Sustainable SEO – How to Build a Healthy Link Profile
The use of back linking has taken a battering lately, what with Matt Cutts’ now famous blog post on the use of guest posting strictly for SEO, which states in no uncertain terms that this is no longer acceptable.
This is of course due to the sheer amount of abuse that guest blogging attracted. Link chasing is never a good idea, as it will always result in a link profile appearing unnatural, but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore your link profile from here on in.
What it does mean is that any guest posting activities should be approached with caution and with quality content in mind.
Here’s what Mr Cutts has to say on guest posting in the wake of the announcement he made last month:
I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there.
Good Posts = Good Links
As we’ve discussed previously, the idea with guest posting is to cultivate relationships with webmasters and editors in your industry. This means that it’s necessary to write more than one, rushed 300 word blog that’s nothing more than fluff, you need to write content that is high quality.
Longer articles are good, more than one is great and ongoing relationships are better.
What is a Good Link Profile?
It’s one that doesn’t attract the attention of Google as being potential spammy. When someone links to your content, or you link to it from an article you’ve written elsewhere, it must appear natural.
There are three key things that really should be going on when it comes to your link profile and they are:
Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Relevance is everything when it comes to link building. Each site that provides a link back to yours should be within your industry and the content of their site should be highly relevant to your audience. Whilst it might seem like a great idea to put a link back from anchor text that says “computer repairs” into a lifestyle blog, (assuming your business is a computer repair one), if the rest of the piece is about to how to decorate your living room, then the link is out of context. In fact, just offering the post to the lifestyle blog wasn’t the best idea in the first place, unless the blog has a technology section and is well-known for it.
Anchor text should be approached with caution and should also be highly relevant to the page that you’re linking back to. It should be natural. Forcing anchor text in is not a great idea, as it will never read well. Better to create the piece and then pick out a key phrase that will point to the content of your site naturally. It doesn’t have to be the home page either, you can link back to your blog.
A common link building technique is known as link baiting, which means that you create content to attract others to link to your site. This is good practice if you produce great content, as it means that people are actually reading your content and finding it useful, so it’s also a good traffic driver.
Content should ideally:
- Be long form – Google appreciate 1000 words more than 300 and the optimum word count was found to be 2000 in a study carried out almost two years ago when the top ranking sites were examined by serpIQ (see figure below)
- Be relevant to your site
- Provide useful information to the audience
- Include multimedia aspects such as video and images
Many still believe that short form blogs of 300 words are better due to the internet reader ‘skimming’, but how much useful information can you actually pack into 300 words, really? Not much when it comes down to it, even if you’re accustomed to writing for advertising and know how to make the most of every single word.
A good link profile should be pretty diverse, meaning that links should appear on different platforms such as social media, business directories, author bios and blog comments. Bear in mind that the value of these are less than those that are linked to content and many social profile links are of the nofollow variety.
Diversity is important, but what it’s essential not to do, is overdo it. If you spend lots of time commenting on blogs, forums and suchlike with your link, it will soon appear unnatural and you could then be hit with a penalty.
It’s all about keeping a good balance when it comes to link diversity; links from other sites, from industry directories, comments and forums, all of these should occur naturally, so if you’re going to use it as part of your strategy, do so wisely and don’t just wander around the net attempting to comment on everything you find.
Of course, if you build decent relationships with other sites, you can comment on your own content when it attracts the comments of others.
Take care with reciprocal links too, as these are often viewed suspiciously by Google. Of course, if you write a lot of content for others, then you’re bound to get these, but keep them to a minimum or put them in your bio. Anchor text should also be kept diverse in order to appear natural, so don’t just stick the same keyword into every bio or content link.
This is basically how fast your link profile grows and one that shoots up suddenly is one that will bring with it attention that you don’t want. It looks, to the casual (Google) observer, that the links have been acquired by nefarious practices, as a good link profile does generally take time to grow.
Of course, if you have a famous brand, then it’s likely that you will attract backlinks without putting much effort in and these can be numerous. For us mere mortals though, it’s likely that building your profile will take a little time.
Again, it pays not to be spammy. Building relationships, leaving comments that are as useful as the content you’re commenting on and behaving in a manner that is more about PR than SEO is a good (and safe) approach.
Personally, I believe the best approach to building a good link profile is through relationships and content. Of course, you will also have to place directory listings and you’ll still have to pay attention to incoming links, but producing great content is a very effective means of obtaining links.
Your approach however really depends on your goals and resources. SMEs might not have a huge marketing team that can produce content, there are plenty of opportunities for outsourcing that provides ROI and improves the overall value of your site.
Part of any content marketing and backing linking effort will include social media these days and this is only going to become even more the case this year. Google Plus is very quietly working away on overtaking Facebook as the most valuable resource for social signals, as many studies carried out in 2013 show.
So Google+ is the place to be if you’re going to make the most out of SEO and social signals this year and beyond. G+ is growing too, it’s introducing new features all of the time, many of which people are completely ignorant about, such as Hangouts on Air. YouTube too is another valuable resource when it comes to gaining shares and upping the authority of your site.
According to Social Media Examiner’s 2013 end of year report (PDF), marketers place “very high value on social media”, with 86% indicating that social is important to their business. However, despite the overriding idea that G+ is the one to watch, many of the marketing professionals that took part in the research said that YouTube will be a top investment area for 2014. This fits nicely with Hangouts on Air of course, as these are created as YouTube videos and can be used on brand YouTube channels.
However, one of the main issues that marketers still face regarding the use of social media is working out ROI, as shown in the graphic below.
When posed with the statement “I am able to measure the return on investment for my social media activities” only 3% strongly agreed that this was the case and 26% choosing to simply agree.
This indicates that even marketers are still unsure of the value of social media, despite many studies showing that ROI on social can be achieved. Certainly, there are plenty of benefits that complement link building activities, as the chart shows.
The Bigger Picture
What it really comes down to is one word that can be picked out from Rand’s video and that is holistic. Taking a holistic approach to SEO is where you look at the entire picture, not just chasing links, commenting and posting, but look at it from every single possible aspect. This means that a site should contain strong content that attracts high-quality links through useful content, all of the activity carried out off site should be done so widely and with a keen eye on relationships and the actual technical structure of the site should be spot on.
A healthy link profile isn’t difficult to obtain or grow, but it demands good practice and strong content if it’s going to look like the real deal to the search engines. Most importantly, it should always be carried out for the benefit of the visitor, not the search bot.