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Low-budget branding for small businesses

Over the years, we’ve written quite a few articles about branding. Branding is about getting people to relate to your company and products. It’s also about trying to make your brand synonymous with a certain product or service. This can be a lengthy and hard project. It can potentially cost you all of your revenue. It’s no wonder that branding is often associated with investing lots of money in marketing and promotion. However, for a lot of small business owners, the investment in branding will have to be made with a relatively small budget. 

You might be a local bakery with 10 employees, or a local industrial company employing up to 500 people. These all can be qualified as ‘small business’. All have the same main goal when they start: the need to establish a name in their field of expertise. There are multiple ways to do this, without a huge budget. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on how to go about your own low-budget branding.

Define and communicate brand values

Branding with a limited budget starts with defining your company’s and your brand’s values. You need to think about what you, as a brand, want to communicate to the world. Doing this yourself won’t cost you, provided you are capable of doing this yourself. In fact, it’s a pretty hard task, when you think of it. It’s about your mission, the things that make your brand into your brand. Brand values relate to Cialdini’s seventh principle, Unity.

My favorite example illustrating unity: outdoor brands like Patagonia and The North Face, which make you feel included in their business ‘family’. “We are all alike, share the same values.” By being able to relate to these brands and their values, we are more enticed to buy their products. It’s a brand for us, outdoor people.

Take some time to define your brand values. That way, you’re able to communicate your main message in a clear and consistent way. It makes your marketing all the easier. You’ll be able to create brand ambassadors, even on a budget.

Come up with a proper tagline

Once you have defined your brand values, it’s time to summarize them all into one single tagline. For example, WordPress’ mission is to “democratize publishing“. In your tagline, you formulate your values and make sure your added value for the customer, user or visitor is also reflected. Again, be consistent. If you set a tagline, your actions and products should relate to that tagline, actually, even be based upon it. It summarizes your business.

Rethink your logo

Having a great logo is essential. When designing that logo, you’ll have to keep in mind that it’s probably something you’ll have for years. It’s the main thing – besides yourself – that will trigger (brand) recognition. It’s not that you can never change your logo, but don’t ‘just’ add a logo. Think about how it stands out from other logos, for instance on a local sponsor board.

Design that logo, print it, stick it on your fridge for a week or so, and see if there’s anything about it that starts to annoy you. If so, it’s back to the drawing board. Feel like you don’t relate to it in terms of business values or even personality? Back to the drawing board. When talking about low-budget branding, designing a great logo is probably your most expensive task.

Online low-budget branding

The online world is a great place to work on your low-budget branding. You need to establish a name in your field of expertise, and the surplus of social media can facilitate that by giving you a free platform.

Social media

I do a lot of local networking, because I really like the city we live in, and the huge variety of entrepreneurs that work in our hometown Wijchen. During network meetings, one of the phrases I often hear is: “Social media just takes me too much time”. To be honest, it might be wise to change your mindset about the costs and start seeing the revenue social media can bring you. It really is the easiest and probably one of the cheapest ways to promote your brand. Basically, the only cost is time investment (depending on how aggressively you want to use the medium). It may take a while before you find a strategy and/or platform that works, so give it some time and don’t just throw in the towel!

Read more: Social media for small business owners »

Share your expertise

You can use Twitter to stay in touch with like-minded business owners. Discover the huge number of Facebook groups in your area, and/or in your field of expertise. Bond with people that share the same values. Feel free to answer questions in your field of business and do this with confidence. Position yourself as the go-to company for these questions. Help people that way and create brand ambassadors. You really have to put some effort into establishing your position. It won’t happen overnight.

A bit of an extreme example: before Yoast became a business, Joost was already sharing content/expertise and our open source software. He engaged actively in forum and social media discussions about WordPress and SEO. Commenting on other people’s blogs. Time before revenue: 8 years. I’m not saying you need to wait eight years before making money with your passion. But I do think that you should be able to write, comment and take a stand in topics that matter to you from the start.

Make yourself visible

Eventually, it all comes back to business values. Everything you communicate should reflect these values. It’ll give you guidelines and will make sure your message is delivered in the same way, always. Low-budget branding is about just that: making yourself visible, in a consistent way.

Keep reading: The ultimate guide to small business SEO »

The post Low-budget branding for small businesses appeared first on Yoast.

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The Complete Anchor Text Guide for 2019 (NEW)

What is anchor text and how do you optimize it for maximum SEO performance?

That’s what this guide is all about.

You’re going to learn:

  1. How to optimize your anchor text so you get SEO better results with less backlinks
  2. Why modeling your competitors anchor text is dangerous
  3. My advanced anchor text optimization strategy

Ready to become an anchor text optimization pro?

Let’s jump in.

Need more backlinks? Get access to 7 untapped link building techniques.

What is Anchor Text?

Anchor text is the visible and clickable text in a link.

Here’s how it looks in HTML:

<a href=”http://www.mywebsite.com/”>my cool website</a>

The phrase “anchor text” applies to all hyperlinks including internal and external links.

This guide you’re going to read is about external anchor text.

Why?

Because it alone can make or break your SEO performance.

But before you can learn how to optimize anchor text, you need to know the history.

A Short History of Anchor Text

Let’s rewind the clock back to 2011.

