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Nofollow tags and a smarter backlink strategy

April 25, 2022
📓 Article

Google uses backlinks as a way to gauge a page’s authority and value. In fact, that’s why Google’s original name was “Backrub”.

It’s true! Just imagine, you could be using:

  • Backrub Search
  • Backrub Ads
  • BMail

So backlinks are important for your search performance. Which is why a cottage industry evolved out of pasting links en masse to juice up your backlink stats (or “backlink equity,” as we call it).

But that doesn’t really work like it used to.

One big reason: Those sites which you expect to be useful for a backlink? Most of them are preventing you from generating backlink equity.

How can you know? What should you do? Let’s take a look.

🐵 Relationship (‘rel’) tags and the ‘nofollow’

We’ve all seen one of these: Screen Shot 2022-04-25 at 3.12.47 PM.png

It’s an “A tag”. It’s HTML code which tells your browser to include a given link.

An A tag has a bunch of attributes. One of them is “href”, which you can see above. The href says, basically, “Where does this link lead to?”

It’s possible for A tags to have many different attributes. Another important one is “rel” (short for “relationship”).

The rel tag is a way of saying: “Hey, web browser, here’s some information about what kind of link this is.”

Sites use them to discourage backlink hacks. (They don’t want to look like they’re carelessly giving backlink equity to anyone who wants it.)

Common rel values that prevent your link from earning any backlink credit:

  • rel=”ugc”
    This tells Google: “This is user-generated content. We didn’t put this link here ourselves. Our users did. We can’t vouch for it.”
  • rel=”sponsored”
    This tells Google: “We didn’t put this here because we think it’s great. We put it here because someone paid us to.”

And the most important one:

  • rel=”nofollow”
    This tells Google (basically): “We don’t endorse this link, and the reason is not really important. Just ignore this one, Google.”

If you’re getting a free backlink somewhere, it’s safe to assume that the link has been nofollowed.

The comment sections of Quora and YouTube, for example, add nofollows. Guest blogs on any site may be nofollowed by their host.

All of these rel attributes are fine! They don’t hurt you. But if backlinking is the name of your game, these attributes will waste your time.


🏄🏼 What you can do

Visit the sites where you’re pursuing backlinks. Inspect them for rel tags and nofollows. Here’s how…

Right-click on your link, then choose “Inspect”. This will open up the code inspector. See if there are any rel tags on your link.

rel-tag-example-newswire.png

And ask yourself: what’s the real value of posting on these sites? If it’s not backlinks, then it’s probably inbound traffic. (Though a site’s inbound value is also worth verifying for yourself, via traffic data.)

Sites like Quora are communities. You’ll probably generate more value by sincerely engaging with them as a community member. Recalibrate your strategies for that.

How to build an internal link strategy

April 14, 2022
📓 Article

Internal linking helps readers and search engines better understand your content.

So what’s your strategy for internal linking?

It’s normal to not really have one. But still, you should have one. Otherwise you’re missing out on a lot of engagement opportunities. (Google’s John Mueller recently reëmphasized this point.)

Strategic internal linking:

  • Helps interested readers find more relevant articles
  • Gives site visitors more potential click-throughs
  • Reinforces your expertise in a given subject

Also: when Google crawls your site, it counts the number of internal links that each page receives. The pages with the most links will be deemed the most emblematic of your site. This affects your organic search performance.

So let’s look at how to decide on a strategy, act on it, and bake it into your production process.

🧲 This was originally from an issue of the Ercule newsletter. Sign up to receive the next one like this.


You can locate this data pretty quickly in Google Search Console.

Click on the “Link” tab in the left navigation panel.

(That report has some other cool stats, too, like which external sites are linking to you.)

If the “Top Linked Pages” in that report are not the pages that are most important to your brand and market strategies, it’s time to make some changes.


🏄🏼 What you can do

Build your own internal link strategy.

First, decide which pages deserve the most internal links:

  • Which page is the most central to our brand identity?
  • Which 2-3 pages are the most important to our marketing strategy?

Next, it’s time to build those links!

  • Create a list of all pages that are related to your chosen page. (If you don’t have a site index handy, you can use Google search to find relevant pages on your site.)
  • On those related pages, add links to your target page wherever it’s relevant.
  • When you link, make sure to use descriptive text for the link text. The link text should describe the content of the page you’re linking to – not just “Click here!”

Address structural issues that affect internal linking:

  • Change your standardized calls to action. (Make sure they link to your target pages.)
  • Add your target pages to the navigation bar (Pages in your nav get an inlink on every single page of your site.)

Those two elements are probably having an outsized effect on your current internal link numbers. By adjusting them, you can decrease the link count for less important pages while increasing the count for your target pages.

Moving forward, think about internal linking whenever you write a new piece of content. Consider adding them to your content briefs.

Internal links are an important distribution channel!

Why you should document your content strategy

March 30, 2022
📓 Article

You may have seen us talking about a new Content Strategy Quickstart course that we produced with the brilliant Bump Inbound agency.

CSQ gets content marketers from zero to a complete, data-driven, actionable content strategy in about a day.

This involves documenting fundamentals which you may already know (like audience personas, buyer’s journey, and KPIs).

But we’ve found that even experienced marketers skip a lot of those steps. Partly because content strategy is a huge, fuzzy thing! It’s hard to know which steps are most essential, and how to approach them.

Sometimes you’ve got to externalize the to-do list, even when the tasks feel basic.


✏️ The hidden advantages of writing things down

Simplicity is your friend. Simplicity is surprisingly tough to capture. When you write out the foundations of a content strategy, simplicity is within reach.

A single source of truth
Once a content strategy document is approved across your team, everyone is speaking the same language. It becomes the reference point for future discussions (or disagreements).

