Search engines. We love them when we’re looking for the hottest sushi restaurant in town. But when it comes to getting our business to rank at the top, they can be a pain in the wasabi. Search is a moving target; Google has been known to alter its algorithm — its method for determining and delivering search results — as many as 600 times per year in its quest to deliver ever more relevant search results. So what has you sitting at the top today could have you suffering at the bottom tomorrow.
In the recent past, Google has adjusted how it views two important ranking factors: inbound links and user experience. Yet, we have noticed a lot of confusion among clients about what these changes mean. So we’ve created a two-part series on modern (as of 2015 anyway) SEO techniques that any medical device marketer can use to understand SEO. Part one will cover modern link building and part two will cover user experience as a search engine ranking factor.
Let's begin with how search engines work. Search engines have two functions:
- They crawl websites and build an index
- They provide searchers answers to their query by calculating relevancy and serving results
To calculate relevancy, search engines look at your website’s popularity. The more popular a site, page or document, the more valuable the information must be. And to determine popularity, search engines look at hundreds of components called “ranking factors.”
Link building is one of the most important ranking factors, but often the most misunderstood. Link building is the process of acquiring links to one of your web pages from another (external) web page through some kind of activity. Years ago links were a commodity. You could buy a link package that would guarantee a certain number of links, keywords to target, and the timeline in which they'd be completed. While you can technically still do this today, you won't get the results you are looking for. In fact, Google may actually penalize you for using this outdated technique.
Think of it this way, when something is scalable (like building links with bots, as many companies still do) it can be hard to ensure quality and control. Quality control is a human job, and Google favors links that are done with intention by humans. So any technique for building links that can be scaled will be seen by Google as bogus and ultimately fall outside of Google Webmaster Guidelines.
So, now that you can't simply grow links on the farm, how do you acquire them? Well, it turns out the new way to build links is a lot like the old (timeless, longstanding) way of pursuing public relations. You know the outlets you want to go after, but instead of pitching them with only a press release, you pitch them with a link-building asset.
A link-building asset is anything available to you that someone may find interesting enough to link to, such as:
- Content – Has your company written a white paper on an interesting topic?
- People – Does your company have an expert who can comment or be interviewed on a hot topic?
- Data – Has your company done research that might be applicable to a larger audience?
- Media – Can your company provide an educational video on a topic?
Once you have your asset, you should target media that, first and foremost, cares about your content, then can provide a link to you and has some authority. Not all links are created equal. Yes, Google will look at the number of links pointing at your website, but it will also look at the quality of those links. Google will want to see that your links are from trustworthy sources, are on diverse websites and are on websites that are relevant to your content.
If you want to know more about creating link building assets, targeting media or writing a pitch, I recommend The Link Building Book by Paddy Moogan. It's a very hands-on guide. Another good one is the Primer App by Google. This smartphone app has educational lessons on marketing skills, including building content assets.
In our next post, we'll cover your website's user experience as a search engine ranking factor.