In those days, keyword-rich anchor text was all the rage.

anchor text in 2011

All you had to do was build links with keyword-rich anchor text and you would rank fast.

Then Google decided to launch the first Penguin update on April 24, 2012.

In short:

Your rankings got wrecked if you were using keyword-rich anchor text.

Google Penguin Penalty

When I say “your”, I mean “my” rankings.

Many of my sites got wrecked with the first Penguin update. That’s because I was nothing more than an algorithm manipulator back then.

But in hindsight:

I’m grateful for that update because it forced me to actually learn SEO.

It also motivated me to figure out how to optimize anchor text in a safe and effective way.

But before I can show you the methods, you need to know the basics.

The first thing you need to know are the different types of anchor text you can use.

9 Different Types of Anchor Text

Here are nine different types of anchor text you can use from the safest to least safe:

1. Branded Anchors

“Branded” anchors are any anchor that uses your brand name. Here are some examples:

  • Gotch SEO
  • Nathan Gotch
  • Nathan Gotch SEO

Sentence sample: “You can learn search engine optimization at Gotch SEO.”

Branded anchors are the safest type of anchor text if you’re using a branded domain.

If you have an exact or partial match domain, you need to be careful.

More on this in a later section.

To see the power of “branded” anchors, look at any big brand’s link profile.

Here are some examples for you:

Nordstrom Anchor Text

Best Buy Anchor Text

WebMd anchor text

2. Generic Anchors

“Generic” anchors are often calls-to-action (CTAs) like:

  • click here
  • go here
  • this website

In a sentence: “Go here if you are looking for SEO information.” – “Go here” is the generic anchor text.

3. Naked Link Anchors

Any anchor that uses a raw URL is considered a “naked” link.

Here are some examples:

  • https://www.gotchseo.com
  • www.gotchseo.com
  • gotchseo.com

4. No Anchor Trick

This is a tricky little strategy I see big brands doing.

Whether purposefully or not, it’s a good idea. Here’s what it looks like:

no text anchor text

The easiest way to build “noText” anchors is through images. You can also “forget” to include an anchor within an article.

5. Image Anchors

Google uses an image’s ALT text as the anchor text for a linked image.

6. Brand + Keyword Anchor

You can diversify your anchor tex profile by combining your brand name and your target keyword.

For example:

  • Gotch SEO Ahrefs
  • anchor text by Gotch SEO
  • Gotch SEO link building tactics

7. Keyword Variations

Keyword variations are perfect for diversifying your anchor text profile. They can also help drive more topical relevance to your page.

Here are some examples of my target keyword is “backlinks“:

  • what are backlinks
  • where to get backlinks
  • how do you build backlinks

8. Partial Match Anchors

Partial match anchors are similar to keyword variations. The key difference is that you’re adding generic words around the primary keyword phrase.

Here are some examples for the target keyword “anchor text”:

  • this anchor text guide
  • cool anchor text article
  • read this anchor text post

9. Exact Match Anchors

Exact match anchors are the king of all anchor text.

They have the power to increase your rankings, but also have the power to get your site penalized.

An exact match anchor is an exact match of whatever your target keyword is for the target page.

Example: if “buy backlinks” is my target keyword, then my exact match anchor would be “buy backlinks“.

Those are all the anchor text variations I recommend using.

Now let’s talk about something that will make your anchor text even more powerful.

How to Build Relevance Without Exact Match Anchors

Google recently filed a patent about: “anchor tag indexing in a web crawler system”.

Google Anchor Text Patent

Don’t worry:

I’m not going to bore you to death.

Once you get past all the technical language, there’s one big idea in this patent:

Google uses the text around your link (“annotation text“) to assign its topical relevance. It will also use the anchor text of the link to accomplish that goal as well.

So what does that mean for you?

The good news is that it’s simple and makes perfect sense.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Find relevant websites in your industry
  2. Get backlinks within content that’s relevant to your target page
  3. Try to place your primary keyword close to your link
  4. Use intelligent anchor text
  5. Understand that relevance is the key to link building success

Here are some examples for the target keyword “anchor text” (link placement in red):

“If you are looking for more information about anchor text go here right away.”

Anchor text is the visible and clickable text in a link. For more in-depth information you should read this article from Gotch SEO.”

“For more in-depth information about anchor text I highly recommend this article: http://www.gotchseo.com/anchor-text/.”

Here’s the big takeaway:

Place your links in relevant content and place your primary keyword close to your link.

Now the question is:

What anchor text should you use?

The Right Anchor Text to Use

There’s a common trend among the hundreds of penalized websites I’ve audited.

They almost always have aggressive anchor text percentages.

Over-Optimized Anchor Text

In fact:

It’s the first place I look when someone needs help with a penalized website.

You can analyze your anchor text distribution right now with Ahrefs.

Open up their Site Explorer tool and enter your domain.

Ahrefs site explorer

Then click on “Anchors”.

Ahrefs Anchor Text Section

Now before I go any further, I need to cover an important question:

Should You Copy Your Competitors Anchor Text?

My friend and fellow SEO, Matt Diggity recommends this strategy.

Matt Diggity Anchor Text

In short:

You should look at the anchor text percentages of the ranking competitors and model them.

I agree with the philosophy, but there are some issues.

1. Modeling the anchor text percentages of an authoritative website is risky.

Authoritative websites have built a lot of trust. Therefore, it’s more “acceptable” for them to have high percentages of keyword-rich anchors.

