Link-building: A case for Quality over Quantity

By Evolved • 2 October 2019 • 5 minutes reading time

If you’re new to SEO or managing an agency, you may find the concept of link-building overwhelming. Maybe you’re wondering what’s a more effective strategy – building lots of links or focusing on quality? Perhaps, you’re not even sure what constitutes a quality link.

Luckily, we’ve simplified the strategy of building links and in keeping with our determination to encourage and display best practice across all things SEO, I wanted to make a case for quality over quantity. Let’s start from the bottom, shall we?

Why Do Backlinks Matter?

A “backlink” is a clickable hyperlink on a website that leads you to another website when you click on it.  There are many factors that can help increase your search ranking on Google – with one of the main tactics revolving around building your ‘link profile’ (the number and quality of websites linking to your website).

One of the ways you can build your link profile is by producing high-quality content and having other websites feature this – of course, with a link to your website.

But why is this important, you ask?

Well, when a website uses your content and adds a link to your website, they are telling search engines that your website is offering something of value. Something worth checking out.

Essentially, Google views this backlink as a vote of confidence. Not only in the quality of your content but also your site as a credible source.

The Four Factors of a Quality Backlink:

Unfortunately, the link-building process isn’t as simple as having your content (and that all-important backlink) on a number of websites.

Instead, you should focus on quality rather than quantity, as some links are naturally more valuable than others. With this in mind, we have chosen the four main factors to consider when it comes to high-quality links.

Why not use the below to assess your current link profile?

The Domain Authority

Firstly, you can work out whether a website is high-quality by checking out the website’s domain authority. Otherwise referred to as a DA, this tool was created by Moz and essentially, indicates how effective your site is in terms of ranking naturally in Google’s search results.

Moz rates every website’s DA between 1-100. Naturally, the higher the DA, the more trustworthy the website is for search engines and readers.

For example, the DAs for the mainstream media are as follows: The Independent (93), Mirror (93), The Sun (93) and iNews (80), to name a few.

However, it’s also important to note that some industry-specific websites or blogs tend to have lower DAs and are more relevant. For example, these are three of the most popular construction websites in the UK, however, they have lower DAs than news websites: Building, Construction, Design (40), Builders Merchants News (40) and Building Products (34), to name a few.

Ensure that you have a good mix of high DA and relevant websites in your link profile, and scrutinise anything that is incredibly low as there is usually more than meets the eye.

Side-note: If you would like to uncover your website’s or an acquired backlink’s DA, evidently, I would recommend the creators, Moz. However, if you are after a free resource, you can also use SEO Review Tools.

The relevancy of the website

DAs can often differ depending on the industry, that’s why another ruling factor is relevancy. Quite simply, the more relevant to your topic/industry, the better.

For example, if you have a website that sells interior products, and you receive a backlink from a website that creates inspirational interior content, then a search engine would see this as a high-quality link, compared to if it had been on a website that offers tips about cars. This also applies to sections of a website, in particular, large news publications that cover pretty much everything, as the dedicated home or lifestyle section will be the best place to focus your efforts.

With this in mind, try and think about the websites and publications your target consumer is likely to read. Create content that is aimed at these websites and target publications. The approach is crucial and you can find out more about that in another recent blog post.

The Anchor Text

Anchor text refers to the clickable text of a link within copy and can usually be identified by being blue and underlined.

There are two purposes for anchor text:

1) To direct the reader to the relevant link

2) To inform search engines.

It’s important that the anchor text is natural in the copy and is also of relevance. No shoe-horning here, people!

If you have the option of deciding how the anchor text is displayed, you should try and include a relevant keyword or term that relates to your content, or if not, the name of your website. Whatever you do, avoid over-optimising this with aggressive sales statements, like ‘best interior website‘ or ‘cheap deals and offers‘, or text such as ‘click here’ as this offers little surrounding context for search engines.

Try your best to guide the journalist or editor on what the anchor text should be, as it can often be at the bottom of their priorities.

The Link Being Followed

Another factor that may be out of your control is how the backlink is presented to Google. Some people – mostly journalists – add a ‘tag’ to the backlink which gives Google more information about the nature of the link.

Last month, Google actually released a news update highlighting how the way in which they will be identifying the nature of links going forward.

There will be four types of ‘tags’ that can be added to backlinks:

  • Rel=”followed”: Essentially, this acts as a vote of confidence – as I mentioned earlier. This tag is telling Google that the backlink is of a credible source to follow the link through to the website – exactly what you need.
  • Rel=”sponsored”: This tag is used to identify links that were created as part of an advertisement, sponsorship and other agreements of a paid-basis.
  • Rel=”ugc”: This stands for User Generated Content and has been created for the basis of comment sections and forum posts.
  • Rel=”nofollow”: This is mostly used by journalists, and tells Google that they don’t want to ‘imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.’

You can find out what kind of link it is by right-clicking on the link and selecting ‘inspect’.

See Moz’s outline for a clear understanding below:

Moz definition of link-building criteria

Nowadays, it’s become a bit of standard practice for journalists to add a ‘nofollow’ attribute to all external backlinks. You’re probably wondering, why?

In the age of social media and digital publication, journalists have mounting pressures to increase traffic, social shares, and the amount of time spent on their publications, all whilst being pitched to by PR and SEO professionals every day. There are often guidelines at these publications that state links must not be added, as it risks users leaving their site, or nofollow must be added to avoid passing on authority.

However, whilst having a ‘follow’ backlink is ideal, ‘nofollow’ links are not necessarily a bad thing.

Just as Ruth explains in her recent blog post, when it comes to effective outreach/link-building, the phrase “if you build it, they will come” most certainly doesn’t apply and there should be no feeling of entitlement when it comes to the type of link secured.

Building Quality Links Takes Time

Unfortunately, there’s no easy route for building your link profile. It takes a long time and requires a very specific skill set. You need to be able to create unique campaigns and news hooks on a regular – which can be hard in such a fast-paced digital world.

That’s why it’s also important to have a proactive mindset and be able to adapt your campaigns after analysing the news, competitors and digital PR campaigns. It’s key to build actual relationships with journalists – even if that’s just by keeping an eye on what topics they cover and sending over any relevant research. All in all, building backlinks is hard work but worthwhile. You need to continuously improve.

Think about it this way: If Google was still interested in the number of links rather than quality, link-building would be easy. There’d be no real merit as you could just generate links from blog networks, and link directories, and even buy them.  The very nature of links in the algorithm would be a waste of time and resources. The industry was there before – it won’t be that way ever again.

Whatever you do, do not partake in any shady practices. They will not increase your search engine ranking in the long run, they could lead to a link-based penalty and they will by no means help you achieve your long-term strategic goals.

Recovering from penalties can take months, and, in extreme cases, even years. Instead, you should focus on building real, valuable and relevant links that are of high quality and meaningful to your brand.

It’s hard work. Every link-building campaign should be bespoke. Here at Evolved Search, we start from scratch with every client and corresponding campaign. There are no templates; just hard work, an evolving skillset, strong media connections and a real knack for knowing what journalists and readers want.

If you’d like to enquire about our award-winning approach to content creation, our go-getting Outreach services or our overall SEO offering, feel free to get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

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