It also eliminates that feeling of, ‘What do we create next?’ Or, even worse: ‘Why are we writing this piece?’ When you have a documented strategy based on data and shared priorities, these questions are already answered.

Delegation support (especially for tiny marketing teams)
When you’re able to plan out content far in advance, you’re able to assign tasks efficiently to different people. If you’re a one-person marketing department, this provides you more time and space to work with freelancers.

Building something grand
All too often, the pieces we create feel unmoored in the internet’s massive sea of content. With a well engineered strategy, all of your little bits of daily work can build into something greater.

The greater project may simply be a blog catalog that proves your expertise. Or a series of posts that will become chapters for an e-book.


🏄🏼 What you can do

Get the rest of your team on board (or at least the executives who approve this stuff).

Here are steps you can take to advocate for a documented content strategy.

Pull some performance data
Get a quantifiable sense of how well your site is currently performing for metrics like search and conversion.

If you’ve never pulled organic search data, here’s a guide to help you get started.

Look for existing documentation
Which audience persona is your team currently targeting? What’s the topic strategy? When were these things last updated?

“Look” is the operable word here. You might not be able to find any such documents… because your company never created any.

Review the current Key Performance Indicators
How does your team measure success? Clarifying this will sharpen your strategic focus. It’s also a useful reference point when discussing employee performance.

As your company matures, its KPIs should evolve as well.

And, of course, if this all a bit overwhelming, you can learn at your own pace with the Content Strategy Quickstart.

How images can drag down search and content performance

March 16, 2022
📓 Article

We’ve been drilling down into content optimization lately. A few weeks back, we looked at a checklist for aligning content.

Now let’s focus our optimization efforts on user experience (UX). We adapted another checklist for those finer points of SEO (including link health, alt text, and more).

For this newsletter, we’ll focus on one element from the list: images.

Photos, infographics, and art can really enhance the reading experience – when done right. But sloppy images, carelessly implemented, can be a drag on UX and your search performance.


📸 How images affect content performance

What’s the difference between an image that’s useful to readers (and your page performance) and one that’s dragging everyone down? There are a few:

  • Accessibility
  • Relevance
  • File size
  • Text


Accessibility is the real reason why alt tags exist. Alt tags explain visual content in text format for non-sighted users.

A more accessible website is a more effective website – and Google is looking for the most effective possible websites. So accurately worded alt tag fields strengthen search performance (in addition to providing a basic, neighborly kindness).


Relevance pertains to copy and images alike. Informative, compelling graphics can be tremendous assets for UX (plus they look nice, which is fun).

Generic stock photography, however, does none of those things. This image, for example:

Abstract green image of a circuit board. This image was probably designed to look futuristic, but really it just looks generic.

It is trippy. Which is kind of cool. Kind of.


File size is a silent killer for page performance – oversized files slow down your page’s load speed.

Oversized images sneak onto your blog in any number of ways:

  • Thumbnail images (like author profile photos) that are 2000 x 2000 pixels
  • Uncompressed images (which could be compressed without losing quality)
  • Art with excessive amounts of detail


Text in an image is not an inherently bad thing – but in excess it becomes a problem for accessibility and page performance.

Non-sighted readers can’t access it without alt text. Search crawlers can’t either. In both scenarios, the image will come across as null data. And that’s bad for business.


🏄🏼 What you can do

Download the UX Action Items checklist. Go through each task for every image on a given blog page.

  • Review and update alt text for each image. Here are some best practices.
  • For every image, ask yourself: does this convey any educational or branding data? If the answer is no, then delete the image.
  • Look in your CMS for images larger than ~500kb. Do they really need to be that big? Explore options for compressing, such as Image Optim.
  • Whenever possible, adapt text-heavy images and diagrams to inline text. For example: if it’s a screenshot of someone else’s text, simply add that excerpted copy to the page itself as a quote.

Moving forward, do yourself a favor and try to build good habits around all these things. It will save you time and hassle in the long run.


🤳 One more thing

These optimization tips are even more useful when you’ve got an optimization strategy in place for your content library.

That’s why we’re excited to share our brand new optimization strategy guide: Building a content optimization strategy for traffic, leads, and revenue.

Follow the guide step by step, and at the end you’ll have a fully operational, data-driven strategy to start updating your entire content library.

Introducing Ercule's guide to content optimization strategy

March 1, 2022
📓 Article

Google Analytics is ugly… and absolutely essential.

You need that data to improve the content on your site. But the sprawling GA interface has scared away many content marketers. Perhaps even you.

This makes us, at Ercule, mad!

So we wrote a detailed guide: “Building a content optimization strategy for traffic, leads, and revenue.”

Because you should be able to access the data you need. And make sense of it. And use it to build a high-quality content library.


🍱 What’s in this guide?

The content optimization guide includes a crash course in analytics, plus a step-by-step guide for pulling data from Google Analytics, and…

A user-friendly tool that automatically crunches and sorts your data, then shows you where to start updating.


This guide is designed for any writer or marketer who’s interested in using analytics to work smarter, not harder. No experience required. We designed it to be…

  • Accessible – teaching about performance metrics in simple, nuts-and-bolts language

  • Practical – showing you how to get exactly what you need from Google Analytics

  • Instructional – prescribing update tasks for content, based on the data

  • Strategic – creating a prioritized plan of attack for your entire library

In a few hours, you’ll have a fully operational content optimization strategy for your website.


🏄🏼 What you need to get started

We’ll say it again: you can begin by knowing nothing about analytics or optimization.

To start crunching your site’s data using the optimization template, all you need is access to your site’s Google Analytics account. That’s it: just the log-in.

Even without that info, you could get started with the crash course on content metrics right now.

Really. It’s that simple.