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Building a Good Link Profile: Measure Twice, Cut Once

Mark Jackson
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A prospect calls up and asks you to “do this search engine optimization thing” for their website. After checking their website against identified keywords and the competition, you check their link profile, only to find no links (or very few of them).

For whatever reason – whether it’s due to the website being brand new or having never been marketed – these guys are starting from scratch. But they want rankings now and SEO is the hot topic for the CEO/owner/whoever.

Sound familiar?

The best advice you can give these people is to slow down and be prudent.

What is a Link Profile?

It’s important to understand that search engines are trying to rank the best results that they can for their users. In this process, Google – especially – has put quite a bit of emphasis on trying to rank “big brand” websites. There’s a lot of debate on how this is determined, exactly, but one major factor is a website’s link profile.

A link profile is made up of:

  • The types of links to your website (sources such as directories, forums, news articles, press releases, social, etc.).
  • How these links were acquired (all at once, or slowly/steadily over time).
  • The anchor text (words used) in those links (perhaps the most important piece).

Building a Link Foundation: Getting Started

For any website just beginning to build its link profile – sites with no/few backlinks – it’s important to establish a sound foundation of links.

To start, reach out to partners/vendors, trade associations, local Chambers of Commerce, Better Business Bureau, business.com, and other “good” directories. Another way to get things off the ground is to send press releases with links to their website and use their company name in the anchor text of these links.

Above all, especially for a new website, it’s important to create great content that is link worthy, says link building specialist David McBee.

Avoid Aggressive Link Building

Too often, companies simply don’t have the patience to wait things out and let things “naturally” build. For example, this Warrior Forum post is from someone who was nailed for “unnatural” link building because he built links a bit too quickly.

Websites, especially recently, are being hit for being aggressive with their anchor text use for their backlinks. As with many things in SEO, opinions will vary, but many would tell you that you would want a minimum of 35 percent of your backlinks to be links using your domain name/URL or some other “branded” link text. In fact, you might find that many of the top performing websites contain 50-80 percent “branded” anchor text.

McBee notes that it’s important to take your time and grow your links a “reasonable” percentage month after month after month.

“Build links slowly and continually,” McBee said. “Don’t try to win the race in 90 days.”

McBee offered some additional sage advice:

“All the ‘standard’ link building advice applies: diversity in anchor text, lots of branded anchor text, diversity in the kinds of links you acquire (not all directories, people!), get lots of low PageRank to balance any high PageRank you happen to get and watch out for site-wide links. Oh, and get some no follows and image links too.”

Natural vs. Paid

What’s interesting is that you could, conceivably, do this through “natural” or “paid” means (however one might define “paid”, but that’s a subject for another column). But, while we’re on the topic of “paid”…

Paid links still work. However, this doesn’t mean you should go out tomorrow and buy 20,000 links. That’s not natural. And, chances are, if you’re buying links, you’re going to get too aggressive on your anchor text.

If you want to do well in Google today (and I dare say, in the future), you need to have a “natural” looking link profile, with loads of branded anchor text links, from many sources, linking to your home page and to deeper pages (blog posts?), built up over time.

Once your website is established as a “big brand” in the eyes of the search engines (a deep website with loads of pages filled with unique/good content and lots of branded links), then you can consider adding some keyword-rich anchor text links pointing to your home page or specific pages to get a top position on otherwise competitive keywords.

For example, one top retailer ranks very highly on Google for search queries such as “microwaves”, “refrigerator”, “washer and dryer”, “video camera”, “printers”, “digital cameras”, and “laptop computers’. Truth told, they are a decent result (they do sell all of these products) but without a little SEO/link building help, they wouldn’t be in these positions. They earned it by building a big brand, and taking advantage of that big brand to sprinkle in just enough keyword-rich links to earn these positions.

See this blog post, below? Anyone gonna tell me that this isn’t a paid post? (and note the date…this was done recently). This points to the home page of the same retailer mentioned above.

paid-post-computers

Want to see some of the other “quality” posts from this website?

recent-posts-poor-quality

Home Depot: More Linking, More Ranking

A recent Search Engine Watch forums post made public an email that went out from another big retailer – Home Depot – asking their partners to link to the Home Depot’s website. You can see a copy of this email here.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking partners and/or vendors to link to your website, and even to encourage them to link in a certain manner – I might suggest that you’d want to mix up the anchor text use and, depending on the amount of authority (links) that you have built up, you may want to continue to use branded anchor text.

What Home Depot messed up was providing incorrect information in their request. For example:

  • Please note that the hyperlink does not have to be visually indicated.
  • Linking to The Home Depot website will benefit our business partners by increasing the page authority of your website.

OK, let's clear up this SEO misinformation. You should never hide a link. And, while it may help to link out to authoritative websites, it’s inaccurate to say that it “increases the authority of your website.”

My point in sharing this is that even those authoritative websites are working on anchor-text-rich, deep linking, because they have earned the authority that allows them to do this, more than most. Don’t know why they focused specifically on this page…Home Depot ranks No. 1 for this already on Google, for me. You too?

Bottom Line

Everyone’s link building plan should be unique to a website’s individual situation. For example, a website may already have the authority needed, so perhaps internal linking would be a bigger priority. For a website starting from scratch (just bought the domain last week), it’s important to lay a sound foundation (branded links from quality sources, spread out over time).

Don’t just look at link building as a tactical affair. Analyze your website’s particular situation, devise a strategy, and then lay out the tactics that will help to get you where you want to be.

For individuals trying to go SEO alone: when you’re not certain that the course of action that you’re taking is correct, please consult a professional. In today’s SEO environment, it makes a lot of sense to “measure twice, cut once.”


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