to all UK businesses and individuals. This change is being proposed to give consumers more choice and improve website security; but the impact reaches far beyond that.

As it stands, 93% of all .uk domains are in the form of .co.uk and the Internet is worth £121bn - this accounts for 8.3% of UK GDP. The introduction of a simple .uk extension will cost UK businesses £50,000,000 but could lead to a much more secure space for consumers.

Here's a quick look at what you need to know when it comes to .uk.

Who can register a .uk?

Much like the .us, the .uk domain will be reserved for those that are UK based.

How is .uk more secure than any other domain?

The .uk will require registrant verification (as above) and will also make use of malware scanning and DNS sec.

How much does a .uk domain cost?

Actual cost has not been confirmed but is expected to be £20/year.

When does the new domain come into effect?

The .uk domain is still in a consultation period; individuals, businesses and registrars are currently debating the extension. Providing there are no issues, Nominet plans to launch .uk at some point in 2013.

How do I register a .uk domain?

There is currently no registration process, however it is likely that trademark holders will be given first refusal - already this has raised skepticism.

What now?

Nominet is currently looking for feedback on the .uk domain - especially feedback from business owners. You can fill out their online survey or complete the PDF and email it to direct@nominet.org.uk


Making a #Hashtag Out of Using Twitter

Before we go any further, I’d like to apologise for such a terrible pun…

Okay, now I’ve got that off my chest, we can start again. Twitter is a powerful tool for business, and using it wisely is really important. It could be quite easy to say the wrong thing and have a Frankie Boyle sized storm heading your way. Then again, you could go the other way and bore the living daylights out of your followers.

Sales tweet after sales tweet isn’t going to build a following. If anything, it’s going to lose you followers. Think about when you are approached by a sales person in a store: If they walked up to you and said ‘Buy this’, you’re response would likely be: ‘No’, ‘why should I?’ or something a little more colourful.

But if a sales person approaches you in a friendly, more personal way, maybe tells a joke or two, you will be far more likely to make a connection with the business and become a returning customer. If you feel that the business cares about you, you might give a little bit of love back.

There are some great examples of businesses that have made a great connection with their customer base through Twitter, and not all of them are the huge corporations. The two biggest examples of using Twitter in the right away are Innocent Drinks and Starbucks.

Check out this ridiculously cute Twitter pic from Innocent’s account. There’s no sales message, it’s all about engagement with their followers. And what could be more engaging than a cute animal pic? Altogether now… Awwwwwwww…

Innocent Drinks Twitter Panda 

Starbucks are a huge brand, and they are extremely savvy with their social media. They call their employees ‘the Starbucks family’, and the way they have built their brand is to establish themselves as more than just a coffee shop, it’s a collective. And they make sure that their employees are made to feel like it’s more than just a job.

A really heartfelt example of this was seen recently, when Starbucks tweeted about Whitney Heichel, a Starbucks barista who was found murdered last Friday in Gresham, Oregon in the US. In between the fun tweets and coffee related tweets, it was nice to see them show that big corporations also have a conscience:

Starbucks' Heartfelt Tweet

It was inevitable that after revealing such nice examples of businesses who have used Twitter wisely, there would be examples of companies that have put the ‘twit’ in Twitter, and used the social networking site naively and caused a bit of a stir.

McDonalds and Waitrose, two giants of their fields, tried to incorporate the hashtag into their social media strategy, and connect with their wider audience. What happened next has split the online community in two: Some say there is no such thing as bad publicity; the other side says it was a PR disaster!

Either way, McDonalds’ #McDStories and Waitrose’s #WaitroseReasons  created a lot of fuss when their respective companies launched them. There were some very satirical comments, funny quips, spam (from the usual suspects), nonsensical comments and four letter outbursts galore from people all over the world. The media was quick to point and laugh, but the last laugh seems to be with the companies, who have proven that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

It’s an interesting debate to have. Who would like to start? Meet me at #GoodBadPublicity… Actually, don’t. Who knows what horrors I could be in for?


Our Work with ProHelp

Prohelp is a group of locally based business representatives who offer help and advice to charities and not-for-profit organisations free of charge.  The group is made up of a varied range of business people from solicitors and accountants to architects and marketing specialists. Charities and not-for-profit organisations can ask for help with things like legal contracts, branding, surveys, accountancy advice and much more. We have been a part of Prohelp for a little while now and have been involved in a number of projects and activites with them.

ph 013A couple of months ago I attended a ‘team challenge’ event and helped to paint a hall in a local community centre. The room was a very lovely (eh hem) bright lilac colour when we arrived and just looked a little tired. We glossed, painted and cleaned and by the end of the day the room was looking great.

