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How HTTP/3 Helps Feed SEO’s Need For Speed

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The evolution of the web never stands still.

As new technologies are developed, consumer behaviors change and the core infrastructure that underpins the internet is forced to adapt.

The HTTP protocol – used to transfer data between client and server – has gone through a number of different iterations, all of which have enhanced the core functionality with new and exciting features.

After an 18-year gap between the adoption of HTTP/1.1 in 1997 and HTTP/2 in 2015, development has picked up the pace, with the draft proposal for HTTP/3 submitted merely three years later.

What Is HTTP/3?

At its core, HTTP/3 is an overhaul of the underlying transport layer used to manage file transfers.

It represents a move away from TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) to UDP (User Datagram Protocol), addressing several TCP limitations and improving performance and security for users.

Although it’s still waiting for final review before publication, 73% of web browsers already support the protocol.

This number will significantly increase once Safari makes it a core feature; currently, it’s experimental and has to be enabled via the developer menu.

http3 browser support caniuse
Screenshot from HTTP/3 support Caniuse.com, April 2022

The HTTP/3 protocol is already used by 25% of the top 10 million websites, including Google and Facebook.

In fact, if you’re using technologies like Google Analytics, Tag Manager, or Fonts, you’re already partially utilizing the protocol.

What Are HTTP/3’s Main Advantages Over HTTP/2 And HTTP/1?

To fully appreciate the advantages of HTTP/3, it’s worth stepping back to understand how HTTP/1.1 worked, and the problems HTTP/2 was designed to solve.

When being sent, files (HTML, JS, CSS, images, etc.) are broken down into smaller, individual packets with the data transmitted over time.

HTTP/1.1 was designed to give each file its own connection. As websites became increasingly complex, more files were needed to load each page.

website total requests over timewebsite total requests over time
Image from HTTP archive, April 2022

Browsers limit the number of parallel connections available, creating a bottleneck and slowing loading times. This resulted in several necessary workarounds to maximize performance, such as domain sharding and image sprites.

By introducing multiplexing, HTTP/2 solved the problem caused by connection limits, allowing the transfer of multiple files over a singular connection.

The other major improvement was the introduction of better header compression, alongside a few other features that have proved less successful in practice (see Ruth’s excellent HTTP/2 guide for more details).

Yet these enhancements didn’t fix all of the problems with the TCP protocol.

TCP transfers packets chronologically, meaning that if a packet is missed, the entire connection is held up until the packet is successfully received. This problem, known as head of line blocking, negates some of the benefits of multiplexing.

Another challenge with TCP is it’s entirely detached from the TLS protocol.

This is by design, as sites can be both secure and insecure.

As a result, a server and client must make multiple round trips to negotiate a connection before transmitting data.

How Does HTTP/3 Solve These Problems?

By moving from TCP to UDP, HTTP/3 introduces three main features that set it apart from HTTP/1.1 and HTTP/2.

Independent Byte Streams

HTTP/3 solves head-of-line blocking by introducing independent byte streams for individual files. Only the data for an individual stream is blocked while the lost packet is resent, not the entire connection.

To illustrate this further, it’s worth thinking back to the fantastic truck analogy Tom Anthony used in his seminal presentation on HTTP/2 (now updated for HTTP/3).

The basic premise is that with HTTP/1.1, you end up with multiple trucks queuing to go on the same road (connection).

trucks http1.1 limitationScreenshot from @TomAnthonySEO, An introduction to HTTP/3, April 2022trucks http1.1 limitation

In contrast, HTTP/2 allows multiple trucks to be in the same lane simultaneously.

htt2 trucksScreenshot from @TomAnthonySEO, An introduction to HTTP/3, April 2022htt2 trucks

Unfortunately, with TCP, if a truck stalls, the entire road is blocked until the truck starts moving again.

http2 trucks tcp packet lossScreenshot from @TomAnthonySEO, An introduction to HTTP/3, April 2022http2 trucks tcp packet loss

With HTTP/3 and UDP, the other trucks can just drive around it.

