Avoid these mistakes of backlinking

Avoid these mistakes that we made in our early days of SEO and you’ll be on a better path.

Sitting on the throne of internet marketing mastery is very self congratulatory. But before the glory days, we took the usual steps of most that start a business online: We made a ton of mistakes when it came to our backlinking strategy!

It wouldn’t be off the mark to assume a significant percentage of our readers did the same in the early days.

In some ways, the the learning experience was useful. Some of the sites worked really well initially. The regret is that, due to a poor backlinking strategy, we eventually lost ranking.

Once your branding has lost trust and authenticity, it’s really hard to get it back.

It’s an ecommerce’s nightmare scenario: everything that had been running fine for months comes to a juddering halt. The revenue suddenly drops. Traffic has plummeted. What happened? A big, wet Google slap is usually the answer.

We’ve been through this and it wasn’t fun.

We had a site that assisted real estate investors with news, opinions and relevant affiliate partner offers. We had built up a loyal following within the first couple of years.

But then we took a wrong turn.

We took our eye off the ball and outsourced our SEO to a (poorly researched) company. They had a well crafted website and truth be told, it was the slick marketing guff that got us. But, as it eventually turned out, they had a toxic methodology to link building.

It wasn’t our intention to churn and burn, but burn we did!

So what forced us to use a poor SEO company? Let’s start at the beginning.

The following image charting our traffic levels for the last few years paints a clear picture.

Can you see the cliff face drop? Chart courtesy of SEMRush

We had great natural traffic in 2011 and most of 2012. Our initial intention was to more than double our natural traffic to 2,000 visitors per month by 2013.

While this figure of 2,000 per month might not seem a lot, we were in a really competitive niche within the investment market. The traffic landing on the page was highly convertible and we built up a great newsletter database.

However, the competition became fierce and upped their game. Dwindling traffic in 2013 meant one thing – desperation! We started hammering our opt-in email database with too many newsletters and offers. In short, we lost our way.  We explore this in more depth in our {LINK}avoid mistakes in email marketing{/LINK} article.

So after that didn’t work, what did we do? A hastily drawn up back linking strategy with the SEO company mentioned earlier. You can see where this is going, right?

The learning experience of a poor back linking strategy

The problems was that the SEO company we used had been back linking to spammy sites with poor PR. Furthermore, the back linked sites were of no relevance. Ultimately, we became associated with spammy practice.

The sad thing is we were still using excellent content writers through to early 2014. They were still producing high quality and relevant articles but it was going to waste. What benefit was there to producing fresh articles if, in the background, we were being blindsided by poor SEO practice? None whatsoever.

A few months went by without seeing any consistent improvement in traffic. And then it hit us – we’d received the dreaded Google slap. By now, we’d lost our way and it was hard to get back to our old selves.

Even using the disavow tool provided by Google wasn’t going to save us. We’d lost our brand reputation by now and new players in the market superseded us.

What was the problem with the back linking strategy?

In 2010, we had obtained natural links from other high PR domains that were relevant to us and this was purely by chance as we were contributing to a few investment forums and had our link contained within the signature.

In addition to this, we had a few interspersed inbound links from reputable sites.

It should be noted, for this particular site, we didn’t spend a single penny in pay per click, so all our traffic was natural:

We took the above snapshot in 2016. To be fair, even though we’ve lost a lot of our links (as they were mostly poor anyway or through the disavow tool), the spread above is a good mix of follow and nofollow links. It would be good to have a few image links in addition to the text links.

The problem arose with the TWO seo companies that we used. Unfortunately, with both services, the methods they used:

  • were not focussed
  • were not specific
  • were border line black hat SEO techniques

That is not to say that we absolve ourselves from any blame.

In fact, we quite firmly point the finger at ourselves as WE should have been taking care of OUR business.

It was up to us to make sure that we read the reports that we received. By doing this, we could investigate where the backlinks were placed and the quality of those inbound links.

As you’ve probably guessed, we didn’t have this attitude back then and adopted a ‘laissez faire’ outlook which is completely irresponsible on our part.

