High Quality Links Are Not The Way To Higher Rankings – Building A Natural Link Profile

The last couple of months have been a link analysis month for me and the team at Branded3, the unique changes we are seeing in SERP activity sparked an ongoing interest in the office into how Google is now ranking sites.

As you will have seen my last couple of posts have been focused on these changes, first with the assumption of brand anchor text value and secondly the possibility of a tighten anchor text filter. There are other interesting trends we have come across but unfortunately I cannot publish them all just yet, however one thing we are noticing is how well Google are now devaluing ‘assumed’ paid links.

Whenever paid links have been discussed in the SEO world and how Google maybe detecting them, it has always been focused on the site selling for e.g. If a site has lots of anchor text sidebar anchor rich links then Google can presume these are paid and that’s probably a correct assumption, however….

From the research we have conducted it seems to suggest Google could be deciding whether to count links based on the link profile of the domain it is pointing to, so if you have an over optimised link profile and Google finds hundreds more exact anchor links, the theory is they will not count.

However, if you have a very natural anchor text profile and a proportionate amount of optimised links, these will have more chance of counting.

This has all been covered to an extent in my previous articles, which if you missed, you can read here;

Anchor Text Over Optimisation

Brand Anchor Text

Natural Link Profile

As well as anchor text there are other ways that Google could be establishing how optimised a link profile is, for example if a website only has links from high PageRank websites is this natural? Could it be that the site is buying lots of links from what they perceive to be high quality websites?

Any good SEO will tell you a natural link profile will probably have as many low quality links as it does high quality.

Now PageRank is not a good metric for lots of different reason, however the crew at SEOmoz have provided us with the excellent open site explorer which we can use to download our link profiles into excel.

Once we have all the links downloaded and have removed duplicate URL’s we can use a pivot chart to see the spread of domain authority across the domains linking to our site.

This is what the SEOwizz profile looks like;

seowizz link profile

I like to think this is quite a natural looking profile, a little spike around the 30 mark but generally it’s quite flat with links from all kinds of domains ranging from the good to the ugly.

Now if you’re buying links left right and centre you might have a link profile that looks a little like this;

paid link profile

I don’t like outing sites, hence the reason I haven’t named the above but this is a genuine link profile of a recently penalised brand attempting to rank for a major financial term. Typically if you’re buying links from domains with a certain amount of Domain Authority your link profile is going to look like this and in my opinion, this isn’t going to work anymore. It is all too easy for search engines to analyze this sort of profile and quickly discover there are very few links from websites other than those with domain authority of between 30 – 50. Is this what a natural well linked to website should look like? In my opinion this looks manipulated and when you investigate further it clearly is.

Just to confirm this is all theory based on recent consulting and research, however if you have been struggling to rank for a keyword;

Step one; check your anchor text and make sure you have enough natural link text

Step two; download your links to make sure you have an even spread of links

Many SEO’s are precious about where they source links from not realising that a genuine website is linked to from every different kind of domain authority imaginable, in fact if you have a content rich site there is no doubt you’ll have a lot of links from good old scrapers!

The best link profile is not always one filled with high quality websites, Google wants the links they count to be natural and high PageRank, Mozrank etc… does not always if ever equal natural. High quality link sources are always needed but what makes us think a natural link profile would only include these?


is the CEO of Branded3 a Search Marketing Agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in Search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

23 thoughts on “High Quality Links Are Not The Way To Higher Rankings – Building A Natural Link Profile

  1. Hi Tim,

    I couldn’t agree more about having a natural link profile both in terms of the diversity & quality of the links but also the rate at which links are built. I’m always thinking about this even for smaller campaigns, I tend to start any link building thinking about a few branding links first. You often get brand/website name links naturally right…. Anyway, there are so many things to take into account you just have to be smart about it all.

    I’ve never really looked at actively researching and showing this stuff before so I’ve found these last few posts interesting to read. I like the above graph as well! Displays it brilliantly. I’ve been doing a similar looking one recently which displays the number & spread of anchor text links – it really does illustrate a website’s link building efforts. I need to do one for the domain authority now…

    Topical Question: I recently acquired a quality link from a really authoritive domain (the type that don’t give out for money!) as I had a good angle that benefited all but I was in two minds whether to ask for a brand link or a keyword link – what would you ask for after all the research you have done? 🙂 I couldn’t resist and asked for the keyword anchor text, I got a branded one instead!

  2. Thanks for the post, I like how you actually provide quality info about seo unlike many other search engine optimization blogs which usually leave you feeling more confused than when you started reading them. I appreciate you taking the time to post, I would recommend to any reader here who has not already subscribed to this blogs rss feed to do so- in fact I have set my email up in a way so it actually highlights updates from this blog.

  3. Good article again Tim!

    I also think that part of a natural profile is having a certain proportion of nofollow links because surely it would look unnatural having all links dofollow regardless of quality. Does the seomoz tool give you this info for exporting?

