When Link Loss Ain’t No Bad Thing

Regular followers of my columns here know that I’m a content-led link builder. Once initial profiles and quality directory links are in place, the bulk of the link building work we undertake for clients is led by a story.

When I say “story” I don’t just mean a news story, but any type of interesting story. This could be an infographic, a fun free tool, a press release, a news announcement, a competition, a relationship, an event, or an interview.

If the story itself doesn’t naturally materialize, then we sit down and devise one with the client. It’s simple marketing.

The return is much better than spending less time getting higher volumes of lower quality links. Life is short, and I’d rather spend my time producing lasting content and an effective story than engage in the tedium of the link request.

Some may say “that is what outsourcing is for,” but then I’m not even convinced that the undercurrent of volume that such links can bring has the same effect it reputedly used to.

Here are a few things I work toward, based on observations and successes “in the field,” detailed backlink analysis, a dash of common sense, and a portion of instinct:

  • The link graph has been over-engineered in many sectors.
  • Difference (in backlink profile), combined with quality, sets a site apart in a positive way.
  • Quality over quantity every time.
  • Anchor text isn’t the signal it once was.
  • Each sector needs specific consideration.
  • Allowing low quality links to degrade can have a positive effect on rank.

The final point about allowing low quality links to degrade was actually a follow-on exercise, based on the premise that a client backlink profile appeared heavily engineered. I thought it might be useful to expand on what we did, and the observed effect.

Cleaning a Backlink Profile

Earlier this year, we started work on a client site in a competitive sector. The site had been around for a while and had a backlink profile not anomalous with its competition, though clearly engineered to say the least.

When I say engineered, I mean that the overwhelming majority of links used very contrived anchor text, and appeared in the footer or side panel of linking site, under a “Popular Links” type of heading. Essentially, there was no visible reason to link, no story, nor suggestion of relationship.

We set about cleaning this up, in the following ways:

  • Establishing profiles on quality sources.
  • Creating social media profiles and embarking on a true social media strategy.
  • Blogger outreach/guest blogging on demographically relevant media.
  • Press releases with coverage objective (not pure link objective).

Such activities had the desired effect on rank almost immediately; and in the short term the number of backlinks increased. As I’ve mentioned, however, the amount of time taken in establishing such marketing-led links can be greater than the amount of time to establish such “bread and butter” links as were already in place.

It didn’t take a math genius to understand that this strategy would eventually lead to a reduction in the total number of backlinks at some point down the line.

So… do we look to engage some method of developing an undercurrent of “bread and butter” links, while pushing on with the more labor intensive content links at the same time?


We decided to freeze all outgoing (i.e., links we can claim to have had a direct hand in) link building to the home page, for two months. Of course, good content can continue to attract links after the fact; and good links on good sources may increase in value after the fact — so there is always an element of noise in an observational case study in a live environment.

We looked at the backlink profile as follows:

  • Links were segmented into “bread and butter” links and content-led links.
  • Content links accounted for around 9 percent at the start of the observation, the rest 91 percent.
  • Total number of links decayed by 7 percent.
  • The number of content links did not shift in either direction to an amount greater than 1 percent — thus was considered neutral.
  • The number of “bread and butter” links decreased tangibly and accounted for 84 percent of the total.

Rank on the two target home page terms increased 2, and 5 positions respectively. This might not seem like much of a tangible gain; however the site was already close to the top spot, in a highly competitive sector.

What Did We Infer?

We already knew the link strategy in place was the right strategy; however the objective of this observation was to have some evidence to back up the direction that though our chosen activity, would naturally result in a pivot point, in terms of total backlinks — for this client, in this sector it is the ratio that needed to change — even if volume declines.

The Health Warning

I haven’t been able to detail the client, the site, nor the terms in this case; which, from your perspective, makes this an anecdote.

What I can say is that in this case, with this site, in this sector: it paid off for us to allow the volume of total links to decrease while continually looking to shift the type of backlinks.

If your spider sense is telling you that over-engineering could be an issue for a client of yours, then you may want to consider testing a shift in backlink type; without emphasis or concern to volume.

As they say in trading — DYOR!

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