For the last 5 years there has been a common practice among SEOs both established and new, it’s what I call the shotgun approach to link building (more on that in a minute).
Once Google made all of their anchor text changes to the algorithm we have all just been guessing at what the anchor text should be of each link.
Ideally, if you’re getting links only naturally then you don’t need to worry about what the anchor text of your backlinks is because you have no control over it.
But what is ideal and what is real are two totally separate things.
Most of us don’t have the luxury of people banging down our door asking if it’s OK if they link to our content.
This has created a conundrum. We need links to rank, and those links need to look natural to Google or we get penalized.
The Flawed Shotgun Approach To Link Building
The shotgun approach has simply been a strategy where you get as many links as you can and really try to mix up the anchor text and then hope for the best.
There are two fundamental flaws with this strategy.
First, there is no direction to the backlink profile you are building. Even if you build 100 links to a page if you are simply just guessing at what the anchor text should be and then hoping it all works out you could be out of business before you realize your anchor text assumptions were wrong.
Second, getting backlinks to your site is going to cost you one or both of these two things: time and money.
Both are limited resources.
The shotgun approach ends up costing you so much more of either time or money (or both) because the strategy is simply to get as many links as possible to a page.
And what happens if you guessed wrong and build out a very unnatural looking backlink profile?
You’re out a lot of time and money and could lose money on SEO clients or even worse, lose these businesses as a client altogether.
The Sniper Approach
So how do we build backlinks without wasting money or time on links we don’t need or that can hurt our progress in the search engines?
There are two critical elements to building out a backlink profile that will not only be safe from algorithm updates and rise up the rankings with less links.
I call it the Sniper approach to link building.
Instead of trying to get as many links as possible and hoping that I do enough, I only target the links I know I need.
Instead of building links and praying that my backlink profile looks natural, I keep a natural profile all along the way.
How do you guarantee a natural backlink profile?
The best way to “know” if your backlink profile looks natural is to go right to the source, Google.
Google has already told us what a natural profile looks like by ranking that website #1 in their search results.
Research the backlink profiles of #1 ranked sites and try to mimic what they have done.
But looking at just one #1 ranked site is not enough, you need to look at many sites across all industries.
We all know that our links should be from relevant sites, we all know our links should be quality, but the anchor text is where we all are guessing.
As I was doing SEO for some really high profile clients (read: Marcus Lemonis) I got so tired of guessing at which anchor text I should use that I decided to figure out once and for all what Google actually wanted to see in a #1 ranked backlink profile.
So I locked myself in my office and spent hours upon hours doing search after search after search.
I looked at #1 ranked websites in every category, niche and industry. I looked at every single backlink profile.
I created 12 anchor text categories that every single link could be categorized into and then I categorized every single link one at a time.
I’m talking thousands of links.
Here are the 12 anchor text categories I created that every single link in the world can fit into:
- Keyword – this is an exact match anchor for one of your key phrases.
- Page Title – this anchor text is usually a blog post title or the actual SEO title as the anchor text.
- Keyword Plus – this anchor includes one of your main key phrases plus other non-keyword phrases with it (ie “this link building article here”).
- Brand Plus Keyword – this anchor includes your brand name plus a key phrase (ie “HOTH link building service”).
- Partial Keyword – this anchor contains just a part of your key phrase (ie “if you’re building”).
- Brand – this is just your brand name as the anchor text/
- Natural – this anchor has no reference to any keywords or brand.
- Full URL – this anchor is the full URL of the page being linked to as the anchor.
- WebsiteName.com – this anchor is your URL written in this format: “TheHoth.com”.
- Home URL – this anchor occurs on inner pages and even though the link points to an inner page the home URL is the anchor text.
- No Text – this anchor is associated with image links that have no alt text.
- URL with www’s – this anchor is the url written without http:// (ie www.thehoth.com).
Once I had all of the links categorized and I compared them side by side, my SEO world changed.
The correlations that almost every #1 ranked website shared were staggering.
It was as if Google was saying to me, “this is the key to top rankings”.
You can read more about the backlink research we did at SEOJet but here is a quick overview what we came up with.
3 Main Categories For Anchor Text
As I mentioned there were 12 total anchor text categories but to keep things simple we lump them into 3 main categories.
- Exact Match Anchors – These are links that have one of your key phrases (exact match) as the anchor text (ie “link building”).