If you copy them, you’ll likely get wrecked.

Why?

Because your site doesn’t have the authority and trust to do so.

2. It doesn’t take into account site-wide anchor text percentages.

How do some websites get away with aggressive exact match anchor text?

It’s because they:

  1. Have the authority and trust to do so
  2. Have a high percentage of unoptimized anchors in their site-wide profile

That’s why you can’t model them on a page-by-page level.

You have to model their entire anchor text profile.

Let’s take Moz.com for example.

If you examine their site-wide anchor text, you’ll see that most of it is branded or generic.

Moz Anchor Text

This gives them the leeway they need to be more aggressive on the page level.

Here’s their anchor text for their “anchor text” page:

Moz anchor text percentage

One could argue that this is “aggressive”. But it’s acceptable because they have authority, trust, and unoptimized anchor text across the site as a whole.

59% is huge on its own, but it’s small relative to their entire site:

example

So what’s the big takeaway?

You shouldn’t model your competitor’s anchor text if you don’t have authority, trust, and unoptimized anchor text across your site.

Then what should you do?

Follow these percentages and you’ll never need to worry about penalties and you’ll still get awesome results.

Safe Anchor Text Percentages That Work

These percentages are not a law. Do what’s best for your situation. However, these ratios have helped me A) avoid getting penalized and B) still drive huge results (without being risky).

  • 70% = Branded Anchors
  • 20% = Naked Link Anchors
  • 5% = Generic Anchors
  • < 5% = Partial Match Anchors
  • < 1% = Exact Match Anchors

Now let me introduce you to a strategy I developing for building a natural anchor text profile.

How to Rank With Less Backlinks

My strategy is “Anchor Text Cycling” and it works like this:

Step 1: Hit your target page with an exact match anchor

You might be wondering:

“Isn’t it dangerous to hit a brand new website with an exact match anchor?”

Nope.

Sites get penalized for their link profiles as a whole.

Not one or two links.

It’s like saying eating McDonalds one time is the reason why someone is overweight.

We know that it’s the combined effect of a bad diet over a period of time that leads to obesity.

The same goes for your link profile!

Now that I got the weird analogy out of the way…

Why do I use an exact match anchor for my first backlink?

A) I want to see how the site reacts

B) I want to establish what my site or the target page is about right away

The next step is to:

Step 2: Hit your site with unoptimized anchor text variations

Use branded, naked link, generic, and keyword variations at this stage.

Step 3: Track your rankings and watch the progress

You can get a decent read on your performance within 1-3 months. If your page isn’t moving, then you need to reassess. The answer is rarely to use more exact match anchor text.

Often times pages aren’t performing well because:

  • The site isn’t strong enough
  • The page doesn’t have enough backlinks
  • The backlinks you do have are low-quality
  • The page is poorly built

If you feel you have a 10/10 on those three facets, then:

Step 4: Hit your site with another exact match anchor (if necessary)

Repeat this process over-and-over until you rank.

The entire point of using anchor cycling is to build a diverse and natural anchor profile.

Do you want to know the secret to a having a “natural” anchor profile?

The key is to be random and avoid patterns.

Take a look at these two examples:

Site #1 is the typical link profile you’ll see when someone is spamming anchor text.

Google’s algorithm can easily conclude that this site is building artificial links. A manual reviewer wouldn’t even be necessary.

Site #2 has a natural and diverse anchor profile.

It will outrank Site #1 with fewer backlinks and less keyword-rich anchor text.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing black, grey, or white hat SEO, this concept still applies to you.

Now that you understand how to cycle your anchors, let me show you WHERE to place your anchors.

Where to Place Your Anchor Text

Every link opportunity requires a unique anchor text strategy.

This is by far the biggest misstep I see people make.

They apply anchor text ratios and use cycling, but they place their anchor text the wrong way.

I would argue that this section is the most important part for you to understand.

Here is a list of every link type and exact anchor text you should use:

Exact & Partial Match Anchors

Concentrate your exact and partial match anchor text on your best link opportunities. “Best” link opportunities are often those that are difficult and expensive to get.

Here are some examples:

1. Niche Relevant Guest Posts

If you can score a link in the body of the content, then use a keyword-rich anchor. But if you can only get an author bio link, then use a branded (or unoptimized) anchor text.

guest posting dead

Google cracked down on spammy guest posting practices a long-time ago. One consistent footprint is when people jam keyword-rich anchors in author bios. Don’t do this.

2. Resource Pages

Resource pages are great opportunities to place exact or partial match anchors.

resource page

Using the title of your resource is an effective (and safe) route as well.

3. Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

I don’t mess around with PBNs anymore, but you should use exact and partial match anchors. You invested money to buy the expired domain, so you should try to get the most out of it.

Go here to get 7 of my favorite untapped link building techniques.

Where to Place Unoptimized Anchors

All foundational (non-editorial) links should unoptimized anchor text.

Some examples include:

  • Paid Directories
  • Traditional Directories
  • Business Citations
  • Press Releases
  • Niche Relevant Blog Comments
  • Web 2.0s
  • Forum Signatures
  • Site-Wide Sidebar or Footer Links
  • Profile Links
  • Social Bookmarks
  • Donations/Sponsorships

Only use branded, naked, or generic anchor text on these link types.