Good SEO reports don’t necessarily mean good SEO implementation

The services we used must have had some kind of automated system of linking. Both claimed it was manual. This didn’t make sense as the back linking was:

  • all over the web without any connection
  • of no relevance to real estate or investment

To the credit of the second service we used, they did segment the report, demonstrating from where the links had come from e.g. social media, wikis, blogs and so on.

So the report format was good. Each tab shows what work was done in each category.

Drilling down into the blog posts tab, the following is what the you would get. The table in purple is our input to the excel file:

The above is just a snapshot of the back links. It rolled on for another 50 rows. We can see the SEO company tried to have some bearing to the our niche industry. However, the relevance was tenuous at best.

The Page Authority (PA) according to MOZ were all the lowest possible scores, so the link value was poor.

Again, we need to point out here that we have no interest stating which SEO service provider did this report as we don’t want to call out on companies that we do things different to. Our intention is to show our mistakes and not the possible mistakes of others.

So if you pay for cheap SEO services, will you get cheap results?

That isn’t necessarily the case. You can still pay cheap rates if you look hard enough, but you need to project manage the entire arrangement. As a bare minimum, you should give:

  • a clear outline of exactly what needs to be done
  • to what standard you expect the work
  • an understanding of what type of links and where
  • a timeframe of when the work needs to be completed by
  • an agreement by all parties of how the payments are to be structured
  • an agreement on a ‘snag’ of the work and to what degree can work be amended

In fact, many of the SEO service companies will often take your cash and then find even cheaper people to do the grunt work, making a margin on top.

The difference is that if you were delegating the work, then you would be able to better direct and micro-manage the backlinking strategy.

As a very crude comparison, it’s like doing a renovation to a house.

Unless you are paying top dollar for a project manager, then it’s probable that it will be just the main contractor that assigns workers and labourers to do the smaller ‘bitesize’ tasks.

Ultimately, until you return to the house, you’re not going to have any idea on how it’s going to work out.

However, if you have at least a mid level developed understanding of renovation, then you would have better control of what happens. The confidence would be there to dictate what needs to be done and how.

So if you aren’t wanting to do the link building yourself, you need to either:

  • Do your research and pay a little higher to get a better ‘project manager’
  • Get to grips with the fundamentals of SEO and become the project manager yourself

So you can use things like fiverr.com but you need to be on top of it and understand what you need to do and where.

As an example, we sometimes use a site  called Pro Bloggers to find content writers. It’s also quite a good site when outsourcing SEO work.

Let’s be honest – as a relative newbie to the world of SEO and SEM almost a decade ago, we were duped by slick and sexy marketing.

Be on your guard and don’t be sold by awesome graphics, charts and glossy marketing material!

Just because a service provider is able to provide excellent sales material, does not in any way mean they are able to deliver on those promises.

That’s a general rule of thumb, offline or online, but we can understand how new entrants to the market can easily be swayed by such tactics.

Do we conduct the best backlinking strategy now?

Err… no. We won’t say that our way is the absolute optimized way, but we’re in a better position than 5 years ago. We made mistakes, but these have led us to an improved position. SEO professionals use a variety of techniques that – some better, some worse.

We just have our way of how to do back linking and you may be interested in reading about it.

In summary, the following is what we would do (and what we now do) if we outsource our back linking strategy:

1Make sure you do a thorough check of the companies you outsource to. Find out things like how long they have been offering such a service and find genuine reviews.
2Ask for example reports beforehand to see where they link to. Even reports that are a few months old are still fine. From this, see the links they have placed and if they’re still there.
3Guide them to link to the specific industry type that you are involved in. If they don’t understand or don’t have the patience to understand your sector, then you know they really don’t care and are just chasing the dollar
4Your business is to look after your business – don’t pass on the buck to someone else. If you can’t do it yourself, then delegate the work to someone that can

Good luck with your backlinking strategy!

Remember, if there are any articles you’d like to submit here about your mistakes, then submit them to us and we’ll be review them.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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