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A Quick Guide To The Metrics and Quality Signals To Use When Link Prospecting

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A Quick Guide To The Metrics and Quality Signals To Use When Link Prospecting

A Quick Guide To The Metrics and Quality Signals To Use When Link Prospecting

Do I Really Want a Link from that Site?

Penguin 2.0 rolled out on 22nd May and it seems to be one of the only things that the SEO industry is talking about.

There has been some great coverage here on SEJ, including the posts here and here.

As expected with Penguin 2.0 or 4 (if you are Danny Sullivan), there have been some big winners and some big losers.

Christoph C. Cemper, of Link Research Tools, has published a few incredibly detailed case studies on some of the biggest losers from Google’s latest penguin algorithm update, including the likes of, that attempt to show where they could have got their link building techniques all wrong.

Ultimately I think most of us are at the point where we know that we’ve got to be careful with anchor text and avoid shady building tactics, the days of automation and easy links are over.

In this piece I’m not going to talk about the specific types of links that I believe might work moving forward, Jason Brooks has already published a great article discussing citation type link building post penguin 2.0 that has a go at peering into the crystal ball that is SEO.

What I’d like to talk to you about is how to decide whether you really want a link from a website in the first place.

Some of the metrics and quality signals below are those that we use in house at UK Linkology for guest posting and blogger outreach campaign, but they can work just as well for other link building tactics.

What should we be looking for? What sort of metrics? What sort of quality signals?

Third party domain and page level metrics

Toolbar PageRank is a metric that I try not to put too much faith in, due to SEO people buying dropped domains with PR and re-launching them purely as link hosts and the fact that it’s just not updated very often. It is a reasonably clear trustworthy indication that Google has some trust for the domain. Just be sure to use this in conjunction with other metrics so as not to fall for an obvious blog network site.

What about Moz’s metric, Domain Authority (DA)? It’s updated more frequently and I believe it can give a more accurate representation of a domain’s authority. It is believed that Moz has a tougher time identifying spammy links than Google and thus DA/PA can be inflated artificially. You’ve got be careful. I use Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs and Majestic to get a flavour of the backlink profile to help me determine if this is the case.

Taking the above into account, these metrics aren’t perfect and I’ve yet to find any that are so they should only be used as a guide when making a selection.

Let’s use an example. If a great looking site with a big social following has a DA of 23, should you give it a miss? That depends on the other quality metrics

Others may disagree, but I say no. Use these metrics as a guide only.


There are a number of different things that you can look at in terms of content.

Does the site post good quality content? This is a subjective thing, but ultimately if you are in this game, then you should know good from bad content. Google publishes its guidelines here in relation to the Panda update that targeted content. There are also Google human website rater documents available if you are still struggling.

Do they publish regularly? This is key for a few reasons; first, it shows that the site owner is alive and well and enthusiastic about their niche, which is an indication that they are going to be around in a year or two (great for your link); second, it is likely that they have an audience, which means social sharing and engagement (which is great for your link); third, it keeps Google coming back to the site.

Is their content themed around certain topics? I think this is imperative due to the proliferation of blogs built purely for link building that publish everything from panic attack to teeth whitening articles. Clearly a site that publishes a broad range of topics is likely to have low quality content. If it has low PR or DA it should be avoided like the plague.

What about grammar and spelling or some sign of editorial process? Google looks out for this and so should you. Good grammar usually means decent content and it makes copy easier to read, meaning better user engagement. It’s just something to watch out for.

Rich Media? Good images and video that supports the content will improve reader engagement and encourage sharing. Google likes pages with a mix of media, so looking for a link on a page like this is a good tactic.

User experience

User experience (UX) is extremely important because if the overall user experience is poor, then visitors aren’t going to stick around and Google knows that.

In particular, there are two main things that I look out for: irrelevant sidebar or footer links and heavy advertising.

