This article is part of an SEO series from WooRank. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.
Once you’ve completed our on page SEO checklist, it’s time to move on to off page SEO. But where to start? Backlinks are the obvious answer, but off page SEO is so much more than that. It can seem like a daunting task that intimidates even seasoned SEOs. That’s why we’ve broken it down into bite-sized pieces to help you get started in acquiring link juice and building trust and authority for your website.
Backlinks are still one of the most important ranking signals for helping your page improve its search rankings. Google wouldn’t have created the Penguin update or impose manual link penalties if backlinks, and their manipulation, didn’t matter. Every link building campaign starts with conducting a link audit and analyzing your backlink profile.
Check Your Current Profile
If your website has been around for a while, it has probably acquired a good amount of backlinks. However, there’s a good chance some of these links are actually doing more harm than good. It’s possible that SEO consultants or agencies you’ve previously worked with used tactics that have since gone from sitting in a bit of a gray area to violating Google’s guidelines, potentially working against you.
Performing a link audit will help you spot any unwanted, harmful links. It starts with gathering a list of all the links pointing back to your domain and their sources and anchor text, and then evaluating them to determine which ones are helping and which links are hurting your SEO. You can download a list of your backlinks in Google Search Console in Links to Your Site under Search Traffic. You can look at your links here a couple of different ways: by linking domain, by pages that have received links or by anchor text.
You can export these lists as either .csv files or as a Google document.
The next step is to determine the value of your links and to spot any attempts at negative SEO or other low quality links you wound up attracting. To weed out low quality and spammy links, first look at the anchor text. A healthy backlink profile will have a natural mix of exact match, partial match, branded, page title and generic (“read more,” “click here,” etc.) anchor texts. Your profile will look unnatural or spammy if you have too much of the following anchor text:
- Exact match: Putting keyword exact match anchor text in irrelevant or gibberish content is a common spam tactic. However, a profile of nothing but exact match anchor text is going to look very unnatural to Google regardless of the content it’s in. Too much and you could wind up with a link penalty.
- Irrelevant anchor text: This anchor text is completely irrelevant to your page content. The most common are Viagra and text related to casinos, gambling (particularly online poker) and payday loans.
These low quality links are actively hurting your SEO, even if Google hasn’t hit you with a manual penalty. If you can’t get the links removed, prevent them from being counted against you by using Google and Bing’s disavow link tool.
Link auditing tools such as Majestic or Kerboo can help you gather extra information about your links, giving each one a score based on the quality of the linking page. You can upload your list of links to Kerboo, or let the tool crawl the web and find links aimed at your domain. Filter and tag the links based on how you want to deal with them, adding low quality links to your disavow list as you go, to improve your link profile score. You can use Majestic to identify and score the pages linking to your site to help you gauge the value they pass.
Link analysis isn’t just for finding spam links. Now is the time to find your most valuable links as well. The name of this metric depends on the tool you’re using, but in general your best links will come from pages that:
- Have relevant page content
- Also link to other high quality sites
- Use links within the text of the page
- Are hosted on quality domains.
Use this list to find new opportunities or build a list of websites to target during a link building campaign or while conducting blogger outreach.
Check your backlinks, starting with your most valuable, for broken or dead links. Start by finding pages that return 404 errors. You can build a list based on Crawl Errors in Google Search Console, or use a tool like DeepCrawl or Screaming Frog. These tools will crawl your website and return a list of information about your URLs. Filter your list of URLs to find all that return a 404 error. Export the list to Excel and paste the list of URLs into the spreadsheet that had all your backlinks. Use the VLOOKUP function to map URL to status code (since you only copied over URLs with 404 codes, all your other pages will show blank in this column).
Using this list of broken backlinks, reclaim your links. You can do this two ways: set up a 301 redirect for the broken URL, sending everyone to the functioning page. However, even though 301 redirects pass full link juice now, Google still prefers fully resolved links. Send the linking site owner a short email with the updated URL. Point out that broken links cause a bad user experience and hurt their SEO, so replacing the broken link is a win-win situation. These should generally have a high conversion rate.
Social Media Engagement
Social media’s impact on SEO is far from a settled matter. Google has come out and explicitly said they don’t use social media factors like Facebook likes, followers and Retweets as a ranking factor. So, unfortunately, being really popular on Twitter and Instagram isn’t going to make you rank higher in SERPs, and links to your site on Facebook won’t pass you any link juice. Luckily, there are ways you can use your social media pages to help SEO:
- Even though links from social media don’t count for link juice, search engines still crawl and follow them. So if you’ve got new pages, content or site, share those links on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
- Your social media pages are crawled and indexed, so they can appear in branded search results. Keep users within your environment by keeping competitors off the first page.
- Twitter feeds now appear in a carousel in Google results for branded keywords. Leapfrog to the top of the page for your branded keywords.
- In 2010 Bing indicated that it does actually use social authority as a ranking factor.
- Sharing your content on social media will build engagement and awareness, which encourages others to reference you and link from related blog posts.
