When potential customers first come to us often they don’t know what SEO backlinks are pointing to their site, even when many of them have had other SEO agencies working for them in the past. Whatever the reasons their previous agency would not divulge this information it’s always something we at Essential Marketer provide our clients with, as often as they like. When digging into a potential client’s back-link profile there are always many questions. I will try and give you some answers to the more broad questions that are almost always asked. There are many others of course, but I shall try and cover some of the more generic ones here. As you can imagine there are lots of weird and wonderful link building strategies out there that give rise to some strange links, but these questions could apply in almost all situations.
Why do I need links at all?
Taking links into consideration is what originally set Google apart from all the other search engines. Most will simply look at the information on a page to determine what the best results are to show their users. If you found two pages both with good information about ‘pizza’ for example and both of them have good pages titles etc. and good content on them, how can Google, or anyone else for that matter, tell which one has the better information without being an expert on pizza themselves? One element to consider would be its references or in the case of the web, links pointing to it. Similar to how when you go for a job interview you take a reference with you, so long as another site is linking to you Google sees it as a ‘vote of confidence’.
So what makes good SEO Backlinks?
Take the extreme of managing to get a link from the BBC homepage. This would pass some of the credibility of the BBC’s site to whomever the link was pointing to. This one link would be worth more than hundreds (possibly thousands) of links from lower quality sites. Google will look at who is referencing the people who are referencing you and even further down the chain to determine how much credibility a link passes on.
What the link is referencing you for is also another major factor to consider. Google determines this by looking at the links ‘anchor text’ (the click-able words). One of my favourite examples of this is to try typing the phrase ‘click here’ into Google. You will see that the top result is the Adobe Reader download page. This is because there are so many links (from credible sources) that point to this page and all with the anchor text ‘click-here’.
A good link therefore needs to come from a credible source and have anchor text that refers you for what you’re good at (most likely your keywords).
What makes a bad link?
In the past SEO agencies and website owners have attempted to gain as many links as possible. Up until recently a link would either give you credibility or it wouldn’t, so lots of low quality links all saying the same thing was not an issue. Google however, want to encourage people to build the web on quality over quantity and so in late April last year (2012) they released their latest algorithm addition called ‘Penguin’. This now means that if you have too many links from a small pool of low quality sites and they all have exactly the same anchor text, you could be heading for trouble.
One link on its own is never ‘bad’ as it’s perfectly natural for a new or low quality site to link out to others. The problems arise when these sites with very little credibility themselves link to others excessively or to ‘lots’ of other sites (link farms). Google is wise to this kind of activity and now can, in some cases, actively penalise sites for having too many low quality, anchor text focused links pointing to them.
Should I go for anchor text links or brand links?
Once you know you need links and you realise that a good link can come from many different credible sources people often ask the question: should I ask people to link to me using my Brand name (often the same as their site name) or should I be asking them to only give me links that refer me for what I want to rank well for? The most natural thing that can happen is that your site will acquire both of these types of links, as well as links from images (which often have no anchor text) and often links that say things like ‘more information’ or ‘click here’. If you don’t have any links like this, i.e. no variation, then you may start to get caught by Google’s ‘Penguin’ algorithm again. It’s important to think of this as more like a filter than a penalty and it can have what acts like a tipping point which is easy to cross and thus get ‘caught’ in it.
In direct answer to the question you need both, but it’s a good idea that your strongest links refer you for what you’re good at or at least what you want to rank well for.
How do I know if my back-links are helping or harming me?
Each week at Essential Marketer we look at hundreds, may be even thousands of back-link profiles. Sites that are seeing problems due to their back-links tend to stick out like a sore thumb. In truth you do need to have a trained eye to spot the signs but generally if a site has a back-link profile that looks very uniform or the anchor text of their links have a very high percentage leaning towards their keywords, this is where problems arise. We have had many people come to us claiming they have some sort of penalty from Google due to bad links, however in reality Google very rarely puts a manual penalty on a site. Most of the time they are simply being snared by Google’s algorithm. With a little guidance and often hard work (asking for links to be manually removed) it is possible to tip the balance back in their favour.
Analysing links is a tricky business. You need to know exactly what you’re looking for and this is one of the reasons that an SEO agency may shy away from showing their clients their back-link profiles. It is important to remember that some links will be put in place without your knowledge and control. This is perfectly natural and the main reason why Google values them so much. There are many ways to encourage good back-links to point to your site and we provide our clients with our ‘Live Loop’ so they can check theirs whenever they like.
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