Why you shouldn’t act on everything Google tells you to do

Why you shouldn’t act on everything Google tells you to do

Considering their corporate mantra is “Do No Evil”, Google plays a very strong fear game.

Regular updates via spokespeople like Gary Illyes, Danny Sullivan and, formerly, Matt Cutts, keep everyone guessing and the fear building about what works in SEO.

Step over the line with your SEO and you’ll get a penalty.

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The problem is those lines are blurred and we get contradicting advice from different Google employees and ‘gurus’.

Here’s an example of a self-serving Google SEO instruction

We are recently being told to add a variety of tags to outbound links – as if no follow wasn’t already a controversial subject.

We’ve now got the tag rel=“sponsored” – this is used to tell Google whether you received compensation for a link or not. That’s interesting, as it clearly shows that they can’t identify a paid link from a freely given one.

Then there’s rel=“ugc” – this is to differentiate user-generated content like blog comments. Again, it’s surprising that Google can’t sort this type of content from native content on a website.

In the statement below, Google have openly admitted these shortcomings and it hints at there being little added value to a website for making the effort to add these tags. The gain is purely there for Google in my opinion.

“Links contain valuable information that can help us improve search, such as how the words within links describe content they point at. Looking at all the links we encounter can also help us better understand unnatural linking patterns. 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.”

So, for any SEO professional that keeps an eye on updates, it’s clear that one should look at what works.

And not rely too much on the rumours that Google can spot any manipulative tactic from half a mile, because it isn’t true.

However, there are some SEO activities that we know Google has clarity on.

And they will hammer your rankings if you cross the line.

Obvious spam tactics like keyword-rich anchor texts, keyword stuffing, keyword-rich comments, cheap directories and low-end private backlink network-based services are going to cause you problems.

But quality backlink building and content creation can often be rewarded with good rankings.

Even better, Google tolerates bad links to some degree.

So even if you get links from some dodgy sites Google, for the most part, has the decency to ignore them and rewards only links that make a difference to your rank.

My best advice is to talk to those that have been there and done it.

Ignore the fear and hype, choose your SEO partners carefully and stay safe.

Happy backlink building!

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The big metric mistake some rookies make

The big metric mistake some rookies make

Have you heard the story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes‘?

Where the tailor convinced the Emporer that his outfit was amazing, but he was really naked?! 🙂

Well, there’s a backlink assessment method just like that; one that’s been hanging around since it was published on a well-known blog a few years ago.

And it’s a method that has been adopted by some SEO people with great enthusiasm, without them taking a proper look.

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(Disclaimer: with respect to the author, he states that you should use your common sense when using the method but most people don’t read that bit!).

In any case, the method never convinced me: I’ll explain why.

But first, let me tell you a dirty secret about some SEO people.

They actually like it that SEO is a cloudy subject. They like the fact that answers to your questions aren’t always easily available or clear.

And to be honest, having completed a digital marketing degree, spent years building a reputation on trust and being transparent, that bugs me a bit.

But it is what it is and I’ll continue to try to lead clients in the right direction.

So, the method that I’m talking about is the Majestic Trust Flow / Citation Flow ratio (CF/TF).

And it is one of those methods that ‘some’ SEO people love for all the wrong reasons.

Primarily because it makes them look smart, conscientious and careful without trying too hard (a bit harsh to say, but it’s true).

But like I said, if you look at the method in any depth it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And here’s why.

Majestic have two primary link metrics you may have heard of.

  • Citation Flow (CF) – looks at backlink volume and quality to a lesser extent (Citation Flow…predicts how influential a URL might be based on how many sites link to it…a strong link will have a relatively stronger influence – source Majestic.com)
  • Trust Flow (TF) – looks at backlink quality (Sites closely linked to a trusted seed site can see higher scores – source Majestic.com)

And the way the CF/TF ratio method works is by dividing the two and then setting a minimum number that supposedly means a site has a clean powerful backlink profile.

Sounds sort of smart right?

Now if you’re adept at SEO and have not been living under a rock for the last few years, then you should know how Google (probably) handles measuring the quality of backlinks by now.

And you will quickly realise that the ratio method is fundamentally flawed.


Because bad or useless backlinks are mostly ignored by Google (or so many of their employees have alleged).

