The Organic Link Profile

Every site has a link profile, a footprint of the kinds of backlinks the site has. A typical, legitimately organic site will have links from other blogs, from social media, from forums and blog comments, from all kinds of different sources. There will be a bunch of nofollow links in addition to the ones that pass PageRank. Most of the anchor text of those links will be the name of the site, or the URL of the site; some anchor text will be junk (like “click here”); some will be images; a very small amount will be keyword rich. More of the links will point to the home page (and/or blog home page) than any other page. Most of the links will be good ones, and some will be spammy.

Every site collects some amount of spammy links through no fault of their own. Various directories search for sites to seed into their directories, scraper sites swipe content from around the web, etc. As long as your links aren’t overwhelmingly spammy, or suspiciously spammy, you’ll be just fine.

No Formula for Organic Link Footprint

There is no single formula for what an organic link profile looks like: different industries have different footprints, and even within those industries different sites will have very different link profiles based on their perception in the market, their products/services, and their marketing.

When you encounter a site in which all of the links have been built for SEO purposes, it’s very obvious — and I mean that it’s obvious to experienced SEOs. It’s far more obvious to Google webspam engineers.

What’s more, non-organic link profiles always, always have some kind of a footprint. Often it’s obvious from the anchor text, or the fact that a disproportionate number of links are of the same type (blog links, footer links, site wide links, directory links, etc).

It is actually possible to create a suspicious link profile even by doing only white hat link building, so it’s important to understand two things about the organic link profile:

  1. No link acquisition tactics should ever account for the majority of your links. You should be doing a lot of different things to get links and not relying on any one tactic exclusively. It’s tempting when you find something that works to scale it up and put all your efforts behind it. You must resist.
  2. This is the tough one that SEOs never want to hear: you cannot build an organic link profile. To have an organic profile, you need to legitimately get links from people that you haven’t asked or enticed into linking. Completely strangers should link to your site because it’s worth linking to. The purpose of link acquisition in SEO is to boost your performance beyond the power of your raw organic links, or to get your site a start so it can get to place where it can acquire links naturally. Ultimately to have an organic link profile, you need to get organic links in addition to whatever links you pursue via your SEO efforts. The way to do that is to have a great site that’s truly useful to a lot of people, and to market your site so that people discover it in the first place.

Link acquisition is still a vital part of SEO — for many SEO teams it’s the only part — but it should not account for 100% of the links to your site, or even 50% of them.

New Sites Are Delicate and Fragile

There’s an exception here for new sites (or old sites with no links who have never done any marketing). A brand new site is usually effectively invisible in Google’s rankings: and if you don’t have other marketing avenues no one is going to discover the site. And of course if no one ever sees it, they can’t decide to link to it. However, new sites need to be extra cautious about the first chunk of links they attract: at this stage it’s incredibly easy to create a suspicious link profile. So new sites need to be sure that they’re getting nofollow links that don’t help rankings in addition to the regular links. They need social media links as well as editorial blog links.

In general, the more organic links a site has, the more aggressively they can pursue additional links. And there are a lot of link building tactics that blur the line between SEO and just building a great site (which is the great thing about good SEO — it’s almost always good for the user).

If you create some stunningly awesome article about sledding down the tallest mountains in the world for the purposes of attracting links and it goes viral, gets reported in major news sites and all over the web… those are organic links, even though you created the article specifically to attract links. Now those first hundred blogs that you emailed about the article, those links are also organic, but not the kind of 100% organic links that ensure you have an organic link profile.

Of course if you run a site about investing advice, that mountain sledding article and those links are suddenly a lot less organic looking — whereas if your site sell sleds, or mountain climbing guides, then that is spot on.

But the more you look at building your entire site with the idea of making it link worthy, the more you blur that SEO line and the more successful you will be in your SEO efforts.

Truly great authority-building SEO is just a matter of making truly great sites that users love, with awesome content that’s so cool people want to share it, and then telling people about your site and your content.

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