Link building is an important part of SEO but not all links are created equal. The more links you get, the better, however, higher quality links are more beneficial than lower quality links so in order to build links more efficiently you should aim to get higher quality links. Efficient link building is important to make the best use of your time and to catch up to your competitors quicker. It may even be necessary to seek higher quality links if you competitors are doing the same or to make your results harder for your competitors to duplicate.
Some of the factors that affect the quality of a link are:
- The linking website (the website and page the link is on)
- The link attributes
- How & why the link was created
- The link compared to other links
Don’t seek links from websites that look spammy or low quality. Ask yourself ‘would anyone find this website useful?’ If the answer is ‘No’ then steer clear.
The Linking Website
The factors that determine the quality of a website from a linking standpoint are the same as those that Google considers when trying to decide where you should rank for a given search:
- Authority, and
Links from websites and web pages that are both authoritative and relevant are the highest quality.
The calculations Google uses to determine a website’s authority are very complicated. Here’s a few of the things you can use to judge the quality and authority of a website:
- Does the website rank well in the search engines?
- Does the content look like it was written by an expert?
- Would you feel comfortable giving your credit card details to this website?
- Do you feel like the website has excessive ads?
- Is there a Twitter or Facebook page associated with the website? If so, do they have many followers and are they making quality posts?
- Is it an informational or commercial website?
- Is it a Government or Education website?
There’s also a few authority measures you can use to aid your decision about which sites authoritative. SEOmoz’s Domain Authority and Page Authority (available in Open Site Explorer) and Google’s PageRank – beware that PageRank is not regularly updated and Google has said that it should only be used as a rough guide.
There’s two types of relevancy that matter to local businesses, subject relevancy and geographic relevancy. The most relevant websites are those that are about relevant subject matter and are from or are about a relevant location. It is often difficult to get links from websites that are both subject and location relevant as these websites will often be your competitors. Therefor, you should seek out links of either type.
For example, if you owned a pizza place in Adelaide then the following links would both be useful for you:
A link from an American website about Pizza
A link from an Adelaide website about Adelaide businesses
You can gauge a website’s relevancy by reading the content and looking at the keywords they use in their titles, headings and page names. For location relevancy, look for suburb, city, state and country keywords and website extensions. Australian websites usually end in .com.au – these are more locally relevant than websites ending in .com or .co.uk.
The Link Attributes
The main link attributes that you have to worry about are
- Anchor text
- Follow or nofollow
- Link placement & context
The anchor text is the text that you click to follow the link. It is usually blue and underlined. Ideally the anchor text for your backlinks will be keywords that are relevant to your website and that you want to rank well for.
Sometimes you won’t get a choice of what the anchor text is but it it doesn’t hurt to ask the webmaster whether you can have the anchor text that you want.
Update: We now advise that you don’t go out seeking particular anchor text but rather let the linker decide for themselves. This will ensure you don’t end up with an unnatural anchor text profile which could trigger a penalty.
Follow or Nofollow
When you create a link on your website you can choose to make it a ‘followed’ or a ‘no follow’ link by adding the attribute rel=’follow’ or rel=’nofollow’. If you add the rel=’nofollow’ attribute to a link you’re telling the search engines that you don’t endorse that link and as a result it will be given no value for search engine rankings. If you add the rel=’follow’ attribute or you don’t add either then the search engines will count that as a trusted link and use it for calculating rankings. When you’re building links on other website you want to make sure that they are followed so you get the search engine benefit.
The link attributes are added in the HTML of the page and can’t be seen when viewing the page normally. To see them you need to press Ctr + U and look at the right section of the page. For example, the HTML for this followed link looks like this:
<a href=”http://www.wickedcowmarketing.com.au”>this followed link</a>
And the HTML for this no follow link looks like this:
<a href=”http://www.wickedcowmarketing.com.au” rel=”nofollow”>no follow link</a>
Most webmasters probably won’t know about no follow links so it won’t be an issue. If someone links to you with a no follow link its probably deliberate as a part of their editorial guidelines or something. There’s no harm in politely emailing them to ask if they wouldn’t mind ‘following’ the link though.
Link Placement & Context
The type of page the link is on and its exact location on the page also have an effect on the link value. The best links will be placed on a content page, usually an article or link list, within the main body of text, known as a ‘contextual link,’ and above the fold. This page type and placement usually indicates that the link is editorial which is what Google wants.
Link placement in other parts of a page such as the footer, sidebar or header usually indicates that there is some kind of affiliation or relationship between the linking website and linked website and therefore the link will be less ‘editorial’ and therefore less useful to Google as an indicator of quality and authority.
Other contexts and page types are even less valuable, including ‘blog comments’ and ‘profile pages,’ (1) because the links are self created and therefore not editorial (although there might be some kind of approval process which adds an editorial layer) (2) because these types of pages are often targeted by spammers which brings that quality of those pages and websites down overall (this has also led to most websites that allow self created links making those links ‘nofollowed’ by default).
Note: Above the Fold refers to the area of the page that is visible before you have to scroll.
How the Link was Created
The process for how the link was selected and created affects that value of the link. In most cases it’s impossible for Google to know exactly why and how a link was created but they can make an educated guess based on the type of website it is and how links are typically created on those websites (this is why the page type and link context are important, concepts which are discussed above).
What Google is really concerned with is whether there was an editorial process to approve the link before it was created. If there is no editorial process and the website will accept and create links to any website then a link to your website is not really special and is not really an indicator that your website is valuable.
Here’s a list of scenarios in descending order of the value of the links created:
- Links created by someone else, without your knowledge (best case scenario)
- Links created by someone else at your request or suggestion
- Links created by you and evaluated by someone else before being approved
- Links created by you and appearing without evaluation (worst case scenario, from Google’s perspective)
For a further discussion of the reasons that people give links see our article: linking reasons.
The Link Compared to Other Links
Each link is not valued individually but in the context of all of the links. If you have several links from the same website, they are worth less than if each link was from a different website, all else remaining equal. If all of your links come from one type of website, such as forums, then they will also be given less value. You should seek out links from a variety of different websites of different types for the best results.
Your website’s ‘link neighbourhood’ refers to the other links that appear on the same page as your links on other websites. If your link appears on a page with links to lots of spammy websites then that would be considered a bad link neighbourhood and your website would be labelled as bad by association.
When seeking out link opportunities, pay attention to the other links that appear on the page where you’d like your link placed.
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