So why does the Citation Flow metric matter in this ratio at all if it is a link volume metric and the bad backlinks are being ignored?

You probably guessed – it doesn’t.

Google isn’t so much bothered by link volume as quality.

So, a ratio derived from dividing quality by volume is probably pointless.

It seems logical that if we are going to trust Majestic at all,  the only links that matter are those with respectable Trust Flow (commonly understood to be 10 minimum).

But marketers do love a fancy time-saving formula!

And I do too, hence why we’ve used the best of the metrics in our own formula (M-Flux), which makes more sense than just using a CF/TF ratio 🙂

You can read about the formula in the e-book I sent you or you can watch this video here.

And in case you don’t want to do that, at least use a few metrics to assess websites for backlink campaigns.

You wouldn’t buy a car without checking out the paperwork, so why place links on sites that could get you penalties?

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How to assess relevance the right way when backlink building

How to assess relevance the right way when backlink building

“Relevance is the new PageRank” – I shouted that loudly once or twice about 4 years ago, and I was wrong lol!

But to be fair, relevance is still very important but not to the extent it replaces PageRank.

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Google uses relevance to help rank sites of course, but not how most people* imagine it does (*the SEO herd).

And that simple misunderstanding is why so many ‘relevancy zealots’ spend fortunes looking for ‘relevant’ domains for link building when they don’t need to, as I will explain.

Here’s their big, expensive mistake

By narrowing the relevance of domains down to only the sites that are closely matched to their own site, they miss swathes of opportunities, causing themselves undue cost and harm.

And it’s a pointless exercise when you realise this…

There’s enough research to assume that Google assesses the relevance of a backlink within the content using these elements.

It starts with the link itself.

Google will ask;

“To what degree is the destination page (the page we are linking to) relevant to the following elements in the article we are linking from?”

1. The sentence the backlink resides in
E.g. “The best SEO tools are easy to use yet powerful and can really make a difference.”

Relevance = 10/10

2. Then the paragraph the backlink is in
“Marketing can be tough. SEO is especially tough but with the help of the right software you can get better results. The best SEO tools are easy to use yet powerful and can really make a difference.”

Relevance = 9/10 because it is a paragraph about marketing and SEO.

3. The relevance of the backlink to the headline
“Best Digital Marketing Software for 2020”

Relevance = 7/10 because it does not mention SEO, but the topic is about marketing software.

4. The relevance of the website category to the backlink
Relevance = 7/10 because this article would logically sit in a category on a blog titled Software or Marketing. In this case, both would be relevant

And finally…

5. The relevance of the backlink to the domain name
This is where most people trip up and there are different scenarios here, all of which would affect the power of the backlink less than the elements above.

For example, our article with our link to an SEO software site could still be published on any of these domains and still pass link power.

  • SEO blog – relevance = 10/10
  • Marketing news website relevance = 8/10
  • Business news website relevance= 5/10
  • Retail news website relevance = 3/10

The biggest problem is that so many people focus on the relevance of the domain

As illustrated above, Google isn’t interested so much in the topic of a domain.

It matters to some extent of course, but it primarily cares about the trustworthiness of the domain as a source of information.

The overall quality of the information on the site and its pages are what really matters.

If CNN publishes an article on dementia treatment, then chances are it is a well-researched piece.

A link from that CNN article to a dementia charity that features in a relevant paragraph will carry some weight.

And that happens, not because CNN is a relevant domain, as it isn’t, but because it is trusted, and the link is relevant to the article.

Alternatively, if you had a link from a poor SEO blog to your SEO software page, Google would not give that backlink much weight regardless of its top to bottom relevance.

It would pass some relevance signals but that might be because the site is fundamentally weak and not trusted enough for Google to care who it links out to.

So how can you test these statements?

You can easily check by looking at the backlink profiles of virtually every well-ranked website on the internet.

Very few of them will have high numbers of backlinks from topically relevant domains.

That’s because natural linking happens organically as webmasters link out to content that supports points they are making.

Sites that have only topically relevant domains are more likely to attract attention from Google for unnatural linking patterns.

That’s another great reason to mix it up.

For you to take advantage of how relevance works in backlink building is easy

Publish well-researched articles on a single topic on a trusted domain.

Use lots of relevant language in the article.

Include keywords in titles and format the article so that it meets the needs of multiple search queries.

