In the ever-evolving world of SEO, the ranking factors that we cared about most just a year ago might not hold that same weight now. Keyword stuffing is a thing of the past and search engine algorithms are getting smarter. One thing many SEOs agree on, however, (including the king of Moz himself, Rand Fishkin) is that external links to your domain are still really valuable.
But if a link counts as a “vote” for your site, what does Google evaluate when considering these votes? To maintain the overall health of your website, it’s a good idea to periodically perform a backlink audit. Here are some things to look for:
- Overly optimized anchor text. If you sell cars, seeing that all the anchor text pointing to your site says “cheap cars” is not a good thing. Diversity in anchor text is key, and the more natural-sounding, the better. Just make sure that there isn’t a disproportionate amount of over-optimized anchor text pointing to your site — search engines may find that to be unnatural or manipulative.
- Links pointing to 404’d pages. If there are websites linking to pages on your site that are not found, this not only creates a terrible user experience for the person clicking that link, it also means you’re missing out on some valuable link juice. Update/redirect these pages if possible — otherwise, make sure your 404 pages are optimized in a way that helps users find what they’re looking for. For example, include a search bar and links to key pages on your site.
- Links from spammy sites. Ever heard of a link “neighborhood”? You are inherently connected to the websites you link to as well as the websites linking to you. If your link neighborhood consists of a bunch of spammy, manipulative, black-hat SEO websites, you will be associated with these types of websites. Just make sure that the majority of external links to your site are coming from trusted, relevant, and highly authoritative websites. They are the ones you want “voting” for you.
- No diversity in landing pages. Are all of your external links pointing to your main “money making” pages? This could be a bad signal to search engines. A natural backlink profile includes links to many different pages on your site. There should be a healthy dose of homepage links, blog/editorial links, AND converting pages.
If you do find that you’ve got some less than ideal links pointing to your site, you have a couple of options. Consider disavowing really spammy links. This is a way of telling Google that you don’t want those links to be considered as part of their algorithm. For links to 404 pages on your site, take a look at who is doing the linking, and what kind of traffic they might be driving to your website. If it’s a trustworthy domain driving a lot of traffic, consider redirecting the page and maintaining the positive signals they are sending.
The main takeaway here? Diversity is key in a healthy and natural backlink profile. The more “votes” you have from trusted domains to relevant pages on your site, the better. Keep this in mind when you perform backlink audits for your (or your client’s) website.