Joining David Bain for an episode of the Majestic SEO Podcast on using Link Graphs are Bill Hartzer, Julia Logan, and Silke Vanbeselaere.

Whether you are an experienced SEO professional or just starting in digital marketing, a Link Graph can be a powerful and intuitive SEO tool for link building and Digital PR that helps you understand your website’s neighbourhood.

Joining David Bain for an episode of the Majestic SEO Podcast on using Link Graphs are Bill Hartzer, Julia Logan, and Silke Vanbeselaere.

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Transcript

David Bain 

How should SEOs use Link Graphs? What are Link Graphs and why are they important for SEO? How do you see your Link Graph? And how do you incorporate the findings from Link Graphs into your SEO strategy? I’m David Bain, and those just a few of the questions that I’ll be asking the panelists on today’s Majestic SEO Podcast, so let’s get them to introduce themselves. Let’s start with Bill.

Bill Hartzer 

Hi, I’m Bill Hartzer. I’ve been doing SEO before it was called SEO, I guess back in the last century, which actually was the late 90s. I’ve done everything from on-page to Technical SEO and I’ve been in-house and I’ve been at agencies, I’ve run an agency, and for years I’ve been trying to get Majestic to create something visual like Link Graph and we finally have it!

David Bain 

And also with us today was is Julia.

Julia Logan 

Hello, I’m Julia Logan. I’m not quite as old in this industry as Bill, but I’ve also been involved in SEO since approximately 2000, and I now run a boutique agency called Zangoose Digital, and we mostly work with clients from top competitive verticals.

David Bain 

Superb, thanks for joining us, Julia. And third guest with us today is Silke.

Silke Vanbeselaere 

Hi, I’m Silke Vanbeselaere, and I’m currently the Senior SEO Account Manager at Diffusion Digital in London. I have been working in SEO for about 10 years, a bit longer actually on ‘all things network’. I’m really passionate about links, data visualization, and anything to do with it.

David Bain 

Superb, thanks, Silke. We’ve got a few people watching us live, so just a reminder that you can ask a few questions, and we’ll try and get to the question and involve what you say as part of the discussion. If you’re watching the replay or listening to the replay, just go to majestic.com/webinars and sign up for the next live stream, and hopefully you can be part of that. But for the first question, let’s go to Julia. What are Link Graphs, and why are they important for SEO?

Julia Logan 

Essentially Link Graphs are a visual representation of a site’s link profile, and also second and third tier links, however far you want to go, and Majestic shows up to four levels. So that is useful because it lets you visualize in a very compact manner, a load of information that could otherwise take you a lot of time to process if you’re just looking at the regular link profile records. It can also help you spot certain issues, it can help you spot some inconsistencies in the link profile, or anything interesting in the link profile of the sites linking to your target site that you’re examining, and so on.

David Bain 

Bill, anything you’d like to add to that?

Bill Hartzer 

Sure, I think that we go back to really the basics of links, because for years and even still now, a lot of tools still only report what we call the ‘first tier’ of links, which is actually just ‘who links to you’. So when we start to think about a Link Graph, and what are tiered links, we’re talking about the second tier of links, and the third tier, which means, okay, you have a link from one website or one web page to your website, what web pages are linking to that particular page that is linking to you, which would be the second tier. The third tier would then be who is linking to that page that is linking to you, and so forth.

We know that Google knows a lot about links and they can see all these networks and relationships and they know the topics of links and what websites linked to what website that then links to another and so forth. So once we start to open up this kind of view from space looking at down on all of the links, we start to get to the situation and where we’re a little closer of seeing what the search engines are able to actually see, and that’s not just one link that’s linking to you.

Julia Logan 

Exactly. People keep forgetting that the World Wide Web is actually the World Wide Web. It’s literally a web, and that is a really good visual representation of what we are dealing with, so you should always keep this in mind. It’s a web and everything is interconnected.

