To Build Better Links, Stop Focusing On The Bad Ones

Over the past year, I confess that I’ve spent way more time digging into bad links than good links. I’ve conducted audits with the specific goal of finding problems — not finding links to emulate or identifying awesome links that the client should go to great lengths to keep.

I’ve written more about problem links than about beneficial links, and the second I get on the phone with a prospective client and we start talking about his or her link profile, I zero in on the low-quality stuff.

Being so negative really can wear you out.

In light of that, I’m going to spend some time focusing on the good links, on the great ones, and on the positive parts of a profile rather than the negative parts. I’m going to focus more on the links that you want to keep than the ones that you want to weed out. In the end, that’s what link building is all about, right? Building quality links.

Cleaning up the bad links is fine and even necessary at times, but making the most of good ones can be just as critical, if not more so. Thinking about what you’re doing right and doing that more often is also critical. (Just don’t abuse it and ruin it for the rest of us.)

Identifying Your Strongest Links

First of all, let’s look at a few link tools that provide metrics to help you determine which links are your highest quality ones. (Note: in my last post, I pointed out that relying solely on metrics to label bad links was a bad idea, and I think the same can be said for good links, too.)

Link Research Tools: I usually use the Quick Backlinks report, which is nice because it reports a site’s strongest backlinks. (My plan lists up to 8,000 links, but the tool can show up to 30,000 links if you have a more advanced plan.) You can sort the results by the Power * Trust column in order to see which links have the best metrics.

power trust

Open Site Explorer: The main metrics I like here are Page Authority and Domain Authority. You can view the Linking Domains and sort by Domain Authority if you like, or you can get more granular, sorting by Page Authority on the Inbound Links tab. You can definitely get a great link from a page with low Page Authority on a site with high Domain Authority, so I tend to rely more on the Domain Authority in this tool. As an example, you can see below that the Page Authority for my SEL bio is only 69 but the Domain Authority for SEL overall is 92.

OSE auth

Majestic: I like Majestic because you can choose to view either the Fresh Index or the Historic Index. On the Backlinks tab, you’ll see Citation Flow and Trust Flow metrics for both the URL and the entire domain. This report’s view isn’t sortable (perhaps it’s my plan, I’m honestly not sure), but you can download the information and sort it in a spreadsheet, of course. Just as with Open Site Explorer’s data, I tend to rely more on the domain metrics than the page/URL ones.

Majestic auth

Ahrefs: On the Backlinks tab, you’ll see Ahrefs Rank and Ahrefs Domain Rank, both sortable columns. Like everyone else’s proprietary metrics, these are unique to Ahrefs — and again, I’d probably rely more on the Domain Rank. To make it easier if you are going with domain rank, you can click on the Domains (Referring) tab and just see those metrics.

ahrefs auth

Analyzing What Makes A Link “Good”

Now that you have the metrics you want, you need to look at those links and determine what makes them good. It’s generally pretty easy to look at a bad link and point out why it’s so awful — but sometimes, it’s trickier to discern the merits of a great link.

I’ve seen fantastic links from sites that I initially disliked. For example, if I visit a site that has flashy, neon banners, my gut reaction is to assume it’s a low-quality site — but it could be an amazing site. Many website elements that initially turn me off are just outdated design and ultimately have nothing to do with the content of the site itself.

I suppose that Google would define a great link as being an editorially given one that is good for users — and while I would absolutely agree with that, I’d have to add that it’s crazy to deny the ranking help given by a link on a high-authority site even if it’s not totally relevant to your own site.

Many sites have at least a few backlinks from top-notch sites that don’t generate traffic (or, if they do generate traffic, it doesn’t convert.) And while I wouldn’t necessarily propose building more links like that, would I want to keep them? Heck yes!

That said, you should definitely consider your link metrics in conjunction with your referral analytics. Some of those links that don’t have great metrics (but don’t have bad ones, either) might be sending you really good traffic. Those are good links. Generally speaking, if a link sends you relevant traffic that converts, that’s a really great link for your site. Whether or not Google agrees is hard to say, however.

Determining Your Most Fruitful Link Building Activities

If you can, trace those high-traffic referring links back to how you got them. What do they have in common? Did you get them through social media promotions or relationships that you built on Twitter? Are they mostly from speaker and blogger bios? Are you being interviewed a lot? Did any of them come about through an offline method? Were they generated from linkbait?

To give you an example, if I analyze my site’s backlinks, the best links are easily found and are very obvious. And they do have something in common: they’re all links that I’ve had to earn by contributing to my industry. They’re from sites that I write for, sites where I have contributed to a crowdsourced post or survey, sites where I have been interviewed, or industry sites that feel comfortable “recommending” us for whatever reason.

I don’t have a lot of great local links because we’ve usually done business with people in other areas, and local has never been a big thing for us. I don’t have any links from national newspapers who’ve quoted me, and I don’t have any from clients’ sites because we operate under a company-wide NDA. (However, these types of links might make up the bulk of the good links for other sites.)

What does all of this say to me? I should keep contributing to my industry. I should keep writing as a columnist for sites. I should continue to participate in surveys, group posts, and interviews. I get great links that way.

Considering Your Content Strategy

You should also look at what content you produced that earned great links. Where did you promote it, and when? Is there a certain type of post, for example, that generated more good links than the others?

The content that generates the most (and best) links isn’t always the content that was the most highly visited — so if you find a page that got lots of good traffic and maybe some amazing social love but didn’t generate any links, see if you can figure out why. In most sites, you’ll be able to find an example of a piece of content that did very well in terms of traffic and links, so look at that in order to see what made it all come together.

Then do more of it.

Similarly, don’t forget to look at the links generated from your content that was placed on another site. I found an article that I’d written for another industry site that had generated links from 30 domains. While I don’t have the traffic stats for that content, there’s still a lot to be learned by reviewing it, looking at its backlinks, and seeing if I can somehow replicate that result again through new content.