Journo intel: Christopher Williams, business editor of The Telegraph, on digital news, cricket, and Sunday-type journalism

Previously the business editor of just The Sunday Telegraph, Christopher Williams now holds the title across all seven print and digital editions of the media group. In a webinar with our B2B PR media relations team, Christopher shared valuable insights into digital news subscriptions, the future of business journalism, and climate change, among others.

How has The Telegraph fared during the pandemic?

The pandemic coerced many people to adopt digital consumption habits they didn’t have before, a tendency The Telegraph greatly benefitted from, says Christopher. The broadsheet is now the biggest in the UK with a total number of online and print subscriptions of 675,000 – with online outstripping print at a ratio of more than 2:1 and still growing. This growth rate puts The Telegraph well on track to meet its goal of one million subscribers and 10 million registered users by 2023.

In line with what the paper has done for the past 180 years, business journalism, and sections like cricket and radio reviews, form a core part of its digital offering and restore The Telegraph’s offer to its readers, Christopher points out.

Doing journalism on the front foot

Whether online or offline, readers favour insightful reporting. That’s why Christopher firmly believes that, like any good news article, the best business journalism tells a good story with a compelling lead. In the past, old-style business articles served as a conduit for market data, but today a business writer’s job is to be more ambitious and journalistic. They need to find and break stories and pair comments and analysis in a way that’s worth paying for.

To engage its online subscription audience, The Telegraph offers Sunday-type journalism throughout the week with features and in-depth exclusives on trends that are worth reading, Christopher explains. “Report the world as you find it rather than as you want it to be” is this hardened scribe’s motto.

A day in the life of a business editor

With seven issues to compile each week, Christopher’s day starts at 9am with a routine news meeting followed by a features and comment meeting with the editor at 10am. Here they plot the two main features of the day, who the columnists would be and their topics. At 10:30am, there’s another news meeting where the editorial team review the story list, identify exclusive news angles, and dispatch reporters on their daily beats. At 3pm the group meets again to decide which articles go where and compile page mock-ups, and at 5:30pm, they finalise the process. All meetings are digital, and the use of paper, although still important, is increasingly waning.

Alongside these processes, Christopher plans and keeps a close check on the Sunday edition. Starting on a Tuesday, he commissions features, goes through the news list on Thursdays, and on Fridays works on both the Sunday and daily editions. He believes producing Sunday papers as a separate entity makes no sense – rather, all the editions “should be connected”. It’s essential that his team of journalists work in this manner throughout the week, says Christopher. He’s been in the office throughout the pandemic and, as of September, brought everyone back to the office “because creativity and ideas flow more easily when everyone engages physically.”

Changes at the business desk

The narrowing gap between business and technology prompted The Telegraph to fold its Technology Intelligence channel into the business desk. “Our readers have a great interest in the bustling tech sector in Europe, and because of the rise to prominence of fintech, in particular, we no longer felt it necessary to have tech as a separate structure,” explains Christopher. The paper has also reduced its business news coverage of Silicon Valley, a market dominated by The New York Times.

However, the hugely popular Economic Intelligence newsletter will retain its brand since the writers – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Jeremy Warner – have their unique followers. According to Christopher, the newsletter is an “effective way to reach busier professionals while also creating a useful funnel to attract new subscribers.”

Key focus points for reporters

From a broader perspective, the continued contraction of public markets has shifted the focus to private investment. “A vast amount of public regulation, partly to do with low interest rates, has made life difficult for public markets. Therefore, the FTSE is no longer where the action is; we only witness the odd takeover bid now and then. Instead, private investment is what’s driving business and the economy today,” asserts Christopher.

“Themes that will dominate business news for the next few months would be inflation and shortages, whether it’s to do with energy or lorry drivers, the decline of public markets, or the undervaluing of UK assets.” Christopher is quite forthright about the type of stories he wants on his pages. “Readers are enticed by themes relating to electric vehicles, the movement of tech through the real economy, manufacturing, commodities, and climate change. To cover these regularly, I sometimes move journalists away from traditional patches. Another key theme is digital assets since it affects every economy and business today. Therefore, all our reporters are urged to interrogate this theme whenever they’re granted access to a C-suite contact.”

