Everyone harks on about backlinks. There’s a reason for this, and it’s all because Google based their initial search algorithm all around backlinks, calculating them as ‘votes’ for a particular web page and giving a PageRank (PR) score to the referring page.
And from that initial point onwards the world and his wife have been chasing high PR backlinks ever since…
Google have come on in leaps and bounds since those early days though, and now they say there’s over 200 different indicators used in calculating the ranking of an individual page. However, backlinks are still an important part of the mix, but they can’t be gamed as easily now, and the big ‘G’ does a lot of stuff to make sure that they’re weeding out the people who are trying to game the system.
Which brings me onto something interesting that I read recently…
Well, I say interesting – in reality it would either bore you to tears, or melt your brain with it’s boring technicalities…
Anyhoo, the thing I read was a patent granted to Google a few months back, and it had some very interesting points hidden away, and the reason I’m writing this report is to spill the beans on the interesting bits.
For those of you who want the important highlights translated into human speak, read on.
Now, before we get into the bits I find interesting, you need to understand that although this patent was granted a few months ago, the actual patent was submitted back in 2004. (Yes, this is how long the patent office have taken to process and grant the application.) As a result, there will have been new things introduced into Google’s workings, and some things will have been taken out.
But, I firmly believe that the things I’m going to talk about now are still highly relevant and more importantly, pretty easy to implement.
So, let’s get cracking!
A Bit Of A History Lesson
There’s something that a lot of people don’t realize when it comes to getting ranked and loved by Google, and that’s how they came to value pages on the internet and assign a rank to them in the first place. It all stems from their original patent and idea which was based around the Reasonable Surfer Model, and it’s crucial you understand the concept otherwise you’ll fall into the trap that everyone goes down – which is to chase backlinks in all the wrong places.
The Reasonable Surfer Model
The Reasonable Surfer Model is a thing of genius, and it’s really very simple to get your head around. Basically, what Sergey and Larry came up with was to answer this simple question: what would a ‘normal’ person browsing this particular page click on to leave the page and move forward to another page on the web?
This forms the simple ethos behind the Reasonable Surfer Model, and as with Google’s core concept, it all revolves around what the user would do, and how simple it makes it for the user to find what they’re looking for easily and quickly.
If we take a direct quote from the patent, it says this about the Reasonable Surfer Model:
You see how simple the concept is? Basically, when a user lands on a page they will choose to follow a link and choose not to follow others, and the ones which are most likely to be followed get a higher rating in Google’s eyes.
It’s a touch of brilliance, and over time they’ve perfected the model to score different links and give them the weightings they feel are deserved – and as a result they’ve put in place a system which effectively makes it difficult for people to engineer the link graph.
However, as you’re going to discover as you read through this guide, you will see how to construct the perfect backlink, where to place it, and where to go to get it and make the mighty ‘G’ give you some good lurvin’.
Before we look at the perfect backlink tho, we need to have a quick chat about backlinks in general, and what the search engines look for when rating a page and deciding upon it’s ranking in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
The first mistake everyone makes when going around scrabbling for backlinks is to only go and get high PR links in their quest for Google love, and this is quite frankly a schoolboy error.
You see, Google looks at the link graph and checks stuff out on a minute-by-minute basis, they are very good at spotting trends, fingerprints, and can easily see who is trying to game the system.
Systems and methods consistent with the principles of the invention may provide a reasonable surfer model that indicates that when a surfer accesses a document with a set of links, the surfer will follow some of the links with a higher probability than others. This reasonable surfer model reflects the fact that not all of the links associated with a document are equally likely to be followed. Examples of unlikely followed links may include “Terms of Service” links, banner advertisements, and links unrelated to the document.
For example, if you run a site and you only have say around 50 backlinks which are all PR5, PR6, and PR7 all pointing back to your site let me ask you this question: Does this look natural? The answer to both you, me, and more importantly the GoogleBot is: No, of course it doesn’t. You can spot it a mile off, it’s clearly engineered and not natural.
It is crucial that when you’re getting backlinks you get a natural mix of low (and indeed PR0) links into your backlink mix alongside the heavy hitting PR6’s to show Google that you’re not trying to game the system and that people are linking to you more naturally.
