How often do you search for your target keywords to see how you stack up against your competitors? If you aren’t happy with the search ranking results, performing an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) audit might be your next step. Though you are interested in launching an SEO campaign, it can be a frustrating and time consuming effort, especially if you don’t know where to start. Properly understanding the role that backlinks play in determining your Google search ranking is one crucial element. It is imperative to properly understand how they are assessed and what you can do to build them and get them indexed.
This post includes:
- the importance of backlinks for SEO,
- a step-by-step guide for running a backlink audit, including 4 free online tools
- a free downloadable spreadsheet for monitoring your SEO campaign
Let’s get started.
What are Backlinks and why are they important?
Backlinks are external links on other domains that link to your website. The Anchor Text is the text that the visitor sees when they click on the link.
It is important to have backlinks because the number, quality, and variety of backlinks that you have pointing to you site helps to determine your Google search ranking.
There are two main kinds of backlinks– FOLLOW and NO FOLLOW. Follow backlinks are links to your site that have been intentionally placed in the content of a website. There are a number of ways to acquire No-follow links, such as commenting on someone else’s blog or creating a profile on a forum. There is controversy about how much credit (or “juice” as it is typically referred to by SEOs) you get for accumulating no follow links. As a general rule, no follow links don’t hurt and they absolutely bring traffic to your site. Some people think they do help your ranking. You should try to spend your time building follow links and generate no follow links when you are community building– For example, if you are leaving comments on blogs in your industry (which you should), sign in to the commenting system so that your name is linked to your website. You can experiment with how the no follow links affect your ranking using the monitoring method outlined below.
Google takes into account how many domains link to you (300 backlinks from 1 domain isn’t as nearly good as 10 links from 30 domains), how many times each domain links to you, and the page rank of the domain (links from Forbes are better than links from a spammy, fake site).
How do I audit my backlinks to see how many I have?
There are a number of SEO checking tools that can help you audit and monitor your backlinks. Many provide some information for free (sometimes for a limited number of searches) and then offer a monthly rate for the full package. It is best practice to use a variety of backlink checking tools, since many providers use different web crawlers to find your links and may give you different results. For this reason, small businesses would get the best results by optimizing their website for SEO and then monitoring using a few free tools. Thankfully, you can absolutely use a combination of different free tools to make a good assessment of your backlinks. Then if you need additional help, then it may be time to hire an experienced SEO.
Here’s a guide for running an initial audit of your backlinks and rank which will also become a system for regular monitoring.
1. Make a folder on your computer for saving your audits on a regular basis. Name it “(Your Domain Name) SEO Reports”.
2. Use the following free tools. Either download spread sheets of your findings or take screen captures and save the files into your Business SEO Reports folder. Modify all of the file names so that they include the month and year at the beginning of the file name followed by your domain name and the service you are using (For Example: Feb 2015 Your Domain Name Ahrefs Report).
How I use it: Using Backlink Watch! is a first step, since its service is unlimited and free.
Cons: The page itself is a little spammy with the pop-up adds and links tempting you to buy links. Don’t do that… purchasing spammy links could actually hurt your SEO.
Pros: You can see the entire list of backlinks that they see on the internet pointing towards your site. It is free and doesn’t limit the number of times that you can search.
How I use it: Once a month, I grab a report for 3 sites that I am currently monitoring. It appears to use the exact same technology as backlinkwatch.com, so don’t expect a difference in the links that are reported.
Cons: You can only get 3 reports a month with the free account.
Pros: You can download the report as an excel spread sheet.
3. MOZ Open Site Explorer
How I use it: Once a month, I search for the sites that I am monitoring and compare them with their competitors. I keep track of the domain authority score and other stats by taking a screenshot.
Cons: You can only run 3 searches a day (not including the comparison searches, however). The MOZ database only runs a huge update every month or month and a half, so you may see a delay in updating new links. You can check their schedule here. At the time I wrote this post, the next upcoming update is planned for March 11, 2015.
Pros: You can do a side by side comparison of your site against your competitors, which is so helpful, by going to “Compare Link Metrics” and adding your competitors urls. It provides more than just the backlink count– even at the free level– by providing you with a list of helpful stats including your domain authority, page authority, and just discovered links.
How I use it: I use the free account to monitor changes over time and look for problematic drops in backlinks.
Cons: Most of the backlinks are hidden from you unless you subscribe. Tip: if you shuffle the order of the links by clicking on the different columns, you can see more without purchasing the membership.
Pros: Great analysis of new and lost backlink numbers over time. This could help you identify a backlink problem that you need to fix.
1. Download my SEO Campaign Tracker to keep track of your reports, basic observations, actions taken, and results.
It is so important to track what results your SEO efforts are making as you tailor your campaign to your industry. For example, posting 2 guest posts in a certain month may have had a dramatic impact on your ranking because of the quality of the external link pointing to your site. Maybe adding yourself to a few directories, like Reddit and Hotfrog, also made an impact.