Since journalism, by definition, is about rapid change, the ubiquity of climate change makes it difficult for journalists to cover climate change in general, says Christopher. “To cover it daily, we look at real-world changes instead and interrogate these rather than writing about climate change as a thing. While The Telegraph will be covering COP26 in Glasgow at the end of October, we’re still not sure how we will tackle it from a business perspective. Climate change is, however, increasingly part of the discussion with business leaders.”

Asked in which tech areas Britain should be succeeding in over the next decade, Christopher had some sage advice. “While the UK isn’t a tech superpower, we’re an amazing creative superpower that punches well above its weight. We have enormous talent in television production and visual effects, and I believe we should build on this strength rather than trying to emulate the likes of Facebook.”

That’s all from Christopher, but if you would like to learn more about how we conduct media relations at TopLine Comms or how you can circumnavigate traditional media outlets altogether using B2B SEOget in touch today!

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Trends, the value of internal linking and the “super index” – what’s new in SEO

As a B2B SEO agency, we’re constantly reading up on the latest search engine news so we can keep our clients on page one. Here are some of the stories from the past month that have had us talking around the (virtual) watercooler.

What is Google’s “super index”?

Google’s “Search Off the Record” podcast is a must-listen – it involves the teams quizzing one another on parts of the algorithm that they don’t directly work on, providing a rare opportunity to peek behind the curtain.

In a recent episode, John Mueller revealed that every part of search, like images, news and video, gets its own index. Google then takes the results from these indices to form a “super index” which determines what you actually see on the SERP. Clever!

Internal linking is your secret weapon

We revisited this excellent Search Engine Journal article about internal linking, which may well be the most underrated and underused tactic. In response to a question about getting internal product pages to rank organically, Google’s John Mueller recommended internal linking as the solution – both from blog posts and the rest of the website. Speaking of internal linking… have you heard about our SEO services?

Trends is trending

Google is repping the Trends tool on the search blog (the one-stop-shop for what’s new on Google’s end). Trends is extremely useful for building an SEO strategy. Our team uses it for link building info sources. First, we work out the trend, then we embed it a series of graphs in a blog, and then naturally link to it as a source.

The blog also included some fun facts about Trends:

  • Google suggests using “topics” instead of “terms” when possible. Topics are language agnostic and account for spelling variations (and mistakes!), as well as multiple names for the same thing.
  • Trends is real-time over the past week, and the data is minute-by-minute.
  • You can use Trends to see how different places search for the same thing and compare up to five topics or search terms across geographies.
  • The OECD uses Trends to track GDP each week, in between its quarterly releases, to get a more granular view of what’s happening to the world’s economy – something I’m sure our fintech clients would be interested to hear.

To find out what our SEO team can do for you, get in touch today.

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SEO case study: Generating links for local SEO

Access Self Storage, which offers personal and business storage solutions across the UK, needed help with link building to support its SEO strategy.

Objectives

Access needed to generate high quality followed links and brand mentions from local news sites.

The strategy

We developed a PR-led link building campaign in which we asked local authorities under the Freedom of Information Act about parking fines in their areas.

On behalf of Access we contacted 429 authorities and received 250 responses.

We crunched the data, to find that over three million parking tickets worth over £100m had been issued, which is quite an interesting number!

And our team got to work pitching the story to the media.

The results

The media loved the story, which was published over 70 times, generating:

  • 68 followed links from local news sites across the UK
  • With an average Domain Authority of 50

These links have gone a long way towards boosting the company’s organic search results and saw Access ranking first nationally for the keyword ‘self storage’ (which gets over 27,000 searches a month) for the first time ever.

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B2B SEO case study: Generating £2m of leads in 2 years

In April 2019, we launched TopLine Film, a new brand for our video production company. That meant a brand new website that needed to start generating leads fast.

