If you’ve been around SEO for a while, you know that Google doesn’t look at guest posts the same way that it did in 2014. 

You probably also know that in the SEO community, there are a few different opinions on what it takes to find a high-quality guest post placement.

Luckily, here at the HOTH, we’ve seen how content marketing and search engines have changed over the past 12 years for clients and constantly analyze our data.

We’ve worked with thousands of websites and blogs for guest posting placements. We know link building.

You could say that we know what makes for good link building opportunities.

That’s why in this article, we are going to cover 9 important red flags and criteria that we use when finding high-authority sites for high-quality guest posts.

9 Red Flags to Look for when Vetting Guest Posting Sites

You want your backlinks to come from good-looking sites that add value in Google’s eyes. The point is to show Google that you can be trusted and that you deserve to rank higher in Google Search results.

Here are 9 actual red flags and criteria that we look for when vetting a site from to consider for link outreach.

Metrics: Website Authority vs. Traffic

When it comes to good guest posts, Google is looking for links from sites that have established authority or organic traffic from Google.

The more quality links you have, the better your content (and domain as a whole) looks in Google’s eyes.

Google is very upfront with this.

One of the biggest things that Google is looking for when it comes to your backlinks is the authority of the linking site.

Here at the HOTH we use two of the most common metrics in the SEO industry: DR and DA. When ordering guest post links, you can select your preferred criteria

The minimum DR and DA requirement of sites that we work with is 20.

On top of that, each DR 20-39 and DA 20-39 placement must have a minimum of 150 traffic/month.

Guest Posts with a DR or DA of 40+ require a minimum of 500 traffic/month.


Because this prevents getting links from sites with artificially inflated authority that don’t actually provide any value for users. 

In other words, if Google is sending organic traffic to them, you can bet that a backlink from that site will be valuable in Google’s eyes.

What’s the difference?

Why do we use DR from Ahrefs and DA from Moz? 

Because they are such widely used metrics and are standard in the SEO industry when identifying authoritative domains.

DR is used solely to indicate the relative strength of your backlink profile.

DA is calculated using a variety of different factors. Some of the most important ones according to Moz are:

  • Age of the domain
  • The mobile-friendliness of the site
  • Quality of backlinks
  • Quality and quantity of unique content
  • Social share signals
  • Various on-page, and technical SEO elements

Both are relative metrics, meaning that the scores are based on how you stack up relative to all other sites.

Other metrics like TF/CF from Majestic can be helpful in a granular sense, but they don’t matter much to us when it comes to standalone metrics. Ultimately, we see Google is looking for established authority or established organic traffic and preferably, both.


Organic traffic is one of the biggest signals that Google likes a website.

Think about it. If Google trusts a site enough to send traffic to it and rank it, then it makes sense that a backlink from that site would look good in Google’s eyes.

We set a minimum requirement of 1000 estimated monthly organic traffic according to SEMRush when finding backlinks for our clients.


If you can find a site with established authority and organic traffic, you’re getting the best of both worlds!

A contextual backlink from a site that has a good track record in the eye’s of search engines and currently brings in visitors from Google provides maximum value. 

From thousands of campaigns on our managed service, HOTH X, we found that a mixture of website authority and traffic-based links is an effective link-building strategy. 

It’s also a great way to ensure a variety of different referring domains to your money pages.

This led us to experiment with stricter criteria…

We recently launched a tier of our link outreach service that guarantees a link from a DA 30+ and 5k/month minimum traffic site or a DA30+ and 15k/monthly minimum traffic site and the results have been out of this world!

Eye Test (How does it look?)

Look at the website. You don’t want something that has formatting issues or is not easy to navigate.

Spammy websites, forum sites, dead sites, all of them can often be eliminated with a general eye test.

That being said, keep in mind that the aesthetics of a DA 10 site will probably be different than the aesthetics of a DA 50 site.

Ultimately, you want an easy-to-navigate website header and well-organized sections on the website according to topic/niche.

Here is an example of a site that DOES NOT pass the eye test:

Too Many Ads

Nothing is worse than a website littered with ads. It’s a sure sign of a spammy site and doesn’t provide any real value to users or Google’s eyes.

Sites that are hard to navigate due to too many ads are a MAJOR red flag when looking for link outreach sites.

