Checking how many backlinks there are to your site is easy. But determining the quality of those links, and making decisions about where to build links in the future? Not so easy. Today we’re going to pull back the curtain a little bit and look at how we score the “quality” of the links we build for clients, and how you can do the same in your own content marketing and outreach campaigns.
The number of links you had in your backlink profile once meant everything. There were people who could sell you hundreds of links at a time and it really could move the needle in the search results. That is no longer the case, as Google has updated its algorithm in order to combat this spammy tactic, and firmly encouraged businesses and agencies to concentrate on building great content and sharing it on high profile sites that are actually used by people (instead of just search engine spiders).
So now that “number of links” is less important, and “quality of links” is more important, how do you actually find the links you have? There are many different sites that you can use in order to find your backlink profile. An easy tool to use is Open Site Explorer from Moz. Just go to the site and you can enter in your own domain and it will return a list of your backlinks.
A backlink report in Open Site Explorer
But there’s more to this report than just “number of links”. There’s also “number of sites linking to yours”, which is a different metric again, because once a site has linked to yours once, each following link has diminishing value. Google cares more about the number of sites linking to yours than the total number of links. So once you have your report, filter it by root domain to see how many unique sites are pointing to yours. From here you can start scoring your links by quality.
Five years ago, if a marketing company wasn’t coming up with dozens or even hundreds of links in a month then they weren’t doing a very good job. Now if you build a content piece or share a story, and it earns 5-10 links from high profile news sites or authoritative niche publications you can rank very well for the topics the story is about. In this day in age you can also be penalized if you go after the easy links that did so much for companies several years ago. Stay away from directories and PR news blasts that are just for search engines that no actual people have ever read. It is a “smell” test of sorts. If it looks like something fake then it probably is. A good rule of thumb – if you can get a placement on a site by submitting it yourself, and there is no review process, then you probably don’t want a link from there. Likewise, if a site wants money for a link, it’s probably not a good one.
So if that’s what a bad link looks like, then how can you spot a good one? We’ve internally developed our own score to do just that. It’s based on the following factors.
It takes some of these other factors into account, but it can be a blunt object at times. Depending on your niche you can play with the following number a little, but in general sites with a DA of around 25 or so may not be the best target. Examples of these might be WordPress blogs, personal blogs, and lower tier niche publications. In the middle you have strong niche publications and trade sites, and higher profile blogs. These can be great targets because they’re highly relevant. At the top of the scale are your larger publishers – the New York Times, Business Insider, and so on.
This is also a good quality indicator. The larger a site’s following is, the more traffic you can get back to your site. And even though Google isn’t talking much about social signals impacting search results, there has been some research to support that it does exist.
Another important but more subjective judgment. This metric looks at some red flags to stay away from when looking at a site. “Write For Us” links tend to be an indicator of poor quality, especially if a site just publishes guest posts and doesn’t write any of its own content. Another example is a site that may pass the rest of the metrics but hasn’t had a new post or article in a long time (around six months or more).
To our client’s site or industry, this is the last metric we focus on. If our story is placed on Forbes or Huffington Post we’re not going to quibble on relevance since the site quality and DA are so high. However, sites in the lower DA ranges should be in the same category as the topic of your content. If you write a story about flowers you don’t want to get it placed on a site about car repair.
In the end, backlinks come down to quality over quantity. If you can get a lot of great links then great, but if you have limited time and a limited budget, then focusing on building a few good links will help drive more traffic to your site than a dozen or so mediocre links would. Building quality links is almost impossible without quality content. So check out our webinar to see what goes into making and pitching quality content.