Support the points made in the article by linking to a few other authority sources.

Make the article unique, clear of grammatical errors, and readable.

In summary: be creative, write great content and keep your links useful and natural.

Just don’t freak about domain ‘relevance’: it’s yesterday’s news.

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When ugly works for backlink building and when it doesn’t?

When ugly works for backlink building and when it doesn’t?

Here’s a question for you.

Do you hire the right person for the job or the best looking?

If it’s a fashion modelling gig, then looks are key because attractive people sell clothes – and like it or not it’s a proven formula.

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But for a brain surgeon, looks don’t matter at all.

In most cases choosing websites for link building campaigns works the same.

Looks just aren’t a priority in SEO and here’s why.

First, great design is mostly an opinion – it’s subjective.

And opinions on what is correct are often affected by trends (leg warmers anyone?)

So, by their nature opinions are mostly irrelevant to SEO, because SEO is more a science than an art form. Numbers usually tell the story of whether a site is of any use.

It’s important to consider how Google assesses look and feel and whether that plays a part in ranking.

Google is mostly an answers machine.

It primarily assesses the ability of a website to meet a specific user’s needs.

People ask it questions and Google attempts to serve up the correct answer using a website that has ready information in an understandable format.

And yes, colour may play a part in that assessment – in relation to accessibility for example – but it won’t judge the merits of orange versus yellow – that’s a human opinion.

And a big mistake that a lot of people make when selecting sites for their backlink campaigns.

When they should be focusing on at least these three tried and tested criteria for successful backlink building.

  • Backlink metrics – the quality, power and lastly volume of backlinks
  • Traffic and keyword visibility – how much Google love a site gets
  • Content quality and relevance – do you want your site associated with it

So, rejecting a website for not looking ‘nice’ is not optimal SEO practice and will mean opportunities are cast aside that could have been very useful.

Now, as I said, there are occasions where looks can really matter in SEO.

Like when the guy you are interviewing for the babysitter’s job has a degree in childcare but looks like he eats kids.

And sites can be like that too.

They could have great content, but that content is poorly formatted and inaccessible.

Meaning the site offers a bad experience for users and probably gets less Google love (check its traffic).

But in most cases, it’s safe to put your design sensitivities to bed and let the SEO metrics do the talking.



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Are you buying expensive backlinks that don’t work?

Are you buying expensive backlinks that don’t work?

I’ve been building backlinks for over 10 years for clients and there’s one habit that persists and is costing people.

Think about this insane behaviour.

Imagine you’re buying a new home.

Do you assess only the property or do you check out the location too?

Or do you decide to buy based on the location and don’t bother looking at the property?

Of course not.

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You look at multiple factors, including the standard of the property, nearby risks, schools, and amenities to assess its true value.

But this happens all the time when people select sites for use in backlink building campaigns.

SEO people spend a fortune on sites that don’t even do half a job. just because they rely on using one metric to make a judgement.

And then they wonder why they get poor results!

Tell me, have you bought links using just Moz Domain Authority (DA)?

Whether you do or not, let’s consider why that is not the best practice.

Moz DA takes into consideration the quality of a site’s backlink profile, including backlink counts, quality and relative strength.

And, since 2019, it also integrates their spam score algorithms, which is a bonus.

It’s not a bad metric to be fair. Which is why many people rely on it to quickly check sites.

But DA is not a proxy for the overall quality of a site, and if it is all you use, then you’re probably not doing your rankings justice.

I’ll explain why in a moment.

But first, read this next sentence very carefully.

Cyrus Shephard of Moz specifically says:

“The first tip is never use Domain Authority in isolation. You always want to use it with other metrics and in context, because it can only tell you so much.”

So, from the horse’s mouth, acquiring a link from a site using just Moz DA is doing so with less than half the story.

Here’s a quick tip on how to use Moz DA properly

There are other factors that Google measures, not only related to backlinks, but also to traffic and overall search engine visibility.

So, the aim is to find the available metrics that measure those factors to some degree.

An example would be the metric ‘estimated organic traffic’, found in either Ahrefs or SEM Rush.

If Google likes a site, it will send it organic traffic, right?

Now, estimated traffic is not a ranking factor directly, but it hints at a level of trust afforded to a site by Google

And this is reflected in the visibility it has relative to other sites in its niche.