- Key Phrases Mixed Into Anchors – These are links that have one of your key phrases in the anchor text but the anchor also contains other words that are not part of your key phrase (ie “this is why link building has become”).
- Brand, Natural and URL Anchors – These are anchors that have no reference to your key phrase, unless your key phrase is part of your brand (ie “The HOTH”).
In order for you to build a backlink profile that matches other #1 ranked sites you need to mix up your anchor texts in the following manner.
Keep in mind that these ranges are always shifting slightly as Google changes their algo (updated August 2019):
For your homepage SEO this is how your backlink profile should break down.
- 80%-95% of your links should fall in the Brand, Natural and URL Anchor category.
- Up to 10% of your links should fall in the Key Phrases Mixed Into Anchor category.
- Up to 5% of your links should fall in the Exact Match Anchor category.
Inner Page Profile
On your inner pages, this is how your backlink anchor text profile should break down.
- 35%-45% of your links should fall in the Brand, Natural and URL Anchor category.
- 50%-60% of your links should fall in the Key Phrases Mixed Into Anchor category.
- Up to 10% of your links should fall in the Exact Match Anchor category.
I have included both the homepage and inner pages separately here because as you can see there is a huge difference in what the backlink profile looks like for each.
Homepage Link Profile
Your homepage is used (at least for link building purposes) for building brand trust with Google. As you can see, up to 95% of your links should have your brand name or some form of your URL as the anchor text.
Let’s look at an example from Overstock.com. These guys rank #1 for thousands of huge shopping related search terms.
This is what their homepage backlink profile looks like (screenshot is SEOJet dashboard with Overstock link data):
As you can see 98% of their homepage links are either their brand name or some form of their URL as the anchor. They have 2% of their links to their homepage that reference one of their key phrases. Two percent, that’s it.
Keep in mind that Overstock has over 900 homepage links.
Another important thing to remember is that your homepage should be where most of the links to your site go. It should be at least double the number of links as your next highest linked-to page.
Here is a screenshot of GuestPostTracker.com running inside of SEOJet’s dashboard. Guest Post Tracker is a website I own that ranks on page one for just about every keyword I am targeting.
As a rule, I try to get 1 link to my homepage for every link I get to an inner page on my site. It’s not a hard rule that can’t be broken but definitely, the majority of your links should point to the homepage.
This is what Google expects to see in a natural backlink profile.
If you don’t build brand trust with Google, your other pages will almost always struggle to get to the top 3 of Google.
Inner Page Link Profile
On your inner pages, it is much more natural to more heavily target your key phrases. This is where you should focus your main SEO efforts.
It doesn’t mean you get a bunch of exact match anchors to your inner pages, you still need to follow the percentages to match other inner pages of #1 ranked sites.
For example, The HOTH ranks #1 for the phrase “guest post service”.
If you look at the links pointing to that page, this is where the anchor text for the links fall in the ranges above.
The backlink profile for this page falls right into the ranges that #1 ranked sites across the board are falling into. And it looks natural to Google.
It all goes back to the awesome brand trust they have built with Google.
This is what The HOTH’s homepage backlink profile looks like (with over 300 links pointing to the homepage):
This means that over 240 links pointing to their homepage are either the brand name or some form of the URL as the anchor text.
And Google trusts them as a brand now.
Here is another example of a #1 ranked page matching the described percentages above.
Let’s look at the #1 ranked site for the search term “backlinks”.
Backlinko.com takes the top spot for this phrase. This is what their backlink profile looks like on their post that ranks #1:
You will see over and over again that #1 ranked pages fall into these percentages because this is what looks natural to the big G.
So now that you have an idea of what a natural backlink profile looks like all you need to do is build out your profile to match.
This is why I built SEOJet. (Shameless self-promotion forthcoming)
SEOJet takes all of the guesswork out of the link building process.
I don’t have to worry if the links I am building are going to help move the SEO needle.
I know that every link I get is helping me build out a backlink profile that matches other #1 ranked sites.
Regardless of what your current backlink profile looks like, SEOJet will tell you exactly which links you need to get to build out a backlink profile that looks amazing and natural to the big G.
No more Guess-E-O.
Whether you have 10 links pointing to a page or 100, your profile can always match other #1 ranked backlink profiles in the three categories mentioned above. This also means you can build links as fast or as slow as you want and it always looks natural.
So stop building links blindly and use proven data from Google instead.