The second mistake everyone makes is going for the ‘easy’ backlinks, which again are needed in the overall picture of having a good link spread, but purely getting backlinks from blog comments, forum posts, article directories and web 2.0 sites which you control are again of a low quality and quite frankly looked over when assessing whether your site / page should rank on page one of the SERPs. Don’t get me wrong, these types of backlinks are required, and they serve their purpose in giving some low level links back to your site, but they shouldn’t be your only links.
The third mistake people make is going for the top level domains (TLDs) which have a higher weighting in Google’s eyes, such as .gov or .edu domains. Again, if all you have is links back from .edu or .gov sites then it sticks out like a sore thumb.
The final mistake people make (there are more, but let’s just keep to the core problems!) is that people only get backlinks from say 3 sites which have good PR and are relevant to their niche / market. This is another big flag for Mr Google on people who are just trying to game the system.
Think about this from a Google point of view. People make natural links back to sites which they like or will recommend. Sites which are recommended by a ton of different people are going to get a higher rating by Google because there’s not just 3 people saying ‘hey this site is really good’ it’s actually 50 different people saying ‘check out this page, it’s awesome’.
All this is common sense when you think about it, but in our industry people get blinded by chasing the high PR links from a relevant page with the exact keyword anchor text to show 100% keyword density and relevance to the GoogleBot, without taking the core concept of the
reasonable surfer model which is this: Is a real person likely to click the link. If the answer is no, then Google won’t rank you well in the SERPs, because if a user isn’t likely to follow the link then it’s not relevant.
So, what do we do then?
Simple, we look at Google and get the answers for what they’re looking for from them. Remember that patent I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s full of juicy tid-bits to tell us exactly what we should do.
What Does Google Think?
There is a ton of techno-babble in the patent, but when you break it down to it’s bare bones then it makes clear sense, and that’s what I’m going to spell out for you now in my own unique and ground breaking interpretations – and all of these interpretations center around the core question of “What would the reasonable surfer do?”
Font Size And Other Font Attributes Of The Link
This is an interesting point which is made in the patent, it’s made in several places, and it concerns what the link looks like. Specifically:
- Is the link in a larger font size than the surrounding text, if it is then would you say it’s more likely to be clicked by the reasonable surfer?
- Is the link in a smaller font size than the surrounding text, if it is then would you say it’s less likely to be clicked by the reasonable surfer?
- Is the font color of the link a different to the surrounding text, if it’s not different then how does the reasonable surfer know that it’s actually a link to click?
- Is the font color of the link the same color as the background, if it is then do you think that Google will slap you from here to next week?
- Is the link stylized to look different using bold or italics to make stand out?
As well as the parts on the features of the link, Google also outlined this briefly in the patent:
For example, model generating unit 410 may generate a rule that indicates
that links with anchor text greater than a particular font size have a higher probability of being selected than links with less than the particular font size
Key takeaways from the font attributes:
Make sure that the link looks like a link and doesn’t blend into the background, make the link slightly larger that the surrounding text, think about making it bold or in italics to make it stand out, and for goodness sake don’t try to hide links on a page.
Now, we’ve talked previously on The Edge (and also in The Challenge) about the importance of getting your keywords into your anchor text, but the patent has some pretty interesting points on how Google looks at the contents of the anchor text, here’s a couple of excerpts…
Examples of features associated with a link might include the
number of words in anchor text associated with the link; actual words in anchor text associated with the link; commerciality of the anchor text associated with the link;
a topical cluster with which the anchor text of the link is associated;
and/or a degree to which a topical cluster associated with the source document matches a topical cluster associated with the anchor text of a link.
As we can see, Google are pretty clever in that they’re looking not only if the words in the anchor text are related to the content of the page, but also if the anchor text has any commercial intent.
In some cases you may not get round the commercial intent aspect, especially if your target keywords are something like “Buy Fishing Rods”, sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
Page Attributes And Immediate Surrounding Text
Although we talk about getting links from a page which is related to the topic, they actually go down to a closer level than just the page.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s crucial that the topic of the page your getting your backlink from matches the topic of the page you’re linking to, but they do go much deeper and down to a paragraph level. First of all, here’s the important bit about the overall page:
So in a nutshell, the first point of call is to make sure that the link is on a page which Google sees as being relevant to the page your linking to.
