Let’s not run before we can walk. Building a back-link profile that will delight Google’s crawlers and ultimately send your website shooting to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) is a complicated process, particularly for industry novices. So just briefly, let’s take things right back to basics by introducing the humble link.
What are links?
This is a link in practice. By clicking on the underlined ‘This’ you will be taken to a fantastic resource which explains in much greater detail the precise role of the link in search engine marketing. To quote Moz:
“For search engines that crawl the web, links are the streets between pages. Using sophisticated link analysis, the engines can discover how pages are related to each other and in what ways.”
To use a tried and tested analogy, links are seen by search engines as votes in one big popularity contest. The more links, or votes, a page on the internet receives, the more popular it is deemed to be by the search engines. The more authoritative a webpage, the more relevant it will seem and the higher it will place in the search engine rankings.
While this is an extremely simplistic explanation of links, it does show just how important a role links play in a webpage’s visibility. Growing the link profile of a website is crucial to increasing the traffic it receives from the search engines and by direct referral if your content is good. For this reason, link building is one of the most important tasks an SEO will undertake.
Understanding your current back-link profile
A back-link profile is simply industry speak for all the websites that currently link to your site. Since the links your website attracts are so crucial to your ability to rank well in the search engines, it’s essential you have a clear idea of exactly what’s going on.
Of course, you do not receive a notification when a website links to you, so if you’re serious about your brand, make it part of your KPI reporting on a monthly bases to conduct a quick analysis of your back-link profile. Open Site Explorer is the best place to start, this gives you a quick, free snapshot of a domains back-links. However this is just a snapshot, it is not a full picture of your back link profile, the more sources and tools you use the more complete picture you will receive. Using Google Webmaster Tools is a free tool by Google that gives you a good sample of your links too.
You can also run back-link analysis on a competitor’s website to help identify potential link building opportunities you might not have considered. The analysis will reveal the source of all the links pointing to the website, in what manner, and to what page. For a more detailed analysis of a back-link profile, see this in depth post.
However, despite their importance, a good back-link profile is far more than just links…
What makes a good link profile?
The following advice has been provided by SEO experts Kurve who are a Creative Digital Marketing Agency based in London.
The relevance of the linking site
Your site will receive the most value from links from authoritative websites that have relevance to your niche, this means the linking website operates in your niche, routinely talking about content that let’s Google know that these two sites are connected via content and keywords. The more relevant the website, the greater the benefit to your link profile.
Context surrounding the link
Further to the last point, relevancy also applies to the content surrounding the link. If the text surrounding your link refers specifically to your niche and actually adds value to the reader (i.e. you’re not spamming a brand mention for no reason other than for promotion) then the link will have greater value.
Diluted anchor text
Following on from the point above; in a post-Penguin world, optimised anchor texts can land you in a lot trouble. That doesn’t mean you can’t dilute those keywords among plenty of other more Google friendly words. So, while the actual anchor text will not contain any keywords, by diluting the keywords a website wishes to rank for in and around the link, your link profile will shine.
The timeliness of the link
Links tend to become stale over time and as such, the value your website receives will decline. Freshness is incredibly important to Google. While a link from a website with a Domain Authority of 90 will be extremely powerful initially, several years later it may only carry the same value as a link from a Domain Authority 70 site now. Where possible try to keep your contributions and advice to subjects that age well and remain relevant long term.
Is the link follow or no-follow?
A link should be a ‘followed’ link if your website is to receive the full benefit of link juice. Links can also be ‘no-follow’, which means they do not pass any SEO value (AKA ‘pagerank’) to your website. However, no-follow links still function as a normal link in that it will bring referral traffic to your site. To check the status of your link, follow these steps:
● Right click the web-page
● Click ‘View page source’
● A new tab will open, press: CTRL + F
● Search for your anchor text
● If the HTML link includes rel="nofollow" - this is a no follow link.
The number of links
Generally speaking, the more links the better, as long as they come from relevant websites and are providing value to the user and not spamming the anchor text. However, the amount of links from one domain will diminish over time. So it is better for you to concentrate your efforts on targeting domains that have not linked to your website yet.