Now let me show you how to handle anchor text whenever you’re using 301 redirects.

How to Handle Anchor Text from a 301 Redirect

A 301 redirect is permanent redirect. All of the anchor text from the page or website being redirected gets transferred to the new page.

Why does this matter?

It matters because spammy links and aggressive anchor text will transfer to your new page or domain.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Avoid redirecting any garbage to your website
  2. Build unoptimized anchors to the new website

This will help combat anchor text over-optimization issues when you redirect.

How to Optimize Tier Two and Tier Three Anchor Text

You can be more liberal with your keyword-rich anchors on tier two and three.

Just don’t go crazy.

Here are tier two ratios that I stick to:

  • Naked links: 40%
  • Generic: 30%
  • LSI, Partial-Match: 25%
  • Exact Match: 5%

The same principles explained above apply here.

Concentrate your keyword-rich anchors on your best opportunities.

Here are my tier three ratios:

  • Naked links: 10%
  • Generic: 10%
  • LSI, Partial-Match: 50%
  • Exact Match: 30%

How to Optimize Anchor Text for Exact & Partial Match Domains

I always tell beginners to avoid exact or partial match domains. Why? Because they are super easy to over-optimize.

But if you already have one, let me show you how to optimize your anchor text the right way.

Here are the ratios I aim for with an exact match domain:

  • Naked Links: 70%
  • Generic: 20%
  • LSI: 5%
  • Partial Match: 1-5%
  • Branded / Exact Match Anchors: 1-5%

You’ll notice a few different things here.

First, I reduce the “Branded” anchor text percentages.

Why?

Because EMDs aren’t actually branded. They’re just keywords in a domain.

I also increase the amount of naked and generic anchor text. This helps combat over-optimization.

But there’s one thing you can do to make your life a lot easier.

Even if your domain is “exactmatchanchortext.com”, you can still create a brand name. So although your domain is “exactmatchanchortext.com”, your brand name could be “Growth Crew”.

Then you can build branded anchor text (“Growth Crew”) without getting any worries.

How to Fix Over-Optimized Anchor Text

Websites rarely get penalized for just having over-optimized anchor text.

That’s because aggressive anchor text strategies are often accompanied by other poor practices. The truth is that websites get penalized because they’re doing a lot of stuff wrong.

Google doesn’t have “Penguin” or “Panda” updates anymore.

However, these concepts still apply. You could theoretically have over-optimized anchor text and not get penalized if you’re doing everything else right.

But like I said:

This is rare.

Most websites with over-optimized anchors also have low-quality links, low-quality content, poor UX, and will often be too aggressive with on-page SEO.

You’ll need to run an SEO audit to tackle these issues.

But let’s just focus on over-optimized anchor text.

The first question is:

Should You Disavow?

I wanted to clear the air before I explain the strategies:

Disavowing is an absolute LAST resort.

There are two situations when it’s warranted:

  1. Your site is getting hit with negative SEO or its been hacked
  2. It’s impossible to remove of the links you built

That said:

You can recover from ALL algorithmic penalties without ever needing to use this tool.

If you have a manual penalty, then it may be necessary (I’ll be addressing manual penalties after this section).

Here are 3 ways to fix over-optimized anchor text without disavowing:

3 Ways to Fix Over-Optimized Anchor Text

1. Remove Links With Commercial Anchor Text (From Spammy Sites)

Before you go buck-wild removing links, listen carefully:

If you remove any link from your profile, your site’s authority will decrease.

EVEN IF THE LINK SUCKS.

You must replace the low-quality links you removed with high-quality links.

Just removing links won’t recover your rankings.

In fact:

It may hurt even more because you’re decreasing your site’s authority.

As I discussed in the section about anchor text placement, you should only use commercial / keyword-rich anchor text on “power” link sources.

If you made the unfortunate mistake of building backlinks on low-quality sources with keyword-rich anchors, then you have two options:

  1. Go back and delete the links.
  2. If you can’t delete the links, then disavow.

After you’ve done all you can do to remove keyword-rich anchors from spammy sources, then it’s time to jump into anchor text dilution.

Please notice that I said “spammy” sources.

Don’t go on a link-deleting spree because you will end up deleting links that are actually helping you.

2. Dilute Your Anchor Text

This is the most common technique and it does work in many cases.

All you are going to do is build unoptimized backlinks to your website with nothing but branded, generic, and naked link anchors.

Absolutely no keyword-rich anchors!

Use the “foundational” links I explained in the previous section to dilute your anchor text profile.

Before Penguin 3.0, you could counter over-optimized anchors by using the dilution technique.

Diluting works, but you need to consider this:

Websites aren’t just penalized because of the existence of low-quality links.

They’re penalized because the ratio of low-quality to high-quality links in their profile is off.

In other words:

You need more quality links to offset the low-quality links. That’s why some websites can “get away” with low-quality links in their profile.

Here are some link types to help you dilute your anchor text profile:

1.) Strong, Relevant Backlinks

These are the most costly, but are also the best for improving your overall link profile. Get as many as you can. Relevancy is king with or without a penalty.

2.) Business Directories / Local Citations

Take the time to create business listings because it’s a perfect way to send quality link unoptimized anchors to your site. Just make sure your NAP-W information is consistent.