TLS Integration

By incorporating TLS 1.3 into HTTP/3 itself, rather than having two distinct protocols operating independently, only a singular handshake is required reducing the number of roundtrips from two (or three if using TLS 1.2) to one.

This change means faster – and more secure – connections for users.

One consequence of this change is that HTTP/3 can only be used on a secure site because TLS and UDP are closely intertwined. Interestingly, this wasn’t the case with HTTP/2, which can technically be used on an insecure site – although none of the major browsers allow you to do so.

Connection Migration

Rather than using IPs to route packets, HTTP/3 instead uses connection IDs.

By doing so, it can handle network changes without the need to re-establish a connection.

This is hugely advantageous in a mobile-first world, where users often swap between wifi and cellular networks, both in terms of speed and connection stability.

Going back to our truck analogy, this is like coming to a junction and having to queue again before you can move on to the next road.

With HTTP/3, there’s a slip-road, allowing you to exchange between the two seamlessly.

Does HTTP/3 Have Any Disadvantages?

Although HTTP/3 has some clear performance benefits, its detractors have emphasized several disadvantages.

First,  the protocol will provide limited benefit to users on fast connections, with the slowest 1% to 10% seeing most of the gains.

But, as far as Core Web Vitals go, this could actually be very beneficial.

CWV scores are global, so it’s entirely possible to pull them down by a specific subset of users in a distant geographic location.

Equally, in a mobile-first world, even users with fast devices and close geographic proximity can suffer from temporary network issues, which may have an adverse effect on CWV.

The more mobile your users, the higher the probability of this having an impact.

Another complaint is that switching to HTTP/3 requires a fairly major server upgrade because it fundamentally changes how the transport layer works.

Additionally, the usage of UDP also introduces higher CPU requirements, which may put more pressure on servers.

Both arguments are fair, but CPU usage is currently being optimized.

Also, as we’ll see in the implementation section below, many CDN providers are already providing relatively simple HTTP/3 solutions that can easily be deployed at the edge.

Does HTTP/3 Matter For SEO?

While Googlebot has supported HTTP/2 since November 2020, with half of all URLs now crawled using the protocol, it’s not currently supporting HTTP/3.

HTTP/2 is only used when there is a clear benefit to doing so, i.e., when using HTTP/2 will lead to significant resource savings for both servers and Googlebot.

This will undoubtedly continue to ramp up over time, but given the five-year gap between the publication of the HTTP/2 protocol and Googlebot support, HTTP/3 is likely a way off still.

That said, implementing HTTP/3 could still have an indirect SEO impact – if supporting the protocol leads to better Core Web Vitals scores.

Upgrading your server infrastructure to support HTTP/3 – or, for that matter, HTTP/2 – is just one of many potential enhancements that you can leverage to ensure your website is as performant as possible.

And the benefits of having a performant website, including reduced bounce rates, increased time on site, and higher conversion rates, extend beyond SEO.

To see what protocol Googlebot is using to crawl a site, you can look for a notification in GSC or check Googlebot requests within your server access logs.

While formats vary, the protocol used is commonly listed in the HTTP request found within quotation marks, alongside the request method and URL path.

50.56.92.47 [18/Apr/2022:10:00:00 -0100] "GET /seo/technical-seo-auditing/ HTTP/1.1" 200 684 "https://moz.com/" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)"

Example of an Apache request (Combined Log Format).

How To Check If A Website Supports HTTP/3

If you’re unsure whether or not a website supports HTTP/3, then you can check using an online tool like: https://http3check.net/

http3check.net h3 checkScreenshot of http3check.net, April 2022http3check.net h3 check

Alternatively, both Chrome and Firefox display the protocol per request within the dev tools network tab.

These fields aren’t visible by default but can be enabled by right-clicking on the navigation bar and selecting “Protocol.” The HTTP/3 requests are labeled “h3.”

network tab chrome http3Screenshot from network tab chrome http3, April 2022network tab chrome http3

It’s also possible to check using the command line and curl.

curl --http3 https://website.com/

As many sites will only have HTTP/3 enabled for page resources (usually those hosted on a CDN), using dev tools will give a more accurate picture and allow you to assess the opportunities available better.

How Can I Implement HTTP/3?

