FocusON: What Makes a Good Link in 2013?
This month’s FocusON is Link-Building.
There is a lot of ambiguity in the industry at the moment about what constitutes a ‘good link’, and equally, what constitutes a ‘bad link.’ Google’s stance on the subject seems to be open to interpretation. I recently attended SAScon and even a meeting of some of the best SEO minds in the country couldn’t produce a conclusive definition. Nobody knows for sure how to build ‘future proof’ links. Maybe we shouldn’t be ‘building’ links at all anymore. I have even heard suggestions that links won’t matter in future. So I’m not going to try and sell this post as a ‘definitive guide’, just my interpretation of what makes a ‘good link’ and the signals I look for when assessing whether or not a website is a suitable target for my client.
Note: These are in no particular order.
Looking at the link profile of a site can give a good indication of its quality. There are a number of tools available to inspect the link profile of a site and everyone has their own poison, but the big hitters (which you are almost certainly familiar with, but I’m going to list them anyway) are Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO and Ahrefs. I find OSE and Majestic together give me enough data for most tasks, but for this purpose OSE on its own is more than adequate. Domain authority and linking domains are generally good indicators of the quality of a website, but they are not perfect so it is always a good idea to dig a bit deeper. A quick glance at the link profile can give you a better overview of a site. A good site will normally have a natural link profile with a diverse range of links from different domains, anchor text (50%+ branded), and follow and nofollow links. Good sites link to other good sites, so links from other high authority domains are a good indication of a quality website.
A good site will usually have a strong social presence, the two tend to go hand-in-hand. The number of ‘followers’ or ‘likes’ is often superficial and easily faked, I’m not interested in that alone. I look for engagement. An influencer should have a voice and be engaging with relevant people in their industry. A website or author that produces interesting, high quality, and relevant content is likely to replicate this on their social media accounts, and vice versa. Therefore it is a good quality signal.
Sometimes it can be too easy to install the Mozbar and just identify link targets based on their domain authority without even looking at the site yourself. This is a mistake a lot of SEOs make. Numbers only tell part of the story, you need to look at the site with your own eyes and use your own judgement. Is the content good quality? Is it relevant to you? Is it engaging? Is it evoking discussion in the comments? Is it being shared? Is it updated frequently? Can you contribute something of value to the site? Do they have any guest content on the site? If so, what kind of topics are they covering? Are they actively looking for guest posts (this is always a bit of a red flag for me)? Once you have been link-building for a while you can quickly pick up on these things and make swift decisions.
Authorship is the buzzword of the online marketing community at the moment. Google is pushing for content to be tied to verified online profiles and has even said that it will become a ranking factor in the future. Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, confirmed this earlier this year, saying:
Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.
Authorship allows you to verify that the content on a site has been written by a genuine person. If a website has good quality content written by an influential person in the industry with a large and engaging online following then it is obviously going to be a great place to approach. It also gives you a real person to build a relationship rather than a faceless email address.
Those are the main factors I look for in a good link in 2013, it may well have changed in a year’s time. I would recommend analysing all of the above points to gain a clear overview of a potential link target.
What do you look for in a good link?