Finding & Earning High Quality Backlinks
Content and high-quality backlinks are the top two ranking factors, according to Google. A high-quality backlink comes from a trusted, relevant website.
Quality backlinks appear natural and boost the overall credibility of your website while helping you rank for more topics in your niche. Yet, according to Ahrefs, 66.31% of sites don’t have a single backlink–let alone high-quality backlinks.
In this piece, we’ll talk about the different types of links, which are most helpful for SEO, and how you can evaluate a link for quality. We’ll also discuss 5 ways to generate quality backlinks.
Different Types of Links
Not all backlinks are created equal. Some are valuable while others have little to no positive impact. When you do obtain a high-quality backlink from another site, you’ll want the “vote” that it gives, which means you’ll want a do-follow link. In other cases, a no-follow link is acceptable or even preferable, such as one found in a press release.
Let’s take a look at the different types of links so you can determine which would be applicable.
- Do-follow. This means it’s ok for search engines to count the link as a “vote” for your website. Essentially, this is just a typical link.
- No-follow. For people reading your content, this looks no different from a do-follow link. However, for the bots crawling your site, this has a special attribute that tells the bots not to count it as a vote for your site.
- UGC. User-generated content (or UGC) links are those posted by other users–typically in an online forum–that point back to your website. Because these links are posted by other users and not the author of the webpage, the author of the webpage may not want search engine bots mistakenly thinking it’s an endorsement. Thus, UGC links often have a no-follow attribute associated with them.
- Sponsored. Sponsored links are placed on a website as a result of payment being received for that link’s inclusion. Therefore, they should not count as a vote by the “referring” website.
Which Type is Most Helpful for SEO Strategies?
For SEO, do-follow links are the most helpful because they tell Google that one authoritative website “approves” of another and considers it to be a quality resource. No-follow tells a search engine to ignore the link, which means those links don’t get a boost in the search results. Even so, no-follow links can have benefits such as sending referral traffic to your site. Now that you know the common types of links, let’s take a look at how to find and build quality backlinks.
The A.R.T. of Link Building
Getting good links is a process that takes time if you want to acquire authoritative links pointing back to your site. It requires careful research, planning, and thought. At Stellar, we refer to this as the A.R.T of link building.
Typically when the word “authority” is used in reference to backlinks, “domain authority” is what is being thought of. Domain authority is a metric developed by Moz and that represents how likely or unlikely a site is to rank. While this metric is helpful, it’s only an estimate.
Other tools like Semrush and Ahrefs have their own versions of an authority score as well. However, these can all be manipulated, so while they are a great starting point, you will need to look deeper to find out if there is any “real” authority behind the site.
When judging a potential linking domain, you should consider some of the following:
- What is the general quality of the content published on the site?
- What types of sites are in their link profile?
- Do they have a lot of inbound links with spammy anchor text?
- Is the site ranking in and getting traffic from Google?
We will cover some specific checks below, but three are a great starting point. Overall, when thinking about authority, ask yourself: is this a reputable source of information on the topic? If yes, the site will provide some real authority signals, which makes them valuable links.
Having authoritative referring domains is always a positive thing, but when they’re relevant, it gives you some added “link juice.” When a search engine crawls your site, it looks at several factors to determine what your page is about and one of those factors is the relevance of the links that point back to it. If the links pointing back to your page have nothing to do with yours, you could end up being penalized especially if those links are low-quality and irrelevant.
Relevancy doesn’t just mean having high-quality links that are on the exact same topic as your page. Rather, it means links that are relevant to your niche. For instance, if you’re a credit repair company, relevant topics include personal finance, credit cards, banks, fintech, investing, and more. All of these relevant topics could help expand your link portfolio, provided the referring sites are authorities on the topics.’
Relevancy is not as much pass or fail as it is on a sliding scale. For example, a highly relevant article, placed on a niche-focused website would have the most relevancy. One notch lower be a highly relevant article on a site with a relevant main category, and so on. If you look at natural link profiles, you will see a mixture of relevancy levels, so be open-minded, but not careless. A good rule of thumb is: If a manual reviewer looked at this link, would they see a reason for the site to be linked to mine? If yes, the relevancy is close enough to proceed to the next set of checks which we will dive into below.
Trust is a very important facet of having high-quality backlinks because essentially if trustworthy sites are linking back to your site, then it will be seen as trustworthy.
Think of this as being similar to the adage, “You are who you hang out with.” Just like we tend to judge humans by the people they associate with, Google will judge your web page by the pages linking to it.
Real trust should be determined by evaluating the authority (the actual power) of an inbound link and how credible the site is on a topic. If the site has credible links from relevant niche-specific sites, its trust rating should be 10/10. This would be something like the podiatrist linking to the new foot surgery procedure site.
Here at Stellar, we offer link outreach services and those are the general guidelines we follow as we use to qualify whether a site might be a good fit. If those things check out, we go into more granular checks.
Quick Link Quality Checklist
Our internal review procedure includes over 30 checks, here are big checks that can help you size other websites up quickly, so you can find high-quality link opportunities.
- Domain Rating/Domain Authority. DR 20+/DA 30+ Unless you’re doing local SEO link building, then any sites below this threshold will have little power.
- Organic Traffic.