The B2B SEO objectives

  • Get the new site up and running quickly.
  • Get that new site to rank on Google for keywords that a client might use when looking for a video company.
  • Generate organic search traffic and leads.

Some things we didn’t do

This B2B SEO case study needs to highlight some of the most common website launch mistakes we actively avoided, including:

  • Expecting our web development agency to handle SEO. We knew that generating organic leads was crucial to our success as a business, so we didn’t leave this important task to people whose specialism is building websites.
  • Get caught up in aesthetics. We knew that the site needed to look great (and we think it does), but we really cared that the site should function as a lead gen machine and so our CEO’s personal preference for minimalism took a back seat: from a B2B SEO perspective, it had to host a lot of written as well as visual content.
  • Do the design first and then worry about SEO later. That’s kind of like building a house first and then choosing where the rooms will go. It wastes so much time.
  • Kill the pages on the old site and then start a new one. Nope, instead we forwarded and redirected URLs to make sure we didn’t lose any traffic, link equity or a single potential lead.

The things we did do

This B2B SEO case study shows the importance of following a really clear process. We started with detailed keyword research, looking for keywords that:

  • Suggested the searcher needed to make a video or animation (e.g. “video animation company” i.e. in the buying phase) and wasn’t just looking for more information on the subject (e.g. “video animation” i.e. in the research phase).
  • Were actually being searched for – sounds obvious but you’d be surprised by how many times SEO agencies show off first place rankings for keywords with no search volume.
  • We thought we could rank for – for this we checked out the competition to see who we had to outrank.

We then had a long list of 266 keywords we wanted to target. We took this list, and used it to guide us in deciding which pages we needed to create – resulting in 44 core pages and over 100 blog topics – and where they would sit in the new site’s directory structure i.e. our corporate video page would be the parent page for lots of different types of corporate videos (otherwise known as the child pages e.g. a child page specially about testimonial videos), thus ensuring Google recognises TopLine Film as a corporate video production expert.

We then set about producing our web copy. We knew that we needed a fair bit of copy on each page, and so we came up with a process for deciding what needed to be included. This process covered:

  • Highlighting our USPs – we interviewed our production team on this.
  • Researching the competition – to make sure our content was more comprehensive and engaging.
  • Using Google’s Keyword Planner and the Moz keyword suggestion tool to identify which additional keywords to use on each page.
  • Ensuring we included trust signals, like testimonials, client logos and award wins.
  • Making it very easy to figure out how to contact us.
  • Using our target keywords and synonyms naturally throughout the text.
  • Structuring content to target available featured snippets we uncovered during the keyword research process.
  • Drafting dedicated machine readable structured data for each page, to be exclusively consumed by search engines and uploaded in the backend of the CMS. It contained information on TopLine Film’s brand details (logo, address, contract details, social profiles etc.) and the service highlighted on each page: its name and description (e.g. corporate video production); the target audience it was intended for (e.g. CMOs); who was providing the service (us!); and other services we offered it was related to (e.g. case study videos, HR videos, internal comms videos, recruitment videos, testimonial videos and training videos)in order to build relevance for that particular type of video production.
  • Strategically linking to other pages on our site using optimised anchor text.

We had three people proof the copy for each page to make sure we were doing our best work. All the while, our web developers were working on the look and feel of the site, and our graphic designers were choosing imagery.

We tested the new site and verified it in Search Console

Prior to the site going live we crawled it in the testing environment with our web crawling software to identify any technical issues or orphan pages. We also set our technical SEO attack dogs on it to look for any technical SEO problems ranging from errant canonical tags to problems with mobile/desktop content parity. We ensured it was hidden from search engines while we did this to avoid any duplicate content headaches – something that would have truly hindered the success of this B2B SEO case study.

We migrated and redirected popular video content

We’d previously created video content on the TopLine Comms site in the form of blogs and landing pages which attracted a lot of monthly traffic and offsite links. To ensure we kept as much of this traffic and PageRank as possible we identified these assets and then planned where they would live on the new site. This enabled us to create redirects in advance which took visitors, and search engines, to TopLine Film instead, as soon as they were activated.

