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Why do some authors rank better than others on Google?

How does Google even work?

I interviewed Tony Tovar, a search engine optimization (SEO) expert. He’s the CEO of Inbound Mastery and the person I contact when I have questions about how Google works. 

Why is it important for authors to rank well on Google?

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Why is it important for authors to rank well on Google?

Tony Tovar: Primarily because you want to be found. If you rank on the first page of search engine results, you’ll be better off than authors who aren’t there. 

You will sell more books, and your books will become more well-known. You want to rank on Google so people can find you when they’re looking for you. 

Thomas: That’s critical because people go to Google to get answers to their questions. I do 60 or 70 Google searches every day. If your website doesn’t appear in the search results, I’ll go to someone else’s.

What do you have to do to rank well on Google?

Thomas: How does Google work?

Tony: It’s kind of like a resume. You want to have as many references as possible that point to the content you create on your website. You want other people to recognize you on their blogs or websites for what you’ve done or written.

Thomas: They recognize you by pointing a link at your website. They put a hyperlink to your website on theirs. And that’s a change from how Google SEO worked in the nineties.

Google used to look at the keywords on a web page and rank the websites based on the keywords found on the page.

Tony: Right, but they don’t do that anymore. You might still find a few websites that have keyword stuffing since that’s what the old search engines used to look at to rank websites. But they no longer use that method.

Thomas: Now, new search engines are looking at links. They evaluate how links are coming into your website. 

How do I get more links pointed at my website? 

Thomas: Is the number of links the most important? Do I just need to build a ton of links to get to my website to rank?

Tony: No. The number of links matters less than the quality of the links from referencing sites. It comes down to the quality of references that are made to your site.

How do you determine whether a referencing link is a quality link?

Thomas: How is that quality determined? 

Tony: PageRank is Google’s algorithm that measures websites’ and webpages’ importance based on the links pointing to them. The more referencing sites you have, the more authority Google thinks you have, and that author gives you a greater chance of ranking. 

It’s all based on their PageRank algorithm. It’s a mathematical way of establishing that you have authority based on the referencing sites that link to yours.

Thomas: PageRank also evaluates how many links are pointed to that other site. If the website with a lot of authoritative links points to your site, all those links help you both rank on Google. 

The links grant authority in the eyes of PageRank. If those authoritative links come from a website that’s very relevant to yours, then it’s even better. 

For example, if I’m writing Amish fiction and get a referencing link from Scientific American, it won’t be as helpful. Even though Scientific American is authoritative on science subjects, it’s not authoritative on Amish subjects.

Tony: On any given day, I would prefer a link from a relevant site over an irrelevant site with higher authority. Even though the relevant site may not have high authority, it might help your ranking more because of its relevance.

Thomas: You want high-authority links, which means you want links from sites with lots of traffic. But you also want links from sites with lots of traffic related to the topic you’re writing about.

Tony: The more relevant the link, the more Google will notice that you are an authority in that space.

Thomas: Publishers Weekly or New York Times bestseller list would be good links because they get lots of traffic (high authority) and are very relevant (they’re all about books).

How can I get links from authoritative, relevant sites?

But if Publisher’s Weekly doesn’t review my book or they don’t include a link in their review, how can I get other links from authoritative, relevant sites?

Create Link Bait Content

Tony: Creating good link bait content may help you get authoritative, relevant links. 

Readers are sifting through so much information that your writing must stand out. If you can stand out, you can grab the attention of people who own websites. If you make your content shareable, people can share it on social media. From there, other blogs may find it and might even reference it. Good link bait is absolutely necessary for your content.

What’s an example of link bait content?

Thomas: Can you give me some examples of link bait? Are they articles with titles like “Seven Things You Didn’t Know about X, Y, and Z.”

Tony: Yes, that’s one example. Some people don’t want to read anything unless it’s very methodical. 

Thomas: When we first started Author Media, we wrote a post called “Seven Agents Every Author Should Follow on Twitter.” It was very popular with authors, but five of those seven agents linked to that list. They noticed they’d made the shortlist and then shared the post on Twitter so others could check it out. 

Tony: That’s a great example. 

Another example might be from speaking events. If you’re at an event and the speaker says something Tweetable, you can share it on Twitter. If they catch on that you wrote about them, you might get a link back from them as well.

Thomas: You could also post the notes you took to your blog and tweet that. 

Tony: In general, link bait is just interesting content, but the most important part of that content is the title. The title draws people in. 

Good content gives people what they want in the title, but once they come to read the article, you give them what they absolutely need. Lure them in with a fancy title, but then give them the information they need and are grateful to receive.

Thomas: Content is king. If James L. Rubart were here, he would say, “Content isn’t king. It’s master and supreme commander of the universe.”

