Sign up for our daily recaps of the ever-changing search marketing landscape.
How checking your link profile can save your site
Inbound links are crucial to your SEO success, but Pratik Dholakiya reminds us that if we aren't vigilant, toxic backlinks can lead to ranking penalties.
Make no bones about it: Link building is essential to the success of your site.
In addition to being a ranking factor for search engines, inbound links can bring visitors to your site who might not otherwise have found you. Hence, inbound links can be both a direct and indirect source of web traffic.
But, as anyone who has drunk a little too much whiskey will know, you can have too much of a good thing. There’s a fine line between having a good link profile and getting slapped with a penalty.
That’s why checking your link profile can save your site — and help you to stay on track for link-building success.
Read on and find out just how to do it…
What is a link profile?
When we in the SEO community talk about a site’s link profile, we are generally referring to the inbound links pointing to your site, as well as the characteristics of those links.
According to Mark Jackson, in addition to the total number of inbound links, your site’s link profile consists of:
- the types of links pointing back to your site;
- the anchor text of those links; and
- the manner in which those links were acquired.
Google takes the above factors into account to keep SEO as clean, pure and white-hat as possible. By looking at more than just the sheer quantity of inbound links to a site, Google can prevent SEOs from employing aggressive or “unnatural” link-building tactics meant to game the rankings, such as buying a lot of high-quality links that go live all at the same time.
Let me break down each of the above points for you so that you understand the significance of each.
1. The types of links pointing back to your site
The name of the game here is quality. This means that your inbound links come from legitimate, authoritative sources. Relevance is also key here — a link to your site should make sense within the context of the linking page.
As Neil Patel noted in his analysis, “A good link profile has lots of high authority links and no spammy links.” This might sound like common sense, but it’s amazing how many people will take a bad link just because it’s a link.
While acquiring tons of links from spammy directories or low-quality, irrelevant sites may give you some link juice at first, you’ll soon find yourself with a penalty. But if you play the long game and get links from high-quality, authoritative, relevant sites, you’ll do much better in the long run.
2. The anchor text of those links
If you’re really new to link building, “anchor text” is the clickable text of a link. This text typically consists of keywords, brand names or URLs, but it really can be anything.
Anchor text is helpful because it sends a signal to search engines indicating what the linked page is about. For example, you would expect a link with the anchor text of “Coca-Cola” to link to the Coca-Cola website; similarly, you would expect a link with the anchor text of “fishing supplies” to take you to a page on fishing supplies.
As Brian Dean found in his analysis of one million Google results, “Exact match anchor text strongly correlates with [higher] rankings.” But anchor text can also be a dangerous game.
A large number of keyword-rich anchor text inbound links to your site can look spammy or “unnatural,” and Google is cracking down on this — in other words, excessive exact match anchor text could potentially land you a penalty in the long run.
(The only real exception for exact match here is branded anchor text, wherein the anchor text is your brand name, as this is considered to be natural.)
The thinking here is that people link naturally with what’s known as “diluted anchor text,” where people link with some words that are relevant and others that aren’t. Take an example from earlier in this article:
The words “Neil Patel” and “analysis” are relevant to the article that’s being linked to (while something like “found in this” isn’t relevant at all). This kind of anchor text looks natural to readers (and is therefore less likely to be considered spammy by search engines).
Overall, what you’re aiming for in your backlink profile is diversity of anchor text. Some exact-match, keyword-rich anchor text is okay, but you should also have diluted anchor text, branded anchor text, URL anchor text and so on. The more varied your anchor text is, the more natural your inbound link profile will look.
3. How the links were acquired
It’s no secret that Google is not a fan of paid links, and they have stated as much in their quality guidelines. When noting examples of “link schemes” that can have a negative effect on your site’s rankings, they list the following:
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link…
Now, I’m not going to preach one way or the other here.
If you aren’t going to pay for links, you don’t need to worry about this step, really.
