Building links is one of the most challenging areas in SEO, and building links on autopilot is nigh on impossible if you’re not a huge brand.
So when an opportunity comes along that allows you to do this it’s one to grab with both hands.
This is the experience I had when we came across link building with stock photo libraries.
It combined two of the biggest challenges we face; building links and finding good photos for blog content we write.
As an agency that focuses on working with small travel businesses, we knew these were major issues that our clients and businesses like them faced too. Not to mention bloggers.
The idea is simple.
There are lots of stock photo sites out there but trying to find niche-specific images on those kinds of sites for free is very challenging.
Want a picture of a random beach? No problem.
Want a quality picture of the medina in Fez? Not so straightforward.
As experts in their field, our clients have lots of imagery of their specialist locations, so it made sense that they could become the image source for people who needed those kinds of pictures.
All we ask in return is a link to the source of the image.
The result: we help people find better images to use in their content, and in return, we get links coming to our site on autopilot.
There’s a bit more to it than that though, so here’s the exact breakdown of the process we follow.
1. Do People Need Your Images?
The first thing to ascertain is whether there is any demand for stock imagery in your niche.
In travel, we know that people are looking for imagery and you can usually swap the country or location and find people are still searching for images of those places.
However, in other niches, it might not be so clear-cut so it is certainly worth investigating to ensure it’s worth spending time and effort with this tactic.
To do that, simply head to your favorite keyword tool and do some searches for ‘TOPIC photos’. For example, ‘italy photos’.
Ideally, you’ll find search interest around that phrase and some variations of it.
If ‘free TOPIC photos’ is amongst them then even better as that is your perfect audience.
Don’t get too concerned if the volumes are low, the intent is so strong behind these phrases that you only need a small number of people searching it each month for it to pay dividends over the months and years that you have your library live.
2. Check the SERPs
Another good test to do is to look at the search results for these queries, click through to the websites ranking (which will usually be Pixabay, Shutterstock, etc.) and see how good their range of imagery is.
If it is of similar quality to the kind of library you could create then it may be a warning sign that it might not be worth investing time and effort into this tactic.
However, in most instances, I would expect that you can come up with a much better selection than the usual stock sites.
With your expertise in your own industry, you will know the kind of images you are regularly searching for and you can cater to that need.
3. Source Images
Once you’ve identified that it is worth proceeding with this approach the next job is to ensure you have images you can use to create your stock photo library.
As our clients are in the travel industry and many are destination specialists they have easy access to imagery and usually have it already.
However, if you don’t already have the images it could be worth investing in a photographer or a trip yourself to get some quality images.
The return on investment over the long term will probably still work for you as you wouldn’t just be getting images to use for a link building tactic, you would be getting images for yourself too that you would otherwise have to pay for in some shape or form.
4. Create Your Library
Depending on how your website is built, this is an area that could stop this tactic in its tracks.
If you have a bespoke site and need developers to spend lots of time building something from scratch it could end up being too expensive to implement.
However, if you’re on a platform like WordPress then there are lots of easy plugin options out there to create a Gallery page that has everything you need.
The most important features of the page are:
- People can download the image in high quality there and then.
- You can write some blurb on the page explaining that people need to link back if they use one of your images.
- You can add a caption to images explaining what each one is.
Remember, the better your images are and the more different you can make them to the usual run-of-the-mill stock sites the better.
5. Get the Page Ranking
This is crucial!
It is the element that will make or break whether you get links on autopilot.
You need to ensure your page ranks for the phrases you identified in stage 1 above so people find your gallery alongside the other big stock sites.
It might be scary looking at the domain rating of these sites and you may think it’s impossible to compete, but we’ve found that with a smaller niche site, a niche gallery on a page that is well-optimized can rank on Page 1 without a high domain rating.
The key here is to ensure you have all your on-page elements set up to perfection as well as having a good range of quality imagery. If you do that you have an excellent chance of hitting Page 1.
Once the dust settles, if you aren’t on Page 1 then it might be worthwhile actively building some links to your gallery to try and give it an extra push to get it ranking.
