If you imagine the Internet as a giant, super busy metropolis then you should probably think of backlinks as roads that lead people to your website and to different segments of your online business.
In this scenario, backlinks are flashy highways that make it extremely convenient for people to get where they want to go. They help build exposure, relevance, and authority in search.
No matter which niche or market you operate in, or how big or small your operation currently is, generating links should always be a top item on your SEO checklist.
Links help search engines crawl and index your domain and pages. They are a major factor in optimizing your website for search and earning respectable rankings for your pages.
However, even though this is all true, not all links are created equal.
Every single link carries a different weight in the search engine’s eyes. Some of them have the power to distribute sweet link juice from one domain to another and thus influence the position of the latter in Google’s SERP for relevant keywords, while others either just carry traffic or, worst case scenario, send negative signals about your website and may even hurt your current positions in search.
When it comes to building links, there are a lot of different elements and factors to take into consideration here. Thanks to Google’s constant algorithm updates, the process of acquiring links looks quite a bit different than it did just a couple of years ago.
The rules of the game have changed and the list of factors that affect how engines will judge your links has grown significantly longer.
In the following segments of this article, I’m going to take a deep dive into the subject of link quality and all the signals the search engines look at today while determining the value of specific links and how much of an influence they should have on the current positioning of your website in search:
Anchor text plays a crucial role in determining the value of a link. For those who are not familiar with the term, anchor text represents clickable words or phrases that serve as gateways to different pages. Anchor text contains links and its main job is to contextually connect two web pages together, while giving users an engaging and precise description of the page and content to which the link behind the anchor will lead them to.
Apart from providing insight into the nature of the connecting page, anchor text also sends relevant traffic and brings additional value to the primary page. It creates a picture in the user’s head of what to expect from the connecting page.
After the Penguin update in 2012, the relevance of anchors has significantly changed. These phrases were no longer used just for encouraging users to visit other pages.
Anchor texts are now one of the more important SEO factors in weighing the value of a link.
The engines use them as indicators to learn more about a specific page that’s being connected through these clickable words and phrases. Anchor text provides Google, Bing, and every other search engine with the details they need in order to be able to understand what the linked site is all about, which keywords it should rank for, and how and where to position it in search results.
There are various types of anchor texts:
These are the standard types. Ones that are most commonly used across the Web. You can read more about every single one of them in our previous guide, titled “Every Damn Thing You Need to Know About Backlinks”.
There are no fixed rules for using anchor texts. There are no guarantees when it comes to boosting the traffic and relevance of desired domains and pages by strategical placement of your anchors.
You can link from one to eight words, it doesn’t really make a difference as long as you’re not constantly sticking to the same ones. The only thing you need to look after is the relevance of your anchors. If Google recognizes your efforts as spammy or misleading - you might get penalized.
Ahrefs did two studies on this topic. In their first experiment, they’ve looked at the influence of anchor text links in competitive niches on a sample of 51 keywords. The second one was a bit more ambitious, analyzing a total of 16k selected keywords.
According to their findings, exact match keywords still have an influence on top placements in competitive niches and the correlation seems to indicate that links with keyword rich anchors continue to help people rank well for their desired keywords.
It is in your best interest to comply with the guidelines and stay on Google’s good side. Even though there are no real rules regarding the location of the anchor within the text itself, practice has shown that you should never place them in the first/last sentence of the content. These particular areas have been proven to be red flags in the Penguin’s eyes, so it’s better to avoid using them.
The general advice is to place your anchors somewhere around your keywords. The closer, the better. Even though exact match still works (to a reasonable extent), you shouldn’t only pursue these anchors. Mix it up a bit. Try to think of phrases that you consider relevant for your business, and try to rank for them in search.
PageRank, or PR in short, is a mathematical algorithm used by Google to rank websites and pages in search. It calculates the quantity and quality of links leading to web pages in order to determine their overall value and authority, and it used to be a much more important signal than it is today.
PR operates on a simple principle: each link from one page to another, registers as a “vote”. The more votes you have, the better your page will rank.
But that’s not all. The quality and PR score of pages that link to your pages depends on the score of pages that link to them, and so on. The entire process is basically a cycle that examines literally every link that has been directly and indirectly tied to your page through link building or link earning.
