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This is a continuation of the article Link building structures: hunters and collectors. What I’m doing is looking at web traffic control from a graph theoretic perspective. This is article is hypothesis, though I believe you can use the principles in reality.

Look at the diagram below. There are a number of different types of graph networks and clusters.

Overall graph shows nodes and clusters of mixed connectivity

The green node is a hub site.

not show links from each of the blue nodes to the green node. Instead, this is shown in shorthand visual notation using the larger circle encompassing each cluster.

Peach nodes are traffic “collectors” – they get traffic sent to them by the hub.

The curved green lines show traffic flow, from blue to green to peach nodes.

How can we use this link structure to send traffic from blue nodes to peach nodes? One possible scenario is as follows:

Blue nodes are part of separate blog network clusters. Their fully-connected link nature likely means high traffic for all nodes. That’s assuming, of course, that each network has high authority. Ownership is different for each network, and unrelated to the peach and green node network.

The strategy would be to get links on to the blue sites so as to draw traffic to the green site. Possible ways include:

Purchased text links on-site or in-feed.

Purchased reviews.

Targeted articles and linkbait on the green site to draw links from blue sites.

Guest articles on blue sites.

The green hub node could be some sort of general or portal site, with the peach nodes being niche domains.

The traffic redirection from green to peach is done through a number of methods:

By placing strategic articles on the green site, with links to peach sites.

The next article will discuss a traffic-building strategy that I’m trying for a client, using some of the concepts discussed here.

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Creating A Link Building Dashboard

If you are actively building links as part of your SEO efforts, you are probably tracking your metrics, but are your metrics helping you? You should be actively watching KPI’s to ensure your link building is heading in the right direction. This begs two questions two questions: What KPI’s do I track and how do you record these metrics so that they are actionable?

The second question is pretty easy – you should be tracking your KPI’s in a dashboard. This is great because it allows you to see trending data for your important metrics that should be shaping your link building efforts. I have made a link building dashboard template that you can download here.

So what metrics should you be tracking? You should be watching KPI’s that indicate the results of your efforts so that you can reshape your link building efforts as needed. The following are the metrics that I track, as they impact how I focus my time:

Total Links

This is pretty straightforward – How many external links are pointing to your entire domain. If you want to create a competitive intelligence dashboard, you can also include your competitor’s links. I recommend using Google Webmaster tools data for this KPI – Don’t forget to subtract internal links as Google includes this number in WMT.

Number of Linking Domains

While it is good to know the number of links pointing to your site, the number of linking domains has a higher correlation with good rankings and is vital to track. This is really good to watch alongside your total links graph as it will help you understand if you are getting a lot of contextual links or if you are getting less valuable links, like sidebar links.

Number of Linking Domains Gained

How successful are your efforts? How many linking domains are you gaining each week? This is a good number to look at to judge the scalability of your efforts in order to help evaluate your effectiveness. If you are putting a lot of effort in but are only getting a few mediocre links, then you should probably look into a different tactic.

Number of Phrase Match Anchors

I like to know the number of links I am building with targeted anchors. I track how many links use phrases containing the anchors that I am targeting. While the raw number is helpful for seeing the effectiveness of your efforts, it is really important to look at this as a proportion of your links. You want to make sure you don’t have 50% of your links being targeted anchors as this is indicative of targeted link building efforts that could easily be detected by search engines.

Number of Branded Links

How many links contain your brand name? Create a percentage of the number of branded links compared to your entire backlink profile. You should know your competitive landscape and what the branded backlink portfolio of your competitors looks like.

Links to the Homepage

How many of your links are pointing to your homepage? You want to create a dashboard that will show you the ratio of links going to your homepage. Compare this ratio against that of your competitors and the top ranking sites. The purpose of this is to make sure that you are still building links in the appropriate ratio to corresponding pages so that your backlink profile doesn’t appear unnatural.

I created a template that you can download and put your own data in that you can download here.

While there are a huge number of other metrics you can track, and that you should probably look at, these are the KPIs I track consistently. As this is for a dashboard, you want to only include the vital metrics that give you a quick overview of the performance of your link building; you should be able to tell if something looks off and needs further investigation.

7 Uncommon And Powerful Link Building Techniques

An SEO’s job can get monotonous when ideas run dry. Submit a guest post here, a press release there. Email bloggers and hope they respond. Draft up an article and try to get influencers on board. These techniques can offer reliable and sustainable results, but it’s the big ideas, the uncommon approaches, that are the real game changers.

