3 Important Elements to Consider When Link Building

SEO, for all intents and purposes, can be divided into two buckets: on-site and off-site. On-site SEO covers things like Title tags, Meta tags, keyword rich content and so on. It also includes indexing and usability factors such as page load speed, rel=”canonical” tags, 301-redirects, etc.

Off-site SEO, on the other hand, has to do with just two things: links and social signals. Of all the elements of Google’s ranking algorithm, off-site makes up the largest portion, accounting for roughly two thirds of the equation. Clearly, proper link building work is SEO gold.

Alas, link building is also one of the trickiest things to do. Like SEO, link building really falls into two buckets: links you can create on your own and links others need to create for you. However, from what I’ve seen, how you create a link is less important than making sure the link creation fits into Google’s “natural” bucket.

When link building for SEO, there are 3 key things that affect whether or not your link growth will give you a boost, or result in a penalty, and they all have to do with understanding what “natural” means.

Factor #1 – Link Velocity

One of the first things that Google looks at is your historical link growth, to see how quickly you have added links month-over-month and year-over-year. If your site has been around for a while, Google takes this historical growth as a baseline, establishing what “normal” looks like for your website. It then compares that baseline with baselines for other, similar sites in its index looking for abnormalities.

For example, let’s say your site has been live for 12 months. Google might compare your site’s link growth over its first 12 months to the initial 12 month link growth of other sites in your industry to see how similar the pattern is. If it finds abnormalities, it might then look for news and social signals that coincide with the discrepancies. If it finds no justification for a disparity, it might then take a closer look at your site, searching for signals that would indicate you were attempting to game the system. You don’t want that.

For a brand new site, which wouldn’t have a baseline, Google will watch the site over time to see if the growth fits with other sites in the space, just like they would with a site that has a history. Either way, you’re going to be compared to other relevant sites.

The key then with any link building effort is to use a tool like Majestic SEO to figure out what a “normal” velocity looks like for the sites that currently rank #1-#5 on Google for a keyword you want to target, and then mimic that. Your other option is to make sure your link building push coincides with a big PR or social media campaign, or with a trending news topic. If there is a good reason for a spike in links, you’re likely to see additional ranking benefits.

Factor #2 – Link Trajectory

Just as Google looks to see how quickly you have added links over time, they also look to see how steady that link growth has been. If your link trajectory historically goes up and down like a series of waves, and then all of a sudden it starts to shoot up and to the right, that looks unusual. Google will want to find an explanation for the change (social, PR, site re-launch, etc.)

If Google doesn’t find a good reason for the spike, it could potentially trigger a closer look and possibly even a penalty. Again, this is not what you want to see happen.

As with link velocity, you’ll want to use a tool like Majestic SEO to see what a natural link trajectory looks like for other sites ranking well in your space. Once you know what normal looks like, follow a similar pattern. Remember, Google’s algorithm is nothing but a machine, and it relies on advanced forms of pattern recognition.

By following this pattern, you are essentially wrapping your link building efforts in “natural Google camouflage”.

Factor #3 – Anchor Text Distribution

Out of all the areas of link building, this is one of the most hotly debated elements. It is also one of the most common reasons for a site receiving a link related penalty.

All links have the ability to pass what we refer to as Anchor Text. Anchor text is the clickable portion of a link, and should convey what a link is pointing to. Having keyword rich anchor text is an important element in ranking for competitive terms, because it helps Google to better understand the topic of a page. However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Because link building is all about maintaining a natural link profile, the distribution of anchor text in your links comes into play in Google’s spam algorithm. For example, for our website, pointit.com, the following mix of anchor text would look pretty natural to Google:

  • Point It
  • www.pointit.com
  • pointit.com
  • Point It Seattle SEO
  • Point It Search Marketing
  • Seattle Search Marketing
  • Seattle SEO
  • [no anchor text] (usually from image links with no ALT text)
  • Click Here
  • Contact Us

And so on. You get the picture. People will typically link to a website using a wide variety of things. For that reason, if our website had a link profile that looked like the following, it would clearly appear unnatural in Google’s eyes:

  • Seattle SEO
  • Seattle SEO
  • Seattle SEO
  • Seattle SEO
  • Seattle SEO
  • Seattle Internet Marketing
  • Seattle internet Marketing
  • Seattle Internet Marketing
  • Seattle SEO
  • Seattle SEO

Again, you get the picture. Nothing about that appears natural. For that reason, it is important to use a tool like Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer to take a look at the anchor text distribution of the sites that currently rank in the top 5 positions on Google for your chosen keyword.

While you certainly don’t need to mimic the percentages of competitors exactly, it’s helpful to break the link types into a few buckets:

  1. Brand Name and URL
  2. Keyword Rich Anchor Text
  3. Other Terms (image links, click here, no anchor text, etc.)

Because there is no set percentage to aim for, you need to see what Google thinks is OK for each keyword space, and you do that by analyzing the competitors who are already ranking. That said, you usually want to avoid having more than 50% of your links coming in from keyword rich anchor text, and no more than 40% coming in from any one keyword. At least 50% should come from brand name and URLs.

The only exception to this is if your business name or website URL also happens to be your target keyword. In that case, you might be able to get away with a bit more, but we would still recommend erring on the side of caution by mixing things up.

While there are certainly other factors to consider when performing link building, the best thing you can do is copious amounts of research beforehand. It isn’t difficult to dissect the link profiles of websites that already rank for chosen keywords, and by doing so you learn what Google considers rank worthy within any given space. Knowledge equals power, and in this case, it can equal excellent rankings as well.

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