FAQs: How Link Building Works in 2018

This week’s FAQ contains all the juicy questions about link building, as well as what I’ve been listening to recently.

What’s in the Boombox

Van Halen by Van Halen

I’ve never been a huge fan of Eddie Van Halen as a guitarist.

I know, I know.

It’s taboo to say that in the metal community. Especially if you’re a guitar player! I’ve just never “understood” the hype that came along with Eddie. I’ve been a Van Halen fan, but never thought of him as “the greatest ever.” This year, I decided I would learn all of the songs on the “Van Halen 1” album on guitar.

Regardless of my personal feelings, it’s difficult to argue that this album didn’t change how rock guitar was played. The tone, the guitar parts, the mix of traditional with new, and the “space style” influenced the guitar and guitarists, still having an impact today.

Eruption, You Really Got Me, and the “hits” like Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love steal a lot of the spotlight. I’m enjoying rediscovering some of the lesser-known tracks. From “I’m the One” to “Little Dreamer,” I’d forgotten about how fun some of these songs are to jam out to. It’s been cool to slow down, really listen to his style, and learn these songs.

It’s worth checking out if you’ve NEVER heard it before (especially if you’re into the guitar) and a fun album to revisit.

FAQ: How Do We Do Link Building in 2018?

I’ve received a lot of questions in the last week along the lines of:

“How do we get more quality links?”

“How do we get people to link back to us?”

“How do we rank #1 in Google?”

Top-ranking content on any given search engine result will have more quality links than the content ranking below it. Websites with #1 rankings always have more quality links.

The more quality website links you have going back to your website (people who link to you from their website) the better you’ll do in search engine results.

What is a “quality link?”

A link from the largest trade publication in your industry is a quality link. The local chamber of commerce putting the URL of your website on their page is a quality link.

10,000 links on a forum is not a quality source. The guy who emailed you and said he would put a link to your website if you put one on his website is not a quality source.

Social media isn’t really a quality source. While social media does have some weight in SEO, linking to content via social media won’t give you the #1 ranking you desire.

For the sake of simplicity:

A “quality” link is a link back to your website or content that was earned by having great content.

Good links live on websites with high-quality information. Review websites, popular bloggers, partners, trade publications. A website that people go to for content like yours.

A “bad” link is an unnatural link that you have created or commissioned someone else to create that links to your website in the hopes of influencing search engines.

Bad links usually live on “low quality” websites like forums, spam websites, websites with poor user experience, and new or unknown websites.

How Can I Influence People with High-Quality Websites to Link to Me?

Here are a set of ways that we use Link Building techniques for our clients over at Jay Nine, Incorporated:

Guest Blogging/Being Featured

Writing articles for your own website is fantastic.

Writing articles on guest sites with a new audience that hasn’t seen your content before is even better.

Guest posting on websites with a lot of traffic and readers (think Forbes, Huffington Post, or whatever the largest trade publication is in your industry) should be the ultimate goal of most businesses.

A lot of companies burn themselves out trying to only receive press from organizations they’ve heard of, like Forbes. This is a mistake! You have to start out with links from smaller websites and local companies, before moving up. The top 50 websites or blogs in your industry is a stepping stone. Once you have more content on different places in the web, it’s easier to be featured on larger websites.

Larger websites look for stories on smaller websites too. When you look at smaller trade organizations, magazines, and websites, you’ll have an easier time getting featured.

I know, your idea is earth shattering and everyone needs to hear it. The problem is, companies like Forbers ands Huffington Post are hearing thousands of other people just like you telling them the same things.

Start with simple guest posts. A great way to find Guest Posts or similar prospects is by putting large trade publications into Google, like:

((target site)) + guest post

((target site)) + guest blog

((target site)) + blogging guidelines

A lot of local or smaller companies likely won’t have that. So, be sure to gather how to do so on each specific contract.

Broken Link Checks

This one is pretty easy.

Use a tool like Check My Links and find industry blogs or local websites that have broken links. A broken link is a link that was, at one time, linking to an article or supporting content, but now doesn’t work anymore.

Broken links are embarrassing, and most websites suffer from them. When you come across a broken link, send an email to that blogger to let them know the post has a broken link.

Let the author know the link is broken, and that you just happen to have an article that would fit as a solid replacement for the broken link. Send them a link to the article or piece of content.

Supply them with a relevant article in order. Your article on the greatest technological advancements of all time isn’t going to be well received if the broken link was referencing the need for people to unplug and “get back to nature.”

