One of the questions I get asked the most, both from clients and consulting, is "What makes a high-quality backlink?" To start, a backlink is an incoming hyperlink from another website pointed to a page on your website. You can get a backlink multiple ways, but usually, a website acquires links from referrals, business listings, or through other editorial links.
Think of it this way - your website's backlink profile is essentially your digital friend's group. Your "friends" are sites linking to you who are essentially vouching for your credibility and authority. When people hang out people or groups of people that are shady, usually that reputation rubs off. In the mind of search engines, backlinks are no different - if your backlink profile is filled with bad or spammy backlinks, then their reputation rubs off on your website.
It's important to review your website's backlinks every now and then, but it's also important to ask yourself questions when questionable backlinks pop up...
Is this Link Relevant to My Website?
"Relevant" means a lot of things to a lot of people. But for this question, relevancy falls into three categories:
The mindset here is simple: you want links from websites that are within your industry, speaking to a certain topic within that industry, and is served in a language that your target audience or customers speak.
If you're a air conditioning company in Chicago, you probably don't want a link about lawnmowers from a gardening site in Germany. That can be confusing not only to users, but to search engines. A link from a home repair website that is writing about the best air conditioning companies in Chicago would be a fantastic link to get, because it's industry, topically, and geographically relevant.
The best question to ask: "Does this link come from an article that represents my industry and business, ultimately helping those who click on it?" If it's a no, then it's probably not a relevant backlink to have pointing at your website.
Would I Trust this Site (That's Linking to Me) If I Landed On It?
No one can tell the signs of a trustworthy industry website like you. You know what certifications, articles, statistics and content are relevant and trustworthy for readers, so when you come across a site that's linking to your website that makes you feel uneasy, it's probably not a link you'd want. What you can do here is reach out to the website owner and ask for the link to be removed or consider disavowing the link if that's something you (get a SEO expert opinion here) feel needs to be done.
Does this Link Send Traffic to My Website?
While you want improved rankings and organic visibility to those users who are searching for relevant industry queries or keywords, you're ultimately in the business to get sales and to get leads. In order to do that, you need to get traffic to your website. One sign of a great, high-quality backlink pointing to your website is one that sends you quality traffic that engages and converts. What you can do here is check the date of the article linking to you, go to your Google Analytics implementation, set the date range from the post date to today's date, and goto Aquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Referral. Check and see if the site linking domain is listed and check the metrics of how the website's traffic is performing on your website!
Does Anything About the Linking Site's Metrics Make You Think Twice?
This takes a little bit more effort to research and also requires a bit of technical know-how, but taking a look at the metrics of the page / domain linking to your website can tell you a lot about how search engines view this website. There are quite a couple of quick metrics you can check to gauge the health of the website:
- Domain Authority - Quickly aggregates all of the domain metrics to give an overall ranking capability of the domain. The lower this number, the lower value it has in the search engine results.
- Page Authority - A metric calculated by looking at possible ranking factors (like the page's backlink profile) of the page. The lower this number, the lower value it has in the search engine results.
Now, these are not the only metrics, not by a longshot. But these two metrics can tell you how search engines potentially view a page or domain.
Are the Links from Directory Templates?
There was a time back in the day of early SEO up until the last couple of years where you could buy backlinks in bulk. Chances are if you had a SEO company or consultant, you ran into this issue or have what are called "directory backlinks". Bad directory backlinks are usually templated websites with a TON of links pointing to random websites with overoptimized anchor text. If you're not sure what I am talkinga bout, here's an example.
Now, there are such good things as good directory backlinks, and a good way to tell if they are good links comes down to relevancy. A great couple of questions to ask yourself include "Does having this link bring me relevant, quality traffic?" or "If search engines didn't exist, would I want this link?"
What you can do here if you find these bad directory type of links is reach out and see if you can remove the link (I'll say now this is pretty hard), or again, consider disavowing the link if that's something you (get a professional SEO opinion here) feel needs to be done.
Inspect URLs with Blatant Spam Words
A great way to check the quality of a backlink is to check the URL for blatant spam words. Usually a link that contains words or phrases that aren't relevant to your industry or content, then it's probably a spam page linking to you. Be careful, because these can quickly lead to manual actions if you have enough of them. Here's a great resource we created to help you remove a Google penalty!
Some of those words include:
The list is really endless. Plain and simple, if you see words in a URL linking to your website that contains any of the above words, or any obvious words that aren't relevant to your content or industry, then you don't want that backlink. What you can do when it comes to links like this is add them to your disavow file, but again, you'll want a professional SEO to handle this for you if you're not familiar!
Now, there is a solid chance that if you're asking yourself all of these questions, 1 by 1, that you may have a questionable link on your hands. One of the best pieces I ever got about a backlink from my former SEO mentor, "When you see a good backlink, you just know. When you see a bad backlink, you just know." This is very true advice, gut instincts matter, and sometimes data doesn't tell you anything you don't already know, but it's important to know that there could be links that are "iffy". If you're not sure what you looking at, ask yourself these questions above and you'll give yourself a clearer picture on what's a high quality backlink, and what's a bad one.
BUT! If you ever have questions about your backlink profile or need help from a SEO expert to gauge your website's backlinks, let our digital marketing experts take a look. Feel free to reach out today and we will get right back to you.
About the author
Joe knows what it takes to drive SEO results. He is an experienced SEO specialist who currently leads the SEO department and strategy at Marcel Digital.