What types of backlinks does your website have right now?
Are they high-quality links from sites with incredible domain authority – or are they more on the spammy side from web directories?
If you aren’t sure – you could unknowingly be doing damage to your website’s visibility on search engines (or unknowingly helping it – depending on the quality of your links).
That’s why it’s crucial to have an awareness of the ‘health’ of your backlink profile. You’ll also need to know how to distinguish between high-quality and low-quality backlinks to ensure you don’t wind up tanking your domain authority.
You see, backlinks have always been one of the most important ranking factors to search engines.
In the early days of SEO, link-building strategies were simplistic and relied on quantity over quality. A boatload of links pointing to a website was enough for it to soar to the top of the SERPs. Today, search engine algorithms are more robust and place more importance on quality.
Yet, a fierce debate still remains over whether you should focus on backlink quality vs. quantity, but which is right?
There are also a variety of SEO tools (such as SEMrush) that claim to point out ‘toxic’ backlinks for you – but are they reliable?
Read on to discover the answers to these two questions and many more in this extensive breakdown of backlink quality.
What Are Backlinks?
Backlinks are links contained on another page (social media, blogs, news posts, etc.) that travel to your page. In other words, a backlink is a link to your page from another page. An example would be a related blog in your niche containing a link to one of your web pages.
There are numerous reasons why another page would link to your page – such as writing a guest blog post or sharing relevant infographics.
Backlinks are desirable because they greatly influence your search engine rankings. A robust and ‘healthy’ backlink profile will work wonders for your SEO.
Why is that?
It has to do with the concept of domain authority (DA). Basically, some websites are more trusted than others.
The concept of ‘domain authority’ isn’t one penned by search engines. Instead, Moz first developed the idea as a way to predict how likely a domain is to rank in the SERPs.
As such, it’s crucial to know that domain authority is NOT a ranking factor identified or used by Google or other search engines. It is, however, a useful metric you can use to compare your website’s performance with competitors and to determine if pursuing a backlink is worth it or not.
A domain authority score ranges from 1 to 100, with the higher the score meaning the site is more likely to show up on SERPs. To calculate the score, the tool will take into account the quality and quantity of the links to the website.
Understanding domain authority
- 60 to 100. This is the ‘phenomenal’ score range and represents a website with high authority. These are the high-quality sites that rank high in SERPs and are desirable candidates for backlinks. If you can score a backlink from a website with domain authority within this range – your DA will rise as a result.
- 40 to 50. This is the ‘average’ range for domain authority. Websites with authority within this range are decent but not great. Backlinks from these websites aren’t too desirable, but they aren’t entirely worthless (more on that later).
- 0 to 40. This is the ‘abysmal’ range. If your website has a domain authority within this range, you need to do some drastic work on your search engine optimization. It’s also best to avoid obtaining backlinks from sites with such poor domain authority.
Do you want to know how your website stacks up? This FREE domain authority checker tool from The HOTH will calculate your score.
Dofollow and nofollow links
You’ll also need to familiarize yourself with dofollow and nofollow links in order to build a backlink profile. Both are ways of identifying links, so Google knows how to associate the authority of the website being linked. Here’s a simple breakdown of the difference:
- Dofollow links will help your SEO as they will pass on ‘link juice’ (shared domain authority) to your web pages. In other words, a dofollow link from a site with high domain authority will improve your domain authority as well. You should always ask for dofollow links during your outreach.
- Nofollow links will not help your SEO as they don’t pass on any ‘link juice.’ You’ll still receive a link that users can click on to travel to your site – but the link won’t impact your domain authority at all. When doing outreach to obtain backlinks, make sure to avoid nofollow links as they won’t help you.
Now that you know more about backlinks, it’s time to learn what determines their quality.
What Are High-Quality Backlinks?
The ‘quality’ of a backlink is determined by several factors – not just the domain authority of the website. Instead, there are five primary factors you should use to judge a backlink’s quality:
- The relevance of the anchor text (the text that contains the hyperlink)
- The quality and relevance of the linking page’s content
- The relevance and quality of the linking domain (domain authority)
- The location of the link
- The IP address
Believe it or not, each of these factors has a significant effect on the quality of a backlink. Let’s find out why.
How to write anchor text
A link’s anchor text refers to the blue underlined words that contain the hyperlink. Whenever a search engine crawls a page, it will read the anchor text to see if the destination URL is relevant to the page containing the link.
That’s why it’s essential to use relevant keywords in the anchor text to appeal to the web crawler.
Let’s say that you’re linking to a page discussing guitar picking techniques. In the anchor text, you’ll want to use keywords like guitar, picking, strumming, playing, and others. The more relevant the anchor text is, the higher the quality of the backlink.