This is a semi-cheesy but powerful way to get easy links back to your website, and to build new relationships.

Software 

From SEO PowerSuite to Link Prospector from Citation Labs, there are several tools that are great for finding “prospects” in link building. These depend on the niche, and we use a variety of them to find new sources.

The best software is enough for a solo article, but paying for and using quality software (or hiring a firm that does this) is a great way to get a lot of prospects put together.

Good software will also tell you/help you find who is linking to your competitors. I’ve always felt this is kind of a “low hanging fruit” section, as you want to have MORE links than your competitors.

However, you can find good directories and other websites you may not have found otherwise by seeing what your competitors are doing.

HARO

HARO (Help a Reporter Out) does one thing: puts journalist together with people looking to have their expertise or content featured. I’ve been featured on articles like “29 Web Design Professionals Share their Top Tips” and others.

This is a great resource to be featured and build relationships with reporters and other content writers. This is not a “set up and forget it” type platform. Each day you receive an email with new “pitches” in your industry. You sift through those and respond to the journalist.

I usually have to write a dozen or so responses before being picked up by one.

An Offline Contract or Agreement

Quality links come from other agreements, too. This way to build links is often lost in an online-focused mentality.

Example:

An ecommerce client of ours sends products to bloggers to review for free. When a blogger or up-and-coming company reaches out to them, they are sure to include something along the lines of “you will include a link to our website on the footer of this article.”

Other clients are featured in local newspaper articles, and simply ask that a link to their website or landing page is included in the bottom of the article. This helps drive traffic from the article, and builds more quality links to your website.

The limits to this are endless. We include a clause in some of our contracts that a link to our website is featured in the client’s “About” page. Photographers I know ask that their link is featured when someone uses one of her pictures.

This step is much simpler in explanation, but more complex in nature. You are required to remember/weigh the importance of getting a “link back” to your website. You also need to make sure to ask for it.

Final Thoughts

This is important:

Google’s goal is not to make your website popular. Google’s goal is to rank the most popular websites.

Said another way, Google doesn’t care where your website ranks. They care if your website provides a good experience for their readers and users.

As such, Google doesn’t want to see you trying to influence that ranking by doing things to try and trick their algorithm that you belong on the #1 spot. Google clips websites, SEO tricks, and anything they can to prevent people from gaming the system.

It is far better to earn one quality link per month than to try and “game” the system by adding 10,000 links back to your website a month.

There is a difference between having a news website link back to your website at the bottom of an article they already wrote about you. Doing that is not gaming the system, it’s helping Google realize your company is featured in the news.

 

How We Organize Our GIT and Why

organizing git

All of the projects for Jay Nine, Inc use a very specific process in with our development projects. Everything in the project must be checked into a single version control repository: all of the code, testing scripts, database scripts, build and deploy scripts, and anything else needed to create, install, run, and test your application.

This is for several reasons, namely:

  1. This makes it so that we have a ready-to-go back up of the entire application that we can launch at a moments notice
  2. When working with a team of developers, you can easily have multiple developers working on the project without a lot of hassle

If a bug is pushed live, our team has a rule that we try to fix it for ten minutes. If, after ten minutes, we don’t have a solution, we’ll roll back to the previous version in our version control and fix it from there.

This is auto-synced with our live websites, so when we make little fixes and update, checking in the completed code will automatically update the website (allowing for continuous deployment).

The GIT folders are organized very simply like this:

  1. The “Application” folder contains all of the necessary code that comprises the application
  2. The “Database” folder contains the latest copy of the database, in an executable format to create a new database if needed
  3. The “Documents” folder contains all of the project documents on how to use the project (end user manual) and how the project code is broken down
  4. The “Publishing and Testing Scripts” folder contains all of the documentation needed to publish the application in its environment, how to test the application to make sure no core functionality is broken, and a rollback plan in case you need to roll back for any reason

This has allowed us to drastically squash live bugs, as the checks and processes in place ensure things go live safely. A common issue with the continuous roll out plan and the frequent changes to working software is when you have live bugs.

Live bugs generally mean two things:

  1. Live bugs = lost money.
  2. Live bugs = people pulling their hair out because the customer facing version of their product/software is broken. What if a key customer sees this? What is a partner of ours sees this?

The version control system we use removes this fear. On top of that, it ensures there is always a working, ready-to-go version of the software in case something really bad happens.

