Have you heard how high-quality links can help your SEO efforts? We can explain the quali-tea to you.

Let’s first understand backlinks. 

Links on one website leading to another website, or links on one page of a website leading to one of its other pages are backlinks. To clarify further, they can be inbound or external links. With the right backlinks, you will be able to reap significant benefits from your SEO efforts. 

Backlinks to your website on other websites are like votes from them to you. It signifies that they think your website is worthy enough for entrusting their visitors. 

But, beware! Not all backlinks are good for you. Some backlinks may even do more harm than good. 

This brings us to the subject of backlink quality. 

Backlink quality is the potential of a link to pass on link juice or link equity. You can evaluate backlink quality based on various factors. Not all the factors that may affect backlink quality will be present at the same time. Backlink quality may be high even if one or two of those factors are present. 

Backlink quality is not evaluated on a binary (either/or) system. Rather it is evaluated on a spectrum. As with most SEO stuff, there are no rigid rules and definitions for backlink quality. 

Nearly 30 years ago, with the advent of the Page Rank Algorithm, Google pushed forward the idea of ranking pages based on the number of links to them. Some years later, with updates like Panda and Penguin, Google shifted focus from quantity to quality of links. The main aim of the Panda update was to help users find more high-quality sites in search by reducing the rank of the low-quality sites. See what Google’s official blog had to say about it: 

Google's say on quality link over quantity

In the same blog, they also had this to say: 

The Penguin update seemed to have been introduced to combat link spam and the manipulation of links. These updates were later baked into Google’s core algorithm. Such updates finding their way into the core algorithm further reinforce the idea that the quality of backlinks is much more important than volume. You do need a high quantity of backlinks but never at the expense of quality. 

High-quality backlinks are inbound links to your website from reputable and trusted websites. These are contextual backlinks that can be followed by people as well as search engines that strengthen your backlink profile. 

Let’s take a look at some of the important characteristics of high-quality backlinks. 

Domain authority: A high authority domain in your field linking back to your page suggests that you have some worthwhile information on it. Generally speaking, this type of backlink can bring in more organic traffic to your website and pass more link equity. A high-quality backlink would ideally be placed on a high-authority, reputable, and trustworthy domain. There are however a few myths related to domain authority when it comes to backlinks. We will tackle these in the last section of this post. 

Relevance: A high-quality backlink is relevant to the topic of the page that is placed on and also to the lines by which it is surrounded. The linking site should ideally belong to the same niche as your site, or a closely related crossover niche – but it could also be a trusted, authoritative website that produces quality content on a variety of themes and subjects.

Unique: To be a high-quality backlink, it should be on a website that only has a few outbound links, rather than one that has a huge number of embedded links. Being one of the few embedded links means that your link is a valuable resource and that links are not being handed out indiscriminately by the linking site. The linking site should also not bear links to all your competitors’ websites. The backlinks present on that website should ideally be valuable information sources. 

Placement on the page: The backlinks that have the highest SEO value are the ones placed in the main content body of the page. In the case of guest blogs, a high-quality link would be a dofollow link in the main body of the article. As compared to alt text of a linked image, an image credit with a link will hold more value. 

Traffic: For a link to fulfill its purpose, visitors to the linking site need to click on it. The link should drive traffic to the linked site to be a high-quality link. Links in the ‘boiler plate’ section (especially footers) are rarely clicked by people, and therefore not valued by search engines like Google.

Anchor text: The anchor text of a link, provides further context about the linked page to the search engine. Quality links should be relevant, and descriptive of the page/topic that it’s linking to. There are different types of anchor texts that can be used. The important part for us, is understanding that you should have a natural variation of anchors. Excessive use of exact match anchors, would be unnatural, and you would be at risk of over-optimization. So a natural link profile would have a diverse anchor text profile.

So anchor texts can also be used to gauge the quality of a site. A spammy website would have an abundance of generic or exact match anchors for example (be it outbound or inbound links). It’s not always possible to control the anchor text that a linking domain is using (especially for naturally acquired links), but where you have some control, it would be prudent to use partial match anchors, or a mixture of anchor types to retain a diverse anchor profile.

Some other characteristics of high-quality links are that they are non-sponsored and the anchor text is not obviously commercial (should read naturally). 

Quality Vs. Quantity

The quantity of backlinks is important. But, as with everything else, even this quantity must not come at the expense of quality. 

But, link building is a long-term process. You will acquire more high-quality links with time, and by having a strategy, and constantly iterating your process.

At TLG, regardless of the tactic we use, the niche of the project and sectors we’re trying to build links from – we always have 2 major factors at the forefront. One is relevance, the other is quality. 

Like we said, quality is important, but when you’re in a competitive niche, you will still want to maintain quantity as well – as you need to attain a certain level of link velocity, and will want to close the link gap. 

