How to Quickly Assess Backlink Quality for SEO

Jake Sheridan
May 14

Backlinks have always been one of the most important ranking factors in SEO.

But over time, Google has changed how they assess the quality of a link.

Now they are much more discerning about factors like its position on a page, the context or relevance, the actual types of backlinks, and more.

That means that you need to start learning how to quickly and properly assess backlink quality, like Google.

As search engines update their algorithms, you may start to find that links you earned in the past that were fine, may start becoming toxic.

The days where you only had to worry about having lots of links is over.

It is necessary to monitor your backlink profile regularly and assess the quality of each new link you earn. That way you can act quickly to disavow any toxic backlink as they pop up and avoid any penalties to your rankings.

Here are some tips to help you quickly assess backlink quality to improve your SEO.

What Is Backlink Quality?

Backlink quality is not a single metric. It is more of an assessment based on a range of link building metrics, to help you figure out how much of a positive or negative feedback a link will have.

In SEO, a quality backlink refers to links that meets key factors, such as the following:

  • Link is set as dofollow within the body text of a page.
  • Link is from a high-quality website
  • Link is on a page and topic that is relevant to the topic of your page that gets linked to
  • Link uses keywords within the anchor text that is relevant to the topic on your page

The quality of a backlink will take these main factors into account.

It is important to note that most links that you earn will not meet more than one or two of these criteria. In order to have a link with “good enough” quality, you only need to meet one of those points.

Why Is Backlink Quality Important?

There are two main reasons why you should care about the quality of each link you have.

First, because the better quality a link has, the more “link juice” it passes to your page and domain. There’s no point in spending tons of time or money outsourcing link building only to earn nothing but low quality links.

The second reason is because it can help you spot low quality links that could potentially be toxic to your rankings. That way you can disavow them and any toxic domains linking to you in case Google penalizes you for them.

Quality vs Quantity Backlinks

In Google’s early days, the first major rank factor they used to determine the best pages to show for a given search was how many backlinks pointed to a page.

This was before Google was as sophisticated with how they crawled pages and websites.

The issue with only looking at the quantity of backlinks a page had is that it was easy to manipulate.

Black hat SEO professionals would buy links, enter link exchanges, and spam tons of low-quality links on any website they could find. This led to low-quality and irrelevant pages ranking higher in searches, ruining the user experience.

So over the years, Google consistently updated their algorithms to slowly move away from looking at backlink quantity.

They added penalties to websites that had a lot of those types of blackhat backlinks. Instead, they started putting more importance on link relevance and having contextual backlinks.

Although it’s hard to argue with the fact that more page one ranking pages seem to have more referring domains:

Source: https://backlinko.com/search-engine-ranking

How To Do a Backlink Quality Assessment?

Now it’s time to look at how you do a proper quality assessment for your backlinks.

There are a lot of useful link building tools you can use to help make this task easier.

Use these tips to revise your link building plan to take link quality into account. That way you can avoid a link profile that looks like this:

Analyze domain relevance and quality

The first step in assessing the quality of your SEO backlinks is to look at the domain linking to your page. The general idea is that the higher quality and more relevant a linking domain is, the more link juice it will pass to you.

On the other side of that coin, having a lot of low-quality links that are irrelevant to your page is one of the major red flags to Google.

That’s how your rankings start dropping, or you even receive a manual penalty.

You should also check the domain authority of your Linking Root Domains in a tool like Ahrefs, Moz, or Majestic SEO. Check the page that links to you and take a close look at the following:

  • How natural the link is worked into the content
  • How relevant the topic and link is to your page that is linked to
  • How much the link is meant to “help” users (citing you as a source, linking to your tool they can use, etc)

There is an element of subjectivity to how you assess these factors. But it is very important that you do it each time to make sure you keep your backlink profile healthy (and full of authority links)

If you see any red flags that could make the linking page look like spam, or black hat, play it safe and disavow it.

Find as many referring domains as you can

One of the ways that Google changed from looking at backlink quantity to quality is by shifting to referring domains.

