Our industry is by nature quite active and vocal online. Hundreds of thousands of SEO blogs exist, with a wide range in quality, originality, and novelty of content. To those of us practicing SEO on a daily basis, a lot of content may be summarily dismissed as regurgitation or noise, for noise sake.
For those new to the SEO industry, the amount of advice published online can be daunting and difficult to sift through. It is for this reason that I’m providing a simplified guide to the single most-common question I’m asked time and time again during training and consulting: what makes a good link?
When it comes to SEO, there’s no such thing as a simple answer. Yes, we’re all aware that relevancy algorithms are composed of hundreds of variables, each attributed weightings, which means that often a simple question can’t be answered (unless further conditions can be provided). In this case however, I would like to propose a simple rule of thumb that those starting their education in search can use as a universal starting point.
A good link should have the potential to deliver relevant visitors.
Understanding what makes a good link is possibly the most tangible thing to grasp for any learning SEO, as much of what has “the potential to deliver relevant visitors” is common sense and in plain sight. Knowing what makes an “OK” link or a “strategic” link may require more experience and comfort with backlink profile analysis, which may hopefully be expedited by this simple rule of thumb.
1. Relevant Visitors are From the Target Geolocation
What this may mean is that your linking site URL has the ccTLD (country code top-level domain) of the country for which you are trying to grow traffic. If not ccTLD, then perhaps another method has been used by the site to clearly ring-fence their content to a smaller audience.
As an example, for a UK tech start-up product looking to grow its user-base, a linking story in eu.techcrunch.com is much better than techcrunch.com, as the former is focused on a European audience.
2. To Provide Relevant Visitors, a Site Must Have an Audience
If a site isn’t familiar to you, perhaps it can be found on reputable media databases or industry specific directories. Even a small, engaged audience can be valuable, and a good indication of quality.
How does the site being evaluated fare in search for their core terms? Does the site have a detailed and open “About Us” page, which may even offer visitor figures?
3. Relevant Visitors Should Have Exposure to Thematically Similar Content to Yours
Let’s say your site sells nuts and bolts online and you obtain a link in a piece of content about hardware or DIY. Potentially, that link could provide some relevant traffic. Additionally, if the site on which the linking page sits is also thematically relevant, then that’s great, though not essential.
But is it a problem if you get a regional newspaper, rather than a site about hardware, to link to an online voucher-offer that is valid in your newest store, which opens soon in that region? No. Regional relevancy and linking page content relevancy will be extremely valid and should mean a good chance of relevant visitors.
4. Relevant Visitors Come From “Clickable” Links
Think about it. How often have you clicked a site footer link? How often do you click a link in a piece of content that would appear to be about to link to a page of useful further information; or a link in content that is the explicit target of the content (e.g., “Visit NS Hardware now, to get your 25% off e-voucher for the new store.”).
5. Relevant Visitors Can’t (Easily) Be Faked
(As a caveat, we would expect a certain percentage of the visitors to perform some kind of interaction, or conversion activity, to be determined as relevant.)
Page properties such as toolbar PageRank can be easily inflated and may not be reliable or up to date.
While there are mitigating circumstances and shades of gray, when it comes to assessing what makes a good link, the above principle is one that is common sense and easy to grasp for new practitioners (or even clients who need a quick answer).
I’d also like to stress that the above doesn’t guarantee a link that delivers good quality, relevant visitors will always be a “clean” link, but I can’t think of a simpler guiding principle with less pitfalls. Can you?