Authority – How to Build it into Your Site

by Alan Eggleston

As a website owner or builder, you are trying to work with three search algorithms created to thwart hacking of search engines: Google’s Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird. Your best strategy is to try to build more authority into your site, which works with the best sides of all three of these algorithms. According to Google, to build authority means to build quality.

Defining Authority

How to Build Authority into Your Site

Photo: Friends of Europe on Flickr, Creative Commons license. Photo was edited from original.

What is “authority”? Think about authority in general: An authority is someone you trust to give you reliable information, a source you go to for good information. It’s the same on the Internet. When search engines assign authority to a website, it’s someone they feel provides solid, reliable, verifiable, unique, factual information. They tend to be news or media (who report firsthand on events or people), reference sources (who list facts rather than opinions), universities or other institutions of higher learning (who catalog histories, facts, reports, or research), and original sources (who report on research). In business, they tend to be brands (who own patents and trademarks, establishing their ownership of technology).

Unless your website is among these, how do you build authority in your own right?

Building Authority

Look at what most of these authority sites do in garnering or protecting their authority: They publish volume or quantity, reliability or quality, unique information and usually first-of-a-kind, factual information or opinion based on unique research, verifiable works with rugged footnoting, featuring usually named and tested contributors and online, vigorous linking. You can do this, too.

Volume: The more you publish the more variety you are likely to have and the better the indexing you are likely to have. Volume can be number of pages, but also length of pages. Doing both would be better. Number of pages creates depth of site, length of pages creates depth of content, and search engines like both.

Reliability: Anyone can write but only authority figures write quality content that readers return to time and again. Readers “like” quality articles promoted on Facebook, give them “1+” on Google+, “RT” on Twitter, and – most important – link to them on their blogs, in forums, and in comments sections. Write good content that others can’t find anywhere else and watch readers pass it along.

Unique: The Internet is full of duplicate articles, although less so since Panda came along (Google estimates 25-30% of content is duplicate). Still, lesser quality writers can’t pass up the desire to duplicate success and repeat what works for others – sometimes even plagiarizing works. Blogs are full of repeat material. Authority figures write their own and write on topics first. Break new ground on the topics you cover!

Facts: The Web is full of opinion and fluff. Authority figures write facts or opinion based around their unique research, research their unique position, or their knowledge makes their opinion valuable. So either bring new light to facts or discover new facts to bring new light to your readers. Use facts to your advantage to put them to your reader’s advantage. If your site sells products, create new ways to look at products using facts.

Links: A lot of sites use links merely to tap the ranking strength of the links. Go another step better and add authority to your site by citing sources or providing your reader with more information. This might be less useful for you on a higher-level sales page than on a lower-level information page.

As an authority, you want others to link to you. You still need to be careful that links to you and that to whom you link aren’t garbage links, but on the whole, quality links are good and help build authority. The more authority your site has, the easier it should be to encourage links, but promoting them should still be part of your strategy – just avoid doorway offers.

White papers: Go into depth and show your knowledge on a topic by writing a white paper on your area (or areas) of expertise. Caution: These need to be well done, far above fluff or promotional pieces. Similar to white papers are studies, poll examinations, definitions, and more rigorous research papers that provide value to your reader and establish your authority in the subject.

Leadership: Be the leader in whatever community you find yourself. If you have a website and can add a blog to take stands or create growth in that community, that’s another way of building authority. If as a website editor or publisher you can rally employees who are “community” leaders into writing posts for the website (for instance, one of your R&D techs or scientists could write information pieces; nursing or health care supervisors could write tip articles; or real estate staff could write local articles to help people moving to the area) that could help establish authority for your website.

Promotional writing: Promoting your website on social media or in professional or other industry journal websites could also help build authority, including adding links to pages in forums, blogs, on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and on Quora (perhaps address a question on your website and then refer to it in an answer on Quora).

Establishing authority, thus, means becoming an authority and with that producing quality content. It can be hard work, but it will be worth it in the ranking power you will build.