You can check if the page your placing your backlink is ‘relevant’ in Google’s eyes for your keyword by plugging in the URL of that page into Google’s External Keyword Tool, and if the keyword your targeting appears in it’s list then you’re good to go.
For example, model generating unit 410 may generate a rule that indicates
that when a topical cluster associated with the source document is related to a topical cluster associated with the target document, the link has a higher
probability of being selected than when the topical cluster associated with the source document is unrelated to the topical cluster associated with the target document.
But now for the killer part, and something which literally no one talks about, and that’s the words which surround the actual link on a page.
If you think about it from a user perspective then it makes sense to have a link which is relevant to the conversation, and not one which has nothing to do with the paragraph they’re reading.
For example, if your paragraph is all about the topic of dog training, and then the link in the middle of the paragraph is for ‘instant credit loans’ then that’s a massive disconnect for the user, and completely off topic for the page and the specific paragraph.
They outline it briefly in the patent:
So, make sure that when you’re placing your link in the body text of the page that the surrounding text in the sentence is relevant to the anchor text.
Again, you can use the Google’s External Keyword Tool to see what other words are relevant by putting in your anchor text and getting back what Google says is relevant, then craft the sentence / paragraph using some of those relevant words in the structure.
Just make sure the sentence / paragraph reads naturally and doesn’t just look like 50 keywords put back-to-back – remember that it’s all about providing useful information to the reasonable surfer in an effort to get them to click on a link.
Examples of features associated with a link might include the …
the context of a few words before and/or after the link;
A huge portion on links on the internet are actually linked to images, and some will be classed as relevant by Google and some won’t.
For example, a ‘buy it now’ button is an image link, but not necessarily relevant to show up in the SERPs, whereas an image of a chihuahua puppy, properly tagged and linked to a chihuahua page, is relevant and would get indexed and ranked in Google image search.
The key to image links is making the image filename to match your keyword (i.e. if your keyword is ‘chihuahua training’ then make the file name ‘chihuahuatraining.jpg’), make sure that the ‘alt’ and ‘title’ tags of the image are ‘chihuahua training’, and finally make sure that the target URL has ‘chihuahua training’ in the path and the content of that page is all about ‘chihuahua training’.
What Google has specified in the patent is all about the aspect ratio of the image (i.e. the image size), and I guess that this is all to do with the probability that the reasonable surfer will click on the image link.
For instance, if the image is 200 x 200 pixels and tagged as the chihuahua example above, then there is a probability that the image might be clicked. However, if the image is a 1 x 1 pixel image then there’s absolutely no chance that it will be clicked, and therefore deemed not relevant and ignored (or even negatively scored).
Every link needs to have a target URL to go to, and Google go the extra mile in checking that target URL to make sure that it’s relevant to the source page that the link is on, and also if the source page where the backlink is placed is related even remotely to the target URL of the link.
For instance, these two points make interesting reading:
Examples of features associated with a link might include
whether the link leads somewhere on the same host or domain; if the link leads to somewhere on the same domain, whether the link URL is shorter than the referring URL; and/or whether the link URL embeds another URL (e.g., for server-side redirection).
Examples of features associated with a target document might include the URL of the target document (or a portion of the URL of the target document); a web site associated with the target document; whether the URL of the target document is on the same host as the URL of the source document; whether the URL of the target document is associated with the same domain as the URL of the source document; and/or the length of the URL of the source document.
Basically, let’s break down into layman’s terms what Google are actually saying:
- Is the backlink pointing to a page on the same site (domain)?
- If it is on the same site, then is it pointing to a deeper page further into the site or back towards a page higher up the site?
- Does the link try to mask it’s true destination using a server-side redirect?
- Is the backlink pointing to a different site on the same host (therefore is the backlink engineered by someone setting up 2 sites on the same host to try and game the backlinks)?
One of Google’s main concerns is with people trying to create backlinks in a favorable position on the page on relevant websites which they in fact own and run, which they naturally take a very dim view of.
