It can sometimes be difficult to tell how much effort is reasonable, or if it’s even worthwhile to pursue a link from a particular website. Especially if you’re relatively new to SEO.
I was recently reminded of this while training an employee to find potential link opportunities. She’s great at the job she does day in and day out, but she completely missed the mark on this.
Part of the reason she missed the mark was because I initially gave very loose guidelines. I like to do that because it helps me see how my employees think on a topic and it shows me what I don’t need to teach them. It also helps them to become more comfortable taking initiative.
The other part of the reason she missed the mark is that there is no purely objective way to evaluate a website. It requires the instinct of an experienced professional.
Sure, we have some metrics like Domain Authority or traffic volume, but search engine optimization is just as much an art as it is a science, so it’s impossible to break things like this down to purely a mathematical formula.
That’s why evaluating potential link opportunities requires us to make a judgment based on a number of factors, using both data and instinct.
I’m going to outline my process in this article.
1. Domain Metrics
When we’re trying to earn a link from a website, our main goal is to improve organic ranking.
Sure, we all talk about publicity, brand recognition, referral traffic, and these are all worthy goals, but the bottom line is that we want to rank better so we’ll get more organic traffic.
One of the easiest ways to prioritize the websites we want to earn links from is to sort them by an objective measurement of the strength of the domain.
We used to be able to do that with Google’s PageRank, but those days are long behind us. Google doesn’t make this score public anymore, and for obvious reasons.
Much like leaving your kid’s Halloween candy in their bedroom only to find them groaning with a stomach ache the next morning, SEO professionals used that data to determine a market price for buying and selling links — a practice that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and then exploited it at a massive scale.
So, predictably, Google simply stopped sharing the PageRank score publicly.
SEO data providers stepped up to provide their own interpretation of the score. Moz has Domain Authority, SEMrush has Authority Score, Majestic has Citation Flow, and there are many others.
Some will cry “But that’s not from Google so it’s not accurate!”
But the point isn’t to find a new tool to calculate Google’s PageRank score of a webpage, is it?
Of course not.
The point is to find a simple score to quickly sort a number of websites based on the inbound links pointed at them.
We want to do this because the greater the number of high-quality, relevant links that point to a website, the stronger their outbound links will generally be, and the more impact they will have on your ranking.
And the scores from any of these tools can be a great starting point for evaluating whether a link from a particular website is worth pursuing.
Domain metrics alone don’t tell the whole story though, so we need to consider several other factors.
2. Traffic Volume
If I have to decide between a link from a website with great domain metrics and relatively little traffic, or modest domain metrics and a significant amount of traffic, I’ll choose the latter almost every single time.
That’s because lots of links but little traffic is often a sign of a low-quality website, and the links from these kinds of websites will become less effective over time.
But when a website has lots of traffic, not only do you get the benefit of the link, but you also get exposure to real people.
These visitors are people who can potentially buy your products and services, tell others about your company, and even write about and link to your website. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see how this can be exponentially more impactful.
But don’t just look at a website’s current traffic. Look at how it’s traffic has trended over time.
If they’ve steadily gained traffic, that’s usually a good sign that a link is worth pursuing. If their traffic is nonexistent or has been steadily declining, then you might want to direct your energy elsewhere.
It’s completely normal to have some ups and downs, but what we’re looking for is an overall trend of growth.
3. Publishing Frequency
When was the last time the website you’re looking at published a blog post?
If it’s been months or years, they probably won’t be particularly eager to publish a guest post or edit an existing post to add your link. And even if they did, it may not be found by search engines for quite some time since it may not get crawled frequently anymore.
Usually, once a publisher stops regularly updating its website with new content, that website begins to descend into obscurity.
The only question is how fast will it descend?
The speed will be determined by their current position, how often competitors publish new content, and a slew of other variables.
But either way – why would you want to invest your time, money, and energy into a sinking ship?
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here, though. You don’t need to find websites that publish 10 times a day. Or once a day. Or even once a week.
You just need to find ones that publish consistently.
That might be once a day, or it might mean once a month. Hell, there are a few that publish as rarely as once a quarter – but their content is so mind-blowingly amazing that their audience eagerly awaits, reads, shares, and links to each article.
That consistency trains both their audience and Google to check back regularly looking for it.
4. Content Quality
I have a pretty simple rule of thumb when it comes to evaluating content quality.
If the content on a website isn’t something I would publish on the website I’m trying to earn links for, then I’m not going to put much effort into getting a link from that website.
This isn’t about getting on a soapbox and screaming about following Google’s guidelines or some nonsense about white hat vs. black hat tactics.
It’s a lot more simple than that.
If the content on a website is trash, then it tells me a lot about how they run their business. And if they run their business poorly, then they probably won’t be around for very long.
I like to invest for the long term. So if I can earn a link that sticks around for several years, my return on investment is significantly higher than if I put the same effort into a link that only stays live for a year.
If a website is shut down, it’s bound to be snapped up on the domain aftermarket and turned into a splog promoting porn or Viagra, and I either lose that link, or now it’s coming from a website filled with porn or pharma content.
Either way, all my hard work goes down the drain.
You should focus your link building efforts on the sites that are producing great content because they will continue to grow, as will the value of their outbound links.
Plus, once you’ve developed a relationship with the owners/editors of that site, it’s easy to go back to the well from time to time.
I look at content relevance in the same way I look at content quality. It can play a role algorithmically – although how much of a role it plays is debatable.
But I still want to pursue links from relevant websites because their audience will be more closely aligned with the audience of the website I’m building links for.
Don’t take it too far though. For example, when building links for a real estate website, you don’t need to only consider other real estate websites.
Think about it from a user’s perspective. What might someone who is interested in real estate also be interested in or need to know?
Some topics might include:
- Personal finance
- Interior design
It’s also important to not open your criteria too broadly, though. If a website publishes content on every topic under the sun, it probably won’t draw in much traffic because the hyper-focused websites will earn the majority of it.
The idea is to look for websites that have published sufficient content on and rank for the topics that your ideal audience is interested in.
Featured & In-Post Images: Created by author, January 2020