Link Diversity: Why Aren’t We Focused More on This Topic?
The term “link diversity” is something that we, as SEOs, talk about all the time. The term is referenced in articles, mentioned on all of the popular SEO blogs and used in case studies and tutorials. But what does it mean? Why isn’t there more in-depth discussion about this topic?
It’s no secret that links are important. They are the number one signal that influences Google’s search algorithm. There have been several studies indicating this, and every competent SEO knows this, regardless of how many times they shout, “content is king!” Is content truly king, or is it more of a tool to attract the king, which is the link? I prefer to think of content as a tool, because content alone isn’t going to get you ranked.
Articles about straight up link building are few are far these days. Most articles are about creating helpful content and providing pleasant user experiences. While those are both very important, just having a website packed with ‘helpful’ content and featuring a nice layout and navigation isn’t going to magically push you high up in the SERPs. You need links my friend, and a very diverse link profile.
People build links. The very same SEOs that are telling you to focus on content are building links for their clients. They just don’t want to come out and announce it, and I don’t blame them. Just understand one thing: people still build links, and they will continue to do so as long as they remain to be the number one ranking signal.
There are two things that get under my skin about links.
1. Focusing only on Domain Authority
When Google stopped updating the public page rank toolbar, SEOs needed some other magic metric to fall back on. Enter Moz’s Domain Authority, or DA for short. It’s important to remember two very important facts. First, DA isn’t a metric that Google has anything to do with. It’s calculated by Moz, a third party, and it’s created based on their own system. Second, DA is so easy to manipulate that you should never, and I repeat, NEVER, solely base anything on just Domain Authority.
I’m not knocking Moz at all. They have a set of tools that is popular in the SEO world and it serves a purpose. But remember, it’s a tool, not the end-all solution for evaluating a link.
Years ago, links sellers used Page Rank as a benchmark when selling links. Now, SEO agencies and link builders are using DA. I have seen rate cards from several agencies and their link prices are based on DA. The higher the DA, the higher the price. I’ve seen a single link on Forbes priced at $1,800 and I’ve seen a single link on Business2Community priced at $800. That is literally insane. Sure, a link of Forbes might get you some recognition and some referral traffic. But to think that single link is going to be the answer to SERP domination is ludicrous, which brings me to the next point.
2. Believing that a single link will magically shoot you to the top of the SERPs
I have lost count of the number of times someone has contacted me with a small budget and they want to buy a single link. One link. They think that a link on Huffington Post, Forbes or one of the other popular websites will solve all of their problems. Sure, it’s a great link but it isn’t going to make a noticeable difference.
I’ve also had people contact me freaking out because they have links with Domain Authority of 10 or 15. They act as if their website is ruined because of low DA links. “Eww, a website with DA 10 just linked to me. Quick, disavow this link!”
Want to see diversity? Login to your Ahrefs account and look at the link profile for Huffington Post or another major news website. Look at Huffington Post:
They have 281 million links. Do you think someone over there is freaking out because some part-time blogger linked to one of their articles from their brand new, DA 5 website? No. They welcome any link that is natural. Why? Because it helps to create a very diversified link profile.
The key is DIVERSIFICATION
When you really break down a link profile and look at it in terms of how diverse it is, there are three main components. They type of link it is, the metrics of the link, and the anchor text used.
Link types: Imagine if an SEO only built links from authority websites. Seriously, imagine of you had an unlimited budget and you purchased every link in your profile from the best websites in the world. You made the right connections and you got journalists to link to your website, creating a drool-worthy link profile. It might sound good, but under a manual review it would look completely inflated and not real.
So, only Forbes, Huffington Post and the top news sites know that your website exists? If anything, having those top links should result in having even more links from lesser know websites. As I mentioned above, content is the tool to attract the king, which is links. When done right, content marketing is going to attract links from new blogs, casual blogs, as well as authority powerhouses. If you publish a great infographic, sure, Mashable might republish it, but so will hundreds of other websites that you probably have never heard of. If you are building links, which is a no-no according to Google, you need to make it look as natural as possible. Natural = diversification.
