What is a Natural Backlink Profile or Link Graph?

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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 – both contributing to what keywords Google will rank the website for.

What is a backlink?

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

Not all backlinks have the same value towards increasing rankings. Which leads us to ask, “which kind of links are the most valuable for contributing towards high rankings?”, and “Is there a mix of link types or a specific link that work 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 their algorithm on finding and rewarding high-value links and uncovering and penalizing websites that execute tactics that challenge the basic 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 important part of Google’s algorithm, they [Google] need a way to organize and analyze links to better understand 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 there are many other factors such as website type, size, topic focus, etc., that go into answering this question. The good news is there are 9 basic link metrics that most feel encompass a strong 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.

A purely natural link is one that you didn’t know you received until you see it as a referral source in your Google Anlaytics. It was a link that was not asked for, but instead 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 of these types has their own 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, where maybe a .org (usually non-profit) link to more event type content.

The one 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 types of links – natural, trusted directories, relevant sponsorships, guest post, editorial links, sidebar links, etc.

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

Why text variance matters – Just by the natural evolution of gaining inbound links, you would not expect them all to be saying the same thing (the same anchor text keywords). You would expect that each link because done by a unique person, would have slightly or completely different words used for the anchor text of the link.

It’s when Google sees a ton of anchor text saying the same thing over and over, that 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 main text of the page, or is it in a sidebar link list or footer?

Why link location matters – The majority of links that are given editorially are within the main body of the article.  So when looking at your overall link graph, it is important that this link location is 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 – Yes diversity is key, but you want to make sure the majority of links come from websites of high value.

If you are producing high-value content, then you can expect high-value websites to reference it in articles on their website. You can also expect low-value websites to find your content and maybe republish your article, or just scrape your content, thus adding low-value links to your link graph.

Having a combination of these is completely natural. Where websites get in trouble is when the majority of their links come from low-value websites. This can signal to Google that your content (and website) is of 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 that get linked to on your website, or do all your external links go to your homepage?

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

When a website gets a ton of links to their home page, and few deep links (external links linking to pages deep within your website), it not only signals Google that maybe the home page is the only valuable page, but it also 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 domains linking to your website?

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

Where websites get in trouble is when performing a link audit, they see they have thousands of links and think this is great. What they forget to check is 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 domains – which usually means they are low-value site-wide links (sidebar or footer links).

Fresh Links

What does fresh links mean – Are you consistently getting links or did you get a bunch years ago, and have not received any recently.

Why fresh links matters – If your website is continually getting inbound links from a diverse set of websites, it signals to Google that you are consistently creating value for your target users and 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 topic relevancy of the linking website is not relevant – I disagree.

If Google’s ultimate intent is to reward editorially given links that are valuable to the user, then rewarding off-topic links just don’t seem to be a long-term strategy that makes sense.

Importance of understanding your link profile

Before you can even begin to consider 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: