The glory and frustration of SEO is that you can either specialize in one thing or be a jack of all things SEO. Link building and the ability to properly assess link value is often one of those “things” that is a specialization. If nothing else because you really have to like staring at tools and data.
Having said that, if you’re in the optimization or marketing industry, you’re eventually going to start looking for ways to build links for yourself or your clients’ websites. After all, SEO and link building go hand-in-hand. Like fine wine and fresh mozzarella.
Why Link Building?
If you’ve been in the business for awhile, you probably already know that links make the ranking world go ’round. As far back as 2013, Google has been talking about the importance of links to a site. But not just any links – quality links.
“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”
In other words, if content is king, then links are the messengers flowing back and forth across the Internet. The search engines pay attention to what site is linking where, whether those links are relevant, whether the linking site is in a good neighborhood, and many other factors. Those factors (among many, many others) are then used to decide whether your site is a good match to rank for a term.
With so much on the line, one can easily see that just any old link won’t do. Understanding how to define which links are better to target for your website can make all the difference in building a strong link profile, as well as a high ranking site. Let’s look at 5 factors to help you determine link value.
5 Ways to Determine Link Value
So you just spent $2,500 building fresh backlinks for your client’s website. You’re pretty confident that this will give your client’s website that much-needed boost. After all, the domain authority and domain rating of the websites you selected were pretty decent.
It should all work out, right? Well, not necessarily.
You see, even though Google has identified backlinks as one of the most important ranking factors out of a possible 200; the REAL VALUE of a backlink is still somewhat a mystery to the untrained eye. This means, that despite its surface-level appeal (good domain authority, domain rating, etc), a link might not be as good, or worse, even detrimental to your website’s health.
You don’t want to invest your valuable time and money and still be stuck on the 2nd SERP, do you?
Not all SEO campaign managers are aware of this and they operate under the illusion that all links are created equal, which is NOT true.
Hence, we’ve compiled this neat little list that highlights some of the most important factors that help you assess the real value of a backlink and make your future link-building campaigns a success.
Factors to assess link value
Now some links may be easy to identify as good or bad based on some obvious characteristics. However, some may be cleverly disguised. Let’s get down to the factors that will help you identify these links:
1. Page relevance and quality
Securing a backlink from a relevant website or domain is a given. By this, I mean the niche of the referring domain must be similar to your website’s niche.
Similarly, content relevance refers to the on-page content that contains the backlink to your website. The good news is that it’s easily identifiable. For instance, if you see a car insurance blog link out to a website in the gardening niche, then you should know that something is not right.
Page quality, on the other hand, refers to metrics such as domain/page authority and domain/page rating. These metrics are provided by SEO analytics companies such as Moz and Ahrefs. Additionally, you may also choose to include Majestic’s trust flow (TF) and citation flow (CF).
So, you’re probably thinking, “all I need to do is build a link from a website with a really high DA/DR and I should be all set?”
Well, yes and no. These ratings are sometimes be classified as vanity metrics. A high “score” simply means that a particular website has a good number of backlinks and is sourced frequently by other websites.
That is why you should focus on both quality and relevance. If need be, you should go through the on-page content to make sure there aren’t any red flags.
2. Link diversity – what is it and does it matter?
What if I told you that I’d get you a backlink from my website that has DA of 60+ and 200+ backlinks? You’d get pretty excited, right? Well, to be fair, anyone would.
However, it would be in your best interests to take a closer look at that backlink profile and check whether all my links are coming from the same source or from different sources. This is the classic case of a suspicious-looking backlink profile.
Let’s say my 200 links are coming from exactly 4 sources, with about 50 links each. That is exactly what a PBN (Private blog network) looks like, and it’s in your best interests to stay far away. Hence, you should try to find a more diverse backlink profile, where most of the backlinks are from unique root domains.
You see, links are like votes of endorsement; if all of them are from a single source, the link value isn’t all that great, right?
Now I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad or unethical practice. For all we know, all the links from the same domain could be extremely relevant. Thus, the link value is much higher. But most websites do not have a backlink profile of this magnitude, so, a lot of links from the same source are more likely to stick out.
So do yourself (and your ranking!) a favor and try not to get all your backlinks from the same referring domain.
3. About anchor text
As most SEOs know, anchor text is that clickable text you see in the content of a page. Google uses it to determine the context between the linking page and the destination URL.
Yes, it’s true that anchor text needs to be accurate and relevant so that you can signal to crawlers exactly where you’re directing the user. However, “overly optimized anchor text” may do more harm than good.
Wait, did you read that right? Being accurate is a problem now?
Well, let me break down the general sentiment over the anchor text. Half of the SEO community favors exact match anchor text as it’s more helpful for keyword rankings. The other half, however, prefers non-exact match anchor text to avoid Google penalties.
So what should you do? Well, as always, you should try to go for a natural-looking link profile.
That means some links will have an exact match anchor text, while some are more natural-looking. In the same way you do not want all DR 90 links (because it looks like you paid for them and didn’t earn any links yourself) because it’s all about striking that balance.
An unnatural rise in the rankings draws unwanted attention and ultimately, Google penalties.
4. Link location – Does placement matter?
Not all of these factors point towards a link being “good” or “bad”. Some factors simply point to a “better” link value.
Link location is one of those factors. As you know, links need to be placed somewhere in the body of the linking page. Ideally, these links should be as high up as possible, such as in the first few paragraphs.
Links higher up the page tend to be more valuable than links near the bottom of the page or in the footer. There can be a number of reasons why some link locations are better than others:
- Google may view in-content links better than links in the navigation because of relevancy.
- More visible links tend to get more weight than less visible links.
- In the case of multiple links pointing to the same URL, only the first link will transfer link equity.
Although not strictly a location issue, “more used” links tend to get more weightage than less used links. Google keeps track of the number of times a link is used and can determine value accordingly. Hence, if you do have this option, make sure you go for backlinks with optimal link location.
5. Organic traffic
A website with abundant organic traffic is perhaps one of the best signals for you to consider said website for a backlink.
As I mentioned above, DR/DA, etc can sometimes be vanity metrics and you need to factor in some other metrics to ensure the value of a link. Organic traffic is one of the most valuable ones.
Simply put, you want to earn backlinks from websites that have a healthy number of unique visitors per month. This is because the more people who visit the website/webpage, the more chance your backlink has of being clicked on.
If I had to choose between a 70 DA website with daily organic traffic of 1,000 and a DA 50 website with daily organic traffic of 2,000, I would most likely consider the latter for my backlink given that it meets the relevancy criteria.
Hence, always keep organic traffic as a priority whenever you’re determining the value of a backlink.
Of course, there a lot of other factors that will have an effect on the value of a link. Here are some that almost made the list.
No follow vs “do-follow” links
Given the choice, you should favor links without the Nofollow attribute. They can carry much more link equity that will in turn help with YOUR website authority. Of course, that doesn’t mean no-follow links carry zero value. Google has indicated that no-follow links are valuable in their own regard.
If a large number of backlinks are coming from the same IP address, then it might indicate a problem. Chances are that all these links are coming from a PBN (Private blog network) which, as explained above, has a tendency to get penalized heavily by Google.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine what the link value is to YOU. Not all websites have the same objective and as a digital marketing manager or an SEO campaign manager, you can use the aforementioned factors to gauge how valuable (or how damaging!) a link is for you.