Link metrics: For every DA 98 Huffington Post link, there is going to be a lot of DA 10 – 20 links from small websites and blogs. This is natural, and what you want to achieve. We focus so much time and energy pitching the top websites and trying to secure links form those sites, but guess what? You need to spend some time and energy on securing a wide range of diversity, as well.
It isn’t hard to do, so there are no excuses. You probably know how hard it is to pitch and successfully land a link placement on a top sites. When you do land one of them, you should have about 20 – 30 other link placements secured as well. Let’s just assume for a minute that you run a blog about nutrition and you created a great infographic and after a lot of hard work you got an editor at Huffington Post to publish it.
Now, take that same pitch and find about 50 niche blogs, with metrics from brand new to mid-tier. These websites do not get pitched often and they would love new content. It won’t take you long to find these websites, and if you pitch 50 of them I promise you will get 20 – 30 of them to reply, excited to republish your infographic and link to your website.
Don’t ignore the little guys. They are important to give you that natural link profile, full of diversification. It takes some time, sure, but so does anything of value when it comes to SEO.
Anchor text: How many times do you see websites shoot to the top of your niche, and after a quick look at their link profile you notice that 99% of their links have exact-match anchor text for the keyword they are ranking for? It happens often, and they quickly fall from the top because they get nailed with a penalty.
If you create a nice piece of content and publish it to your blog about weight loss, the other websites linking to your blog aren’t going to link out with “fast weight loss tips” or “best weight loss pills,” right? They will link out naturally, with anchor text such as “this article,” “read more here,” or ‘here on this blog.” In fact, the majority of your anchor text should be random, non-exact match keyword anchor text.
Even if you are doing out reach and a smaller blog that isn’t SEO savvy asks you how to link to your website you should always be focused on diversifying your link profile. While exact match anchor text sounds good, it can come back to haunt you if you get too greedy. I was never a fan of keyword density percentages, and I’m not a fan of anchor text percentages. As an educated rule of thumb, I like to say do whatever looks and feels natural. This will depend a lot on your niche and what website is linking to you.
Be smart, because greed can be the downfall.
Are real authority websites concerned with DA (or any other specific third part metric)?
No. They don’t even care about that. Why? Because natural link profiles, like those of monster authority websites, like Huffington Post or TMZ, have a wide range of links coming in.
These huge websites have dedicated SEO/SEM teams that work on their search visibility, and I can promise you that not one of those people is going to say, “Oh no, this college kid that just started a blog linked to our article and the metrics are low because it’s a new website. Should I reach out and ask them to remove it?”
Imagine of that brand new blog eventually turns into a popular site and the metrics shoot to the moon? This is how SEO is intended to work. While manipulation is always going to remain in the picture (even if you don’t want to admit to it), SEOs have to remember that in the real world, link profiles are very diversified, and those websites do just fine in the SERPs.
The most common link diversity mistake I see
There are plenty of SEOs and website owners that understand that diversification can’t be ignored, but they make a huge mistake. They use low quality spammy links to dilute the authority links. This is the wrong way to approach this and can lead to a penalty.
It still amazes me that people will buy comment links, sidebar and footer blog links, etc. from Fiverr. I’m not saying there aren’t any good diversification options if you don’t want to do all the manual outreach, but you aren’t going to find it for $5. That is just reality.
Use the same scrutiny to identify diversification links that you use when identifying high quality links. You still need to focus on quality, even when seeking out lower link metrics.
Don’t always believe what you see
When you are using the common link exploration tools to analyze the link profile of a competitor you need to remember that you will never see the whole picture. If the website is using a private blog network you can bet that those links are being hidden from the popular crawler bots, so they aren’t going to show up.
There are always new threads popping up on popular SEO and Internet Marketing forums asking, “How is this website ranking for [insert keyword] with no links?” Those are always easy to analyze. It’s clear as day that they are using private link networks. This brings me to my last point. If you are using your own private network then diversification should be number one on your priority list, unless you want to draw unwanted attention to your website. A private link network is less suspect and less obvious if there is a very diverse backlink profile.
The point of this article is to really get some discussion going in the comment section. I’m not after your deep dark diversification secrets, but I’d like to get your opinions on what mistakes you see and what some of the best practices are, to ensure a natural looking link profile. Even if you are a “content is king” tribe member and don’t build links, I’d still love to hear from you! Until next time..