Since the keywords listed relate to the page in question, it’s high-quality. Yet, if we used keywords such as banjo, drums, and piano – the backlink drops in quality. Make sense?
The goal is to create keyword-rich anchor text that pertains to the page it links to. Yet, you should avoid only using keywords as your anchor text, as that looks spammy and won’t get you far.
Instead, aim to create anchor text that checks the following boxes:
- Related keywords
- Your company or brand name
- Phrases such as ‘click here’ or ‘learn more’
Here’s an example of high-quality anchor text keeping with the guitar strings example:
As you can see, it contains all the ingredients of quality anchor text. It encourages readers to engage with it (click here), contains relevant keywords (guitar techniques), and includes the brand name (Peter Music).
Quality and relevance of the linking page
Beyond the anchor text, the quality of the page linking to your site also matters. Bear in mind that this differs from the domain authority of a website – as that metric is for the website as a whole.
So if your backlink is from a low-quality landing page, the backlink won’t do you much good.
You’ll want to pay attention to the quality of the individual web page that will contain your backlink. The most important factor here is that the page containing the backlink must relate to the content on your page.
Once again, you want to pass as much ‘link juice’ as possible from one page to another.
Pages containing your backlinks that relate to and complement your content will pass the most juice. It’s best to avoid pages that don’t pertain to your niche or cover related material – as they won’t pass much juice at all.
Lastly, you’ll want to avoid orphan pages.
Orphan pages don’t have any internal links directing to them from the parent site, hence the name. They don’t contain any of the domain’s accumulated value as a result – so they won’t pass much link juice to your web page.
Note: Besides avoiding getting backlinks from orphan pages, you should strive to ensure your website doesn’t have any.
You can use a website crawler and set it to uncover pages that have zero inbound internal links to see if you have any orphaned pages. If you do, be sure to add an internal link to them somewhere on your site.
Quality of the linking domain
You’ll definitely want backlinks from sites with high domain authority to ensure they pass the most link juice. Yet, DA isn’t the only deciding factor if a domain is quality or not. There are other factors, such as:
Its IP address
While the IP address itself doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of a link – it’s best to shy away from using backlinks from multiple domains all containing the same IP address. That’s because it’s a sign there might be a private blog network, and Google does NOT like those.
Also, IP addresses from Russia, China, and India tend to be spam-heavy and low-quality – so avoid them if you don’t do any business there.
Let’s say you score a backlink from a high authority web page, and it bolsters your backlink profile quite nicely. You’re as happy as a clam, especially when you score another backlink from the same domain.
Sadly, this backlink doesn’t seem to have the same power as the first. That’s because multiple backlinks from the same domain won’t have as much power as a backlink from a brand-new domain.
Its distance from a ‘seed’ site
Google identifies ‘seed sites’ as part of its PageRank algorithm – which are the domains it trusts the most.
During a search, the seed sites are where Google (and other search engines) will begin crawling websites. So if the domain is close to a seed site such as CNN (1 or 2 links away) – it will get treated with nearly the same level of authority. If it’s farther away (excess of 10 links) from a seed site, the authority wanes.
Those are the primary factors for determining the quality of a domain besides checking its DA outright.
The link’s location on the page
Lastly, the location of the backlink will greatly affect how much link juice it passes on. It may not seem like it, but certain sections of web pages contain more link juice than others.
A basic web page has a header, footer, right and left sidebar, and body content.
For a backlink to carry the most juice and contribute to your SEO strategy, it needs to be contained within the body content on the page.
I’ll state that again because it’s very important.
For a backlink to carry any clout, it needs to be in the body content of the web page.
It goes even deeper than that, though.
The location within the body of the article makes a difference, too. Links found at the top of a page have more value than links that appear near the bottom. That’s because search engines view links within the first paragraphs as the most valuable to the reader.
Beyond that, the number of links on a page also determines how much link juice your backlink will carry.
The fewer the number of links, the more juice each link carries.
So if a page has hundreds of external links, your link won’t carry much link juice at all.
But if you’re the only link on a page and it’s within the first paragraph, you’ll get the most link juice possible.
For this reason, it’s wise to avoid obtaining backlinks on pages that have hundreds of external links. Not only does it destroy the value for each link, but it’s also a sign that the page exists to sell backlinks – which will hurt your SEO more than anything.
Backlink Quality vs. Quantity – The Classic Debate
Now that you know how to identify high-quality backlinks, it’s time to address the big debate – which type of links are right for you?
Should you focus on obtaining quality backlinks, or should you go for acquiring a large number of backlinks instead?
There are a number of opinions on this issue, and each side has valid points, for the most part. While it’s true that quality does trump quantity in the eyes of search engines – there’s a serious catch.
Obtaining backlinks from high authority sites is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.
