What is a Natural Backlink Profile or Link Graph?

Google uses backlinks to help determine what a website or web page is relevant for and how authoritative a website or web page is for a specific topic, contributing to what keywords Google will rank the website for.

What is a backlink?

A backlink, also known as an inbound link, means a link pointing back to your website from another website or social media community.

Not all backlinks have the same value in increasing rankings. This leads us to ask, “Which links are the most valuable for contributing towards high rankings?” and “Is there a mix of link types or a specific link that works best for increasing SEO rankings?”.

What is a Backlink Profile or Link Graph?

If you’re new to SEO or link building, you may not be familiar with the term Backlink Profile or Link Graph. Google focuses its algorithm on finding and rewarding high-value links and uncovering and penalizing websites that execute tactics that challenge the essential democracy of the web and impact search result quality.

If you are learning the basics of link building, an important concept to understand is that of a website’s backlink profile – or what some call a Link Graph. So what does this mean?

Because inbound links are such an essential part of Google’s algorithm, they [Google] need a way to organize and analyze links to understand better what they [The Links] are saying about a website. In short, a website’s link graph is a fancy way of saying an organized and scored list of all the sites currently linking to your site, which then can be used to influence rankings (positively or negatively).

The bad news is this is a difficult question since many other factors, such as website type, size, topic focus, etc., go into answering this question. The good news is there are nine basic link metrics that most feel encompass a robust natural link profile – all boiling down to two primary metrics; how diverse and how natural.

First question, “What is a Natural Link?”. Our definition of a natural link is a link that encompasses the following.

You didn’t know you received a purely natural link until you saw it as a referral source in your Google Analytics. The link was not asked for but was organically given based on content value.

Parts of An Inbound Link Profile

Website Type

What does website type mean – Are you getting links from a diverse set of websites such as .edu, .com, .gov, and .org?

Why website type matters – In many cases, each type has its community and user value – they also tend to link to different types of content. For example, a .edu website will, in most cases, be more likely to link to research-based content, whereas maybe a .org (usually non-profit) links to more event-type content.

The question that won’t die is, “Are .edu links better than .com links?”. – In theory, yes, but not simply due to the .edu TLD (top-level domain). Usually, .edu websites are highly authoritative, and thus their authority gives them their value – not simply being a .edu.

Link Type

What does link type mean – Are you getting different kinds of links – natural, trusted directories, relevant sponsorships, guest posts, editorial links, sidebar links, etc.?

Why link type matters – If you get a ton of any one kind of link, this can be seen as unnatural and thus a red flag within Google’s algorithm. Now, the caveat is that not all link masses are the same. For example, getting a mass amount of directory links have more negative value than a group of editorially given links.

Anchor Text Variance

What does text variance mean – Does the text used to link to your website vary, or is it the exact text for most links?

Text variance matters – Just by the natural evolution of gaining inbound links, you would not expect them to say the same thing (the exact anchor text keywords). Instead, you would expect that each connection would have slightly or entirely different words used for the link’s anchor text because done by a unique person.

When Google sees a ton of anchor text saying the same thing repeatedly, it can view that as unnatural and possibly manipulative – thus penalizing a website or devaluing those links.

Link Location

What does link location mean – Does your link reside in the page’s main text, or is it in a sidebar link list or footer?

Why link location matters – Most links given editorially are within the article’s main body. So, looking at your overall link graph, this link location must be the most prevalent.

Website Value

What does website value mean – Are the majority of your links coming from high-value websites?

Why website value matters – Diversity is critical, but you want to ensure that most links come from highly valued websites.

If you produce high-value content, you can expect high-value websites to reference it in articles on their website. On the other hand, you can also expect low-value websites to find your content, republish your theme, or scrape your content, thus adding low-value links to your link graph.

Having a combination of these is entirely natural. For example, websites get in trouble when most of their links come from low-value websites. This can signal to Google that your content (and website) is low value, thus keeping them [Google] from ranking it well.

Page Linked To

What does page linked to mean – Is there a diversity of pages attached to your website, or do all your external links go to your homepage?

Why page linked to matters – Much like you want diversity in other areas of your link graph, you also wish the pages linked to being diverse.

When a website gets a ton of links to its home page and few deep links (external links linking to pages deep within your website), it signals Google that maybe the home page is the only helpful page and inhibits link value dispersion throughout the website.

Linking Domains vs. Total Links

What does linking domains vs. total links mean – Are you getting a diverse set of parts linking to your website?

Why linking domains vs. total links matter – The diversity of domains linking to your website is a factor that has shown a strong correlation with rankings.

Websites get in trouble when performing a link audit; they see they have thousands of links and think this is great. However, I forget to check the total number of linking domains those links are coming from. When they check this metric, they notice that the 1000 links they have are coming from 5 parts – which usually means they are low-value site-wide links (sidebar or footer links).

Fresh Links

What do new links mean – Are you consistently getting links, or did you get a bunch of years ago and have not received any recently?

Why new links matter – If your website continually gets inbound links from various websites, it signals to Google that you are consistently creating value for your target users. Thus, your content should be ranked well. Think of this as a slow progression of earning trust.

Link Velocity

What does link velocity mean – How fast are you getting links? Think of a drip and not a hose.

Why link velocity matters –Much like the Fresh Link Metric, this also signals to Google that you are naturally earning links because you are continuously creating valuable content and marketing your business.

The issue arises when a website suddenly gets a ton of inbound links within a short period. In this case, Google may sandbox those links until they can further understand the intent and manner in which they were acquired.

Topic Relevancy of Linking Websites

What does topic relevancy mean – Are the websites you are getting links from relevant to your website’s theme or topic?

Why topic relevancy of the linking website matters – This is probably the most controversial metric. Many say a link is a link, and the topic relevancy of the linking website is irrelevant – I’m afraid I have to disagree.

Suppose Google’s ultimate intent is to reward editorially given links that are valuable to the user. In that case, rewarding off-topic links isn’t a long-term strategy that makes sense.

Importance of understanding your link profile

Before considering a link-building campaign, you need to understand a website’s current link portfolio – this will help define your strategic approach. There are a variety of tools to help you along this path:

  • Majestic SEO
  • Open Site Explorer from Moz
  • Raven Tools
  • SEMRush

Feel free to reach out if you need help earning links for SEO rankings by creating great SEO content.