We took care of offsite signals…

To ensure Google understood TopLine Film was an ‘entity’ in itself we had to create an online presence – this included creating its own Google My Business and social profiles, while also ensuring staff updated their professional social profiles. We also commissioned research to run a PR campaign for initial brand and link building purposes.

We populated the site with the content

When all the text and imagery was ready, we populated the site with content and published it. We submitted a sitemap to Search Console containing all of the new pages and individually requested Google crawled each of our important lead generation landing pages. We also kept an eye on the Index Coverage report in Search Console to ensure Google wasn’t struggling to reach any parts of the new site.

Then we started blogging

We kept the site up to date with regular blogs. But we made sure our blog content had a purpose. We were guided by:

And we started link building (and brand building)

We’re fortunate to have the backing of our B2B PR agency team, who worked with us on link building and brand building. We provided comments on marketing blogs, produced surveys that we pitched in to the media, encouraged our teams to develop profiles on networking sites and offered thought leadership articles to industry titles.

The results

image for the B2B SEO case study: Generating £2m of leads in 2 years blog

Want to replicate the success of this B2B SEO case study? Check out our B2B SEO agency page for everything you need.

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VisitEngland.com and VisitBritain.com website user numbers

VisitEngland website user numbers

VisitBritain website user numbers

MonthUsersMonthUsers
Jan-18249,131Jan-18412,864
Feb-18224,524Feb-18421,272
Mar-18278,666Mar-18600,739
Apr-18282,691Apr-18350,268
May-18291,760May-18395,887
Jun-18246,622Jun-18382,921
Jul-18155,059Jul-18416,455
Aug-18269,379Aug-18999,617
Sep-18220,386Sep-181,387,402
Oct-18208,549Oct-183,102,263
Nov-18186,622Nov-181,033,616
Dec-18170,756Dec-18371,529
Jan-19223,471Jan-19544,773
Feb-19219,481Feb-19587,406
Mar-19299,854Mar-191,059,286
Apr-19285,397Apr-19415,195
May-19244,619May-19471,794
Jun-19223,190Jun-19548,063
Jul-19273,800Jul-19739,014
Aug-19280,411Aug-19560,871
Sep-19171,875Sep-19684,949
Oct-19185,041Oct-19640,921
Nov-19230,883Nov-19553,637
Dec-19185,773Dec-19583,299
Jan-20186,750Jan-20700,693
Feb-20164,898Feb-20695,982
Mar-20115,271Mar-20562,739
Apr-2076,371Apr-20342,574
May-20112,216May-20460,052
Jun-20163,208Jun-20487,148
Jul-20302,680Jul-20740,138
Aug-20313,967Aug-20492,333
Sep-20199,012Sep-20380,242
Oct-20178,317Oct-20400,600

Find out more about our brand video production and animation services. 

How to write a comprehensive website policy

Your website is the connector between you and your audience. How you present the information on the website will determine whether you’ll build trust or chase the visitors away. Every single piece of information you share will contribute to your brand’s image, and website policy is no different.

The website policy includes very important information. However, its relevance and value are often overlooked. This is why confusing and incomprehensible website policies aren’t a rarity on the web.

In order to establish trust and win over new users, you need a well-written website policy. Without an easy-to-understand website policy, the visitors will give up on trying to comprehend your writing or miss out on relevant data.

To create a comprehensible website policy for your website visitors, consider the following tips.

Use Clear and Plain Language

You never know who can stumble upon your website. People of different education, experiences, and jobs will read the policy. With that in mind, you need to use every day, simple language. Or simply put – plain language.

What does plain language refer to? Here are a few characteristics:

  • Common words and phrases
  • Short and uncomplicated sentences
  • Concise and well-organized paragraphs
  • Clear writing style
  • No jargon
  • Active voice (avoid passive voice as much as you can)

If you must include some technical terms, provide a brief and simple explanation.

You can test your content for readability with the help of online readability tools. For wide audiences, aim at 6th to 7th-grade reading level.

