Links are one of the most important ranking factors for SEO, and it's no longer enough just to publish outstanding content and wait for people to link to you.
To rank well for competitive (high-volume) queries and pull in qualified traffic, you will also need to work at getting inbound links to your site and to make those links count.
Unfortunately, when most people think about "link building", they're probably thinking of the kinds of cold pitches and spam that they get in their own inboxes. "Dear sir or madam, I'm interested in a mutually beneficial link exchange. Please place a link to [spammy URL] on your PR6 homepage with the text "[spammy anchor text]." When you have placed the link on your site, we will link back to your site from [our page 'o spam links]."
You are right to send those straight to the trash! That approach to link-building (even if you don't initiate it), is going to do you more harm than good.
Below we're going to focus on basic, often-overlooked, link opportunities every PBS web producer/webmaster should be taking advantage of.
1. Maximize Internal Links
We've mentioned internal cross-linking in previous SEO webinars and it's part of the SEO checklist (PDF) for publishing new pages. We can't stress enough that: 1) links are critical for SEO; 2) there is no easier opportunity to create highly relevant, anchor-text-rich links than editing your very own pages.
Any time you mention a proper noun, specific concept, event, or item, about which you have more content on another page, turn the relevant keyword phrase into a link that points to the main page for that keyword. (The "main page", in this context, doesn't have to be a "topic" or index page; it can just be whatever page has the best chance of ranking for that search term.)
How to do it:
Pick a page about a specific keyword, search your site for mentions of that keyword or topic, fire up your CMS's page editor and turn those mentions into links that point to the main page for that keyword. Don't dilute the link value by pointing at lots of different pages about that keyword phrase; try to point all the links about one keyword to a single page in order to help that one page to rank better (but it is okay to vary the anchor text up a little, as long as it contains relevant keywords).
If you make internal linking part of your everyday publishing workflow, it'll save you a lot of effort in the long run.
2. Make Full Use of Related Links in COVE
If you're not including "Related Links" to each episode you're adding to COVE, you're missing an important opportunity to create relevant links and help users find more of your content on your site.
Heatmaps of where users click on the page show that visitors do rely heavily on these links to explore content on program sites.
In the example below, the visitors (and search engines!) see and use the links to other pages on the series’ site.
In the rare case that there is absolutely nothing on your site that's related to the video clip or episode (which shouldn't ever be the case), you can still add other useful links like "check local schedule", a link to your newsletter, etc. When you add "Related Links", the system also automatically adds a link back to your program homepage and the episode homepage (if you've entered this info in the COVE admin).
In the example below, the "check local listings" link added by the producer allows visitors to easily get tune-in information related to the clip. Note that tune-in links aren't great for SEO, but they are a good option if there isn't other related content you can point to. There is always something you can link to that will provide value to users and/or generate SEO value for your site.
Yes, adding related content is an extra step in the publishing process, but it's a lot less work than trying to get an equally valuable link from external sources, and if you don't do it, you're leaving easy traffic on the table.
How to do it:
- See page 15 of the COVE Admin Tool User Guide on how to add related links.
- Use keyword-relevant text in the "title" field.
- Use the description field to provide a compelling reason to click on the link.
To add links to your homage and episode homepage make sure you fill out the following fields in the metadata form when submitting a new asset.
- Content Producer Website
- Episode URL
3. Promote Embeddable Videos
One of the features of COVE videos is that they can be shared by users. When users grab the player embed code to share on their own sites, part of that code includes links back to the video and to your program site.
When you encourage your viewers to share the video, therefore, you are not only helping to build up your total video views, but you're also building links at scale, reinforcing your brand, keeping users engaged, encouraging them keep coming to your site, etc.
High-quality video is the kind of asset that's in demand even by top-tier websites, but many people won't think to look to PBS.org for embeddable video. That's why it's important to encourage sharing explicitly. (Many sites go to YouTube and find pirated copies of your content, which don't help your video views, get viewers back to channels that you control, or promote your content. Most of those sites would be just as happy to use a COVE asset, if only they were told about it.)
PBS stations and producers have had good success getting the COVE viral player placed on high-authority sites such as those of local government entities, popular TV critics columns, official sites of major performing artists, etc. Those are the kinds of high-quality, editorial links that will help your SEO, and the effort to get those kinds of links is minimal when you can offer them content they want!
How to do it:
- First, make sure embed/sharing capabilities are enabled in COVE.
- In the COVE admin, fill out the Content Producer Website field with the full destination URL (don’t use a vanity URL) and the Episode URL field.
- Tell site visitors/fans about the embed feature.