3.) LEGIT Social Profiles

Go out and build REAL social profiles for your website. Populate the profiles with your information, content, etc.

Only use the best sites: Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Tumblr, etc.

These sites will give you a nice mix of NoFollow and Follow unoptimized anchors and will build trust for your website.

4.) High-Quality Press Release Distribution

Create a quality press release and distribute it through a quality channel. Press releases are great for quickly getting unoptimized anchors from many different IPs. You will also build diversity in your link profile because of the NoFollow / Follow mix.

3. Use the 301 Penalty Recovery Trick

Remember in an earlier section when I said that anchor text travels through a 301 to the new website?

You are going to use this to your advantage to recover from an algorithmic penalty.

There are two variations of the 301 penalty recovery trick.

Variation #1: Expired Domain > Penalized Domain

For the first variation, you will need to find quality expired domains through a service like Freshdrop. Make sure the anchor profile is clean and has very little keyword-rich anchors.

Look for a domain with branded, generic, and naked link anchors or what some people may refer to as a “natural” anchor profile.

Although you are not necessary using this expired domain for ranking purposes, it’s not a bad idea to find one with solid metrics.

Preferably DR 20 +, DA 20 +, and a Trust Flow of 10 +.

If you can find a domain that is relevant to yours, it will work even better.

Then just 301 redirect the expired domain to your penalized site and track the results.

Variation #2: Links > Penalized Site > New Website

For variation two, you are going to start fresh with a new website, but you are going to piggyback off the authority of your penalized domain (hopefully it has some).

Step 1: Buy a new BRANDED website (avoid EMD, PMD)

Step 2: Build high-quality branded backlinks to your new website
Use business directories, quality paid directories, niche relevant blog comments, press releases, etc. Only use branded anchor text.

Step 3: Build unoptimized backlinks to your penalized domain
The goal is to decrease the percentage of keyword-rich anchors. The percentage all depends on the severity your particular situation.

If you have 70% keyword-rich anchor text, then you will need to get that down to at least 30% or less. If you have 30% keyword-rich anchors, then you will want to get it down to 10% or less.

Step 4: Check your anchor profile with Ahrefs, Majestic, or Open Site Explorer.

Step 5: If you have cut your keyword-rich anchors in half, then it’s time to redirect your penalized site to the new domain.

This works because, A) you are using a new branded website with an established branded text anchor profile, B) you have improved the anchor profile of the penalized website, and C) you have transferred authority to a new domain.

Frequently Asked Questions About Anchor Text

What About Manual Penalties?

It’s less of a headache and much more cost-effective to just start a new website, than to try to get out of a manual penalty.

Like I always tell my clients, getting a manual penalty is like going to prison for a felony.

Although you may get out of prison one day, you are still always going to have the felony on your record.

Do you really think Google wipes the slate clean for a website that was previously given a manual penalty?

Even if you do get the penalty lifted, ranking your site will never be easy and it’s always going to feel like “something is holding you back”.

Changing Anchor Text: Red Flag?

I’ve heard this question a lot and I’ve actually done this many times.

The answer is: sometimes.

I know it’s an annoying answer.

If you want to raise a red flag, then change a non-keyword-rich anchor to a keyword-rich anchor. Google may or may not devalue a link when this happens, but it’s definitely not worth it.

Just leave the link how it is, and go acquire a link somewhere else.

Situations that won’t throw up a red flag:

1. Changing a keyword-rich anchor to a non-optimized anchor – going back and decreasing your amount of commercial anchor text can often increase your rankings. If your exact match anchors or keyword-rich anchors are above 25%, then you may want to consider unoptimizing some of those.

2. Deleting an anchor and placing it within a different part of the article – if you decide to change an anchor, you should always place the new one in a different part of the article. When you do this, it makes the anchor / link “new” in Google’s eyes.

You will be losing an aged link, but in theory, starting with a fresh link.

IMPORTANT: You should only change anchor text under extreme circumstances.

Most over-optimized anchor text issues can be solved with the techniques I listed in the penalty recovery section.

Anchor Text Tracking: Don’t Shoot Blindly at the Target

Tracking your anchor text is absolutely critical if you are building backlinks.

If you aren’t, you are basically shooting at a target blindfolded.

There are two ways to track:

1. Manually input every anchor text into a Google Sheet or Excel file

2. Use a tool like Linkio to streamline your anchor text monitoring and optimization.

I used to track my anchor text manually, but Linkio streamlines the entire process.

They pull anchor text from Ahrefs, Moz, and Google Search Console, which makes life a lot easier.

Regardless:

You need to be tracking your anchor text and optimizing throughout the entire link building process.

Last Word About Anchor Text

Anchor text is one very small piece of the SEO puzzle. Most websites are littered with on-site SEO, SEO content, and backlink quality issues.

These areas need to be tackled first. Once you’ve optimize those well, then dive into anchor text optimization. It can give you the edge you need to dominate your competitors.

Now to you:

Do you feel like an anchor text pro now?

Let me know your thoughts and questions below.

Read More »

7 Awesome 404 Error Pages from The World’s Most Popular Websites

Is there any topic more exciting than 404 errors?

It’s brutally boring, BUT I’ve decided to spice things up a little.

In this article, I’m going to analyze 404 error page designs from the 100 most popular websites in the world.

I’ll also show you how to fix 404 errors at the end.