Silke Vanbeselaere 

I fully agree with that and I think also we have to keep in mind how Google looks at things. It’s not just the links that are pointing to all the websites, they are creating Knowledge Graphs. They are super big on connecting topics, sites, entities and concepts all together to try and advance all the time. So I think it’s a super useful thing to look at and think of on a macro level for strategy as well. But it can be dangerous too because it is a representation of something, and you can play around with that, and there’s different ways of showing Link Graphs. So I think there has to be some caution there as well.

David Bain 

Julia, I’ve just shared the social media thread that you shared with us just before we went live, do you want to share a few thoughts with the listener or with the viewer about what that is?

Julia Logan 

Back in May, I posted not only one, but actually two threads. One was a series of 10 Link Graphs of various sites, and I didn’t mention which ones they were and it was kind of low resolution views so you couldn’t really zoom in. And then I said to guess the network. So 10 Link Graphs, guess the network, and I gave people some time. And then after some time, I posted the explanation what was what. And the whole point of this was to demonstrate that what can look to some people like a network may not be that at all. So the view can be can be really, really misleading. And as Silke has just mentioned, you should really be careful about jumping to conclusions by just looking at the graph and thinking that you know what’s going on, because in most cases, you really don’t. You have to look deeper into the details. And like I said, it’s a useful visualization. It’s like a first glance, that gives you an idea of what you should probably be looking at further on. But it’s just the first glance, so just remember that it shouldn’t be the final step of whatever you’re doing.

David Bain 

So what are the conclusions that SEO is commonly come to that aren’t right?

Bill Hartzer 

Okay, one of the things is to look at your competitors and say, “okay, here’s a competitor that’s ranking really well, let’s look at their Link Graph”. When you look at it there may be what appears to be three, four, five, or even six Link Networks where 150 domains are all leaking to each other, and then you have a link from one site from that network that’s linking to you, and then you figure out that’s why this competitor is ranking, because they’re taking advantage of these Link Networks or PBNs or whatever you want to call it. And that is something that maybe Google is ignoring, but your first initial thought is that they’re ranking because of these PBNS, but that’s not necessarily the case of why they’re ranking.

Julia Logan 

If your network looks like a network on a graph, you probably shouldn’t be building networks. No network builder worth there money is building shit like that. Basically, a good network does not look like a network, a good network tries to be natural. So it wouldn’t really look that obvious on the graph. On the other hand, let’s say if your site is really popular and it’s ranking well in certain verticals, it’s almost guaranteed that your site will get scraped by all sorts of spammy scraper sites. So when you look at the graph, a lot of those spammy scraper sites will be linking to that site. At a glance, that might look like a really spammy, low quality network. So the examples that I’m giving in this thread, in many cases is an actual site that does have a number of sites connected with it, but they have a legitimate reason to be connected to it. So this cluster that we’re looking at right now, in the center of this graph, is different sites belonging to the same company, so they are there for a reason, for example, corporate sites of a large company that has different regional representatives in different countries, and they all have sites, and they are all linked to each other, and they are linking to the main site of the main company. It would look pretty much like this. It would all be interconnected, but they have an actual reason to exist and they have an actual reason to look like this. That’s a completely legitimate case.

Now, on the other hand, let’s not forget that we’re looking at the link profile of the entire site, and this is not the same as what happens when we are looking at the link profile of a particular URL. All those sponsored content sites that are appearing all over the SERPs right now, especially super competitive SERPs, like gambling, or some other verticals, what happens is if somebody offers placement of that content under, let’s say, newspaper, TV channel sites, on a non-exclusive basis, so basically, first come first served, whoever pays gets the placement. If somebody is actually trying to help that stuff rank, you would only actually get this on the Link Graph if you are examining that one particular URL, you will probably not see it most likely on the site wide Link Graph, because typically, this would be a pretty large site with a pretty large link profile. And this one particular URL getting all that artificial network booster links or something like that would just get lost in that graph and you wouldn’t be able to even see that.

David Bain 

What’s the quickest way to distinguish between a legitimate Link Graph and a private blog network?

Julia Logan 

There is no quick way really, you really have to go through those links and see what’s really happening there. That’s the only way really.

David Bain 

Silke, how do you use Link Graphs? And I believe that you also go beyond data visualization. So what does that mean?

