What is a natural link profile and why do you need one?
Your website’s “link profile” is essentially how the World Wide Web sees your site. It encompasses the number of links that point to your site, what content they point at, where those links come from and how they have been created. From its very inception Google (and subsequently Bing/Yahoo) has used your link profile as the cornerstone of its ranking algorithm, but following recent updates to that algorithm, having the wrong link profile will not only fail to improve your search engine rankings…it will actively work against you.
A “natural” link profile is one that represents a good fit for your content, products and services. Essentially a profile that would exist even if search engines did not. In other words site owners are linking to and citing your content because it provides a valuable resource for their visitors.
Is your content link-worthy?
Now more than ever, the quality of your content is paramount. If your content is thin, poorly written or doesn’t engage the visitor they will not stay long on the page or navigate deeper into the site…and Google will notice*. Before undertaking any link building activity take a fresh look at your content. Is there a reason someone would want to link to it? Examine your analytics data…time on site, pages per visit and bounce rate are all key indicators. Address any technical issues e.g. slow page loading times as this can not only affect visitor behaviour but has been identified as a ranking signal as well.
Bottom line…if your content is not link-worthy you will never achieve a link profile that will enhance your Search Engine visibility, be it natural or otherwise.
It’s all about balance
In a perfect world every link that points to your site will be perfectly natural, high quality and unsolicited. Economic reality determines that savvy site owners are going to actively develop additional inbound links…and Google understands this. What’s important is that you achieve the right balance of incoming links, and especially between commercial and navigational links. A “commercial” link uses keyword-focussed anchor text e.g. “laptop repairs” while navigational links use less optimised anchor texts such as your brand name or domain name and point to pages such as your contact page etc.
Take a look at your linking data in Google Webmaster Tools (WMT)…if your brand name and URL aren’t near the top of the list for anchor text then you have cause for concern. Also you should aim for a good spread of anchor texts using related keywords. If you have an over-reliance on specific keyword links this can cause your site to rank poorly for those keywords. This is generally referred to as over-optimisation and when detected by Google can cause a ranking penalty to be applied.
Your link profile is not just about external (inbound) links. How you structure your internal links plays a role as well. Aim to achieve that same balance of commercial/navigational links when pointing from one page of your website to another.
Eliminate low quality links
If you have been actively link building for some time then righting the wrongs of the past isn’t going to be easy. Modifying or deleting a poor quality link from a site you don’t control will take some effort but will be worth it. There has been some discussion on Google implementing a function in WMT where you simply tell them to disregard a link, but despite Bing having introduced such a tool Google are yet to follow suit.
Take a long hard look at the links pointing at your site. Is the content of the linking page relevant to the page it links to? How many other links appear on that page? Does it use keywords or brand/URL links? Is the site high authority? Does the link have a reason for existing other than to boost your search engine rankings? Did you pay for the link?
By asking yourself those questions you will identify links that will either need to be removed or modified in order to achieve that natural link profile.
*Google has stated that they do not use Webmaster Tools data to determine rankings but state this on their analytics support page…
Bounce Rate: Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits (i.e. visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page. Bounce rate is a measure of visit quality and a high bounce rate generally indicates that site entrance (landing) pages aren’t relevant to your visitors.
Google want to deliver pages to their searchers which are relevant and engaging. It’s simply good sense to align your website’s goals with theirs.
Google’s Matt Cutts on effective techniques for building links…
Links have always been important to Google but with the recent algorithm updates, which change the way your pages and inbound links are evaluated, it’s time to take action and ensure you have the best natural link profile possible.