In addition to this, Google have also outlined some pretty interesting points about the target URL, specifically these:
I’m sure I don’t actually need to break down these four things, as they are pretty self explanatory, but basically Google are saying that they’re going to negatively mark links to parked domains, pages with popups, that the top level domain (TLD) is a factor (which is why we recommend .com, .net and .org), and loads-of-hyphens-in-your-domain-name-arebad.com 😉
For example, model generating unit 410 may generate a rule that indicates
that a link associated with a target URL that contains the word “domainpark” has a low probability of being selected.
that a link associated with a source document that contains a popup has a low probability of being selected.
that a link associated with a target domain that ends in “.tv” has a low probability of being selected.…
that a link associated with a target URL that includes multiple hyphens has a low probability of being selected.
Link Position On The Page
This is one of the major things which is outlined, and one of the big reasons why comment links, forum links, and footer / sidebar links are so devalued by Google when it comes to ranking and passing PR to the link.
Once more it comes down to the reasonable surfer’s likelihood to click on the link, and again quite a lot of this boils down to common sense.
Think of the reasonable surfer: he / she visits a page on ‘kiteboarding’, which is a PR 7 page, and it’s got comments enabled. If you’re going to leave a comment on this page you would think that it’s a good PR7 backlink, but what is the likelihood that the reasonable surfer is going to click on your backlink in your comment? Pretty low, maybe even none existent,
especially if there are other comments on the page as well with other competing links. You also need to factor in the negative ratings which Google gives, but we’ll talk about that later in the report…
Like I said earlier, all types of backlinks are needed, and having a good spread of lower-level backlinks from comments, forums, article directories are required, but these aren’t your best heavy-hitters and won’t separate you from anyone else who is trying to rank in the SERPs.
Let’s again look at what Mr Google says about link positioning, and here they have some pretty clear hints about where the best place to have your link:
Examples of features associated with a link might include the
position of the link (measured, for example, in a HTML list, in running text, above or below the first screenful viewed on an 800×600 browser display, side (top, bottom, left right) of document, in a footer, in a sidebar etc.); if the link is in a list, the position of the link in the list;
Although the above excerpt is more of a hint than an actual ‘best place to put your link’ statement, the next bit from the patent is very clear about the situation:
However, there’s also a good caveat placed in the patent about sidebar links, and it reads like this:
So, when you put all those pieces of the puzzle together you can draw these assumptions:
- The best place to have a link is in the main body of the page, above the fold when viewed on an 800×600 screen
- If the link is in a list, then the higher up the list the better (as this has a higher probability of being clicked on by the reasonable surfer)
- Sidebar and footer links have a lower probability of getting clicked, unless they have a reasonably good call to action section (like the cnn.com example above)
So far we’re building up a pretty good picture of what the perfect backlink should look like, not only in font / display, but also in position, relevance of the topic that the page is on, and also the linking URLs and target domain that the backlink is going to.
But there’s another key factor to add into the mix, and that’s where Google’s massive databases come into play…
For example, model generating unit 410 may generate a rule that indicates
that links positioned closer to the top of a document have a higher probability of being selected than links positioned toward the bottom of a document.
For example, model generating unit 410 may generate a rule that …
a link positioned in the “More Top Stories” heading on the cnn.com website has a high probability of being selected.
Analyzing User Behavior
The computational power Google have is immense, they not only crawl, index and rank pages in real-time across the globe, they serve the results of a search against their databases mostly in under half a second.
To get your head around the work involved in achieving this feat is quite hard, and for the vast majority of searches they are pretty much bang on the money.
So, the next bit I’m going to talk about will make you think a bit more about just how much the big G analyze and store all the stuff that you and I do online.
With regard to backlinks on a page, Google not only stores the information we’ve talked about so far (font, anchor text, target URLs etc.), but they also store information for how the user interacts with each and every link.
Basically, Google looks at a page and sees how many links are on it. They record all the information about each of those links with regard to the page they are on. Google then track how many times each of those links are clicked, and then score all the links on the page either positively or negatively depending on whether they were clicked or not clicked.
If that sounds a little confusing then I’m sorry, but trust me, the wording in the patent is worse!
Here it is in a quick example:
- Let’s say that there are 3 links on a page.
- When the page is viewed the surfer clicks on Link #1.
- Google records this as a positive interaction for Link #1, but it also records it as a negative interaction for Link #2 and Link #3 because they we’re not clicked.
