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5 Qualities of a Good Link

If you’ve spent any time researching digital marketing, you’ve likely read about backlinks more than once. Links pointing to your website from other, relevant websites are important for both search engine rankings and traffic. These are known as backlinks. 

Recently, we wrote about your site’s internal links, but we haven’t talked much about backlinks yet. So, let’s remedy that. 

We all click on links every day, so it makes sense that the search engines use them as an important indicator for how valuable any given website is. Google and other search engines want to make sure they serve up the most relevant websites for any given search query, and links are one factor they use for ranking websites. 

If you need more information about the concept, or just want to read a good history of links as a search engine ranking factor, here’s an excellent article on Search Engine Journal

Links are an important part of any website’s overall SEO strategy. Some links come in naturally (sometimes without us knowing about them), and some links are “built” in a variety of ways. 

But not every link is a good link. 

Links from spammy websites, links from irrelevant websites, links that make no sense within the context of a website’s content, and purchased links can actually end up harming your website. Since at least 2012, Google’s been cracking down on bad links

So, what makes a good lin, then? Read on. 

A Good Link Comes from a Relevant Website

A good link has to be relevant. Since the SEO and link building industries were forced to “grow up” in 2012, relevancy has been the most important part of a good link. 

Imagine you sell car air fresheners. Would you want a link from a car enthusiast website, or from a blogger who writes about nature photography? 

It seems like the choice is obvious, but some webmasters and site owners still get this wrong. They want links from “bigger” websites, even if those websites aren’t at all relevant to their own website. 

Almost all of the time, a link’s relevance is much more important than metrics such as Domain Authority, Domain Rating, or Page Rank. 

A little anecdote from veteran link builder Julie Joyce sums this up nicely,

When we had our link builders focus on finding links to benefit an SEO campaign, we noticed they did not do well. They overthought everything. They’d go for an irrelevant link on a site with great metrics and pass up a relevant link on one with lower metrics.

That doesn’t help anyone.

Consider this: one of my link builders had almost zero experience working on the internet when he came to us. Let’s call him Bob.

Bob had just retired from a long career as a manager the textile industry and was looking for a change, he knew very little about the internet and nothing about SEO.  And yet Bob became a great link builder without needing any tools or reams of metrics.

How? He just finds a site that looks good, sends an email and gets a link.

It’s really that simple.

You probably want a link from The New York Times. But, you’re better off with a link for your car air freshener site coming from a relatively unknown blogger than you are with a link from an NYT article talking about organic dog food. 

When it comes to good links, relevance is always the most important factor. 

A Good Link Comes from a Trustworthy Website 

The second most important factor for a good link? Trust. 

Links signify a flow of trust from one website to another. If someone links to your website, they’re basically giving you a vote of confidence-- they’re saying, “Hey, this is a good source of information. Click here.”

Not every site is trustworthy, though. 

In Google’s eyes, and in the eyes of your users, untrustworthy sites possess the following qualities: 

  • Poorly written content
  • Thin content (a very small amount of content on each page)
  • Intrusive advertising 
  • Promoting illicit products 
  • Overly-optimized content (such as repeating the same keywords over and over again to “game” the search engines)
  • Plagiarized content 
  • Exist only to post affiliate links or other money-making schemes
  • A general “spammy” presence 

Most normal websites are trustworthy. If a website was created by a real person to showcase their work, provide information, or sell their (legitimate) product, then it’s trustworthy. 

Oftentimes, the easiest links comes from the least trustworthy websites. Don’t fall for the bait. 

A Good Link Makes Editorial Sense 

It’s pretty easy to vet a link for relevance and trustworthiness, but this aspect of a good link is a bit harder to police. 

A good link needs to make editorial sense. Links are usually placed within a piece of content, like a web page or a blog post. So, even if the topic of the website is relevant to your own website, the piece of content containing the link also needs to make sense-- in a more specific sense! 