The diversity of linked-to pages
A broader distribution of links helps to create a stronger link profile. For example, having the vast majority of links pointing to your homepage will not be as beneficial as a diverse spread of links across your homepage, about us, product and service pages or individual blogs. Despite this it is natural for the majority of links to point to a homepage. Kurve can give you detailed information and analysis about what the ‘norm’ is for your niche through a detailed competitive analysis.
Don’t build spam links
For example, building links from article directories to your own website is extremely dangerous territory, and unlike paid links, they’re incredibly easy to spot. If your back-link profile is overcrowded with article directory links, do yourself a favour and remove them.
Branded anchor text
The anchor text you use in your links is one of the most important aspects of your back-link profile. A branded anchor text is one which uses the company’s brand name as the click-able anchor. Google likes to see a lot of diversity within the anchor text matrix (the range of different anchor texts that are used to link to your various site pages).
There’s also a significant ‘indicator’ of natural back-link profiles that we suggest everyone follow - a high ratio of branded anchor texts compared to non-brand. It’s recommended by Moz to aim for a 7:3 branded:non-branded ratio (this can also be referred to as non-targeted:targeted anchor). Of course this is just a generalised average (albeit a good one). We suggest thoroughly analysing the brand:non-brand ratio of the top competitors in your specific market to gain insight into what’s perceived as ‘normal’ by the Google algorithm for that niche.
If you’re serious about legitimate ‘Google-proof’ link building your focus should be about providing unique value to your customers first and foremost. Once you crack this the rest of your job gets a lot easier.
Semantic anchor text
If you do your best to keep abreast of the latest SEO industry news, you’ll probably be familiar with Google’s semantic search. Well, semantics can also do great things for your link profile. Rather than using exact match keywords in your anchor text (a big link building no-no nowadays), building links using semantically similar keywords can help to enrich your link profile.
For example, for our own agency Kurve we could build links that use anchor texts like ‘search marketing agency, ‘search engine optimisation company’’ and ‘SEO experts’ as they are keywords that are related to the services that we offer.
For some tips on how to undertake semantic keyword research see this post.
While brand websites are not actually links in themselves, the mention of one website by a website in a relevant field, even without the presence of any anchor text, can lead to value being passed from one to the other. The value of this mention is further increased when the website contains relevant keywords or links to relevant, high authority websites. If you believe what you read, brand mentions are expected to pay a bigger part in organic search rankings in the near future.
Don’t just focus on high Domain Authority sites
Anything that makes your back-link profile look unnatural to Google will detrimentally affect your search engine rankings. A link profile consisting solely of high DA sites could be perceived as an attempt to manipulate the rankings. Building links from lower authority, legitimate websites which are still relevant to your industry will add balance to your link profile. The vast majority of web content falls into these lower Authority tiers.
Variety is the spice of life
While high authority editorial news links might add the most value to your link profile, we suggest building links to diverse range of website types, such as niche relevant blogs, resource pages, social media sites, award pages, relevant directory sites, charity pages… the list is endless and it’s a great opportunity to get creative!
Slow and steady wins the race
If you manually build a mountain of links in a short space of time having previously attracted very few links to your site over the last 12 months then Google may (rightly) view your activity with suspicion - ‘link velocity’ and its association to unnatural link building has been on Google’s radar for a long time. It is possible that you will produce a piece of content that ‘goes viral’ of course, but these are the exceptions, not the standard by which algorithms operate. In the case of viral content there are too many other supporting signals (social buzz for one) that quite simply can’t be faked the way link velocity can.
Common link building mistakes
Google’s Penguin algorithm update dictates how a back-link profile should not look. For the majority of websites, building links that play by the rules should not present too much of a problem. Yes, you might need to remove a few article directory or paid links that were built before the Penguin struck, but once they’re gone, you’ll soon have a link profile Google loves.
Spare a thought for all those webmasters out there who have included a link back to their website in the footer of each and every website they’ve built, invariably using the same anchor text every time These links break four of the golden rules websites must abide by to create a natural back-link profile, namely:
● No relevancy
● Too many links with the same anchor text
● Too many links from the same domain
● All links point to the homepage
Of course, all these SEO tips to help you create the perfect back-link profile are all for nothing if you’re not sure how to get back-links in the first place.
For further reading about how to get back-links, see the post: How To Build Links for Authority.
By Samuel Hurley, Senior Marketing Executive, Kurve
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