How We Use Asana for Task Tracking and Project Management

using asana for project management

In the late 1940s, Toyota re-imagined the approach to manufacturing and engineering, forever changing the automotive world.

This system is highly visual in nature, allowing teams to communicate more easily on work that needs to be done, and when. It standardizes cues and refines processes, and will help eliminate waste in an organization (while maximizing production).

How the Kanban System Works

The system is easy. First, we define workflow that is specific to our business. We then use a system of priority setting, to decide which pieces of work should be tackled first. Using a pull system, we pull work from a queue in a clear system so everyone can see what’s going on.

This system controls the release of work in a project, and more importantly, ensures that the most constrained resources are doing only the work that services the goal of the entire system, not just one component.

We have a board that generally has 5 or 6 different items.

 

The board has a column for each step of the workflow, and a row for each item of work. This allows us to see who is working on what, and when. Tasks are sorted in priority order.

Asana provides an excellent platform for team collaboration in the cloud, and we have customized the boards to display based on our flow:

  • Wishlist – new ideas, tasks, and “to-dos” are added to this column
  • Live Bugs –  live bugs and urgent tasks are pinned to this column
  • In Progress – when someone begins working on a task, they pull the task from either Wishlist/Live bugs and moves it to the In Progress column.
  • Waiting on Client – When a task is completed, it is submitted for approval. The project manager will check the task, then send it to the client. Upon approval from the client, the task is move to “completed.”
  • Completed – A list of completed tasks in the order they were completed.

As with Scrum and other project management systems, the “Wishlist” serves as a place to store good ideas that are brought up at the right time. These could be tasks that need to be followed up on in the future (“we need to have photography done before we can put new pictures on the website”) or tasks that are hopeful/maybes that need to go somewhere.

 

 

How We Use Checklists to Keep Our Projects on Track

using checklists for project management

Faulty memory and distraction are a particular danger in what engineers call all-or-none processes: whether running to the store to buy ingredients for a cake, preparing an airplane for takeoff, or evaluating a sick person in the hospital, if you miss just one key thing, you might as well not have made the effort at all.

-The Checklist Manifesto

In large projects with many moving parts, professionals have a lot to remember. Hundreds, sometimes even thousands of details make up a completed project.

One of the main tools we use in project management over at Jay Nine Incorporated is the simple checklist. All of our projects and tasks have checklists associated with them to confirm crucial working parts aren’t forgotten in the haze of an ongoing project.

The checklist offers the reassurance of verification while instilling a discipline for higher performance. A checklist removes the “you should have known” variable and provides a concrete explanation of the project requirements and important aspects of the project.

For example, we have a “Website Launch Checklist” that includes the following requirements:

  • Check that all basic SEO items are included
  • Confirm 301 redirects are in order
  • Ensure loading speed is normal (below 3 seconds and at least 70/100 on Google Page Speed)
  • Test the 404 Page and make sure that works
  • Test all contact forms and confirm they are working properly
  • Confirm the website has a privacy policy
  • Ensure all web servers are in the proper time zone.
  • Ensure the website works on all browsers and devices indicated in the contract

Some of these may seem trivial, some things may seem missing to the trained eye, but these are core features that we’ve seen missed in multiple projects (at both our company and other companies).

Checklists also serve a second purpose…

Have you ever heard the story of David Lee Roth and the contract clause of “No Brown M&M’s?”

David Lee Roth is often mocked for having a clause in his contract that stipulated he had to have a bowl of M&M’s in his dressing room–with all of the brown ones removed.

In the Checklist Manifesto, it’s explained:

“Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors—whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through. The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function.’ So just as a little test, buried somewhere in the middle of the rider, would be article 126, the no-brown-M&M’s clause. “When I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl,” he wrote, “well, we’d line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error… Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.” These weren’t trifles… The mistakes could be life threatening. In Colorado, the band found the local promoters had failed to read the weight requirements and the staging would have fallen through the arena floor.

This was a checklist. It also perfectly explains the philosophy behind using checklists in large productions:

The no-brown-M&M’s was an easy way to find larger issues under the hood. It was a quick way to determine there were serious issues before a serious issue occurs. In our checklist, If we go to a “completed” website and see that Google Analytics isn’t working we know there are bigger issues. We know the checklist wasn’t followed, and can go from there.