Let’s jump in.

What is a 404 Error Page?

A 404 error occurs when you land on a page that doesn’t exist on the host website.

Gotch SEO 404 Error

It can be frustrating when you’re a user and that’s why it’s important for SEO. What’s important for users is important for your SEO campaign.

This doesn’t mean you need to “fix” all the 404 pages on your website either.

More on this in a second. There is one universal truth that applies to every website:

Your 404 page design and UX needs to be effective.

Model the some of the terrific 404 pages I found from the most popular websites in the world. Take a look:

Model These 404 Pages

I’ve ranked these 404 error pages based on effectiveness. Not how clever they are. Here we go:

1. eBay

eBay’s 404 page is perfect. It’s helpful for users and it’s also built to convert.

Ebay 404 Error Page

2. Healthline

Healthline’s 404 page works well because it’s on-brand. It also directs users back to the important parts of their website.

healthline 404

3. RetailMeNot

RetailMeNot uses a nice conversion-focused 404 page. You should consider testing this model if you’re running a coupon site.

Retailmenot 404

4. Go.com (Disney)

Go.com combines creativity (which is on-brand for Disney) and effectiveness by offering a search function on their 404 pages. Great job!

Disney 404 error

5. CNET

CNET has a clever and effective 404 error page. It’s effective because of the display ads placed in strategic locations. I also love the “All-Time Favorites” content section.

CNET 404

This is an effective way to send users back into their website’s rabbit hole. They know more dwell time equals more ad revenue.

6. Facebook

Facebook’s 404 page design is on-brand and simple. It gives users enough options to find what they need. Well done.

Facebook 404 Page

7. YouTube

YouTube’s 404 error page is simple and effective. You only have one option and that’s to search.

YouTube 404 Page

It would make sense for Google.com to model YouTube’s 404 page. Not sure why they wouldn’t when search is their bread and butter.

404 Pages NOT to Model

1. Amazon

Amazon’s 404 page caught me off guard. Marketers study Amazon because of its conversion-focused mindset. So what’s going on here? Why are they pushing the “Meet the dogs of Amazon”? agenda on a 404 page?

Amazon 404 Page

I understand if they’re trying to make their company more relatable and “human” and that’s fine. The timing is a little strange.

Let’s step into the mind of the user for a second.

They were looking for something specific and now they’re presented with a distraction. A percentage of people will click to learn more about “the dogs of Amazon”. Then a small percentage of those people will forget what they were even doing on Amazon in the first place.

So, if we’re examining this from a pure conversion perspective, it’s an odd strategy.

The good news is Amazon still shows a prominent search function. It’s not a “bad” 404 error page. It’s just a weird strategy.

2. Google

Surprisingly, Google has a bad 404 page. The page isn’t helpful for users at all. It informs them that they tried to reach a page that doesn’t exist, but what happens next?

Google 404 Error Page

The only option is to hit the back button on their browser or exit. You would think the biggest search engine in the world would have a search function on their 404 error page.

The funny part is another division of their company (YouTube) has a better 404 page. See above.

3. Reddit

I don’t know if Reddit’s team is trying to be clever or this isn’t intentional. It’s a bad 404 error page regardless. It doesn’t direct users anywhere and it gives no guidance.

Reddit 404 Not Found Page

My only assumption is the Reddit team has concluded their user base is intelligent enough to find what they need on their own.

Here’s an interesting fact about my research:

13 of the 100 most popular websites have 404 error pages like Reddit.

4. Spotify

Spotify’s 404 page looks okay on the surface, but there are some issues with the links. It’s a common UX best practice to underline links initially or on a hover. Spotify doesn’t do either.

Spotify 404 page

This makes the links to their “FAQ” and “Community” pages almost invisible. The other issue is the “Go Back” link doesn’t work because they’re using Javascript. Not sure why.

Javascript

How to Fix 404 Errors

The best way to find and fix 404 errors is to use Screaming Frog SEO Spider.

But before you dig in, when should you fix a 404 error?

The answer is sometimes.

Here’s a simple criteria to follow:

  1. 301 redirect a 404 page if there’s a suitable alternative on your website.
  2. 301 redirect a 404 page if it has existing backlinks, traffic, sales, or any other positive KPIs. If you don’t have a relevant page to 301, then redirect it to the homepage.

If a 404 page doesn’t have any positive KPIs, then let it be a 404. Google will crawl it and remove it from the index. I recommend going into Google Search Console and marking the 404s as “fixed”.

It’s not necessary, but it doesn’t hurt.

How to Find 404 Error Pages

Open up Screaming Frog SEO Spider, enter your target domain and start the analysis.

Screaming Frog

Click on the “Response Codes” tab. Then click on the “Filter” dropdown and select “Client Error (4xx)”.

Screaming Frog 404s

Export all the 404 errors.

list of 404 errors

The next step is to take all of your 404 pages and analyze them using Ahrefs. Go to Ahrefs, click on “More” in the navigation and click “Batch analysis”.

Ahrefs Batch Analysis

Enter your URLs and start the analysis.

Ahrefs Bulk Analysis Tool

Click on the “Domains” column and you’ll see what 404 pages have existing backlinks.

Referring Domains Ahrefs

Now 301 redirect the 404 pages (with existing backlinks) to a relevant page.