Is it worth blowing your entire digital marketing budget only for a handful of backlinks from sites with DAs of 60 and above?
Now granted, the traffic generated from high DA sites tends to be high commitment. That’s because the link is relevant and perfect for attracting your ideal client. That’s why it’s worth pursuing high-quality backlinks – but only to a certain degree.
Quantity has its place, too, if we’re being realistic. While backlinks from sites with DAs of 50 or below aren’t the most desirable – their value will add up. Still, you need to do your best to avoid spammy links, web directories, paid backlinks, private blog networks, and other ‘black hat’ practices.
In short, you should aim to build high-quality backlinks (more on how to do this in a bit) as well as build quantity with so-so backlinks. As long as you avoid bad backlinks, you should find success with this ‘best of both worlds’ link-building strategy.
What Are Toxic Backlinks?
If you use a tool like SEMrush, you may have noticed ‘toxic’ backlink markers during an audit. There are numerous markers that identify links as toxic, and it may cause concern.
It turns out that according to Google itself, the search engine has no concept of a toxic backlink. Sometimes SEO tools such as these make assumptions about search engines that don’t turn out to be true.
If a toxic backlink is causing you concern, you should know that it’s likely not doing any harm to your website. Even if it’s reading as hurting your DA – remember that it’s not a metric Google actually takes into account. Still, you can disavow the link if you feel that it’s hurting your ability to rank on a particular search engine results page.
What’s more important is to make sure that the referring domains are quality according to the criteria listed above. As long as the domain is unique with a reliable IP address and relates to your content – it should be fine.
How to Acquire High-Quality Backlinks Without Going Broke
All right, now it’s time to learn how you can obtain desirable backlinks to improve your SEO. The following techniques are cost-effective (mostly free) ways to get quality links – so you don’t have to worry about wasting your budget.
Create and share relevant infographics
Infographics are fantastic and informative visuals great for producing quality content. Plenty of web pages generate tons of traffic to view infographics containing current statistics and helpful information.
Nothing quite sums up the basics of a topic like a masterfully-crafted infographic.
The good news is you can use them to build high-quality backlinks, too.
All you need is Photoshop or an account on a platform like Canva. From there, create an infographic that relates to your niche. Going with the guitar example from before, you could create a guitar-shaped infographic that breaks down the different string gauges.
You now have a helpful visual that can help other websites in your industry, too.
With some polite outreach, you can request a backlink from related blogs to share your infographic. It’s a win for them because they get to use your awesome graphic – and it’s a win for you because you obtain a desirable backlink.
For it to work, you’ll need to create a list of related blogs in your industry that have strong authority. Once the infographic is complete, reach out to each site owner via email. To avoid sounding robotic, add a comment or two on their blog posts and what you like about them.
Engage in guest blogging
Another free and reliable way to snag backlinks is to write a guest post for a related blog or website. Once again, this technique will live and die by the quality of your outreach.
Do your best to find a group of high-authority blogs and websites in your niche.
Email the site owner and ask if they’re interested in guest blogging. You can write a guest post for them in exchange for a backlink and vice-versa.
It’s another example of a win-win for both parties, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a blogger that’s willing to do it. Yet, not every blog engages in guest posts for various reasons.
Here are a few tricks you can use to find blogs that enable guest posts:
- Enter keywords into Google such as guest blog, write for us, guest author, write an article, etc. That’s a sure-fire way to find blogs to write for in the SERPs.
- Find someone that writes a lot of guest posts and do a reverse image search of their photo in Google. That will provide you with a list of blogs they wrote for – so you’ll know those blogs accept guest posts.
Use the skyscraper technique
The skyscraper technique is a fantastic way to go after high-value backlinks. It’s taken the SEO world by storm recently, mainly because it gets results. It works by identifying high-ranking content in your niche (the tallest ‘skyscrapers’ in your industry) that has valuable backlinks and then outdoing their content.
How do you do that?
Well, read their article and identify all the areas it could be better. Is there a video or an infographic? Can you provide deeper insights or go into more detail?
Don’t skimp here; it’s crucial to create a piece of content that’s 5 to 10x better than the original.
From there, you’ll want to do outreach for each of its backlinks. Let the site owners know that you’ve created something better, and provide the link. Politely ask for them to provide an inbound link to your piece of content instead – and that’s all there is to it.
Closing Thoughts: Backlink Quality
By now, you should have a better understanding of what determines the quality of a backlink. Ideally, a strong backlink is one from a high-authority site that occurs early in the article. While that’s impossible to achieve every time – it is the gold standard for backlinks.
As far as quality vs. quantity, only aiming for backlinks from websites with astronomical DA won’t find you much success. Instead, you should aim for a balance of both high-quality backlinks and quantity from so-so backlinks (that don’t break any rules).
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