The idea is that you can easily spam one website with tons of links, but it’s more difficult to spam links across lots of domains.

Ideally you want to run sites through as many different tools as possible to check referring domains.

Use tools like CognitiveSEO, Majestic, SEMRush, Ahrefs or Moz. The goal is to find ALL the referring domains.

There can be some variation in what domains each tool finds. That’s why we recommend using multiple tools to combine all of the data they found together.

So when you are assessing the quality of a new link you received, check what domain the link is coming from.

Is it a domain that has already linked to you several times, or is it a brand new domain linking to you? The latter is much more valuable than the former because it makes your backlink profile look more “natural”.

If you do not check this regularly, you may suddenly find that a spammy, low quality domain added tons of links to your website. That’s a major red flag to Google, and something you want to disavow as soon as possible.

Check the anchor text

Anchor text is the clickable text that gets hyperlinked (blue and underlined).

Google uses the anchor text of a link when it crawls a page to determine how relevant the link is to the content. It is one of the newer factors for assessing backlink quality.

In general, a quality backlink would have anchor text that uses the main keyword for the page being linked to. So if your page is about bathroom renovations, the anchor text would contain that keyword.

Google looks at anchor text because, in the past, black hat SEOs would hide irrelevant links in order to spam more of them.

So they would get a link to a renovations page, but add it in a page about surfing or fishing or something unrelated. The anchor text being irrelevant to the topic of the page being linked to is a red flag.

That’s also why you should check the anchor text of your links. Make sure the anchor text is relevant, but also natural. You don’t want to have the exact same anchor text in all your looks — that also looks spammy.

It’s pretty easy to check in Ahrefs:

Just drop your domain in and head over to the Referring domains report.

You’ll be able to toggle an anchor text report to help you assess your links anchor text:

Check link locations

Another more recent factor for link quality that Google looks at is the on-page location.

This refers to the position of a link on the page, and what level of importance it implies. That means that Google will not pass the same amount of link juice to every link on the same page.

For example, let’s say you (in good faith) write a guide on a given topic to help your readers.

Chances are the most important resources will be linked at the start of the body text. You would not place an important link buried at the bottom where people are less likely to read it.

So when you get a new link, make sure you go to the page linking to you.

See where you can find the link by searching for the anchor text, and quickly assess its position.

In the main body of content? Anyway here is is acceptable really? Being at the top or in the middle is best.

In the header, a sidebar, or the footer? This likely means you won’t get much link juice from it.

Here is a rough idea of on-page positions for links:

  • Body content, with decreasing value the further down you go
  • Header
  • Sidebars
  • Footers

Here is what those types of links generally look like on a page:

Source: http://www.kandhaudiology.com/hearing-aids/accessories-for-hearing-aids/

Don’t forget to check for actual traffic

The last thing to check is how much (if any) referral traffic you get from a link.

This is a relatively minor thing that many people forget to look into. You want to check this not just because more real traffic is good, but also because it’s a sign that the website linking to you is legit.

It has real readers that digest their content and click on their links.

You can check your referral traffic in Google Analytics under Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals to see the referring domains.

For example, you might find a link in Ahrefs that has good metrics otherwise but no traffic.

That’s a small red flag that should make you dig into that referring domain some more. It’s not a highly accurate signal, but it does give you a clear enough indication of link quality to go with everything else.

Summary

Backlink quality is very important to assess when building a healthy link profile.

It means you can spot any bad links that act as red flags to Google and could hurt your website’s traffic and rankings. Make sure you disavow the toxic links whenever you find them.

It can also help you guide your link building (+ backlink buying) efforts in the future.

It ensures you focus on quality, diversity and relevance over quantity. And if you check your backlinks using various SEO tools on a regular basis, you can stay on top of your efforts to improve your rankings.

You can see what sites do not pass the quality test so you can refocus your efforts, saving a lot of time and money in the process.

Written by Jake Sheridan on May 14, 2020

Founder of Sheets for Marketers, I nerd out on automating parts of my work using Google Sheets. At Loganix I build products, and content marketing. There’s nothing like a well deserved drink after a busy day spreadsheeting.

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