The calculation seems a bit tricky at first, but it’s actually not. I’m not going to dive deep into the mechanics of PageRank in this article because it is not really that relevant to the main topic.
If you’re interested in learning how PageRank actually works, read this fantastic article by Ian Rogers. Ian did a great job of explaining all the elements and aspects of how Google looks at PR and uses it while determining how to rank pages in search.
PageRank uses a simple iterative algorithm. Google recalculates PR scores every time it crawls the Web. Even though that may be true, the world’s most popular search engine still favors older pages over newer ones.
When you think about it - it’s quite logical. A new page, regardless of its quality, doesn’t come with loads of quality backlinks, therefore it automatically receives a lower PageRank than pages with some history.
Of course, a page with zero links won’t be completely ignored by the search engines. It will get a small score of 0.15.
It’s not much, but it’s a start.
The PR formula also contains a damping factor, which focuses on the engagement of the page. This stops pages from having too much influence and authority.
As Mr. Rogers nicely explained in the above-linked article - Homepages get the most authority because they usually receive the biggest number of incoming links, a.k.a. votes.
Of course, it goes without saying that redirecting all of your links to your homepage is a bad idea with catastrophic consequences. Trying to abuse the PR calculating system by building an unnaturally structured site, will significantly harm your UX and expose you to a lot of serious issues.
A well-structured site will adequately distribute the PR value and help you earn more links organically. Strategic internal linking also helps your PR scores.
Even though there’s still a lot of controversy surrounding PageRank, the fact remains - PR still influences the value of your link. Google claims that PageRank still matters and that it helps search engines determine which are the most trusted sources for particular keywords and phrases.
So, what's the best solution here? What should you do to earn good PR scores?
If you’re interested in accommodating the PageRank part of Google’s algorithm, you need to do some grade A link building. Focus on quality instead of quantity and back your external linking with efficient internal linking. Be sure to frequently check the status of your links and remove all the risks and mistakes you have made in the process of acquiring new connections. Use the no-follow attribute correctly and make sure your site’s structure is nice and tight. Continue publishing high-quality content that attracts shares and mentions and you’ll be fine.
Back in the day, search engines were looked at as query tools. Their main job was to execute queries over text documents.
However, that all changed over time.
The creation of the World Wide Web changed the paradigm in many ways. First web search engines faced problems with the quantity of information they were supposed to handle. The databases were significantly larger than previously thought possible.
The early 90s technology wasn’t really up to the job. The search engines were expected to return information in a fraction of a second, which was quite a challenge for that time. There was a constant fear of frequent server crashes, which is why it was necessary to find a simpler way for the algorithm to process queries.
Relevancy wasn’t officially an issue back then.
It was a problem for the future.
In today’s world, search engines are no longer concerned with finding 1000 or more documents that together provide decent representations of the user’s intent. Instead, the task moved in a different direction: leading the user to the one document they seek.
Google, the world’s most popular search engine, runs on a powerful and sophisticated algorithm that helps it provide its users with amazing results. Among other things, Google now computes the “relevancy score” that helps it understand if specific documents are relevant to specific queries - in relation to all the documents in the entire database, of course.
The engine evaluates content based on the inclusion of individual keywords. It strives to improve search accuracy by understanding the user’s intent through contextual meaning. By focusing on concept matching, synonyms, and conversational (natural) language algorithms, semantic search transforms complex and rough data into responsive databases.
Semantic search provides the engine with better chances of giving users what they’re looking for. It helps deliver more accurate results.
More data, less spam, a deeper understanding of what its users want and need, more natural language - these are all things that Google focuses on while creating a better experience for everyone.
According to a study conducted by Backlinko, semantic search is what counts now and what will remain in the years to come. Google looks at how informative and how relevant your content is, and it will continue to do so in the future. Backlinko’s report also explains that long-form content usually ranks better than short-form content, and that this is probably because it provides a lot more detail and useful information to the users.
So, once again - powerful content is the key! If you want to create valuable links for your domain, they need to lead to intelligent and relevant content that brings value to your targeted audience. Be sure to only pursue the topics you know a lot about, which are relevant for your business.
Domain authority, a.k.a. domain rating, depending who’s talking about it, is a ranking factor that displays the strength of a particular website’s overall backlink portfolio.
