Link Quality: 50+ Questions to Ask

One of the worst mistakes new SEOs and site owners make is trying to take shortcuts in link acquisition.

The Penguin algorithm, launched more than three years ago now, has drastically improved Google’s ability to algorithmically detect and punish sites with manipulative links. Google’s ability to detect such links continues to improve every year. If you’re building low-quality links, you’re putting your site and business at risk. Conversely, I’ve witnessed the impressive impact that quality links can have on a site’s visibility, traffic, and engagement.

Recently, in SEMrush’s Twitter chat, the overwhelming response to their question regarding link-building mistakes was trying to take shortcuts. In one form or another, almost every reply dealt with the variety of ways sites and SEOs try to shortcut the link-building process.

Matt Cutts, former Head of Webspam at Google, famously referred to this as “putting the cart before the horse” in his interview with Eric Enge, later citing link building as “sweat plus creativity.”

I’ve created a list of questions you should be asking about your own link-building activities, to ensure you’re only pursuing quality links. Asking these questions will ensure you’re creating links that improve the human experience on the web, as well as your site’s performance in search. Bear in mind that no single question will 100 percent guarantee link quality, but taken together, enough of these questions should shine light on the value of the link.

Without further ado, let’s launch into it.

1. Questions Pertaining to Link Relevance

  • Is the site relevant to your site?
  • Is the site relevant to your page being linked?
  • Is the linking page relevant to your page?
  • Is the link relevant to the content surrounding it? Is it contextually relevant to the page?

2. Questions Pertaining to the Human Value of a Link

  • Is the link a citation, recommendation, or resource?
  • Does the link provide value in the context it’s presented?
  • When a person clicks the link, will they be happy with the result?
  • Would a person be surprised where the link takes them?
  • Does the link improve the page it lives on?
  • Does the link improve the web experience?

3. Questions Pertaining to Site Quality (of the Linking Website)

  • Is the site’s content compelling, clear, thematically relevant, and free of errors?
  • Does the site have clear and present value?
  • Are there real humans associated with the site?
  • Is there an address listed for the physical location of the business or site owner?
  • Are there signs of other humans engaging and interacting with the site?
  • Does the site have a social profile? Things to keep in mind include follower versus followed count; Facebook fans; Google+ interaction; overall engagement and interaction; and content shared.
  • Does the site link primarily to other good sites? Is it a “good link neighborhood?”
  • Is contact information listed for the owner or manager of the website?
  • Does the site appear to be part of a larger network? This could be a potential red flag. 
  • Is the design of the website up-to-date?

4. Questions Pertaining to the Marketing Value of a Link

  • Can this link lead to a relationship or partnership?
  • Will this link generate exposure to a new, relevant audience?
  • Will this link generate further exposure to an important site or business asset?
  • Does the link represent a positive brand endorsement?
  • Will the page foster a positive user experience with your brand and site?

5. Questions Pertaining to the SEO Value of a Link

Can Google crawl the link?

  • Is the page crawlable? 
  • Is there a meta robots tag? Does it include noindex or nofollow? These will block Google from crawling the page. 
  • Is the page blocked in robots.txt?
  • Is the page using AJAX?
  • Is the page using JavaScript? Google can now crawl JavaScript.
  • Is the page indexed?
  • Is the link hidden behind a redirect?
  • Is there anything else that might interfere with Google’s ability to crawl the link?

Tag attributes:

  • Is the nofollow attribute used?
  • Is the link an image? Is the alt attribute tag used?

Anchor text:

  • Is a keyword used in the anchor text?
  • Is the link over-optimized? This is bad, especially if done at scale. 
  • Was the anchor editorially created?
  • Did you ask for specific anchor text?
  • Is it a naked URL? (a linked full URL i.e. https://www.google.com/)
  • Is white noise such as “here,” “click,” or “this” used?
  • Does the anchor text appear natural in context?

Link placement:

  • Is the link site-wide? This is typically bad. 
  • Is the link on a relevant page?
  • Is the link in content?
  • Is the link high on the page?
  • Are there many other links on the page?
  • Are those links relevant to your page?
  • Are the other links to quality content and sites?

On-page elements:

  • Are the header tags relevant to your page?
  • Is the title tag relevant to your page?
  • Is the URL relevant to your page? Does it contain the word “link” or “list?”
  • Does the page contain 500 words or more?

6. The Gut Check

  • Are we happy to show the link to the client?
  • Are we happy to show the link to colleagues?
  • Would we be happy to show the link to other SEOs?
  • Would we be happy to show the link to family and friends?

This is not a 100 percent comprehensive list – it would be impossible to list every consideration possible to gauge the value of a link. The important thing is to be sure that you’re critically examining your links for value, the real gauge of link quality.

A link should be valuable for:

  1. The people who click the link
  2. The page the link lives on
  3. The site hosting the page 
  4. Your page and website
  5. Google, as this link will signal the relevance and authority of your page

There should be no shortcuts in this process – build links that have value, and you won’t need to worry as Google updates their algorithms.

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