Optimizing for Google Hummingbird

by Alan Eggleston

Google Hummingbird – how do you optimize for it?

Green-breasted Mango hummingbird

Photo by: Kat&Sam on Flickr by Creative Commons License.

First, you need to know what it is. Google Hummingbird is a new search algorithm that seeks to differentiate the nuances of meaning in a search, not just identify a search’s keywords. It is preparing the way for searching by asking coherent questions in the search window instead of just entering keyword strings. (Have you seen the new Google TV ad of the kid prepping for a class speech? It’s all about asking questions.) You will still be able to perform word-string searches, but Hummingbird will maximize the question search.

Second, you need to know how that affects a search. To do that, you need to remember a little history on search. In the early days, you did a search by entering a keyword; you might have looked for “painter” or “artist.” A few years later, the search engines refined searches so that you entered a couple of words; you might have looked for “art painter” or “fine artist” or even “Renaissance artists.” When mobile Web intensified and competition for search results became more critical, the search string got longer; you might have looked for “fine artist in New York” or “Midwest landscape artists.” Today, with Google Hummingbird, the emphasis is on answering questions and figuring out what the searcher is really asking. Did she ask, “Where are the best Midwest painters?” as in where is the quality best or as in where are they most numerous – or what?

Now, you need to know how that affects your site ranking. A site that relied on keyword stuffing and other keyword cheats to get high rankings isn’t going to do well with Hummingbird. Working with a couple of keywords with a little bit of content won’t tell the search indexers much about your site. But a site that has provided a lot of information with a slew of terms and links to authoritative sites that better help define the keywords will garner a lot of nuance and will do great with Hummingbird. Similarly, a site with a lot of pages that contain a lot of content will do well.

Keywords are still important – they are just harder to manipulate a site around. Similarly, links are still important but harder to manipulate for ranking.

Optimizing Tips

So, how do you optimize your site for Hummingbird? Most important, I would make sure my site had a lot of content – and not flimsy, me-too content, but great, quality content. Then I would make sure I built quality links that helped support the concepts I am building in my content. Finally, I would start by asking a series of questions I think searchers might be asking in a search and try to answer them in the content to help build relevancy to that nuance. A page of highly relevant FAQs or Q-and-A’s, for instance, could be helpful, as might be a page with questions as subheads that you answer in the body text – but don’t overdo it (not on all pages, for instance).

One thing is becoming clearer with all the recent changes by Google – not making keywords easy to find, multiple Penguin and Panda updates, the new Hummingbird algorithm – search engines want you to stop focusing on keyword manipulation and focus on creating good, quality content. They want you to stop looking for cheats to the guidelines and focus on optimizing for the guidelines. My own experience is that continuing to do the SEO basics (as provided in the search engine guidelines) provides stellar results. A client who was doing great before Hummingbird was released is doing incredibly well now.

Policing Links in Your Comments Section

Links in your site or blog comments section are good, right? They can be. They can also be bad. To keep them good, you need to police them.

Any link on your site – internal or external, inbound or outbound – will affect your site’s search ranking. The most important factor here is the link’s quality, and several factors will determine a link’s quality.

(Photo: Simon Rowe, creative commons license.)

Link Quality

Internal links (links to pages within your site) that go to pages with high quality content add value to your site. The closer the anchor text relates to the topic of the page you’re linking to, the higher the value. You want links to all your pages to show search engines the size and breadth of your content, but the more high quality content you have, the more value your site has.

External links (links to pages outside of our site) that go to pages with high quality content add value to your site, and the higher the authority and popularity of the page and site of that link, the higher the value. Again, anchor text needs to relate highly to the topic of the page you’re linking to (or being linked to), and it’s always best if link URLs use keywords, not random code. (Content management systems and some blogs will default to using random code, but you can often change to using keywords.)

