Technically SEO could never be classed as natural, you’re undertaking activities to game the engines, whether you’re a spammer or a link bait specialist we’re all trying to achieve the same things, higher rankings and more traffic.
That said whatever activity you choose to undertake, you absolutely have to make it look natural, I don’t know why so many people struggle with this concept but with the recent changes and updates it’s more important than ever to come across as ‘genuine’.
So we’ve established SEO isn’t natural but we have to make it look like it is, how do we do it?
Over the years I have had the opportunity to work on all types of sites, corporate giants to brand new start ups, no matter what type of site you work on the results always last longer when you make things natural.
Lets go a through a few things that make up the natural mix;
Good old anchor text! Not sure if you’ve all noticed recently but Google has been tightening it’s filters, sites with a lack of brand, variation and image vs text have been getting hit. With this in mind it’s more important than ever to build your anchor text using all of these elements;
If you’re trying to rank for a particular term don’t focus all your anchor text on the exact term, you will get filtered out eventually. I find the best way to pick anchor text variations is by using Google Suggest and the Keyword Tool;
Use multiple terms regularly to keep on the right side of Google, it will also help you rank for more long tail variations. In terms of getting the right mix its difficult to say, I personally like to use no more than 30% exact, unless there is a good reason to be more aggressive, a peak season etc…
Brand Anchor Text
I blogged about this last year and quite a few people rubbished it, however I am sure most have seen positive results from building brand into their profile.
Again not sure what the exact mix is but if your anchor text profile is less than 30% brand orientated then I’d say it’s something you need to look at.
It’s not a case of doing this alone and you get high rankings, however if you are stuck in position 5 – 10 and just can’t break into that top 3 pack, then maybe this is something you need to look at.
Location of Links
I am seeing more and more link profile issues relating to the location of links. If your site is based in the UK, you only ever do business in the UK and all your links are from the US then do you really think that is going to go unnoticed forever?
Blekko is pretty good for understanding the location split of your links.
Site Wide vs In Content
Again another obvious one, site wide links have been associated with link buying for a long time and towards the end of last year they were hit pretty hard. My advice would be to only use them when relevant and try and keep it brand based. In content links are so much more natural, think about it, when do people link? A brand new site would obviously create lots of new links, a new piece of content, however an established site would rarely keep updating exteranl links on a page, if all you do is acquire links on static pages your strategy is seriously flawed, stick with getting fresh links on new pages.
The idea of a ‘freshness’ boost has been talked about for years but it works, I would take a fresh page on a decent domain over a PR9 link any day.
Authority Spread of Incoming Links
Again I have written about this in the past and as far as I can tell it still plays a major factor in establishing how natural the link profile of a website is;
If all your links come from domains with an authority less than 20, the chances are you’re doing low quality publishing on article directories only and other low quality blogs. If all your links are from domains above 50 you’re probably spending a fortune on high PR links on authority sites. Even if all your links are in the middle somewhere you’re probably buying from a link broker.
What you should be trying to achieve is a very even spread of domain authority with links from every source possible, this to me would more likely be a natural profile.
Types of Links
This depends on the type of site you run, however I find it best to cover all bases. However be smart about it, if you run a 3 page site selling training services, you’re hardly going to be linked to by lots of fresh articles on blogs, however lots of business directories might be conceivable. If you run a blog then of course you should acquire more fresh links and social mentions.
However no matter what site you’re running I would always recommend a good mix, directories, press hubs, blogs, social sites and forums. Mix it up as much as possible.
If you have a site that never updates then your link velocity is going to be low, maybe a few partners and industry relevant websites every month but anything more than that is just going to look too unnatural. If you’re constantly increasing the content and pages on your site then you’re naturally going to warrant a higher link velocity.
Do things on page to justify the amount of links coming back to your site.
Natural Link Patterns
I think one of the worst link strategies you can adopt is ‘quality and relevance only’, why?
Think about it, if all the links your site ever acquires are those on high authority static pages, relevant to your industry and have to have a certain amount of links to them, does this really look natural? Would a link profile growing like this ever look natural?
Let me share a good example for you;
I got a link a couple of weeks ago from a post on SEOmoz blog, great link, super relevant and even had a good anchor text Happy days? Well ye, however a link on SEOmoz was not all I got, in 48 hours the my post that the link was pointing at got 210 track backs, 210!!! These were from all kinds of sources, scraper sites, news hubs, blogs re writing and publishing.
I think Google has to take this kind of link activity into account, one quality link and hundreds of crap ones within 24 hours? Do I get penalised? Is this unnatural? No and no. So why aren’t SEO’s taking this into account when running link building campaigns? Yes get quality links but don’t just leave it there.
I’m sure there are many other linking factors to consider when trying to establish a natural link profile, however these, for me at least, seem to be the most prominent. Please feel free to discuss anymore in the comments.