The score ranges from 0 to 100. The higher you’re on the scale, the stronger the authority/rating you’ll have in search.
DA/DR is calculated by evaluating the number of linking root domains, the total number of links, and a couple of other things that the tools using these metrics (Moz and Ahrefs, respectively) are not too eager to discuss.
DA/DR doesn’t only rely on the number of high DR sites that link to a targeted domain. It also looks at how many pages these high DA/DR sites are linking to. Once again, it’s a process that examines all the links coming to and going from your domain.
The metric itself is often used to compare the “ranking power” of different websites and understand if the link from a targeted domain is worth pursuing. It is a great metric for selecting websites to build links on.
As a general rule, you should strive to build backlinks from websites that have higher DR/DA scores.
However, as Ahrefs’ experiments have shown, the authority of each individual URL has a much higher correlation with Google’s rankings than the authority of the domain as a whole.
Google’s own analyst John Mueller even confirmed this by saying that they “don’t really have a DA score”. You can read more about it here.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that, as a metric, DA/DR should completely be ignored. DA/DR can still help you figure out which moves to pull to improve your rankings in search. For example, a website with high DA/DR has a lot of sweet “link juice” to offer. It can easily distribute powerful signals to your domain and pages.
Domain authority, a.k.a. domain rating, depending who’s talking about it, is a ranking factor that displays the strength of a particular website’s overall backlink portfolio.
Even though Google now crawls everything, a lot of industry experts still believe that the pages which are higher up the site’s structure are more likely to get crawled.
This is just common sense.
The closer your page is to your homepage, the likelier it is to show up in search.
If your page is accessible from the homepage navigation menu, the link will certainly have a lot better chances to organically grab some traffic and even links.
Of course, manipulating your entire site structure for the purpose of promoting just one link is borderline insane.
As said above - if you try to manipulate Google’s PR calculation system, the search engine won’t like that. It will stomp on your rankings like Godzilla stomped on Tokyo. This will also significantly harm your website’s entire UX, which is a nightmare scenario in itself.
So, the main takeaway here is to play by the rules and try to figure out how to create and link to resources that are close to the homepage.
Understanding and using the difference between internal and incoming links strategically is of great value for your SEO strategy. In case you’re not familiar with the two, internal links are in-content hyperlinks that direct the visitor to another page on the same website, while the external incoming links are those coming from another site to the one you’re promoting.
Incoming and internal links come in many different shapes. They can be seen in forms of links that provide your site visitors with additional, relevant information (on and off your site) about the topic you’re talking about in one of your blog posts or landing pages, or anything along those lines - it all depends on what you’re doing.
Each type of link is important for SEO and it should have its own place in your digital strategy. If your goal is to boost your site and page rankings in Google’s search for relevant keywords, you need to understand how these link types influence the value of your domain and pages.
Among other things, internal links will help your visitors stay engaged longer on your website. These links are usually more accessible to the visitors and they increase the authority of the site and pages. Even though internal links can be used for many different purposes, they are usually utilized as CTAs (call-to-actions). They encourage visitors to learn more about a particular topic by clicking on the link which leads them to a sales page.
Your website’s visibility and rankings in the search engines can be improved by continuously working on your internal linking structure. If you tie your links to specific and descriptive anchor texts, Google bots will easily crawl your pages and understand your content. A web page that is easy to navigate and crawl will be indexed properly, i.e. become more accessible in the search.
Incoming links are quite different from internal links. For one, they are a lot harder to create. External incoming links stimulate website owners to reach out and build connections outside of other website owners in their industry. These types of links further improve the site’s credibility. Earning incoming links is a great reason for reaching out, winning new followers, and getting your content in front of the right audience.
Obviously, you receive different value from creating internal and incoming links. Even though Google looks at both while determining how high to rank your website and pages in search, high-quality incoming links still carry a lot more value and juice than the internal ones. A link from a site that’s not your own will help you much more than a link that you’ve created on your own domain.
However, not all incoming links are created equal.
When it comes to incoming links, you need to focus on various different elements before deciding to connect your page to an outside domain. Before reaching out and deciding to pursue your targets, you need to carefully assess the credibility of selected prospects.
Quality plays a huge role here
Connecting with poor-quality pages and domains will only hurt your reputation in search. Bad incoming link building usually backfires on people. If you want to earn a boost in rankings through your link building efforts, it’s of great importance to build your incoming links on relevant and popular websites.
