Natural Link Profile Building

February 24, 2008 – 7:09 pm

It’s been a while since the last post, mainly due to the echoes of the conference, we are getting involved in several exciting SEO projects and there is less and less time to do experiments and build pretty graphs everyone liked so much. :) I am hoping that in the future I will be able to put out good post a bit more frequently. I actually have a few interesting experiments cooking in the pot, one evaluating ways to identify reliable SEO testing niches and the other one testing different models of link juice sculpting by nofollow.

Image courtesy by: gilliman

OK, let’s get back on track.

I don’t need to tell you that link acquirement is bread and butter of today’s SEOs. Basically, it boils down to this: on-page optimization, being controlled by the SEOs (directly or indirectly) leaves little space for your talent to shine in competitive niches. It has been tested dry and there is a more or less a set list of actions one must do to get the maximal optimization score in that area. If you do too little, you continue optimizing. If you do too much, you dial it back a bit and you find your golden middle (which is niche specific, by the way).

Link acquirement, on the other hand, is where the men are separated from the boys. It is the hidden nature of the SE algos that makes link building such a polarizing technique: basically you have no idea whether the moment a search engine finds a link to your site is the moment when that link is being calculated towards (or against) your ranking score, you don’t know when you are acquiring links too fast, you have no idea what is the threshold of toleration of uniform anchor texts for your incoming links, etc. Because of this and many other reasons, link building has become the limiting factor in every competitive SEO campaign. No wonder that it is one of the topics most frequently written about in the SEOsphere. In spite of that, I wanted to share some of the tips/techniques/tools that I know to be helpful in improving one’s linking technique, hoping that I would bring some new information/experience to the table:

Your own backyard

The value of internal linking is often underestimated by an eager SEO who jumps into the deep end of the pool first and starts looking for PR 7 websites in his client’s field prepared to give out links. A lot of link love can be gained/properly utilized by optimizing the internal linking structure:

  1. How are your links to homepage doing ? Are you using your targeted anchor text when linking back Home ? Are you diversifying your anchor text in Home links ?
  2. Are you sprinkling targeted anchor text links through out the body copy of your pages ?
  3. Are you using nofollow to channel your link juice to optimized pages ? More importantly, how are you using nofollow ? There are several different models of link sculpting for SEO but you will have to be a bit more patient for that will be discussed in one of the future posts.
  4. Are you using your site navigation to make your site architecture more shallow? Spiders are shallow creatures and closer your page is to Home, easier it will be for spiders to find it.

Additionaly, Wiep has some great ideas how to gather up all those unused link resources you already have laying around and leverage them towards better ranking.

Some guidelines before you start the hunt

The title of the post says “Natural Link Building”. While to the untrained eye (or ear) this may sound as an oxymoron (natural links are gained by willing webmasters linking to quality information, not by zealous SEOs that create/ask for/buy links), the word “Natural” is actually intended for Google’s algo: it is of utmost importance to convince the algo that your linking efforts are in fact a part of natural link acquirement. It must walk like natural and it must quack like natural. So it is important to put our inner SEO beast back in the cage and consider the following:

  1. Do all the links deemed natural have the same “spare car parts” anchor text ? Or do some of them have anchor texts like “Check it out”, “Buy here”, http://www.sparecarparts.com, etc. ? It is very important to diversify your anchor text, but that does not mean having 50% of anchor texts “spare car parts” and the other 50% “spare truck parts”. It means truly mimicking the way people linked before SEO. I know of cautious SEOs that in some cases make 50% of their incoming link anchor text totally irrelevant to search phrases they are targeting. On the other hand, they make sure that the link is placed on a page that is very relevant to their phrases and we’ll expand on what is considered relevant a bit later.
  2. Do all the links come from pages that have a PR higher than yours ? While the argument about the importance of the little green bar still rages, the undeniable fact is that Google has that information and that it can use it for its purposes. And what purpose is more noble than discovering earnest SEOs artificially inflating their link scores ? If I was at Google, trying to look at suspicious link acquirement patterns, constantly getting links solely from pages with higher PR value would be a red flag with bold white printing on it saying “unnatural”. And if I can think of it, no reason that some of their PhDs can’t.
  3. Are all your incoming links placed sitewide on link contributing sites ? That is another tell sign. Instantly getting 300 links, even coming from a highly relevant site, is a temptation that cautious link builder will resist.
  4. Are all the incoming links pointing to your homepage ? Admit it, it looks very unnatural if your site is getting links from 50 other websites and all of them are pointing to the same page. This is especially true with large sites that have a lot of product/category pages. Acquiring deep links, together with the above mentioned link juice flow sculpting techniques will both promote your targeted pages and do it in a seemingly natural way that will present your site as an authority in it’s field, securing top locations for almost all of the phrases that the site targets presently or will target in the future. Additionaly, it will help with the spidering frequency of your site.
  5. Are you being careful not to add too many links at once ? Link velocity is something often overlooked, even by the most experienced SEOs. If I had a penny for each site that got burnt by instantly getting 200K incoming links, today I would have two pennies :) Seriously, unless you are reporting a war breakout in your neighborhood or are a distant relative to Britney and have just received custody over her children, keep a leash on your massive link campaigns and reduce the flow to a trickle.
    It can actually be a good idea to monitor the link addition rate of your competitors so you can set a maximal rate for yourself. How to do this ? There is a nifty tool called SERP Archive. It lets you set up a query that it monitors on daily basis and builds an accessible database of SERPs. [link:] is a legitimate query so make a list of all your competitors and feed the backlink query for each one of them into SERP Archive and start following.

