It is pretty much common knowledge on the web that one of the biggest factors in how well you do in Google SERPs (search engine results pages) is backlinks.

Just in case your new to this, backlinks are an incoming hyperlink from one web page to another website.

It used to be that you just needed backlinks in quantity. People would setup pages that were nothing but links, there were a ton of directory sites that were nothing but links, and there were tons of people selling links in bulk and making link circles and such.

Then anchor text became important, that is the text that is actually linked. So if you were linking the words Best Laptops, you might have a better chance at turning up in search results for those keywords. Well, those days are now long gone.

Google is all about natural backlinks now, and they are better than ever at looking through backlink profiles and deciding which are actually natural. If your backlink profile is not natural, you probably won’t be doing so hot in the SERPs and might get removed altogether.

Now, to be clear, I’m not trying to help or advocating for users to go out and get fake backlinks or create private blog networks to trick Google. Like Matt Cutts said;

The objective is not to “make your links appear natural”, the objective is that your links are natural

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t work to get backlinks naturally or keep an eye on your backlink profile to make sure your site is doing the best it can in Google or other search engines (Bing, Baidu, Yahoo, etc).

In this guide, I’m going to cover:

  1. What a natural backlink profile looks like
  2. How to naturally get backlinks
  3. How to monitor your backlinks
  4. Using the Google link disavowal tool

So what does a natural backlink profile look like?

Links come from related sites

If your site is about laptops, you should NOT have links from a yoga website, and certainly not thousands of links from a non-related site. You’d think this would be common sense, yet lots of sites have backlink profiles that are full of spammy, unrelated links. I commonly see sites that have backlinks from various drug or dating websites. Those types of links are really worthless if they are unrelated, and they can only hurt you.

Diverse anchor text

I wrote above that anchor text is the wording that you link. It goes between the <a href=”yourlink.com”> and the </a>. You want this text to be diverse. It certainly shouldn’t all be a keyword that you are trying to do well for in Google or search engines. Typically, the anchor text used the most would be other anchor text, followed by your site’s name, various version of your site’s name, then maybe the words this site, and here.

Googles-Anchor-Text

I put an image of Google’s anchor text breakdown from Majestic above so you can see how diverse their anchor text is.

Links go to a wide range of pages

Don’t send every backlink to your homepage. In fact, probably under 25% of the links should go to your homepage, and that page should be the page with the highest number of links to it. Other links should go to important internal pages or blog pages.

Links are gained over time, not all at once

You shouldn’t gain 1,000 links in a day and then no links for months. That of course looks really suspicious to Google. Instead, you ideally would be gaining more and more links over time, and continuously gaining links. Neil Patel recently wrote something about the number of links he thinks you should build:

Month 1 – build 5 to 10 inbound links (ideally to your homepage)

Month 2 – build 10 to 15 inbound links (mix it up between your homepage and internal pages)

Month 3 – build 20 to 30 inbound links (mix it up between your homepage and internal pages)

Month 4 – build 30 to 40 inbound links (focus on internal pages)

Month 5 – build 40 plus links a month (focus on internal pages)

Month 6 – build as many high quality links as possible (focus on internal pages)

Links are both follow and no-follow

Guess what, a natural link profile isn’t all do follow links. Sure, those links are more valuable, but as it is easier to get no follow links and those are the more common link, you should have a bunch of those as well. I tend to get a lot of no follow links from comments and social network posts.

Links are fresh

It looks bad if you haven’t gotten any links in the past year. You should be gaining links continuously and at a steady “velocity.” Recent links are better than older links in most cases, unless it is like an unbelievably great backlink from a high PR site. Your content also should be fresh, and newer content seems to have a better chance of doing well in Google, depending on the subject or keywords. A lot of people, such as myself, constantly sort search results by time. I want to see the newer, up-to-date content, not something written five years ago.

Link context

You don’t want to have your link just be out of context and in a list. Instead, it should naturally be a part of some type of content and have natural anchor text. You sometimes see those sites that have just listed of a bunch of links, or maybe they have the same link in the footer on every page. That isn’t natural. You ideally want someone to have written about your subject and then naturally mention you in that article somewhere.

How to naturally get backlinks

Get yourself notice by other related blogs

Probably the best way to get backlinks is just by contacting the owners of sites that you want a link from. I like to send out a short and sweet email. It usually begins by complementing the other person, and then bringing up the blog that I want them to see. You could also ask what they think, tell them about some issue on their site (broken backlinks, spelling errors, etc) or ask if they want to guest post or do an interview. It really doesn’t matter, just start the conversation and network! Simply doing that can lead to a backlink.