Naturally, this is a lot harder than most people would like it to be. Credible sources demand top quality content in return for their link. They require something of value for their readers, something that’s on their level and in perfect sync with their current strategy.
There are a couple of ways to convince people to link back to your content:
Every single one of these approaches will help you earn quality links. It is always advisable to start building your external links on websites you know and trust. If the admins are already familiar with who you are and what you do, it will be a lot easier to convince them to publish your guest post.
Once you grab a link from those domains, it’s time to think bigger and search for quality sites that operate in the same niche or market as you do, or just have an audience made out of people that have potential to become your future followers and customers.
Searching for such sites manually can be a living nightmare. Luckily, our tool Dibz is there to help you find a staggering number of valuable linking prospects in record time, and Base is there to help you manage your links. Check our previous guide to see how Base can (almost) automate your external link building process!
This is a tough one. There are no genuine rules or bulletproof guides that will help you understand editorial integrity, nor learn how to successfully develop your own.
This is a total judgment call. Editorial integrity, a.k.a. editorial policy is basically a bar that websites set regarding the quality of content they’re interested in publishing. Popular websites value their audiences and they don’t want to present them with material that does nothing for them.
Google values user satisfaction more than anything else. The engine’s main goal is to provide instant information and trustworthy answers to the questions that people are typing in the search.
Once someone types in a query into the search bar, the engine will analyze all the indexed content that's relevant to that query. Then, it will examine how people have engaged with a certain page before finally passing the verdict on where to rank it.
Having that in mind, you need to prove to the engine that you understand this and that you’re committed to producing high-quality content. If you post a lot of nonsense on your site and link to domains that generate a lot of spammy, low-quality pages, your value will plummet in Google’s search.
Simple as that.
You need to set the bar high and only go for the gold.
Editorial integrity tends to create a lot of confusion and negativity. In most cases, when websites do a good enough job of making their editorial values transparent on a separate page on their domain, things go a lot smoother. Naturally, misunderstandings still happen, and people tend to get disappointed when their content doesn’t get published on a targeted site.
Another factor that has a lot to do with quality and relevance.
Just like I wrote under editorial integrity, Google values user satisfaction above anything else. If you do a good enough job of providing the engine with what it needs to continue to successfully serve its users, you're bound to get rewarded for your hard work and dedication.
Search engines love content, but they value context above everything else.
Google, and any other search engine, for that matter, does not provide recognition to a website that has links from sites that have nothing to do with their products or business. For example, a small cake shop should not really link to a car repair website. The two have nothing in common and they probably won’t receive any benefits from that type of link building.
Regardless of the type of links you’re pursuing, your actions in this department need to be part of a bigger plan. You need a solid reason for creating a specific link or piece of content. If you want to create a valuable asset on your own or someone else's website, you’ll be expected to put some work in.
That’s why most of us digital marketing professionals conduct frequent keyword analysis and reevaluate our own search traffic. We are always looking for those holes in the search that we could fill with our material and help the search engines provide users with what they’re looking for by presenting them with our page.
Your link building and content writing efforts have to be in perfect sync with each other, with your overall marketing strategy, and with what people are looking for in search. You need to produce content and pages that are interesting to your audience and the search engines as well. If you want Google to elevate you in the SERPs, it’s of great importance to provide the search engine with material that will help it satisfy its users.
The reason user engagement matters when it comes to calculating the value of links is because if a page is visited by a lot of people, who actually engage with it, Google will register that interest. It will start trusting it more and more, as long as the domain continues to keep a steady flow of traffic and user engagement.
So, having that in mind, your goal would be to create links on websites that can guarantee you traffic and engagement from their audience. Naturally, that is almost impossible in practice. You can use a variety of different tools to try to understand the overall engagement of particular domains, but you still cannot really know for sure how much traffic and activity you’ll receive from them until you’ve actually built the link.
That’s why it is of great value to first analyze your possible linking targets in a tool like Ahrefs. You want to know everything there is to know about a particular website before you approach it for a link. What’s its best performing content? What’s its DR? How many backlinks does it have? How many referring domains? What amount of traffic does it generate? - Basically, anything that could help you predict what you’ll get in return for your efforts.