So, traffic is a metric worth checking alongside Moz DA to see if that high DA site you just found really is an authority.

However, be aware that sites with high traffic aren’t always legit, which I told you about in my other post 😉

Estimated traffic and Moz DA are just two good metrics that are excellent when used intelligently, like we do in our M-Flux formula.

In my next post, I’ll introduce to you the simple reason why ugly sites rock for SEO (sometimes) and how to use them with confidence.

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When not to act like James Bond when building links

When not to act like James Bond when building links

There are times when it’s really not good to stand out in a crowd. Like when there’s a serious penalty to pay.

The real smart spies blend in and do things nice and slowly.

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If you want to build links but avoid a nasty slap from Google, you need to do the same and think like the epic World War 2 British spy Virginia Hall and not like James Bond (more about her later, she’s interesting).

virginia hall spy

Picture credit

What has spy-craft got to do with link building for SEO?

Every website has a backlink profile, which is made up of the sites that are linking to them.

And the strength of those backlinks partially determines it’s ability to rank (it’s a top-three ranking factor, as confirmed by Google many times).

In every niche, backlinking happens in different ways.

And at different speeds.

So back to our spies; if you go gung ho like James Bond, then you’ll attract attention and end up in a fight to the death – cover blown and back to square one.

But if you limp around with a false leg, you’ll go right under the nose of the Gestapo and help free France from the Nazis, just like brave Virginia Hall did in World War Two 😉

The takeaway here is that if you break cover and build 30 backlinks in a week after never building a link in 5 years, you’ll risk getting a Google penalty.

So, trying not to ‘stand out’ is the key to successful spying and also backlink building

…and I’ll show you how that’s done further down.

But first, have you heard that backlink building is becoming ineffective?

Well, the truth is it can be and here’s why.

I’ve seen sites make no progress at all after firing a lot of good backlinks at them.

That is often because for most niches Google are switched on to what is classed as ‘normal’ linking behaviour.

So, over-aggressive linking activity can raise a red flag with them.

It’s not always the case though, as some niches acquire backlinks like crazy.

News sites, offer code sites, sports sites, celeb sites, and many others pick links up easily due to the turnover and share-worthiness of their content.

So, Google has a higher tolerance for this link building activity.

But others niches, like refrigerator maintenance sites, don’t see high levels of linking,

And that’s why going crazy building backlinks in certain niches risks getting a penalty, especially if you just use one type of link.

How do you act like Virginia, and get great link building results?


Do as everyone else does in your niche.

Be discreet if that’s what is going on.

Build links from similar sites at a similar pace, but take the odd calculated risk (like Virginia did).

So that you steadily get and keep the edge without raising suspicions with Google.

Backink building, like spying, has its risks.

Anyone that says it doesn’t is a liar.

Google categorically states that virtually any backlinking activity can be considered manipulative and therefore qualify for a penalty (ouch).

But by taking the time to build your backlink profile and following the trends in your niche, you can build rankings and avoid the Gestapo…‘ahem’ Google, and get your rewards 😉

In my next post, I talk about why traffic matters to links and why it isn’t the next big thing – as some are making out.

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How to use anchor text properly for link building campaigns

How to use anchor text properly for link building campaigns

For years, Google made it super easy to rank for any target keyword (if you knew how).

They used anchor text (the text you use to link from one page to another) as a powerful signal of relevance.

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So, all we did was choose the keyword we wanted to rank for and link like crazy with it.

Thankfully, those days are over, but here’s something: it can still be a powerful tactic if used correctly (I’ll show you how in this post).

Plus, I’ll also give you an example of how the foolish still make a mess of it!

Now, let’s talk about what’s changed with anchors over the last few years, so you can use them to your advantage.

A while back, Google felt that adding a keyword into a text backlink was a smart way to infer relevance.

And, in practice, it still is to some extent, but they overrated it as a ranking factor and got spammed to hell.

Sadly, we still see ‘experts’ preaching about its importance, which means we get clients panicking about what anchor text to use in their campaigns.

In fairness, we still ask for anchor keywords when setting up a campaign, but it’s only to partially guide us on their use.

So now I’ll tell you how to use anchor text the right way

First, you’ve got to know what Google hates.

That is anchor text for backlinks that don’t inform the user of what’s on the other side.