Inbound links (links to your site from outside), including trackbacks, are less within your control, but can affect the value search engines assign to you. That’s why it’s important to look at trackbacks (referrals on other sites to yours) and monitor when another site links to you – if you don’t like a trackback you can often delete the notice in your own blog and if you don’t like an inbound link you can request that the other site not link to you; most will comply. One inbound link to avoid is a “doorway” page, which is a list of links between unrelated websites often in exchange for your linking to them.

Don’t accept offers to “exchange” links when you have nothing in common with another site. They’re just doorway sites, regardless of their sales pitch to you. If you don’t have a business or social relationship with the other site in which you would naturally link to the other site in your content, don’t exchange links.

Outbound links (links from your site to others), including those that commenters add on your site, can also detract from the value of your site. You would like high authority and high ranking sites, but in a comments section is less within your control. What you should watch out for include:

  • Obvious spam – links to product pages or topic pages or blogs that have nothing to do with your content but are meant solely to benefit the poster.
  • Stealth spam – written to look like a legitimate comment but containing poor quality links, usually with misspellings to avoid spelling filters. Website URLs and email names are often nonsensical letter combinations, again meant to avoid filters. Also look for URLs with .nl, .pl, .ru, and other international extensions where spammers often originate, plus use of URL shorteners meant to hide obvious keywords or odd URLs.
  • Legitimate comments that link to low quality pages – spam pages, doorway pages, and other garbage content meant to fool you into allowing the link on your page but having no real value to you. Search engines will devalue your site when they follow the link from your site to this eventual garbage page.

You can often engage filters on your comments section that won’t allow comments with spam or with certain numbers of links and other parameters. Some bloggers don’t like to filter their comments; that’s fine if you don’t mind losing search ranking value.

You’re the Boss of You

I once experienced another blogger who used the comments section of my blog to sell her wares on my site. It was blatant hijacking of my blog to sell her stuff, never asking permission and never apologizing. She promoted her products and then provided a link to her product pages. I politely asked her to stop but she continued anyway, so I had to block her from my site. I found out through comments on her own blog that she was doing it to other blogs, too. It’s not OK.

Your blog and your site belong to you, and you set the rules. It’s also up to you to police the rules. That includes watching for links and where they lead or where they originate. Links may be good but they also may be bad. Either way, they can affect your search ranking, which can affect whether new readers can find you!

Battling “Unnatural” Links

by Alan Eggleston

Battling "Unnatural" Links

photo (cc) creative commons license by cogdogblog

Have you received an email notification from Google alerting you to “unnatural” links to your site and wondered what that was all about? It’s pretty simple, actually. Someone has set up inbound links to your site that don’t make sense to Google and they don’t trust the links for ranking. But instead of being so cryptic, Google is trying to help you identify and remove them. Search Engine Land, a leading media voice on search, recently reported on it, including a video by Google’s Matt Cutts.

The first step has been to send you an email notice of the problem, including some samples of the unnatural links. Also coming through Google’s Webmaster Tools are downloadable lists of the most recent links to your site, which will allow you to identify more unnatural links if more exist. They provide downloadable lists of domains that have links to your pages, more sample links, and the most recent links. This may become easier to find as it is rolled out, but here is how I found it:

Webmaster Tools > Website Dashboard > Traffic > Links to Your Site > Who Links to You Most (then More)

Unnatural links may affect the ranking of only a specific page or, if the unnatural links are more common throughout your site, they may affect the ranking of the whole site. So it is important that you pay attention if you receive an email notification from Google and try to eliminate as many problem inbound links as possible. Some examples of types of links that Google doesn’t trust include widget links, paid links, spam links from reputation management firms, and aggressive article back links (examples).

You may not even be aware of the inbound links others are creating to your site, which is another reason the most recent links list is valuable. They may be others in your organization conducting marketing you are unaware of, outside groups hired by others in your organization to do link marketing, or even competitors purposely trying to lower your ranking (so called “negative SEO“). Email notifications and Webmaster Tools can help you manage it to help you protect your ranking.

