With paid links so high up on the radar at the Googleplex these days, it has become even more crucial that your website’s link profile is as natural as possible… even if the links themselves aren’t 100% natural. So what makes a natural link profile? Here are ten things to consider when you are getting links to your sites, both paid and organic, so your site and its link profile will be as low key as possible.
Pay attention to anchor text
What looks more natural… a ringtone site with 95% of all incoming links with “buy ringtones” as the anchor text – especially when both of those words are not in the domain name – or a ringtone website that has at least 20 variations of anchor text, with none of those non-domain-name variations having more than 15% share of the backlinks? You guessed it, the site with the wide variety of anchor texts in the incoming links. Also consider that naturally, some links will have anchor text of “click here”, “buy here”, “source” or your straight URL linked up. For more, read Choosing Your Anchor Text for Incoming Links.
Don’t solicit unnatural anchor text
If someone is linking to this blog, the natural anchor text is Jennifer Slegg. And that wouldn’t trip up any spam filters. But if I asked everyone to link to me with “Search Marketing Consultant” or “Social Media Consultant“, that would certainly trip some flags once it hit a certain percentage of my overall link profile. Why? Because it is not natural. Left on their own, perhaps one or two people might have used that anchor text, but naturally, nearly all would link to me with “Jennifer Slegg” as the anchor text, or if linking to an individual blog entry, with the blog entry title as the anchor text.
Oldie but goodies
Look at a smaller site in your niche market that has been around since well before the era of paid links. Now go an investigate their link profile. Pay special attention to links that look as though they have been around since the beginning of time, such as articles or online newsletters that are dated with the publish date. Now look at the anchor text and where those links came from to see if you could easily replicate it from either those sites or similar ones. This is helpful for those who are new to the industry, and don’t quite remember what it was like before the days of whoever-has-the-highest-paid-link-budget-wins.
Are you using nofollow with care?
Are you nofollowing every outgoing link on your site, even ones that Google has already decided is an authority. If you are nofollowing the CNNs or the Amazons of the world, you have to ask why you are doing this unless you are trying to manipulate PageRank loss from your site, and keeping it all for your own internal links. And nofollowing everything is just not natural, no matter how you slice and dice it. Only use nofollow for those sites you cannot vouch for, and give the rest of the sites your link love. Still not convinced? Read Why you should actively link out from your blog.
Don’t just get links from sites with higher PageRank than you
This was a popular tactic back in the days when everyone was emailing for link exchanges, and people would only ask for links from sites with a higher PageRank. Yes, it makes sense to get links from sites with higher PageRank than you (and yes, I will save the whole “how relevant is PageRank today” argument for another day 😉 ). But would it be natural for a PR2, or even a greybar or PR0 site, to only have incoming links from sites and pages that are PR6 or higher? You guessed it, there is nothing natural about that at all. So while lower PR sites might not give you a huge overall boost, it will definitely go a long way to making your link profile look much more natural, especially if you have some high PR paid links you have thrown into the mix.
Spread the love around
In Google’s eyes, how natural does a site look when it has 12,000 pages, yet only page on the entire site with any incoming links is the homepage? While the homepage will usually get the highest number of links overall to a site, with the exceptions a social related influx of links to an internal page, a large site without a single external link to any internal page on the site is a definite flag. Ensure your site does have links coming into its internal pages… and if not, you should either rectify it or consider reasons why people aren’t linking to anything but the homepage.
Lots of link love from one site isn’t very loving
In a dream, getting a link from every single page on a high traffic site sounds wonderful. But in reality, rarely do sites ever link to another site with a link on every single page of their own site… unless the links are either paid or they are within the same network. A single link from that same site is much more natural and healthy for your link profile.
Avoid footer links like the plague
It could be the most natural unsolicited link from a site whose webmaster just doesn’t know better when he decided to add his ten favorite sites in the footer of his homepage. But anyone looking at that footer link knows it might as well have a 500×500 animated gif above it flashing “Warning! Paid Links Below!” because even if they aren’t paid for, everyone will think they are.
Slow and steady wins the race
What do you think looks more suspicious to Google? The site that suddenly develops 300 links overnight or the site that develops 300 links added in small groups over several months? The first site will look suspicious, especially if it has other warning flags, such as being a brand new site or links with all identical anchor text. Do keep in mind that larger sites can handle more incoming links at once than smaller sites without raising suspicion. So be aware of your own link requirements and restrictions before you go overboard and know what a site your size and in your market area can handle.
Taking a sword to a gun fight?
Don’t forget to take into account competitiveness in an industry too. A site in specific highly competitive markets (ie. credit cards, poker, etc) will need many more links to rank than a site about tourist attractions in your hometown. So don’t attack both of those sites with the same link plan. The first type of site will need thousands of links from a mixture of high PR, authority and market sites, while the second site can likely achieve the desired rankings with a handful of carefully chosen links from related sites. And yes, throwing thousands of high quality links at a site that has no real competition in the serps will definitely cause it to stick out like a sore thumb when it comes to the linking profile, especially when the job could have been done with just a fraction of those links. So don’t go with your link guns blazing at a small site and don’t show up with a sword when you are playing with the big fish.
Developing a natural link profile is going to become more and more important this year, especially since Google is taking action against sites it perceives as purchasing links. So ensure you have a natural link profile for your big money sites, and if you have done suspicious link acquisition or paid links in the past, start cleaning up your profile to make it look much more natural before you accidentally trip the paid links spam filter.