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The Natural Backlink Profile You’re Building Will Look Totally Unnatural to Google

by Fraser Cain on May 18, 2012

Look at these strange anchor text variations

Look at these strange anchor text variations

Google’s Penguin algorithm has struck and SEOs are scrambling to figure out how to rehabilitate their sites and get back in Google’s good graces. Unfortunately, I don’t think the right lesson has been learned.

I’m seeing the same conversation in every search marketing-related forum: “How can we build links, post-Penguin?” Marketers are attempting to develop more subtle methods of link building.

Instead of exact match anchor text with money keywords, marketers are trying to get links with a high proportion of branded anchor text.

Instead of putting spammy links on every forum, off topic directory and site wide sidebars, they’re writing guest posts in closely related niches.

The goal is to artificially create a natural-linking link profile. But here’s the thing, a natural link profile looks nothing like what people are attempting to create.

What a natural link profile really looks like
My main website, Universe Today, has approximately 2.2 million links according to Google Webmaster Tools. You can use it as an example of a totally natural link graph, but I think you’ll find it looks totally unnatural.

Here are the top 10 anchor text variations according to Google Webmaster Tools:

  1. universe today
  2. nasa wants your help in finding asteroids
  3. cosmic rays they aren t what we thought
  4. carnival of space
  5. privacy policy
  6. contact us
  7. guide to space
  8. 1981 climate change predictions were eerily accurate
  9. home
  10. how did comet lovejoy survive its trip around

And if you remove all the “strange” anchor text variations in the top 200, you’re left with this top 10, which looks a little more natural, but still isn’t like anything else you’d come up with.

  1. universe today
  2. home
  3. their blog
  4. www universetoday com
  5. visit homepage
  6. universetoday com
  7. http www universetoday com
  8. universetoday
  9. the universe today
  10. site universe today

You can download the full list of the top 200 anchor variations here if you like.

Natural-looking isn’t natural

So here’s the thing, if you look at that first list and the full list of the anchor text variations, there are very popular phrases that you’d never expect would be used to link to my site. Why is “nasa wants your help in finding asteroids” the second most popular anchor text? For some reason, a single site has linked to that page more than 250,000 times with that exact phase.

Further down the list you see stuff like “privacy policy” and “contact us”. Those are common anchors because they’re in Universe Today’s site structure. Scrapers have grabbed the entire text of my pages and incorporated the links as well. So there are thousands of links to my privacy policy and contact us page.

If you’re going to try and build a natural-looking link graph, you can’t ignore those strange links. A properly designed computer algorithm would be looking for them. Even if you were careful to manage the number of exact match anchor phrases, and made sure you didn’t go above some arbitrary spammy looking profile, there’s no way you could duplicate the strange link profile of a completely natural site.

Google can and will close the loop

Unless you find a completely naturally grown site in your niche and match its anchor text profile, link for link, there’s no way you could create a link profile that Google couldn’t detect. And even if you could match those links, you couldn’t match the link acquisition rate.

There is no way you could hide an unnatural link building campaign.

In the time before Penguin, marketers trusted in their ability to fool Google. To build links and not get caught. They believed that Google would never be willing to punish webmasters for building links.

But they did.

I never would have expected Google to come down so hard on artificial linkbuilding. And sadly, allowing bad links to drag a website down in the rankings has opened the door for negative SEO.

As long as marketers continue attempting to manipulate Google’s search results with links, the company can choose to respond. They can tighten down the parameters of Penguin as many times as it takes to deliver the message.

Link building isn’t necessary

But I just don’t understand the obsession with links. They were one method of boosting a site’s keywords in the rankings. But you can generate plenty of search traffic with a content-only strategy, you don’t need to build links. Create the kind of content your audience is looking for, reinforce it with a great social strategy and you’ll create a site that will stand the test of time.

I highly recommend you a similar article on this topic written by Michael Martinez over at SEO Theory.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tony72 May 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm

It took me ‘only’ 2 years to realize and acknowledge this. But better now than never.

Thanks for sharing such detailed insights!