Here are seven techniques you’ve probably never heard of before. They will bring you success if you use them wisely. Hopefully, they will also get the creative juices flowing, so that you can come up with your own uncommon techniques.

1. Free or Cheap eBooks

Have a linkbait idea you are particularly proud of, but aren’t quite sure how to reach a big enough audience? An eBook could be the solution. There’s a pretty decent amount of articles out there on how to use eBooks to monetize a site that already has exposure, but eBooks can actually be just as effective as a method of gaining exposure in the first place.

The thing to realize about marketplaces like Amazon and Barnes&Noble is that they aren’t nearly as saturated as the Google search results. Your high-traffic search term might have been eaten up by impossible competition in Google, but there might not even be a book with that particular title. Get an eBook listed in these marketplaces for a low price (or free), and make it good enough to get four- or five-star ratings, and you can expect a decent readership to develop rather quickly.

Get your website on the cover and in the pages of the book, and links will almost certainly follow.

Amazon and Barnes&Noble don’t allow you to price your book below $0.99 through their native interfaces, but if you distribute through SmashWords you can get your book listed for free if you want to.

If you don’t think you have what it takes to write an eBook, keep in mind that a free or cheap eBook could be as long as five blog posts, or even shorter, without too many complaints.

2. Hire Established Bloggers

If you think hiring an established author is outside of your budget, think again. There’s no need to put them on your payroll. Without a product of their own to sell, even somewhat high-profile bloggers aren’t exactly rolling in cash. Try reaching out to a few bloggers with a freelance opportunity and see what they’re willing to work for. You might be surprised.

It’s pretty natural for a blogger to link to an article that they wrote for you, especially if you didn’t ask them to write anything they might consider damaging to their integrity (probably best to avoid product reviews). Just doing this once in a month can be a great source of solid links from genuine influencers.

3. Interview an Influencer

You might not be able to interview Brad Pitt or the President, but if don’t think you can get an interview with somebody noteworthy, you’re selling yourself short. Heavy twitter users, book authors, and bloggers love exposure just as much as you do. Offer to interview them and many of them will respond positively.

Certainly, many of them will think your blog is below them, but many of them will not. These influencers are only promoting themselves by linking to the interview afterward, so it’s not too difficult to pull this off if you know how to ask.

4. Commission an Artist or Photographer

Once again, if you think this is outside of your budget, you are mistaken. Artists and photographers are just as hungry for freelance work as bloggers, and you can easily pay them fairly without draining your budget. There is an incredible amount of talent out there, and most of it is underpaid.

5. Offer Free Work for an Influencer

Hopefully, it’s clear that you shouldn’t simply offer a product or service to an influencer and ask for a link in return. However, offering to provide them with a service that they need can be a great way to launch an online relationship that can be leveraged to build links down the road. Whatever product or service you produce, there is almost certainly a type of blogger who would be happy to receive it for free.

6. Be the First to Break a Story to an Influencer

Established bloggers and tweeters love being the first to announce a breaking story. A good way to establish a relationship with an influencer is to let them know about an important story before they say anything about it. Being in front of a good story, instead of behind it, is something that they will thank you for and remember.

Clearly, if you are sitting on insider information that people will find irresistible, you’ll probably do best by simply posting the information on your own blog and contacting your network to let them know. If, on the other hand, it’s a piece of news from an established source that simply hasn’t hit the twitter-sphere and blogosphere yet, it’s worth it to reach out to influencers with the information instead.

A good way to stay on top of information like this is to subscribe to press release sites and other “raw data” sources that report on information before it hits the New York Times or the rest of the Web.

7. Mine Quora and Yahoo Answers

Check out the top questions on Q&A sites like these and look for questions that you can answer better. Write a blog post on the subject and compile as much helpful information as you can, presenting it in a comprehensive, appealing, and easy-to-navigate format.

After posting the article, summarize your answer in a response on Quora and reference your blog post in the process. If the answer does well and is seen by enough people, it will be a steady source of traffic and links for the new article.

Conclusion

Innovative link building techniques may not be as predictable as tried and true methods, so they shouldn’t necessarily replace them entirely, but they are what separates you from the competition and allows your site to prosper on the Web and in the search results.

Can you think of other uncommon but powerful link building tactics? Don’t forget to pass this along if you thought it was helpful.

