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How to Structure Your Website’s Architecture for SEO

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How to Structure Your Website's Architecture for SEO

If you’re creating a new website, you’ll need to consider the website’s architecture. Structuring your website in an organized, hierarchical way gives it the best chance of ranking well in Google.

But how do you do that?

Website architecture is how information on your site is structured, interlinked, and designed. 

For example, for an e-commerce website, it may look like this:

Example of what a basic website architecture looks like, via Ahrefs' blog

It may look complicated, but an easier way to think of it is like a folder system on a computer. 

Site architecture visualized as computer file system analogy, via OSX Finder

Clicking in and out of folders takes time. But creating an organized, hierarchical structure with well-labeled names makes it easier to find what you’re looking for. 

The same principles apply when optimizing websites for SEO. 

The architecture of your website needs to be logical to allow Google and human visitors to navigate it easily. 

A good place to start is to add pages that many websites usually have in common to your navigation. 

Such as:

  • About page
  • Blog
  • Contact page

About page

Ahrefs' About page, via ahrefs.com

The About page is your chance to tell your brand’s story. On this page, it’s a good idea to include the following:

  • A brief description of your website’s purpose.
  • A photo of your team.
  • Any social proof, such as reviews or quotes from customers.
  • Locations of your office(s).

If you want inspiration, check out Ahrefs’ recently redesigned About page.

Blog section

Ahrefs' blog

The blog usually houses your most regularly updated content.

The blog is a key part of Ahrefs’ content. So if you’re interested, check out our blog to see how we structure it. 

Contact page

Most websites also have a Contact page—again, you’ll most likely need this page. It’s also good practice to include your NAP (name, address, and phone number) on this page.

State the website’s primary purpose, service, or product

Indicating the main purpose of your website within your navigation is also a good idea. 

If you provide a specific service, then you can mention this. If you sell a certain product category, then mention this as well. 

For example, we can see below that this website has indicated its services and products within the main navigation.

Example of services and products featured in the navigation, via Posh Pups Kew

If you are not sure of the exact keywords to use, you can use Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to do some keyword research.

Sketch out a simple site architecture (and build it out)

Once you’ve got the basic pages sorted, you can visualize it. 

Visualizing your site architecture is important if you work with a team, as it enables you to sense-check your design with colleagues before it goes live.

Here’s an example of a simple website architecture I’ve created using a mindmap tool called MindMeister. 

If you have a larger website, you may find a tool like this useful (it’s great for building more complex websites). 

I like using this tool, as it’s user-friendly. But you can also use Excel or a pen and a large sheet of paper (if you are old school).

Example of basic website architecture, via mindmeister.com

What can we learn from this website’s structure? 

  • There’s a simple hierarchy of pages For example, “Cat sitting” is under “Services.” This hierarchical relationship implies that cat sitting is a service provided by this website.
  • Similar types of content are grouped – Blog posts #1 and #2 are contained in the blog. This is logical. 
  • The most critical pages are on the first level – For most businesses, this will at least include an About page and a Contact page.

Flat architecture vs. deep architecture 

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s consider what different types of site architecture look like. 

  • Flat architecture makes it possible to access each page on your website with a minimal number of clicks. 
  • Deep architecture is where it will take many clicks to access the pages on your site. 

Visualized, these structures look like this:

Flat vs. deep website structure, via Ahrefs Blog

You can see the difference. 

For simple sites, a flat architecture may be all that is needed. For more complex sites, you may need a deeper architecture. 

You’ll need to pay close attention to internal linking for a deep site architecture.

The bottom line is that you don’t want to hide your most important content deep in the website where no one can find it. Your most important pages should be easily accessible through well-placed, descriptive internal links.

Make it better with keyword research

Once you’ve sketched out the structure of your website, you’re ready to start improving it using keyword research

It’s important to use keyword research at this stage to understand what keywords your customers are searching for that are related to your website.

For this example, let’s pretend we are building a website about “cats,” and we provide a service of “cat sitting” for our customers.