Remember that plain language is for everyone. Even if your website aims to attract experts in a certain industry or people with Ph.D. degrees, no one wants to tire their mind with overly technical website policy.

Segment the Information

An essential feature of any comprehensible content is the segmentation of information. Creating sections for different groups of information ensures that your writing is organized and understandable.

No one is a big fan of huge blocks of text. They are intimidating and overwhelming. That’s why sections present the perfect solution for digestible and understandable content.

When writing your policy, organize the information you want to share in segments. Preferably, each segment will be sectioned off with subheadings.

The benefit of subheadings is that they help users find a specific piece of information in no time. Maybe they’ll want to revise some segment of your policy later on. The sections will help them spot the information they need within seconds.

Aside from the typical information on what type of data you will collect, why, and so on, make sure that you include a section on cookie policy. Cookies can also collect some information, and your website visitors should know about it.

You can also use bullet points or numbering for the information within sections. This helps you to further organize information and make it more precise.

Write in a Concise Manner

Write what needs to be said. Nothing more. Website policy needs to obtain crucial information about your website, and that should be your measure.

Any sentence that isn’t sufficient should be deleted. The more concise your website policy is, the more comprehensive it will be.

Of course, you shouldn’t omit information just to shorten your policy. Writing concisely simply refers to sharing information that is necessary in the simplest way.

How to make your policy more concise, you wonder? Well, start with paying attention to your sentences. Try to spot unnecessary words or phrases that can be simplified. That’s one of the ways to make your policy more concise.

Also, be direct and stick to the point. It can be helpful if you outline the policy prior to writing. Thus, you’ll have guidance on what you need to cover, and you won’t leave yourself much room for redundant additions.

Don’t Hesitate to Seek Out Writing Help

Website visitors expect a professionally written website policy. If you can’t deliver that, find someone who can.

If you are uncertain about your writing skills, or you are more of a creative type, not a “website policy writing” type, hire a writer. You can collaborate with a freelance writer or with writing services such as https://subjecto.com/ that can connect you with writing experts.

One of the reasons for the lack of quality of website policies is that website owners can’t commit to this task. However, they also don’t want to admit that they aren’t cut out for it. What they end up with, in that situation, is a poorly written, confusing policy.

If you don’t have the concentration or willpower to do it, that’s understandable. Hire a writer who will give their best and write a policy worthy of readers’ time. Website visitors won’t mind.

Proofread and Edit the Policy

There is not a piece of writing in the world that should be published without proofreading and editing. No matter how experienced you are in writing, proofreading and editing are unavoidable steps.

Edit your content and make tweaks and tweezes where needed. After you are finished with writing, step away from the policy, and come back later to revise it. Focus on the flow of the text and how understandable it is.

Getting someone to read your policy will be of huge help. Another pair of eyes can spot inconsistencies and mistakes that you can’t.

Proofreading is the cherry on top. Make the final revision of your policy and mainly focus on potential errors and misused words. There are plenty of online proofreading tools and apps that can speed up this process. However, you should always read and finalize the editing of the policy yourself, as the tools can’t know your intent and goals.

Final Thoughts

A comprehensible website policy is your path towards presenting your website as trustworthy. Once the visitors find all the information they need in your easy-to-understand policy, they’ll be more open to exploring your website.

Use these tips as a checklist for creating a comprehensible website policy. Write and rewrite the content as many times as you need until you are left with a simple, concise, segmented, and readable policy.

3 B2B link building campaign examples

It’s 2021 and we are seeing a huge influx of companies looking for B2B SEO support to replace lead gen strategies (e.g. events and direct sales) that are simply no longer viable. We stand out from other SEO agencies in the way we build links. As a B2B SEO agency, our approach to link building can be defined as PR-led. We analyse your personas, research your target audience, and plan content around topics that will engage and delight them. Here are 3 B2B link building campaign examples that have delivered.

