We all know that all backlinks are not created equal when it comes to their relative SEO value. But given the sheer number of linking opportunities that are available, how can you even begin to determine whether or not a potential backlink is worth the effort or not?
If you’re new to the process of qualifying potential backlink sources, take a look at the following seven questions that you’ll want to as before pursuing a link building opportunity. By following this step-by-step guide, you’ll ensure that your efforts aren’t wasted on backlinks that offer no value to your website’s performance. You’ll become a link building champion in no time!
Step #1 – Does the link come from a reputable website?
The first – and absolutely most important – element to take into consideration when evaluating a potential link source website is its reputation. As you might expect, there’s a big difference in Google’s eyes between securing a backlink from a no-name offshore website that was created entirely for SEO purposes and a backlink from one of the top-rated blogs in your industry!
All of the following factors contribute to whether or not your backlink source is considered reputable or not:
- PageRank – As a general rule, sites with a high PageRank tend to be more reputable than those with low scores, though you’ll want to be sure to check both the home page PR and the PageRank of the specific page where your link will be located.
- MozRank – Similarly, the MozRank score (a proprietary formula developed by SEOMoz) attempts to measure the relative authority of a website according to its link popularity. The score is given on a scale of 1-10 and can be viewed using the free MozRank toolbar.
- Domain Authority – Also developed by SEOMoz, “Domain Authority” is a more complex measurement that takes into account over 150 signals based on Google’s search algorithms and SEOMoz-specific calculations. This factor alone can give you a good idea as to whether or not your potential link source is considered to be a reputable website.
- Site Design – Many times, you can gauge a sites reputation by simply looking at the caliber of its design. If it’s clear that the webmaster has invested in an aesthetically-pleasing, professional design, the odds are good that he’s equally as committed to running a great site.
- Website Traffic – Relative traffic volume can also give you an indication as to whether you’re looking at a reputable site or not. Generally, disreputable sites don’t maintain steady streams of traffic – giving you the data needed to steer clear of bad link sources.
Obviously, there’s a certain amount of “gut instinct” to be utilized here. As an example, you may find a website that’s young, but highly-regarded and growing. Though this type of site wouldn’t pass all of the qualifications listed above, it could still be a good opportunity that’ll provide continuing value in the future.
Step #2 – Does the link come from a website in a related niche?
Once you’ve determined that a potential link sources passes the reputation check, your next move should be to weed out possible backlinks that will come from sites in a related niche, as links from relevant sites tend to carry more weight in the Google algorithms.
Your chosen linking opportunities don’t need to be perfectly matched – for example, you don’t need to obtain links to your dog training tips website solely from other dog training tips websites. However, keeping things within your general industry (linking from a pet supplies website, rather than a tech blog in this case), will help you to get more value out of the links you’re able to create.
Step #3 – How many other links are found on the page?
Next, take your list of link source finalists and determine how many other links will be on the page where your own backlink will reside. In general, fewer is better – though the key here is to avoid sites that are obviously farming for links.
If your link will be the only one on the page, that’s great! And if you’ll be one of many that’s listed in a well-organized resource list that makes sense within the context of the website, that’s okay too. However, if the page where your link will live looks like a spam collection of randomly-assorted backlinks with jacked up SEO anchor texts, keep looking for better backlink building opportunities.
Step #4 – Where on the site will your link be located?
In addition, while you’re evaluating the number of links on your potential backlink source page, take note of where your link will be located on the page.
If your link will be contained within the editorial body content of the page, move on to the next step. But if your link will appear as a “site wide” link (meaning that it will appear in an area like the footer or sidebar that will be visible from every page on the site), move on – as Google has been cracking down on these types of links.
Step #5 – Is the link do-follow or no-follow?
Finally, if a potential link source has passed through all of the different qualification steps described above, the final question to ask yourself is whether or not the link will be appended with a “no-follow” tag that will prevent it from passing PageRank to your site.
Depending on where you build your links, this tag may be added to your link automatically, as in the case of outbound links that are built on popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. In other cases, webmasters will add these tags manually in order to prevent their own link juice from leaking away from their pages.
As a general rule, a do-follow link is better than a no-follow link, as the former passes on search value, while the later does not. Keep in mind, though, that link equity isn’t the only reason to build links.
Say, for example, that you were able to score a backlink from Google’s main blog – a site that formats all of its outbound links as being no-follow. While you might not get any link value out of the deal, you’d probably still get plenty of referral traffic from click-throughs back to your site (which might be even more valuable to your website’s bottom line than the equity of a single link would be).
In addition, it’s known that Google takes the number of no-follow links pointed back to your site into consideration in its ranking algorithms – even if these links don’t pass on any PageRank – likely because a backlink profile consisting entirely of do-follow links would look highly unnatural in the eyes of the search engines.
So here, again, it’s a judgment call as to whether you should go after a link that will be appended with a no-follow tag. If it’s going to be a hassle to get a no-follow link on an unknown site with small traffic potential, the backlink probably isn’t worth your time. On the other hand, if you have the opportunity to secure a no-follow link from a well-known site in your industry, go for it, as the traffic potential will likely overcome any lost PageRank value.
Though this entire process may seem lengthy, you’ll get the hang of qualifying link sources quickly with practice. Add this step-by-step procedure to your own SEO efforts, and you should see a corresponding improvement in your site’s natural search performance as the result of a happier, healthier collection of well-qualified inbound backlinks.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Microstock Man
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!