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 least the 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.
Nice article. Some people just do not realize the importance of a diverse link profile. And then they get hit by a update, and then realize that what they have been doing all this time (exact match anchor text) created a very high %, and caused this penalty to hit. There are multiple sources where they say do not go above 50% exact match, but I say stay on the safe side (35%) when dealing with “G” and there ever so pleasant updates. This % is what I call safe, and should put a protective barrier around sites so they do not get hit with a penalty. I divide my links into the following:
1) exact match = seo company
2) brand = SEOjus
3) brand + exact match = SEOjus SEO Company
4) URL = http://www.site.com
4b) URL = http://www.site.com
4c) URL = site.com
5) partial match = the best seo company in Florida
5) long tail phrases / blog post name = who can benefit from seo
6) Generic = here, click, visit, webpage…etc….
For more info about what %’s to use you can visit my page about Link Profile %’s and scroll down to Link Profile….
In this day and age, with G coming down on spam and low quality sites, it is extremely important to make sure that natural and organic looking.
Hi Justin. Diversity is great, although I personally wouldn’t recommend a specific percentage. Once specific numbers are tossed around, people start using those numbers as gospel, and somewhere down the line, everyone starts believing there is a magic number. No one knows what percentages are too much or not enough, so as Gabriella says, just do your best to fly as low under the radar as possible.
Hi Donna, seems as though we agree to disagree on a few topics ;-). That is what makes the world go around though. I am not saying use the % as a exact measure. I am basically saying that there is/should be a “”safe point”” to not go ABOVE. Personally, I believe in being safe and not sorry, hence my 35% comment. When I have my livelihood and my clients livelihood in my hands, I do not act aggressive and would not jeopardize their sites.
When the last big penguin hit, many companies analyzed the sites that were hit and not hit, and the results were that sites that had above 50% exact match were the ones that got penalized. That being said, I feel that 35% is a safe number to go by, but as you said and I agree, there is no rule or number that can be verified, so it is all just research and speculation. Could you imagine a public debate on TV just like politics 😉
I agree you have (or should have) pre-defined boundaries on all aspects of link building. One obvious reason is to ensure you don’t keep doing the easy option and mix it up as you go.
There’s also the paranoia of avoiding nofollow links, but a splattering of these (ignoring the aspect of potential increased visitors) gives a natural looking link profile, probably because it is a natural link profile.
Indeed Tom, we’ve been saying “earn” your links for years…I’m happy to see the rest of the world has finally caught up with us 😉
Your blog is really one of the best SEO blog around the net world. I’ve found lots of necessary info for my blog! Big thanks for those SEO info.
Very interesting post! I’ve just realized my profile link as not as perfect as I thought it is.
Great coverage of the issues Gabriella ! Since Google changes its algorithm about monthly, this discussion will probably never end. For example. the EMD update (besides targeting “Exact Match Domains”) tightened up a lot on exact match anchor text — even with internal links that were put there not to game Google, but to be useful to customers (eg: links from different product pages to a general repair service page for all these products). So the only truly “general” rule is constant reading, monitoring, competitive analysis, experimentation and adjustment 😛
That’s pretty much it. Look at it this way- everything we do is evolving, including search.:) Thanks for dropping by Glenn.
Great article Gabriella! I created a simple infographic on building a healthy link profile which mentions some of your points http://bit.ly/UvOlF9
Really Great Article,
Relevancy matters most as it helps your website to rank steadily on search engines. Plus you need to make sure that you’re linking to good neighbors which ensures that you won’t hurt by any Google animal.
A lot of the problem is that people always want to apply a black and white approach to SEO and link building in particular.
Forum Links are bad!!! Directory Links are bad!!! Reciprocal Links are bad!!!
Guest posting is good. Editorial links are good. Links to the pages that link to you are good.
Well, if only it was that simple and things were black and white but there is just a whole load of grey areas and we have to understand that it is not the TYPE of link that determines it’s quality. There can be great links from forums, highly relevant well ranking directory links that drive local ranking, reciprocal links from companies you work or partner with that drive traffic and business. Likewise, guest posting is becoming Article Marketing 2.0 and just what the hell is a natural link these days?
Ultimately, we have to build links to compete, but the way in which we do it has to be a lot smarter. We have to avoid doing things that are clearly manipulative and we have to focus on relevance, quality and not quantity.
I tried to explain to a client this week why we should aim to get a really tough link this week. How that one link from a respected site could be worth ten (‘s of hundreds) of the links he (his previous SEO company) had been building. How the referral traffic alone could warrant the link and how if we can get that page on the linking site shared and linked to with a bit of outreach how that could be a powerful link that would contribute.
This is still an ongoing conversation and we as SEOs have to educate our clients that whilst it is always a numbers game to some extent that certain links just have more numbers than others!
I did a bit of digging around all the Panda and linking information I could find a while back and put together some golden rules for link building that we use in house at BowlerHat.co.uk on client jobs. It is pretty conservative, but hey, it is best to play it safe:
Anyhow, great post and happy Friday!
Thank you Marcus 🙂