It’s Time To HUSTLE! Rethinking Backlinking Strategy – Niche Site Challenge

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So, as it happens, as soon as I published my post on backlinking strategies for 2012 another big Google update was released and, once again, the SEO landscape changed, drastically. This time it's a pretty huge shift and it's now time to start rethinking baclinking strategy.

To get right to the point, article marketing, exact match domains, article spinning, directory submission, and other things that many people were using to build backlinks to their websites has been rendered not only virtually useless, but even harmful, to website owners. A lot of the things that worked previously may now actually hurt your rankings instead of helping them.

Google's primary aim is to provide the most relevant, authoritative information for their users. And they've mentioned this over and over again. According to Matt Cutts, the goal is to have backlinks serve as reference citations, similar to academic papers where authoritative studies can be referenced over and over again in other studies all kinds of different journals.

So keep that in mind as you work on building your website and backlink strategy. It's probably the number one thing you need to remember.

Now the good thing is that we've approached this challenge from the point of view of creating valuable resource for our visitors, instead of just wanting it to be a money-making venture (although that's definitely part of this challenge).

So with this perspective in mind, I'm still thoroughly convinced that not only are we on the right path, but we actually will probably see better results as we work our way through things, creating great content and delivering value. It just may take a little more time.

The biggest thing that they're going after, and rightly so, is low quality sites. If your site is low quality, and spammy (a word referenced by Matt Cutts himself) you're in for trouble. 

The general guideline has always been that a couple high-quality backlinks would always be better than lots of low quality backlinks. Nothing new there.

But there are some new things that have happened that changes things.

The de-emphasis of low quality exact match domains

For the longest time, exact match domains (EMD) were a great way to get search engine love and get some really strong results. However, that's changed. Google has de-emphasized EMD in their algorithm.

Now, that doesn't mean that EMDs are a bad idea, it's just that the total product really needs to be strong. No weak content (a theme that you will see over and over again).

Something also to keep in mind here is SEO vs. branding, something I wrote about a couple years back. Things were obviously different then, but the point that I made in that post, is that for most of us we're working on building a business with a brand. My recommendation was to focus on building the brand and worry about SEO as a secondary concern. 

The recurring theme is to build sites of focused, valuable content and that's never going to change. Your domain will be a secondary concern to the quality and depth of your content. Don't worry too much about your domain. Its value as an aspect of your overall SEO approach has been diminished by Google. We need to continue focusing on building a really great resource for our site visitors.

The launch of Google's "Disavow" tool

When this particular update rolled out it stopped me in my tracks. I had planned on launching a new service that would utilize Article Samurai and help our community and efforts by offering a spinning and article submission service. That has been completely put on the shelf for now, until I can be absolutely sure that whatever the service becomes, that it's in full compliance with Google's webmaster guidelines.

This is a bit tricky, but keep in mind that Google is pursuing quality, not quantity, and if you have backlinks of questionable reputation, then you can be in a lot of trouble. That's where the disavow tool comes in. Matt Cutts explains it in the video below.

A couple things he points out:

  1. Only use this tool when you've exhausted your efforts trying to get the site owner to remove a low-quality backlink.
  2. They'll still take a look at sites that are submitted. Still, if a site is submitted, then it's going to be in a lot of trouble.

The basic premise here is that, if there is a link to your site that you believe to be disreputable, then first try to work with the site owner to get it taken down. If that fails, then as a last resort you can submit the link to Google and "disavow" that link. That means that low quality backlinks are in serious danger.

That's one of the things that really concerned me about Article Samurai. When I was using it, I was getting some really good links, (PR 4 and 5) but I was also getting a lot of low quality backlinks too. Eugene Ware from Noble Samurai stood by Article Samurai in his comments on his blog post related to the disavow tool launch, but it didn't entirely relieve my concerns about the quality of backlinks it would produce so, for now, I've stopped using it. My worry was that the sites on which those backlinks reside would be ripe targets for being disavowed thereby hurting my site in the process. 

(By the way – if you don't know how to check your backlinks, you can use a tool like BacklinkWatch.com or simply type link: yourwebsite.com in to your browser. You can also use Rank Tracker in Market Samurai.)

So what does all this mean?

So, how do we respond to this if we're still hoping to build our websites as reliable sources, get exposure and traffic, and hopefully earn some income from our efforts?

The focus is quality over quantity. But large quantities of quality content is not a bad thing! If your site is going to rank highly for the right reasons, it needs to have the following qualities:

  • authoritative quality content
  • attractive, sharable content
  • human-focused (not search bot focused)
  • becoming a recognized voice in its market
  • engagement and interaction
  • deep content
  • content that delivers real value

There have been a number of webinars by internet marketing and SEO experts lately and those are the common principles that they're all pointing out. 

Gaming the search engine system is no longer an option. It wasn't really a good or safe option to begin with (and not something that we've focused on in our challenge). 

Market leadership, high quality content, and hard work at marketing are all things we need to focus on.

Hustle – The one strategy that will always work

I think, in my opinion, that we need to focus on earning our backlinks and this isn't entirely foreign to the things I mentioned in the backlinking strategies in 2012 post. As Rand Fishkin mentions in this video, the focus needs to be on earning links to drive relevant traffic. Pay attention to what Rand points out in this video:

  • Natural cross promotion & partnerships
  • Social sharing for links – organically lead to links
  • Create the kind of content that's going to earn links
  • Try to get on to "Curated lists" BBB, Yelp's list of …
  • Guest posting for high PR sites
  • Get involved in the communities that you're trying to reach
  • Mine info on the top content that is being published
  • Build your network – influencers, opinion leaders, etc.

Don't those things look familiar? Haven't we heard them (or something very similar) before? Of course we have. Gary Vaynerchuk has been talking about it for a long time and painted the perfect picture in "Crush It". 

You have to care deeply about what you're doing. You have to be willing to invest the time and energy in to making things happen. You have to be passionate. You have to work hard. The formula that he outlines in that book is as relevant now as it ever was.

If you think back to "Crush It" the one thing that he brought up was the absolute necessity of hustle. If any website is going to be successful you simply have to put in the hard work, over time, time to make it awesome. Nothing less will work.  

So it's time to dig in deep. It's time to roll up your sleeves and dig in to working hard. It's time to build content and market your stuff like you've never done before. If you're not passionate about what you're working on then find another topic that you can really get excited about. Find ways to work smart in every area you can. And if you haven't read Crush It, stop what you're doing, go order it now, and read it from cover to cover.

And never forget – if any of this stuff was easy, everyone would be doing it.