What Are ‘Natural’ Backlinks? Identifying Good Links

Last week we had the pleasure of welcoming Enrico Chiodino, Daria Tokareva and Syphaïwong Bay on Tea Time SEO to talk about Do Links Matter – Backlink Profiling. If you want to find out if you have natural backlinks or how to identify the good links, watch the replay on our YouTube channel or read the presentation on slideshare. Enrico shares his tips in the blog post below:

How do you recognise link types?

We often talk about the necessity of ‘natural’ links: it’s the mantra of white hat link building. But what does natural even mean? There are many specific checks to be carried out on a site to determine whether it’s a good domain from which to obtain a link, or it’s a spammy cash cow with no value whatsoever and, indeed, potentially dangerous. History, originality, content, their own backlinking profile…dozens of relevant factors: so what we thought we’d do here, instead, is provide you with a method to recognise what a natural link looks like.

We will follow an inverted pyramid approach, starting from the general: what is natural from an online environment perspective? What kind of websites should be part of your backlinking profile? We will proceed shrinking the scope down a bit: what pages on your own site should receive links in a natural form?

And finally we will narrow it down to the single link itself: what does a natural link look like?

What is a natural link from an online environment perspective?

In the state of nature, authority distribution is logarithmic: that’s how your backlinking profile should look like.

Source: Moz

This is the DA distribution of Moz’s top 500 domains. Not statistically relevant indeed, but it helps with understanding one thing: see how many more ‘93’ sites there are, than ‘94’? And can you imagine how farther away on the right the ‘92’ line arrives? How big would it be, at levels 70 or 30?This is an exponential distribution, and it’s how the web as a whole is built: a few big whales, tons of small fishes. So your backlink profile should mirror that type of distribution.We talk about putting effort in obtaining a link from the big whales, but that’s just because they have their own SEOs who will, understandably, advise against granting too many outbound links (although outbound links are absolutely natural and should in fact be present on every site). But we do not want a backlinking profile with only DA 90 +: we want a natural distribution.

If you think about it, a low DA is very different from spam: a very small blog can have 0 DA, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. If it’s on topic, indeed, we do want their link: it’s very relevant, and helps the natural distribution of our backlinking profile.

Consider this (made up) example: Enricothefashionableitalianguy.com, with DA: -10, links to Yoox and Peugeot UK, with DA 73, links to Yoox.

Which link passes more value? Of course the difference in DA is huge, but the first is absolutely more relevant and ontopic: both are desirable. Yoox needs 100 linking domains like the first, and 1 like the second, to achieve a well-balanced profile.

What is a natural link from a website perspective?

The natural distribution of inbound links is not democratic when it comes to landing pages. 

Source: Backlinko/Ahrefs – study on 11M websites

95% of your pages are likely not to have any backlinks, and it’s absolutely natural: use your superstars! Superstar pages depend on the site, but they normally include your homepage. Your best-selling product, an incredibly informative blog post, or your hero campaign can also be in that number. Links will come into your superstars way more often than to other pages; they will naturally come to pages of the same language, if available; and they will normally come to like-for-like pages when it comes to topics. The whole semantics of your backlinking profile should make sense, but your homepage will still tend to ‘steal’ some links better suited to lower-hierarchy pages.

Do keywords in anchor text work?

This used to be the case, anchor texts were very relevant. They were the go-to signal for search engines to understand what the landing page of the link was about. Unfortunately with the pressure from clients or from themselves on trying to increase rankings, SEOs over optimised these anchor texts. The all-in-on-anchors approach was easy to trick: look at what some SEOs did via link-bombing for the White House official website with a very specific anchor text:

So in time, through several algorithm updates, Google reduced the specific anchor’s relevance in determining for what keywords a landing page is relevant.

On top of this, most of the traffic you’ll receive will not be driven by your target KW anyway! Joshua Hardwick @ Ahrefs notes that ”On average, across all posts on the Ahrefs blog, only 22% (~⅕) of traffic comes from the main target keyword.” So if you sell your very soul to rank for ‘KW X’, you are putting all of your big money on around 20% of your organic traffic.

What is the context for links?

“The guy who’s talking about links right now is Enrico from Blue Array (link), an Italian SEO who’s worked in link building in the gaming industry.“

If I was mentioned in these terms, and was given the luxury to pick the anchor for the link to my site, I’d want it from the (link) bit (I can settle for my name). Google will infer my brand (Enrico), my fields of competence big and small (SEO > link building), and my locale (Italian SEO). They are amazingly good at NLP (Natural Language Processing), i.e. understanding the meaning of a sentence via AI. This is, by the by, what the famous BERT was all about. Not every single one of them, but most natural links to a site will anchor with the dreaded ‘link’, ‘click here’, ‘official site’, with a lower but relevant ratio of ‘brandname’ and ‘domainname’.

How to encourage natural links

Do not force:

  • An excessive DA of linking domains
  • An unnatural distribution of the landing page on our site
  • A specific, semantic anchor text

This is what we mean, when we talk about a ‘natural link’.

Thanks again Enrico for this summary! We will be back with Tea Time SEO at 4pm on our YouTube channel. In the meantime read some of our other speakers for the week including Marco Bonomo’s tips about Google for Jobs or Julien and Tom advice on Log file analysis – What you should be looking for.

Make sure to sign up to Tea Time SEO and our YouTube channel to get the latest tips about SEO.

Photo by Jorge Garcia on Unsplash

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