Ask enough questions about how to build links and you’ll inevitably hear the answer that you should look for quality links. Just as inevitable will be a lack of explanation about what makes for quality in regards to links. So how do you determine which of several links is best? What are the signs that a link is worth pursuing? How do you recognize a quality link?
Quality can be slippery to define, since in many respects quality is subjective. What looks good to me may not look so good to you. Since Yuri has posted recently on Incoming links value factors, I offer his post as a somewhat different perspective from my own.
Factors In A Quality Link
Instead of trying to define in absolutes what a quality link is I prefer to think about some of the factors that would be included in an ideal link. Most links back to your pages will not have every one of these factors, but by understanding what to look for you can better decide which links might hold more value than others and when it’s ok to go after a link that may seem to go against common wisdom.
In no particular order I might look for the following:
- Links from related or topical sites – This site includes the topics of web design and search engine optimization. When I look for links I would prefer them to come from sites or pages on similar topics. I would prefer a mention and a link in an article about web design or seo than I would a link in an article about mountain biking trails in Colorado.
- Links from trusted sites – Trust has taken on an increased role in search algorithms. Much as with everything else in seo, links have been manipulated to artificially increase the perception of a site’s importance. TrustRank (PDF) is one idea in the battle against spam. Links from .edu and .gov domains may be seen as more trustworthy than a link from other TLDs. A link from CNN will carry more trust with it that a link from John’s Blog of Rumors. A link from a trusted site will bring more value than a link from an untrusted site.
- One way inbound links (IBLs) – Speaking of trust. When two web pages exchange links do they really think highly of each other or are they exchanging links to raise the count of their backlinks? Search engines likely place more value on a link that is not reciprocated. Matt Cutts provides the official Google stance in his Indexing Timeline post. It’s perfectly fine to exchange links with other sites. Regardless of how a search engine views the link if it brings targeted traffic then it’s a link you want, but if given the choice I’d rather not reciprocate most links.
- Links from authority sites – We all have friends with opinions and we all have friends who seem to know a little more about a particular subject than some of our other friends. You’d sooner ask your more knowledgeable friend when you have a question in their area of expertise. That friend is an authority on the subject. Websites too can be authorities. Search Engine Watch has long been considered an authority on the world of search. I’d rather have a link from most any page on the Search Engine Watch site than I would from the home page of a site brand new to the field. When your expert friend makes a recommendation you tend to listen more. Same thing for a website. When an authority site makes a recommendation a search engine will usually listen more than if lesser known and respected sites in the same industry had made the recommendation.
- Links with relevant anchor text – If you need to be convinced of the power of anchor text have a look at Google’s results for the search click here. A page from Adobe is likely the top result. That same page doesn’t include the text ‘click here’ anywhere on the page. What it does have is many other web pages linking to it with the anchor text ‘click here’. Ideally you’d like to get some keywords in the anchor text of the links pointing to your pages. You won’t be able to do this always, but you can sometimes. You always can in your internal links. It’s also part of what makes article writing a popular tactic for link building since you can control the anchor text within the article.
- Links to deep pages – Not all links should point to your home. They should point to the most targeted page for the given anchor text. It would make no sense for me to use ‘seo’ as anchor text in a link and point it to my design portfolio page. Your home page will probably get more links than any other page no matter what you do. It’s the easiest page of your site for most to link to and many directories will only link to it. When you have the opportunity try to link to deeper pages within your site.
- Links that are contextual – I can’t believe I forgot to add this one the first time out since it may be one of the biggest signs of quality for any link. Search engines love links that they find within your content. Contextual links are the most natural and should be the most relevant given they occur right in the middle of what you happen to be saying. They also tend to get clicked more often than links at the edges of your page.
The list above is hardly exhaustive, but it’s some of what I look for in links back to my pages. You shouldn’t expect to find every factor above in every link, but you can use the list to decide which of two links might be more preferable. If you’re thinking about exchanging links with another site at least do your best to make sure that other site is related to your site and carries some trust or authority. If a site won’t let you link to a deep page on your site see if you can write the anchor text for the link. If getting a link means getting no quality factors with it you may not want to spend the time getting that link.
Quality Is More Difficult To Get Than Quantity
One additional consideration is that quality usually takes more work than it’s counterpart. If a link is very easy to get it probably isn’t very high in quality. The DMOZ gets a lot of flack about its directory, but the reason being included there is coveted by so many is because it’s difficult to get a listing. The difficulty of getting in helps make the link higher in quality than a directory that accepts every site that submits.
Links in forum signatures are relatively easy to get. You sign up for the forum add your link and create some posts. You can build a rather large quantity of links through signatures, but given the ease in getting them they are probably not considered high quality by search engines.
Quantity is easy to replicate. Quality is not easy to replicate. We can all submit our sites to a seemingly endless supply of directories. So can our competition. If there’s a link that’s very difficult for you to get then it will likely be difficult for your competition to get as well. If you can work hard enough to get that link you’re a step ahead of the competition that hasn’t done that same work.
Articles have long been part of a link building strategy. Many see submitting articles to a site like Ezine Articles as a great way to build links. You submit an article which is related to the page or pages you link to and use relevant anchor text in those links. As people download the article and add it to their site you might build a quantity of links quickly.
Many articles submitted to article directories aren’t the best articles in the world. They typically don’t have to be. A better strategy for article submission would be to write a well researched and well written article and submit it to an authority site. It will be more work to write that article, but having those links on one trusted authority site will prove to be more valuable than having those same links on dozens of less trusted sites. It will also be much harder to replicate.
Quality can’t always be measured in absolutes and most of the time links to your web pages won’t include every possible quality factor you would look for. Knowing some of the factors that go into a quality link though, can help you create a better overall link building strategy and help you determine which links are more desirable. Quality factors can also help you see which links aren’t worth spending the time to get.
When thinking about quality links try to think of your ideal link and why it’s an ideal links. Think about the factors that make your ideal link ideal and think about the factors a search engine algorithm might consider important in a link. The more of those factors you can get in a link the more quality that link should have. Also look for links that are difficult to get. They will require more work and take more time to get, but they will be worth far more than hundreds of low quality links and they will be hard for your competition to duplicate.