Another alternative is using PPC to bid on these phrases to get visibility for your gallery. These will be cheap clicks, and if you track your ad spend closely then you can work out if it is worthwhile for the cost/link rate you see.
6. Get Images Ranking
Naturally, people will also be looking in Google Images for imagery so it’s important to ensure you are well-optimized at image level as well.
To do this, ensure:
- URLs use keywords to describe what is in the image, not just the camera filename (e.g., st-peters-basilica-dome.jpg not IMG_0123.JPG).
- You include alt text which describes in more detail what is in the image.
- You use image sitemaps.
- You optimize thumbnails.
7. Don’t Forget Video!
All the references above have been to images, but naturally, there is also a lot of scope to apply this to video, too.
The same challenges apply with stock video being expensive.
So if you can create and offer good quality video clips then this will also increase your chances of getting more links from this approach.
8. Keep Track
In most instances, I like to think positively about human nature and trust that people will always do as requested and link back to you when they use your image.
However, there may be occasions when people overlook your request or “forget” to include the attribution.
To ensure you get what you deserve for offering up your images for free, you can track where your images appear online, and if you find examples without attribution then you can contact those people and politely ask them to add a link in.
You can do this on a manual one-by-one basis using reverse image search in Google, or you could invest in some software like this that allows you to do it in bulk.
Once you’ve followed those steps you should be in a place to see links flowing to your site.
Don’t expect a deluge of links. However, over time, a stock photo library can help you develop a strong link profile and get links from sites that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
And don’t limit yourself to one gallery!
If the tactic works for you, identify other searches people are carrying out when they look for stock imagery and use that to create lots of niche image directories that will help you scale this approach.
This isn’t a tactic that will work for everyone, so I strongly recommend doing the keyword research around your niche to see if there are people looking for images to use.
If they are, there may be a perfect gap waiting for you to fill, yielding lots of juicy links in return.
Featured Image: Created by author, January 2020
All screenshots taken by author, January 2020
Are Blog Comments Useless for Link Building?
Editor’s note: “Ask an SEO” is a weekly column by technical SEO experts Shelly Fagin, Ryan Jones, Adam Riemer, and Tony Wright. Come up with your hardest SEO question and fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
This week for Ask An SEO, we have a question from Ed in Memphis. He asks:
“Are blog comments useless for link building?”
If you run or manage a WordPress site today, especially one that hasn’t activated Akismet for spam protection, you know all too well that people love to try and comment on blog posts purely for the sole purpose of dropping a link in the comments.
I can see how it might lead some to wonder whether this tactic is an effective form of link building today.
To answer your question, Ed, blog commenting is a useless form of link building today.
In fact, Search Engine Journal’s Roger Montti listed blog commenting as one of 18 link building tactics to avoid.
The Rise & Fall of Blog Commenting for Links
Blog comments were a popular link building tactic many years ago.
You might come across lots of older information that suggests using this tactic because it once worked extremely well.
Please hear me when I say this tactic used to work.
It does not anymore – and hasn’t for a long time.
Like many other popular link building techniques, this one was quickly abused.
Gone were the insightful comments from people who took the time to read the articles and comment thoughtfully.
Instead, blog posts quickly became overrun with spammy, incoherent, generic comments left for the sole purpose of building links with keyword-rich anchor text.
Eventually, spammers developed tools to automate this process, and the spammy comments quickly caused significant problems for site owners.
Most blogging platforms and other content management systems that allow users to submit comments started implementing the nofollow attribute on all links added by site visitors’ comments.
The nofollow tag was announced by Google in 2005 to help site owners combat spam and for publishers to use on sponsored links and advertising sold on their websites.
When applied to an outgoing link, we are telling search engines that we do not endorse the website that this link is pointed to, and no value should be passed within that outgoing link.
Google recently released new attributes, rel=” UGC” and rel=” sponsored” as a way of allowing us to qualify our outgoing links further. (UGC stands for User Generated Content.)
