Link Quality vs. Quantity: Why Quality Always Wins

By Matt Zajechowski

Marketing managers and in house digital marketers are often tasked with building backlinks to their website. The main reasoning behind this is to strengthen the visibility of their website or a certain landing page in the search engine search results for keywords they are trying to rank for. Link building is still the most effective way to increase online visibility in the search engine results page according to an industry survey by Moz that can be seen here. But when it comes to link building for SEO, is more always better?

Link Building in the early 2000’s

In the past, a website with the largest number of backlinks pointing back to their site or a certain page on their site, would more often than not occupy the top position in the search engine results page for that keyword. This resulted in many websites building large numbers of low quality and non-relevant backlinks with the sole purpose of increasing the quantity of their backlinks. These low quality backlinks now cause more harm than good because they don’t add to the user experience within the search engine and can also result in manual penalties to your website that will completely erase your visibility from the search engine results page.

If you are feeling the pressure of increasing your online presence as quickly as possible you might be debating whether time is better spent building quality backlinks vs. simply increasing the quantity of backlinks pointed to their site. In a perfect situation, you could achieve both at the same time. However, this process takes time and focusing on relevant, high quality link building that actually bring users to your website and encourages them to engage and interact on your website is a much better strategy.

The Case For Quality Links

A case can be made that even a single high-quality backlink can provide much more value, both in terms of increased search rankings as well as increased referral traffic, than say a hundred low quality sites that provide no referral traffic and no boost in rankings. Even the value of a link from a high quality website can provide extreme value if that website has a large dedicated audience that will follow that link and engage with your website. 

These days Google’s algorithm is much more sophisticated in identifying the quality of a link.

How To Identify A Quality Backlink

Topical Relevance

This is the biggest factor in my opinion. Does the context of this link make sense? You want to ensure the placement of your link makes sense both to users and to search engines. Ideally the text of the content relates to the link as well the meta tags of the linking page.

Backlink Location

The backlink should have a “natural” location on the page, ideally in context. Links on the sidebars or in the footers should be avoided. The link shouldn’t look like it was “placed” but rather occurred organically.

Branded or Natural Anchor Text

The anchor text should not be exact match. It should appear naturally within the context of the page. Ideally it is a mix of branded anchor text with some long tail keywords. If you have control of the anchor text, it should incorporate the keywords you are trying to rank for into natural flowing content, rather than exact match. Be sure to avoid a pattern of repeated anchor text in your backlink profile if you have any editorial control.

The Link Source Is Trusted

The link is located on a website of authority within your industry/niche. Would users or search engines trust the information on this website to be credible?

link diversity

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The search engines want to see a well-rounded mix of different types of backlinks from different sources within your backlink profile.

Finding A Proper Balance

Your site should build up links naturally over time. Understand that the process should be ongoing and in many competitive industries, it will take time to see the results of your efforts. The search engines want to see your site grow naturally over a period of time. Some spikes in backlinks are considered normal, like if your business receives coverage in the New York Times. As a best practice you want to try and avoid spikes that would appear unnatural to the search engines. Most websites just don’t suddenly have 500 new backlinks appear overnight. Instead, focus on building high quality backlinks that guide users to useful pages/content located on your website. Search engines tend to place a higher importance on where the backlinks are coming from rather the overall quantity of links. By narrowing your efforts to building high quality backlinks, your business will avoid Google penalties and increase its visibility in the search engine rankings.