Building links with data

We recently collected data via requests under the Freedom of Information Act on behalf of Access Self Storage. The campaign aimed to uncover which councils have the highest average parking ticket cost. This data-led campaign generated over 60 pieces of online coverage including 60+ high quality inbound links, from the likes of the Scotsman and the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Building links with advice

We have heaps of examples where our own team members and our clients have shared their expertise and advice on authoritative sites. For example,

  • Our own SEO expert Luke writing in B2B Marketing about using structured data.
  • Luke advising tech experts on SEO on the Databox blog
  • Our client Celerity advising businesses on deploying new solutions in New Digital Age
  • Bullhorn advising businesses on future-proofing their CRMs in Information Age

Links through business profiles

There is always the opportunity to profile exciting new businesses and these profiles very often lead to links. Take for example, our client Quinn being profiled in Forbes.

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10 common SEO myths debunked

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a crucial part of any digital marketing strategy. But with so many buzzwords, ‘expert’ opinions and guides on the topic, there are naturally many SEO myths out there.

Here are ten SEO myths you might have heard – and why they are wrong.

SEO myth #1: it doesn’t work

It does. There are lots of companies out there generating a lot of organic traffic and qualified leads using SEO. Google is investing A LOT into free SEO resources (which can all be found collated in one place at the recently launched Google Search Central) and has even started publishing SEO case studies – focussed on how companies have used SEO to increase revenues.

SEO myth #2: what you spend on AdWords affects your organic ranking

It does not. It doesn’t make sense. This is why (straight from the horse’s mouth):

“We’ve heard people ask if we design our search ranking systems to benefit advertisers, and we want to be clear: that is absolutely not the case. We never provide special treatment to advertisers in how our search algorithms rank their websites, and nobody can pay us to do so.”

Source: https://blog.google/products/search/how-google-organizes-information/

SEO myth #3: it’s a one-time thing

It would be great if you could pay an SEO magician to wave their magic wand and sort your SEO permanently. But that simply isn’t the case. Like most things in life, it requires continued hard work, adjustments, research and reporting.

Search engines are constantly changing their algorithms, so tweaks need to be made on an ongoing basis. Competitors can move in on your rankings, so it’s important to keep improving, if you want to keep that sweet organic traffic. Basically, anyone who tells you that they can sort your SEO on a one-off project basis is not going to.

SEO myth #4: you need to include your keyword a certain amount of times

One of the most common SEO myths is that there is an optimal level of keyword density required in content. Search engines consider so much more than the number of times a keyword is mentioned – they consider external and internal links, user behaviour, images, semantically related phrases and website folder structure, amongst other things. So don’t get hung up on keyword density – you’ll be wasting your time and you’ll probably jeopardise the quality of your content, too. If you’re interested in finding out a bit more about how Google understands language, then meet BERT.

SEO myth #5: keywords aren’t a thing anymore

Yeah they obviously are. How can you rank for apples if you only ever write about pears? Keyword density might not be a thing, but keywords are. Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller explained this to Search Engine Land’s news editor Barry Schwartz:

“…I think, in general, that there’s probably always gonna be a little bit of room for keyword research because you’re kind of providing those words to users. And even if search engines are trying to understand more than just those words, showing specific words to users can make it a little bit easier for them to understand what your pages are about and can sometimes drive a little bit of that conversion process.”

It’s all about balance. If your content is user-friendly and topic-focused, you’re likely to include your keyword (and variations of it) naturally anyway. So, make sure that it’s included, but make sure that it is used in context, too.

SEO myth #6: content doesn’t matter, it’s about design

How you design and structure your website is important when it comes to SEO, more so than ever before in fact – speed and mobile friendliness is paramount to organic search engine success (speed is already a ranking factor but Core Web Vitals – focussed on how quickly content loads – will become a new ranking factor from May 2021. More on them here: https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2020/11/timing-for-page-experience).

It’s no good having a perfect design if you don’t have good quality content on your site. As mentioned above, it’s all about balance. Unfortunately Google and other engines cannot currently conduct image analysis so still require text to crawl and digest.

