Once in a while, we get so caught up in things that we lose sight of the fact that there are plenty of brand new people in SEO and Internet Marketing that could benefit from a different perspective. Since we have been working in this industry for years, we sometimes “assume” you already know the lingo – that’s not always a great assumption. A little while back one of our readers provided some very straight up feedback we’ve taken to heart.

She told us that as a newcomer to Internet Marketing, she really wasn’t understanding the concept of linkbuilding and had never seen it explained in a way beginners could easily understand. Since we focus on topics that are at an intermediate or advanced level on our blogs, we think it would be a good idea to pause for a moment and explain things from the ground up. What we want to do in this post is give you a thorough explanation of some key terms you may encounter.

Offsite SEO and Onsite SEO

That means we are going to talk today about offsite SEO (also known as linkbuilding) and onsite SEO in order to define it in more straight forward manner. Before we get there, though, we need to talk about SEO as a whole. The abbreviation SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and this is an art as well as a science. That is because there are no clear-cut, absolute rules for this process. Google has control over the rankings and it holds that control by using its proprietary algorithm.

This means it has a secret formula that it does not share with the public and that particular formula can be used to determine how different sites rank for a particular keyword. Even though you might sometimes start to believe Google is somehow trying to punish you, everything is done via a computerized system – there’s nothing personal about it. However, there are going to come times when it does indeed feel personal, but in reality all that is happening to your site is due to a complex mathematical formula that affects the rankings of all sites indexed by Google.

SEO is an art and a science

I bring up the idea that SEO is both an art and a science because the formula Google makes use of to rank sites is not one you can find published online or elsewhere. Other than Google’s engineers, there is no one who knows what it is and even if they found out, Google makes hundreds of tiny tweaks each year so the formula simply does not ever stop “evolving” and is always a work in progress. Matt Cutts, former public face of Google to the SEO World, has stated this. SEO ends up being a practice that is about optimizing or aligning your site so that it gets the best possible rankings.

Here’s the thing, no one can tell you with any real certainty what to do to achieve this so you have to do some educated guessing on your own. This is why it is important to work with a specialist in SEO who has observed these patterns and knows from experience how effective particular tactics are likely to be due to performing SEO for dozens or even hundreds of different sites. There is no better way to get skilled at SEO than via experience. By trying things out and keeping track of what you observe, you will acquire valuable knowledge.

Different niches different strategy

Are we saying that SEO is just a guessing game? Not by a long shot. Many well established principles are out there, but there are “gray” areas, too. You need to realize that simply because one site owner was successful in using a specific strategy in no way means that the same strategy is going to be successful for you. That would be too simple. The thing is, there are tons of niches on the web and Google treats some differently than others. There are niches that are well-known for being attractive to spammers and that means Google will observe those niches in a different way than it monitors other niches.

There are also a huge array of factors that well come into play in how your site responds to different SEO strategies. For instance, do you have a brand new site? Or is it a site you or someone else has been running for a decade? Are three of your site’s pages indexed by Google? Or do you have thousands of pages in the Google Index? Does your site have any social interaction? The list of factors that matter for SEO can go on and on, including things like link count (we’ll cover links in a little bit, so sit tight), DA (abbreviated as DA – we will talk about this in further detail, too) and lots of other factors.

The Definition of Backlinks

We will cover Offsite and Onsite SEO shortly, but before we do that, let’s talk about links. Links (which you might hear as backlinks, one-way links or even anchor text links) are a crucial part of SEO so you absolutely must know what they are and understand how they function. Before I show you an example of a link, I want you to come to a comfortable conceptual understanding of them.

Let’s take a little trip back in time and go back to your high school years for just a moment (we apologize if this is less than pleasant – LOL). All of us will recall the popularity contest – oops, I mean the king and queen of the prom. These two were most likely determined through “votes”. That is exactly what a link is – it’s a vote for a site’s popularity. Whenever one site creates a link to your site, Google sees that as “voting” for your site and endorsing its content. When lots of folks link to your site, that means that your site is popular and Google notices that, giving you a better ranking as a result. Still, when it comes to links there is an additional dimension and that is the link’s “context”. The context answers the question “What is this link about?” or “What is think link related to?”. Google utilizes anchor text (the highlighted words you click on when you click a link) to determine a link’s context.

Anchor text

Let’s do an example using the keyword “article submission” and say that you are looking to make a link for that keyword. In the text, this will typically be underlined (although sometimes site designers will change how things look) and when you move your mouse’s cursor over the link it will turn into an icon of a hand. The underlined text is referred to as “anchor” text and this is used by Google to determine a link’s context. Think of it like this: if a person links to this site using the words “article submission” then the site is probably about “article submission” and that shows us its relevance. Speaking of relevance, a huge number of people email us asking for relevant links to their site that are related to the niche their site is in.