Guest posting or blogging

I kind of mentioned this in the last point, but guest posting can be a good way to get a decent link. You just want to be sure you only guest post on a site directly related to yours that has high standards and a good rating. Ideally it won’t have tons of people guest posting on it. Don’t pay to guest post either. When you write a guest post, make it something really good that readers will love, and make sure to link back to your site.

You also could line up people to guest post on your site. Only get high quality people that have a decent audience. Their readers will likely visit your site to read the content, and they then might become your readers. The person that writes the article also is likely to link to it from their own site or social profiles.

Content marketing or blogging

Just running a blog in general is a good way to get backlinks, as your readers will link to it across the web. Be sure you have sharing buttons to make it easy for people to share your content on social media. Those no follow links do help your site, and you might even get noticed by a blogger that links to you.

Networking with other blogs or websites

Besides networking via email, you can also network with other bloggers through various websites like copyblogger, problogger, triberr, etc. or even on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc. Strike up a conversation, make friends, and share your content, and it could easily turn into backlinks.

Commenting

Going to related sites and writing comments that add to the conversation gets you nofollow backlinks that help make your link profile look natural and they also can bring in traffic. I’ve actually had comments on big blogs that bring in a decent amount of traffic. You just have to be sure that your link adds to the conversation. So if someone writes about their hiking trip to the grand canyon, and you have an article about your trip to the grand canyon, feel free to comment and share your link. However, if they are writing about the grand canyon, don’t add some link about cooking or something unrelated.

Forums

Partaking in a forum that is related to your niche can be a great way to get links. Some forums even let you add a link to your signature, which then shows up in every post you write. Like with the comments, make sure your links are directly related and add value to the conversation. These links not only can help your backlink profile, but they also should bring in a decent amount of traffic.

Bookmarking

I’m really not sure about the whole bookmarking site backlinks. They seem to help at the moment and add to your backlink profile, plus on some sites they get your links seen by more people. However, I feel like Google could crack down on abuse of bookmarking in the future. If you are doing bookmarking, be sure to not abuse it. Just add a few, and don’t add them all at once. Do so over time.

Search Engine Journal has this list of 50+ social bookmarking websites.

Looking for more ideas on how to get backlinks? Probably the absolute definitive guide on the subject was written by Brian Dean over at Backlinko. That guide really is more of a resource that links to a ton of top of the line content regarding link building. There is a pretty good list from Shoutmeloud.com. I really don’t condone all of the things on that list, but it at least gives a ton of ideas that might be helpful.

I really think the big takeaway from this section is that you should only try to get links from sites that are related to your own in terms of topic and content, and networking with real people is the best way to get links. You can network in many, many ways.

How to monitor your backlinks

OpenSiteExplorer

This site, which is owned by SEO company Moz, is my go to backlink tool. You can only search for like 5 sites per day for free without an account, but that is probably plenty unless you are doing a lot of competition research. Moz has their own DA (Domain Authority) and PA (Page Authortiy) metrics that they measure links by, and it really is helpful in determining what is good and what isn’t.

Majestic

The best part of Majestic, for me, is that they have these pie charts that show the anchor text and backlink breakdown. This is really great for monitoring how natural your backlink profile looks. You don’t want anything to be particularly dominant.

ahrefs

They also have their own rating metric, ahrefs rank, which is a bit like Alexa rank. My favorite part of ahrefs is the anchor text cloud part way down the page.

Microsoft Office Excel

It sounds silly, but actually writing down your known backlinks in Excel is probably the best way to keep track of them. The other tools are dependent on crawling the web, and they always miss stuff. Keeping track of links yourself can be really useful.

Using the Google Disavow Tool

You may have read this article, tried some of the tools, and discovered or realized that your site has a terrible backlink profile that is unnatural and full of spammy, bad, unrelated, no good links. Thankfully, Google does have a way to try to clear those bad links from your backlink profile. They have a tool called the Google Disavow Tool, which you can access here (you need to sign in to your webmaster account).

Once your signed in, you need to pick the website you want to disavow backlinks for, and then agree to continue after they give you a message that removing backlinks might harm your sites performance in Google. After you go past that, they want you to upload a disavow file.

That file actually needs to contain the different links that you want to disavow, which you should have found using the tools mentioned above. You can learn a lot more about how to format the disavow file, and how to use the disavow tool, in Moz’s excellent guide on the subject.

Conclusion

In this guide, we discussed what backlinks are, what a natural backlink profile looks like, how to naturally get backlinks, how to monitor your backlinks, and we touched briefly on using the Google disavow tool to remove any bad backlinks and clean up your backlink profile. I hope this guide is helpful and gives you some ideas!

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