Remember to diversify your SEO tactics, avoid spammy solutions, work on great content, and track your results by monitoring backlinks and rank.
Let us know what works for you or if you have any questions in the comments. Have a paid service that you recommend? Let us know!
As I type my twitter feed is endlessly filling up with links to cheap and free web design resources.
Don’t get me wrong, I love free icons and stock photos as much as the next girl and, yes, will join any email newsletter list with a compelling free e-book attached. However, time is money and I am paid to create quality websites, not to sift through the endless noise on the internet.
Here are the resources that I have found to be most helpful. These are the ones that I truly would miss. I hope that this list saves you some time and better equips or inspires you in new ways.
1. Google Chrome and Extensions for Web Designers
I love, love, love Google Chrome as a browser and my mind was blown when I learned about all of the extensions available for designers, from color pickers to window resizer for testing different screen resolutions. The best part is that it integrates amazing free web design tools, like window resizing (I previously used screenfly for this) and Builtwith.com’s technology profiler, into your browser, saving you time (yes, .. now I can do it from the comfort of my browser. Yay!).
My favorites extensions are all free and are added as icons in my browser:
- BuiltWith Technology Profiler: I check most websites that I love on builtwith.com to figure out how to get their effects and if I can’t figure it out that way I use…
- Web Developer: lots of tools for inspecting and editing CSS elements
- StayFocused: set a timer limit to the amount of time you want to spend on Facebook or other time sucking websites. When your time is up it will say “Shouldn’t you be working?” Very helpful.
- Simple Time Track: keep track of your billable time on various projects and even set goals for how long you want to work on things.
Some time I should write a blog post about my love-hate relationship with Google. When it comes to free resources though, it’s all love!
2. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools
These items really deserve a post for themselves (to be continued!), but if you aren’t using them, get your website verified today and get started.
Or, if you don’t want to verify your website yet, start doing keyword research here:
3. Jonathan Wold’s “Four Weeks to Your First Client” Course
Jonathan’s free Course is the first great resource that I found when considering embarking into the new world of freelance Web Design. It helps you think big picture about starting off as a freelancer and also provides all the nitty-gritty practical details for getting started. For free? Yes. You won’t regret it. Also, I really appreciate that Jonathan is open about his faith and loved hearing that he works on self-discipline by memorizing scripture.
*Also, there is very newly released follow up course that I am currently taking which was sent out by Jonathan and his friend Arlen called “Crossing the Chasm“. Also very helpful and timed perfectly for me– it helps you consider in broader terms what your goals, to identify the dream behind your dream, and press on to make it happen.
4. Code Academy
5. Hootsuite (or another social media scheduling system of your choice)
Because when time is money and social media is free advertising, you can’t NOT use it but you don’t have time. Multiple your time by sitting down and scheduling posts for the upcoming week (or month!) on Hootsuite. I use the free version to manage Twitter and Facebook and currently mainly share via Twitter right now.
If you use Google Chrome install the free Hootlet extension to get a button in your browser for even easier sharing as you surf the web.
6. Asana or another Project Scheduling System
I used Asana and like its functionality. Honestly, this kind of digital organizing really doesn’t help me that much (I like to make checklists on paper when working on my own), but I think I’m in the minority. I do think Asana is very helpful to share to-do lists with clients who have their own tasks to complete to make sure your project is launched on time. Make online to-do lists and get email reminders for different project tasks that need attention. Helps with juggling multiple projects and you can share lists with collaborators.
7. YouTube (kind of broad, I know, but worth mentioning)
Watch Matt Cutts and hear SEO answers straight from Google’s mouth, search for tutorials to help with your coding and plugin debacles, and while you are there, start your own YouTube channel, upload videos and embed them on your website to help with your own SEO! (I’m in the process of doing this right now). Use YouTube for all it’s worth! Often it’s easier to find answers on YouTube than sifting through pages of troubleshooting on random forums.
Just don’t get sidetracked by videos of sloths crossing the road or other cute animals 🙂
For Wordpress Freelancers:
Elegant Themes Blog
If you are a WordPress designer, I would recommend following the Elegant Themes blog whether you use Elegant Themes or not. The content is incredible and varied, but always on point.
For Freelancing Moms:
Brilliant Business Moms
The Brilliant Business Moms host an informative Podcast, free 52 week course, and online support community for moms who run their own small businesses. I’ve learned a lot about social media, the legal side of running a small business, and the blogging world through their great resources. Really, can’t say enough good things about these ladies and their site.
There is no doubt about it: the internet is overflowing with resources that can help us manage our time, develop new skills, and keep up on trends and news in our field.
