Recently a skeptic webmaster who runs more than one site asked me for some advice on driving more traffic to their newer sites. They knew I talk about SEO on this blog and figured I could give them some tips. I’m always happy to help out another skeptic.
One of the first thing I did was look at the number of inbound links to the new website. A key element of any SEO strategy is always inbound links – other sites linking to yours. The more links to your site, the more weight your pages will be given in search engines. And search engine hits are often a third or more of your traffic.
In this post I’ll show how you can measure this, and give some skeptic-specific tips for generating some good back-links to your site.
Measuring Inbound Links
So how do you even measure this to begin with? Those who use Google a great deal would probably suggest using the link: keyword to search for other sites that link to yours. While that will give you some results, the numbers it shows you are wildly inaccurate. In fact they are just a small sample of your back-links. Google’s own Matt Cutts explains why in this video. Mainly it has to do with how public availability of this information could be abused.
As Matt explains in that video, Google can show you correct information about inbound links via its Google Webmaster Tools product. I highly recommend that anyone running a website get it set up in this free product. It is essential.
Of course, since I was doing this analysis for a site other than my own, I didn’t have the advantage of using that tool. I needed a free public tool. Many older webmaster and SEO guides will recommend something called Yahoo Site Explorer. It was basically Yahoo’s version of Google’s link: keyword, but it showed pretty accurate numbers. Unfortunately it has recently been shut down and merged into Bing’s competing webmaster tools product. You can sign up for that as well, it is also free.
The free tool that I used in this case is called Open Site Explorer. While it severely limits the number of queries you can make per day, if you only own one or two domains it is a perfectly usable way to check the number of back links you have, and measure progress. Here’s the Open Site Explorer results for whatstheharm.net, click to embiggen:
As you can see the site ranks pretty well, and has about 38,000 inbound links from over 630 other domains. That’s pretty good for a niche interest site.
Using this tool to analyze the other webmaster’s sites showed that although their main site had plenty of inbound links from hundreds of other domains, the new site only had a fraction of that number and only from a handful of outside domains. The lack of links was definitely limiting the new site.
So how do you generate incoming links? Well of course the number one way is to regularly produce compelling and unique content that people will want to share. The links will come naturally from that.
Beyond that, it helps to have friends in your community. Befriend other skeptic bloggers and webmasters. Suggest they link to your website and offer to link to theirs. Offer to write a guest post, and include one or more links to your site in that post. (Many blogs that update multiple times per day are hungry for content and will jump at the chance). Yes, it’s a bit of work but most useful things are.
You can use the site explorer tool above to get a list of exactly which domains already link to you. By process of elimination, you can use this to identify likely skeptic websites you should target for additional incoming links.
Beware of schemes that involve paying for links, or link exchange offers from sites you have never heard of. Usually these are folks engaging in what is called web spam or other black hat SEO techniques. There is plenty of this unethical behavior around, and lately sites who have engaged in it are getting penalized by Google’s recent algorithm update, known as Penguin. I doubt many skeptic sites were affected, as skeptics tend to be ethical. I suspect a few believer sites took a hit though.
I have another key tip that doesn’t involve the help of other webmasters, but first some history.
History of Blog Comments
Many blogs and other sites that have comments allow you to type a URL (along with your name and email) when you enter your comment. For a long time this was something of a quid pro quo to encourage people to comment on other blogs. Your reward for taking the time to comment was a free link back to your own blog, which boosted you in the search engines.
Unfortunately this system was quickly abused by those same unethical spammers, and soon the net was plagued with what became known blog comment spam. It still happens quite a bit, but one of the things that has cut it down is the use of the NOFOLLOW attribute on links. By default, most blogs apply this attribute to all comment links to signal to the search engine that the link is not to be trusted. Many free blog services (such as wordpress.com, where this blog is hosted) don’t even allow this feature to be turned off because of the potential for abuse.
Following the adoption of this, there was something of a backlash against it. Some bloggers said that their blog spam didn’t go down after NOFOLLOW. This is not unexpected, as spammers often use automated tools to generate comment spam, and some were slow to adapt their tools to avoid NOFOLLOW blogs. In any case, some blogs turned NOFOLLOW off (or never turned it on in the first place). These are called DOFOLLOW blogs.
If you can find some sites that have done this, and they relate to your own site in topic or audience or otherwise, then they can be a source of easy links. And therein lies my tip.
In a nutshell: find skeptic websites which do not use NOFOLLOW on comments, and become a regular commenter on that blog. Whenever you comment, include a link back to your website.
If the site allows it, include anchor text that matches particular keywords, phrases or names that you want your site associated with in searches. (Typically this will be the name of your blog, but it could be other things).
Now please keep in mind the adage, Don’t Be A Dick! Do not just rush off to these sites and start posting one-line comments that say “Nice post!” just to get a link. I would support any webmaster who quickly banned you for that. The aim is participation not noise.
Find posts that are relevant to what you write about on your own site, and comment with an appropriate link to a topic on your blog. Or simply write a thoughtful comment on an unrelated post, but use the URL box next to your name to include a link to your main page.
I looked around a bit, and I couldn’t find any skeptic blogs that are explicitly set to “DOFOLLOW” links in comments. I’m sure we can crowdsource whether any of those exist in the comments. Please chime in.
But here are two skeptic forum sites which do not add NOFOLLOW to links in user posts:
Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) might now be thinking, “Wait a second, Tim, you’re a hypocrite!” This is because back in my original post about NOFOLLOW in 2008 I recommended that skeptic forum operators turn on NOFOLLOW, and even mentioned these two by name. (Some, like the JREF Forum, did in fact do that shortly thereafter). Am I a hypocrite for recommending skepic webmasters make use of the fact that they haven’t?
No. Turning on NOFOLLOW is a choice. Like any decision, there is an associated cost-benefit analysis. If a forum operator feels that the benefit of linking to skeptic sites outweighs the danger of believers abusing the linking function, that is their decision to make. A number of other factors such as visibility of the site, whether any believers actually show up there and registration policies also affect this decision. Whether and how strictly the site is moderated has a huge effect. So there is nothing wrong with these sites choosing their own path, and nothing hypocritical about my recommendation.
One of the advantages of linking from forums is they usually allow you to set a permanent signature, that can contain links. Both of the above forums do, so take advantage of it when you set up your account. I have my signature set to link to both What’s the Harm and this blog, as well as to where you can find me on social media. That way, every post I make also gives my own websites a tiny little boost.
And of course, there is a nice side benefit. By participating in these communities you will make some good skeptic connections and some new friends. Everybody wins.
Please suggest other DOFOLLOW sites which are relevant to skepticism in the comments…