Just Ask: Strategies For Building Community Partnerships

A public audience is a crucial component not only for a PBL project, but also for authentic and relevant learning. We know that the quality of student work increases when we have students share their work with an audience outside of the classroom. We also know that it can help keep students accountable in getting the work done. While it’s powerful to bring in the experts at the end of a unit or project, having them there along the way is helpful in providing authentic feedback. Of course, bringing an outside audience into your classroom can be a challenge — not to mention finding them first. Edutopia recently updated its Building Community Partnerships resource roundup, which includes some great videos, blogs, and ideas on how to connect with members of the community in different ways. Here are some further strategies you might consider.

Just Ask

I know it may seem simple, but just ask! Sometimes there is a strange fear associated with asking. Yes, it can be a little awkward to reach out and connect with someone outside of the classroom, but we need to be willing to take the risk. The worst answer you’ll get is, “No.” The best answer could be, “Sure, and let me bring in 20 of my colleagues!” You never know what the possibilities might be. In fact, many businesses and organizations require that their members spend time doing community service or even specifically volunteering in a school. Start early — the sooner you think you might need an audience, the sooner you should contact that potential audience member.

Ask Parents About Their Work and Lives

Parents are critical partners in learning, and they are also experts in their own right. One strategy I have employed is to send a quick survey home to parents asking them, “What do you do in your work or career?” and “What are some of your hobbies or other areas of expertise?” This gives me a list of parents that have at least two areas of expertise I can address. In fact, the more teachers in my building who ask, the more experts I have on my list. I encourage you to build a comprehensive list at the grade or school level. This list can be organized and curated by a teacher leader or even a parent community liaison.

Be Specific

Instead of asking parents or community members if they can come in on a certain day, be more specific. Tell parents and experts exactly what you would like them to do. Do you want them to provide feedback? Do you want them to ask questions to probe student thinking? Both? Either way, having very specific tasks and objectives for these community partners is crucial to making their connection not only more valuable, but also more meaningful. Provide a rubric or give them questions or prompts to drive feedback. Don’t forget to give them a context for the visit. Also, offer time slots to make it more possible for a visit to occur. It’s much easier to find an hour or two, rather than a full day. Instead of asking, “Can you come on Friday the 8th?” say, “I have six 30-minute time slots where I’d like to have students receive feedback. Are you available for any of these times?”

Use Technology

Technology can be used to make the walls of the classroom and school more permeable by way of virtual visits and meetings. Use message boards and blogs to get feedback as formative assessment from experts. Record videos from experts and from students, and exchange asynchronously if you are having trouble scheduling synchronous time. Skype is another tool that you can use to get experts into your classroom virtually. If you aren’t able to visit the expert or parent at their workplace, then consider a virtual field trip. Even with minimal technology, teachers can connect with people outside of the classroom.

Have Experts Ask Their Colleagues

In your request to experts and parents, ask them to ask their colleagues at work. When one teacher was looking for a subject matter expert to support a wing design project, he asked his colleagues and got around 20 volunteers. Parents and experts have amazing connections through their friends, spouses, relatives, and colleagues. If you try this, you could build a network of audience members that you never thought possible.

Now, I’m not saying that these strategies will bring every expert or parent that you ask into your classroom, but it can’t hurt to try. In fact, you should be excited even if you get just a few people to support your work. It’s generous of anyone to donate his or her time to support student learning.

What are some of your strategies to bring outside experts and parents into the classroom?

The 7 Worst Link Building Myths Holding Back Your Campaign

As long as search engines shroud their algorithms in secrecy, the industry will continue to be rife with spam and myths.

I’d argue this encourages businesses to pursue the wrong strategies rather than strategies that work.

That’s why some people have lost faith in the value of SEO. This limits opportunities more than it creates new ones.

As you read through this chapter, you’ll notice a number of popular myths that cast a negative light on link building and leave people scared of pursuing manual link building practices.

This is understandable from where the industry has come from.

But I’d argue that this leaves us blind to good link building opportunities.

Do search engines justify links by their ends (value) or by their means (practice)? I’d argue the latter.

But the point here isn’t to argue ethics. It’s to showcase value.

Here I’d like to dispel seven popular myths and misconceptions about link building that are causing more harm than good.

Once we’ve busted these myths, we can deliver our clients more value by better understanding the core basics of link building.

Myth 1: Backlinks Are a ‘Top’ Google Ranking Factor

This myth dates back to a Google Q&A, when Google Search Quality Senior Strategist Andrey Lipattsev stated that links, content, and RankBrain were Google’s top three ranking factors.

But if this were true, it would ignore a vast majority of signals, such as user experience, query intent, and hundreds of other ranking factors to prioritize pages by the amount of backlinks they have.

