Link Relevance: What it is & Why it Matters for SEO
When it comes to link building, relevance is everything — both for SEO value and for improving the success rate of your outreach.
For SEO, Google is constantly updating their algorithm to focus more and more on relevance, and this includes how they treat links.
If you’re an SEO professional or a business that handles link building campaigns in-house, it’s a good idea to brush up on link relevance.
The same link building tactics that worked for you in the past will likely not be as effective now. Relevance is the direction Google is taking, so old tactics will be even less effective over time.
If you need to revamp your strategy to make sure your next campaign is successful, it’s time to focus on relevancy.
Here is our guide to link relevance, what it is, and why it’s so important for the future of SEO.
What Is Link Relevance?
Link relevancy refers to how useful and topically similar to a website is when they link to your website.
In a nutshell: you want links from sites that are relevant you to you. It wouldn’t be relevant for this SEO blog to have lots of links for sites about dogs and vice versa.
It is a signal that Google uses both for individual links, as well as your whole backlink profile. There are a few reasons why Google is placing more importance on the relevance of your links:
- It helps Google get a better understanding of what your business is about, such as industry, products, and services
- It helps prevent black hat link building from websites completely irrelevant to your site
- Google can break down the relevance of a link from domain to domain, domain to page, page to page, and link to page
As an example of the third point, let’s say that you run a cookware shop and a website dedicated to homes and gardens. The whole domain concept might not seem very relevant, but they might have a section of the website dedicated to cooking and cookware. Here’s how those four categories for relevance works:
- Domain to Domain: Your cookware website has a light amount of relevance to a home and garden site
- Domain to page: The home and garden site’s review on best cookware is highly relevant to your domain
- Page to page: The home and harden site’s review on a specific cookware product that links to your page on that same product is highly relevant
- Link to page: If the position of the link on the page makes sense contextually, or if it was placed randomly purely to manipulate SEO
These four levels of relevance allow for a more sophisticated set of link metrics you can use to assess a link’s value. It also represents the present and the future of link building.
Why are relevant links important for link building?
The reason why relevance is so important for link building goes back to how Google treats backlinks in their algorithm.
Links have always been one of the pillars for SEO, going back to the start of Google. However, how search engines assess the quality of links has changed dramatically.
In order to prevent people from abusing unnatural, low quality, and black hat links, Google has evolved its algorithm to be more selective. The whole point of a natural link is that someone thought your content, website or product is good enough to share on their website.
In short, when you build links to your website (or your client’s website), you should be asking yourself the following questions:
- Would you show the link you got to your client, colleagues or boss?
- Would you show it to an SEO expert as an example of your work?
- Would you show it to your friends, family, and website users?
If you think you should hide the links you get from everyone, from Google to real users, that’s a sign of a bad link.
That’s what Google’s algorithm attempts to do when assessing the quality of a link as well. That is why focusing on relevance is so important in link building.
In the end, it’s all about establishing link authority that Google can trust. The less relevant a link is, the more red flag signals Google receives that your link is low-quality and unnatural. Not only will that not pass on any SEO value, but it can also get your site penalized.
3 Tips for Getting Good Links (with Link Relevance)
Most SEOs (and link builders) want the same things: high quality links from authority sites AND search engine rankings.
Understanding relevant backlinks helps you get both!
There are a few ways to improve your link relevance to get more success from your link building campaign.
You want to be deliberate in focusing on relevance in every part of your strategy. That means you should stop and consider if a link is relevant for users at every step in the process:
- When you research websites and opportunities for outreach
- When you write content to generate natural links and for guest posting
- When you set up the technical elements of your links, such as anchor text
Want to help improve link relevance RIGHT NOW? Here are three things you can do in your link building strategy:
#1 Outreach to relevant sites
One of the most common ways to get high quality and/or highly relevant links is through outreach.
But here’s a depressing statistic:
Only 8.5% of backlink blogger outreach emails get a response email
With hit rates being low, you want to make sure you are outreaching to relevant sites and not wasting your time.
The goal is to find other websites through either manual research or link building tools that are relevant to yours and open to linking.
For manual research, you can search for your industry or niche keyword and variations of link solicitation keywords. Here are some examples:
- “Camping equipment” + “reviews”
- “Beauty advice” + “guest posts”
- “Home renovation” + “guest contributor”
This method helps you find sites that have at least some relevance to your niche.
However, you will still need to check each of the results you find to make sure they are a good match for your site.
Each website should go through a careful vetting process. In addition to things like cost, you should be checking each prospect for the following link building metrics:
- Relevance — the website, page, and/or link relevance is a good match for yours
- Quality — has good domain authority and/or page authority
- Backlink profile — make sure they don’t have toxic links that could affect you if they get penalized
For relevance, the should be in the same niche with some overlap in audiences.
