Next speaker was Tom Critchlow, a VP at Distilled and the leader of the new Distilled office in New York (the #bigdistillednews). Tom is currently in-house with SEOmoz, helping them increase their visibility on the web by working with linkbuilding tactics and their on-site optimization possibilities. Tom’s talk was great because of SEOmoz’s penchant towards transparency, which showed a real look into their site. His talk was entitled “How to structure a major linkbuilding project”.
Tom started by talking about how SEOmoz is “whiter than white”, so his tactics while in-house are as clean as possible.
He started by talking about content and on-site optimization. He began by saying, “Before links comes content. Does your content deserve to rank?” Tom said that linkbuilders should use social signals, or the lack thereof, to inform your decision to change content onsite so that you deserve to rank for the keywords you are targeting.
Tom then talked about language, saying that site content writers should use language that welcomes in users by building trust and encouraging them to participate on your site. He said that site language can be used to shape user language, which not only shapes a culture around your site, but also (in my opinion) can shape the way people think about your site, and when they use your language, they will think about your site and be more willing to link to you.
Now onto social metrics. “Social metrics are more important than ever” according to Tom, with Google and Bing both saying they are using metrics in ranking. See my post on “Twitter Authority Signals” for more thoughts.
Tom shared a great tool that he has put together for Twitter trackbacks and Facebook shares. Tom said that you can use this information to make your site page better so that you deserve to rank better. He cited a case where SEObook is “handing SEOmoz their ass” for the term “SEO Tools”, which was eye-opening to me. He also showed a potential wireframe that he has submitted to the Moz crew for his thoughts on how to increase the rank-ability of the SEOmoz page. No, I’m not going to give away his wireframe, but if Tom puts it up online, I will link to it.
Tom gave a word of caution about social. “Social is not a metric to manipulate. It is a way to make change happen.”
Using Data to make changes
Next, he talked about using URL and date data to figure out which pages you need to re-do in order to have them rank better. He recommends using tool described in this post to bring in exported URL and date data. Then, build your new page and redirect old to new. Boom. The 301 will pass link power from any previously existing links, your new page will rank, and you set yourself up for better rankings. Brilliant.
Crowdsourcing and Using Your Community
On to crowdsourcing and using your community to build links. Tom said to use your knowledge (or your clients) to encourage others to share their knowledge. You can encourage this sharing of knowledge with rewards (think of SEOmoz’s Mozpoints system). You can leverage your brand here if possible, and your users can/will spread the word about the information using links and tweets.
Tom pointed out that people are usually quite willing to give you information if you simply ask for it. Ask questions on Twitter, Facebook, or your establish forum. Then condense that information into a blog post and spread the word. A little ego-stroking is sometimes all it takes to get some great links. “Linkbait. Done.”
When looking your site and deciding if it deserves to rank, and also for personal SEO development, Tom put together something called the “SEO Joel Test”. The Joel Test, for those of you who don’t know, is one web developer’s seven points for things to remember while coding. Tom’s SEO Joel Test includes seven questions that any SEO needs to be able to say “Yes” to, such as “Do you have a network?” and “Does your content deserve to rank?”.
Now the talk turned to talk about the SEO. Nurture your connections within different industries, because often these connections will be more willing to link to you. One way to nurture this community is to find a group of your SEO peers, people that you know and trust, to create a private network of SEOs. You can learn phenomenal things from others, so you need people of all levels in your community. These people can give you reciprocal links, you can link to each other’s content, promote it, and vote it up on social networks, like Twitter, Facebook, or other social bookmarking sites. You can also use this group to share knowledge, data, experiences, contacts, and questions. Tom recommends setting up a Google group for this, which is easy since most SEOs use Gmail. Also, use your connections to build links! Use these connections to take over a SERP by getting others to post your content (but of course, be sure your content ranks best!)
Getting Sh*t Done
Finally, Tom gave his favorite quote. “SEO is about getting sh*t done.” We can build huge data sets, he says, but how can we actionize it? We need to actionize the incredible data sets we build.
Tom pointed out two ways to actionize it, both of them wishlists.
Wishlist #1: Keywords, pages and anchor text. Which keywords are your “dream words” to rank highly for? Which pages do you want to rank high? What anchor text do you want people to use to link to you? Tom said we need to use better internal communication within organizations to make these happen. Does your (well known) CEO know the important terms, so that he/she can drop them in interviews and on his/her personal blog?
Wishlist #2: Sites to get links from. You should make a list of even 5 sites that you would love to earn hard-won links from. For example, if you are selling blue widgets, you could have sites like TechCrunch and Mashable. Think big within your niche.
During the Q/A directly after Tom’s talk, someone in the audience asked how he would recommend pricing a linkbuilding campaign. He gave these two thoughts:
1) Figure out what links you have and what you need (or think you need); and
2) Price your (best guess at) your time and what it is worth.