As a professional link builder, I have one mission to accomplish and I don’t want to waste valuable time and energy on link prospects that won’t help me get any closer to my goal; search engine rankings. As a site owner, neither should you.

In theory, the purpose of getting a backlink is so that Google will visit the page you’re linked from and follow the link back to your site. The more Google runs into your links while crawling the web, and follows them back to your site, the more popular your site will become and the higher your rankings will be in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

In order to build links for the intention of ranking though, there are 3 basic principles or practices that you must be aware of. I therefore recommend that you qualify your link prospects by doing the research and answering, “yes” to the following three questions before deciding to pursue any backlink prospect.

Is the page themed to my content?

It’s true that the number of sites that link to yours is crucial for helping the search engines determine your popularity. It’s not only the amount of links that matter though. The link also needs to make sense.

A link from a page about adorable kittens, when your site is about herbal supplements, isn’t exactly useful. This is because the search engines know that a page about kittens isn’t an authority on supplements. A link to the same herbal supplement site, from a pharmacy on the other hand, would make more sense and thus be more valuable.

When weeding through link prospects, don’t even consider pages or sites that don’t logically fit in with your theme or industry. Always think quality over quantity for maximum impact.

Is the page indexed in Google?

One of the most common mistakes I see regarding link building, is valuable time being wasted going after backlinks from a page that isn’t even indexed in Google. Not being “indexed” means that Google has never visited the page. If Google has never visited the page it can’t count your link. I cannot stress enough that if you’re building links for ranking purposes, it makes no sense to go after a link that Google won’t even see.

In order to determine if a certain page has been indexed, simply plug the URL into the Google search box. If Google knows about it and has visited the page, it should be the very first result returned. Also use your tools, such as the Google toolbar. If a page has Pagerank, you automatically know it has been included in Google’s index.

There could be many reasons why a page wouldn’t be included in Google’s index. The page could be brand new. It could be “orphaned” (no other pages link to it from anywhere on the web). Or the site owner could have chosen to “noindex” the page via a meta tag or robots.txt file. This basically means, the search engines are being told to ignore the page completely.

Keep in mind that a brand new or orphaned page can still have some backlink potential (just point a link or two towards them), whereas a page, which has been noindexed, is a lost cause and should be disregarded.

To find out for sure, view the source code and use “ctrl+f” to search for any “noindex” meta tags. Also type “robots.txt” after the “/” on the homepage paying special attention to any “disallowed” pages or directories.

Is the link followed?

Sometimes, even when a page is appropriately themed and is indexed in Google it still may not be a worthy link prospect due to the outbound links having the “nofollow” link attribute. This means that when Google visits the page, it’s being told not to follow the links thereby giving them no ranking value. Many savvy site owners will do this in order to keep their hard earned Pagerank from leaking to other sites.

There are a few ways to tell if a link has been nofollowed. You can either install a nofollow highlighter browser plug-in which will highlight all the nofollowed links on any given webpage while you surf, or you can “view source” on any webpage and search for “nofollow” using “ctrl+f”. If you’re considering a certain page for a backlink request, it would definitely be worth your while to investigate.

Do keep in mind the traffic potential of a nofollowed link though, as not all backlinks are targeted for ranking.

Bonus Question: Can I use custom anchor text?

If you’ve found a link prospect that meets all of the above criteria AND they’re willing to let you use custom anchor text well then you’ve pretty much struck gold, as these types of links are NOT easy to come by. Don’t waste the opportunity! Make sure the text you choose is precisely what you want to rank for.

The most important thing, you as a site owner can do though, to facilitate your own success, is to provide intelligent, well-written content that appeals to your target audience. And by that I mean, you can qualify link prospects until the cows come home, but if your site is garbage, then you’re literally just wasting your time, as no quality site will even consider linking to you.

Which brings me to one last question you should probably ask yourself before you even start making link requests to other sites, and that is… would I link to my site?? But that's a whole other post in itself 😉

Melanie Nathan is a Canada SEO consultant, specializing in link building. Follow Melanie on Twitter to learn more about her and the work she does.