  4. Your articles are some of the most refreshing on the web. what you suggest is to follow any natural pattern to create better presence on the web. this is after all what google says they want. it’s logical. create great content, and then “create” a natural pattern to get your content to perform well. the idea, of course, is to have content so good that the pattern becomes alive by itself.
    not all people linking to your site will take the time to create attractive anchor text. in fact, how many people would do that?
    and yes, i agree, it’s impossible to not get links from so-called “bad neighbourhoods”, so there’s no point fighting it. what you are suggesting is natural, and sensible. my friend, it’s been a while since i’ve come across sound advice such as this.
    thanks. keep it up.

  5. Are you seeing a difference between the way Google applies these ideas in the USA compared to the UK? I sometimes suspect there is a time lag here as i still see lots of sites in the UK supported by “perfect anchor text” profiles. You could almost copy a word tracker report and apply that to their anchor text!

  6. lol, Hi James,

    Sorry I know this is verging on saying too much but sometimes things just have to be said. Too much rubbish out there.

  7. Hi Nadeem,

    I think taking into account the current climate, much would depend on what my anchor profile already looked like, if it looked really optimised I would maybe get a brand, however when were talking about decent sources it is difficult to ignore the enticement of a quality anchor text, as long as you have a enough brand links to back it up why not?

  8. Hi Aaron,

    and thanks. It’s comments like that, that make blogging and researching worthwhile. Ever since I launched the blog I have only tried to include things that are useful to webmasters and business trying to build an online presence, every now and then I indulge a little but either way I really appreciate the endorsement.

  9. Hi Dan,

    Yes I believe you can filter links that are no follow. I am not sure where I sit with the no follow links debate and whether it makes for a natural profile, would make good research though. I guess the theory makes sense just don’t know if some decent correlation could be shown from it.

  10. Thanks Optimised Onion 🙂

    I think the theory that you build something great and they will come is flawed. Naturalness is key and should make up a decent amount of any SEO strategy, however let be clear on what I mean by naturalness, I don’t mean sit back and wait for links, I mean go out there and replicate a natural profile, if you have control over a link think natural as well as optimised, it has to play a role.

  11. Im due to publish some research that outlines exctly this. Ive taken one niche keyword and am working through all of the backlinks for the top ranking sites… should be a good one

  12. Hi Colin,

    There are sites that still dominate with spammy profiles or paid anchor optimised profiles, however I think for the big traffic driving keywords websites are being hit left right and centre. If only I could tell you the amount of research and consulting we have done in the last month alone to this effect. Serious brands and long term rankers being pushed to the bottom of the first page or even the second page, and the trend has been the same across the hundreds of websites we have looked at.

    Webmasters have pushed Google too far with anchor text manipulation and Google are pulling the rug from under them, the key now is knowing how to combat it, we started multiple strategies months ago and our clients are now all feeling the benefit of a more natural approach.

  13. Hi Tim, great post as always. We’ve had a similar debate in our office regarding various strategies to promote ‘natural’ link building. We are building lots of links that cement a natural footprint. However the real dogfight is against sites that are clearly using blackhat software/tricks to boost their rankings, in many cases these ‘dirty seo’ sites seem to stick around rather than crash and burn, Google’s gauge on how it ranks sites is inconsistent to say the least.

  14. Hi Fergus,

    and thanks. I think it depends on the industry and keywords your taking into account, the spammy sites still exist and still rank, however you will notice that to a human eye its clearly spam, whereas if you look at the link profile it probably seems quite natural. There are obviously still the anchor text spam sites sitting at the top but if they offer no value to a visitor they will be pulled as soon as reported.

    Not all sites have the ability to attract ‘natural’ links, however those that find the best strategies to mimic a natural profile will ultimately win, well that’s the theory anyway.

  15. Thanks for the inspiring article. Rankings of some sites of mine dropped recently. I guess the unnatural link profile is the reason. Going to make changes accordingly to see the results.

  16. What proportion of brand links would you say is appropriate? I was told on SEOMOZ Q&A that brand links should make up about 70-80% of all incoming links to the homepage, which is bad news for my site. I wouldn’t be surprised if my rankings are suffering for that reason, as otherwise, I would expect to rank higher for certain keyphrases.

  17. I think in times gone by brand links didn’t really feature, however in more recent times you need to focus on brand links, 70 – 80% is probably a little on the safe side but 30 – 40% is probably more accurate.

  18. Would you say that using long tail variations of your main keyword would be good way to create more diversity, or does this not cut it either. I have also had a harm time finding a good tool that does this. I’ve looked at WordTracker and its data is very limited compared to Google. When I use the Google tool, it gives me no option to only show variations of my main keyword. Obviously using branding links and not just buying links is part of the equation, but using long tails would seem to be a good way to vary up the anchor text. If anyone knows a good long tail tool, let me know.

  19. I think using 5 – 10 variations of your main term is ideal, longtail is hard to find since Google tightened up the keyword tool. The best way to find longtail keywords, the real longtail, is through your own analytics.

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