Using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, let’s plug in the phrase “cat sitting” into the search bar and head over to the Matching terms report.

Matching terms report with highlighted terms, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

From the report, we can see that there are two location-based searches, as well as the keyword phrase “cat sitting rates.”

Let’s add these keywords to our website architecture.

Example of building out website architecture, via mindmeister.com
  • I’ve added “Rates” below “Cat sitting” because once you’ve seen the service, you’ll want to check the price.
  • I’ve also added “San Diego” and “San Francisco” into a new “Locations” menu to keep the site architecture relatively flat. 

If you want to take this further, you can use Keywords Explorer to analyze groups of keywords.

Let’s now say we wanted to add a new section to the site on “cat care.” To do this, enter the keyword and head to the Matching terms report.

Keyword research groups using the Matching terms report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Looking down the left-hand column, we see that “sphynx” is listed. Expanding this section shows us how we could structure our website architecture based on what people are searching for this particular cat breed.

Let’s add this section to our site structure.

Site structure illustration with new menu added, via mindmeister.com

In this example, you can rinse and repeat this method for different breeds of cats—or you can also use it for any other keyword.

Get inspiration from competitors 

Once you’ve completed your keyword research, it’s worth looking at your competitors’ website architecture for inspiration.

The simplest way to check out a competitor’s site structure is to plug their domain into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and then click on the Site structure report in the left-hand navigation.

Here’s an example of me spying on a competitor’s site structure.

Example of spying on a competitor's site structure using Site Explorer, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Going a step further, let’s see another more advanced method I use to spy on my competitors’ website structures that already rank well for certain keywords I want to rank for:

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer and enter your keyword (e.g., cat sitting), and hit search
  2. Scroll down to the SERP overview and click on a competitor in the list
  3. Click on the downward-facing chevron and click on Site Explorer’s overview
  4. In the search bar, change Exact URL to Domain and hit search
  5. Then click on Site structure in the left-hand column
  6. Click on the chevron next to the domain to show the full path
Analysis of a competitor's site structure using a keyword, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

If you like a competitor’s site structure, you can hit the “Export” button in the top right-hand corner to analyze it.

Using the knowledge we’ve gained about these competitors, let’s make some alterations to our site architecture plan based on what keywords we want to target.

I’m going to add an “FAQ” page and combine my “Services” and “Cat Sitter” categories and change it to “Book a Cat Sitter” to make it more structurally competitive with a website that’s already ranking on the first page. 

Website architecture with added structure, via mindmeister.com

Spying on competitors’ site structures is a powerful process that we can repeat with any competitor to improve how we structure our site architecture.

2. Add these elements to the pages

If we define site architecture as the total design and build of the site, we need to take into account a few more structural elements for it to perform well in search engines.

We’ve looked at designing the hierarchical structure of the site, but what about ensuring the necessary on-site architectural functionality is there?

Here’s what I think you should include:

Add title tags and meta descriptions

Title tag and meta description, via google.com

If you’ve read any SEO articles before, you’ve probably seen title tags and meta descriptions being mentioned. You’ll need to include these on every page, so it’s worth being aware of them.

The title tag is positioned above the meta description in the Google results.

Use breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs example, via etsy.com

Breadcrumbs are not a replacement for your website’s main navigation, but they’re great at visualizing the hierarchy between pages.

From a user perspective, breadcrumbs are helpful in two use cases:

  • They help you navigate the website when you land on a deep page.
  • They act as a helpful shortcut to get back to the main category page.

Use descriptive SEO-friendly URLs

Descriptive keyword and targeted URL, via Google Chrome Search

Once you’ve established your site structure, it’s important to use descriptive URLs to enable search engines to understand what your website is about.

Check out our guide below for more information on creating SEO-friendly URLs.

Use a table of contents

Table of content, via Ahrefs Blog

Table of contents (ToCs) allow your visitors to navigate your content easily. ToCs are useful for navigating a page, and I recommend adding one to your blog post’s template.

Use internal linking

Internal linking is an important part of your website architecture, as it helps search engines understand the relationship between pages on your site and helps visitors navigate it. 

