If you are working in the age of internet, perhaps you have heard a lot of things about SEO and backlinks. We have listed the top 10 questions that we hear most often and answered them for you.
1. “A friend of mine is a journalist at Forbes and mentioned he can place links to my site in the content he writes regularly. I hit the jackpot, right?”
There are two things to take into consideration here. The first is that popular sites like Forbes often set meta robots on their blog to nofollow, meaning that any and all links on the page will not be followed by search engine spiders, nor will they be attributed to the link’s destination URL as link equity and authority. There are several ways to check a page’s meta robots, but the easiest way to access this information is via SeeRobots, a free Chrome plugin that changes colors based upon the page’s meta robots.
2. “I’ve heard that Domain Authority is the best way to judge the impact of a link. Is that true?”
While Domain Authority (DA) is a valuable metric in determining a site’s overall maturity and value in light of Google’s ranking algorithm, it should by no means be taken as gospel. Moz, who created the metric to mirror Google’s already-sunsetted PageRank, has publicly confirmed that “both DA and PA are relative to the Internet as a whole,” and that “it’s always best to look at PA and DA in comparison to your competitors.”
In actuality, DA is a superficial metric (i.e. one that attempts to calculate the authority of a domain, rather than one that is metric baked into the search engine) that is a good lagging indicator that a competitor’s site may be more or less authoritative than yours, rather than a map to determining which site’s are the most authoritative.
3. “I rarely if ever hear people discuss Moz’s other metric, Page Authority. What is Page Authority and does it even matter?”
What Domain Authority does for a domain, Page Authority (PA) does on the page level. Like Domain Authority, Page Authority returns a number between 1 and 100 that measures the authority and ranking potential for keywords related to that page. While the value of DA is often blown out of proportion in the SEO industry and viewed by some as an ultimate measurement of a site’s authority, PA often receives the opposite treatment and is forgotten completely.
Given the ongoing improvements made to Google’s algorithm, the context of a link is now more valuable than ever. Thus, the popularity and authority of the content housing a link are both important aspects that contribute to or detract from a link’s impact. For example, if you receive a link within a piece of content that has been active for 15 years, its Page Authority will be much higher than a link within a piece of content that went live yesterday.
4. “I noticed that some of my site’s backlinks are from sites with a Spam Score of 7/17. Should I be worried?”
In short, one backlink with a 7/17 spam score is not something to be worried about. However, 70 backlinks with a 7/17 spam score may be.
Spam score is a metric (also created by Moz) that evaluates the potential for a backlink to be spammy or harmful. It does this by checking each link against 17 unique factors called “spam flags” that could potentially put your site at risk.
With that said, it’s very important to regularly check the overall health of your site’s backlink portfolio to ensure that your site is not at risk of being penalized. The best approach to doing this is a backlink checker like SEMRush’s Backlink Audit Tool. Simply plug in your domain’s URL and wait to see whether your domain’s toxicity score is high, medium or low, as well as which domains are seen as toxic.
In the event that your domain’s Overall Toxicity Score is High, compile a list of all toxic domains linking to your site into a disavow file and submit the file via Google Search Console. In doing so, you’re communicating to Google’s webspam team that you’re aware of the toxic links your site has accrued, and that you’d like them disavowed permanently so that they’re aren’t counted against you.
5. “Does the topic of the content that links to my site matter? And does the link itself need to make sense in the content in order for it to be effective.”
A good rule of thumb is to keep all SEO tactics – including link building – as natural as possible. The minute a tactic leads to a page’s content seeming unnatural to users, there is a good chance that Google won’t like it either. Ultimately, this stems from the fact that one of Google’s highest priorities will always be maintaining an excellent user experience for individuals using the search engine.
With that said, it’s also natural to run into misspellings, errors in sentence structure and grammar, and even incoherent thought progression from time to time in content on the web. So don’t be alarmed if the design of the domains linking to you are subpar, or the domain name itself is strange.
More than anything else, it’s the thematic relevance of the content housing a backlink that matters within Google’s algorithm. If you run an automotive business and most of the backlinks pointing to your site are within content that talks about parenting, it’s safe to assume those links are going to be devalued compared to links housed within content that talks about car maintenance, auto repair, auto parts, and the like. Backlinks with contextual relevance are especially valuable because they provide a stronger sense of semantic authority for the destination URL of a backlink.
6. “Does anchor text matter? If so, how much?”
In short, anchor texts are the most often misunderstood component of backlinks. As such, they’re also the most underutilized. Links with a branded, generic, or URL anchor text are powerful in that they establish a vote of confidence and further extend the brand authority of the destination URL. However, keyword-specific anchor text is able to do much more.
