Backlinks have long been one of the most important off-page factors in search engine optimization and remain as indispensable as ever. Despite suggestions in recent months that the relevance of backlinks is on the decline, they nevertheless still have as much influence as ever on the development of an online presence in search engines. Even webmasters who have decided to abandon backlinks as a measure of quality have had to start revamping their own backlink profiles again since the Google Penguin update. When evaluating backlinks, there are certain quality criteria with which every webmaster ought to be familiar in order to better measure the quality of their backlink profiles. The following are characteristics of a good backlink:
People click on the link
One of the most important indications of a quality backlink is USE. Links which people actually click on generally generate the most traffic. For webmasters, it is important that users who come to their site via a backlink belong to the right target audience. A high quality link is a link which consistently generates relevant traffic for your domain.
The link provides genuine value
Links are recommendations and are generally used to direct users to thematically relevant content which correspond to their needs. When a user finds exactly what he or she is looking for by clicking on a particular link, then the link has fulfilled it’s ultimate purpose. Search engines can measure this, and will reward it.
The link is embedded in the body of a text
Links in the middle of a body of text are valued by search engines since the user receives relevant additional information in the middle of the content they are currently reading. From a technical point of view, it’s also easier for the search engine to categorize the link since it also takes into account the content in the surrounding text. A link which appears to be surrounded by thematically relevant text will be interpreted by the search engine as also relevant. The webmaster has evidently made a conscious decision to recommend an external website or online shop in the knowledge that the link will direct users away from his or her own website.
Links from recognized, high quality websites which have built up their trust in search engines over the years are considered particularly valuable by search engines, since Google etc assume that these webmasters are genuine authorities in their field who are only likely to link to equally high quality content. Another advantage of backlinks from authority sources is that these domains generally boast strong backlink profiles, meaning that some of their link juice will flow to your website or online shop too.
The link clearly looks like a link
Links should be easily recognizable so that users can decide for themselves whether they want to access additional information on a certain subject via the link or not. When a user is looking for more detailed information and spots a useful-looking link at first glance which then leads to relevant information, this is a helpful link.
The link is visible amidst content
Links which are positioned within the visible sections of a website or a section of content are more highly valued by search engines than links found right at the bottom of a body of text. Search engines generally assume that the most relevant information will be positioned as close to the start of a body of text as possible. If an external link is found amidst this important information at the top of a page, it must be relevant and make a positive contribution to the content, and will therefore be valued accordingly.
“Soft” anchor texts
Since the Google Penguin update, webmasters should make sure that their backlink profiles consist of as few backlinks with “hard” anchor texts as possible. Even when a webmaster links to an external site using a single keyword with the most honest of intentions, this should still be changed. Anchor texts should be as “soft” as possible in order to best describe the content of the link.
The link is natural
A good backlink is a link which has deliberately been placed by a webmaster who has been so convinced by its content that they want to recommend the website to their own readers or followers. A long term content marketing strategy can help to produce unique, high quality content which other webmasters more frequently share on their own websites. Such content includes but is not limited to: unique in-house studies, industry reports, infographics, survey results and other content which is genuinely useful for your target audience.
Thematically relevant link source
Thematic relevance is vital. Search engines analyse whether websites providing links rank for the same keywords and phrases as the target website, and assume that only in this scenario is a link really sensible. Webmasters should therefore make sure that the websites providing links to their domain in their backlink profile are thematically linked and relevant.
Both link attributes are essential
Whilst “follow links” used to be the only links of any value to webmasters, “nofollow links” have gradually become more important too. This is firstly because nofollow links form part of a natural link profile and secondly due to more general developments in SEO. Since backlinks have lost ground to factors such as target audience relevant traffic, CTR and length of stay in terms of SEO relevance, the function of the nofollow link has changed. True, it doesn’t convey a PageRank or display an anchor text, but it can still deliver exact, niche traffic interested exclusively in your particular content, which can obviously lead to conversions, making nofollow links genuinely high value. Furthermore, the nofollow attribute tells the search engine that the webmaster has made a conscious decision to inform the search engine that this link is to be treated differently to others which generally possess follow attributes.
Few outgoing links
Backlinks from websites with relatively few backlinks are more valuable since the backlink acquires more link juice which can then flow to your own website. Search engines can also tell that the link is something particularly important given that the domain providing the link doesn’t tend to spam or give out lots of links. Search engines generally reward linked content. The idea that “no backlink juice given out” is a thing of the past.
Prioritize internal links
Internal links also play a significant role when it comes to measuring the quality of backlinks. Documents which are internally linked more frequently are more heavily weighted than those which are internally linked less often. Such documents also receive more backlink juice via internal linkage and so are more highly prioritized, which means that when they receive a backlink from outside, the whole site receives more valuable backlink juice.