As SEO’s and internet marketers, understanding and knowing the value of backlinks is one of the key aspects of our job. However, many articles I read and people that I talk to, really don’t understand it’s not just the links that matter.
It’s a variety of factors that make up your back link profile and how much of that “agrees” with other parts that is important. Here are some of those factors:
- Where is the link on the page, is it in the template or content part of the page
- Is the link on the home page, a deep page, a page with a lot of outbound links pointing to it (ie a link hub)
- Does the page the link is on have a strong social profile, is it tweeted regularly, seen on Facebook, mentioned on Google+, or clicked on in Gmail
- Does the page rank the link is on rank for competitive or high volume terms, and is it sending click through data or toolbar data to Google
- Is the page the link is on crawled regularly (check the cache date)
- Is the page the link is on updated regularly (is there a date in the SERP listing)
- What about the anchor text, is there a natural distribution of phrases to the website/page or is it tightly focused around a few narrow terms so it looks manipulated
- Are the incoming links distributed around the site with natural looking “clumps”, or is it focused only on commercial pages
- What about link growth over time, is it slow and steady with a few spikes, or does it spike like someone bought links when a quarterly advertising budget got approved
- How many of the links to the site are reciprocal
- Are there links to the sites from older trusted directories, like Yahoo, BOTW, or lii.org
- Are there links to the website mostly from trusted websites, or low quality splogs and article directories
I’ve been doing SEO for over a decade, and while I don’t know everything, I’ve been around the block long enough to know what a good backlink profile looks like compared to a bad one. When I’m at conference doing a site audit one of the things I look at is a site’s backlink profile using Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO.I can tell right away when something isn’t up to snuff. In this post I’ll show you some of the key things that should jump out at you right away when you look at your backlink profile.
Paid Links and Link Growth
Full disclosure: search engines consider buying links, with cash or cash in-kind exchanges (like buying someone a new iPad) is a violation of their policies. This violation may cause the link to get discounted on the low end of the penalty scale, or have the site completely removed from the index if Google thinks the violations are flagrant. I’m not going to claim that I’ve never paid for links or be naive and tell you that they don’t work. However I am going to say it’s high risk behavior. If you do it, you should be fully aware of what you are doing, and know the penalty if you get caught.
The problem is most people buy links in a stupid manner. They get a monthly/quarterly ad budget approved, run out to a high profile link broker, and buy a bunch of links, cross it off their to do list, and start playing angry birds.
Instead what you really should do is buy links slowly over a longer period time. Link buyers also put way to much focus on commercial keywords and destination URLs, without mixing them up and creating diversity. It’s incredibly easy to see, with tools available to you today.
Here’s what it looks like when you buy links in an obvious way:
…Now how do I know those links were bought, and not a social media success?
By looking at the anchor text concentration and destination URL.
I don’t have access to the data that Google does, but if those links were natural they would have SERP click through data and toolbar data that matches up with the link growth … and I bet they don’t.
As a link buyer you want to buy permanent links. As a link seller you want monthly income. Link buying is a seller’s market. While links do magically appear, change and disappear across the web, the more link buying you do the more things tend to appear/disappear. This link churn sticks out, and doesn’t help your overall link profile. In fact a significant amount of link churn may cause your website to fall off the map as far as Google is concerned.
Anchor Text and URL Focus
Even if you aren’t buying links, and you are building links “naturally” it’s still possible to have “too much of a good thing” as far as anchor text and destination URL focus is concerned. If your links do come from other people, who do give them to you with no action on your part, there will be a wide focus on inbound anchor text.
Link Sabotage and Poison Link Networks
Recently an article was published here on SEJ where the author claimed it was impossible for someone else to sabotage your website with links. I’m going to say that author is misinformed.
The ability to sabotage someone else is dependent on how strong their link profile is. Trusted websites like CNN, Ford, and Engadget have backlink profiles so strong you will never be able to damage them. But say, a mom and pop dog groomer, you probably could. If the guy is buying some links and not being to careful how he is doing it … depending how close he is to the edge, you might be able to push him off the cliff if you tried, knew the right people, and had access to right tools.
Now I’m not advocating this behavior, I think it’s pretty unethical, and I am a big believer in karma. However hypothetically speaking: with a decent budget, some flagrant link buys, in a short time period, with highly concentrated anchor text, focused at one or two pages, and you will be on the path to doing some real damage to their backlink profile.
I’m going to tell you it’s a dark path that is not easy, and could backfire if you don’t know what you are doing. These aren’t the only things you’ll need to do, but giving you any more information would be professionally irresponsible. So you’ll just have to trust me I have absolutely seen it done, it’s highly effective, and it’s not pretty.
Please don’t write to me, tweet me, or drop me a private message asking for more info or how to do it. Even though I may “know a guy” like I said, I don’t advocate it, and I am not going to help you do it. Anyways the guys who do engage in this behavior have an omertà code, you have to earn your own way in, and like mob activity nobody likes a guy with a big mouth blabbing about who is doing what. Google doesn’t like it, and prefers not talking about it. But if you read their guidelines you see they left themselves an out with the word “almost”.
There’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organises information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.
So what should you take away from this post:
- Looking at backlinks is a complicated, holistic process
- You need to look at factors like placement, age, destination, anchor text, growth, link strength, social signals to name a few
- When building links try not to focus too hard on any one keyword or page, try to look as natural as possible with lots of variation.
- Avoid link buying as it violates Google’s guidelines
- If you do violate the guidelines try to be smart about how you do it and be aware of the consequences of those actions
- Check your backlink profile regularly. If it looks like someone is trying to sabotage you, let Google know ASAP.