Do You Have An “Unnatural” Link Profile? (Announcing Market Samurai’s new “Referring Domains” data)

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Most folks know that inbound links to your website (when combined with on-site optimisation) are the key drivers of ranking, especially for high value keywords. Most of us also know that not all links are equal and that links from high authority sites carry a lot more power (or ‘juice’ as we like to call it).

What you may not be aware of is that along with the number and quality of links, there’s a third criteria you should also consider; and thanks to our awesome data partners at Majestic SEO, we’re proud to announce the addition of the “Referring Domains” data within Market Samurai’s SEO Competition module.

Many Links, One Referring Domain

What are Referring Domains?

It’s pretty simple actually. Each different website that links to a website as a whole, or a specific page on your site is considered a different referring domain.

So if you have 100 links pointing to a page and 90 come from one website and 10 from a second, you’ll have a referring domain count of two (because only two different websites link to a given page on your website).

You’d expect to get a low referring domain count when you’ve focused your link building efforts on a single source website.

Why should I care about how many referring domains a page has?

It’s clear that the number of different referring domains pointing to your site is an important ranking factor for Google. In fact, Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz fame writes: “In our analysis of correlation data, no single metric has a more positive a correlation with high rankings than the number of linking root domains.”

Note: This citation from Rand is now almost two years old and if you read his later posts, he now also places significant emphasis on links from social media (a finding we can verify from our link building campaigns).

I think it’s easy enough to imagine why search engines would use the number of unique referring domains as a ranking factor. It’s not to hard to manipulate one or a few sites and gain a high volume of links, but it’s tougher to gain links from a variety of sources (especially respected ones).

It seems to me that engines like Google are looking for sites that are gaining link popularity in way that looks ‘natural’ and referrals from a variety of sites is an indicator of this.

Can I measure the Referring Domain count for specific Pages and Domains?

Market Samurai now offers two ways to measure a referring domain count:
1. Referring Domains to Page (RDP) – a count of the number of referring domains to a specific page.
2. Referring Domains to Domain (RDD) – a count of the number of referring domains to the domain as a whole.

I did a quick survey of 10 random keyword phrases based on the objects in my office (for the curious, I used Dog Training, Curtain Tassels, Flat Screen Monitor Reviews, Winnie the Pooh, Brother Printer, Lifespan of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Apple Power Adaptor, Burgundy Women’s Purse, Boot Cut Levi Jeans and Vanilla Ice Cream – and yes, the stuff around here is quite random!).

Interestingly, I observed that the RDP count (Referring Domains to the Page) fluctuated wildly. In fact RDP was often zero and generally showed little correlation to ranking.

RDD (Referring Domains to the Domain) however, was a far better indicator. Whilst it wasn’t the case that the search result with the highest RDD always had the highest ranking (on page optimisation is still critical), it was the case that even for the more obscure phrases, that in almost every case, the minimum RDD count to get on the front page was in the thousands.

It would appear from this sample set of phrases that you simply must have a spread of links from a number of different domains to be ‘in the game’ on medium to high competition phrases. The only exception to this rule was the ‘special case’ search result listings like Google images, maps etc.

Where can I see the Referring Domain counts in Market Samurai?

To see the referring domain count for a given page, simply go to the SEO Competition tab and tick the checkbox to enable “Referring Domains – Domains (RDD)” and “Referring Domains – Page (RDP)”. Here’s an example:

Referring Domains Example

For the super curious, it’s also worth getting a Majestic SEO account (a free account will do fine). You can then click on the little arrow next to the referring domain count on the SEO Competition tab. Majestic will then show a page showing how the referring domain count has grown over time (which is both cool that they know that info and I’d suggest also a gradual growth in links is also an indication of “natural” link growth).

How does this help? What should I do if I’m struggling to rank for a target keyword?

Before you worry about having a low referring domain count, my advice is get back to basics. Firstly, I check that your “on site” structure is right, for example, confirm that the keyword you wish to rank for is in the title tag on the page you wish to rank . Also check that the page has plenty of links pointing to it from other pages on your site. Finally, ensure that these links within your site include the target keyword in the anchor text.