However, they don’t have to overlap in purpose — you don’t want to do outreach to competitors, for example. You want to find websites that provide a different purpose.
If you sell products or services, you can target websites that review such things. If you write content related to your niche, you can target websites that has similar content but maybe wants expert opinion.
A good example of relevant outreach is an accountant reaching out to a blog that focuses on providing finance advice. A quick Google search will bring up lots of blogs to reach out to:
If they are open to guest posting, you can write all kinds of content for them where you give basic legal advice to business owners.
An example of poor relevance would be that law firms reaching out to a nutrition blog to pitch content related to business law.
#2 Write helpful content
The kind of link that Google likes most of all is one that you get naturally.
It’s when another website likes your content and/or your products or services so much, they link to it on their site. The idea is that these links happen because you earned it by being trustworthy and authoritative.
That’s all well and good, but getting natural authority links is not easy.
Content marketing and social media can help. According to a study by SEMrush, 77% of our respondents said that their company had a content marketing strategy:
It all comes back to having highly relevant and high-quality content on your site. It must be the type of content that answers people’s questions and solves their problems.
If you do it right, people are more likely to link to your site and your content. They might even ask you for a quote or article to share your expertise.
These are the best links to get for your SEO because they are purely natural and you don’t have to spend time with outreach.
Let’s say your business is a dental clinic, and you want to write good quality content to attract natural links. Here are some good examples of content to write for your site:
- Signs of common dental health issues
- Tips for proper brushing or flossing technique
- Recommendations for the best dental health products to use (toothbrush, mouthwash, toothpaste, etc)
- Review of services like Invisalign, Smile Direct Club, and other services related to dentistry
Alternatively, you could use Ahrefs Content Explorer.
Search your keyword/topic, set the filter to ‘In title” and order by referring domains:
This will show you existing AND relevant content around your topic that is getting links, so you can create your own better version.
It is important for you to focus on writing content that is relevant to your niche and not stray outside of it.
Take that same dentist clinic above. It makes sense to write any content that helps address people’s questions and concerns about dental health and related products.
However, it does not make sense to write about something like sports, TV shows, video games, or any other area of entertainment. Sure, you may rank for some low difficulty keywords and pick up some links, but these are not the type of backlinks you want. They just won’t be relevant.
Even other bits of medical information outside of dentistry, such as optometry or physiotherapy would not be very relevant.
It’s important to remember that your content can come in multiple forms, including some that are more likely to be shared and linked to. That includes things like:
- White papers
- Downloadable guides and information packs
#3 Anchor text
The last tip for improving the relevance of your links is to optimize the anchor text.
When you see the clickable text hyperlinked on a web page, usually in blue and underlined, that is the anchor text. The general purpose of anchor text is to provide some context for what page is being linked to.
For example, let’s say we have a food blog and this article: [recipe for potato leek soup].
We want links from sites with descriptive anchor text.
If you drop the page in Ahrefs you’ll be able to see anchor texts of referring domains:
This is a good example of anchor text being optimized for relevance. It has the keyword [potato leek soup] in it.
However, it could be even more relevant if it had the full keyword: [recipe for potato leek soup]
Still, it’s better than this:
This is an example of poorly optimized anchor text. Instead of mentioning the recipe, the anchor text is just “here”. This is pretty vague.
The problem with anchor text like that is that it does not give any hint or indication what it is linking to (aka it is not relevant).
The issue is that search engines like Google use anchor text as a signal for relevance. The mindset is that when someone links to something natural, they are likely to describe the page in the anchor text. It is just a natural behavior.
So when you reach out to a site for a link, whether it’s a guest post or something else, make sure you ask for specific anchor text.
Here are some tips for optimizing the anchor text in your links:
- Describe the page being linked to as concisely as possible
- Use some keywords that are relevant to your page but don’t over-stuff it
- Mix up the keywords used in the anchor text of your backlink profile so you have a diverse mix
That last two points are important. If you use the same anchor text for all of the links you get, Google may treat it as spam and penalize you. Just remember to focus on being relevant and descriptive, and you will find natural variants for the keywords you want to target.
Don’t forget: some of the best link opportunities can be found by analysing your competitor’s backlink profiles:
Search engines like Google have been shifting the focus of their algorithms to relevancy for years, and show no signs of stopping. This is especially true for link building, which has been a foundational pillar for search engine optimization for a long time.
When developing your own link building plan (or considering outsourcing) it is important to shift your focus to match Google’s for your campaign to be successful. That means targeting websites in the same niche as yours, writing high-quality content relevant to your business, and optimizing anchor text.