Silke Vanbeselaere 

Yeah, for me, I think all the comments that have been made are super valid. And I see Link Graphs more as the data visualization to present a story to a stakeholder, whether that’s internally or externally, but you have to be in control of the data visualization. Like with anything else, you wouldn’t just share a massive table with absolutely everything to a stakeholder, you would have to refine that to make sure that you are telling and representing your story well. For me, the Link Graphs are just that, often at the end they can be used as exploration that I think they play a better part. At the very end, what I tend to do is the Link Graphs are based on something right, they are being calculated in the background by all kinds of statistics. And you can actually look at those, they don’t have to be super scary or anything. But you can look at those the way that Google almost would you will look at not just how many links sites are getting or giving away, but also where they are positioned statistically, in a network. It obviously depends on all the data that you have available or not. But it is something that you can then use to make, make sense of things on a deeper level, or decide on your strategy based on some of those metrics.

David Bain 

Do you have an example of a story that you managed to glean from a Link Graph?

Silke Vanbeselaere 

Some sites might not necessarily be the ones that have the most links or pages within a website, that doesn’t matter in a network, but they could have something called a ‘high betweenness value’. And that means that they are a very important site per page connecting different types of coherent other networks. So if lots of networks are linking to each other, because they’re in the same business or kind of topic, and then there’s a site that kind of links those to another network about a different topic, but kind of related, then that site would have a high betweenness, because you kind of have to go through that site to get to the other ones. And that can be an important for sites to identify, for whatever reason, maybe you want to rank for both sustainability and travel, and those websites can be connected, they’re also quite different, so identifying those websites to potentially reach out to or to create a partnership with is key.

David Bain 

Sorry, do you mean a correlation between the actual types of links that link toward sites?

Silke Vanbeselaere 

Yeah, this is a statistical metric of network analysis that calculates how important a site is, or a page or whatever a node in a network, and whether it is on the shortest path between many other websites, but it doesn’t necessarily need to have a lot of incoming links or outgoing links itself. It’s just an important pathway. And that the centrality calculates that really and shows that and it is often very different from the most popular site, or the one with the most backlinks.

David Bain 

And that brings us on to statistics. So what is it that an SEO needs to know about statistics if they haven’t really looked into the topic?

Silke Vanbeselaere 

Yeah, I think lots of people are a bit frightened when faced with that, but the thing is, lots of tools can do it for you. There’s so many SEO tools out there and there’s plenty of tools that are free out there that allow you to build your own Link Graphs of whatever data you have, for example, I use a tool called Gephi. And it’s very intuitive, really, it calculates the statistics for you, you will still need to have a quick read on what it means, for example, between the centrality and things like that, but it is available to you to explore the Link Graphs and data you might get from Majestic and actually use some of the other data points you get there to focus on what it is that is important to you and your strategy. You don’t need to just take the Link Graph that SEO tools presents you, you can use the data and create your own and look at the metrics behind the statistics.

David Bain 

Bill, you obviously look at some Link Graphs with tiered links in mind, how important is doing that looking at the different tiers?

Bill Hartzer 

I think it’s important, especially when it comes to smaller websites or business, where the competitors only have 50 or 100 links to their website. That’s a lot different and it’s maybe even easier to determine what’s going on when you’re looking at a Link Graph of a competitor or a website that has less than 1000. So one reason is they may a contractor or somebody in one particular city or town where this is their business, and they only really have five competitors in that particular town that does this one particular service, and they have 100 links. So when you’re only dealing with a small number of links it’s a lot easier to see those tiers, because you’re not dealing with hundreds or 1000s of links, or 10s of 1000s or millions of links. It’s a little bit easier and more important to see the tier two and tier three links, because you’re only looking at a small network, or a very small number of links in the Link Graph.

David Bain 

Julia, how often should nurse you’ll be looking at their Link Graph?

Julia Logan 

Maybe not a full blown formal link audits, but at least a quick check of your links is something every site owner or SEO should be doing every once in a while, as you might be losing links that are really valuable, that are giving you some serious advantage, and you wouldn’t even know it unless you check. Actually, links that you’ve lost are also visible on the graph, and that is one thing that it could help you quickly identify. You might start getting links from some sources that you didn’t know anything about. And that’s again, something that you can discover, I mean, sure, you could discover this on the link report as well. But if you want to go a little bit more visual than the Link Graph is a good way to do so.

