Easy, Lazy SEO

Last Saturday I joined some incredibly talented speakers, dedicated organizers and lovely WordPressers for WordCamp Manchester. The event was hosted at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, which is one of my favorite venues for medium sized conferences. I gave a talk on Easy, Lazy SEO.

For attendes who wanted information on blocking the referral spammer Semalt, I recommend Logorrhoea‘s how to blog post.

I’ve got to admit that this talk was a bit too basic for the WordCamp audience. I had planned for an audience of SEO newbies and was delighted to find a really intelligent audience that was well informed on SEO. I think I’m going to start bringing both my introductory level and intermediate level slides with me if I give this talk in the future. Luckily a well informed audience allowed for a really robust discussion session following the quick race through the slides.

Many thanks to organizer Jenny Wong, all the volunteers and the participants that made this event such a smashing success.

Backlinks and SEO for Startups

Here are the slides from a short talk on the value of backlinks and basic SEO for startups that I gave in 2013 to a group of entrepreneurs at Innovation Birmingham. Notes on each slide are available below in text format.

The Value of Backlinks

This presentation will look at the topics listed:
What is SEO?
Why is SEO important for startups?
What are backlinks?
Links passing attributes.
Competitor analysis through backlinks.

What is SEO

SEO is the act or practice of making your site more visible to search engines to better facilitate users or clients finding your site. Search engines generally look at three groups of factors to rank sites, on page factors, off page factors and user intent. Links are an off page factor we’ll discuss in greater detail in this presentation.

Importance of SEO for startups

Startups may lack name recognition in the market, are often still establishing a client base, may lack budgets for traditional marketing and are usually looking to break into an exsiting market. Basic, low cost SEO for startups could let them increase discovery without incurring higher costs.


Backlinks are an off page factor that most search engines use as part of their ranking algorithms. The act as a vote of confidence from the referring domain, indicating to search engines that the referring domain found value in the linked content. Backlinks can pass along indications of trust, value or may pass along negative attributes.

Measuring link value

Most search engines don’t have a publicly available, transparent algorithm for how they rank sites or value backlinks, so webmasters are left to use their best judgement and available best practices and guidelines. Without having solid data from the search engines, may turn to third party metrics to judge the value of their links. I’ll be looking at two metrics from Majestic SEO

Trust flow is a metric designed to show how well connected a site is to the trusted parts of the internet which may reflect the relative quality of the site’s links.
Citation flow is a metric designed to measure the volume of power that a site’s links bring to it.

Both Trust and Citation flow are scores out of 100. As these metrics cover the entire range of the web, it’s rare to see numbers in the 80+ range outside of giant, internationally recognized sites. Ideally, you’ll want to see Trust flow roughly equal to or higher than Citation flow. Seeing significantly higher Citation flow than Trust flow could indicate a spammy link profile.

Good Link Profile

This image shows each of the referring domains for a large site mapped out on an X Y axis showing Trust and Citation flow. We’re seeing a strong peak and the mass of referring domains following the center line. This is an unusually strong link profile, with a significant amount of Trust.

Bad Link Profile

This image shows the same data, for a site with a much less impressive link profile. This site has significantly higher Citation flow than Trust flow, suggesting that the links may look spammy or unnatural and that this site my be at a higher risk of penalties. The Citation flow for this site is dramatically higher than the Trust.

Competitor Analysis

Backlinks can be about more than just SEO for startups. Links can also be used to discover valuable insights about competitors. Their link profiles can be used to gauge their relative strength both in search and the market, may allow you to discover keyword they’ve optimized for through their anchor text, can help you identify their clients, users and fans and may lend insight into their marketing strategy.

Have questions about SEO for startups? Ask in the comments below or find me on Twitter.

SEO Basics: The Value of Links

As I work with SEO data, I thought it might be useful to answer some of the questions I often get from beginners looking to do SEO work on their own sites. One of the basic questions I hear the most often is: Why do links matter in search?

To understand how sites are ranked in search engines, there are three main types of factors search engines consider. User intent is the value the search engine adds to queries to help guide searchers to their desired result. On page factors are all the parts on your site that let search engines know what your site is about. Off page factors are all the indicators on other parts of the web that let search engines know more about your site.

Links are one off page factor that search engines use to determine the value of a given domain. One of the easiest ways to understand of how search engines value links are to see them as votes of confidence. By linking to someone using a regular link, you’re telling search engines “I think this content is valuable, so I’ve linked to it”. If you want to link to something without giving it a vote of confidence, you can use a nofol link.

While it’s tempting to think of links as votes, it’s a little more complicated than 1 link = 1 vote for your domain. Search engines look at where the link is coming from and what the link looks like to get an idea of how to interpret the link for search rankings. It’s more a personal recommendation than a vote in a ballot box. Search engines look at the referring domain (site sending links to your site) and the anchor text or alt text (the words describing links to your site) as part of the process of valuing links.

Referring Domains

Search engines will check the referring domain that’s sending you links for quality and relevance. If you are looking to hire a new employee, you’ll ask for references. You’ll be more inclined to hire someone who has references from reputable sources in the same industry. You might ignore references from reputable sources that aren’t from the same industry. You might even be less inclined to hire someone who has a recommendation from someone you don’t trust. Search engines go through a similar process of evaluating domains to see how they want to value links coming from them. Having relevant links from trusted, high quality domains in the same niche is likely going to be beneficial for your site’s search rankings. Having irrelevant links from dodgy sites may not help or may even hurt you by putting you at higher risk of a penalty.

Search engines also care about how your links are described. Anchor text is the text used to describe a link. For example, the anchor text for this link: Close to Clever, is “Close to Clever”. Alt text is the text used to describe an image. It was designed to give a deeper internet experience for those using screen readers. The image below links to a nice cafe in Reykavik has the alt text “Blueberry Skyr Dessert from the Scandinavian Smorrebrod and Brasserie”.

Blueberry Skyr Dessert from the Scandinavian Smorrebrod and Brasserie


Anchor Text and Alt Text

Search engines use anchor and alt text to get a better idea of what kind of content to expect from following a link and what kinds of search terms might apply to that site. As with referring domains, search engines are going to want to see relevant keywords. Think of anchor and alt text as signs, pointing to your website. You might be pretty suspicions of a florist whose sign read “Free payday loans”. Search engines are likely to be just as suspicious of off topic or misleading anchor text. Keeping your anchor and alt text on topic and natural looking is going to keep your site from looking needlessly suspicious.

This is intended to be a quick overview of why links matter in search rankings and SEO. I’ll write more on what makes a link valuable or harmful in coming weeks. If you want to see the links pointed at your site, you can create a free account at Majestic SEO or to view your links along with charts and metrics designed to help you judge the value of links. In the interest of full disclosure, I work for Majestic SEO but the content and views here are my own.