Google has gotten smart in recent years, and is continuously tweaking their algorithms for search rankings. Each time a new update for Penguin is released, those in the marketing world are quick to check their analytics and see if their content has been affected. There are infamous legends of sites losing more than 90 percent of their organic traffic after being penalized for spammy content or low-quality links. Each time this happens, the entire industry has to step back and reevaluate exactly it is that makes a strong, quality link.
A lot of marketers lean on authoritative sites to stay up-to-date on issues relating to SEO, including Moz, Search Engine watch, Neil Patel, and Search Engine Journal. But in recent years, we have found that the information being presented to the general public by these sites is not necessarily in keeping with what we believe are link portfolio best practices.
We have years of experience behind us, and have produced hundreds of thousands of backlinks to help our clients achieve their business goals. Over the years, we have discovered what it takes to create a quality backlink. Here’s our formula.
When it comes time to develop your SEO campaign, there are two ways to do so: on a goal-oriented basis and a budget-oriented basis.
Aspects of a High-Quality Backlink
Moz developed the concept of a domain authority score to predict how high a site will be listed on a search result. This isn’t an exact science, since Google carefully protects its search engine ranking algorithm. But Moz and Google are close related (Moz essentially serves to create propaganda for Google), so Moz’s domain authority rating score tends to be the best predictor of actual Google search rankings. This is why we use Moz to ascertain a site’s authority, and use that information to inform our development of SEO campaigns.
To briefly explain, the higher a site’s domain authority is, the more authority it will give to other sites it is linked to. If a sites authority rating is high enough, it will positively impact any other sites that it is backlinked to, resulting in an increased search ranking result for the linked pages.
We use a domain authority score of 30 as our benchmark. If a site doesn’t score at least 30 or higher, we don’t typically work to develop link relationships with them. While it is possible for sites with less than a 30 rating to benefit other sites that they are linked to, we feel that this benchmark is in keeping with our commitment to the highest quality SEO results.
With the latest Google updates, it has become apparent that the niche relevancy of a page contributes to the authority of its backlinks.
Page relevancy is the measure of a site’s relevance within a theme or niche when compared to the sites it is backlinked to. In other words, you want to be linked to sites that have authority in your niche. If your company is in the car sales industry, you probably won’t gain much benefit from being backlinked to an article about medical textbooks.
Thematic relevance is the measure of the relevancy of content to specific keywords or keyword phrases. But this goes beyond checking if the keyword appears in the content. Thematically relevant content will contain semantically relevant phrases and themes, and will be considered to serve as a strong backlink.
Here are a couple examples of thematic relevance:
- Your business sells travel insurance. You are backlinked to a travel website, and the backlinked article is called “Five Reasons Why You Need Insurance on Your Next Trip.”
- Your company provides veterinary equipment to local veterinarians. You acquire a backlink to a veterinary website, and are linked to a blog post called “A List of the Most Recent Veterinary Technological Advances.”
Selecting Anchor Text
Anchor text is the phrase or word you can click within a hyperlink to follow it to the linked URL. When it comes to SEO campaigns that are focused on thematic keyword targeting, your anchor text should be related to the page you are linking to, instead of being generic.
Here are a few examples of generic, branded, and anchor text:
Generic: “Learn more here.” “Click to see more.” “This site…”
Branded: “National SEO.”
Exact match: “SEO agency.” “Victoria SEO company.”
Interestingly, it is important not to have too many anchor text backlinks. Google tracks every anchor text on a site, and evaluates the distribution of the three types of anchor texts. Too high of a percentage of exact match anchor text can actually count against you, as it doesn’t appear to be organic. In this case, you can receive an over-optimization penalty. Google wants to reward websites that appear to actually provide value to visitors, not just sites that are blatantly overly focused on SEO. The idea here is to motivate marketers to create real, quality content.
Fortunately, when you work with an SEO agency that understands Google’s rules, there is no risk of over-optimizing. We have moved numerous clients who were unranked for certain keywords to the first page of results for those keywords, through the proper, targeted use of exact match keywords, in conjunction with other SEO best practices.
Length of Page Content
The length of a page’s content is the amount of words on that page that can be crawled by a search engine. Page length is one criteria that Google uses to ascertain the authority of a page that you are backlinked to. When combined with page relevancy, this is an important factor to take into consideration when building your backlink portfolio.
We have discovered that a quality backlinked page needs to contain around 500 words. In contrast, a healthy length for your on-page content should be around 3000-4000 words, with an absolute minimum of around 800-1000 words.
If you are developing your own backlink portfolio, it is best not to develop backlinks with pages that have less than 500 words as a minimum. Pages with less content may be seen as spammy or unnatural, and may be penalized by Google.
Aspects That Don’t Impact Backlink Quality
Interestingly enough, domain names and TLDs have zero impact on the quality of your backlinks. It doesn’t matter what the site is called—what matters is the quality of the content on the site.
Relevancy of Domain Niche
While page relevancy is essential to a quality backlink, domain niche relevancy actually isn’t—a fact that is misunderstood by many people. It doesn’t really matter what niche a website focuses on, as much as it matters what the content you are linked to is focused on. In fact, you’d rather link to relevant page content on a website that is not in your niche but that has high domain authority, than one that has low domain authority but is in your niche.
While the appearance of a site is often one of the first things we notice, Google is not equipped to consider aesthetics. This is because aesthetics vary from person to person. Since this is a subjective factor, Google considers it to be less important than the actual quality of the content a site provides. Don’t like purple text or the images a site includes in its articles? As long as the text and photos are relevant and the site has a high domain authority, Google doesn’t care one way or the other.
This creates an interesting dynamic whereby sites that we might consider to be really bad actually have high domain authority scores. A site can be ugly, difficult to navigate, and have an outdated layout, but if Google thinks that it is authoritative, it is still worthwhile to be backlinked to relevant content there.
Content That Is Promotional
Many people make the mistake of thinking they need to link to articles that are promotional about their products or company. But not only is this not necessary, it can actually be damaging.
Marketers need to understand that the point of backlinks is not self-promotion or PR. It is to build the authority of your site so that you rank higher on search results. Link building should not be targeted at gaining publicity for your brand or gaining referral traffic. In fact, linking to content that is too promotional can result in people seeing you as a spammy site, and looking at your content and by extension your products as having a lower value. Linking to content that promotes you will result in those links being indexed under your brand name in search results, which can be a bad thing if you don’t want to be seen as being over-promotional.
The takeaway here? When building backlinks, focus on domain authority and page relevance, not self-promotion.
What Google Is Looking For Is What Actually Matters
When working with SEO, it is important to remember that you are playing by Google’s rules. Many people make the mistake of thinking they can reinvent the SEO game, or that specific aspects of web design matter more than they actually do. The goal with backlinks is to increase your domain authority and your results on the search rankings—nothing else. So when developing backlinks, make sure to follow best practices what Google actually wants to see—not what you think is important.
After years of experience and success optimizing search for hundreds of companies, we understand what Google is looking for when it comes to backlinks. We know how to develop a strong, relevant backlink portfolio that increases your domain authority, generates organic traffic for targeted keywords, and does so without using practices that can result in damaging penalties. That’s smart search engine optimization.