When creating a social media page for your business, use the name people use to find you online. For example, use UPS instead of United Parcel Service. Create a username in your account settings so your profile’s URL will appear as facebook.com/username, instead of something less optimized such as facebook.com/pages/1234567.
What type of business you selected when you created your page will determine how your profile is displayed in search results. Fill in your page’s sections as completely as you can using your brand name and most important keywords wherever you can. The About section is where the majority of your optimization will take place. Add your name, website and important keywords in this part of your page, but keep it short — best practice is to use 170 characters or less. As usual, use keywords and URLs naturally to avoid being dismissed as spam.
Further optimize your pages when sharing updates. When you share a link you can write a small blurb about it. Take advantage of this every time. Search engines will see it as a title tag, so use your keywords and keep it short and simple.
While social media pages don’t pass link juice, your web site does. Where appropriate, link to your social media profiles from your home page.
Citations, Business Reviews & Commenting
Citations are anywhere your business name, address and phone number (NAP) are listed on external websites. They’re usually a chamber of commerce, local business directory or the website for a local community group. These citations are very important for local SEO; having consistently correct NAP citations is one of the strongest local ranking signals. Conversely, having incorrect, nonexistent or inconsistent NAP citations is the strongest negative ranking signal. Tracking and updating your citations is tedious and can take a lot of time, but it’s incredibly important for your business.
Business reviews are another off page optimization that plays a big role in local off page SEO. First of all, they contribute to conversions: 80% of shoppers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Positive business reviews contribute to good brand awareness. They also act as powerful citations and give you the chance to take advantage of their ranking power. Putting your URL and name on a high ranking review site like Yelp will get your brand to the top of search rankings for keywords you might not normally be able to compete for.
Blog and Forum Comments
Promote your site through comments on blogs, forums and question and answer sites. Create a profile and include a link to your website. Use it to leave comments in discussions that are relevant and on topic to your website. If you answer questions and add value to conversations, you’ll establish yourself and your brand as someone with knowledge in your niche. Always stick with high quality blogs and forums and avoid any comment areas that have already attracted a lot of spam. This will help Google associate your URL with good neighborhoods on the web. Only include a link when it makes sense and avoid leaving comments all over the place that simply promote your website or business — popular commenting platforms such as Disqus make it easy for blog owners to see all your comments, and they’re likely to mark you as spam if it looks like you’re only out to help yourself. If several of your comments are marked as spam your reputation will suffer, making it less likely that your comments will be published in the future.
This off page SEO trick isn’t as popular or effective as it was in the past because most comment sections and forums use nofollow links. However, links can still drive traffic, so as long as you’re adding value to the discussion, you can build awareness and visits.
Consider uploading certain documents to document sharing sites like SlideShare, Issuu or Scribd. These sites are great for when you have content that search engines can’t crawl, like PDFs and PowerPoint files. When you publish content on a document sharing site, treat it like it’s content for your own page. Do keyword research to find a list of keywords to target and optimize parts of the document as if they are traditional on page SEO elements:
- File name: Use keyword-rich file names when you upload your documents. Follow SEO best practices like using only lower case letters and avoiding underscores between words.
- Titles: Optimize your titles like you would title tags for a web page. Don’t go over 50-60 characters and use your target keyword at the beginning.
- Transcripts: In the case of PowerPoints and videos, include a transcript of the content. Crawlers can’t read those file types so they won’t see your keywords otherwise.
Come up with effective calls to action to add to your content and link back to your website. You’ll be able to piggyback off of the hosting site’s ranking power to get your content to rank for keywords your site can’t compete for. Optimize your landing pages to convert users who click through to your site.
Publish and share your images on photo sharing sites like Flickr, Pinterest or Photobucket. You can treat these pages almost like they were a social network or document sharing site. Follow filename and title optimization best practices, and include a description using your keywords. Include a link back to your pages in the description. These pages generally have high PageRank and trust, so it’s good to have your content associated with them. Plus, users can comment and share your content, which will help your brand awareness.
Videos are one of the most popular types of content online, particularly for advertising: A third of users’ time online is spent watching videos. And it’s an expectation for businesses: 55% of consumers think a company website should have a video. So producing short, entertaining videos with good production quality makes your content more attractive to users. If you do create video content, share it via video sharing sites like YouTube, Vimeo and Dailymotion.
Create a profile using your brand name and follow the document sharing best practices for filenames and video titles. Include a link to your website and use your keywords naturally in the video description. The links don’t pass link juice but they’re still crawled, indexed and served in search results.
Image and video files are great candidates to go viral, which can have huge short and long-term positive effects on your SEO.
So as you can see there’s a lot more to off page SEO than just link building and link juice, even if that is the off page task SEOs spend most of their time focusing on. Remember, though, that SEO isn’t an overnight process, nor is it a one-time deal. You’ll often find yourself repeatedly revisiting various steps from this list, some more than others. However, if you do it right you won’t have to wait too long before you start to see the boost in your traffic and, ideally, conversions.
What off page SEO steps do you spend the most time on? Which ones do you find yourself revisiting most often? Which ones are your favorites?