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  • SEO Linkgraph: 21 Steps to Keep a Clean Backlink Footprint

    SEO Linkgraph: 21 Steps to Keep a Clean Backlink Footprint

    If you want to climb the ranks of Google and other search engines, you need to boost your perceived authority.

    And in order to boost your perceived authority, you need backlinks.

    But building backlinks is a lot more complicated than most people initially think.

    link graph
    A site’s link graph can tell search engines a great deal about what the site is about and how it should be ranked.

    If you spam your links, or build links recklessly, you could end up doing more harm than good.

    If Google catches you deliberately attempting to manipulate your rank, or if they notice suspicious patterns in your technical SEO efforts, you could get slapped with a hefty penalty that sets you back months, or even years.

    So what’s the solution?

    You have to keep a clean backlink footprint at all times, actively practicing white hat SEO strategies and monitoring your efforts.

    How do you do it?

    What Is a Backlink Footprint?

    Your backlink footprint is essentially a profile of the links you’ve built and how you’ve built them.

    It’s a description of all your past and current efforts to improve keyword rankings that reflect on your brand.

    link profile
    A proper link profile will have a natural distribution of the types of links pointing to your site (courtesy SEO software suite: Majestic).

    If executed responsibly, your backlink footprint can reflect well on you.

    It can increase your referral traffic, improve your online reputation, and boost your authority so you rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).

    If executed irresponsibly, your backlink footprint can reflect poorly on you.

    It might turn people away from your brand, cut your referral traffic significantly, and evenly due to Google penalties.

    Why Keeping a Clean Backlink Footprint Matters

    Why Keeping a Clean Backlink Footprint Matters

    Keeping a clean backlink footprint is important for several reasons:

    • Avoiding penalties. If you practice your SEO strategy irresponsibly, you could face a Google penalty. People use the term “Google penalty” pretty loosely, often describing multiple different, independent actions with the same terminology. A true Google penalty is a manual action taken by a human to remove your website from SERPs, usually temporarily. This is usually reserved for only the most egregious offenders, and as long as you correct whatever problems led to this penalty, you can usually reverse it. The more common and arguably more destructive penalty is a natural byproduct of search engine algorithms; if Google detects repetitive patterns or black hat tactics associated with your domain, you could plunge in the rankings, erasing any progress you made and condemning you to the deepest pages of search results.
    • Improving your brand reputation. Keeping a clean backlink footprint also matters for improving your brand reputation. It’s not just about making search engines happy; it’s also about making users happy. If the links you build are valuable, relevant, and natural, people are going to be more likely to click them and think positively about your brand.
    • Analyzing and improving your SEO execution. Finally, making the effort to improve your backlink footprint and analyze your efforts with SEO software tools, will allow you to better understand and improve your SEO execution. You’ll get a better understanding of which links work and why, and you can gradually tweak your approach to perfection.

    How to Keep a Clean Backlink Footprint

    Now to the meat of this article.

    We’ve talked about what a backlink footprint is and why it’s important.

    So how do you keep yours clean?

    1. Start with an overarching SEO strategy.

    Everything begins with an overarching strategy.

    Before you publish your first article or post your first link, you should have a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re going to accomplish it.

    You should have a comprehensive understanding of best practices in SEO and you should be familiar with what constitutes a white hat tactic (vs. a black hat tactic) in the SEO world.

    • What types of publishers are you going to use to place your links?
    • What pieces of on-site content are going to be the targets of those links?
    • How quickly are you going to build links and how are you going to scale?

    Document your plan and stick to it; the more you deviate from your original vision, the messier your backlink footprint is going to become.

    2. Build links slowly (at first).

    Always start building links slowly and carefully, paying close attention to your link velocity.

    Google has an established understanding of a reasonable pace of growth for new websites.

    If your website launches on Monday, and you have more than 1,000 links by Friday, the search engine is going to be suspicious.

    Instead, focus on only building one or two links per week during your first several weeks of operation.

    Over time, as your website has more history and develops more natural authority, you can scale these link building efforts up.

    It’s not worth rocking the boat early on, no matter how eager you are to attract new traffic.

    3. Prioritize content quality.

    How to Develop High-Quality, SEO-Friendly Content

    You’ve probably heard that “content is king” in SEO. This remains true, for the most part, since content is deeply intertwined with almost every aspect of SEO.

    In fact, content is related to multiple aspects of ranking in Google search results.

    You’ll need powerful onsite content to serve as the target for the links you build.

    You’ll also need well-written offsite content to house and support the links you build.