If you want to check the overall engagement of a website, pop the hood up and start looking at your individual blog posts. If they rank well or get a lot of social shares - you’re on the right path. If their last couple of posts generated a lot of comments, and if users actually communicated with each other below the articles - that means there’s a legitimate chance of grabbing some sweet engagement.
Yes, of course, Google still looks at follow and no-follow links differently. As you probably already know, if you have read our 10,000 word-long article about backlinks, the “rel” attribute describes how much attention and value Google adds to a particular link when calculating where to place it in SERP for specific keywords.
In case you forgot what we have discussed about in our older guide, follow links count as points because they distribute link juice from one page to another and boost the PageRank of the linked-to sites, helping them climb up the ladder in Google search.
Contrary to them, no-follow links are not as valuable. They don’t really count as points, they don’t influence the page rank, nor do they help websites in any way by earning higher rankings in Google’s SERP for desired keywords. No-follow links have a different purpose. They aren’t completely useless. No-follow links can benefit your website in a more indirect way, like generating traffic
Regardless of the fact that your prime objective should be to create a steady flow of high-quality follow links from authoritative websites, it is also of great importance to diversify your backlink portfolio.
When it comes to Google, not all follow links are the same. Some of them won't improve your rankings at all, while others could even harm your site. Even though follow links are more valuable in theory, the foundation of every successful digital strategy is built upon a healthy balance of both follow and no-follow links.
Regardless of the fact that many industry professionals claim that text-to-image ratio is a legitimate factor that influences a value of a link, I don’t really agree with that.
At least not 100 percent.
The image-to-text ratio affects the overall value of a link in a more indirect way.
The number of images you decide to display on your page has a lot more to do with the users than with the search engines.
If you break a big chunk of text with nicely designed visuals - that could have a positive effect on your overall user satisfaction, and thus indirectly enhance the value of your link in the engine’s eyes through user engagement.
As I already explained above, user engagement is an important factor in this equation. If Google acknowledges that your pages are getting traffic and that people are actually interacting with your content - you will receive a boost in authority, and thus in rankings as well.
Research shows that images attract more people to content and help them easily digest the information that’s being laid down in front of them.
From that perspective, you could say that the text-to-image ratio has a genuine effect on the value of a link. If you overstuff your pages with images, people will get annoyed and leave. If you just upload a wall of text on your site, a significant number of visitors will probably get bored of reading your article and they will abandon it before they get to the end.
According to Ann Smartly, Backlinko, and a couple of other SEO professionals - link age is a legit factor when it comes to determining the value of a link. Meaning, older links have more ranking power than freshly acquired ones.
I don’t necessarily agree with that.
In my experience, age is just one of those background factors that could guide you in the right direction and indirectly help you pull the right move when it comes to building valuable links.
I see new pages outperforming old, crusty ones all the time.
So, speaking from what I’ve seen in my work, link age has no direct effect on the value of a link.
However, domain age is a whole different story.
Even though there are numerous blog posts and videos like this one from Matt Cutts where former Google employees or just people who are close to the company dismiss domain age as a legitimate ranking factor, experience has shown otherwise.
Trust is a big deal when it comes to calculating ratings. Google doesn’t trust all domains equally. That’s a fact. The engine uses a particular TrustRank in its algorithm that helps it battle spam on the web and arrange search results in accordance with how high or low they rank on the trust scale.
Meaning: The search engine favors domains that it already trusts. It places them above other domains in the SERPs for various keywords and topics.
Having that in mind, it’s safe to assume that a backlink from an older domain (a domain that Google is already familiar with) is more valuable than a link from a website that still hasn't made it to Google's trust list.
I have already discussed similar things in this article. This factor focuses on how relevant a specific link is for a website or a topic.
Website owners can leverage topical authority to improve their overall SEO efforts.
From an SEO perspective, this factor determines how trustworthy and relevant a link and domain is within a niche or market for a particular topic.
For example, the website of our other tool Dibz is a relevant source on the topic of link building and link prospecting. Everything we are doing in this department, we are doing to establish relevance in our niche and prove that our domain should be seen as an authoritative source when it comes to link prospecting and link building.
Reaching out to us with an article that isn’t really close to the topics we write about on our site is a bad idea. Apart from getting rejected by our blog editor, that kind of link wouldn’t do you much good, even if somehow you got it.