- Quantity: The site under consideration should have at least 1,000 unique monthly visitors, and your target country should be one of the top 3 traffic sources.
- Pattern: Is the site’s organic traffic holding steady or improving? Avoid sites with large drops over the past 12 months.
- Sponsored and Guest Posts. If you publish content on the site, will your post be labeled as “sponsored,” a “guest post,” etc? Going deeper, do they have a guest post page linked from the main menu, and do they talk about publishing paid links directly on the site? These types of sites don’t vet for quality content; essentially, anyone willing to pay can publish on their site. If that’s the case, the “vote of confidence” (from any links point to another site) isn’t a vote – it’s purchased and easy for Google to spot.
- Sidebar Links. We look for spammy sidebar links: essay, casino, forex, adult sites, etc.
- Does the site have relevant categories or is the main theme of the site relevant to your site? If the site isn’t organized very well or the main theme is unclear, Google will have a difficult time determining what that site is about, which makes it harder to determine if incoming links to yours are relevant. Relevant categories also help you avoid getting a link from an orphaned web page.
- Are there other articles in the category in which your site fits? If yours is the first piece of content in a particular category, you should question how relevant the site is to the content on your site.
- Audience Interests. Is there a natural audience overlap between your site and the publisher?
- High-Quality Relevant Content. Is your link in a relevant article or blog post (in the body, not in the footer, sidebar, etc)? Also, quality content pieces should be 750 words or more and include a couple of other links.
While there are several more things you could check, the shortlist above will help you find better quality links while being simple enough to pass along and train even junior team members to follow.
Now that you know what to look for, let’s talk about a few methods that can help you get links on relevant, authority sites.
5 Ideas for Generating High-Quality Backlinks
Generating high-quality backlinks is a process that takes thought and strategy. It’s not easy, but with time and diligence, it can be done. Here are 5 ideas for ways you can acquire high-quality backlinks.
HARO link-building is a strategy that involves responding to reporter queries and being the expert they’re seeking. HARO sends out emails 3 times a day, and this strategy involves sorting through the queries (organized by category) to see which ones you may qualify for. When you find one, you reply to the HARO query/reporter with your expertise and a succinct yet thorough answer to the reporter’s questions. In turn, the reporter includes your quoted response and a link back to your site.
The biggest benefit to HARO is that you can limit your responses to only queries coming from reporters on sites with a specific DR (we recommend 50+) so you don’t waste your time getting links from low-quality or spammy websites.
Broken Link Outreach:
We’ve all come across the dreaded 404 errors in the past. There’s nothing like being greeted by a “Well this is awkward!” to annoy you when you’re trying to do research. For site owners, broken links pose a different concern: link rot. There are several reasons why sites may cease to exist or function but since search engines view links as recommendations and votes of confidence, it’s important to keep them current.
When a site has hundreds of web pages, however, ensuring that every website is current can be difficult. The broken link-building strategy involves approaching site owners to inform them about a link on their web page that is broken while simultaneously providing a better link (yours) to replace it. Using the Content Explorer at Ahrefs, you can search for broken links on any website. Once you find some, you can reach out to the site owner. Repeat this process for multiple relevant and high-quality websites – just be prepared to do use this tactic at scale since it can have a lower success rate.
A close cousin to the broken link-building strategy is link replacement. Just because a site’s link isn’t broken doesn’t mean it deserves the backlink more than you do, especially if you have a piece on the same topic that does a much better job of explaining the topic.
To do this, you’ll start by using the same Content Explorer tool described above and filter it to search for pages with a good number of backlinks. Next, you choose a site and you can then use Site Explorer to find the links pointing back to a particular page. From there, you’d specifically look for links where your content would be a far more valuable resource than what’s currently in its place. Finally, you’d reach out to the prospecting linking domain and offer your resource instead.
Influencers are considered trusted authorities in their niches, so receiving publicity from influencers can indirectly help boost your search engine rankings.
Influencer outreach for SEO starts with finding an influencer with a large social media following or someone who is highly respected in your industry. Then, approach him or her with a piece of content you think they’d find valuable and ask them to promote it. In turn, this promotion can lead to their followers linking to your website.
Alternatively, you could also hire them to write, and publish a piece of content for your site and then promote it to their audience.
People tend to do favors for (and business) with people they know. For this reason, growing your network can result in effective link-building for your site. As you expand your network and get to know people–perhaps on LinkedIn–choose people who are in your industry and who have websites with content similar to yours. It’s also important that you follow the same general rules (like making sure their DR is at least 40-50, checking out their site’s Trust Flow rating, etc.). Not all links are created equal and personal relationships can lead to some very powerful placement opportunities.
Staffing Shortage Delaying Your Link Building Efforts?
When it comes to getting more links from other sites, there are hundreds of strategies that can be effective. For many companies, the size of their internal team or resources limits them from finding high-quality link opportunities at scale and in following through on all of the good opportunities that do arise.
How Can Stellar SEO Help?
Building high-quality backlinks is a science and an A.R.T. It takes careful planning and strategy, but it can be done on your own.
If you don’t have the time, staff, or desire to go through all that it entails, Stellar offers custom link outreach services and strategy development that will help you improve your backlink profile and generate more traffic from Google.