    In both of these areas, you need to focus on content quality above everything else; if you link to a piece of weak content, it could ultimately work against you, weakening your reputation or even threatening removal of the link.

    If your offsite content is weak, publishers going to accept it, or you might run the risk of having the link flagged.

    Hiring a white label SEO content assistant may be your best bet. These types of SEO professionals are not expensive and can have a huge value-boost in your traffic and leads.

    4. Keep your links relevant to publishers.

    Whenever possible, build links that are relevant for the publishers that will be hosting them.

    The easiest way to do this is to be selective about the publishers you work with.

    If you primarily choose publishers that are at least somewhat related to your industry, you should have no trouble incorporating links that serve as a good fit.

    Also, always make it a point to read the content publication and linking policies associated with each publisher in your network; if you follow the rules, you’ll be much more likely to succeed.

    5. Keep your links relevant to readers.

    Along similar lines, it’s important to keep your links relevant to readers.

    Remember, this isn’t just about optimizing your content or links for search engines. It’s also about optimizing your content and links for users.

    When a reader encounters your link, it shouldn’t be jarring, nor should it seem inappropriate.

    When a reader clicks your link, they should find exactly the information they were expecting.

    To accomplish this, prioritize linking to interesting, informative pieces on your website and present your link in a way that makes it valuable and appealing to your target audience.

    6. Avoid repeating the same publishers.

    When you find a publisher willing to accept your offsite content and links, it’s tempting to publish with them multiple times in the future.

    This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; building your relationship with this publisher and publishing more links could be beneficial to you.

    What’s important is that you don’t abuse this relationship.

    Each successive link on the same publisher is going to reward you less, so it’s important to improve your backlink footprint by working with a wide variety of different publishers, especially at the beginning of your campaign.

    7. Optimize your anchor text carefully.

    Natural anchor text distribution

    Anchor text optimization is a somewhat divisive subject in the SEO industry.

    In case you aren’t familiar, anchor text is simply the text that houses your link; it’s “Anchor text optimization” in the preceding sentence.

    Most search optimization experts agree that anchor text does play a role in your SEO campaign.

    If you optimize your text for specific target keywords, it could increase your website’s relevance for those keywords.

    However, we’re currently operating in an era of semantic search, where Google processes information based on its meaning and context, rather than its verbatim wording.

    If you optimize your anchor text too much, it could trigger a red flag.

    For example, if you use the same phrase over and over, across different articles, regardless of context, you could end up earning yourself a penalty.

    It’s important to make sure your anchor text is relevant for the link you’ve included and the content you’ve written – and it’s just as important to vary your anchor text when you can.

    This doesn’t mean you have to avoid keyword optimization in your anchor text entirely; it just means you have to tread carefully.

    8. Link to different internal pages

    If you spam the same link to the same page over and over, eventually Google is going to catch on to the pattern. It’s much better to link to various different internal pages. This way, bill spread authority throughout your site and you’ll be much less likely to attract a penalty. This strategy becomes much easier when you have an abundant amount of high-quality internal content to work with.

    9. Write content of various lengths

    Though arguably less important than some of the other points in this article, it’s a good idea to write content of various lengths. If you churn out 800-word articles with almost identical formatting on a constant basis, and all of those articles have a link to one of your internal pages, it could reflect poorly on you. Including a handful of shorter articles and several longform articles can improve your backlink footprint.

    10. Place links in different areas of your articles

    It could also help you to place links in different areas of your articles. Most link builders are incentivized to place the link as high as possible in the article, above the fold, so it’s more visible and more prominent to readers. This strategy should increase your referral traffic as well as your brand visibility. However, if you do this too consistently, it could work against you. Be ready and willing to place links in different areas of your articles.

    11. Include links to other authorities

    If the only link in the article you’ve published is a link to your website, it’s going to look bad in the eyes of both search engines and readers. To make your link seem more natural, and improve the cleanliness of your backlink footprint, it’s a good idea to include links to other authoritative sources. This is especially important if you’re citing any specific information, or if you’re presenting counterarguments.

    12. Use different author names

    For the sake of convenience, you might be tempted to publish all your offset content under the same name. This is an especially powerful temptation if you’re a solopreneur or if you’re interested in building your own personal reputation. But if you consistently publish articles with links pointing back to your website under the same name, it’s not going to take long before Google recognizes the pattern. Instead, use different author names; you can set up guest author profiles for various people within your business or invent new personalities altogether.