Check out our guide below for more information on internal linking.

Use related links

Related links example, via Ahrefs Blog

A more recent addition to the Ahrefs Blog is related links. These are at the bottom of our blog content under “Keep Learning.” Related links are a relatively low-effort way to improve your internal linking.

Use author bios

Author bio, via Ahrefs Blog

Ahrefs’ blog makes use of author bios, and they help to provide trust with Google and visitors. Author bios typically include social links. They can also provide credibility if used correctly. 

This helps both Google and visitors to see that it’s (most likely) a real person behind the article. If you have a team, it makes sense to use author bios.

3. Get the technical bits right

Technical SEO is one of, if not the, most important parts of SEO. There are a number of factors that you need to consider when building and designing a website’s architecture.

Here are some of the most important things to consider.

Use sitewide HTTPS

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that your website should use HTTPS. Google made HTTPS a ranking signal all the way back in 2014. As a result, it’s now rare to find an HTTP-only website.

Add a sitemap.xml file and submit it to Google Search Console

Once you’ve created your website and are happy with its structure, it’s worth creating and submitting your sitemap.xml file(s) within Google Search Console.

Here’s where the sitemap.xml file should be located on your website:

https://example.com/sitemap.xml

Check out Google’s guide below for more information on building and submitting a sitemap.

Add a robots.txt file

A robots.txt file tells search engines where they can and can’t go on your site. It’s another file that you must have in your website architecture. 

And here’s where the robots.txt file should be located on your website:

https://yourdomain.com/robots.txt

Check out our guide below for more information on robots.txt.

Use <a> links

You need to ensure your links are easily crawlable for Google. Here are a few examples of what is acceptable and what isn’t for Google.

Recommended

<a href="https://yourdomain.com">

<a href="https://ahrefs.com/products/category/dresses">

Not recommended

<a routerLink="products/category">

<span href="https://yourdomain.com">

<a onclick="goto('https://yourdomain.com')">

See Google’s guide below for more information on links’ best practices.

Make it mobile-friendly, use responsive design

Responsive design illustration, via Ahrefs Blog

Google recommends using responsive design to create a mobile-friendly website. A responsive design means your webpages will look good on all devices.

Check out our guide below for more information on mobile SEO.

Use canonical tags

Canonical tags are a snippet of HTML code that defines the main version for duplicate, near-duplicate, and similar pages—and yes, you’ll need to include them on your website’s pages.

Canonical tag illustration, via Ahrefs Blog

Here’s what the snippet of HTML looks like:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://yourwebsite.com/blog/">

Check out our guide below for more information on canonical tags.

Use structured data

Structured data is a standardized way to provide information about a webpage. It helps search engines like Google to better understand what your content is about. 

It’s a good idea to ensure you have structured data in your page templates from the start, as Google uses it to enable search result enhancements, which can mean you get more focus on your result on the SERP.

Here’s what structured data enhancements can look like in Google:

Article

Article structured data illustration, via google.com

FAQs

Example of FAQs structured data, via google.com

The way these enhancements are presented is generally more prominent than a standard organic result, often making it worth implementing.

Audit your site’s structure

Once you’ve decided on your site’s architecture and set it live, it’s tempting to leave it. 

But it’s worth doing a periodic review using a tool like Site Structure in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer or Ahrefs’ Site Audit to ensure your site’s architecture is still in good order.

Final thoughts

Getting your website’s architecture right from the start takes time and requires a lot of research. But if you design it with SEO in mind, it will pay dividends for your website in the long run.

Using tools like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and Site Explorer helps give you a competitive edge on the SERPs, as you can see what’s already working.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter. 🙂



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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:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/New Africa

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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: 


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SEO

Google On Traffic Diversity As A Ranking Factor

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Google answers the question of whether traffic diversity is a ranking factor for SEO

Google’s SearchLiaison tweeted encouragement to diversify traffic sources, being clear about the reason he was recommending it. Days later, someone followed up to ask if traffic diversity is a ranking factor, prompting SearchLiaison to reiterate that it is not.

