SEO Basics: How to Define a Quality Link – Rapid Immersion

Hi everybody and welcome to Rapid Immersion, where we discuss questions and topic areas within your digital marketing ecosystem.

In this episode, SEO Basics: How to Define a Quality Link we pick up where we left off in our last video SEO Basics: Why Do Links Matter for SEO? (if you haven’t yet seen that yet, you may like to check it out first). Enjoy!

We finished off last time by talking about how the role of an effective SEO agency is to identify and earn the links that matter the most. But what are these links that matter the most, from an SEO perspective? What do search engines consider to be a quality link with strong SEO value, and what links do they ignore?

As a quick intro, there are three things you need to know:

  1. Assessing link quality is a hefty and technical topic. There’s a lot to talk about here, so we’re going to scratch the surface and hopefully give you enough to guide your further research. Fortunately, common sense definitely applies so we’ll focus this video on getting the most from it.
  2. If you’re wondering how to check the links your site, or to a competitor site, head on over to Majestic SEO. You can register for a free account that will enable you to do this.
  3. The items I’m about to talk about represent my opinion, which I’m basing on individual experience, observation and generally accepted SEO industry best practice, so please know that this isn’t acknowledged by the search engines themselves, who are more secretive about the inner workings of their algorithms.

So let’s jump in. Imagine you’re reviewing a page that’s ranking really well for a competitive keyword in your industry. You’ve just downloaded a list of the 20 links that point to this page and are wondering: which of these 20 links is likely to be giving this page its ranking power? Which link is the most valuable? Perhaps you’d like to know this to guide your own link acquisition efforts, or maybe this is a page on your site that’s suddenly attracting lots of visitors through organic search, and you’d like to understand why so you can replicate that result across other areas.

We mentioned earlier that link evaluation was a hefty and technical pursuit – and it is. But fortunately, the main ideas can be simplified into three categories. Let’s call them the three pillars. Keeping these pillars in mind provides a practical framework that helps the other details naturally fall into place.

In order of importance, the three pillars for evaluating link quality from an SEO perspective are

  1. Credibility
  2. Topical Relevance and
  3. Merit

The ideal SEO link will satisfy the criteria of each pillar, so it will be credible, be topically relevant and be awarded based on merit.

As you review each link, you’ll know which questions to ask – which we’ll talk about in a second – to gain an understanding of the SEO value being passed. Fortunately, there’ll be a lot of common sense involved.

So, starting with the first pillar: Credibility.

To assess credibility, you’re going to look at the website that’s linking to you and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this website an important and trustworthy resource online, or put another way: would you feel comfortable recommending this site to a friend or relative?
  • Who is responsible for publishing the information on this website – and is this person or team of people recognised for their expertise in the space?
  • How long has this website been around – is it new or does it have an established history?

If you can answer that the website linking to you is a recognised, trusted resource with content produced by subject matter experts who have been at it for several years, then congratulations, you have a credible link that’s likely to have high SEO value.

Let’s move to pillar two: Topical Relevance

Now, when a search engine visits a page, it examines the words that are used and picks out certain terms and phrases, ‘keywords’, to classify and organise that page by topic. By crawling the web at length, search engines like Google have evolved to become very good at identifying which topics are related to each other, and which aren’t. A link between two pages on topics that Google recognises as relevant to each other is more powerful from an SEO perspective than a link between two pages that are about totally different topic areas.

So what questions should you ask when evaluating links with pillar two, topical relevance, in mind? Looking at the web page linking, ask:

  • What is the topic of the page where the link appears, and the domain, and how relevant is that to you?
  • What is the text that surrounds the link? The presence of nearby keywords would be a positive signal.
  • What is the clickable text of the link? Search engines use the clickable text, called ‘anchor text’, as a strong signal about the subject of the page. To use the flower website example mentioned earlier, a link with the clickable anchor text “flower delivery” will help to improve rankings for that term in particular, something to keep in mind as you prioritise the terms you want to rank for.

Now, on to the third pillar: Merit

Search engines prioritise links that it considers to be placed for the person, the user, who is reading the page; the types of links that are editorially awarded. These links are perceived to be the most genuine and are therefore more reliable for a search engine to use when calculating rankings. On the flip side, links that are NOT based on merit should be reduced in ranking power, as this could negatively impact the quality of search results.

Questions to ask about assessing pillar three, Merit include:

  • Why does this link exist – what motivated its placement? This is where you want to assess whether the link was awarded based on value to the user or some other authentic reason, or not.
  • Next, does this link appear to be part of a paid exchange, such as would be the case of a website purchasing a placement for a monthly fee? If it were clearly part of a paid exchange, the search engine would want to dilute the SEO value, as the endorsement is not awarded on the quality of the page but rather on the money exchanging hands. When a paid relationship is in place, search engines ask for a specialty tag to be placed in the HTML of the link, called ‘no follow’. As you can imagine, determining whether a link is part of a paid relationship or not is a tricky undertaking for a search engine and a subject of much debate in the SEO community. Several websites have landed in deep trouble by overtly purchasing links intended to manipulate their rankings.
  • And lastly, is the link mentioned in a positive or negative light? The ‘intent’ of the link is a vital data point. If a website receives a link because it’s a valuable resource, the search engine would want to be able to grasp and reward that. But, if a website was linked to because it was the worst in the space as part of an announcement for people to avoid it – a dodgy operator – a search engine would want to be able to interpret that too. This was a problem in the earlier days of the web, as some websites attracted links for the wrong reasons that search engines misinterpreted and ranked them highly for, which was not ideal. Fortunately, corrections have made to stop this happening now.

Well, that brings us to the end of this episode. I hope the three pillars of link evaluation: ‘Credibility’, ‘Topical Relevance’ and ‘Merit’ help you more easily assess which links are the most helpful to your SEO endeavors, and that this information guides your link acquisition and link building efforts in the future. By targeting and attracting links that fulfill the criteria of the three pillars, you’ll be building a foundation that will benefit both your rankings and your wider online marketing efforts for the long-term.

All the best for now, cheers!

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