Judging by what we have observed and experienced firsthand, this makes NO difference. If you want your site to rank for cat toys and you use “cat toys” as the anchor text, then that means your link is then relevant to cat toys. What didn’t determine the relevance is whether or not the site the link comes from is about cat toys. This is exactly the premise that popular blog networks operate on. The sites are each about different topics and are not all focused on a particular niche, but you use anchor text that defines the relevance of these links to your particular site

How a Backlink is Structured

Next, I want to show you how a link looks in HTML, the code (also known as markup language) used for building sites on the web. Defining and explaining HTML is really not necessary in this post, but do realize that HTML makes use of < > (symbols for lesser than and greater than) to separate instruction on how a page is to be displayed from the actual content that page contains. 

NOTE: If you are really interested in having a look at HTML then right-click on a web page in your browser and click the “View Source” option that pops up – believe me, you will end up seeing lots more HTML than you care to! For a link, the <a> tag is used, along with a few parameters, to define the link in question. This is an example of a link as it would appear in HTML {Please Note: the red color would not be the way the link looked elsewhere, I made the text red so the samples would stand out easier):

This is a sample link for article submission to show you how links look like in text.

Now, to see how it would look if it were rendered by your web browser, let’s look at this example:

This is a sample link for marketing strategies to show you how links look like in text.

Comparing & Contrast: Onsite SEO vs Offsite SEO

There are basically two major kinds of SEO: offsite SEO and onsite SEO. Keep in mind that SEO is simply the practice of optimizing a site so that it can obtain the best possible rankings in the search engines. Onsite SEO is optimizing the content and structure of your site itself.

Offsite SEO is a lot more powerful now and is often called linkbuilding because that is primarily what it is all about: getting links aimed at your site. Most of our attention is focused on offsite SEO and this is what we advise you to do as well because it is the most important part. At the same time, it is a good idea for you to have a working knowledge of onsite SEO and its basics, but we do not want to spend too much time optimizing pages because the ROI does not support that practice the way it supports offsite SEO efforts.

Onsite SEO – Understanding the Basics

The phrase Onsite SEO actually covers a variety of different topics. We are not going to try to cover topics of a more advanced nature such as internal linking strategies, pagerank shaping or link silos – what we want to do here is simply focus on the fundamentals. The basic things you are going to want to learn about are:

Make Pages Target Just 3 Keywords – Every page you make really should only target between 1 and 3 keywords. If you are trying to target more than that, make a separate page. Focus on a single primary keyword and perhaps 2 other keywords you want to target.

  • Optimizing a URL – We advise you to use your primary keyword in the URL.
  • Optimizing Titles – We advise you to use your primary keyword in the Title of your page.
  • Descriptions & Meta Tags – Using between 3 and 5 of your top keywords in meta tags and descriptions is something we advise.
  • Optimizing Heading Tags – Fit those 3 primary keywords for the page into the heading tags – this means the <h1><h2> and <h3> tags.
  • Optimizing Your Content – While it is a smart idea to include your keywords in the content of your site, you should NEVER get too zealous with this. We advise you to stick with a keyword density of 1%. For instance, if there are 500 words of content then use your keyword only 5 times and no more. In other words, use your keyword once for every 100 words of content on a given page – it’s a smart rule to stick to.
  • Build Some Internal Links – It is important that you link to some of your keywords in your keyword rich content. Still, there is no need to overdo things with this. Just 3 or 4 links for every 500 word article is great. If you have an article that is 1,000 words don’t make 10 links because that’s too many – stick with 6 or fewer. It comes down to following intuition, but too many links will make a page look spammy and you want things to look natural.

What you end up doing when you follow this advice is creating a structure for your site’s content that works well for SEO rankings with Google and that is going to let you achieve the rankings you want more easily. Just a couple of years ago, good Onsite SEO would have done a lot for you, but this is not so much the case now. These days, competition has really risen and the majority of gains in ranking that your site can get now will come from Offsite SEO tactics so this is why we think you should keep it calm with Onsite SEO. Cover your fundamentals, sure, but there is no need to invest tons of time or money into it. Let’s move forward, then, to Offsite SEO which is the meat of this post.

Offsite SEO – Linkbuilding for Newbies

Most of those in SEO generally think ‘linkbuilding’ when they think of Offsite SEO. That is more or less true, but there are a lot of different tactics out there that you can use for offsite linkbuilding and some are less direct than others. Take this example: creating an eBook to give away, hosting a contest, doing guest blog posts on other sites in niches related to your own, creating free toolbars or widgets for others to download – these are each examples of Offsite SEO that most people will call “linkbuilding” if you ask them about it.

However, the truth is that each of these things you can do are marketing activities that are designed to support your goal of bringing in more links and traffic to the site you own. However, right now we want to zero in on the primary linkbuilding activities out there because this is the Offsite SEO basics, after all.

Traffic and sales

In the USA, society is primarily focused around the concept of “outdo the Joneses”. What this means is that competition is going to be incredibly fierce and this is true in SEO, too. As I mentioned before, several years ago Offsite SEO (aka linkbuilding) was not nearly as important as it is now. You could get excellent rankings by putting effort into fine tuning the Onsite SEO of your site.