Let’s boil it down this way: if a user is reading a piece of content, any link within that content has to be something they’d naturally click on. It should take them to a page that offers even more information on the topic at hand. 

So, let’s go back to our car air freshener example. You have a link from an automotive blogger, which is good. But the link comes from a blog post talking about how to do a DIY oil change on a 1986 Subaru wagon. That’s not ideal. If a user clicks that link, thinking it will provide more information on oil changes or Subaru wagons, and ends up on an air freshener product page, they’ll be disappointed. 

Instead, a good link might be placed in a piece of content about air fresheners. Or it could be more general-- an article titled “How to Keep Your Old Car Smelling Fresh” would be just as good. 

If it makes sense for the user, and is something an actual human being would click, then it’s a good link. 

A Good Link is Earned 

Google defines a link scheme as,

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.

Some of the link schemes they mention:

  • Paying for links, either with money, goods, or free products
  • Excessive link exchanges
  • “Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links”
  • Using bots to create links on a large scale 
  • Requiring a link as part of a contract or terms of service 

These are all unnatural links and, when Google catches them, they often punish websites who engage in link schemes. 

You can’t buy or extort links, so you have to earn them. 

Earned links often come naturally-- they’re awarded when a webmaster likes your website or content. But, most links don’t come in when you’re passively sitting around. 

It’s okay to ask for links from relevant websites, as long as you’re not exchanging money or goods for those links. In fact, most good links come from asking. If you think your site is a good fit for another website, don’t hesitate to ask for a link-- just make sure you’re nice about it! Always remember, no one owes you a link. 

A Good is not a Perfect Link 

So, you have all of the other elements in place-- your link comes from a relevant, trustworthy website, it makes sense in the context of the linking page, and it’s a link that you earned naturally. Still, it might not be a perfect link. 

As with most things in life, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. 

A good link isn’t always a perfect link, and that’s perfectly okay. By their nature, perfect links don’t come along often. If you have a large budget and a dedicated link building team, then you have the resources to ensure that every link in your portfolio is not just good, but perfect. Most of us, however, don’t have that luxury. 

A perfect link has the ideal anchor text. The anchor text is carefully chosen to avoid over-optimizing for any specific keyword, but also to maximize its SEO potential. 

A perfect link comes from a domain that’s never linked to you before.  

A perfect link is placed in the body of a webpage’s content, not in an author bio, in a sidebar, or on the page’s footer. 

A perfect link is a “follow” link, which means it doesn’t include the ‘rel=”no follow”’ code in its makeup. “No follow” links are designed to not pass authority from one website to another. Webmasters use NF links to denote websites they don’t trust, and they’re also used when a company has paid for a link in the form of an advertisement or sponsorship. As we mentioned earlier, paying for links goes against Google’s link schemes guidelines, so using a “no follow” link is a way to get around that. Most social media sites, like Twitter and Reddit, always use “no follow” links. Many websites use “no follow” links by default, as well, so they can avoid the wrath of Google. 

Do you see how all of that might be tough to manage? When someone is already showing trust and kindness by linking to you, asking them to change its anchor text or placement on the page is a Hard Ask. 

Ensuring that every link is a perfect link is exhausting. 

But, make no mistake-- a “no follow” link can be a good link. A link in an author bio can be a good link. A good link can have imperfect anchor text or from a domain that’s linked to you before. 

For most of us, obtaining a good link is cause for celebration. We don’t have the time or money to micromanage our links and make sure each and every one is perfect. 

Obviously, you should never turn down a perfect link. But you shouldn’t feel disappointed when a link is merely good, instead of perfect, either. 

Getting Good Links

Good links are essential for visibility in competitive search engine results, and they can bring qualified traffic to your website. Good links are worth pursuing but, if you run a small operation, it’s easy to get bogged down with backlinks. 

Determine how much time and money you have to pursue good links, and accept the good links as they come in naturally. Your website will thank you.  

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