Be vewy, vewy quiet; I’m hunting winks

So after we made sure that our internal linking structure is all dandy and optimized and that we know how to make our campaign appear natural enough, the big question is how to find places to get links from ? What is more important, relevancy or PR ?

Whether you are manually approaching webmasters or purchasing links through a text link vendor, the bottleneck of the process is finding relevant sites to get a link from. While I am consciously trying to steer away from the argument on whether the PR is important or not, there are two principles I try to live by: 1) a link from a higher PR page contributes more than a link from a lower PR page; 2) relevancy and authority beat PR almost every time. It is the fine balance between these two principles that defines my link hunting grounds.

So the next question is how to find relevant sites to get a link from ? How do I define relevant topics that will have enough sites to give me links that will help me with my targeted phrases ? While it may seem that the research process here is similar to keyword research, there is one substantial difference: when looking for keywords for your site, you are looking for phrases that your targeted audience uses. Therefore, you have some kind of litmus test which will tell you whether the keyword you chose is good or bad – you check the conversion rates, compare it with other keywords and you can get a pretty decent picture for each of the keywords (after taking prominence, level of optimization, location etc. into the equation). When looking for topics that are deemed relevant to your targeted phrases, you have to start thinking like a search engine and take into consideration all kinds of semantic algorithms that stretch the niche definition to a lot of neighboring phrases related to your targeted keywords.

In order to diversify your anchor texts and find additional linking resources, you have to expand the list of your niches (defined by keywords). Here are some of the tools that will help you achieve that:

  1. Google Sets – get it straight from the horse’s mouth. Google’s Labs project may tell you what are the keyphrases related to your niche.
  2. Google tilda (~) search operator – this one is great for single word queries. It performs the search on all the related terms to your query (and marks them bold in your SERPs). For example, performing a [~SAP] query will give the following list of related keywords: CRM, ERP, ABAP, supply chain, mysap, supply chain management, CIO, peoplesoft, enterprise resource planning, business application programming, etc. Then you can perform a tilda search for each of the related phrases you got and filter out with the (-) operator all the phrases that you already have. You can end up with quite a large list of phrases which may not all sound relevant to your niche, but hey, Google deems them semantically related, so who are you to argue ?
  3. Yahoo suggestion tool – just below the Yahoo search box, there is an expandable section called Search Assist. It has two areas: Suggestions, which will give you all the phrases that include the phrase that you searched and Explore Concepts which is the list you are looking for and will give you related phrases to your search query. It can go really wide so apply some common sense. On the other hand, going really wide may be just what you need.
  4. Ask suggestion tool – perform a query on Ask and on the left hand side you will see again two main areas: “Narrow Your Search” which will give you all the queries that include your keyword and “Expand Your Search” that will give you all the queries that do not include your keyword but are related to your keyword.
  5. Google Adwords Keyword Tool – you can use the experience that the hordes of PPC marketers have accumulated to your linking benefits. While not being so great at predicting the amount of traffic/impressions/clicks/search volume your ad will get, it can tell you what are the keywords that the publishers in your niche are using, which should be what they think their customers are using. While they may be wrong on guessing their potential customers’ intentions, they are usually good with defining the semantic field of every niche.

Just remember that this is a recursive procedure, meaning that each of the new keywords you find can be used as a query for each of the above tools so the list gets expanded. In the end, you will end up with an extensive list of keywords. What to do with it ? There are 4 major ways i can think of, that you can use such list:

  1. Searching for links – sometimes it is quite hard to find relevant sites that are willing to link to you, so having an extensive list of queries can inflate a potential link source list significantly
  2. Writing inspiration – there is nothing that will attract links like good topic and if you are a professional in the field of SAP, I am sure you will be able to muster some writing magic and expand a bit about CRP or ERP. Then you can promote the articles through social media or article submission services and that can produce a bunch of links, that will come from semantically relevant articles.
  3. Your PPC campaigns – why not plug those new keywords in a separate ad group (so you don’t ruin your existing groups performance by some potentially poorly converting keywords) and see how they perform. You may be surprised.
  4. SEO – since you are already doing the work, sprinkle some of the phrases over your website, see what kind of long-tail they bring and if they start pulling in some good traffic, maybe you will need a separate optimized page on that topic.

Wow. This post got longer than I thought it will be. I hope this is new for at least some of you and would love to hear any additional ideas on how to make your link building look natural.

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  1. 26 Responses to “Natural Link Profile Building”

  2. great article. I have found that a great way to find keyword ideas is to check you log files for keywords that have already come in an converted for you. Often these generate great ideas and you can boost your rankings for them with a few internal or inbound text links or buy putting these keywords into header tags or bolded.