David Bain 

Bill, how do you use a Link Graph to assist with your strategy?

Bill Hartzer 

One of my strategies is to look at the Link Graph and see not necessarily just that first tier, but focus on the second tier and third tier of competitors. Are their second tier or third tier links on topic? are they relevant? And are they links that you could potentially get? When we go back to the original PageRank algorithm, when you get some kind of trust or link juice or something that passes from one link to the the next, you can look at those second tier and third tier links in a graph and find out those more powerful links that are passed through one link to another to another. And it’s easier if you’re dealing with an industry where most websites have 100 or less links, or even a couple 100 links, because you can just highlight and moving around the Link Graph to see the URL, the Trust Flow, and so forth and potentially even the relevance just by looking at the link and the type of site it is.

David Bain 

So your link building strategy is to analyze your second, third and fourth tier links and attempt to get them to link to you directly?

Bill Hartzer 

Yes, that can be one strategy.

Julia Logan 

The problem with that is you can’t really tell which links on a Link Graph are topical and relevan or which ones are more important, and so on. Because yes, you could see some clusters of third or fourth tier links linking to a link linking to you, but you can’t really tell what quality those links are unless you actually go and look at the detailed reports. So this is a really, really, really high level overview. But Link Graph itself doesn’t really tell you which links are more powerful than the others. Well the graph doesn’t tell you unless you filter it, say, by a certain Topical Trust Flow, and just specifically build a Link Graph for that specific filter with that filter in mind. You wouldn’t even be able to tell that by looking at the default graph. So this is one caution to everyone who will go and look at their Link Graphs right now. Make sure that you’re looking in depth, not just at the very general Link Graph. Link Graph is a useful tool if you really know how to use it, but you should really be looking in depth.

Silke Vanbeselaere 

I think what Bill said earlier about the smaller websites, it’s a bit more intuitive there, but otherwise, my rule for myself is that if I can see it better in a table, I should use a table, because I feel like you can very easily start looking at these amazing, almost ‘spaghetti monsters’ and lose yourself completely in it and focus on something that’s actually not relevant. If it’s a small site, I think it can have some real value looking at them.

Julia Logan 

You actually see the URLs of the of the links that could at least give you an idea of what the site is about, at least approximately, and then if you see that there is a third level cluster somewhere, or like fourth tier links, go into that site, then you just open the link profile of that site, and then you explore in depth, and then you’re getting something useful out of that.

David Bain 

Silke, how do you actually build the confidence of the story that you’re trying to tell through statistics when you need to present what’s happening to someone in upper management or board level to actually make a decision about upcoming SEO strategy? How do you build that confidence?

Silke Vanbeselaere 

I think this is the same for all kinds of data visualizations, First, understand what it is you’re showing in your data. And secondly, keep it simple. For example, I’ve used Link Graphs of just internal links of your site, and I’ve used that to show that there was a huge issue with canonical links for example, by lighting up all the all the pages in red that had the canonical issue but. Keep It Simple, know what the issue is, or what’s not an issue, and what the positive is that you want to show and just focus on that because they are there can be so overwhelming, that actually you may know what you’re showing, but nobody else will actually understand what it is that you are showing. So data visualization, whether it’s Link Graphs, or something else needs to be to the point and simple.

Julia Logan 

Also, we’re talking about backlinks on the Majestic Link Graph here. But for an internal Link Graph, it’s much better to actually crawl the site and then visualize your crawl with a tool like Screaming Frog to actually offer an opportunity visualize your crawl and visualize the internal structure of the site. I think that is a lot more useful than using a third party tool that may or may not crawl your site entirely.

Silke Vanbeselaere 

Yes, I meant Screaming Frog because they have a crawl diagram, which obviously makes a lot more sense and I do like that for the internal links.