Heavy advertising (especially ads above the fold) is not only a big turn off for users but has been identified as a negative ranking signal by Google, something that Danny Sullivan discussed here.

Irrelevant sidebar or footer links often point to the use of some shady tactics. If the links appear in a blog roll, then this usually means the site owner is selling links.

Page loading speed is an often overlooked factor, but Google takes this into account. Give a site a few seconds at least before writing it off and be sure to check your own connection settings. You don’t want to nuke a site just because your ISP is playing up!

User engagement

A high level of user engagement is a great quality signal – it shows that people value what the site owner(s) and writers have to say.

This can be in the form of social shares, blog comments or the number of RSS subscribers for example.

That’s not to say that it’s not worth contacting a site with a low number of comments or social shares, because I’ve seen some huge sites with very few comments and very few shares.

This is just another set of signals to look for – think about the big picture.


Relevance is important, there’s no question about that so you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • “Is this website topically relevant to our site or our clients and their target audience?”
  • “Is it in a related industry?”

Let’s look at it from another perspective. Is the site likely to accept a guest post? That’s a question that a lot of people ask.

Now, this is a tricky one because some site owners display guest post guidelines saying that they accept guest posts when they’re not and other site owners state that they aren’t accepting guest posts on their site, but when you email them they’ll be quite open to the idea.

The way I think about it is like this, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” – so what’s the harm in trying? The worst they can say is no.

The important thing here is that you let site owners know that you’ve read the guidelines. If it says they aren’t accepting guest contributors, then you could try mentioning something like this in your email:

“Your guidelines said you weren’t accepting contributors, but I just wanted to double check to see if you’ve started accepting contributors again since the page was last updated? If not, that’s no problem, I appreciate your time!”

The three P’s

If the website in question mentions or links out to any of the three P’s (pills, porn or poker), then avoid these at all costs.

You don’t want to be associated with any of these types of sites, in what search engines consider bad neighbourhoods, unless you are in this business. 🙂

Selling links

It can sometimes be quite difficult to tell whether a site owner is selling links and therefore operating in breach of Google’s webmaster guidelines (I.E. selling links that pass Page Rank).

Although, there are a sizable number of blog owners that openly state that they do this on their website. If you see this, then you should blacklist the site and don’t contact them.

The only other way of really telling whether someone is selling links or not is by actually contacting them and waiting until you get an email back from them saying you can guest post on their site and get a followed link for $150 or something.

Again, black list anyone who offers this. Don’t even try to convince them not to charge you, it’s not worth the risk and paid links are on Matt Cutts’ hit list.

Matt Cutts issued another warning about paid links in a recent Webmaster Help video:

Old Skool black hat tricks to watch for

Through all of the link prospecting that I’ve done, it’s very rare that I’ve come across sites that I’d consider properly “dirty”, and by that I mean sites that use things like doorway pages, dodgy redirects and hidden text.

Despite the fact that finding these types of sites now is rare, they will occasionally crop up and it’s worth it to be vigilant. Links from these types of sites will only hurt you.


This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but what’s important is that you think about the big picture. Don’t simply blackball a site because it doesn’t have many social shares if everything else looks great.

I am a firm believer that you can’t just blindly approach blogs above a particular PR or DA without manually checking for quality and make sure sites are clean and not involved in any types of link spam.

If you do, then you’re potentially going to have a bad time.

As Google continues with the updates to its algorithm, we need to not only work harder, but also work smarter too. Understand that there is more to whether a site is worth approaching  than PR or DA.

What we also need to be thinking, as SEO’s and link builders, is not what’s working now, but what’s going to work in a few years from now.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

I understand what’s working now is important, but what will you do if Google decides to just pull the rug from under your feet at any moment?

Do you have any quality signals you would like to add?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


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Adam Connell

Founder at Blogging Wizard

Adam used to manage the content marketing efforts for brands earning well over 8 figures in annual revenue. Now he ... [Read full bio]

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