By linking to a site with a keyword rich anchor text, you’re effectively telling Google not only that the link’s destination URL is authoritative, but that it’s authoritative for a specific, non-branded set of keywords. Because of this, acquiring backlinks with generic anchor text is good, but acquiring backlinks with keyword rich anchor text is even better. If you’re looking to expedite ranking growth for a specific page and you know a competitor is accruing links at a much higher rate, building links with keyword rich anchor texts will give you the opportunity to narrow the gap more quickly.
7. “I know for a fact that my site is accruing links naturally via PR efforts, social chatter and the like. Do these links have the same effect on my site as the backlinks built for SEO purposes?”
There’s lots to discuss when it comes to backlinks from PR, social media, and web 2.0 sites like Weebly, Tumblr, and Blogspot. Let’s break each down individually.
Press releases often provide one or two backlinks with generic, URL, or branded anchor text, which can be helpful to build brand authority and overall domain authority. With that said, press releases can be a tricky and frustrating approach to link building because they tend to “fall off” after a short period of time. Thus, the links you gain from a press are not permanent links, and will not be counted to your overall domain authority in the long term. It’s important to mention that if you work with a PR agency, placing a single press release on a noteworthy site, it may be possible to acquire a link with keyword rich anchor text. If this is the case, capitalize on the opportunity! However, if you’re submitting a press release to a newswire to be syndicated across tens or hundreds of sites, never use keyword rich anchor text. Doing so puts your site at elevated risk of the over-optimization penalty spoken about earlier.
Social media links do provide some value when it comes to link building – mainly in the form of providing a social footprint that proves your site is associated with a recognized brand with fans, followers and customers. More than ever before, Google’s algorithm now utilizes a multi-faceted approach to rankings that takes into social media as a way of further validating or disproving what it’s core algorithm is identifying via on-page, content, links, etc.
In short, web 2.0 sites – blogging sites that allow you to create free sites as a subdomain – do not offer a valid link building opportunity and are seen as spammy by Google. Additionally, many of the links from web 2.0 sites are nofollow and are not crawled by search engine spiders at all. This is the approach that any cheap, low quality SEO would take to link building and is an avenue worth altogether avoiding.
8. “What are Private Blog Networks and will using them get my site penalized?”
Using Private Blog Networks (PBNs) for link building is a high-risk strategy. In order to understand why, we have to first understand more about the nature of PBNs and how Google views them.
PBNs are sites that have been created with the sole purpose of selling links as a product. They typically have low quality content with no topical focus, strange domain names, and may share their theme with a number of other sites. But ultimately, it isn’t any of these attributes that puts you at risk of being penalized with Google. The risky aspect of PBNs comes down to the fact that purchasing links is ultimately against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Thus, if you do engage with PBNs, ensure that they are high quality; if they aren’t, there’s a good chance that Google already has you on their shortlist of sites to receive a manual action.
9. “Is it more impactful to pursue a few backlinks from very popular sites, our several backlinks from unknown, but authoritative sites.”
While backlinks and mentions from popular sites will always be valuable in terms of increasing brand visibility and establishing business legitimacy, the SEO impact of these links can be short lived. For instance, a single link from the Wall Street Journal – especially a link with keyword rich anchor text – will undoubtedly grow the destination URL’s authority for the keyword theme related to the anchor text. But what about every other theme on your site?
In an ideal scenario, each high value page on a site should receive a backlink from a trustworthy, established domain once per month (whether or not the domain is noteworthy ultimately is a much lower priority). In most cases, if each high value page on a site received one link per month, it will see the ranking increases necessary to drive real traffic and conversions over time. On the other hand, if a site only received one or two links a month, the amount of sitewide organic growth will undoubtedly be limited. Thus, several backlinks from unknown, but nonetheless authoritative sites will almost always be the better option.
10. “When it comes to link building, where should I get started?”
Guest posting will always be the place to begin. Your best bet is to compile a list of respected blogs that write about topics related to your product or service offering, checking each blog for a contact email to submit inquiries. If the blog has an editorial department, start there. In terms of outreach, the best approach involves pitching two or three topics you could write on as an authority and see if they would be interested in inviting you to be a guest contributor.
At that point, if you’re finding it’s still difficult to get bites on your requests, try guest posting on sites you already have relationships with and including references to your work in your initial outreach email.
Outside of traditional guest posting, there are other approaches to acquiring backlinks in a way that follows Webmaster Guidelines. One of these is called HARO, Help a Reporter Out. By signing up as a journalist on HARO, you will have daily access to hundreds of stories being written by trusted publications that are in need of a quote, anecdote, or form of subject matter expertise on a topic. Your reward for providing a reporter what they need? A dofollow backlink.