What Was Said

The question of whether diversity of traffic was a ranking factor was elicited from a previous tweet in a discussion about whether a site owner should be focusing on off-site promotion.

Here’s the question from the original discussion that was tweeted:

“Can you please tell me if I’m doing right by focusing on my site and content – writing new articles to be found through search – or if I should be focusing on some off-site effort related to building a readership? It’s frustrating to see traffic go down the more effort I put in.”

SearchLiaison split the question into component parts and answered each one. When it came to the part about off-site promotion, SearchLiaison (who is Danny Sullivan), shared from his decades of experience as a journalist and publisher covering technology and search marketing.

I’m going to break down his answer so that it’s clearer what he meant

This is the part from the tweet that talks about off-site activities:

“As to the off-site effort question, I think from what I know from before I worked at Google Search, as well as my time being part of the search ranking team, is that one of the ways to be successful with Google Search is to think beyond it.”

What he is saying here is simple, don’t limit your thinking about what to do with your site to thinking about how to make it appeal to Google.

He next explains that sites that rank tend to be sites that are created to appeal to people.

SearchLiaison continued:

“Great sites with content that people like receive traffic in many ways. People go to them directly. They come via email referrals. They arrive via links from other sites. They get social media mentions.”

What he’s saying there is that you’ll know that you’re appealing to people if people are discussing your site in social media, if people are referring the site in social media and if other sites are citing it with links.

Other ways to know that a site is doing well is when when people engage in the comments section, send emails asking follow up questions, and send emails of thanks and share anecdotes of their success or satisfaction with a product or advice.

Consider this, fast fashion site Shein at one point didn’t rank for their chosen keyword phrases, I know because I checked out of curiosity. But they were at the time virally popular and making huge amounts of sales by gamifying site interaction and engagement, propelling them to become a global brand. A similar strategy propelled Zappos when they pioneered no-questions asked returns and cheerful customer service.

SearchLiaison continued:

“It just means you’re likely building a normal site in the sense that it’s not just intended for Google but instead for people. And that’s what our ranking systems are trying to reward, good content made for people.”

SearchLiaison explicitly said that building sites with diversified content is not a ranking factor.

He added this caveat to his tweet:

“This doesn’t mean you should get a bunch of social mentions, or a bunch of email mentions because these will somehow magically rank you better in Google (they don’t, from how I know things).”

Despite The Caveat…

A journalist tweeted this:

“Earlier this week, @searchliaison told people to diversify their traffic. Naturally, people started questioning whether that meant diversity of traffic was a ranking factor.

So, I asked @iPullRank what he thought.”

SearchLiaison of course answered that he explicitly said it’s not a ranking factor and linked to his original tweet that I quoted above.

He tweeted:

“I mean that’s not exactly what I myself said, but rather repeat all that I’ll just add the link to what I did say:”

The journalist responded:

“I would say this is calling for publishers to diversify their traffic since you’re saying the great sites do it. It’s the right advice to give.”

And SearchLiaison answered:

“It’s the part of “does it matter for rankings” that I was making clear wasn’t what I myself said. Yes, I think that’s a generally good thing, but it’s not the only thing or the magic thing.”

Not Everything Is About Ranking Factors

There is a longstanding practice by some SEOs to parse everything that Google publishes for clues to how Google’s algorithm works. This happened with the Search Quality Raters guidelines. Google is unintentionally complicit because it’s their policy to (in general) not confirm whether or not something is a ranking factor.

This habit of searching for “ranking factors” leads to misinformation. It takes more acuity to read research papers and patents to gain a general understanding of how information retrieval works but it’s more work to try to understand something than skimming a PDF for ranking papers.

The worst approach to understanding search is to invent hypotheses about how Google works and then pore through a document to confirm those guesses (and falling into the confirmation bias trap).

In the end, it may be more helpful to back off of exclusively optimizing for Google and focus at least equally as much in optimizing for people (which includes optimizing for traffic). I know it works because I’ve been doing it for years.

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