The easiest way by far to enable HTTP/3 is via a CDN.

Several major providers, including Cloudflare, Google Cloud, and Fastly already support the protocol.

According to W3Techs, 22% of the top 10 million websites use Cloudflare, where you can easily enable HTTP/3 in the dashboard.

cloudflare http3 enableScreenshot of Cloudflare dashboard, April 2022cloudflare http3 enable

If you’re unsure what tech stack you’re dealing with, use Builtwith or Wappalyzer and see if a CDN is listed.

Wappalyzer CDN cloudflareScreenshot of Wappalyzer, April 2022Wappalyzer CDN cloudflare

If a site is using Cloudflare and all of the requests are HTTP/2, you’ve found an easy and impactful recommendation to make.

If implementation via a CDN isn’t possible, a server change is required.

Various implementations are available, depending on the language used, but web servers haven’t universally adopted these.

Therefore, the feasibility of implementing HTTP/3 is likely to depend on the type of software you’re using.

Server http3 supportServer HTTP/3 support, April 2022Server http3 support

Unfortunately, 32% of web servers use Apache, but it is yet to begin working on support due to limited dev resources.

Similarly, enabling the protocol on Node requires a workaround due to the lack of OpenSSL support.

Windows (IIS) is the latest provider to offer the protocol natively, but it requires Windows Server 2022 and Windows 11 or later.

Wrapping Up

HTTP/3 is another significant step forward for the web and will provide a much-needed performance boost to support its continuing evolution.

As SEO and digital marketing professionals, we should be aware of the benefits the protocol brings ahead of its imminent publication, so we can start recommending its use and allow our users to reap the benefits for years to come.

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Barriers To Audience Buy-In

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Barriers to audience buy-in with lead generation

This is an excerpt from the B2B Lead Generation ebook, which draws on SEJ’s internal expertise in delivering leads across multiple media types.

People are driven by a mix of desires, wants, needs, experiences, and external pressures.

It can take time to get it right and convince a person to become a lead, let alone a paying customer.

Here are some nuances of logic and psychology that could be impacting your ability to connect with audiences and build strong leads.

1. Poor Negotiations & The Endowment Effect

Every potential customer you encounter values their own effort and information. And due to something called the endowment effect, they value that time and data much more than you do.

In contrast, the same psychological effect means you value what you offer in exchange for peoples’ information more than they will.

If the value of what you’re offering fails to match the value of what consumers are giving you in exchange (read: their time and information), the conversions will be weak.

The solution? You can increase the perceived value of the thing you’re offering, or reduce the value of what the user “pays” for the thing you offer.

Want an exclusive peek into tactics we use when developing our own lead gen campaigns? Check out our upcoming webinar.

Humans evaluate rewards in multiple dimensions, including the reward amount, the time until the reward is received, and the certainty of the reward.

The more time before a reward occurs, and the less certain its ultimate value, the harder you have to work to get someone to engage.

Offering value upfront – even if you’re presenting something else soon after, like a live event, ebook, or demo – can help entice immediate action as well as convince leads of the long-term value of their investment.

It can even act as a prime for the next step in the lead gen nurturing process, hinting at even more value to come and increasing the effectiveness of the rest of your lead generation strategy.

It’s another reason why inbound content is a critical support for lead generation content. The short-term rewards of highly useful ungated content help prepare audiences for longer-term benefits offered down the line.

3. Abandonment & The Funnel Myth

Every lead generation journey is carefully planned, but if you designed it with a funnel in mind, you could be losing many qualified leads.

That’s because the imagery of a funnel might suggest that all leads engage with your brand or offer in the same way, but this simply isn’t true – particularly for products or services with high values.

Instead, these journeys are more abstract. Leads tend to move back and forth between stages depending on their circumstances. They might change their minds, encounter organizational roadblocks, switch channels, or their needs might suddenly change.

Instead of limiting journeys to audience segments, consider optimizing for paths and situations, too.

Optimizing for specific situations and encounters creates multiple opportunities to capture a lead while they’re in certain mindsets. Every opportunity is a way to engage with varying “costs” for time and data, and align your key performance indicators (KPIs) to match.