The UGC rel attribute is for sites that allow outside visitors to contribute content or post a response to site content.
Another good example would be web forums.
Soon after, WordPress announced they would be adapting the UGC rel attribute and applying it to WordPress comment links.
Are Blog Comments Useful at All?
Even though blog commenting is useless for link building, when utilized properly, it can potentially result in an increase in traffic to your website.
Within the blogging community, it’s a common way to help gain exposure and form blogger-to-blogger relationships when you engage with others in your niche by posting value-added commentary and support to other bloggers.
As a site owner, user comments on your content can help improve your rankings.
Lots of comments left on a post will not only signal that your content is highly engaging, but it can also provide additional valuable and indexable content that’s a supplement to your own.
Users’ comments can provide additional insights into the topic of that page and typically are rich with targeted keywords used naturally in phrasing.
In particular niches, such as food blogs, the comments on recipes commonly also include the ability to allow visitors to leave a rating on the recipe, a highly valuable functionality.
So please do not use blog commenting as a way to build links to your website.
If you are looking to gain exposure within your niche, I would instead only consider commenting on relevant blog posts where you can add valuable and helpful commentary based on your expertise on the subject.
You might find that other readers will come across your comment, find it informative, and visit your site as well.
How to Optimize AMP Stories for Google Search Results
An official set of recommendations concerning SEO for AMP stories is now available from the AMP Open Source Project.
AMP stories are similar to stories on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The key difference is they can be indexed and displayed in Google Search results.
See: AMP Stories Now Have a Dedicated Section in Google Search Results
AMP stories are just like other web pages in the sense that they have a URL on your web server, they are linkable, and they can link out to other web pages.
Flavio Palandri Antonelli, a Software Engineer at Google, states:
“In particular, just like other pages on your site, make sure your Stories are linked from within your website so that your users and bots can actually discover them. If you are using a sitemap, make sure to include your Stories in that sitemap. If you are posting your regular web pages to social media, post your Stories as well. We could go on here, but the gist really comes down to: Follow the best practices you’re already applying to the rest of your website.”
See: Official AMP Plugin for WordPress Now Supports AMP Stories
AMP stories should be optimized like any other page on your website. What works for regular web pages will also work for AMP stories
With that said, there are some SEO tactics specific to AMP stories that can be utilized as well.
Specific SEO Tactics for AMP Stories
Here are the SEO tactics specific to AMP stories. Keep in mind these tactics aren’t comprehensive and should be utilized in conjunction with the standard SEO work being done for your web pages.
- Metadata: AMP stories have a built-in mechanism to attach metadata to a story. This ensures maximum compatibility with search engines and other discovery features that take advantage of metadata.
- Internal linking: Site owners should generously link to AMP stories from other pages, such as linking to them from the homepage or category pages where applicable.
- URL format: There is no need to indicate in the URL of a story that it is using the AMP stories format. Follow the same URL format as other web pages on your site.
- Page attachments: Page attachments can be used to present additional information in classic article form alongside your story.
- Image descriptions: Use meaningful alt text where appropriate.
- Video subtitles: Consider providing subtitles and/or captions for the videos in your Stories.
How Hackers May Be Hurting Your SEO
It is oftentimes rather easy to sometimes grow complacent as an SEO when it comes to site security, or put all of the responsibility on I.T. departments when it comes to any form of cybersecurity or hacking prevention practices.
It’s a debatable topic amongst many, however, this is defiantly true:
Website security, or the absence of it, can directly and critically impact a site, and that includes the site’s organic performance.
For this reason, website security should not be ignored when it comes to digital marketing plans.
But first, let’s gain a deeper understanding of what hacking, it itself, is, in order to connect the dots on why it should not be neglected.
What Is Hacking?
Hacking occurs when an individual gains access to a specific website or computer network, sans permission.
Unwarranted hacking most often occurs when people are trying to gain access to sensitive or private information, or to redirect users to a specific hacker’s website.
What Are Some Common Tools Utilized by Hackers?
