Defined: A Healthy Link Profile

Since the penguin update of May 2012, I’ve gotten quite a few questions about links, specifically incoming links, and their quality, quantity, and acquisition.

Here’s the scoop – good links are earned, not bought, traded or given.  We need to change our thinking from a “linkbuilding” mentality to a mentality of “Engagement and Education.”   I think linkbuilding has completely changed, and we’re looking at a new era and set of definitions that surround the link.  Here’s what I think – stop linkbuilding.

Stop looking for link placements and start writing great content and building relationships.  

Be helpful, guest blog with relevant content, don’t make every link you get on a guest blog or traffic-driving directory say “spammy keyword phrase” and above all, if your website visitor would never click on it, need the content, or remotely care, don’t bother linking to it, or getting a link from it.

Here is what we look for when evaluating an incoming link profile and a healthy link building strategy.

  • Do you have many links from one domain?  Likely this is a run of site or run of category link.  These need to be very carefully evaluated.  If the site or directory will drive traffic, is extremely relevant to your guests and ranks well on it’s own for your keywords, this can work very well.  For SEO purposes it might be devalued a little because it’s on multiple pages, but for traffic and business, it’s a great “get.”
  • Check out your incoming anchor text.  We want it to be varied, and we want to see the top 2 or 3 most popular anchor texts be your brand and/or domain.  Exact match anchor text is a red flag to Google.  Vary your linking phrases to describe the page that is being linked to accurately, worry less about the keyword phrase and more about the link quality and placement.  If your most found anchor text is your #1 keyword phrase and the count really high, and far beyond that of your brand or your domain, this can look unnatural to Googlebot.  We recommend working on getting some of that anchor text changed or eliminating the not-so-desirable links with that keyword anchor text.
  • Look at the types of sites that are linking to you.  General directories that get little or no traffic where you’re one of thousands of outbound links are pretty much on the hit list with the latest update.  Blog comment links have been scrutinized.  If you’re a website about baking, and you have blog comment links from any site under the sun from automotive repair to financial advisers - it looks frighteningly irrelevant.  Get rid of those.
  • If you belong to anything that calls itself a “network” and requires you link to other members of that network – run away quickly.  They don’t call themselves a link farm, but that’s what they are.  They may not require you to link directly to everyone, but the system can be traced, and everyone in the network is one or two sites away from you.  Google knows this – and will smack down perpetrators.  Don’t do it.
  • Your strategy should be simple – build great content to educate your visitors; and engage your market and lead them to that great content.  A great network plus great content will equal a great link profile, a great website; a winner in Google’s eyes.

These are the big ones we run into.  For a really great list of bad linking techniques, with explanations, check out Carson Ward’s epic 17 Types of Link Spam to Avoid over at SEOMoz.org.  I could never do it better, so why reinvent the wheel.

Note: See what I did in that last paragraph?  I liked to a resource that would be really great for you readers and used the title of the post.  SEOMoz has worked very hard to build links the RIGHT way, by providing useful content that is infinitely linkable.

The truth is – if you want great links, provide something great to LINK TO.  Content, charts, industry data and unique ideas are all great places to start.  This is not a field of dreams, though – if you build it, they wont come – so you need to seed the field with great marketing and publicity so the people who WANT to link to you can find you and do something useful with what you provide.

handshake image courtesy buddawiggi via flickr

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