Situational journeys also create unique opportunities to learn about the various audience segments, including what they’re most interested in, which offers to grab their attention, and which aspects of your brand, product, or service they’re most concerned about.

4. Under-Pricing

Free trials and discounts can be eye-catching, but they don’t always work to your benefit.

Brands often think consumers will always choose the product with the lowest possible price. That isn’t always the case.

Consumers work within something referred to as the “zone of acceptability,” which is the price range they feel is acceptable for a purchasing decision.

If your brand falls outside that range, you’ll likely get the leads – but they could fail to buy in later. The initial offer might be attractive, but the lower perception of value could work against you when it comes time to try and close the sale.

Several elements play into whether consumers are sensitive to pricing discounts. The overall cost of a purchase matters, for example.

Higher-priced purchases, such as SaaS or real estate, can be extremely sensitive to pricing discounts. They can lead to your audience perceiving the product as lower-value, or make it seem like you’re struggling. A price-quality relationship is easy to see in many places in our lives. If you select the absolute lowest price for an airline ticket, do you expect your journey to be timely and comfortable?

It’s difficult to offer specific advice on these points. To find ideal price points and discounts, you need good feedback systems from both customers and leads – and you need data about how other audiences interact. But there’s value in not being the cheapest option.

Get more tips on how we, here at SEJ, create holistic content campaigns to drive leads in this exclusive webinar.

5. Lead Roles & Information

In every large purchasing decision, there are multiple roles in the process. These include:

  • User: The person who ultimately uses the product or service.
  • Buyer: The person who makes the purchase, but may or may not know anything about the actual product or service being purchased.
  • Decider: The person who determines whether to make the purchase.
  • Influencer: The person who provides opinions and thoughts on the product or service, and influences perceptions of it.
  • Gatekeeper: The person who gathers and holds information about the product or service.

Sometimes, different people play these roles, and other times, one person may hold more than one of these roles. However, the needs of each role must be met at the right time. If you fail to meet their needs, you’ll see your conversions turn cold at a higher rate early in the process.

The only way to avoid this complication is to understand who it is you’re attracting when you capture the lead, and make the right information available at the right time during the conversion process.

6. Understand Why People Don’t Sign Up

Many businesses put significant effort into lead nurturing and understanding the qualities of potential customers who fill out lead forms.

But what about the ones who don’t fill out those forms?

Understanding these values and the traits that drive purchasing decisions is paramount.

Your own proprietary and customer data, like your analytics, client data, and lead interactions, makes an excellent starting place, but don’t make the mistake of basing your decisions solely on the data you have collected about the leads you have.

This information creates a picture based solely on people already interacting with you. It doesn’t include information about the audience you’ve failed to capture so far.

Don’t fall for survivorship bias, which occurs when you only look at data from people who have passed your selection filters.

This is especially critical for lead generation because there are groups of people you don’t want to become leads. But you need to make sure you’re attracting as many ideal leads as possible while filtering out those that are suboptimal. You need information about the people who aren’t converting to ensure your filters are working as intended.

Gather information from the segment of your target audience that uses a competitor’s products, and pair them with psychographic tools and frameworks like “values and lifestyle surveys” (VALS) to gather insights and inform decisions.

In a digital world of tough competition and even more demands on every dollar, your lead generation needs to be precise.

Understanding what drives your target audience before you capture the lead and ensuring every detail is crafted with the final conversion in mind will help you capture more leads and sales, and leave your brand the clear market winner.

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Google Answers Question About Toxic Link Sabotage

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Gary Illyes answers a question about how to notify Google about toxic link sabotage

Google’s Gary Illyes answered a question about how to notify Google that someone is poisoning their backlink profile with “toxic links” which is a problem that many people have been talking about for at least fifteen years.

Question About Alerting Google To Toxic Links

Gary narrated the question:

“Someone’s asking, how to alert Google of sabotage via toxic links?”

And this is Gary’s answer:

I know what I would do: I’d ignore those links.

Generally Google is really, REALLY good at ignoring links that are irrelevant to the site they’re pointing at. If you feel like it, you can always disavow those “toxic” links, or file a spam report.