John Mueller even clarified this.

Google’s ranking factors are dynamic, employing different algorithms when determining the results of different queries for different user intent.

But countless correlation studies have shown that pages in the top three results tend to have an huge number of backlinks.

The question is:

Do these pages rank high because of their backlink profile – or do they have so many backlinks because they are ranking high?

It’s all relative.

We don’t know. So we shouldn’t limit our strategy.

Does this mean that backlinks aren’t an important ranking signal?

Of course not.

The influence of links may be more substantial in first-page search results when most other factors remain equal.

Myth 2: The Penguin Penalty

Penguin is an algorithm, not a penalty handed out by Google.

The distinction is important for two reasons.

Google won’t warn you when your site is devalued because of its backlink profile.

Recovery from an algorithmic devaluation offers simpler solutions.

Despite promises from Google that Penguin 4.0 does not trigger negative sitewide ranking actions, countless case studies have proven differently.

Check out these case studies here and here for more proof.

Recovering from negative SEO caused by spammy link building only requires disavowing those links that qualify as obvious spam.

Generally, you shouldn’t worry about Penguin if you’re pursuing good linking strategies and avoiding links farms and networks.

Even if Penguin does catch some malicious links, which every site has, then I still wouldn’t freak out because chances are Penguin won’t even register those individual links.

Myth 3: Link Quality Can Be Defined by DA or PA

How do search engines define link quality?

We aren’t sure.

So how should you define link quality?

This might be considered more of a misconception than a myth.

Third-party metrics, such as Domain Authority (DA) and Trust Flow, are merely barometers or guesses for how well a site compares to others.

DA is neither a ranking signal, nor does it give us complete insight into how qualitative a website is for link building.

I’ve run into so many sites with a high DA that were either abandoned or just obvious link farms.

This isn’t to trash DA specifically. The problem is relying on a single proprietary metric to justify junk link campaigns and charge clients.

So let’s take a stab at determining what a good link is:

Linking domain offers content relevant to your business.

Linking domain has high traffic value.

Anchor text is contextual.

Linked-to page offers value to users.

The website has an editorial process in place for content.

It’s really that simple.

What’s dangerous about this line of thinking is that chasing DA leaves you blind to opportunities right in front of you.

This includes ignoring relevance, new websites, and even low-hanging fruit in the fruitless quest for DA.

Myth 4: Asking Someone for a Link Is Spammy

As we’ve all heard, asking someone for a link or exchanging a link between sites is spammy.

But reclaiming citations or manually reaching out for a link from a relevant directory or publication should not be grouped into the same category as link exchanges.

If so, it would mean that broken link building and resource link building should be avoided.

Myth 5: High Link Velocity Contribute to Manual Penalties

Many people fear that building tons of links to a single piece of content could negatively impact its keyword rank.

As impressive as search engines are, their ability to index the entire web and identify trends like this would be nearly impossible.

Besides, it makes sense that a highly original and valuable webpage would generate backlinks exponentially on its own.

Every time somebody links to your content it increases its visibility and gives it the opportunity to acquire additional links.

If this increases keyword rank enough, this effect significantly compounds.

It’s the very idea of organic link building.

That said, if you acquire a ton of low-quality links from content networks and spammy directories, then you could be slapped with a manual penalty or significant link profile devaluation.

Myth 6: Guest Posting Negatively Contributes to Link Building

We’ve been hearing about how guest posting is dead for years.

These statements, like many from Google, were later rescinded or clarified.

Why would search engines punish you from guest posting in a highly relevant and trafficked publication to market your business and thought leadership?

Obviously, contextual links are valued higher then homepage links in your byline, but spamming your contextual links with keyword-rich anchor text could be self-defeating.

Guest posting just to build links misses the point of link building.

Guest posting, and even acquiring nofollowed links, could have indirect benefits on your digital marketing from increasing your brand visibility across the web to your flow of traffic from these sources.

Myth 7: Link Building Is All About Links

Link building can:

Increase your brand’s visibility across the web.

Increase traffic to your domain.

Showcase your brand’s authority and value.

Primarily, manual link building should be more about building relationships with other websites for marketing opportunities than simply acquiring a link.

I compare it to brand building in many aspects.

With that said, link building does have an obvious direct result in your rankings, but it also offers many positive indirect results that go on behind the scenes.

Conclusion

The moral of the story?

Avoid spam, but don’t avoid low-hanging fruit and good opportunities in the pursuit of DA or appeasing a penguin god.

As with everything online, digital marketing is just as filled with facts as it is fallacies.