If you are going to pay for links, be really smart about it, and don’t make it obvious. Grow some natural links first, create good content, then buy links. If you suddenly explode onto the scene with dozens, hundreds or thousands of new links, you’ll be asked some questions.
Buying links is not always bad, but your purpose has to be appropriate at the end. Ask yourself if the link is going to create value for users.
In other words, could you expect to get legitimate referral traffic from the link placement? Or are you only pursuing this link to boost search engine rankings? If it’s the latter, you may want to steer clear.
What makes a good link profile (or a really bad one)?
A good link profile is made up of diverse, relevant, non-spammy links. A bad one is made up of the exact opposite.
To illustrate the difference, I’m going to show you two sites — one with a good link profile and one with a bad one — so you can see it for yourself.
The bad link profile
In this case study from cognitiveSEO, they took a niche underwear site, BitsOfLace.com, through a link profile analysis. The results were not promising. Here’s what they found:
- Over 55 percent of links contained commercial anchor text.
- The site had acquired obvious paid blog links.
- They found links from fake or irrelevant forums.
Google treats these links as unnatural because they’re from questionable or untrustworthy sources. Ideally, all links should be editorially given.
Between paid blogs, low-quality web directories, spammy forum posts and spammy article directories, cognitiveSEO concluded that 72 percent of the links to this site were what Google might deem unnatural. No wonder the site had received so many unnatural link warnings from Google!
Okay, so that’s a bad link profile. What does a good one look like?
The good link profile
Strangely enough, there were few case studies out there showcasing good link profiles, so I’ve run this little analysis on my own using Moz’s Open Site Explorer tool.
This is the link profile for the blogger Jeff Goins’ website:
Despite being a huge site, he has zero spam flags at all. Not a one. And if I take a deeper look at his backlinks using the SERPed tool, it’s easy to see why.
He has a lot of branded anchor text, all of which comes from high-authority websites. And the branded anchor text itself is very diverse, with many variations linking to the site:
Even his lower-authority do-follow links come from highly relevant sites about writing (meaning they are topically relevant):
The difference is clear…
The first site has unnatural, odd-looking, low-quality links from questionable sources. The second has high-quality, relevant, value-adding links from authorities. If you’re not close to the second camp, you need to do something immediately.
So, let’s look at how you can check your profile…
How do you check your link profile?
There are some great places to do this, such as:
All you do is type in the URL of the site you want to run some data on (yours or your client’s), and presto, you’ve got a look at its backlink profile.
(Note: The tools above are premium tools, though there are free versions of Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO that provide limited data.)
Here’s a little insider information on what all of the results mean, just to give you a better idea:
The total number of links is not the most important number. A high total doesn’t necessarily mean a strong link profile or high rankings. Again, it is the quality of your inbound links that matters most.
Also, you want to have a fairly even ratio of linking domains to total links. In other words, if you have 3,000 total inbound links, but only two linking domains, that means that two sites are linking to you an average of 1,500 times each. Since 1,500 links from a single site is not very natural in most circumstances, this could be a red flag to Google.
As noted earlier, keyword-rich anchor text isn’t as effective as it used to be. Diverse and branded anchor text is now more useful and Google-friendly. Keyword-rich links need to be smart so they don’t set off any Google “spam” alarms.
Another great reason to check your link profile regularly is to see your recently built links. Keeping up to date on this means you’ll notice any suspicious behavior early, allowing you to address it before it becomes a problem. For example, if thousands of links pop up all of a sudden, you need to look into how and why it happened.
Regularly monitoring this data can keep you on top of your site performance. You’ll know which pages are performing the best, and which the worst.
It also keeps the quality of your backlinks high. When checking your profile, you need to keep an eye on:
- the relevance of the link;
- the anchor text;
- the ranking of the domain/page the link has come from; and
- the placement of the link on the page.
Knowing how to analyze your link profile could stop you from running into major issues with potentially spammy backlinks. With regular monitoring and careful planning, you can protect your website from penalties and increase your search engine rankings.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.