Disavow Links If You Feel Like It

Gary linked to Google’s explainer about disavowing links where it’s explained that the disavow tool is for a site owner to tell Google about links that they are responsible for in some way, like paid links or some other link scheme.

This is what it advises:

“If you have a manual action against your site for unnatural links to your site, or if you think you’re about to get such a manual action (because of paid links or other link schemes that violate our quality guidelines), you should try to remove the links from the other site to your site. If you can’t remove those links yourself, or get them removed, then you should disavow the URLs of the questionable pages or domains that link to your website.”

Google suggests that a link disavow is only necessary when two conditions are met:

  1. “You have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site,
    AND
  2. The links have caused a manual action, or likely will cause a manual action, on your site.”

Both of the above conditions must be met in order to file a valid link disavow tool.

Origin Of The Phrase Toxic Links

As Google became better at penalizing sites for low quality links and paid links, some in the highly competitive gambling industry started creating low quality links to sabotage their competitors. The practice was called negative SEO.

The phrase toxic link is something that was never heard of until after the Penguin link updates in 2012 which required penalized sites to remove all the paid and low quality links they created and then disavow the rest. An industry grew around disavowing links and it was that industry that invented the phrase Toxic Links for use in their marketing.

Confirmation That Google Is Able To Ignore Links

I have shared this anecdote before and I’ll share it here again. Someone I knew contacted me and said that their site lost rankings from negative SEO links. I took a look and their site had a ton of really nasty looking links. So out of curiosity (and because I knew that the site was this person’s main income), I emailed someone at Google Mountain View headquarters about it. That person checked it and replied that the site didn’t lose rankings because of the links. They lost rankings because of a Panda update related content issue.

That was around 2012 and it showed me how good Google was at ignoring links. Now, if Google was that good at ignoring really bad links back then, they’re probably better at it now, twelve years later now that they have the spam brain AI.

Listen to the question and answer at the 8:22 minute mark:

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How To Build A Diverse & Healthy Link Profile

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How To Build A Diverse & Healthy Link Profile

Search is evolving at an incredible pace and new features, formats, and even new search engines are popping up within the space.

Google’s algorithm still prioritizes backlinks when ranking websites. If you want your website to be visible in search results, you must account for backlinks and your backlink profile.

A healthy backlink profile requires a diverse backlink profile.

In this guide, we’ll examine how to build and maintain a diverse backlink profile that powers your website’s search performance.

What Does A Healthy Backlink Profile Look Like?

As Google states in its guidelines, it primarily crawls pages through links from other pages linked to your pages, acquired through promotion and naturally over time.

In practice, a healthy backlink profile can be divided into three main areas: the distribution of link types, the mix of anchor text, and the ratio of followed to nofollowed links.

Let’s look at these areas and how they should look within a healthy backlink profile.

Distribution Of Link Types

One aspect of your backlink profile that needs to be diversified is link types.

It looks unnatural to Google to have predominantly one kind of link in your profile, and it also indicates that you’re not diversifying your content strategy enough.

Some of the various link types you should see in your backlink profile include:

  • Anchor text links.
  • Image links.
  • Redirect links.
  • Canonical links.

Here is an example of the breakdown of link types at my company, Whatfix (via Semrush):

Screenshot from Semrush, May 2024

Most links should be anchor text links and image links, as these are the most common ways to link on the web, but you should see some of the other types of links as they are picked up naturally over time.

Mix Of Anchor Text

Next, ensure your backlink profile has an appropriate anchor text variance.

Again, if you overoptimize for a specific type of anchor text, it will appear suspicious to search engines like Google and could have negative repercussions.

Here are the various types of anchor text you might find in your backlink profile:

  • Branded anchor text – Anchor text that is your brand name or includes your brand name.
  • Empty – Links that have no anchor text.
  • Naked URLs – Anchor text that is a URL (e.g., www.website.com).
  • Exact match keyword-rich anchor text – Anchor text that exactly matches the keyword the linked page targets (e.g., blue shoes).
  • Partial match keyword-rich anchor text – Anchor text that partially or closely matches the keyword the linked page targets (e.g., “comfortable blue footwear options”).
  • Generic anchor text – Anchor text such as “this website” or “here.”