Julia Logan 

Absolutely. That is really useful, and that actually does help visualize a lot of internal problems you might have with the navigation, crawlability, and just overall connectedness of your sites.

David Bain 

I guess one of the keys is also knowing which domain to start off from to make sure that you don’t miss out to any of the more authoritative sites in your industry. So how do you make that decision where to start out from?

Julia Logan 

We do a lot of our own stuff, we are actually specialized in building bespoke private networks, not cheaty-PBNS, but high quality, bespoke private networks, where really, nobody can tell that this is a network because they don’t look like networks. So one of the sources of domains that we use sometimes, for the networks would be large authoritative sites, which are linking to a lot of industry sites. So that would be topical, relevant links, but some of the domains that they are linking to have expired. And that is an age old method of hunting expired domains, one of the first ones to come up with that. But knowing which one to grow, would really be beneficial. And you’re just kind of depending on what industry you are dealing with, you are either going off to the large known sites, which are linking to everyone else in the industry, or sometimes you are just going through the links of the other sites that you’re looking at, and then you spot something that looks interesting, and then you start crawling that and you discover that this is really the source that you need it.

Julia Logan 

Probably not!

David Bain 

Bill, would you be able to spot one of Julia’s high quality site networks, or not?

Bill Hartzer 

Most likely probably not because she does it the right way. The Link Graph can actually help you determine a lot of sloppy or poorly built networks, and fairly easily, especially if we’re dealing with websites that may have less than 1,000 links. Once you get over 1,000 links it’s much more difficult.

David Bain 

Are you seeing any significant changes in standard Link Graphs, nowadays, compared with maybe several years ago. I know that Majestic didn’t offer it 10 years ago, but you’ve got a sense of the types of links that tended to be common maybe 10 years ago, and has that changed significantly in terms of the types of sites that tend to link to each other?

Bill Hartzer 

No, I don’t think so. Even since the early 2000s people have always tried to manipulate links. The only change really has been that in the early days of link building, we were all focused on anchor text and tier one links. I think that especially in the past say, three to five years, people are buying a lot more expired domains, and I would say that I do a lot of things in the domain industry, and I have seen the prices of expired domains skyrocket. You used to be able to get a good expired domain five years ago for $100. Now, it’s $1,000, or more. The really good expired domains are now 10+ times what they were several years ago. People are building these networks, and they’re buying expired domains, and now they’re focused on tier two and tier three links and building networks, whereas years ago there was a lot of focus just on the tier one links.

Julia Logan 

The context for everyone who is listening to us and not really knowing what we’re talking about is that expired domains come with all those links pre-built.

David Bain 

Do you just 301 redirect them to the homepage? Or do you try and find every page that had a link pointing to it?

Julia Logan 

It depends, sometimes I cannot redirect, so I just resurrect. Bill was talking about the prices of expired domains. The problem is that you can get an expired domain for just the registration fee, even now, if you know where you’re looking for them. On the other hand, you get all those options with overblown prices which are basically useless from the SEO point of view. Something I wouldn’t even pay the registration fee for, but sometimes people are fighting for those domains, just because it has a high score for some artificial metric.

Bill Hartzer 

I’ve also seen that you have to look at the historical links of domains.

Julia Logan 

Yes! You should understand what those historic links are, and you should be familiar with how people used to build links back in the day. In many highly competitive industries the strongest links of domains come from old, authoritative human edited directories, that do not even accept submissions any more, but they are still live. And those would be the strongest, probably most valuable links of those domains.

Bill Hartzer 

You have to also be very careful with expired domains, because a domain will expire three or four years ago, and then someone will buy it, use it, and burn it by using it for a different topic. And then it will expire again.

Julia Logan 

You also need to look at why it has expired in the first place? Why did the previous owner drop it? You really have to carefully look at the history of the domain you need to research, including the link profile too. You need to research the history of what was on the domain. You need to research the history of the previous ownerships, how many previous owners existed, what they did and what periods of time and then extrapolate this. Wayback or something like does add the ranking graph if you are lucky enough to operate in the markets where the tools have enough history for those domains, which is not every single market English speaking markets. Most tools cover the ranking history, they have enough of keywords that the domain may have ranked for. But if we are talking about non-English markets, everything becomes a lot trickier. So you need to really audit like you would be auditing a client’s sites pretty much, and make sure there is no penalty because people register a new domain, only to discover that it has been penalized in its previous life.