The checklist does not discount the importance of expertise and human input. It’s just a way to help our brains remember the trivial (but nonetheless crucial and often forgotten) pieces of an ongoing project. It’s also a way we can have multiple people with different levels of expertise working harmoniously towards “perfection” in a given task or project.

 

 

 

 

The Jay Nine, Inc Software Development Process

Introduction

We’re working on continuously improving our process of project management and development. The below outlines the high level overview of the processes we use to develop and build web applications and custom business software.

The Core Fundamentals:

  1. Find out exactly what the [user, client, or person who is benefiting the most from this system] needs and wants.
  2. Get the data you need to make that happen. Analyze at least ten types of forms. Refuse to accept any data without validating it first, always assume there is undiscovered data.
  3. Build the simplest and quickest version of that. Always focus on getting the simplest version to a solution in production as soon as possible.
  4. Test with user, fix mistakes, create better functionality. Ensure that no human error is found again (through automated tests and scripts).
  5. Do not allow arbitrary deadlines hurt long term productivity (focus on the tasks that will take a few extra days and save a few months). Set deadlines for each project on either weekly, every two weeks, or monthly deadlines. In emergencies, set daily deadlines. Agree upon this before the project begins.
  6. Ensure all changes are pushed to a staging environment, rigorously tested, and then pushed live after that.
  7. Ensure all people involved in the project have the tools and resources they need to see the project vision. The lowest developer or the highest project manager should be able to rollback changes if needed, or push new changes live easily.
  8. All project details are carefully, but not wastefully, documented.
  9. Nothing matters in the project other than working software, easy functionality, and results.

Programmers and developers are not the best at managing clients. Since we’re very literal people, we love systems that have precisely defined behaviors.

This makes working with non-technical people harder for us than it needs to be because we tend to take every request literally, rather than spending the time trying to figure out what a client actually wants.

The goals of our process system:

  1. To minimize bottlenecks, and spend as much time on the Code, Test, Deploy cycle as possible
  2. To create a system where even the entry level developers have the resources to make decisions and determine what the client actually wants, providing customers better systems and faster implementation cycles
  3. To measure all projects on weekly cycles to ensure that we are not losing focus on the big picture, but ensuring small tasks are taken care of efficiently

High-Level Planning Notes:

  1. To plan the project, we need access to all the data or a live test case. Not a promise of the data, not a vague understanding, but the exact items that we will be putting into production.
    1. This needs to be detailed enough to create an exact scope.
    2. We should have at least several different use cases/data examples to account for one-offs
    3. We always want to question the validity of the data and ensure we’re probing to iron out any outliers and cases that will break the system
  2. All development systems and task reporting needs to empower the developer, not add unnecessary work to the developer
    1. This means we need to streamline the process of a developer seeking higher level help, clarification, etc., without a lot of unnecessary reporting and systems
    2. Our motto: outsource anything we cannot do directly, automate anything we can automate, and eliminate anything that’s not crucial to the project
  3. All project tasks are updated in real-time in the task tracking (currently, Asana)
  4. Active documentation needs to be included in all parts of the process; all documentation needs to be up-to-date with no exceptions.
    1. Two “testing” documents are prepared and utilized for each client
      1. A document to use to guide testing
      2. A seperate document to use to track testing changes

Plan Asana Tasks for Web Development

As a rule of thumb, all tasks and documentation need to have necessary details. Usually an image/screenshot of the task, and text to explain the issue.

We organize each  project into with the main boards of:

  • Wishlist (a place where we can store dreams/wanted tasks that aren’t in production)
  • Bugs (bugs that are on the live site and would require pertinent attention)
  • In Progress (tasks that are currently being worked on)
  • Ready for Staging (ready to be pushed to staging)
  • Failed on Staging (bugs that did not pass testing on staging)
  • Ready to Push live (Items that are ready to push live)
  • Completed (any tasks that have been been completed)

Note: a single client of ours can have more than one active project.

Software Testing Methods

  1. Acceptance Testing – This is ensuring that the application fits the client’s needs, and we work with the client to create these tests. This is testing the key performance indicators of the application.
  2. Unit/Component/Deployment Tests – These are standard software development/unit tests.
  3. Live User Testing – using active customers (NOT the client) to provide feedback and find issues and other “breaks” that would have never been thought of or planned.
  4. Application and Performance Testing – This includes learning the capacity of the application by testing the load times, application security, and so on.

Finally, we determine how we can automate as many of those tests as possible, to save time.