Link building is tough, right? Kick it all off with an obvious comment! If you work in SEO you know that it is back breaking, labour intensive work and more often than not it can leave you disillusioned. But as an SEO you have a few tricks up your sleeves - you have the right tools, you know some advanced Google commands and you probably have some great spreadsheets with lists of possibilities and contacts that you have made over the years.

For Joe Blogs though it can be even more frustrating and when I am out and about doing consultancy and chatting to business owners I hear the same sort of questions:

"Where do I start?" "How do I go about getting the links?" and most the most common "How do I know which links are good and which are bad?"

Internet savvy businesses know the importance of inbound links - they just can't distinguish between what makes a link great and what makes a link bad. This is why we still have so many cruddy SEO companies that are selling a bazillion links for the price of a beer.

First things first

There is no such thing as a perfect link - only great links. Blindly pursuing what you believe to be a perfect link will only leave you heartbroken and seriously disillusioned.

What makes a link great?

Let us look at some of the factors that make a link great and if you feel that I have missed some factors feel free to chime up in the comments section. Equally if you feel that some of the factors that I list are wrong let us spark up a debate, these factors are not set in stone .

Topicality of the link - You want links that are on pages that feature content that is contextually relevant to the page it links to; equally having the link on a site that is contextually relevant is going to give the link more weight. It is also important that you think topically about the page that the link goes to - is it the most relevant page on your site for this link?

Trust of the site - Is the site trustworthy? A few years back we may have looked to PageRank for the answer but as that becomes more unreliable we need to look elsewhere. MozRank gives us a quick indicator of the trust of the site and whilst it has shown good correlation with PageRank  it is not the be all and end all. Instead take theses two scores and combine it with good old fashioned gut instinct. Ask yourself if you trust the site. Would you use the site and do you trust the information that it contains. Is the site professionally designed or does it look like it was made by a five year old with a bunch of Lego bricks? Trust your instincts.

Anchor text - Ideally you want a text link with the keywords of your choice. It is always worth asking for this don't settle for what you are given, but don't push too hard that you lose the link altogether.

Is the link editorial? You want a human to decide that you are going to get the link not some automated software that can't distinguish between your fantastic business and a spam ridden Viagra link. It needs to be moderated and not free for all - without generalising too much, the harder the link is to get the more valuable it will be.

Do not pay for the link - With all the recent news about big firms getting penalties form Google for black hat link building tactics this should be obvious. Google doesn't like them and if you get caught you are going to be put or the naught step indefinitely.

Try and find pages with very few links on them - Ideally it would be great if you were the only link on the page but how often is that going to happen? The link may even carry so more weight the higher up it appears on the page.

Nofollow - Does what it says on the tin (or so Google like us to believe). A healthy, natural looking link profile will contain Nofollow links but it is crucial that you don't spend a lot of time chasing them (unless you know that it will bring you a boatload of traffic). Get a plugin that allows you to highlight the links that are Nofollow so you can make your decisions quickly - I recommend the SEOmoz Toolbar or Quirk Search Status

Get a link in the body of the text surrounded by related information - Footers and Sidebar links used to work great but limit how many of these you have. A link in the text is infinitely superior, giving the link context, value and weight.

Other questions to ask

Will it send you traffic? It doesn't matter if it is good link and doesn't send traffic - but a truly great link will send traffic as well as boost your SEO efforts.

Do you know who else the site is linking to? Use the Bad Neighborhood Tool to find out

Who else links to the site? Check out the backlink profile of the site itself, are lots of trusted sites linking to?

Is the page that you want the link on indexed? does Google crawl the site frequently? There is no point having a link on a page that will never get crawled.

Is this everything that makes a link great? Probably not - feel free to add some more!

Wayne Barker

I work for Boom Online - an Online Marketing and SEO company based in Nottingham, England.

Boom Online

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12 Responses to “In Pursuit Of The Perfect Link: Learn How To Recognize Link Value”

  1. Yogesh Patel says:

    Yes, link building is a very tiresome process and it can actually take your nerves wrecking.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      Govern, that's so true. We have dedicated link builders at Search Engine People and I can tell you they're among the most respected team members simply because they work *so* hard.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. […] In Pursuit of the Perfect Link: Learn How to Recognize Link Value – Wayne Barker […]

  3. Sofia says:

    Done consistently, with thought and diligence, backlinks are like a draft horse…not necessarily the best looking but steady and graceful for the long haul. Thanks for the post dear!


  4. Wayne Barker says:

    Hi Yogesh,

    Ruud got in there before me…link building is tough work (but rewarding) and you get a buzz when you come up with something that works well!

  5. Wayne Barker says:

    Hi Sofia,

    Wow, Ruud is right you do have a lovely way with words! You make a key point about the long haul, which probably leads me to think that I should have added:
    Is the link going to be around for a while – hopefully forever!

  6. Dan says:

    I think it's important to mention that not all links will be great either, and when you can't get great ones, almost anything is better than none. You have to start somewhere.

    I hear many people talking about getting penalized by incoming links of low quality and I think it's also important to debunk this myth while we are on the topic.

    Yes a totally spammed link profile can get you slapped, but some naturally gained low quality links wont hurt a bit. Worst case they just won't help much.

    Other than that, it's a great article and does a good job of defining what a "great link" really is.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      The majority of web sites have no or hardly any incoming links. The links they do have are of "low" quality: mentions on a forum, a social networking site, stuff like that. Google certainly isn't going around punishing those sites made by Aunt Jane and Uncle Joe.

      But likewise sites that DO have incoming links, tend to have a pyramid-style quality spread. Heaps of "whatever" links, good section of "nice!" links and a couple of "wow, dudette!!!" links. The least I would do working at Google would be to flag a site for review when it has a good amount of links but that spread differs a lot from the others.

      Am I off here, you think?

  7. Wayne Barker says:

    Hi Dan,

    A link is a link is a link…I have to agree with you! It is also important not to spend too much time or poor quality links. Sure it will boost you link count and diversity, but don't spend to long on it.
    In reference to your penalisation point…Google isn't daft, everyone gets low qulaity links to their sites – it can be out of your hands. A link profile that show persistent spamming (well!).
    I think you should target some low quality links, I think you should target nofollow links – essentailly Google wants to see a natural link profile.
    You should work out how valuable any given link is and then spend the appropriate amount of time on it.

  8. Samuel Symes says:

    All link building is Blackhat unless its natural.

    Dont believe me?

    According to Google’s TOS, natural links are those links other sites point back to your site without the need to pay for it, ask for it, comment for it or insert a link in your hundreds of purposely written articles to gain it.

    So, if all link building techniques are actually manipulating search engine results, does it not stand to logic that all link building is Blackhat and off-page SEO practiced by most SEO firms is in effect, Blackhat?

    Think about it!

    • Wayne Barker says:

      Hi there Samuel,

      Thanks for the comment. I do however have to disagree with you strongly on the all link building is black hat comment.

      Lets say you create a resource for you blog readership. It is designed as link bait but you put your sweat, love and tears into it. Not only is it link bait it is a useful, well researched, beatifully written, elegantly designed resource – it gets shared on Twitter, it gets its own links – some from rubbish sites, some from good sites and some from what Ruud called "wow – dudette" sites.

      You designed it with a few things in mind:

      1. Give your readers something worthwhile and useful
      2. Expand your brand reach and brand familiarity
      3. Get a few links as well

      This kind of content and resources are not black hat but are a link building technique.

      Not all link building has to be about manipulation!

      But I do concur that there are a lot of firms producing spam ridden rubbish!