- Also, if a surfer views the page and no links are clicked then all 3 links are scored negatively.
- Google over time builds up a profile for each link based on these positive and negative interactions.
This is a massive thing that people don’t ever realize!
So, if there’s a ton of links on a page, then unless your link is front and center and has a high probability of getting clicked, then all that’s going to happen to your link is lot’s of negative scoring in Google’s databases, and this is why so many ‘comments’ links are of a low value.
OK, this isn’t part of the patent, but it is bound to be something that someone asks when they read this report, so it’s something I’m going to cover briefly as it’s important that you get a grasp of my world-view of the issue.
For those that aren’t aware of what the issue is, ‘nofollow’ is a tag which was introduced to allow website owners to show which links they trust and which links they don’t trust as much.
Predominantly it was to allow a better control of comment spam.
By putting ‘rel=nofollow’ into a backlink you are effectively telling Google that you’re not 100% sure about this link, and please don’t pass on any PR to that link.
From this, many an SEO expert and commentator went on a warpath of ‘nofollow’ links are worthless.
Sorry, but this is bullshit.
A ‘nofollow’ link is not worthless, every link (as long as it’s not in some spam ridden, malware hell-hole) has a value. All that will happen is that the link will not pass PageRank.
This is something you really need to get a hold of.
I’ve said it at the start of this article, and I’m going to re-iterate it now: you need to have a healthy mix of backlinks from a wide variety of sources pointing back to your site. The diversity in the linking domains (i.e. not all links are coming from only three sites) is an important factor, as is the need to have the high PR links from higher ‘authority’ domains alongside your PR0 and ‘nofollow’ links.
Saying that ‘nofollow’ links are worthless is just plain wrong, and it’s one of those topics which has got so muddied and confusing because of the whole PR sculpting thing that it’s become beyond a joke.
The overriding factor you need to understand is that the person reading the backlink on a page on the internet doesn’t give a rat’s ass if the link is ‘nofollow’, if it’s something that they want to click on then they will click on it.
Google might not give you any PR juice for the ‘nofollow’ link, but are Google the ones who are going to be buying your product? Does the Googlebot even have a credit card?
Don’t go down the blind path of just trying to create links for Mr Google. Backlinks serve a dual purpose, the first is to get your pages / site ranked, and the second is to get people to click on them to actually visit your site.
At the end of the day you want real life human beings to come to your site, then you can go about the business of actually selling them something, and just trying to build backlinks to suit Mr Google isn’t going to pay your bills.
OK, that’s about the end of my ‘nofollow’ rant.
Tying It All Together
I’ve outlined all the important bits, and now it’s time to bring it all together so that you can see where the best place is to get your backlinks.
So, here it is…
The perfect backlink should be:
- In the main page body, and not in a sidebar, footer or blog comments.
- It needs to be in the top section of the page, above the fold when viewed on an 800×600 screen.
- The link needs to look like a link
- The link needs to be slightly larger than the surrounding text, and either bold or italicized (or something different enough to make it stand out).
- The anchor text of the link needs to contain the keywords you’re targeting, and not have an overly commercial intent.
- The anchor text needs to be related to the topic / theme of the page the link is on.
- The words surrounding the link need to be related to the anchor text.
- The target URL needs to be related to the same topic / theme as the page the link is on.
- The target URL needs to be on a separate host to the page the link is on.
- The page the link is on needs to have as little other outbound links on as possible to reduce negative scoring.
So those are the headlines on the perfect backlink, but there are some important things you need to understand when planning out your backlinks and your backlink strategy…
- You need to have a good spread of lower level links (PR0, nofollow, comments, forums, other web 2.0 sites, article directories etc.) to make you look natural.
- You need to have a good diversity in the linking structure, so 50 links from 50 different sites related to your niche is a wider variety of people giving you a ‘vote’ than getting 5 links from 1 high PR site in your niche, which is only 1 ‘vote’.
- The higher PR backlinks are what ultimately separates you from your competitors, but keep in mind the need for the lower-level links as well.
- Backlinking is an ongoing task and needs to be done regularly. Google likes ‘freshness’ and if you go away and do 200 backlinks in one week then you’ll see an initial bump, but after that your page will drop down the SERPs because it doesn’t have any continuation.
