Link building is one of the most powerful SEO tactics to improve rankings. But not every link is good for SEO. Learn how to identify the quality of backlinks in 6 simple steps.
How to Identify Quality Backlinks in 6 Steps
Author: Anastasiia Tatuiko, Content Writer
If done correctly, link building can be one of the most powerful ranking factors in SEO. In this blog post, we’ll break down the process and show you how to assess the quality of a backlink from a prospective website in 6 steps.
At first glance, it looks like an effortless procedure of simply choosing a target URL and accompanying anchor text – however, careless selection can cause a drop in your site’s visibility or damage its credibility. After all, the last thing you want is a link based Google penalty.
Before we dive into the various checks you should make when analysing the quality of your backlinks, let’s briefly look at the ambiguity that surrounds link quality in general.
Ambiguity Around Link Quality and What Is Known So Far
Every SEO and link builder should be aware of Google’s stance on it. The manipulation of a site’s ranking by purchasing, exchanging, and selling links is against Google’s guidelines and are known as link schemes.
However, not everything is as dim as Google makes it look. Google claims that you can pass a link with an added qualifying attribute <a> tag that is indicated on sponsorship, or you can simply create high-quality and unique content that naturally attracts readers.
Unfortunately, the guidelines proposed by Google are somewhat left unclear. It is mainly because their algorithm is unable to detect the intent of links, whether it is to influence organic traffic or actually to share unique content with readers.
When it comes to cross-posting or guest posting with no monetary exchange involved, Google’s representative John Mueller indicates that a nofollow should be attached to them.
Essentially if the link is within the guest post, it should be nofollow, even if it's a "natural" link you're adding there.
FWIW none of this is new, and I'm not aware of any plans to ramp up manual reviews of this. We catch most of these algorithmically anyway.
— 🥔 johnmu (personal) updated for 2022 🥔 (@JohnMu) June 13, 2020
And this has led to further confusion as such an ambiguous claim received backlash from the SEO community. There are always people who genuinely write unique and useful guest blogs and others who use guest posting to their own advantage.
Google is never going to reveal how sites are actually ranked, but their guidelines do provide some insights into how the algorithm operates.
This leads us to the conclusion that every SEO specialist has their own tactics and tricks when it comes to link building. If your technique has been tested over time and it works well for your business, chances are you shouldn’t quit them because Google finds them wrong.
How to Check the Quality of Backlinks: 6 Steps
It’s no secret that securing quality backlinks to your web pages increases your chances of climbing the SERPs. But apart from checking for topical relevance (which we’ll get to as the first check), there are many other factors to consider when analysing whether a backlink is good or not.
The theory teaches you the basics, but practice helps you understand and remember the process better.
So, we’ll walk through each step with a practical example.
Let’s assume that we have a UK-based eCommerce website that sells men’s clothes and that the prospect that we’re looking to get a backlink from is One Dapper Street, a fashion blog.
Oh, and we’ll be using Ahrefs (a great SEO tool) for this.
Here are the six essential steps that will help ensure that your backlinks are of the highest quality.
1) Website Relevance
When prospecting for potential link building opportunities, the first thing to look at is the theme or niche of the website. If the site covers topics that are completely different to yours, chances are that readers (and Google) will find the link to be irrelevant and unnatural.
The most important questions to ask yourself are:
- Would it make sense for this prospective website to link to my website?
- Is the content on the site related to my website?
If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then the prospective website is indeed topically relevant.
- Would it make sense for this prospective website to link to my website?
- Is the content on the site related to my website?
The answer to both questions is Yes.
The One Dapper Street blog is heavily focused on men’s fashion/skincare/lifestyle, making it a relevant and natural website to get a link from.
2) Determine the Site’s Organic Traffic & Keyword Visibility
You should be looking to get backlinks from websites that are not only relevant, but are also great in quality. In other words, they should have decent organic traffic and keyword visibility themselves.
You may ask questions like:
- What is the estimated number of visitors each month?
- How many keywords is it ranking for?
Ideally, you will want to get your anchor text posted on a website with high organic traffic so that you will receive a lot of visibility in return.
In general, you should focus on links with 500 monthly visitors (minimum). The more visitors a site has and the more keywords it ranks for, the higher the chance that those visitors will land on your website via the backlink.
Apart from organic traffic on a domain, you should also check the relevance of ranking keywords. The more keywords a site ranks for, the most visibility it has. It is especially helpful when the keywords are relevant to your niche so that the target audience has similar interests.
Linking your business to a site that is relevant in terms of industry, keywords, and has a high-traffic domain will result in a prosperous partnership.
To answer these questions for One Dapper Street, we’ll use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.
- What is the estimated number of visitors each month? – 1700 monthly visitors
- How many keywords is it ranking for? – 2100 keywords
If you are worried about targeting the wrong audience, Ahrefs lets you analyse the organic traffic by location and see whether you would reach the right group of people.
Click on Organic Search and refer to the table on the right which shows you which countries bring the most traffic to the site.