Removing Roadblocks to Quality SEO

One of the unsung rules of search engine optimization (SEO) is: First, put up no roadblocks to efficient indexing. Of all the things you can do to optimize your website, the thing you have the most control over is how easy you make it for search engines to index. This article is about the most typical roadblocks and whether you choose to set up or tear them down.

Heavy Programming Before Any Content: Look at your source code: If there is a lot of code – multiple lines of code – before any headlines and body text, you have a roadblock. It’s usually java script or CSS programming, which can be written in a separate file and referenced as a single line of code for the browser to find instead. Doing that doesn’t involve a significant delay for the browser and it improves SEO significantly.

Content Positioning: The best SEO occurs when the first thing a search engine spider sees after the <head> tag is content. Move your headlines and body text as close to the top of the page as possible. Insist programming and CSS code be separate files referenced as single lines of code to alert the browser and then get to the content.

Flash Programming: A major roadblock to SEO is Flash. It looks nice on the page, but search engines do not index Flash, and if that’s where your message resides, no one will be indexing it – or finding it in a search. Overrule designers and go for the indexing instead of the sex appeal. (Yes, search engines can index text in Flash, but most Flash does not involve text.)

Graphic-Heavy Pages: A page of graphics and images or a page heavy in graphics and images instead of text is not indexable. A search engine needs text to index your site. Designers like to build graphic-rich pages and place images high on the page for the visual impact, but they won’t do you much good if no one can find you! (And words in a graphic or image are not indexable text.) Alt tags with keywords for each and every graphic and image will help but are not adequate substitutes for body text!

Drop-Down Navigation: Navigation done right provides good internal linking, but drop-down navigation built with java script is not easily indexable and is a roadblock. Again, it looks sweet but it won’t serve you well in a search. There are other ways to build drop-down navigation without using java script.

Inadequate Content: Search engine spiders like at least 250 characters of body text to determine keyword relevancy. Can you use less than that on a page? Certainly – but it’s a roadblock to optimization. Do yourself a favor and provide enough content to index.

Inadequate Links: Search engines follow links and determine a site’s subject matter and authority based on its links, both internal and external, both inbound and outbound. Links are a roadblock when there aren’t enough to help build your site’s reputation. You don’t need a lot of links all at once – in fact, it’s probably best to build links over time.

Bottom Text Links: Search engine spiders read from the top of the site and from the bottom, so a set of text navigation links at the bottom help reinforce your internal links. In addition, if your navigation at the top features hypergraphics or java-script drop-down links or other roadblocks, bottom links can become the only way a spider has to follow content into your site and determine relevancy for your pages.

A subset of roadblocks to SEO are slowdowns to good SEO. They are comparable to having access to the Interstate highway and driving the minimum speed. Here are some examples that will help you drive closer to the maximum speed and make the most of indexing.

H Tags: Using H tags for headlines (H1 for the main headline, H2 for the next level of subhead, H3 for the next, etc.) helps not only establish the hierarchy of importance, they are also a signal to search engine spiders of the importance of the text in the headlines and subheads – like using the <strong> tag in the body text to highlight or bold important words. Not using the H tags represent a slowdown because these are tools you should be using that aid the indexing of your site.

Strong or Bold and Italic: Other tools you should be using to highlight keywords, this for body text, are the <strong>, <bold>, and <italic> tags. Using these with keywords is like waving your hands at the spiders and saying, “Here’s another important word on my site!” If you don’t use them – judiciously of course – you are driving in the slow lane.

Keyword Positioning: Search engines think the closer to the top and front of a page a keyword is, the more important it is to the page. So it will place more importance to that keyword when it has key positioning. In a race with a competitor in search results, the one with the best positioning (among other factors) will get the best ranking.

Top and bottom of the page: You should use your keywords as close to the top of the page as possible and again at the bottom, because that’s where the spider expects to see them and where it assumes your most relevant words will be.

Front of the paragraph: Use your keywords in the first paragraph as close to the front of the paragraph as possible to show search engines this is what your site is about.

