A guest post from friend and all-around smart guy Brian Crouch. His bio, below.
Medical Device Marketing Strategists, Joe invited me to write specifically about inbound links, and how they affect your overall search marketing strategy for medical devices.
He’s written on links before as one of the two “levers” search engines use to determine your rank. Things have gotten quite a bit more complex.
For many years, the bots did a poor job of separating the wheat from the chaff. You could game the system, get lots of links, and you’d rank for competitive keywords. Spam proliferated. From an SEO’s perspective, these algorithmic changes are a great evolution because search engines were incorrectly rewarding spammers with high rankings for valuable terms.
Before, the quantity of links, for the most part, won the game. Today’s algorithms make links from irrelevant, unrelated pages (especially from low-traffic sites) count for much less, if anything.
However, far from making inbound links less important, these changes mean you should be even more thoughtful and deliberate about the story your link profile is telling the search engines. A key feature you should be focusing on: Relevance.
An irrelevant link from a “big” site, even with exact anchor text, will probably do less for target keyword rankings than a genuine and relevant link from a smaller, relevant site.
Think of it this way, medical device marketing strategists: Googlebot and Bingbot spend all day crawling the seemingly infinite web to determine:
- What is this page about?
- Who needs this?
- Will this help searchers?
To read these stories, the spiders index pages, gathering the image descriptions, the headlines, the video tags, the body text, the meta descriptions (which are usually the results you see when making a search) and other pages mentioned in context. They use this information to provide searchers with the best possible results for their queries.
The spiderbots are looking for consistent relevance to connect users with the best content.
Imagine a well-written, well-designed page all about cardiac symptoms or how to use a defibrillator. The site where that page lives contains the same medical and cardio keywords as its competitors’ sites. So how do the bots know which one is better?
The tiebreaker? Which page has inbound links from other medical, health, cardiac, sites … because those other, relevant sites are risking their reputations by sending their readers to your page.
So: How do you take action to be positioned for relevant links? Here are some broad strategic areas with which to start (each strategy has its own set of tactics, requiring much more detail):
1. Assessment. Assess the kind of permanent links your pages are getting, from whom. If you don’t have a dedicated search / inbound marketing team, ask your webmaster to give you the “Latest Links,” a .CSV report from Google Webmaster Tools.
Here’s a caveat though: Just because the link appears in Google Webmaster Tools report, it doesn’t mean it’s still an active link, or that it’s a “dofollow” link. (It’s still a good starting point to track when these links were first noticed by search engines).
There are several free or low cost tools that can give you a basic report on an active link profile: OpenSiteExplorer from SEOMoz is one example.
2. Public Relations. An editorial citation from a good source, in a genuine article about your device, is the kind of quality link search engines use as a signal.
In a nutshell, if public relations efforts generate a story about your products or device, they should link back to the most important pages about them. These are informational pages, landing pages. In general, avoid linking to the home page, or worse, the press/news section.
Here’s why: Imagine a publisher/media site about medical issues. Within their taxonomy, they have a cardiology/heart health category with dozens of related articles.
That category section’s pages are authoritative on the subject. Over time, they will probably grow even more so!
The citation and deeplink from these authoritative pages will help bots see that your page (assuming on-page elements are well-optimized) is likely a relevant source, and will provide searchers/users with a good result. Thus, that one press release, and the reality behind it, could be the difference between a second and first page ranking.
3. Brand Promotion > Content Publicity > Link-building. Links ultimately come from people, not websites. The links you want to receive most are procured manually.
Here’s an excellent resource on building links from Eric Ward who was instrumental in Amazon’s launch: Link-building fundamentals. The best rule of thumb: If you’d want the link even if it didn’t affect your search rankings, then that’s the link you should move heaven and earth to get.
A single link that can consistently pass relevant referral traffic (even a trickle) will probably do more for you in the long run (directly and in search) than even a hundred links on zero traffic pages.
The following pointers are edited slightly from Eric Ward’s original points:
- Links that point to your page tell a story about your page, like a transcript
- Engines decide if that story is credible and make decisions about your page’s ranking
- Since the linking approach required for any given website must vary depending on the site’s focus, content, and intended audience, each site deserves its own link-building/content publicity plan or blueprint
- Your most important decision about links will be which ones to pursue, and why
Obtaining organic and genuine links from people who respect your product and/or brand is necessary and possible, organically and genuinely. Get the maximum value out of the content you’ve created and the products you offer. Produce something of merit, and let the right people know. Links may not always remain the primary signal Google uses to determine how to rank a page, but they will be always be important. (In a future article for Joe, I will discuss AuthorRank and how that will affect many content strategies.)
Referral traffic also comes from social media channels. A shared piece of content on a Facebook page or LinkedIn group could win you some direct traffic (be sure to include your link in any photo caption or infographic share) and there is some evidence this will be a cumulative signal to search engines about the content’s merits.
Just don’t be persuaded that a social link is all you need: Most social network outbound links are “nofollowed.” And think about it: Ten links from Facebook are all from one domain. How relevant a signal will that be for the bots?
Further resources: Point Blank SEO – Creative Link Building Ideas.
Nofollow/dofollow: This is what’s known as a relational indicator, informing the bots whether they should traverse the path of a link or not. In general, the best evidence we have is that a dofollow link will pass more value to your page than a nofollowed link. There is some disagreement on whether a nofollow citation (as are all the links and references in Wikipedia) might still be counted as a signal to most of the major search engines.
Backlink: Another way of referring to a link pointing at your destination page.
Anchor text: The text you click on to follow a link. Most often, links aren’t directly visible to readers. HTML code wraps specific words (most popular: “click here”) and are marked by a font-color (such as blue) distinct from the predominant body of text. The HTML “href” tag that surrounds a link usually automatically either adds an underline or changes the color, depending on the content management system you’re using.
Deeplink: A link to a specific content page, such as a product or a download file, rather than just the root domain.
About the Author: Brian Crouch is inbound marketing director for Seattle’s All Star Directories, which helps students connect with schools in medical, nursing and psychology fields.