To maintain a healthy backlink profile, aim for a mix of anchor text within a similar range to this:

  • Branded anchor text – 35-40%.
  • Partial match keyword-rich anchor text – 15-20%.
  • Generic anchor text -10-15%.
  • Exact match keyword-rich anchor text – 5-10%.
  • Naked URLs – 5-10%.
  • Empty – 3-5%.

This distribution of anchor text represents a natural mix of differing anchor texts. It is common for the majority of anchors to be branded or partially branded because most sites that link to your site will default to your brand name when linking. It also makes sense that the following most common anchors would be partial-match keywords or generic anchor text because these are natural choices within the context of a web page.

Exact-match anchor text is rare because it only happens when you are the best resource for a specific term, and the site owner knows your page exists.

Ratio Of Followed Vs. Nofollowed Backlinks

Lastly, you should monitor the ratio of followed vs. nofollowed links pointing to your website.

If you need a refresher on what nofollowed backlinks are or why someone might apply the nofollow tag to a link pointing to your site, check out Google’s guide on how to qualify outbound links to Google.

Nofollow attributes should only be applied to paid links or links pointing to a site the linking site doesn’t trust.

While it is not uncommon or suspicious to have some nofollow links (people misunderstand the purpose of the nofollow attribute all the time), a healthy backlink profile will have far more followed links.

You should aim for a ratio of 80%:20% or 70%:30% in favor of followed links. For example, here is what the followed vs. nofollowed ratio looks like for my company’s backlink profile (according to Ahrefs):

Referring domainsScreenshot from Ahrefs, May 2024

You may see links with other rel attributes, such as UGC or Sponsored.

The “UGC” attribute tags links from user-generated content, while the “Sponsored” attribute tags links from sponsored or paid sources. These attributes are slightly different than the nofollow tag, but they essentially work the same way, letting Google know these links aren’t trusted or endorsed by the linking site. You can simply group these links in with nofollowed links when calculating your ratio.

Importance Of Diversifying Your Backlink Profile

So why is it important to diversify your backlink profile anyway? Well, there are three main reasons you should consider:

  • Avoiding overoptimization.
  • Diversifying traffic sources.
  • And finding new audiences.

Let’s dive into each of these.

Avoiding Overoptimization

First and foremost, diversifying your backlink profile is the best way to protect yourself from overoptimization and the damaging penalties that can come with it.

As SEO pros, our job is to optimize websites to improve performance, but overoptimizing in any facet of our strategy – backlinks, keywords, structure, etc. – can result in penalties that limit visibility within search results.

In the previous section, we covered the elements of a healthy backlink profile. If you stray too far from that model, your site might look suspicious to search engines like Google and you could be handed a manual or algorithmic penalty, suppressing your rankings in search.

Considering how regularly Google updates its search algorithm these days (and how little information surrounds those updates), you could see your performance tank and have no idea why.

This is why it’s so important to keep a watchful eye on your backlink profile and how it’s shaping up.

Diversifying Traffic Sources

Another reason to cultivate a diverse backlink profile is to ensure you’re diversifying your traffic sources.

Google penalties come swiftly and can often be a surprise. If you have all your eggs in that basket when it comes to traffic, your site will suffer badly and might need help to recover.

However, diversifying your traffic sources (search, social, email, etc.) will mitigate risk – similar to a stock portfolio – as you’ll have other traffic sources to provide a steady flow of visitors if another source suddenly dips.

Part of building a diverse backlink profile is acquiring a diverse set of backlinks and backlink types, and this strategy will also help you find differing and varied sources of traffic.

Finding New Audiences

Finally, building a diverse backlink profile is essential, as doing so will also help you discover new audiences.

If you acquire links from the same handful of websites and platforms, you will need help expanding your audience and building awareness for your website.

While it’s important to acquire links from sites that cater to your existing audience, you should also explore ways to build links that can tap into new audiences. The best way to do this is by casting a wide net with various link acquisition tactics and strategies.

A diverse backlink profile indicates a varied approach to SEO and marketing that will help bring new visitors and awareness to your site.