Here is an example:

Updated Content

How often is the domain posting new content?

If it’s a dead domain that hasn’t posted in over a year, it might not be the best choice for a guest post submission

The more content they post, the more Google will crawl their website.

Irrelevant site categories

If the site you want to guest post on has a variety of site categories about topics that are completely irrelevant to your niche, that’s a red flag. 

That being said, here’s a little secret…

General sites are ok!

If I run an eCommerce business that makes fishing equipment, Google isn’t looking for JUST fishing blogs to link to me. That might actually look a bit unnatural.

Let’s say there is a general online magazine that creates a variety of content for readers. 

If it’s an authoritative website in Google’s eyes, why wouldn’t I want it to link to my business? As long as content is well written and you are using proper anchor text strategies, it will result in a contextually relevant and juicy backlink

Do-follow vs No-follow

When paying for a backlink, you want a the followed link to be the most powerful.

Check out a few of the articles on the website. Use Moz‘ toolbar extension or any other extension/SEO Tools to check if there is a do-follow link within the article.

You can also use Ahrefs site explorer.

First, put the URL of the domain into site explorer

ahrefs site explorer example

Next, scroll down and click “linked domains”:

From here, you can select the type of link and see the total number of each type coming from this domain.

This is a great way to make sure that your link will be do-follow.

Additionally, you should confirm that your link will be do-follow with the webmaster when doing outreach.

Sponsored Tags/Sponsored Messages

Some websites have guest posts but with sponsored messages or sponsored tags on the posts.

In 2019, Google introduced the rel=”sponsored” attribute which identifies links that are sponsored content or promotional in nature. Think of it as a type of “no-follow” link

It’s basically telling Google that you’ve paid for the link and that it is promotional content.

There isn’t anything inherently bad about that for SEO purposes, but it doesn’t carry the same weight nor does it look as organic as a genuine guest post.

These sites will often mark all of their sponsored content with a “Sponsored” tag, which makes it easy to find:

image of sponsored content

Even if they don’t use the sponsored link attribute or use a sponsored tag, they might have sponsored messages before or after the content on their blog.

Any site that has a blatant “Write for Us” section is a red-flag.


If you’ve been in the Search Engine Optimization world for a while, you are probably familiar with this outdated marketing strategy

You can spot PBN’s because they just look spammy and unnatural which makes it easy to see that they are just churning content for the purpose of getting a link back to their other websites.

Many of these sites have a “Partner” section that is full of spammy links and walls of random text. Out of all of the backlink guidelines we have at the HOTH, this one is the easiest to spot.

Homepage and sidebar links are a HUGE red flag. Oftentimes they will be at the bottom of the page and link to completely irrelevant sites with exact match keywords. It just LOOKS bad.

No Forum-only sites

Forum-only sites are websites that allow anyone to create an account to become a contributor.

Let’s be clear, sites that allow you to create an account to see certain content is absolutely fine. It is only a problem if the site allows ANYONE to publish content.

Extra tips:

2 extra tips when you find a good opportunity for link outreach:

Make sure YOUR content is quality

In digital marketing in general, you need to have quality content

Keep in mind that big websites can get dozens, sometimes hundreds of guest blogging and backlink requests per week, so you need to make sure you are creating content that will actually add value to their website. Many of these sites have guidelines that you need to follow.

If I own a website, why would I want to litter my website with pages that don’t help anyone?

Do lots of outreach (and follow up)

If you found a relevant website that you want a link from, it’s not guaranteed that they will want your post or that they will even RESPOND.

We make sure to follow up ASAP with webmasters we work with if we haven’t heard back from them for a few days.

Check out our complete guide and for more information on how to do quality manual outreach.


There it is! We’ve shared our process of how we determine if we can work with a site for backlinks. Our team thoroughly checks each site to make sure they meet all of these guidelines.

It’s a lot of effort to vet websites for link opportunities and keep up with quality manual outreach at scale.

That’s why we’ve spent so much time building out our vetting and outreach process at the HOTH. Our team is full of experts at vetting websites and manual outreach for link placements.

Trust US with your link outreach so that you can know that the sites you get placed on will be quality.

You can sign up for a free HOTH account here.