It’s better to do a slower approach over a longer time to get the longer term benefit.
- Always remember that there’s two purposes for the backlink, one is to get the search engine’s interested, and the other, and ultimately more important purpose, is to get the people who are going to read the content to click the link.
Where Can I Get My Perfect Backlink?
Let’s start off straight away by saying that any automated tool isn’t going to get you the perfect backlink, and this is simply because of where these tools go to place your links, and of course there is also the promotion module inside Market Samurai to help you find places which are related to the keywords you’re targeting to go and get some backlinks.
But, to get the real good stuff you can get Google to help you out by telling you which pages it thinks are related to your actual page, and we’ll talk more about that in a moment.
Basically, you want to get your backlink onto a page which is very related to yours, and you want that link to be in the main body near the top.
So, the best way to do this is by writing a really good article and then approach other sites in your niche and ask for a ‘guest blog post’.
Now, don’t go running off to some site’s which you think are ‘right’ to get your guest post on, because there’s a very simple way to get Google to tell you what it sees as the right site which I’m going to share in a moment. However, first of all there’s something more important to discuss.
You have to approach this in the right way, and a lot of the time it’s just a matter of trying to get on a one-to-one basis with the site owner and letting them know how much you like their stuff. If you just burst through with an email to the site owner saying “Hi, love your stuff and can I do a guest post to grab a backlink” then expect to get rejected.
In fact, even if you build up a relationship with the site owner they might still say no, my advice is to take it on the chin and move on.
The best way to get your foot in the door is to try to speak to them personally after you’ve already made sure they have some trust in you first, and you can build that trust using simple things like communicating with them using Twitter or Facebook, or leaving great blog comments on their site (with no links in the comment), and actually being part of a conversation with them so they get to know you.
Think about it, if some complete stranger came knocking on your door saying “hi, wanna buy my new widget?’ then your response is most likely going to be no, but if one of your friends says ‘oh, I’ve got a new widget and it’s great, fancy having a look and maybe buy one?’ then you’re naturally going to be more receptive because your friend has built up that trust element in advance.
Actively teaching the module on Market Leadership in The Challenge this year wasn’t an accident, and it is part of this friendly approach in order to position yourself as the ‘go-to’ person for your niche / market.
The more you build your credibility in your niche / market, and the more you show yourself as a nice person who’s genuinely interested in the topic, the more easily you’ll find it is to actually talk to people about the options of guest blogging, or even selling whatever it is you’re trying to sell.
I also heartily recommend you read “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Dr Robert Cialdini – I guarantee that it will change your perspective on a whole range of things, both online and offline.
OK, now that you know how you should go about approaching people, you need to know who the right people are which you should approach, and this is where Google comes in, because you want to get your perfect backlink on a related site and only Google can tell you who they think is related.
Fortunately, Google make this process stupid simple. And I really do mean simple. If you want to know which pages Google thinks are relevant to your page then you simply go to Google’s search page, then type in ‘related:’ followed by the URL of your page. Google will then very kindly give you all the pages that it has indexed which it thinks are relevant to your page, and crucially, they rank those pages in order of importance.
See, I told you it was simple.
For example, if we put in the URL of a popular dog training page we get back all the pages which Google has in it’s index which it deems relevant to that page, and it lists those results with the one it sees as most important in position one.
So, which site do you think you should approach first?!
Simply start with the number one site and move down the list. You might find that some of the sites simply aren’t relevant for asking for a guest post, they might be a store like Amazon, or it might simply be a sales page for a product. If that’s the case, move down the list until you find one which is relevant.
Remember, the key to this process is to engage with the other people at these sites on a friendly basis, build up trust, then just come out and ask the question in a friendly manner:
“Hey Bob, I loved that piece you put out the other day on training your Shitzu, I’ve actually got a great related article on training a Chihuahua, would you mind me putting it up as a guest blog on your site as I think it’s something your readers might be into.”
There’s a ton of different options for you to try and test, and remember, don’t get hung up if someone says no, there’s no shortage of places you can go to get the links, just keep in mind all that you’ve read in this article and make sure you apply the principles when making the backlink.