Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of strategies and tactics that you can use to engineer higher rankings for your business website in Google search results. In some ways, this is highly unnatural. But you’ll need to make your strategy as natural as possible if you want to climb the ranks and generate more organic traffic.
One of the most important “natural” elements of your strategy needs to be link building. But what exactly makes an SEO link seem natural? And why is it so important in the first place?
Why Natural Links Are Important
Link building is important because links are one of the primary ways Google evaluates your trustworthiness as a brand. Having more high-quality links pointed to your website means lots of independent sources think you’re valuable; this allows you to develop a higher authority, which in turn, allows you to rank higher for relevant searches.
There’s a catch, however. Google wants to thwart spammers and filter out black hat SEO practitioners who blindly manipulate their rankings for the sole purpose of increasing profit.
Accordingly, they’ve developed sophisticated algorithms that can help them evaluate the quality and contextual relevance of backlinks. If your links look like they were earned naturally, they’re going to be valuable for your brand. If your links look unnatural, they could end up getting you penalized.
That’s one reason why so many SEO practitioners eventually choose to work with an SEO firm, like an Anchorage SEO agency. If you simply wait for the links to naturally propagate, you’re probably not going to see good results. At the same time, if you build links too aggressively or unnaturally, you could sabotage your own strategy. Hiring an expert is typically the best path forward, allowing them to build valuable and natural links on your behalf without increasing the risk of penalty.
What Makes an SEO Link Natural?
So what exactly makes an SEO link look natural in Google’s eyes?
- No spam indicators. Google is quite specific about its policy on link spam. If you violate that policy, you can expect some penalties in your future. Exchanging money for links, practicing link exchanges, or using automation to build links can get you penalized. The same is true if your links are stuffed with keywords or if they’re exclusively found on low-quality directories and bookmark sites. Your links need to be completely free of these “spam indicators.”
- Contextual relevance. All your links should be contextually relevant to the articles in which they’re found. If you’re writing an article about hot dogs, it’s only natural to include a link to an article about ketchup or mustard. But those ketchup and mustard links are going to look very out of place in an article about gutter cleaning.
- Value to readers. It’s also important to recognize that natural links should be valuable for the people clicking them. Contextual relevance helps to support this, but you’ll need to go a step further if you want your links to be as natural as possible. For starters, your link should be valuable in the context of the article; it should provide a citation for data, a link to more information, or something interesting for readers to sink their teeth into. Additionally, the content on the other side of the link click should be informative, entertaining, or otherwise valuable to readers. This can help you boost your user behavioral metrics, lowering your bounce rate and increasing time spent on page, which can also help you see better SEO results overall.
- Semantically relevant anchor text. Search optimizers are often tempted to optimize their anchor text with keywords and phrases they’re targeting in the broader campaign. There’s nothing wrong with including a keyword here, but your anchor text must still be semantically relevant; in other words, it shouldn’t stand out because of its awkward phrasing.
- Contextually relevant anchor text. Similarly, your anchor text should be contextually relevant. It should work within the context of the article and simultaneously introduce the content you’re linking to.
- Typical inclusion. Including a link at the beginning of your article in a separate paragraph that reads “CLICK HERE!! YOU WON’T REGRET IT!!” is a massive red flag. Instead, natural links typically show up somewhere in the middle of the article, without disrupting the flow of that article.
- Presence of other links. It also helps to feature your link alongside other, equally valuable links.
Natural link building is a complex art, and one that requires many years of experience to fully master. Even then, Google is constantly shaking things up with new updates and policy changes, so it pays to work with an expert who knows what they’re doing.
If you want to get as much value from your SEO strategy as possible, consider hiring an agency with ample backlink building experience.