David Bain 

Silke, do you have anything to add here? Is there any aspect of Link Graphs that from an SEO perspective that we haven’t really covered that we need to mention before we say goodbye?

Silke Vanbeselaere 

I think when it comes to these expired domains I would agree with everything that’s been said and the Wayback Machine which you can crawl as well, and then produce a Link Graph of that, which is probably what I would do there.

David Bain 

So to conclude, I think it would be useful to have a think about the future of Link Graphs and their continued importance as part of a successful SEO strategy. Obviously, we are now approaching a world of AI driven search results, so do they rely just as much on links and Link Graphs and understanding the relevance and authority of a site?

Julia Logan 

AI is not a search engine, AI relies on a search engine, as much as the search engines rely on links. AI uses the links as well. I like to say that we are not just doing SEO, not only optimizing sites for the search engines anymore, we are optimizing for everything, whatever the next interface might be. And that’s how you should be treating what you’re doing. Links are a discovery tool, essentially, whether for a search engine or for many other possible interfaces that we might be dealing with. Remember at the start we mentioned the World Wide Web? It is a web and everything is interconnected.

David Bain 

Bill, would you echo those thoughts?

Bill Hartzer 

Yes, just remember that the Link Graph is a starting off point, and it can give you some visualization maybe some guidance of where to start to look at other websites that are linked. But it’s not necessarily something that will give you the answer just by looking at it. You still have to do the additional research to really kind of dig in to really find out what’s going on.

David Bain 

Silke, what’s the next point after Link Graphs?

Silke Vanbeselaere 

We’ve all said already that looking at the data behind it, whether that’s in Majestic or other statistical tools, but I think another thing to really keep in mind is that it doesn’t end at the External links, right? When you crawl the website, all the links are the same in the ends, they’re all href tags, if you’re lucky enough that it’s not all JavaScript. But they run into internal links, they run into that graph. And that graph runs into a knowledge graph of connected keywords, content topics, and all of that. And I think we as humans look far too much at them separately, like these are the external links, these are the internal links, this is my content, etc, but it’s all interconnected, and I think AI is using it like that and will continue to use it more and more like that. So I’m looking forward to seeing Link Graphs that are even more interconnected and are kind of bringing all of that together.

David Bain 

Let’s finish off by asking all of you just to share one thing that SEOs need to do now to better understand Link Graphs and then after you’ve shared that tip, please share your name and where people can find out a little bit more about you.

Bill Hartzer  

Just remember that there are tools out there that are still traditionally showing just the tier one links, and Link Graphs are useful because you can delve into the tier two, tier three and so forth links and see kind of a little bit better of what’s really going on with the links and then like I said, it can help you as a starting off point to then dig in a little further based on what you see there.

I’m known as @bhartzer on socials, and I can be found at billhartzer.com.

David Bain 

Superb, thanks so much for joining us, Bill. Silke?

Silke Vanbeselaere 

I’ll be talking at Brighton SEO next week and talking about all things Link Graphs, how to make your own and I think that would be my advice as well. Try and understand them first before using them and before being kind of amazed at their beauty, and that what I’m hoping to show in my talk at Brighton SEO.

And I may be quite young, but I’m not very reachable online.

David Bain 

Okay, well go along to Brighton SEO, if you’re listening to this in time, otherwise, wait around for Silke to be more reachable online. Thank you Silke and we appreciate your participation here today. Julia?

Julia Logan 

My advice would be that there are filters in place and you can build custom Link Graphs to really slice and dice it to better understand what you’re looking at and that might be more useful than just looking at the default graph.

My agency’s website is Zangoose.digital and I can also be reached on Twitter @IrishWonder.

David Bain

I’ve been your host David Bain and you’ve been listening to the Majestic SEO Podcast. If you want to join us live next time, sign up at Majestic.com/webinars, and of course check out our other series at SEOin2023.com.

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