A few weeks later Dan and I delivered a social media training course for 19 local charity representatives.  We covered most of the major social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest as well as looking at blogging and online sponsorship platforms. There was lots of audience participation and everyone seemed to take a lot from it.

We were very excited to receive the latest copy of Leicestershire Cares magazine through today and find these activities featured in there. 


Google Disavow Tool - How Do You Use It? ... Should You Use It?

SEOs in the UK have woken up to big news today - Google has launched a hugely anticipated link 'disavow' tool. Ever since Google released it's Penguin update SEOs have been chomping at the bit to get rid of those poorly judged spam links that they acquired many years back - and now they can!

So now that this disavow tool is available to all webmasters, how can you use it and more importantly, should you use it?

How to Use Google's Disavow Link Tool

The disavow tool is available at this page on Google Webmaster Central; but don't be fooled by the seemingly 'one click' disavow button, there's a bit more to it than that.

First of all, Google will warn you that what you're doing may harm your site's rankings (more on that in a bit). After you've read their warning and continued to disavow, you will receive the same warning again but this time with the option to upload a file. Here's how the file system works:

1. Open your notepad and format your link list as below:

guide to disavow formatting

You can use the '#' symbol at the start of a line in order to make comments i.e. words on this line are ignored by Google.

2. You can disavow either links from a specific page, or links from an entire domain. To do the former, simply enter the entire URLs (for the example above):

http://www.spamdomain2.com/contentA.html
http://www.spamdomain2.com/contentB.html
http://www.spamdomain2.com/contentC.html

But with the latter, you can effectively tell Google to 'ignore' links from an entire domain by entering:

domain:spamdomain1.com

If you're doing this for your own site then I wouldn't worry too much about throwing in '#' comments. This is just for taking notes on why you're removing links; Google won't ever read these.

upload to disavow tool

Once you've got your txt file ready, simply head back to the disavow tool and upload it. Unfortunately the process isn't going to be quick - "several weeks" (possibly because we'd spot changes too easily) and it's not even guaranteed that the links will be disavowed. But don't let that put you off, Google will only ignore your disavow request if there is a reason not to trust it.

The process is straight forward, but wouldn't it have been nice to just click buttons in WMT rather than messing around with a txt file? Well a certain cynical member of the team is under the impression that Google may be taking these hoarding this data to better understand what websites humans consider to be spam. I'll leave that for the comments...

Should We Use Google's Disavow Tool?

Google's warning is pretty clear:

google disavow link warning

So should we still use it?

In some instances the answer is a resounding yes. Your website's traffic has vanished in line with the Penguin updates and you have nothing to lose. But in most other cases, the answer is a resounding 'uhmmmmmmmmmm, wellllll'.

Our Interpretation of a Link ≠ Google's Interpretation of a Link

To put it simply, there's no way to be certain that the links that you are removing are actually having a detrimental impact on your site. A link that you consider to be terrible may actually be having a small positive impact on your website's ranking; even if the impact of a link is a full blown zero then there's no gain in disavowing it. In fact the number of case studies for negative SEO are few and far between (although the ones that do exist are fascinating).

My advice to anyone who's not got a clear Penguin penalty would be to hold off and see what others make of the tool. If you start removing loads of links then you're going to need to end up with an overall net gain. For instance, you could remove 2 really damaging links, but if while doing so you remove 20 helpful links, then you've probably gone and made the problem worse...

Future Proofing

I'm big on future proofed SEO, a few years ago I would have said do what works now and worry about the future later. But with Google constantly punishing bad practices, it's really important to plan ahead - so if you're not at all concerned about rankings now then go ahead and remove any hint of a bad link (what's a bad link?).

If you remove ALL of your bad links now, you'll be able to move forward with Google knowing that they can't penalise you any further based on link quality. Not only will this keep you from going insane over the next algorithm update, but it will also help you diagnose any issues if you do get a Google slap in the future (it can't be a link quality issue).

Depending on how you treat SEO will depend on how you use this tool. Super conservative, forward thinking SEOs should go ahead and remove them all. Business owners who are currently profiting from organic Google traffic - stay the hell away!

For more information, Google's Matt Cutts has recorded a 10 minute video all about the the new tool:


Keeping your SEO Agency in Check: A Guide to Monitoring Activity for Free

To a lot of people, search engine optimisation is considered to be a very dark art. You’ve heard that being found in Google is a sales department’s dream and so you’ve hired an agency that seems to have a good track record. From that point on you’re fed reports each month by a company that doesn’t want to lose your business - so it makes sense to do your own digging around right?

Don't be fooled by the pie charts and graphs above, this guide is not for a techie, it’s for whoever it was that put their neck on the line to hire an agency.

Link Building

Link building is a basic principle of SEO that’s becoming less important but remains integral to the success of your campaign. There are two distinct angles to link building; quality and quantity.