So, we focus on white hat link building techniques – but try to maximize the efficiency as much as possible, by breaking the process down into chunks. We’ll streamline the template and outreach process with tools like Pitchbox, and we’ll scrape prospecting lists in bulk, so we have enough data to work with. 

But, after that, we have a hyper-focus on quality. 

  • Quality in terms of vetting the lists to cut out irrelevant sites. 
  • Quality in terms of checking the metrics of those sites, and intangibles like their “legitness”.
  • Quality in terms of sending personalized outreach emails that actually speak to the recipient, and enable us to build a relationship. 

And by essentially, building relationships at scale – we can then build quality links at scale.

Although Google has never brought out a list where ranking factors are expressly mentioned, through their announcements over time, we can clearly understand that links are still one of the top ranking factors. 

Webmasters and SEO experts understand backlinks play an important role  – however, many are confused about high-quality links and the factors that constitute them. 

To avoid the risk of penalty and to find out which links are more appropriate for you to pursue as part of your link-building strategy, you need to understand the levels of backlinks.

  1. Tier 3 – Low quality: The backlinks that go against Google’s guidelines and exist solely for the purpose of gaming the system are classified as webspam. These are at the lowest rung of the backlinks ladder and can get your website penalized. Some of the types of links in tier 3 are:
  • Comment spam.
  • Low quality paid links (e.g. SAPE)
  • Links in general directories.
  • PBN links or Web 2.0 links.

    2. Tier 2 – Medium quality: These backlinks have some value and are typically easier to achieve. Types of links that constitute tier 2 are:
  • Paid guest posting (Mostly rehashed content)
  • ‘Boilerplate’ links (Links in the header, footer, and sidebar)
  • Niche directories (as opposed to the general ones) 

    3. Tier 1 – High quality: The backlinks at this level are not easy to achieve. Your site needs to meet stringent quality requirements. Any link that comes due to organic link building from an authoritative and relevant source is good. 

Some types of tier 1 links are: 

  • Editorial backlinks
  • Relationship-based backlinks (Genuinely valuable sources introduced and identified because of a relationship)
  • Informational guest blogs
  • PR/Media links
  • Gov, Edu, Ac.uk, Mil links

With a deeper understanding of what constitutes quality links, you can ensure that your backlinks are up to par. Here are some ways to get high-quality backlinks.         

Submit your site to niche directories: In the days gone by, it was important to have your business listed in the phonebook. Now, more and more people are using the internet to find contact and other information about a business. In this scenario, your business will benefit from a spot in a quality online niche directory. Steer clear of link farms disguised as directories. Backlinks on good quality niche directories will get you visibility, some link equity, and traffic.

Pitching guest blogs: Craft good quality content and pitch it as guest blogs to reputable sites that accept contributions. In these posts, you can insert backlinks (with permission) to your pages wherever they are relevant and fit naturally. This is a really good technique if you’re trying to get your brand message across to very specific audiences.

Take advantage of broken links: When a user clicks on a link to a dead resource, it can eb a soruce of frustration. Google does factor in user experience and a negative one due to broken links has the potential to bring the page rank down.

Find pages that don’t exist anymore or the ones that have moved or been updated. The websites that link to these pages are likely to want to replace that dead link, if you offer them a similar resource. Although this strategy requires considerable time and effort (and may not be suitable for every website) it is an excellent way to build a stronger backlink profile. 

Niche edits: With niche edits, you can take advantage of aged pages that rank highly and get high amounts of traffic already. If a site responds favourably, you can insert a link with a few lines that add some value to the linking page. In return, you’ll get a dofollow backlink with considerable link equity due to the contextual relevance of the page.

Unlinked brand mentions: With Google Alerts or similar tools, you can find out which websites have mentioned your brand or website. This is an easy way to get backlinks. Your business or page being mentioned on a website means that they consider your resource or product worthy. You just need to coax them into turning that mention into a link.

Skyscraper technique: This technique, as the name suggests, is about building the tallest content skyscraper. You pick a high-ranking content piece that has a lot of sites linking to it. Then you develop a content ‘skyscraper’ that is more detailed and provides more value than the one with lots of links. Once your own piece is ready, you attract the linking websites with the lure of a better resource. This way you get editorial backlinks and attain a harder-to-compete-with position.

Original research: You can use your experience, expertise, and original research to your benefit. People are more likely to share and link to a page that is a valuable source of information. You can earn pure white hat backlinks with original research. If you can create a page with original research or evergreen industry statistics (and rank it as well), this is a very good way to earn links over the long term. Here’s an example. 

Example of earning white hat backlinks using originally researched content

Expert quotes: You could get insights from experts on a topic and assemble a post with the valuable information you gleaned. A post with expert opinions is more likely to be shared. You may get backlinks in blogs and articles about the topic. The contributing experts can also get links on your post and they are more likely to share it with their followers to, which can drive more traffic, and increase chances of even more links. 