We can see that the majority of the traffic to this site comes from the UK and US. This makes it a good fit for our UK-based eCommerce menswear website.
To check the relevance of the keywords that the website ranks for, click on Organic Keywords in the left sidebar.
The keywords listed in Ahrefs are relevant to our target website and can naturally be integrated as an anchor text in a blog post.
3) Authority and Strength of Link Profile
The authority and strength of the link profile of your prospective website is also worth checking.
Ahrefs has a metric that measures just this, it’s called Domain Rating (DR).
Each website is given a score that runs on a logarithmic scale from zero to a hundred which means that the difference between DR 80 and DR 81 is much bigger than the one between DR 20 and DR 21.
In general, the higher a website’s Domain Rating (DR), the stronger and more authoritative it is.
One Dapper Street has a DR of 45, which makes it a linkworthy website.
Websites with a DR lower than 10 should be checked manually to confirm whether it would be valuable to your site. You would look specifically at backlinks, organic traffic, and the number of keywords ranking for the domain.
It’s worth keeping in mind that DR should be taken with a pinch of salt. This is because a website with a high DR score is not always better than one with a low DR.
For example, despite having a lower DR and ranking for less keywords, Sports Direct is bringing in more traffic than Urban Outfitters.
4) Number & Velocity of Referring Domains
Next, you’ll want to check the number, type and velocity of referring domains that the prospect gets.
Here are some things to look out for:
- Has the site gained/received a significant number of backlinks in a short period of time?
- Has the site gained a lot of backlinks from just a few publishers?
- Has the site gained a lot of backlinks from Web 2.0 sites i.e. blogspot.com.
It is necessary to examine the referring domains of your target site and see that the amount of backlinks has been steadily growing in a natural way.
We can see above that One Dapper Street has just under 700 referring domains.
The Referring domains graph shows that the site’s link profile has seen a relatively steady and consistent growth over the years. This suggests a natural link velocity.
If you see a massive spike in referring domains, that’s where you’ll need to take an even closer look by identifying where those links have come from.
To do this, click on the Referring domains report on the left sidebar and filter for New domains within your desired time frame i.e. Last 30 days.
If you spot that the majority of these domains have a very low DR or have low traffic stats, then it’s likely that the site may be problematic and you may want to consider disavowing it, or asking the webmaster to remove the link from the page.
However, in our example above, it looks like One Dapper Street has gained backlinks from some decent websites.
5) DoFollow vs Nofollow
There is a debate about what the perfect ratio for the number of dofollow vs nofollow links a domain should have. The consensus amongst SEOs is that there should be a lower percentage of nofollow links because they don’t pass any PageRank whatsoever.
However, it’s important to have nofollow links as they indicate that the site has been growing at its own pace, gaining links naturally.
Using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, you can check the distribution of dofollow and nofollow links on a website’s backlink profile. Scroll down on the Overview page and you’ll see these stats on the right hand side.
In this case, we can see that 77% of the backlinks pointing to One Dapper Street are dofollow, whilst 22% are nofollow.
This represents a natural distribution and is what you would generally expect to see.
6) Anchor Text & Link Placement
The sixth and final step on the checklist is to think about the anchor text (the clickable element of the link within the linking page) and placement of the backlink on the site you’re analysing.
The two questions you want to ask yourself are:
- Does the anchor text and link make sense in the context of the rest of the content on the page?
- Where has the link been placed within the page?
The anchor text used to link your website should be placed naturally within the content. If the anchor looks unnatural i.e. it is obvious that it’s been added for link building purposes, Google will pick up on it as it uses the surrounding text of the anchor to determine relevance.
Another factor you should dedicate your time to is link placement i.e where on the page does the backlink to your website appear on the page? In general, the consensus is that backlinks should be placed towards the beginning of the page as very few visitors are likely to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page.
As our fictitious eCommerce website doesn’t exist, we’ll look at an existing article on One Dapper Street to illustrate the points made.
- Does the anchor text and link make sense in the context of the rest of the content on the page? – Yes, the anchor text and link has been added naturally and makes sense within the context of the article.
- Where has the link been placed within the page? – At the bottom of the page, which is not ideal.
So, if you’re conducting an outreach campaign and you’re writing an article that will be published on another website, remember to ensure that the anchor text slots in nicely and that you include it within the few paragraphs.
Having gone through each step of the process the ultimate question you’re going to ask is: is One Dapper Street worth getting a backlink from?
Taking all of the factors into consideration, we can be confident that Yes, a backlink from One Dapper Street to a menswear eCommerce site would be beneficial.
It’s not the best or most authoritative website, but it has a solid set of metrics: growing organic traffic, with over a thousand people reading it monthly, it ranks for a good range of keywords and has a solid DR rating of 45.
Building links takes time and effort. But as mentioned before, if you do it right, the results will be worthwhile.
That’s why it’s super important to check the quality of your backlinks. If you neglect any of the steps, it may cause issues that will be hard to recover from. Therefore, evaluating backlinks is a truly time-consuming yet critical process you can’t skip. Remember, quality is always more valuable than quantity.
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