Building backlinks has always been a priority for smart webmasters, who know that Google and the other search engines place a tremendous amount of value on the caliber and number of sites linking in to a given page. However, following the now-infamous Google Panda update, it isn’t the quantity of these links that matters so much as the quality.
It’s not that this is a new phenomenon – for years, Google’s spokespeople have been encouraging website owners to focus on providing value and building quality links. In fact, they’ve even let it be known that some of the ways Google penalizes sites with poor link profiles is with a lower PageRank score or lower rankings. As the KSL Consulting team summarizes:
“When link devaluation is applied, as it has with reciprocal links as well as links from many paid text links, low quality web directories and link farms, the recipient website may suffer a reduction in Google ranking. The severity of any ranking fall is usually synonymous with the website's reliance on that particular type of linking.”
So it isn’t that the recent penalties dealt out by Google in response to backlinking strategies that don’t mesh with Panda’s quality guidelines is something new – it’s just that the recent algorithm changes have made Google more effective than ever before at identifying and penalizing poor quality links.
With this in mind, you can see why it’s so important that webmasters start focusing their efforts on attracting high quality backlinks. Google’s goal has always been to provide the best quality search results, so it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll continue making tweaks like this that are designed to weed out sites with bad link profiles. Just because your site hasn’t suffered from any of the past Google Panda rollouts doesn’t mean that your poor quality backlink profile will always pass muster.
But as you begin to align your efforts towards finding the best possible sites to link back to your page, keep in mind that there’s no specific type of backlink that’s guaranteed to provide the biggest benefit (although you’d be wise to stay away from all of the types listed in the quote above). Instead, your biggest concern should be the quality of your link source, whether you decide to pursue guest posts, blog comment links, link directories or other methods.
Here’s what to look for in an ideal backlink site, whether you’re approaching a site owner to solicit a link or have received a request from another site owner proposing a link exchange:
References to Paid Links – Now, I’m going to assume that you’re being a good webmaster and personally reviewing every site you plan to solicit links from, so while you’re doing that check, look out for any mention of paid or sponsored links. If you see anything mentioning “paid anchor text links” or “sponsored text links”, get out of there and look for better sites to request links from.
Updated Content – Google and the other search engines like to play favorites, and the sites they give the most preference to are those with regularly updated, helpful content. If you click through to a potential link site and see a homepage that’s as deserted as a ghost town and hasn’t been updated at all in the last month, move on. There are plenty of better options out there to pursue links from!
Relevant Niche – Although there’s still debate in the internet marketing community about how sensitive the search engines are at determining how closely related two sites are, there’s no doubt that it’s best to seek backlinks from sites that are substantially related to your own.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to go out and find a site that targets the same long tail keywords as yours (for example, finding another “dog training” site to link to your page on this topic), but it’s a good idea to at least stay within the same general niche (in this case, sites in the pets niche would be good linking candidates). Basically, if your site is on dog training, a link from a technology blog or a celebrity gossip website isn’t going to help you nearly as much as a more relevant link.
And whatever you do, stay away from links from adult sites, online gambling sites or sites that promote known scam offers (for example, “free” trials of Hoodia or HGC diet pills). Links from these sites can raise a major red flag from the search engine spiders and can result in penalties being applied to your site.
Language Barriers – This should probably go without saying, but look for sites to link into your own that are written in the same language. Mismatches here typically indicate that a link isn’t natural, which is a major “no-no” in the eyes of the search engines. Sure, there are a few limited scenarios where it makes sense for sites in different languages to be linked together, but if there’s no logical reason in your case, steer clear of these links.
Poor Site Quality – Yes, this criterion is a little subjective. However, if you come across a potential linking site that fails any of the following tests, chances are the site your considering won’t provide a high enough quality backlink to make the effort worth your time.
- Scraped articles – Different writing styles, a mess of topics that don’t quite make sense together and content that’s irrelevant to the theme of the site are all dead giveaways that you’re looking at a scraper site. If you aren’t sure, grab the first sentence or two of an article on the site and paste it into the search engines. If you see the exact article posted elsewhere, move on to the next potential linking site.
- Basic theme – Webmasters who care about their sites care enough to make them look as good as possible. While a site doesn’t need to a $5,000+ custom design to be a good linking partner, seeing a basic, over-used template is an indication that you’re looking at a low quality site.
- Frequency of posts – Ideally, a site that you’re considering seeking a backlink from should have no more than 2-3 posts per day. Any more than that and there’s a good chance you’re looking at a site that’s pulling all of its content in automatically via RSS feed plugins.
Low Site Metrics – There are a number of different metrics you can consider when analyzing a potential linking site’s quality, including its PageRank, its SEOMoz “mozRank” score and its Alexa rankings (depending on your niche). Although your specific preferences may vary, we prefer to build links from sites that have at least a PR1 score and a 2+ score through SEOMoz.
If – even after applying all of these criteria to a potential linking site – you still aren’t sure if the backlink you’d receive would be high enough quality, just use the good old “gut check.” If something doesn’t feel quite right about the site or if you aren’t 100% sure that the link is a good fit for your site, look for another one. There are so many potential linking partners out there that it isn’t necessary to jeopardize your site’s future with poor quality backlinks.
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