Most SEO talk nowadays revolves around the death of shady “black hat” SEO tactics that take advantage of loopholes in the ranking algorithm. We are moving towards a world where sites get rewarded for high quality content, technical excellence (e.g. site speed) and great usability (e.g. mobile friendliness).
Instead of adding my voice to the “white hat” SEO chorus, I wish to present 3 basic actions that have been working well for me during the last 10 years and still remain relevant. These are my evergreen SEO tactics, which I will detail in this post:
###1. Linking out to other sites
I am still amazed by the amount of people who believe that linking out to other sites will hurt their own rankings. Their main arguments are the following:
####To debunk myth number one:
Google rankings are still based on the concept of pagerank and use external links between websites to determine the authority and quality of a certain piece of content. If this content gets linked to by other high-quality and trusted sites Google’s system assumes that the referenced content must be high-quality and trusted itself. So why would Google’s algorithms penalize sites for linking out if links are the foundation the same ranking algorithms need in order to work well? This would be illogical and counter-productive.
Google has always been very clear that it only punishes you for selling links or for linking out to “bad neighborhoods”, e.g. spammy sites. That’s it. As long as you don’t do that and instead place high-quality, editorial links to other sites, you are fine.
That said, external links to other sites should be:
Following this advice you might improve your own rankings, but most importantly you will never ever affect your own rankings negatively.
####About myth number 2 (“I might help other sites to outrank me”):
You should obviously avoid linking to your direct competitors or to sites that are optimizing for exaclty the same keywords. If you do, you are telling Google and your visitors that there are better resources out there for the same topic. Instead, link to complementary sites that are interesting for your readers but that are not directly competing with you. You might also link to your sources as a reference list at the end of an article to show that you have done your homework investigating the topic you wrote about, Wikipedia style.
It is true that you might lose some visitors whoâ€™ll click on those links, but in the end I believe that your users and Google will appreciate the editorial work you have put into investigating your topic.
####Making friends by linking out
In my opinion, this is the real benefit of linking out to other relevant sites in your industry: links are a great way to make contact with other people in your sector. Professional bloggers and content creators track incoming links and mentions. When they find your reference they might reach out to you, tweet the content that mentions them, or even link back to your post to create reputation for themselves. There is no more genuine and honest way to show your love for another site than linking to it. If you want to establish deep relationships with influencers in your niche, then quoting them and linking out to them is far superior to writing the standard email: “Hey, I really love your site. Can I guest blog?” If you mean it, act like it and show the love!
###2. Creating information silos inside your information architecture for SEO###
Yet, there is one thing Google will always value a lot, namely a clean and well structured information architecture that is reflected in a clean navigation scheme and logical internal linking. Building an information architecture is an art that is getting forgotten in an age where some sites tend to put all information on a single page with fancy scrolling effects. If your site is merely a brochure taken online, with 3 or 4 pages, this advice is not for you.
But if you are actually building a bigger site, let’s say an e-commerce site, with hundreds of category pages and thousands of product pages, in this case, a good information architecture can make the difference between ranking well or dropping off the index.
Google needs to understand what your site is about, which content areas you cover and in which depth. By establishing a good navigation and linking scheme you can make the job easier for Google and your users. Let’s use the example of an e-commerce site for a female audience that has the following main categories:
Inside each main category you have the usual sub-categories you would expect, like “running shoes” inside “shoes” or “lipsticks” inside “health and beauty”. Our main navigation is repeated within the header of each page and will contain the 5 aforementioned main categories ("shoes, “clothing” and so on).
The omnipresent main nav gives Google a very clear idea of what it can find on your site. But moving deeper, the challenge is to keep this structure clean and to stay inside a strict hierarchy.
When I browse to the “shoes” category, I will be sent to the following URL: mystore.com/shoes/ Let’s call this the category index. Most URLs that are linked from the category index should stay inside the “shoe” topic. In other words, I should find links to subcategories like “running shoes” or “stockings,” and maybe a list of popular shoes that people frequently buy.
This way I am creating an information silo of “shoes”!
Once a user or Google enter that navigational path, 99% of the content they will find is about shoes going from generic to specific the deeper they navigate.
“That’s logical” you say, “how can you possibly fail at this? In the end you are in the category page of shoes and of course there will be no links to lipsticks”.
Not so fast, there are some very common ways to actually mess up our information architecture and information silos. Read on.