Quantity of Links

ahrefs links

Finding out how many links you have is easy. A free tool at ahrefs.com will let you grab a ton of information on how many links have been built/removed and when. All you have to do is type in your website URL and hit ‘search links’.

The number that you’re interested in is ‘referring domains’, this is the number of unique domains that are linking to you as opposed to the absolute number of links…

Sidenote: 10 links from 10 different domains is (almost always) far more powerful than 10 links from 1 domain.

If you scroll down a bit you’ll see a graph that shows links built over time. This is a simple visualisation of link activity. If that’s flat lining or going down, then an SEO company that is supposedly ‘building links’ is not building links.

ahrefs links over time

But remember, ahrefs.com takes some time to pull data – there’s every chance that a link built a month ago hasn’t been picked up yet. Take what you see with pinch of salt.

Quality of Links

Not long ago, SEO was a link quantity game – it was a desperate attempt to buy, steal and cheat as many links as you possibly could. If you try that now, you’re going to have a bad time. Google has put more focus on link quality than ever, so even if you’ve got tons of links pointing to your site they could be doing more harm than good.

Identifying Quality

Real easy – load up ahrefs.com again and do the same search on your domain. This time, hit the ‘external’ tab and you’ll be given a list of links (more detail is given for the tool’s paid users).

ahrefs external links

This table is showing you all of the pages that your links are on; in the above case ahrefs.com has found a link to inbound.co.uk on techwyse.com/blog/. Ignore the rank numbers for now - we'll look at another tool for that. Just go ahead and click through to find out what that page actually looks like.

Using your eyes

There’s no easier way to spot the quality of a link than by looking at the page/domain it’s on. 

But what would the ideal page for our link look like?

It’s totally natural:
The person who added your link put it in a relevant article where it made sense.

There’s few other outbound links:
Other links going out of the site are to quality relevant sources – there’s no sidebar stuffed with links out to irrelevant sites.

The site has a community:
The ultimate evidence of a quality site, one that has a Facebook page with a bunch of fans or blog posts with dozens of comments.

The site is a brand:
Not all brands have Facebook pages; so if there’s no community, is there at least a strong brand. i.e. is the domain jjbsports.com or buy-trainers-now.info?

These are just a few of the tell tale signs of quality. However sourcing links of high quality takes a huge amount of time; a true high quality link can be worth thousands of pounds.

Using some metrics

open site explorer

Opensiteexplorer.com is a tool from SEOmoz – it simplifies quality into a simple number (called Domain Authority) that ranges from 0 to 100. Head over to the site and enter the domain in question into the big search box.

seomoz domain authority

You’ll get a whole load of information as shown above, but what you’re really interested in is this ‘Domain Authority’ metric. Simply speaking, the higher the number the better any given page will rank on the domain.

Domain Authortiy is not perfect and it’s definitely exploitable; so you’ll want to mix this up with a bit of the eyeballing that we talked about earlier. But it’s safe to say that anything with domain authority above 70 is seriously good; 20 to 30 is about the average.

Content Development

I’ve spent way too much time talking about links. SEO is not just about links anymore, it’s about website quality and links alone do not scream quality. Your SEO agency should have put together a content development plan; if they haven’t then they are going down the old school link-link-link route of doom.

Content development isn’t just a case of saying ‘we need to rewrite your content’. It’s about putting together a structured and visualised plan of how your site’s content will look in the future. Every site, no matter what niche, needs a section of quality content that provides substance for a user – whether it’s a DIY guide for some fancy chair that you’re selling or a recipe section for your restaurant’s website – there’s always something!

Links work best when they're natural, and having a content section that is ‘linkable’ can pay dividends. It also makes life a lot easier for us agencies to get links if we can provide a quality resource instead of some terrible sales page.

Web design is also another key area for development here, I won’t go into detail about that - but a good SEO agency would recommend structural/design/functionality improvements to your existing site. Don’t assume that it’s an upsell, a lot of sites are not fit for SEO for a ton of reasons.

Analytics

And finally, there’s Google Analytics, a free tool that provides more information about your visitors than you would ever need. If you don’t have access to this or you’re not sure what it is, your agency will be able to share it with you; if they don’t have access to this or they’re not sure what it is – you’ve done gone picked a stinker. What I’m trying to say is, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t see these details if you’re working with a self respecting SEO agency.

google analytics dashboard

Analytics will graph your traffic overtime and give you a clear insight into SEO performance. The whole principle of SEO is to bring in more targeted traffic and that’s exactly what these graphs will show you.

The reports that your agency sends you each month are great; don’t ignore them. But if you’re ever in doubt about how things are going and how much time and effort is being spent on your campaign then there’s no reason for not digging deeper.