Easy fix 🙂

The linking paragraph needs to be in harmony with the link within it.

E.g. Our new red glitter shoes are all the rage in Manhattan. You can find them all in our new range of red shoes here.

Et voila, the link is linking to a page full of their new range of red shoes.

Now, you don’t need to link with every word – but you should link to the words that identify what is behind the link – in this case ‘new range of red shoes here’.

Here’s where the SEO laggards still go horribly wrong

Check out this example of a link placement.

“Our new red glitter shoes are all the rage in Manhattan. You can find our new range of red glitter shoes Manhattan here.”

It reads all wrong, but people still do this because they are desperate to rank for the key phrase “red glitter shoes Manhattan” and believe that this exact match anchor tactic still works.

Google has got really smart with its understanding of text (see Google Bert update), so there’s no need to use words in the same order that someone who is searching would.

It also knows which keywords get the highest search volume, and it isn’t beyond them to spot that someone may be attempting to manipulate them if the exact keywords in anchors are used over and over.

If someone does this for more than a few links, then they should expect those links not to have any impact or worse, get them a nasty penalty.

And it’s no use relying on software that suggests 1% or 5% exact match anchors or whatever, because those tools that attempt to work out anchor text tolerances cannot see whether the sites it is analysing have disavowed those links. Think about that one. Add to that the fact that Google has different tolerances for different niches and you have a tough job guessing.

Your best bet is to avoid having the same anchor more than a few times and just focus on the context that the link is placed within, rather than using the actual keyword to link. Google will easily work out why the link is present using multiple signals, so there’s no need to freak out.

The one place you can go hard with exact match anchors

Guessed yet?

Your own site.

Yes, Google encourages you to use keyword anchors on your own site to link your content together.

It helps users when they are looking for more information within the site, acting as an additional navigation system.

So, feel free to find the best pages on your site and search for your keywords, then use them as links to pages you want to promote.

This is especially good for SEO if you have authority content on deeper levels of your site and want to pass some of that power around.

In summary, be extra careful with your anchors in external content and focus on placing the links where they make sense, but go crazy on your own site.

In my next post, you’ll learn how to outsmart Google like a spy on steroids; check out my next email for the link 🙂

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Biggest Guest Post Myth

Biggest Guest Post Myth

In this post, I’ll destroy the biggest guest post myth and share with you 5 tips for doing guest posting the right way for maximum benefit.

But first, here’s a story that mirrors how Google operates in relation to links…

Imagine you’re selling your $40,000 car sports car; one that you haven’t been thrashing around town for the last 2 years 😉

And the buyer asks for some vouches for your character and driving style…

If you roll out 10 of your best buddies to back you up, then that might look suspicious, right?

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It might not be, but your buyer can’t be sure.

And that suspicion erodes trust and the sale may slip away.

But if you get references from a mechanic, a car sales guy, a local policeman and a bunch of people that know your driving habits, then things look better.

The recommendations from these people are impartial and from a wide range of sources, some of which have authority.

Trust is more likely to be established and you have more of a chance of making the sale.

And if you want Google to trust your website, it’s exactly the same.

Every link from a site unconnected to you is a vote or a recommendation that your site can be trusted – links from your mates or from yourself don’t count.

The question is, do guest posts serve that purpose?

The biggest myth is that all guest posting is bad for SEO and is a path to a penalty.

But the truth is Google doesn’t hate ALL guest posts; guest posting isn’t dead, and they don’t ALL get you penalties.

But only if…

Your sources are credible – as in the story above, AND you deploy them with SKILL.

Remember these 3 simple facts about Google…

  • Google wants and needs content.
  • Bloggers need your content.
  • Readers want to find your content.

So guest posts are great for everyone but…

What Google doesn’t want is crap!!!

Automated, spun content is hated by all.

Drivel with keyword-rich anchors serves nobody.

Plagiarised or blatantly copied content is bad.

As are unnatural backlinks from content pointing to irrelevant pages.

However, quality guest posts form a part of any smart link strategy.