5 Qualities of Perfect 404 Pages

Here are a few 404 page qualities to emulate based on my analysis of the top websites in the world:

1. Be user-focused

Landing on a 404 page can be frustrating. Help the user as much as you can.

2. Stay on-brand

The best 404 pages stayed on-brand and were creative. Especially Disney:

Disney 404 error

Attention to detail goes a long way.

3. Keep it simple

Don’t overwhelm the user more than they already are. Give them exactly they need to find what they were looking for.

4. Make links look like links

UX 101 right here. Your links should always look like links.

Ebay Help Pages

5. Try to drive conversions (if it makes sense)

Not every website can try to make sales on a 404 page. But if it makes sense in your situation, test it.

Ebay Trending Deals

That’s All!

Optimizing 404 pages won’t have a huge impact on SEO performance, but it can’t be overlooked. Design a quality 404 page and 301 redirect pages that are worth redirecting (based on KPIs and relevance).

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Can a Google Partner Help With SEO?

LEGO stormtrooper an a black background. He looks quite shady as he is half hidden in the shade.

In recent years most former SEO agencies have become Google Partners that is they buy enough Google Ads to be eligible for that badge in the first place.

Can they actually help you with your organic search reach aka SEO though? Aren’t they just “alleging a special relationship with Google”? Let’s find out!

For more than a decade Google has a helpful page for starters called “Do you need an SEO?“. One of the crucial parts of it has been the “No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.” warning:

The “guaranteed rankings” and the “priority submit” expressions are pretty dated SEO lingo by now. They stem from the ancient past. You can ignore those.

Nobody is stupid enough to use such phrases anymore to lure Internet newbies. The “special relationship” – an expression introduced by Google – is more than relevant today though.

In a bizarre twist of events now Google itself offers special relationships to Internet marketing agencies when they buy lots of Google Ads.

How to become a Google Partner? Pay Google!

Google Partner requitements screen shot. Most importantly you need to buy at least 10.000$ worth of Google Ads each quarter.

For many years we were told not to claim to be buddies with Google as that would be misleading potential clients. Sounds like common sense. Yet Google changed that credo.

In recent years this is what exactly happened on a large scale. You can now easily align yourself with the ever growing Google empire.

A few years ago it was still a badge that would say “Google Adwords certified” or something similar. That distinction has gone lost after Google introduced the Google Partners program.

Most business people who visit agency sites might not be aware of the fact that Google Partners are in no way supported by Google when it comes to organic search aka SEO (search engine optimization).

Yet on most agency sites that’s exactly what is alleged. I have found a good example of this wide spread practice on SEO.com (full disclosure: I have been an affiliate of SEO.com in the past):

SEO.com advertises themselves on their homepage as a Google Partner with access to "specialized" Google tools and to a Google employee.

It’s a win win situation for both Google and Internet marketing agencies. Google gets a steady stream of money and agencies can brag about their special connection to the Internet giant.

The only ones who don’t really benefit are the clients who want to have their website optimized for search engines – which nowadays means mostly Google.

The partial screen shot I have posted above is taken from SEO.com as you can see. It’s the highest ranking search engine optimization company on Google (currently #5 from here).

It’s right there on the SEO.com homepage and the wording they use is strikingly similar to what the Google article asking “Do you need an SEO?” says. I highlighted it in red.

They are in no way an exception though. You see those badges all over the place. Even agencies I considered very trustworthy sport them in a misleading way by now.

You can’t solely blame agencies of course. It’s very hard to place a Google Partner badge on your site without making the impression this partnership also applies to your SEO services.

For Google it’s simply a good way to keep Google ads budgets high and make sure agencies are dependent on them for their reputation.

What are Google Partners experts on? Google Ads.

Screen shot from Google's Partner page. Partners specialize in several kinds of ads. No SEO mentioned.

Aren’t Google Partners more knowledgeable and able to connect with Google employees to fast track their clients to the top of search results? Not really. They can and do buy ads though.

The Google Partners clearly explains the currently five options Google Partners specialize in (see also screen shot above):

  1. Search Advertising
  2. Mobile Advertising
  3. Video Advertising
  4. Display Advertising
  5. Shopping Advertising

What the screen shot does not state is also self-evident. We only talk about buying ads on Google services not with other vendors.

What those agencies mostly do is setting up a largely automated system of taking your money and using it to buy Google Ads on a regular basis. The more it remains intact the better for them.

Star Wars robot R2D" is moving alone on a sandy path which looks like part of a desert planet, maybe Tatooine.

Effectively you just pay the agency for a bot that spends your money on autopilot most of the time. Yet the agency gets a significant amount of the budget itself. On the other hand

It’s about making your website visible and findable on the actual search results themselves. They are called organic because you don’t have to pay Google for such reach.

Also the wide spread click fraud does not apply to organic results. Studies show that more than half of ads are never even viewed by a human being.

No matter whether the click has been done by a human or a bot you have to pay for it. Google claims to ignore fake clicks but it does often not work.

Join the rebel alliance!

In a way traditional search engine optimizers like myself are the rebels who bug the seemingly omnipotent Google empire. We don’t let us dominate by the search engine and its business model.

In the beginning we weren’t meant to just convince people to buy ads from Google. We were striving to allow website owners to exist without the need to pay for traffic.