Know how to spot the truth and follow the best practice of link building for the best results for your marketing campaign.

Featured Image Credit: Paulo Bobita

Building Community With Restorative Circles

Our students come to school with many issues on their minds and in their hearts. As educators, we can help them process their thoughts and feelings so they can better handle their situations and be more present in class.

Restorative circles are a useful practice to do just that. While frequently used to replace punitive forms of discipline, restorative circles are equally important in proactively building the relationships and skills students need to support one another and collectively address the challenges they face. 

Restorative circles are most effective when they’re an integral part of school culture. After all, you can’t “restore” a community that you haven’t built or sustained.

7 Steps for Facilitating Meaningful Circles

1. Cocreate a safe, supportive space: Circles work best if teachers invest time up front to build relationships, skills, and practices to draw on throughout the school year—especially if the going gets tough.

Early in the process, teachers and students together explore values—like empathy, patience, kindness, courage, and open-mindedness—that need to be respected for people to be willing to share openly and honestly in circle. They also determine best ways of working together (circle practices). These include honoring the talking piece, which goes around the circle as an invitation to share while everyone else listens (participants may pass if they don’t wish to talk). People are encouraged to speak and listen from the heart. And what is shared in circle, stays in circle, though educators should let students know at the outset that we are mandated by law to report when a student threatens to harm themselves or others, or when students divulge abuse.

2. Be prepared: Make sure that you, the facilitator, are well rested, calm, and focused.

To hold the circle space effectively, it’s important to be fully present and able to sit with other people’s stories and feelings as well as your own. Center yourself. If you’re exploring sensitive issues that may require follow up, consider alerting support staff.

3. Plan ahead: Decide together on a topic or theme that sustains students’ interest.

Find a relevant opening ceremony to open the circle space, such as a poem, quote, or piece of music. A mindfulness activity can also be used to bring students into the space after a particularly stressful class or noisy hallway experience.

Look for information to ground the conversation, and develop questions and prompts to invite student perspectives into the circle. 

Keep in mind that the bigger the circle, the more time you’ll need for the talking piece to go around. Think about how things might unfold and be ready to adapt to what comes up. 

Make sure to leave time for a closing ceremony, giving students a chance to transition into spaces that may be less conducive to being vulnerable. A closing ceremony can be a commitment to safeguarding the stories shared in circle, or a breathing exercise in which we provide students with prompts and time to put themselves back together again.

4. Invite student experiences into the space: Encourage students to connect with the circle content by sharing stories from their own lives.

Include storytelling rounds by asking students to talk about “a person in your life who…” or “a time when….” Share authentically of yourself. This gives others permission to do the same. Model good listening as the talking piece goes around the circle. Be fully present as others speak. Remind everyone that listening is the key ingredient in circles. True listening can create the kind of welcoming space that encourages even the quietest voices to speak.

5. Acknowledge, paraphrase, summarize, and practice empathy: Listen closely to what students share so that you can build on their experiences.

When the talking piece comes back to you, touch on what you felt, noticed, or heard. If you sense that there’s more than surfaced in the first round, send the talking piece around a second or third time, asking students for their connections, reflections, or additions. 

If challenging or painful issues come up, model agreed-upon circle practices for students to follow. Listening mindfully and being present with other people’s ordeals and hardships can create supportive, healing experiences that strengthen community connections and build empathy.

If needed, let students know you’re available to check in with them later in the day or week. You might also have them consider speaking with other supportive adults or students to find solace if they’re troubled.

6. Explore what it means to be an effective ally: Beyond creating a supportive listening environment, ask what else, if anything, students need from you and from each other.

Explore how to be better allies in circle so that students know they don’t need to face their challenges alone. Invite them to talk about a person in their lives who is a good friend or ally, or a person they’d like to be a better friend or ally. Discuss the qualities these people have (or lack) and how they make us feel. Invite students to talk about a time they’ve been a good friend or ally themselves, and what gets in the way of being our best selves with one another.

7. Zoom out to promote understanding on the systems level: Explore whether there are larger systemic forces that underlie the challenges students have touched on (such as racism, sexism, or lack of access to resources). Introduce information, stories, and voices that might shed light on how these systems operate. Look for examples of people who took action to interrupt these and other oppressive systems.

Invite students to connect to this information by sharing their thoughts, feelings, and related experiences.

Studying larger, systemic forces in society can help students better understand their situation, and can be a useful starting point for students to become more active themselves. Action and activism can inspire hope, connection, and healing.

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