It seems like a paradox, doesn’t it? As web developers, we are constantly told that our link profiles need to look 100% natural, yet businesses tend to collapse in the year-long wait for Google’s robots to even begin giving us the recognition we deserve. So, we turn to link building. And why shouldn’t we? Offline businesses do everything in their power to bring their products to the consumers – is there anything wrong with web developers doing the same thing by building backlinks to their website content?
According to Google, the best way to build a 100% natural backlink profile is to create valuable content that other people will link to naturally. After all, Google doesn’t care whether your business succeeds, they just want their customers to be happy with their search results. But for those among us without massive creative departments and investor bankrolls, link building is still the best bet. Fortunately, there are some entirely natural (and entirely ethical) ways of speeding up the natural backlink process, without attempting to wrest your black hat from the powerful jaws of Google’s panda.
Write Linkworthy Content
Of course, no backlink profile will look natural if it’s not pointing at some truly valuable content. Even if you don’t write it to draw in thousands of natural links (which it probably won’t), your job will be much easier if you take the time to load your website with great content. Fortunately, great content isn’t that hard to create. Consider these factors when coming up with content ideas, and when writing the content itself:
- Look to powerful content sites like Mashable and Cracked.com for titles that interest readers. Use these for inspiration for your own titles.
- If you’re not a good writer, remember that resource pages (pages filled with links to other sources of information) are very easy to write, valuable, and very popular with website visitors.
- Write for your readers, not the search engines. Stuffing content with keywords doesn’t work anymore.
- If all else fails, just try to be original, funny, or controversial.
Shortly after the now famous Google Panda algorithm update, Google’s Amit Singhal published a blog post explaining the parameters that Google uses to judge high quality websites. These tips largely focus on creating content that is free of errors and is written from an expert point of view.
Remember that this approach to your content is not just limited to clever blog posts, but to your entire website. Try to take an otherwise normal lead generation page and make it something unique and special. For example, you might be tempted to simply list your services in a simple text box. You could, however, take this content to the next level and present it in a unique way – like a list of the “Top 10 Ways Our Competition Will Steal Your Hard-Earned Money.”
Remember to Build Deep Links
There are essentially two types of powerful domains – brandable and exact match. If you have a brandable domain name, it makes perfect sense that the majority of the links coming in will be to your homepage, and they will probably have the anchor text [Your Domain Name]. If you have an exact match domain, you can also expect many links to come in with your exact match keyword phrase (in the same way that purpleturtles.com would probably get a lot of links with “purple turtles” as the anchor text).
However, it will always still look strange if all of the links you get are pointed at the homepage of your site. While it can be more challenging, be sure to build some deep links, or links that point at subpages of your website. There are a few subpages that tend to naturally acquire more links than others, and large amounts of links will look natural pointing at them:
- Resource Pages (like a list of valuable websites in your niche)
- Link Baits (like infographics, videos, and viral blog posts)
- About Us (yup, these pages get a ton of links, especially if you’re an authority figure or trying to be one)
Add Some Variety to Your Anchor Text
There’s often a misconception about how links are counted by search engines. Every link has two values that it can pass to your site – authority and keyword text. When a link passes authority, it gets counted by Google towards things like your Page Rank. When a link passes anchor text, it helps you rank higher in SERPs for that keyword term. Although it’s best to get links that pass both authority and anchor text at the same time, natural backlink profiles demand much more variety.
Take the time to really think about how people link to websites. If 100 people naturally linked to a page of your website called “Top 10 Ways to Do SEO Right,” would you expect them all to use the anchor text “SEO?” Of course not. Instead, the anchor text would be all over the place. You would even see some aggravating anchor text like:
- Click here!
- This website claimed that…
- According to an SEO website…
- That’s not what this website had to say, however.
So, remembering that links pass both authority and anchor text, you can feel confident in adding a few strange anchor text links to your backlink profile, for the sake of looking natural. You’ll still get the benefit of link juice, but without being passed anchor text.
If this is too much to bear, you can still add variety to your anchor text to make it look more natural, while still focusing on keywords. Start with a simple long tail keyword that you would like to target, such as “vacations for senior citizens in Los Angeles.” Build one or two links using that anchor text. Next, divide up all the parts of that long tail phrase so you have several smaller keyword phrases:
- vacations for senior citizens
- senior citizens in Los Angeles
Finally, think of all the variations that include some form of the smaller keyword phrases. For example, we might use the following simple modifier keyword phrases for “payday loans:”
- cheap vacations
- group retired vacations
- group hotels in Los Angeles
- best affordable vacations in Los Angeles
- Los Angeles senior activities
Use your new list of anchor text variations when continuing to build links. If you do it right, Google’s robots will see that you have all sorts of different links coming in with the same general idea, but with a much more natural and difficult to detect pattern. Just make sure that your original long tail keyword phrase makes sense when describing the page to which it links.
Establish a Natural Link Schedule
It’s very tempting to launch enormous link building campaigns just to “get it out of the way” or start cashing in on your efforts quickly. Nothing, however, looks less natural than a brand new website attracting thousands of links (sometimes even before the content is indexed). Time your link building campaigns for a couple of days after you put up fresh content, and space them out as much as you can. You might build one or two links to each page to help it get indexed faster, but any more looks fishy. There isn’t an easy rule regarding how much link building is too much, but use your best judgment when linking to your site.
If you absolutely must build links quickly, the best way to make it look natural is to pay attention to sites like Google Trends and release newsworthy content that will attract links as the day goes on. You need to have significant traffic already to make it look completely natural. For example:
- You notice that “Kate Gosselin” is trending on Google Trends.
- After some research, you find that it’s because her kids want her to get married again.
- You write five news articles on the topic (yes they should be unique…) and publish one on your site.
- You then reach out to some blog owners to publish the other four articles with a link back to your site.
With this technique, it makes a lot of sense that people would link to your article on the same day (or shortly after) it was very popular online.
Remember that, as your site grows, you can get away with building links faster. This looks natural as your site begins ranking for more competitive search phrases and your Page Rank increases.
Add Variety to Your Link Profile
Finally, get your links from more than one source. Guest blogging is a great way to get high quality links, but it’s not the only way sites get natural backlinks. If your entire link profile is created from guest blogging, your links will look suspicious. Ignoring bad neighborhood links and obvious spam, SEOMoz’s Rand Fishkin outlines some of the most popular link sources in his video Dude, Your Links Kinda Suck. In the low quality section, he lists some great sources of quick links, such as:
- Junk Directories (Paid Directory Listings)
- Do-Follow Blogs (Mainly Blog Comments)
- Forum Signatures (Forum Posts)
- Social Media Profiles (As Long As You Don’t Spam)
- Sites You Own (Please, please be careful with this one)
- Reciprocal (Just grab a few)
Even if it makes you shudder, adding a few thousand paid directory links to your profile (after you have plenty of high quality links) can serve to help disguise your link building efforts from competitors, and Google understands the value of this as long as you don’t overdo it.
Building Links the Natural Way
Sometimes, you just have to forget all of the theories and rules, and just have a little fun with your SEO. There are very few things you can do to permanently destroy your site’s SEO, and they’re not the kinds of things you do by accident. Always try to think of creative ways to get links to your site, and think like the person linking to you.
Eventually, if you provide valuable content, you’ll see natural links flowing in pretty consistently. You can build as many links as you can, with exact match anchor text, and see how much money you can make before getting penalized (which is often a good strategy in highly competitive industries). Or, you can keep your backlink profile natural and plan for a long future that will eventually make you nearly untouchable in your niche.