Guest Blogging

Tony: Guest blogging or guest post opportunities usually provide a link back to your website.

One way to find guest blogging opportunities is to find out who is out-ranking you on Google and see where they’ve guest-posted and built links. 

Thomas: If my arch nemesis has written a guest post for a popular blog, I should write a guest post for that same blog, so I get a link from them as well.

Tony: That will help you build relationships with other people and websites so you can get those articles flowing out there.

Thomas: If you’re an author, a good place to find guest post opportunities is with fellow authors in your genre. 

If you write science fiction with vampires, you’re in a small niche. There are probably only a handful of authors writing that genre, and you’re probably only writing one or two books per year. 

However, your readers of vampire science fiction want more than one book per year. To solve that problem, you can ask a competitor to post on your blog. It helps that author get links and exposure, but it also helps your readers because it gets them more involved in that genre.

Tony: It’s a great way to get relevant links. It may not be a highly authoritative link from Time Magazine, but it’s an extremely relevant link. Again, relevancy plays an important part in ranking.

Thomas: Ideally, you would want to write a guest post for a popular New York Times bestselling author. You could get lots of traffic that way, but starting there is hard. You have to prove you’ve built up a following before those high-authority sites will accept your guest post. 

Every day, people ask to guest post on I always look to see where else they have guest-posted. Have they been writing articles for Mashable, Social Media Examiner, and other sites I respect? If those sites have trusted the author with a guest post, I’m more likely to give them a guesting opportunity, even if I don’t know them in person. 

Most of our guest posts are from people I’ve met at a conference or a friend of a friend.

Tony: I always say, “Follow the traffic, not the link.” You don’t want to just try to go get a link. If you get one, that would be great. If that link comes from a website that has traffic, you don’t even have to wait for search engines to rank you. That traffic will come from those sites without needing to go through Google. 

I often see people getting links from relevant sites with insufficient traffic, and that’s a mistake. 

Be a little picky about where you publish your article because if that site does have that social push and visibility, then it’s better for you immediately and in the long term for SEO.

Public Speaking

Tony: If you are speaking at an event, it gives you a chance to share your knowledge and allows others to talk about you. They might tweet what you said or post their notes and link to your site. 

Thomas: Event coordinators typically post an agenda and list of speakers with bios and links to the speakers’ websites. That’s a great link. 

When I’m speaking, I encourage people to pull out their phones and tweet during my talk or take notes on their laptops during my talks because I want that social engagement. I want those links. 

They will be on their phones anyway, so they might as well be tweeting about my talk. I don’t see the phone or tablet as an enemy. I see it as an ally. I know I’m doing a good job in my talk when there’s a flurry of tweets related to my talk. I know I’m not doing well when everyone’s on their phones, and there are no tweets afterward. 

Write Articles for Magazines

My friend Mary DeMuth has been writing for Christianity Today and has been featured on their home page and blog. Each of those articles is linked back to her website. That’s a super relevant link from a very authoritative source for a writer in the Christian space. Christianity today is one of the biggest magazines in that space. 

If you’re writing fiction, consider writing an article or short story for a genre-specific magazine.

If you’re trying to decide between two short-story publications, if one links to the author’s website and the other doesn’t, write your story for the magazine or journal that provides a link to your website.

Tony: Many PR firms are doing SEO by trying to get their clients featured in magazines and blogs, but they don’t even realize they’re doing SEO. If a print publication has an online sister site where they post articles, that’s another great way to get a link.

What are some tips for ranking well on Google?

Thomas: Google looks at hundreds of different things, not just links. We’ve been focused on that in this. But what are some other tips that you have for ranking well?

Tony: The link-building techniques we covered are the best. Focus on those. 

Amazing Content

Make sure your content is absolutely amazing. People are bombarded with a ton of information every day. You want to stand out. Focus on selling people what they want and give them what they need in the content. 

Integrate Social Media

Integrate things like social media into your blogs. Post your articles on your social channels, too.

Thomas: Have a blog on your website. No one wants to link to your “About” page. You won’t get many links if you don’t have a blog.

Tony: Many people say they don’t want to spend the time to write. But how else are you going to attract your customers? You absolutely have to write interesting things they can relate to. 

I know a dry-cleaning business that writes articles about the dry-cleaning industry, but their customers don’t care about the industry. Their blog is not interesting to the customer.

Thomas: Authors are tempted to write articles about writing. But readers don’t want to know about subjunctive clauses. Instead, authors should write about their genre and review other books. 

Good SEO Can’t Fix Bad Content

Tony: Getting these links and building your SEO won’t fix a boring blog post. You must provide good, helpful information in a clear and interesting voice. Only then will you get those high-authority, relevant reference links from other websites. And that is what will help you rank well on Google.

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