The tricky part is navigating the waters without drowning in the massive quantities of resources available to us.
I hope this was helpful! What did I miss? What are the resources that you have found most helpful? Share them in the comments below!
Creative Botanicals Floral Design Studio (http://www.creativebotanicals.com) is a family business that has been providing outstanding floral design services for weddings and special events in the Tetons since 1993. Jan Kew, the Owner and Designer of Creative Botanicals, was ready for a new website that would help generate more traffic and compel more potential clients to contact her about their upcoming events. Unsurprisingly, this floral designer had some great ideas for how to reach her audience, it was just a matter of making them a reality on the web.
Why use Video for Online Marketing?
There are a number of great reasons to use video, even simple slideshows like those that I created for Jan. Here are just a few:
1. It’s Inexpensive to Make and Free to Upload
Simple yet effective videos can be created using your webcam, slideshows of company’s portfolio images, and some basic movie editing software. YouTube will give you a business channel for free! You could spend a starting price of $1000 at a video marketing company in Jackson for a fancy video, but I can help you make something within your budget that’s effective and achieves the other benefits on this list.
2. It helps SEO and Google Search Ranking
Trying to figure out the details of Google’s algorithm used to determine search ranking (the order of pages which appear for a search) can be dizzying. But we do know this for sure– Google loves seeing videos embedded in our pages and blog posts! It translates as valuable content.
3. It Creates an Emotional Connection with Your Audience
It’s proven that videos connect with your audience and build a level of trust. Often reorganizing the content you already have on your page in video form helps them to envision you as the one they want to hire for their services.
4. It holds your visitor’s attention
Let’s be honest… we are lazy when it comes to reading blogs and websites these days. A short video may be more effective than asking your visitor to read your content, when they can watch and listen to it instead.
5. It translates well to Social Media
Videos are great for posting on your Facebook business page. If you don’t already have a Google+ and YouTube Business Page, considering launching with YouTube.. they will create a Google+ page automatically for you. These social media pages also help with SEO and could be a good match for your small business.
Here’s an example video:
This is part three in a series entitled, Sneak Peek at a Small Business Redesign Process. Part One featured a Sneak Peek behind a Logo Redesign and Part Two was on a Sneak Peek behind Responsive Design, including an infographic on Responsive Design.
After redesigning the 2nd Look Boutique’s logo and moving towards a responsive design, the next step was to reorganize the website’s sitemap (list of all pages available to the visitor) and navigation (presentation of sitemap to the visitor which they use to navigate from page to page). The old website had 79 pages (!!), although not all were active… most were. Nevertheless, it was clear that some simplification and reorganization would be needed. Here are some questions that you could ask yourself as you assess your own website and whether you need to make some navigation changes…
1. Is it easy for the visitor to get to the information that they need?
Whether you post your sitemap (list of pages) on the site or not, your menu should be simple and your content should be easy to find. We simplified the 2nd Look’s menu by creating a drop-down hierarchy for some pages and by combining some pages (like contact, shop directions, and shop hours, which were combined on “Contact” and also included in the main page footer).
2. Is the navigation consistent from page to page?
The menu should be available on every page and the visitor should be aware on what page they are on. We incorporated banners into the design as headers for different pages to fulfill this purpose and grab the visitor’s attention.
3. Is the visitor compelled to explore the website or do they stop on the front page?
If you use WordPress jetpack stats for your website, you can see how often people visit different pages on your site.
We were pleased that half of the 105 visitors went farther to explore the About Us page. If a small percentage of your visitors are venturing past the main page, you may want to consider designing navigation icons like those that we used to help our audience visualize the content (images and graphics lead to higher click and conversion rates whether you are posting on social media or on your website!)… these days you can expect your audience to scan quickly and leave fast if there are not interesting images and buttons that funnel them deeper into your site.
Tip: If your small business’s website navigation needs some help, consider 1. creating a drop-down hierachy, 2. combining some pages, 3. incorporating header banners, and 4. using custom graphic icons (or even using generic, well-designed icons) to label each page in a grid display.
If you need help doing this or need someone to review your website and make suggestions that will help your audience engage longer with your website’s content, contact me for a free consultation.
This is part two in a series entitled, Sneak Peek at a Small Business Redesign Process. Part One featured a Sneak Peek behind a Logo Redesign.
When I created a new website for a small business in Fuquay-Varina, NC last summer, it was clear that it needed to be responsive. Looking even a few statistics on mobile device usage in searching and browsing the internet is usually enough to convince a small (or large!) business owner that their website needs to look great on desktops, ipads, and cell phones without slowing down loading speed or redirecting to a mobile site. If you are convinced yet, check out the stats on our infographic as well as the example of what glitteryfrog.com looks like on an ipad and an iphone.