Once upon a time, digital marketers believed that “link building” was a game of numbers. People assumed that blindly amassing back-links would help their pages climb the search engine rankings. Up until then, there was nothing suggesting there could be negative repercussions from a back-link of dubious quality. And so it was until around 2012 when Google first released the Penguin. Google Penguin was a massive reformulation of some parts of Google’s search algorithm. The aim was clear: to put an end to flourishing link farms, to eradicate shady link networks and essentially terminate the marginal industry that had evolved around the sale and purchase of links for rank manipulation purposes. It worked quite well, and forced digital marketers to rethink their practices. It was onward from the inception of Google Penguin that marketers knew for a fact that collecting toxic links would yield bad repercussions and outright penalties. After going through various semi-yearly updates, Google has now announced that Penguin is about to become a real-time algorithm. This means that now more than ever, website publishers must have a clear notion of what constitutes a good backlink and what doesn’t. Here’s an overview of three main factors you should consider when appraising a backlink:
Relevance is The Single Biggest Factor
The main factor you should be looking at when evaluating a backlink in your website’s portfolio is relevance. Does your content expand on the content of the page that linked to it? Is there some kind of thematic connection, at least? If your page doesn’t somehow add to the discussion in the page that linked through, the mismatch will signal this is a manipulative link. Clever marketers might argue that relevance is a subjective measure, but it really isn’t. A link either adds information to a discussion or it doesn’t. Going from a page that focuses on vintage cars to a page that discusses electronic fishing hooks is unlikely to be of any value for the visitors of either page. The average user takes but a few seconds of skimming through a page to objectively establish if it’s relevant to their research. If there is no relevance, there is no value. This brings us to the second major point in determining link quality…
Learn to Evaluate a Site’s Human Value
There’s something us marketers need to realise about Google: they are not against us, neither are they in favour of us. Their only concern is to deliver quality search results, since that’s what keeps their business model in gear. By aligning with their goals, we do stand a better chance of success. Google is very concerned about the Human Value of a website. When they show a link through their SERPS, they expect the person to be satisfied and they have ways of gauging if that link delivered value… the most obvious indicator being the bounce rate. If someone lands in your site and leaves in a fraction of a second that suggests your website did not deliver value to the user. If the algorithm analyses your page and detects multiple advertisements above the fold, a mish-mash of outbound links and confusing topics… it will promptly establish that your page does not offer human value. You can easily learn to determine the human value of any page by looking at those very elements.
Authority and Trust are Always Important
The third most crucial measure of link quality is the authority of the website or page behind the link. If you think about it, “Authority and Trust” are likely measurements obtained from consistent evaluation of “Relevance” and “Human Value” over time. That is to say, a website that is regarded by Google as being relevant and useful is likely to contain many pages that have individually passed those tests over time. You can use tools such as Moz and Majestic to get a sense of a website’s Authority and Trust. A simple rule of thumb for appraising these qualities: if you often see a website with highly ranked pages for a group of search terms, it strongly suggests the website is regarded as authoritative for those search terms. Final thoughts: The simplest way to determine if a specific back-link is hurting your page is to just put down your marketer’s hat and look at the page as a regular user. If a user clicked on a link from a page pointing to your page, would they be happy upon arrival? Would they find your page useful, and maybe even bookmark it or share it? Does the website that originated the link seem useful in its own right? If you can honestly reply “yes!” to all these questions, then you know for a fact that is a valuable link.