Personally I consider buying ads and optimizing for organic search reach a conflict of interest – like being your taxi driver and driving instructor at the same.

Why would I shoot myself in the foot and teach you how to drive when you can pay me instead for driving you around on a regular basis? That would be idiotic.

There is no incentive to optimize a website for organic reach when you can get easy money by solely being the middleman between business owners and Google Ads.

I also do not use Google Analytics anymore because I do not want to support Google data collecting and sharing policies. They track you all over the Web using multiple means.

I use the self-hosted open source solution Matomo instead. It’s focused on privacy and you don’t send the data to the actual company at all.

4 LEGO Star Wars rebels are standing there ready for anything, Chewbacca on the right among them.

I am a bit of a radical even among the rebels though. In the early days we didn’t have Google Ads yet and SEO was about helping people to optimize their actual website.

Even later on when Google started pushing Ads it was just a temporary means of getting traffic until the actual optimization worked.

Many search engine optimizers also used Google’s then called Adwords for keyword research to find out whether Google’s keyword tools actually disclosed useful numbers. They often did not.

Long story short SEO has never been is still is not about buying traffic from Google. Pay Per Click ads are just a means to make Google rich and to remain dependent on the gatekeeper.

When you decide to buy traffic from Google you actually waste funds you could have used on search engine optimization. Like a drug user you will always have to pay to stay high on Google.

You can optimize your website to make it rank instead. When investing in SEO you could actually improve your

or create content in the first place. Your product descriptions are not content. Something that has value by itself is actual content not simply packaging. Think bottle vs liquid inside.

Live by the Google, die by the Google!

LEGO Darth Vader kills a storm trooper by applying the force.

Search engine optimization the way I practice it not only helps you with search but also with social media and direct traffic.

It’s also important to make sure that the people who arrive on your site actually find what they seek and do what they should do like

  • subscribe
  • sign up
  • buy

When you solely rely on Google Ads you may end up broke sooner or later. That’s one of the main reasons startups fail. They mainly buy traffic from the gatekeepers Google and Facebook.

They fail to establish their brand, build an actual audience of regular users because they trick themselves into believing that they can ask Google and Facebook to deliver fresh traffic forever.

Your “target audience” is finite though in many cases, especially when you offer a highly specialized SaaS (Software as a Service) product.

When you push your ads to the same people over and over you’ll get ignored after a while. You need to establish

  • authority
  • credibility
  • trust

by sharing, engaging and outreach or in short SEO. Yes, that’s the explanation of the modern SEO acronym to me. I’ll elaborate on that in another post.

The same thing applies to small businesses that have only a local reach. After a while everybody knows you in one way or another.

Who are you in the eyes of search users? Are you that company that has to use ads to get people to visit them or are you a company you already like and others recommend as well?

When I use search I tend to click familiar sounding names in the results. The same applies to ads on a side note. I’m not alone, even Neil Patel relies on brand building.

Reliance on fresh traffic from Google is a recipe for disaster in the long term. You live by the Google and you die by the Google.

For many small business the “1000 true fans” business model is perfectly sufficient. You don’t always need a steady stream of new people.

Of course I refer to faithful customers. For example I am with the same barber for more than a decade. I don’t need to look up Google every time I want a new haircut.

Are you a friend of the Google empire?

Search results for [google partner seo] showing many companies claming they are Google Partners when it comes to SEO.

In general it’s not a good sign when someone’s main selling point is being a friend of the Google empire. In the middle ages it was called nepotism.

Nowadays it’s a bit like being a doctor who is partnering with the pharma industry. Who is s/he really working for? What’s her or his goal?

I’d rather look for someone who is truly independent and does not have to resort to such alleged relationships. It’s self-evident really isn’t it?

Of course there are still some knowledgeable SEO experts working for agencies that are Google Partners but you can never know as on outsider.

Also the incentive to keep a client paying for ads for years might be more tempting than ensuring the long term success of organic SEO efforts. Thus

some ethical agencies have stopped offering both Google ads and organic reach optimization at the same time.

They have either split and run two separate agencies now depending on the business model – just like you would split up a company offering taxi fares and driver’s licenses.

Some agencies simply offer only Google ads by now. This way the wrong impression of being buddies with Google does not mislead potential SEO clients.

Others simply focus on organic reach via search engine optimization and alternative ways of improving your organic reach. Think social media and direct traffic.

You might want to consider such a step when you won an agency or work at one before your online reputation might suffer.

Do you depend on Google Ads?

Ideally one day you can run your website yourself without continuous ad spend and only occasional or low level SEO activity unless you pay for

Those tasks can be performed by your team though without an external agency once you have taught them social media and content best practices or they’ve read the above linked guides.

Your website is well optimized and the evergreen content is good enough to earn links when the SEO is done holistically and with due diligence.

I had clients a decade ago who still benefit from my link magnets to this day. What did I do? I just created evergreen content and well optimized pages that still rank high.

Of course you still depend on Google when solely relying on organic traffic from the search giant but you can embrace other means of gaining traction as well.

Optimization for search, social media and direct audiences is not mutually exclusive. Often it’s the same people using different tools.

Buying ads sadly often means not optimizing your site at all. At best dedicated landing pages will be created that are just trying to convert one time visitors.

Visitors who return and thus so called retention are the ones to look for and after. Forcing new people down the sales funnel can ostracize them for good.

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