Building A Diverse Backlink Profile

So that you know what a healthy backlink profile looks like and why it’s important to diversify, how do you build diversity into your site’s backlink profile?

This comes down to your link acquisition strategy and the types of backlinks you actively pursue. To guide your strategy, let’s break link building into three main categories:

  • Foundational links.
  • Content promotion.
  • Community involvement.

Here’s how to approach each area.

Foundational Links

Foundational links represent those links that your website simply should have. These are opportunities where a backlink would exist if all sites were known to all site owners.

Some examples of foundational links include:

  • Mentions – Websites that mention your brand in some way (brand name, product, employees, proprietary data, etc.) on their website but don’t link.
  • Partners – Websites that belong to real-world partners or companies you connect with offline and should also connect (link) with online.
  • Associations or groups – Websites for offline associations or groups you belong to where your site should be listed with a link.
  • Sponsorships – Any events or organizations your company sponsors might have websites that could (and should) link to your site.
  • Sites that link to competitors – If a website is linking to a competitor, there is a strong chance it would make sense for them to link to your site as well.

These link opportunities should set the foundation for your link acquisition efforts.

As the baseline for your link building strategy, you should start by exhausting these opportunities first to ensure you’re not missing highly relevant links to bolster your backlink profile.

Content Promotion

Next, consider content promotion as a strategy for building a healthy, diverse backlink profile.

Content promotion is much more proactive than the foundational link acquisition mentioned above. You must manifest the opportunity by creating link-worthy content rather than simply capitalizing on an existing opportunity.

Some examples of content promotion for links are:

  • Digital PR – Digital PR campaigns have numerous benefits and goals beyond link acquisition, but backlinks should be a primary KPI.
  • Original research – Similar to digital PR, original research should focus on providing valuable data to your audience. Still, you should also make sure any citations or references to your research are correctly linked.
  • Guest content – Whether regular columns or one-off contributions, providing guest content to websites is still a viable link acquisition strategy – when done right. The best way to gauge your guest content strategy is to ask yourself if you would still write the content for a site without guaranteeing a backlink, knowing you’ll still build authority and get your message in front of a new audience.
  • Original imagery – Along with research and data, if your company creates original imagery that offers unique value, you should promote those images and ask for citation links.

Content promotion is a viable avenue for building a healthy backlink profile as long as the content you’re promoting is worthy of links.

Community Involvement

Community involvement is the final piece of your link acquisition puzzle when building a diverse backlink profile.

After pursuing all foundational opportunities and manually promoting your content, you should ensure your brand is active and represented in all the spaces and communities where your audience engages.

In terms of backlinks, this could mean:

  • Wikipedia links – Wikipedia gets over 4 billion monthly visits, so backlinks here can bring significant referral traffic to your site. However, acquiring these links is difficult as these pages are moderated closely, and your site will only be linked if it is legitimately a top resource on the web.
  • Forums (Reddit, Quora, etc.) – Another great place to get backlinks that drive referral traffic is forums like Reddit and Quora. Again, these forums are strictly moderated, and earning link placements on these sites requires a page that delivers significant and unique value to a specific audience.
  • Social platforms – Social media platforms and groups represent communities where your brand should be active and engaged. While these strategies are likely handled by other teams outside SEO and focus on different metrics, you should still be intentional about converting these interactions into links when or where possible.
  • Offline events – While it may seem counterintuitive to think of offline events as a potential source for link acquisition, legitimate link opportunities exist here. After all, most businesses, brands, and people you interact with at these events also have websites, and networking can easily translate to online connections in the form of links.

While most of the link opportunities listed above will have the nofollow link attribute due to the nature of the sites associated with them, they are still valuable additions to your backlink profile as these are powerful, trusted domains.

These links help diversify your traffic sources by bringing substantial referral traffic, and that traffic is highly qualified as these communities share your audience.

How To Avoid Developing A Toxic Backlink Profile

Now that you’re familiar with the link building strategies that can help you cultivate a healthy, diverse backlink profile, let’s discuss what you should avoid.