Front of the sentence: If possible, begin your first sentence with your keywords. If not, use them as early as possible in the first sentence or within first couple of sentences – the sooner the better. Make it read naturally, of course, but bring it up quickly.

These adjustments, all considered “white hat” actions, should help you remove roadblocks and slowdowns so search engines get a better, quicker read of your site.

Creating Quality Links

Quality Links Are a Main Ingredient of a Well Optimized Website

by Alan Eggleston

Links are part of a healthy diet for any optimized website, along with strong keywords, relevant content, and maximized meta tags. Yet, if you look at many websites, you see a wide range of link practices, from none at all to dozens on a page, and from links that mean nothing to links that rate very high. For someone looking to rank high in searches, the highly optimized website should always include at least a few links on every page, focusing on quality links, and here are a few guidelines you should work toward:

Quality Link Types

Internal Links

  • Home Page text links to main navigation home pages like main product or service pages, about pages, contact, news, and testimonials. (In the body text and at the bottom of the page.)
  • Home Page text links to other pages on your site that contain valuable keyword-relevant content, including news articles, biographies, product or service sub-level pages, special topic and special offer pages, and about sub-level pages. (In the body text and sidebars or tile ads.)
  • Links to the Home Page and main navigation home pages from sub-level pages which tag valuable relevant keywords. Anywhere you can reverse the direction of referral to reinforce the relevancy is a good place to link back.

Outbound Links

  • Link to authoritative sites like news organizations, reference sites, and sites highly regarded in your specific topic area. Linking to their home pages is fine, but linking to specific internal pages that relate even more specifically to your keyword is even better. If a home page is good, an about page is even better for a general information link. Link to the highest ranking page from a search if you don’t have a general page for linking.
  • Remember to link to association and verification sites like the Better Business Bureau, which also carry high authority. Check with them for application and approval rules.
  • When non-authoritative pages are all that you have, the same rules apply: For general linking, link to the home page, about page, or highest ranking results page from a search. (This would be for linking to a business page, for instance.) Naturally, if you are referring to a specific item on the site, link to that page.
  • Keep your outbound links natural and relevant to your content. In other words, don’t force links just to have links. Consider your reader’s desire to find more information and link to sites that will best supply that information. Yet, don’t get link-happy; create value-added links for both you and your reader.
  • Where possible, create a “mesh” of links: When the opportunity arises, arrange for links back to your site from sites to which you link. For instance, if you link to a vendor site that supplies you with products, they may be able to provide a link back to your site. The best mesh is between pages that link to each other.

Inbound Links

  • Be careful of the links you accept to your site. Spam links can damage your ranking as can doorway sites (sites set up as lists of links that are not related). Be wary of offers to simply trade links – those are often doorway sites!
  • Some inbound links look all right. The immediate site seems okay, but if you further trace the links in them, they go to pages that aren’t all right. Because the search engines follow all those links, such links can damage your ranking. You often see these in the comments section of blogs.
  • Trackbacks can be as questionable as links. If they are to a blank page or an aggregate content page that may be penalized by Panda, they could negatively affect your ranking.
  • Good inbound links you can set up include Yellow Pages links, directory pages links, professional pages links, Google Pages links (and similar pages on Bing), Google Locations (and Yahoo and Bing), Facebook Fan Pages, Google + Fan Pages, and locality pages like Local First. You can spend hours setting up these!

You don’t need all your links set up at once. In fact, other than the main links on your Home Page, it’s probably best to add links a bit at a time. All-at-once looks like a spamming effort, whereas building links over time looks like a sustained campaign, adding links with content showing attention to your site.

Next Time – Tightening the Screws on Cheaters

With Panda, Penguin, and now EMD, Google is tightening the screws on optimization cheaters. Don’t get caught between the screws.

Links: An Editor’s Look at How Many Is Too Many

By Alan Eggleston

How many links are too many? We are told we need outbound links, inbound links, internal links, but does anyone say how to tell when enough is enough?