- Ask featured guests to include video on their own sites
- Include specific mention of the embed feature in pitches to journalists and bloggers
- Do these things regularly and in the normal course of promoting video views.
Examples of great embedded video placements on different types of sites:
4. Fix Your 404s
Sometimes your site's error pages are due to broken links on your site, maybe as a result of a hiccup in your CMS or because you moved or deleted pages. Find where the links occur on your site and fix them. But also make sure you redirect the URL that generates the 404 and redirect it to the correct place.
Other times, the 404 error is caused because external sites are linking to you with the wrong URL. Maybe they accidentally put an extra space in the URL, misspelled something or just plain mucked something up.
If it's a high-value site, you may want to contact them and let them know about the bad links (and mention any other content they might also be interested in). This is an opportunity to build a relationship with the owner of the site and to ensure (if they fix the link) that you're getting the full value of that link in the eyes of the search engines. But regardless of whether you have the time to reach out to the linking site, make sure to redirect the mistyped URL to the correct location on your site if you can.
How to do it:
Check your server logs for errors generated by a referring link and/or go to your Google Webmaster Tools account to identify Page Not Found errors that can be redirected. Create a 301 redirect table mapping 404s to whatever the closest existing page is. Fix the sources of the bad links to point directly to the correct location, when possible.
Cleaning up broken links is an easy way to recapture traffic and link value that would otherwise be lost.
For Google Webmaster Tools:
- Log into https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ and select your site. (If you don't already have a Google WMT account, they are free to create and we highly recommend you create and utilize it. Use the link above to get started)
- In left nav, expand "Diagnostics"
- Click on "Crawl errors"
- Select "Not Found"
- Download the files
- Fix broken links, where possible
- Create 301 redirects pointing to closest matching existing page
5. Leverage Brand Mentions
So far we've focused heavily about maximizing link opportunities/value within your own site and within PBS's publishing tools. In order to compete against other publishers, however, you will at some point need to request links. One easy opportunity with a high success rate, as we mentioned before, is to encourage COVE video embeds among people/organizations who were interviewed in your program.
Asking sites with whom you have no prior relationship can seem a bit more daunting, but a great place to start is to identify brand mentions that don't include a link. If a site, for example, mentions your show or episode in the context of broadcast, they are very likely to be receptive to contact from you simply letting them know where on your website their readers can find more information.
If a reporter or TV blogger wrote that they were excited about an upcoming episode of your program, why not let them know that the preview clip or the full show are available for them to use or link to? Don't take for granted that even your die-hard fans know about full-episode streaming online or that videos can be embedded. By taking a few minutes to let them know, you can build a relationship or train them to keep coming back to your site on their own to look for content they can share going forward.
Sometimes the opportunities may not be specific to an episode, but still be a great time to do outreach. For example, when the Internet was buzzing about Watson's win on Jeopardy, many sites would have welcomed a friendly note letting them know about the NOVA episode, Q&As with the engineers, and related articles about artificial intelligence and advancements in robotics.
Keep in mind that outreach will be more successful if you have something valuable to offer the blogger/journalist, as opposed to just doing straight promotion that only benefits you.
How to do it:
- Set up Google Alerts to get notified when sites are publishing/tweeting about your programs, episodes and personalities.
- Determine which of the listings are appropriate outreach opportunities
- Contact the author/blogger with a short, friendly and personalized note letting them know you saw their post and thought they and their readers might find value in this embeddable clip/article/interview/etc. The key is to keep your outreach email short, to the point, and to focus on providing value.
- Follow up to thank your new contacts if they used your links.
- Keep records of your outreach so you can go back to these contacts in the future if you have new content that aligns with their sites' content.
This approach can lead to fruitful long-term relationships that will help you build a foundation for future promotion and link-building.
In competitive niches, web marketers are going to great lengths and effort to build high-authority links in order to increase their search engine rankings, and there are myriad "advanced" link building tactics.
The steps outlined in the post above, on the other hand, are all low-hanging fruit – relatively low effort, high rates of success and easy to replicate.
Link-building is not a one-time effort, and no single link is likely to directly result in hundreds of thousands of additional pageviews. However, building up the volume and quality of relevant inbound links to your deep pages will have significant, long-term traffic payoff. The earlier you begin taking advantage of inbound links, and develop processes and workflows for capitalizing on easy opportunities as they come up, the sooner you'll start generating more, and sustainable, SEO traffic.
Please don't hesitate to reach out to me or your program manager if you have any questions. (And be sure to join us March 31, for more tips and tools for identifying SEO opportunities)