As mentioned before, if you overoptimize one strategy or link, it can seem suspicious to search engines and cause your site to receive a penalty. So, how do you avoid filling your backlink profile with toxic links?

Remember The “Golden Rule” Of Link Building

One simple way to guide your link acquisition strategy and avoid running afoul of search engines like Google is to follow one “golden rule.”

That rule is to ask yourself: If search engines like Google didn’t exist, and the only way people could navigate the web was through backlinks, would you want your site to have a link on the prospective website?

Thinking this way strips away all the tactical, SEO-focused portions of the equation and only leaves the human elements of linking where two sites are linked because it makes sense and makes the web easier to navigate.

Avoid Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

Another good rule is to avoid looping your site into private blog networks (PBNs). Of course, it’s not always obvious or easy to spot a PBN.

However, there are some common traits or red flags you can look for, such as:

  • The person offering you a link placement mentions they have a list of domains they can share.
  • The prospective linking site has little to no traffic and doesn’t appear to have human engagement (blog comments, social media followers, blog views, etc.).
  • The website features thin content and little investment into user experience (UX) and design.
  • The website covers generic topics and categories, catering to any and all audiences.
  • Pages on the site feature numerous external links but only some internal links.
  • The prospective domain’s backlink profile features overoptimization in any of the previously discussed forms (high-density of exact match anchor text, abnormal ratio of nofollowed links, only one or two link types, etc.).

Again, diversification – in both tactics and strategies – is crucial to building a healthy backlink profile, but steering clear of obvious PBNs and remembering the ‘golden rule’ of link building will go a long way toward keeping your profile free from toxicity.

Evaluating Your Backlink Profile

As you work diligently to build and maintain a diverse, healthy backlink profile, you should also carve out time to evaluate it regularly from a more analytical perspective.

There are two main ways to evaluate the merit of your backlinks: leverage tools to analyze backlinks and compare your backlink profile to the greater competitive landscape.

Leverage Tools To Analyze Backlink Profile

There are a variety of third-party tools you can use to analyze your backlink profile.

These tools can provide helpful insights, such as the total number of backlinks and referring domains. You can use these tools to analyze your full profile, broken down by:

  • Followed vs. nofollowed.
  • Authority metrics (Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Authority Score, etc.).
  • Backlink types.
  • Location or country.
  • Anchor text.
  • Top-level domain types.
  • And more.

You can also use these tools to track new incoming backlinks, as well as lost backlinks, to help you better understand how your backlink profile is growing.

Some of the best tools for analyzing your backlink profile are:

Many of these tools also have features that estimate how toxic or suspicious your profile might look to search engines, which can help you detect potential issues early.

Compare Your Backlink Profile To The Competitive Landscape

Lastly, you should compare your overall backlink profile to those of your competitors and those competing with your site in the search results.

Again, the previously mentioned tools can help with this analysis – as far as providing you with the raw numbers – but the key areas you should compare are:

  • Total number of backlinks.
  • Total number of referring domains.
  • Breakdown of authority metrics of links (Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Authority Score, etc.).
  • Authority metrics of competing domains.
  • Link growth over the last two years.

Comparing your backlink profile to others within your competitive landscape will help you assess where your domain currently stands and provide insight into how far you must go if you’re lagging behind competitors.

It’s worth noting that it’s not as simple as whoever has the most backlinks will perform the best in search.

These numbers are typically solid indicators of how search engines gauge the authority of your competitors’ domains, and you’ll likely find a correlation between strong backlink profiles and strong search performance.

Approach Link Building With A User-First Mindset

The search landscape continues to evolve at a breakneck pace and we could see dramatic shifts in how people search within the next five years (or sooner).

However, at this time, search engines like Google still rely on backlinks as part of their ranking algorithms, and you need to cultivate a strong backlink profile to be visible in search.

Furthermore, if you follow the advice in this article as you build out your profile, you’ll acquire backlinks that benefit your site regardless of search algorithms, futureproofing your traffic sources.

Approach link acquisition like you would any other marketing endeavor – with a customer-first mindset – and over time, you’ll naturally build a healthy, diverse backlink profile.

More resources: 


Featured Image: Sammby/Shutterstock

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