If you’re an expert of your niche, you can also leverage PR platforms like HARO/Connectively, Featured and Qwoted, and try to get your soundbites in relevant publications. This is a really good way of getting links in some high authority sites.

Free tools: If you can create or invest in a tool that makes some tasks easier for the users, you could offer it or a lite version of it for free. This can potentially drive leads, and earn links quite easily. 

Ahrefs screenshot of a webpage positioned as a tool earning good number of backlinks

Leverage business relationships: You could ask your business partners, distributors, or suppliers to link back to your website. If you are a trusted vendor, or customer, you might be in the position to ask for a backlink. Since you have an established valuable business relationship with them, getting a backlink should be easier.  

Here’s an example of a case study on a recruitment platform we leveraged, to get a link.

Case study on TLG published on WeCP

DA and DR Myth Busting

The industry tends to measure the quality of backlinks through metrics like DA and DR. Moz created DA (domain authority) metric while Ahrefs created DR (Domain Rating). 

Both these metrics analyze the backlink profile of a website. While these metrics can be useful as predictors of site authority, depending on these metrics alone is not advisable.

Google and other search engines do not use these third party metrics as ranking factors. 

Myth # 1:  Only a site with high DA and DR can rank high.

This is false. Even a site with a DR score of a single digit can rank high for competitive keywords. It may be because of the sheer strength of the SEO and link building strategy behind it. In some cases, a handful of high-quality and relevant backlinks to a page can push it to the top of SERPs for a competitive keyword.

The important thing to note about authority metrics – while these metrics give some idea about the authority of the website and its potential to rank high, Google and other search engines do not depend on these metrics or factor them in, in any way – since they are merely predictive scores created by third party tools.

So even in the true sense of authority, a highly authoritative site (like Forbes or Amazon) can be outranked by a much smaller company – often if that smaller competing page, has the appropriate topical authority, or has served the intent of that keyword better. So it just proves that a link from a site you may deem as “low authority”, isn’t necessarily deemed “low value” by search engines.

Myth # 3: The DA and DR of a website are equal or in the same range. 

The DA and DR scores of a website may have huge discrepancies. Although these metrics are by reputable SEO tools, they won’t be the same or even in the same range. A website with a high DA score may have a shockingly lower DR score or vice versa. This is because these two metrics are calculated very differently. 

Ahrefs calculate the DR score, purely on link-based calculations. It is a fairly easy metric to manipulate – so a site with a high amount of spammy links could end up with a high DR score. 

Moz’s DA score uses a multitude of signals to calculate their metric, and is a much more advanced algorithm. Pre-2019, they used over 40 factors to calculate the DA score, however, with the release of Domain Authority 2.0 in 2019, this may have changed considerably. 

Myth # 4: The ideal or desired DA/DR scores are uniform across different industries and niches.

The ideal or standard DA and DR scores will vary across different niches. In general, a high score is considered desirable.

However, if you wish to compare and check, do so against the competitors’ scores in your niche, and not to other websites that belong to a different niche. 

This same principle applies to your link building campaigns. If you really want links from a specific sector because of the niche/audience-relevance (let’s say you want to get links from moving companies) – then you’re generally going to find that most of the sites within that sector, fall within a specific range of DA or DR.

And that’s generally because most of those websites will have much smaller link profiles, or will have links from lower authority sites. This makes sense, because its a sector dominating by mostly smaller to medium sized companies, they operate on a local, or maybe regional level, and probably are not highly active in the SEO and link building space. 

Compare that to B2B SaaS sites – these firms are so clued up about SEO, much of the industry has a lot of links, they have links from other SaaS sites, or sites like Hubspot, and generally speaking, that whole sector has a higher DA or DR score. 

There’s nothing wrong with this, and low authority ≠ low quality – its just that certain niches will follow certain authority trends.

Myth # 5: Only the DA and DR scores of authoritative and reputable websites are high. 

While the DA and DR scores of the most authoritative websites are usually high – low-quality and spammy websites can have high scores too as there are ways to manipulate them (they may use expired domains and black hat link-building techniques). 

For devising the best link-building strategies, consider these metrics alongside other factors. As is often said in relation to these metrics, take them with a pinch of salt.

Final Words

SEO strategy is more than just backlinks, but by knowing the principles that underlie what quality backlinks are – it should allow you maximize the effectiveness of your link building efforts. 

Support that backlink strategy with good quality content, meet the search intent of the users, and provide a good user experience, and you can’t go far wrong. 
And if navigating the world of link building seems daunting – contact The Links Guy, who can guide you through the process, and ensure you’re not just building links – but building quality links that drive real impact.