• Creating a natural link profile for your site

    by  • April 28, 2008 • Linking • 13 Comments

    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.


    Jennifer Slegg is a longtime member of the SEO community and is an expert on social media, content marketing, Google AdSense and search engines.

    13 Responses to Creating a natural link profile for your site

    1. April 28, 2008 at 6:59 am

      If Google keeps treating no follow the way they have been this year it’s just going to become another useless piece of internet code. Follow and nofollow will become the same and useless feeling. Google wants the whole pie and they only want you to have the whipped cream if they agree with you. If they disagree with what you decide to link to then you get smacked on the hand and told to go to your room. At least that’s how it’s been feeling to me lately…. I could be in the minority. It just seems like Google is making a mess with their link punishment plans this year.

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    3. April 29, 2008 at 1:18 am

      Good points – with one exception.

      The site that suddenly gets an explosion of new links looks entirely natural. It happens thousands of times a day with no SEO involved at all. Especially since blogs, but before that too. Its the News buzz. When Google beta-launched Orkut, thousands upon thousands of links sprang up to this previously unknown site overnight and over the course of the first few days. On a smaller scale, this is the norm for most sites. It is natural for links to grow in spurts rather than steadily growing by n amount per day.

      You post a great blog post or article today and you get hundreds of links. Bursts and spurts are the natural pattern of genuine buzz and social interest. Too-steady growth would be the warning sign. The red-flag would come from slow steady growth from sites that don’t link out readily and often. Links from sites that don’t have a history of being part of buzz.

    4. Jenstar
      April 29, 2008 at 6:06 am

      Ammon, that’s now always the case… JenSense kept getting banned in Google in the early days for too many sudden incoming links, starting right off the hop when I launched it. It was a running joke amongst my friends because of it. I had the same problems with another site last year as well, but Google seems to be much better at handling it now too.

      I think Orkut might have got a pass since Google owned it 😉

      I have also wondered if a mixture of link that show up in Google news help give sites a pass with those sudden incoming links to a brand new site, when there is a ton of news publicity to back it up.

      That said, getting exactly 27 links each and every day is a flag in itself, so definite variaiton is good :)

    5. April 29, 2008 at 11:37 am

      I have found it much more beneficial to my rankings to diversify link anchor text. These days there seems to be so many do’s and don’ts that make it hard to keep ahead of the curve. Yet I think so long as the best practices are observed and the link building process seems natural and organic in pace that a website should not trigger any spam filters. In many cases such as forums a fixed signature is used for posting to save time, though recently I started rotating the anchor text used in my sigs on forum posts after a couple weeks

    6. Tom
      April 30, 2008 at 8:02 am

      A really interesting article and lots of good points. I’ve not thought about the ‘spammyness’ of footer links before, so it was definitely worth reading for that point alone.

      I agree with the poster above though, who say’s it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with all the rules for ‘appearing natural’… So I’ve decided to adopt the approach of just linking to sites that add genuine benefit to the users of my site, and vice-versa. I’ve never done the paid links thing anyway, but that’s probably just because I’m too tight! Lol.

      The point I would agree with above the most however is getting links to internal pages, I believe that’s quite important for getting more of your pages in the index.

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    9. mick
      May 29, 2008 at 4:32 am

      On the nofollow matt cutts recommends use of it internally and externally to control the sites page rank so if the creator of nofollow says go ahead and control your sites pr thats good enough for me, also blue star why bother with the anchor text in your link here when its nofollow or cant you tell

    10. mick
      May 29, 2008 at 4:48 am

      also on the point of appearing natural, if you are for instance a company that offers service a over time you will have natural links for service a , the better your service the more natural links you will generate and more authority links become available,forums sig links have little value to google as they know how easy to manipulate that medium is,
      And as for dont get a link from a higher pr site ,thats the worst bit of advice i have ever heard, case in point when we started out first we designed a cutting edge joomla site and got a great link from the joomla site which has very high pr to our 0 pr site and all perfectly natural,if you are a great designer developer there are a lot of natural high value links out there a couple of which have more value than 1000s of nonsense links.if your johhny wannbe designing crap then your going to be trying to manipulate the results by spending your days in the forums and directories and it aint going to happen, you might do ok for words with little or no competition,but as it gets competitive google cares more and more about who gets to the top.

    11. June 22, 2008 at 11:48 pm

      Great tips. I just wonder if they are still correct for 2008 as I’ve seen many changes in search results.

    12. October 13, 2008 at 5:34 pm

      Jennifer, where did you hear about footer link text? I’m always curious to know how SEM folks are so sure of certain about impacts regarding link profiles when at best, I see Google constantly tweaking their secret sauce enough that no one can know for sure. I mean is Matt Cutts giving up some of this info behind the scenes? I don’t think so. So fess up Jen!

      Love the blog!

    13. January 12, 2009 at 8:39 am

      I found this article of particular interest due to the statement about footer text…as many other people seem to have! I must say that whilst I commend your willingness to share your natural link-building ideas, I disagree with the principle behind not accepting footer links.

      As an SEO and general Internet Marketing firm, I feel that we have the right to market ourselves and put our name to the work which we have produced, and so, in SOME cases, footer links are perfectly acceptable. I would go as far as saying that the SEO world is one of the most competitive online environments, with pretty much every firm implementing a comprehensive SEO strategy. If you look at the link building strategies of the top results against the terms ‘SEO’, ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, ‘Internet Marketing’ etc etc, you’ll find that many of the firms seem quite happy to request footer links from their clients. This would indicate that there is little wrong with such a practice in our industry.

      Other than that, I think your article is brilliant! Thanks!

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