    13. Vary your link building quantity

    As your link building strategy begins to develop and you spend more time on your SEO, you’ll want to start varying your link building quantity. If you consistently build exactly 3 links every week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it’s going to trigger Google’s pattern detection. Instead, consider building a single link one week, then 10 links the next week, followed by 3 links the week after that. In a purely natural world, links aren’t built consistently, so your inbound links should appear inconsistent and variable.

    14. Play into seasonal trends

    You can adhere to the former point and find excuses to step up your content optimization efforts by playing into seasonal trends. If you’re optimizing for a seasonal business, like a landscaping company or a pool and spa company, step up your efforts to acquire high quality backlinks during the busy season.

    15. Don’t participate in schemes

    Link schemes come in many forms. Link wheels, link exchanges, and paid links without regard for content quality are just a handful of examples. Newcomers to the link building world are often tempted to try some of these schemes because they promise minimum effort and quick results. To be fair, some people who practice these schemes do see some quick results – but those results never last. Sooner or later, if you’re participating in a scheme, you’re going to get penalized and your momentum will be reversed. It’s much more sustainable to follow best practices and keep your backlink footprint clean.

    16. Build links in different ways

    There are many different link building strategies available to you. Building links via guest posts is arguably the most common strategy, but it’s certainly not the only one. You can also build links through partnerships, collaboration opportunities, press releases, and more. Diversifying your link portfolio and building links in different ways can make sure your backlink footprint remains as clean as possible.

    17. Avoid private blog networks (PBNs) unless you know what you’re doing

    Private blog networks (PBNs) are essentially closed groups of different websites that all take turns linking to each other. If you’re a newcomer to the link building world, it’s probably best to avoid PBNs altogether; there are simply too many ways for this strategy to go wrong. If executed properly, there is significant potential here – but you should only attempt to execute this type of strategy if you truly know what you’re doing.

    18. Be on the lookout for negative link building

    Though not especially common, some brands occasionally find their competitors engaging in negative link building; in this practice, a competitor attempts to build a bad link intentionally to try and tank your rankings. If you remain vigilant, and you evaluate your backlink profile regularly, you should be able to catch these negative links before they become a serious problem. You can reach out to the Webmaster to request removal, and if that doesn’t work, you can disavow the link entirely.

    19. Vet your partners

    It’s possible to practice link building entirely on your own, but it’s not always practically feasible. Most businesses end up working with a link building agency, or a similar partner, to help them create content and publish new links. This could be a valuable move for your strategy and long term future, but it’s important to always vet your partners. Before agreeing to any kind of link building arrangement, you need to do your due diligence, looking up this company’s reputation, previous reviews and testimonials, and their approach to link building. If you can’t find any information, or if you notice too many red flags (like a lack of transparency, questionable link building practices, unhappy customers, or promises that sound too good to be true), move onto someone else.

    20. Measure and analyze with the right SEO tools

    Use a free backlink checker to thoroughly analyze your backlink profile on a regular basis. Even if you follow all the advice in this guide specifically and consistently, there’s still a chance that a bad link could end up in your backlink footprint. This is your chance to catch it and remove it before it’s too late. Additionally, monitoring your link building efforts with a backlink checker gives you the opportunity to measure which of your links are most effective and which ones are falling flat. With this information, you can readjust your strategy and optimize it for efficiency moving forward.

    21. Scale wisely

    Most businesses start building links in an effort to grow – which means you’ll eventually want to step up your link building efforts. When you’re ready to scale, do so wisely; don’t build 1,000 links overnight, and don’t work with publishers or partners that you haven’t vetted. Instead, scale incrementally, remain committed to best practices, and remain patient as you gradually expand your sphere of online influence. You’ll thank yourself later when you start rising in rankings without penalty.

    Build a Backlink Strategy with SEO.co

    Creating a link building strategy is tough. Maintaining the integrity of your backlink footprint while simultaneously capitalizing on the benefits of link building is even tougher.

    That’s why it pays to have a partner.

    At SEO.co, we have some of the best and most experienced SEO experts in the business.

    We can start by performing a complete backlink audit of your website.

    And we’re all here to help you realize your full link building potential.

    Reach out to us for a free consultation today!

    VP of Business Development at SEO Company
    Ryan Nead is the Vice President of Business Development at search engine optimization services company, SEO.co. Ryan has spent the last 10 years as a digital marketing consultant working with enterprise clients and top brands on digital marketing initiatives that drive digital results. He has worked with brands like Smashburger, Fatburger, PHH Mortgage and Con-Way (now XPO Logistics). He resides in Texas with his wife and three children.
    Ryan Nead