These days this is no longer true and if you want to have a chance to compete then you have to have a solid strategy for Offsite SEO. The truth is, if you do not build links aggressively then you are not going to move forward, but you will move backwards because your competitors are certainly going to be very aggressive in their linkbuilding efforts. We always say, SEO is not a one time task. Marketing is about staying active and there is no end to it. The goal you are really after when you are starting up is making the ROI that will pay for your SEO efforts.

Spending $425 each month on SEO and having it bring in $425 is excellent. The next step is to keep that up and move to the next level. Some of our clients started out spending $397 a month on SEO and after a year and a half of gradual growth and expanding, they now happily spend $3,000 or even more every month. Why is that? Because the traffic and sales they are getting has grown and this means increasing their marketing is fully justified because it will help them grow even more.

Invest in SEO

When you are just starting out, though, SEO is like any other type of advertising out there – you are investing in it. There is not going to be no ROI (return on investment) at first when you spend on SEO. In fact, it could take anywhere from 3 to 6 months of serious effort to earn back any ROI at all. When some people hear this they vanish – and that’s all right. Those of us in business understand that all businesses take time and must be invested in if they are going to actually succeed.

The downside is that a lot of new entrepreneurs online think that because the business they run is an online one, it does not have the same laws of business operating for or against it. The truth is, if you treat your online venture like a real business then it is going to grow a lot faster. Any owner of an offline business is going to tell you that marketing is what makes the difference. If you don’t do serious marketing, then you aren’t going to have foot traffic and if you don’t have that then how can you generate sales? This is no different for an online business – you must have traffic, whether it is paid traffic from pay-per-click campaigns, organic SEO traffic or any other type of paid traffic out there.

Common Types of Links Used in Offsite SEO

We have not intended for this list to be an exhaustive one, it is meant to list some of the common types of links that you need to be looking for in your SEO campaign. We are not going to plunge into in-depth explanations for each type of link, though. There are a lot of products out there in each of these categories that we have reviewed on our sites.

Article Marketing – This process is all about sending articles about your site or the products you offer to other sites so that they can publish those articles. They are looking for content and you need links, so this works out well for both sites. Every article you send out needs to have at least one link aimed at your site.

Public Link Networks – These networks are made up of folks who submit their sites to the network in order to get back free content. Often these are extremely large networks of up to 10,000 or even 20,000 different sites.

Press Releases – These are excellent when used to get your name and your site out to the world and have it syndicated, plus it will give you authority links in the process.

Profile Links – These are setup on sites that feature forums that allow you to participate as a user. By registering an account as a user there, you will be able to use the forum and even create a profile that lets you talk about yourself and so forth. Within these profiles you will typically be allowed to post or more links.

Social Bookmarking Links – These links will help your SEO efforts by creating the impression that your site is “discussed” in the social media sphere.

Directory Submissions – Not quite as powerful as in years gone by, directories remain beneficial. With directory submissions you are getting links from online directory sites that allow people to put in a small description of their own site. While these are not all that useful, it’s a good idea to use some so that your SEO efforts look natural.

Forum Links – Lots of forums are out there these days and that is where people go to discuss certain topics. When registering for a forum you are often allowed to put a link in your signature and this means that with every post you put on that forum, you will get a link that goes to your site. These are not all that potent, but they are still important to keeping things looking natural.

Blog Comment Links – These links are not that potent, like what we see with Forum Links, but they are important to have so that your site looks natural. When you leave a comment on a blog, you get a blog comment link because (most) sites allow you to include a link either in your signature or as part of your comment.

Remember to Keep Things Natural

While we have definitely talked about the mechanics of SEO quite a bit, we have not looked too far into the strategy involved. 

By checking out that list of link types you are going to see that a lot of them are not all that effective. Then why would you use them? Keep in mind that when it comes to SEO, the whole point is manipulating. What you are trying to do is positively manipulate the search engines so they will rank your site better.

Keep in mind, too, that SEO is both a “science” and an “art form”. This is where we pull both of those concepts together. You need the linkbuilding profile your site has to look totally natural. What isn’t natural, just to make an example, is to get 1,000 links aimed at your site in a single day and then have nothing happen for another 3 months. Also, it is not natural to have 90% of the links to your site be “blog comment links”. Nor is it natural to have thousands of links from social sites and no real traffic coming to your site because how would those links have gotten built if you have no visitors?

There are a lot more examples I could give you, but this is good enough for now. You really do want to keep things natural and blend together a variety of anchor text and types of links. Always remember that Google determines its rankings by using a computer program, essentially. We have seen that sites with link profiles that do not look natural to Google will drop 100 rank positions in a single night. That is exactly why “keep it natural” should be a mantra for you.

In Conclusion

So the post here is absolutely enormous now, but we will bring it to a close now. We hope this has helped you educate yourself so that your linkbuilding and SEO efforts will bring you results you are looking for. I hope we’ve brought a little clarity to some terms or ideas that might have been confusing you up until today. Is there a certain aspect of SEO you’d like more information about? If so, please leave us a comment below explaining what you’d like to learn and we will see if we can do a follow-up post or even expand the one you’re reading right now.

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