Beyond the basics, you’ll basically need more links. If your domain as a whole has a low referring domain count, then I’d go for a general mix of links to both your domain and your target page from a variety of sources. If your domain already has a wide range of referring domains already, then I’d run a more focused link building program to the page you’re working on specifically.

How can I get links from a broad range of sources?

Building links is a topic I could (and probably should) devote a lengthy series of separate blog posts to, because there are an almost limitless array of ways you can build links.

Here’s a short (and very incomplete) list of the link building approaches I like at the moment:

1. Article Syndication – Syndicating articles to build links is still very much a staple for SEO’ers around the world. There are ways to leverage your efforts here to increase the ‘spread’ of the articles you write that can significantly increase the value from a single article and we’ll likely have more to say on this over coming months.

2. Get Social – taking the content you’re writing and pushing it out through social channels will get you links. You can both simply republish or promote content on your social media profiles and you can intentionally invite people to push the ‘like’ button etc. In recent blog posts where I ‘asked’ people to press the Facebook like button I got 10x the number of “likes” as when I didn’t.

The direct links you’ll create via Social Media will likely be ‘no-follow’ (and so not worth much) but it seems your presence on these properties is being watched by Google anyway. Plus, the flow on effect of being profiled in Social Media will gain you links both from relationships you’ll create and even from the scrapers that take this stuff and republish it.

3. RSS Feed Submission – This is a little techy, but it’s a lovely ‘do once, get benefits for life’ type deal. Here are the steps involved:

a. Create an RSS feed of your content in an Abstract form (e.g. publish only part of each content item or article). Be sure to include a link back to the full article in your feed.

b. Then take this abstract RSS feed and submit it to RSS Feed Directories like feedage.com (just do a search for “RSS Feed Directory” and you’ll find plenty of similar sites).

c. These RSS feed directories will then republish your content and include your link back to the original source. So every time you publish content you get an instant backlink.

Again, this is a little techy, so perhaps worthy of a full post on it’s own, but I’ve found this approach particularly helpful for large sites with lots of pages that aren’t being fully indexed by search engines. Remember, if a page isn’t indexed, it won’t drive any organic search traffic.

4. Forums – Find a handful of the big, high profile forums in your industry and get involved. Make sure you fill out your forum profile completely and put a link your signature file. Then, participate in the forum. Don’t spam the other members, but instead, help them out.

If you stick around for a while (or even better do some research at sites like Yahoo Answers), you’ll find that the same topics and questions get raised over and over again.

A great tactic is to prepare a list of common questions with answers and then watch the forums to see when these common questions get asked (an RSS feed is often available on forums which makes it easy to watch new posts being entered).

You can then swoop in each time there’s a question you can answer. Note, it’s best to put each response in slightly different words to avoid annoying users of the forum. It’s also OK, to say “here’s a short answer, I’ve written a longer post on my blog about it….” and then link back to your blog.

5. Being good at what you do – OK, so this isn’t really a link building strategy as much as a ‘how do to life’ strategy. In general, if you do good work, people will link to you. Particularly if you do good work and get in the habit of asking those you work with to give you link you’ll get some.

We aim to sell a good product and MarketSamurai.com has attracted over 2.3 million links without any formal ‘link building’.

6. Publishing content on your site – Again, not a traditional link building suggestion, but internal links are valuable. It’s simple maths that a site with 1000 pages has more internal link ‘juice’ to share than the site with 20 pages (you’ll also pick up a stack of long tail traffic by publishing lots of content).

Building more content on your site is a killer traffic strategy.

In addition to the above there are many other link strategies you can follow including Social Bookmarking (great for helping pages get indexed), directory submissions, begging (e.g. ask those you do business with to link to you), competitive research, where you use tools like Market Samurai’s link profile report to see what links your competitors have and see if the link source will link to you and much more.

So take a look now in Market Samurai and see what kind of referring domain profile you have.

Cheers

Ben

P.S. Like the post? I’d love you to share the love with a Facebook ‘like’ below.

P.P.S. For everyone following the Conversion series blog posts, don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten! The final post in the series will be out soon!