Malware is specifically designed to damage or disable a specific network, with the goal usually being a data breach.
The potential after-effects of a malware attack can be great, including extensive financial losses for an organization.
Website spamming usually occurs when a hacker adds hypertext to a webpage that, when clicked on by a user, will link to the hacker’s chosen destination.
Adding spammy links to a hacker’s website on websites that have a high amount of traffic to them has a chance of increasing search engine rankings.
It is essentially a way to shortcut the system of solidified, ethical SEO work.
Effects of Hacking
The ramifications of hacking can be significant and far-reaching. There are a few more common things that can happen when a website is hacked.
GoDadddy conducted a study a few years ago where they concluded that over 73% of hacked websites were hacked due to SEO spam reasons.
Something like this could be planned and deliberate, or an attempt to scrape a website that is authoritative and capitalize on strong rankings and visibility.
In most cases, legitimate sites are ultimately turned into link farms and visitors are tricked with phishing or malware links.
Hackers may also employ that use of SQL injections, where a site will be turned over with spam and recovery may be very difficult.
This can potentially put your website in the sandbox if Google detects it.
If detected, Google will display a warning message when users try to navigate to the site, and therefore encouraging them to stay away.
It can also potentially result in the complete removal of a site from search engines in an effort to safeguard users.
This will both, directly and indirectly, influence SEO value:
- Visits: Overall organic site traffic will most likely drop significantly.
- Mistrust: Users who know that your site may be less enticed to visit again if they know that your site has had one or multiple security issues, thus also affecting your traffic, and ultimately, your bottom line.
Oftentimes, hackers will implement redirects when a website is hacked.
These will send users to a different website than the one that they navigated to initially.
When users are directed to this separate web address, they will usually find that the site contains:
- Malicious forms of content such as duplicate content that isn’t true.
- Other types of scams like phishing where users are enticed to click on a spammy link and ultimately reveal sensitive information.
If Google follows your site that has been redirected and sees that it contains questionable content, it may severely hurt overall organic visibility in search.
Search engines carefully assess the overall reputation and value of domains and links that link to one another.
During a hack, links will oftentimes be added to a site, and most likely ones with low value, which can negatively affect SEO efforts.
Your website may ultimately be flooded with backlinks from questionable sources, which will most likely decrease the level of trust Google or other search engines has in a site.
Being hacked can put a site at a serious detriment in Google’s eyes. This can affect a site’s presence in SERPs and also result in potentially several manual actions in Search Console if Google flags it.
The kicker is, is that oftentimes they do not. This usually only leads to more attacks, such as via malware, without the webmaster knowing, and puts the site at risk for an even greater loss, both from a visibility and revenue standpoint.
This creates a bit of a conundrum. Being flagged or blacklisted for malware essentially depletes your site’s visibility across the board, at least until the site is analyzed and cleaned and penalties removed.
Yet, not getting flagged when your site contains malware can result in greater risk and penalization.
Common Risks & How to Prevent Attacks
There are a few more common things that put your site at a greater risk of getting hacked:
Installing Plugins or Other Tools From Untrusted Sources or Not Updating Them
Many plugins, such as those used in a CMS such as WordPress, are not all secure.
Hackers are consistently searching for sites that use insecure or outdated plugins and then finding ways to exploit the site.
As a best practice, it is recommended to research a plugin and read reviews before installing it on your site.
Sharing a Server May Also Pose a Risk in Terms of Site Security
This is because someone could easily upload a spammy or malicious file, or even grant access to other hackers.
Non-Secure Credentials May Also Pose a Risk for Data Security
It is recommended that secure passwords are created for online accounts and make them difficult to guess.
Another more advanced method to prevent an attack is through penetration testing. This analyzes and tests your network’s security and any potential vulnerabilities within it.
Everyone is affected by web security. When building a partnership with a website or client, SEOs should be able to provide some advice when it terms to overall security.
If you’re responsible for the SEO effectiveness of a site, part of your role is to ensure that there are security measures in place to protect it.
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