Topical relevance is just one of those microsegments that Google uses to judge the value and importance of particular links and websites in search.
For those who often get confused here, it is important to once again underline that topics and keywords aren’t really the same things. Topics are bigger than keywords. They are broader sets of ideas.
Working toward topical authority can lead you down a path where you’ll have to expand your focus a bit. You might find yourself in a situation where casting a bigger net of keywords could steer your business in the right direction.
The idea here is simple:
Basically, you’ll become a go-to resource in a particular niche, and thus your links will have more value on that topic.
If you run a website like Dibz and you operate in the same SEO industry, you need to chase your links on similar domains, if you want them to have any value. You need to create content and links within your area of expertise.
The most important part of any SEO strategy is to make it possible for the search engines to see the content and grasp your website’s purpose. If that isn’t possible, you need to pop the hood and take a close look at what’s going on under there.
Every modern web page is composed of the following elements:
Bots’ ability to crawl your website and pages
Bots’ ability to access and understand your content
Block critical rendering paths
The simplest way to resolve this issue is by providing Google with the resources it needs to fully understand your user experience. Of course, if you don’t have any technical knowledge, it’s best to leave this task to the pros and contact your developers to determine which elements should and should not be accessible to the search engine.
This one is pretty straight-forward.
As I wrote before in this article, Google is focused on providing the best possible experience to its users and it relies on a variety of factors to determine the authority and relevance of websites and pages it promotes in the search.
Google, and every other search engine despises spam and penalizes sites and pages that produce or intentionally link to it.
If you’re looking to create a valuable link, it has to be spam free. It has to be hosted on a good domain that doesn’t have any connections to sources that produce spam. The content needs to be good and the overall user engagement and satisfaction has to provide the engines with proof that your page is actually giving people what they have been searching for.
So, before you go on to create a backlink on a particular website, be sure to first thoroughly analyze it and look for “flags” that could serve as warning signs about the spam situation on a particular domain. Examine the domain link in Ahrefs or whatever tool you use to analyze the backlink situation of a particular site. There, you’ll have everything you need to know to determine if you should pursue a link from that site or not.
We have talked about this ages ago on our Four Dots blog.
Speed is a huge factor today. Well, it’s more of an indicator than an actual factor, but that still doesn’t diminish the importance of its role in this equation.
You can still get decent rankings with average page speeds, but if you want to get ahead of your competition in search, among other things, you need to prove to Google that you have the fastest vehicle in the race.
According to Google, the average time it takes for a mobile landing page to fully load is now around 20 seconds. Compare this with the 3 seconds it takes for the users to decide if they want to stay on your site or not, and you’ll have a better understanding of how the modern web works.
Page speed is super important for your SEO, but it’s even more important for your UX, conversions and overall user satisfaction.
It’s time to stop procrastinating and work on the load speed of both the mobile and desktop versions of your site. You should work on making your site as fast and accessible as possible. Also, if you want your backlinks to have any value, you should create them on websites that have at least decent page load speed.
As I pointed out numerous times before in this article, the top objective of all search engines is to provide people with an outstanding experience. Google, Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, and all other engines are focused on providing their users with what they want the very moment they start searching for it. Everything that makes it difficult for the users to access and consume the information they need is an immediate red flag in the search engine’s eyes.
If your page is taking ages to load, 9 out of 10 of users will get annoyed and leave it before it's fully displayed. Of course, search engines will almost immediately pick up on this, and they will push you down the search results because users aren’t getting what they need from your site.
Thank you for taking the time to read yet another of our massive blog posts on this site. I hope this article helped you better understand how search engines see and value links. I tried my hardest to explain all the factors Google, Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, and other engines take into consideration when ranking your pages in their search results.
As you can see from everything written above, certain themes appear in many of the listed factors on this page. Themes like: relevance, trust, and authority. My advice to you here is to always keep these elements in mind when creating internal and incoming links for your site. Always strive to provide something valuable, something that could be of general use and interest to the people who visit your website. Do your best to only pursue the topics that you’re knowledgeable about, where you have a legitimate experience to support your words.
Once again, thank you for your time. Before you go, be sure to check out our other guides on this site. Every single one of them contains information that we guarantee will help you take your SEO and link building game to the next level!
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