####4 Common ways to mistakenly break the information silos
1. The drop-down menus of the main navigation
Imagine that all of our 5 main navigation categories contain dropdown menus with links to 30 sub-categories for each main category. Also remember that the main navigation is included on every single page of our site. So now there actually is a link to “lipsticks” on the mystore.com/shoes/ page. Hidden inside the drop-down menu of the "health and beautyâ€ - main nav item. The main navigation and the drop-downs add 150 links to every single page of our site. 120 of those navigation links are most likely irrelevant in the context of each page.
My tip: Disable the main navigation dropdown menu on internal pages and only keep the drop-down menu items active that match the section the user is navigating in. In our example we would only keep the “shoes” dropdown active in /shoes/ and disable the other dropdown menus to keep our information silo clean. This way you also keep the amount of internal links per page under control and avoid spreading your pagerank too thin internally.
2. The footer of your site
“Let’s put all our best keywords we want to rank for in the footer!” your in-house SEO said 3 years ago and it was built and stayed that way. Forever? Better not! How many of those footer links are actually relevant in the context of every single page of your site? There will be some shoe keywords in your footer links but also a lot of lipstick links that blow up our “shoe” silo and its contextual coherence.
My tip: Don’t put your top keywords list in the footer. It does more harm than good nowadays. In most cases, it’s not relevant for the user or Google’s spider. If you can’t avoid it, make sure that you respect the context and make the footer links unique and relevant on each page so they fit into the topic of their silo.
3. Bad product recommendation systems
Some algorithms suggest crazy stuff and thereby create bad cross-links to irrelevant, out-of-context products when they do not have enough data. Make sure your recommendation algorithm is configured properly. If you cannot make good recommendations, you’d better not show anything at all or you’ll confuse the user and the crawler.
4. Links to brand pages or brand shops inside your site
You sell a lot of brands inside your e-commerce website and you have created a “brands” section with in-site brand shops, e.g. for Adidas you have a brand shop in the following URL mystore.com/brands/adidas/. Your marketing team decided to put the “Most popular brands for running shoes” in the running shoe sub-category index, linking to Adidas, Puma, Nike, Asics and so on. This is not bad as long as you keep it relevant and link to the correct category inside the “Adidas shop”. Linking to mystore.com/brands/adidas/ is not good enough as we have many more product categories inside our Adidas brand store, e.g. mystore.com/brands/adidas/sunglasses/ or /brands/adidas/sweaters/ which breaks relevancy. If you have a better page like /brands/adidas/running-shoes/ and your user is on the /shoes/running-shoes/ page, make sure you link that little Adidas logo to the most relevant page which is /brands/adidas/running-shoes/. Blindly linking all Adidas logos to /brands/adidas/ independently of the context they appear in breaks your silo’s logic and also makes your users’ life harder.
Is this rule absolute, should you always be super strict and never link to other sections at all?
No, of course not! There are very good reasons and obvious scenarios where breaking the silo makes a lot of sense. Just always keep it relevant in the context of the page the link was placed in. If I am looking at Adidas running shoes and there is a link to “foot deodorant” in the “health and beauty” section you actually maintain relevancy. It is a smart and nice way to link to content in other sections without breaking the context for the user or the spider too much.
I just advise against linking everything to everything without maintaining the topical relevance. Not being logical or relevant with internal links is the easiest way to confuse the spider and also your users. If you help Google to understand the logical structure and hierarchy of your content, you will most likely rank better.
###3. Under-optimize your content and links###
Some good old quotes from Rand Fishkin have always been top of mind for me whenever I am optimizing a site: “Those sites and pages that follow every single optimization tactic, from internal links to massive keyword focus to ‘perfect’ anchor text in their off-site link building are going to stand out like sore thumbs to the engines.[…] It might sound ironic, but there’s an art to under-‘optimizing’ in order to achieve true "optimization,” he explained in a great blog post called ‘The Danger of Overdoing SEO’.
Google is increasingly making that prediction a reality. I still hear people talk about the optimal keyword density and the amount of synonyms they should use on a landing page. People still put the perfect keyword combinations in the perfect order in their internal and external links. This stuff is dead or dying. Of course it is important to actually have the keyword you are targeting inside your content. But stop trying to be perfect. Write content people like to read because Google’s algorithms can detect if you wrote for a human being or for the search engine. If the keyword appears 3 times - good, if it appears 1 time and 5 synonyms - also good. As long as it happened naturally. Just don’t count keywords and optimize keyword combinations and synonyms. Don’t invent and follow ridiculous editorial guidelines around keyword density and anchor text optimization. If this becomes an unnatural pattern in your content creation Google will notice it and those tactics will hurt your rankings moving forward.
I hope you enjoyed reading about those tips and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts: are there other tactics that have worked well for you? Would you like to learn more? If so, don’t miss our SEO training class with Rand Fishkin; click here to sign up.