Actually, there are articles on the Web, and probably the most important ones are by Google’s Matt Cutts and the Google Webcentral. Both say 100 links on a page should be a limit, although not necessary the limit. Let me explain.

It’s All About the User

To a search engine – any search engine – the user experience is the most important thing. That’s true whether you’re gauging the experience conducting a search or reading a page. So when a Google or Bing or Alta Vista index your website, they consider the experience you’re giving your user or reader. That’s true for any part of their indexing algorithm. It’s also true of gauging your links.

The Trouble with Excessive Linking

So what variables might search engines consider in the user or reader’s experience when looking at the number of links on your page?

How about the number of words? If you have few words but lots of links, your page begins to look like you’re “link spamming” (or spamdexing)

How about your anchor text? If you continually use the same anchor text for links on a page, with lots of links, your page begins to look like you’re “keyword stuffing.”

What about small or average amount of words, but most of your links are in lists or involve one source or one type of site, such as an affiliate marketing site? Then it can be perceived that you aren’t serving your reader as much as yourself and, so again, link spamming.

And let’s be sensible: Unless your reader is doing in-depth research on something, it’s very unlikely they will follow 200 links, let alone 100. So giving your reader 100 or fewer solid, quality links is way more important than 150-200 flimsy, low-quality links. And the search engines can tell the difference.

What Happens if You Overdo it?

The dangers of having too many links are many. An appearance of keyword stuffing may give your site the appearance of low-substance content and trigger the Google Panda filter. An appearance of spamdexing may give your site the appearance of spamming in general and trigger the Google Penguin algorithm. Too many structured links may make your site look like a “doorway page,” resulting in a penalty. Finally, there’s the whole design element: a page full of links looks less inviting and can be harder to read that one with fewer links.

A Goldilocks List of Link Criteria

What’s the “Goldilock’s Number” of links then? There isn’t a number, but there is that maximum of 100. And there is using links sensibly to serve your reader. You just can’t go wrong serving your reader. So here is what I would make sure I included in those 100:

  • At least one high quality link for each keyword early on the page with a second one at the end if possible. These are probably external links.
  • A high quality link for other important concept words on your page – these may not be keywords but may be words your readers want to know more about. These are probably external links, but if you have a site glossary they could also be internal links.
  • Additional links for keywords to separate quality external sites using different anchor text and that serves the reader understanding or interest – simply adding different links to the same anchor text can be seen as link spamming.

Example: Mulptiple articles about neutron stars using their titles or publication titles as the anchor text. Same keyword (neutron stars), different sources (various publications)

  • Make sure you link to internal pages within your site as well and include those in your numbers. They may be for major keywords or important concept words.
  • Internal links for each hypergraphic and hypertext in your main navigation, top and bottom.
  • Internal links for site subnavigation and external links to outside entities.

Example: Association sites, awards sites, universities, companies you are associated with, etc.

  • Links in sidebars or secondary articles that may be internal or external which may include keywords for this page or for the overall site such as in universal inclusions.
  • Links for headlines or article titles elsewhere on the site, often under the subhead “Also of interest.”

Count any link as a separate link, including advertising links and those double underlined links that used to be for definitions but have turned into advertising links. Those aren’t counted in your ranking, but they do contribute to site litter.

A note about design: A page to be readable needs white space punctuated by dark notes. The more dark notes (words) and blotches (lines) the eye sees, the more disorganized it is and the harder it is to read. So use bold, italic, and underline (links) wisely and sparingly. That may be the most useful guide to building links. If you have a page full of links, you may have an unreadable page.

Which looks more readable:

A page more like this with only some words highlighted and punctuated by bold, italic, and underline?

Or a page like this with most words bolded, italicized, and underlined in an effort to give importance to every single word?

Point made?

Next Up – How to Handle Trolls

Troubled by trolls? What bridge or blog or news comments section is without them? Next time I’ll take a break from optimization to take a swing at handling trolls. Join me!