Trying to describe what constitutes a healthy link profile can touch off some very lively discussions. Regardless, since we’re all entitled to our opinions, I’m going to lay out what I feel are some very “safe” guidelines. You can push the limits as much as you feel comfortable with. In reality, there are so many variables, it’s impossible to identify what might be considered the best possible profile. How about “any profile that doesn’t attract undue attention is the best kind to have”?
There are a couple of things that I think must be present in any link profile: relevance and diversity.
- Page relevance – The site where the link originates should be relevant to the page being linked to. In other words, a link from a cooking blog to the home page of an internet marketing site is stretching things beyond the breaking point. To the extent you can, try to keep such random inbound links to a minimum.
- Context relevance – Sure, a little creative writing can manage to work in a mention of a Caribbean cruise, even into a post about social media marketing. But using that cruise as anchor text to a travel site from a marketing post? Really? I’d say that’s pushing it too far.
- Anchor text relevance – Anchor text isn’t dead, by any means. It still has its place – the limits have just tightened up a little. But having the text match the destination isn’t a new concept. Having a link with the anchor text of “Benghazi embassy” pointing to a pharmaceutical site is a no-no, and always has been.
Ideally, there should always be clear relevance between the linking site (or at leastthe page), the content on the linking page, the anchor text and the page being linked to. If you decide to deviate from that, that’s your call. Wait! No, it isn’t! It’s the search engine’s call, at least in terms of the value that link will pass, or in some cases, the penalty it could cause.
- Type of link – There are many different types of links out there. Forum signatures, social media profiles, business directories, author profiles and blog comment IDs are some of the common sources, before you even consider contextual links. We all know that some links have more credibility than others, and some may be more valuable than others.
i) Links in forum signatures, for a number of reasons, are of little value. Little isn’t none, however, and if you’re active on a forum or two, there’s no harm in letting folks there know what you do and where they can find out more about you;
ii) Blog comment links are believed by some to be of lesser value than contextual links (I agree), but again, less doesn’t equal none. I just suggest that if you intend to link to your site from your comment login, you should be sure that you’re putting that link on a site that won’t do you more harm than good;
iii) And of course, any social media profiles are nofollow links anyway, but not all.
iv) Reciprocal links have been said by many to be a no-no. In my opinion, the idea of two site owners that appreciate each others’ content linking to each other is totally natural. But I can understand how the search engines would see that a ripe for abuse. I don’t think that a few reciprocal links will hurt any site, provided they’re only a small portion of the overall profile. Even so, I’d definitely suggest you apply all the other criteria here when deciding whether or not to allow them.
The point is, you want to be diverse in the type of inbound links you have. if 75% of your links are from forum signatures, you probably have a problem (or may soon). I’m not saying that if you have four different types of inbound links, they should necessarily be equally distributed at 25% each. But the more you find one to be overpowering the others, the closer you may be to the edge.
Keep an eye on the balance between different link sources, and if you notice that one is getting more than a fair share, either step it back a bit, or work on some of the others.
- Anchor text – Using the same anchor text on a majority of your links can give the search engines the idea that your links aren’t “natural”. Mix it up, so it doesn’t appear as though you’re asking for specific anchor text.
While I haven’t seen any formal testing done, there seems to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that the following may be safe:
i) Naked links (no anchor text at all);
ii) Anchor text that is identical to the target page’s meta title;
iii) Generic anchor text, like “more”, “blog post”, “article” or “read it”.
If you’re building links, I’d suggest that you mix these up, as that probably gives the most natural impression to your profile. And of course, as always, the anchor text you use should always be found on the target page.
- Destination of links – There are plenty of reasons not to direct all your incoming links to only your homepage, but diversity can be added to that list. I know a lot of people prefer to bring in PageRank to their homepage, so they can decide where to direct it. But personally, I think that spreading the love across different pages will usually seem much more natural.
Another aspect of a healthy link profile is link velocity – how fast the profile grows. Google, for instance, has already stated that a sudden increase in the number of links in a given period of time can signal unnatural link acquisition. A lot of things can enter into that equation – your site’s link history, your specific niche, the linking patterns of competitors in your niche. The bottom line is, a dramatic increase in the number of links to your site over a short period of time can definitely flag you for unwanted attention.
If you’re building links, staying under the radar should be always on the top of your list. Sometimes it’s hard to know where the radar is, so I prefer to fly as low as possible when it comes to my link profile.