SEO myth #7: mobile and desktop are the same

If you have a responsive site then there are often differences between the mobile resized version of your website and the desktop version. You may not realise the content changes (e.g. headers or ‘Read more’ sections disappear or the number of internal links change) when the website resizes. Likewise if you’re running light and speedy accelerated mobile pages (AMP) in parallel to your main site, then make sure your AMP carry the same content.

SEO myth #8: SEO is cheap

It definitely shouldn’t be. This is a myth perpetuated by old school spammy SEO agencies that will employ low cost tactics that could see you removed from Google’s index altogether. Why would a company that can help you generate hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of sustainable revenue charge you £30k a year for the privilege?

When you need technical SEO expertise, content experts and PR/outreach specialists to help you craft and execute a perfect SEO strategy, you shouldn’t expect them to charge next to nothing. Think about what you’d spend on a CMO – then spend at least that on an SEO agency.

SEO myth #9: paid search results get the most clicks because they’re at the top of the results page

Latest research (from September 2019 – this type of data is rare and is naturally not published by Google because while they’re keen on SEO they don’t want to devalue AdWords), when performing a search on a desktop computer:

  • 61.96% clicked on an organic result
  • 4.61% clicked on a paid result
  • 33.45% didn’t click on anything at all

And, when performing a search on a mobile:

  • 40.9% clicked on an organic result
  • 4.52% clicked on a paid result
  • 54.58% didn’t click on anything at all

The amount of money companies spend on AdWords over SEO is OUTRAGEOUS given the percentages of searchers who click on each type of result.

Source: https://www.perficient.com/insights/research-hub/impact-of-search-features-on-ctr

SEO myth #10: all links are created equal

When it comes to SEO, there are four types of back links – follow, nofollow, sponsored and UGC. All of these will help with SEO as Google’s now decided to use all of them as ‘hints’, but the best type of link is a followed link – this is a link from a reputable source that passes PageRank (link juice).

“All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints — along with other signals — as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.”

So, there you have it – the most common SEO myths to be aware of. However, if you’re keen for more then check out Google’s SEO myth busting YouTube series. Martin Splitt from Google’s Search Relations team specifically focusses on technical SEO myths including misconceptions surrounding canonicalization, crawl budget and JavaScript implementation.

If you’re looking for a B2B SEO agency in London that can provide no-nonsense, SEO advice and guidance, get in touch with our head of SEO, Luke.

Written by: Luke Budka, Head of Digital PR and SEO

What is link building?

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Types of link building

When we’re asked, “What is link building?”, the simplest way to respond is to explain it is a way to build your brand’s online profile.

The slightly more technical answer is it’s the process of getting a third-party website to hyperlink to your website.  Of course, it’s not as simple as that.

There are many different types of link building. Some are frowned upon by search engines.

Link building could involve:

  1. Setting up business profiles on directory sites that include a link to your website e.g. yelp
  2. Adding a comment to someone’s blog post and including a link to your website in the comment
  3. Getting your business partners to add your business logo to their site – the logo contains a hyperlink to your website
  4. Buying websites and linking to your website from these new sites
  5. Creating really valuable content and advertising it to your business’s stakeholders in the hope they link to it because it’s so useful
  6. Writing opinion pieces for a trade magazine related to your industry in which you get a link back to your website as part of the author attribution
  7. Watching out for instances of your brand name being published online and then contacting the sites it crops up on to ask them to include a link in your brand mention back to your website

Of the above, you do not want to be caught engaging in the practices detailed in points two, three or four. The others are all accepted methods of building links and ones we advocate as a leading B2B SEO agency. But that brings me to another point worth making – Google and other search engines don’t want you to build links per say, they want you to earn them, by being an excellent internet citizen. Create great content and third-party sites will naturally link to you; be an authority in your field and you will earn links without trying.

And that’s important, because links are like votes. The more of them your website has, the more likely it is your website will be returned for a relevant search query. E.g. if you sell blue widgets and you have a load of amazing links pointing at your blue widget site then there’s a good chance your site will be returned when someone searches ‘Blue widget supplier’.