    By Dave Foreman - Interactive Limited on Feb 25, 2008

  3. Another very interesting post. I think link building is essential but is becoming more and more difficult. Having a search box on site also helps to capture a range of keywords.

    By PPC London on Feb 27, 2008

  4. You can write all searches done on your site in a database and use these terms as anchor text for your internal links.

    By Raphael on Feb 27, 2008

  5. Great post! I’d never heard of or used the “tilda” operator, and it’s not listed on Google’s official list of search operators.

    But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work ; )

    Thanks for sharing. You learn something new every day.

    By Hugo on Feb 27, 2008

  6. hey guys, thanks for the response:

    @dave: yeah that is a reasonable thing to do, but when looking at log files, you should remember that you are seeing data which is biased towrds what you optimized for and as a result are ranking for. Log files can give you a great list of iterations of your keyword, but I don’t think they would be great for finding semantically related phrases.

    @PPC London: now that is one I haven’t thought about. Great idea!

    @Raphael: yep, that would be one of the ways for utilizing the search box. It is amazing what you can do with some good raw data you have. You can spin it in a thousand different ways. I wish I was better with automatizing the whole process. SlightlyShady would probably roll out such tool in a matter of seconds.

    @Hugo: yeah it works, just check out the bolded words in SERPs when using the tilda. It is not very diversified, so for example searching for [~SAP] would return mainly SAP, CRM and ERP. You have to take those out by using the [-] operator and then you get to all the others.

    By Neyne on Feb 27, 2008

  7. Mr SEO Scientist I predict a great blogging career ahead for you :).. hadnt heard of “tilda” either and the serp archive is interesting too.

    keep em coming ;)

    By seoibiza on May 2, 2008

  8. Google Sets is new to me. And after trying it I’m getting some pretty unrelated/obscure terms. I wounder how they grouped in sets… Nonetheless, great post.

    By Eugene on May 19, 2008

  9. Well, embedding natural-looking links in the middle of text is an interesting approach and quite reasonable I admit. However, my experience is telling me that this factor is not very relevant. I run a couple of websites and almost all of them benefit from link exchange schemes and I also use my other websites to generate incoming links. None of them are ‘natural’ in that sense, i.e. they are put either on the bottom or in the sidebar. Nonetheless, this works quite well. Maybe I try to embed these into floating text and see how the site is performing. Anyway, quite interesting suggestion, thanks.

    By Security Bay on Jul 15, 2008

  10. Nice tips! Perhaps the best I have ever read. I think there is nothing better if we can make it natural and organic.

    By Violin on Jul 22, 2008

  11. I am not wondered to read that because I have read these tips several times. Even “Cutts”, Google head for link, recommended that in the same way.

    By New Age on Jul 26, 2008

  12. Whoa! I have got a wonderful thing from your post and that is Google Sets. Is it hidden or Google hasn’t promoted it? I am wondering that why i didn’t know that already. Thanks for sharing all the information and links.

    By Steve on Jul 26, 2008

  13. Hi

    The article is really use full for those who are learning SEO , i really appreciate for the knowledge provided by the author

    Regards

    By Sandeep on Aug 13, 2008

  14. Great outline for link building, I have passed it on to a few of our engineers.

    By Bill Ross on Aug 20, 2008

  15. I’ve done quite a bit of SEO over the last few months but this post was still helpful.

    I’ve overlooked link velocity in the past and my site soon disappeared off the face of Google. It was exciting when it was high up there for a few days but you knew something was wrong when it plummeted to the bottom.

    By John on Aug 21, 2008

  16. Interesting article. I always use a 20/80 approach for homepage versus inner page links and anchor text for each link in about 5 variations of the main keyword. I have to say this is working quite well as long as the links are built up slowly.

    By Lenen on Sep 15, 2008

  17. Best effects with natural link building can be achieved when you do it very slowly and on a regular basis. Just add a couple of links every day to your promoting sites and avoid massive link additions. You may get penalized for that by Google.

    By Andy Base on Oct 8, 2008

  18. Thanks will be a real help, before i have always been sucked into black hat techniques

    By Xbox on Oct 31, 2008

  19. I didn’t think deep linking would be so important. I will try in the future to acquire some, but it’s a lot more difficult. Web directories don’t allow deep links :( I’m going to try and write some articles and link to some internal pages.

    By Slujba on Jan 10, 2009

  20. Thanks for all the excellent tips – I had no idea, especially the tilde thing, very useful !

    By Bag Man on Feb 4, 2009

  21. good!

    By transportadora on Feb 23, 2009

  22. Hello webmaster
    I would like to share with you a link to your site
    write me here preonrelt@mail.ru

    By Alexwebmaster on Mar 3, 2009

  23. How about adding too much links? Will they penalize you for this or just don’t allow you to rank high? Any experiences?

    By The AntiVirus on Mar 5, 2009

  24. The Google tilda (~) search operator is one of the best, and most unused, operators available for research and can be used in many SEO research tasks especially in building a natural linki profile, I agree 100%… Great post :-)

    By Stuart Chester on Mar 1, 2011

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