Five easy to action tips to help you do guest posting right

  1. Choose sites that have at least some organic traffic (SEM Rush 100 minimum is a good rule of thumb) and are publishing content at least once a month. It shows they are in Google and visible.
  2. Supply well-written content to the host site (content length is not always important, but delivering answers and matching keyword intent is). You want your content to stand out as genuine and not just a link vehicle when it is read by users and indexed for search by Google.
  3. Don’t submit a ton of guest posts (more than 50) in a short period unless you are promoting yours or your client’s site in other ways. Why? Because unless the guest post sites authors are psychic, there’s no other reason why they would all link out to the same place at the same time! It’s a big red flag and an easy footprint to track (Tip: a well-timed press release can help with this because it raises awareness and makes acquiring other backlinks justified).
  4. As the story above shows, diversify your link profile. It is way more natural for a site to get links from a mix of niches than it is to get them from one. When a story breaks, it often gets picked up by mainstream media and bloggers, not just the niche the story is related to, so don’t only contact cooking sites to promote your chocolate fondue kits.
  5. Don’t chase one metric too hard. DA, DR, TrustFlow, and others are useful, but not in isolation. Look at as many metrics as you can as some will have high DA but low traffic – a sure sign of spammy link building. Our M-Flux formula focuses on 5 metrics to ensure those slippy ‘high DA’ built for links and Google manipulation sites don’t get through.

In the next email, you’ll discover the most common (and most pointless) tactic that won’t go away.

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How to assess sites using Moz DA and organic traffic properly

How to assess sites using Moz DA and organic traffic properly

Estimated organic website traffic is another metric that is being abused by backlink sellers recently.

Simply because it ‘could’ equate to a website worth linking from, right?

It’s not a quantum leap to assume that estimated organic search engine traffic is a positive signal, but it needs to be used sensibly, and with other metrics (I will reveal how in this email).

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However, there are reasons to be cautious about this assumption, which I’ll also take you through one by one.

High traffic does not always = quality or suitability for placing your backlinks

Sites need to be assessed on a site and niche basis because low traffic isn’t always a deal-breaker.

A site could be receiving low traffic for a lot of reasons.

Good reasons for a site getting lower traffic estimates are:

It’s a site that is in a tiny niche with low volumes of search.

In this case, the site traffic may never grow but it may be an authority in its niche. You should look at other metrics such as Ahrefs Domain Rating and Majestic Trust Flow to assess relative authority.

It’s a new site (so maybe it has growth potential).

In this case, look at the content and quality of the design. If it is engaging readers and getting shares, then it could be a site on an upward trend.

It’s a tiny site but the content is top-notch for its niche.

As above, check out the content and look at the backlinks it’s acquiring.

This could easily be another small but authoritative site that is worth getting a link from.

A link from any of the sites described could be useful, so don’t discount without having a good look.

On the flip side, some people assume that high traffic is a winner

But this isn’t always the case.

Bad reasons for high traffic could be:

The site is in a niche with millions of long-tail keywords, so it scavenges traffic.

In this case, check the rankings of the keywords by using a tool like Ahrefs, where you can see the distribution of rankings. If they are mostly on page two and beyond, then the site isn’t an authority in its niche.

The site has masses of poor content so ranks for lots of long-tail keywords.

This could mean the site is not an authority but is so big that it is visible.

The site content has no topical focus and ranks for a ton of useless keywords.

A lot of old but poor news sites have this profile. In this case, look at the inner pages and see if they are garnering any Ahrefs UR or Moz PA – this will show you whether any link you place has any chance of being worth anything.

In most cases, you probably need to avoid these kinds of sites.

So how can you find sites that meet your needs for SEO?

Without setting a minimum of thousands of traffic and high backlink metrics (which is just making life harder for no reason).


You use a formula that looks at a range of trusted metrics.

(like I discuss in the e-book I sent or in this video here).

And the way it needs to work is if one metric is low like traffic, it is counterbalanced by another metric such as Moz DA which may be higher and vice versa.

Using a properly weighted formula you can check that your low (or high) traffic backlink prospects have some link building value.

For example, a higher DA site with lower traffic may show that a site may be an authority in a smaller niche.

Or a lower DA site with higher traffic might be more trusted by Google due to its visibility, but the site is up against a lot of higher DA sites in its niche.

(DA is relative, not absolute, but that often gets overlooked too).

And finally, if all of the metrics are low, the site is either brand new or garbage.

So, now there’s no need to rely solely on one metric like traffic or Moz DA or any other metric.

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