Not all links are born equal – follow versus nofollow (vs sponsored vs UGC)

Just to clarify, all links are designed to be ‘followed’ by a search engine spider to their destination. However, it’s possible to make a link ‘nofollow’ by adding ‘rel=nofollow’ to the html tag. An example would look like this: <a href= “https://www.website.com/” rel= “nofollow”>. With that simple addition, the search engine spider will stay put and your website won’t gain any PageRank (link juice).

It seems a little unfair. After going to all the trouble of writing a kickass piece of content, passing it by the powers that be at your desired publication and seeing it published online – only to realise you got a nofollow link. What is up with that? Well, let’s go back in time a bit.

Once upon a time Google mentioned that it measured the quality of a webpage (and therefore the likelihood that it’ll be returned in the search results) based largely on the number of links pointing at it (or pointing at the general domain it resides upon).

And then a whole lot of badly behaved SEOs messed things up with their cheap (yet tbf at the time, effective) backlinking tactics involving forums, comment boxes and guest blogs – anywhere they could insert a hyperlink.

Google now roots out and largely ignores low-quality links (unless you’re taking the mickey and building them on a large scale, in which case it’s likely you’ll get slapped with a Google penalty or ‘manual action’ as it’s known in the trade).

However, as of September 2019 it announced two new attributes: rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc”.

The first to be used for links in paid for content and the second to be used in user generated content (UGC) i.e. comment boxes.

Google then made an interesting observation.

It said (regards nofollow links):

“Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.”

BUT – then it said:

All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints — along with other signals — as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.”

This is pretty big. It means Google’s now confident enough in its algorithm to use all links for ranking purposes. We suspect this is because Google realises a lot of important links are nofollow.

Most notably, editorial links. Loads of online news outlets make their links nofollow – normally because of a combination of two factors: they’re worried they’ll get hit with a penalty if they accidentally make advertorial links followed (this famously happened to The Daily Telegraph) and they also labour under the illusion that they’re somehow making their sites ‘weaker’ by routing PageRank away from their domains.

“Links contain valuable information that can help us improve search, such as how the words within links describe content they point at…By shifting to a hint model, we no longer lose this important information, while still allowing site owners to indicate that some links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.

“…how the words within links describe content they point at” i.e. Google loves descriptive anchor text (the text that makes up the link).

“…shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.” i.e. all things being equal, a followed link is best, but a nofollow link on a decent website with descriptive anchor text is now really worth having.

The blog post concluded by announcing nofollow would become a hint as of March 1, 2020 (no mention of sponsored or UGC links in that line either which suggest to us it is these editorial nofollows it’s keen to use in its algorithms).

But wait, not all followed links are born equal either…

Followed links from popular and important sites carry more weight and push webpages higher up the search engine rankings. Google calls it TrustRank; if you have a lot of very high-quality links, then Google will trust you more and so your ranking improves.

Back in 2011 Google said: “So PageRank is the most well-known type of trust. It’s looking at links and how important those links are.

“So if you have a lot of very high quality links, then you tend to earn a lot of trust with Google.”

But, and this is crucial, you have to assess what a lot of very high-quality links looks like to your company.

If, for example, you specialise in fintech, you need to pursue reputable sector specific sites for links back to your website. A huge spread littered with links in The Angling Times won’t earn you nearly as much TrustRank a nod from Fintech Futures. So, focus your resources appropriately and be sure to fish in the right waters.

Why do we build links?

When considering what link building is, it’s more important to understand why you would build links in the first place – links can help build better relationships, boost your business’s profile and drive more traffic to your website.

At their most brilliant, links ultimately help generate qualified leads which turn into new clients which result in increased revenue and business growth – ta-da! But remember, if you put lipstick on a pig it still goes oink. If you earn a load of links but your website isn’t ready to perform then you can wave goodbye to all those lovely, ready to buy leads.

Want to find out more? Check out the blogs below.

Need some help figuring out link building and how to do it right? Chat to Luke as soon as you can. He’s our inhouse SEO specialist and the link building magic man.