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What is a ‘Good’ Link?

21 August 2013 BY

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I think it’s fair to say that as an industry, our position on what makes a ‘good’ link has changed over the years and our tactics have followed suit. However the question of what makes a ‘good’ link is still something which I’m frequently asked.

This week I met with a client who are in the process of bringing link building back in house. They were keen to point out that they didn’t have much in the way of SEO knowledge or experience and as such were keen to learn as much as possible in order to help them build great links.

Whilst I appreciate their enthusiasm, I can’t help but feel that when it comes to building truly ‘good’ links, SEO knowledge might well be a hindrance.

But, dear reader, I fear I may be getting ahead of myself – let’s ease ourselves into this gently:

The Penguin Update was Game-Changing…

Whilst any SEO worth their salt has always known about the sorts of link schemes which Google consider manipulative, up until around 16 months ago there was a huge gap between the links Google claimed they didn’t want to reward and the links they appeared to reward (i.e. it appeared that despite Google’s stance ‘manipulative’ links were continuing to positively impact a site’s rankings).

Then there was the Penguin Update.

Said by no SEOs, ever.

Said by no SEOs, ever.

Lots of sites who were engaging in the sorts of linking practices that Google considered manipulative saw their rankings drop.

That stuff Google has been saying for all those years about manipulative link building got a giant leap closer to being true.

You’ll notice I said ‘lots of sites who were engaging in the sorts of linking practices that Google considered manipulative saw their rankings drop’. I did not say ‘all sites who were engaging in the sorts of linking practices that Google considered manipulative saw their rankings drop’. This is still a battle that Google are fighting.

The situation is perhaps best explained as follows:

Prior to the Penguin Update if someone asked me why their site wasn’t ranking well my answer would typically be:

You need more links.

Post the Penguin Update if someone asked me why their site wasn’t ranking well my answer would typically be:

It’s because [these links] are impeding your ability to rank – you need to remove them.

Why am I interested in whether a link is ‘good’ or not?

It’s arguably more important now more than ever before to understand whether a link is ‘good’ or ‘manipulative’. Links which Google might consider manipulative either now or in the future have the ability to impede a site’s ability to rank.

I think it’s also important to highlight that links continue to be a ranking signal are not going away any time soon.

So, you still need links, and they need to be ‘good’.

How would I define a ‘good’ link?

I mentioned that the industry has changed, and I too have changed along with it. When I first started in the industry I would have defined a ‘good’ link as:

A link which will positively impact search ranking.

How did I typically judge this? Well quantative metrics played a massive part. I’d look at PageRank or Domain Authority (or one of the many metrics the various SEO tools out there provide). I might also look at qualitative factors like is this site on topic? Will this link drive quality traffic? However, you could relatively easily build links which positively impacted search ranking but were neither on topic nor drove any traffic whatsoever.

Today I’m unhappy with that definition. Today when I talk about a ‘good’ link, I mean:

A link which is likely to be viewed favourably by the search engines.

You’ll notice I’ve not made mention of whether or not the link will positively impact rankings. A subtle change perhaps, but I think it’s an important one.

How do you judge this? Quantative metrics still might play a part, but they’re unlikely to give you the full picture. We need to learn more towards qualitative metrics to judge whether or not a link is likely to be viewed favourably by the search engines.

How do you judge whether or not a link is ‘good’?

judge

I’ve been using the following maxim to judge this:

A ‘good’ link is something you’d want to keep even if links were not a ranking factor.

Now I recognise that sounds somewhat contrary.

Links are a ranking factor and will remain so for the foreseeable future. So why am I now suggesting you should evaluate them based on links not being a ranking factor?

Frankly because it forces you to stop thinking like an SEO.

I think that when it comes to building truly ‘good’ links, SEO knowledge might well be a hindrance. The second you stop thinking like an SEO it gets much easier.

If a ‘good’ link is something you’d want to hold on to even if links were no longer a ranking factor it likely means one or more of the following:

  • The link drives good quality traffic to your site
  • The link drives paying customers to your site
  • The link increases your site’s credibility

Let’s judge a few common tactics with this maxim:

Directories

If links weren’t a ranking factor would you really want a listing in a web directory that no human being is ever likely to visit? In short, no. If the directory is unlikely to be used by human beings (let alone your target audience) it’s not a ‘good’ link.

For the sake of clarity I’m not suggesting that all directories are ‘bad’ – by all means go ahead and get that directory link if you think it will send you traffic from your target audience.

Guest Posting

Again here, is this a site which human beings visit? As before, if your target audience are unlikely to read the guest post, it’s unlikely to send you any traffic. Also consider whether or not the site is a genuinely good resource – will it increase your company’s credibility? If the answer is no, then it’s not a ‘good’ link.

Link Exchanges

You sell car insurance. Do you want to be on a local Vetinary Surgeon’s ‘Link Page’ with a bunch of other unrelated sites? That link is unlikely to send you any traffic. It’s probably not a ‘good’ link.

However, if you’re a restaurant you might well seek to get a link from a local theatre. People who are going to see a show might well be interested in your Pre-Theatre menu. That link is likely to send diners your way so it’s probably a ‘good’ link. For what it’s worth this is probably closer to a partnership than a link exchange. These sorts of partnerships long pre-date the internet. This is about business, not links.

Forum / Blog Commenting

Spamming the crap out of unrelated blogs and forums? Is that likely to get you valuable traffic? No it is not.

Being a genuinely useful member of a community? That is likely to get you valuable traffic – on you go.

Let’s wrap this thing up…

And so dear reader, you’ve heard my thoughts – now I’d love to hear yours.

Do you concur with my definition of a  ‘good’ link? (i.e.  ‘A link which is likely to viewed favourably by the search engines.’)

Does the maxim: ‘A ‘good’ link is something you’d want to keep even if links were not a ranking factor’ work for you?

Do you have something better? Do let me know via the comments :)

Image credits: Penguin, Judge

AUTHORED BY:
h

Hannah Smith is an SEO Consultant working for Distilled in their London office. She manages technical, link building and content campaigns for clients across a range verticals in addition to managing one of the internal SEO teams at Distilled.
  • http://robduckers.com/ Rob Duckers

    These are all attributes of ‘good’ links, IMHO, in order of desirability:

    • Links that send converting customers
    • Links that send traffic
    • Links that assist rankings and don’t result in penalties

    It’s that simple, no?

    • Hannah Smith

      Those are definitely the attributes of good links.

      However the bit I’ve found difficult to accurately explain to others is point 3 – hence the post :)

  • http://robduckers.com/ Rob Duckers

    These are all attributes of ‘good’ links, IMHO, in order of desirability:

    • Links that send converting customers
    • Links that send traffic
    • Links that assist rankings and don’t result in penalties

    It’s that simple, no?

    • Hannah Smith

      Those are definitely the attributes of good links.

      However the bit I’ve found difficult to accurately explain to others is point 3 – hence the post :)

  • iamoldskool

    I’m very tempted at the moment to take the search engines completely out of the equation.

    I’ve noticed of late that I’m relying far too much on the search engines for traffic, and although our search engine rankings are excellent (naturally) and send us good traffic every month, I’m more interested now in building referral traffic. My reasons for this, firstly, with Google changing the goal posts every couple of months, it makes sense to diversify your traffic sources

    So my main thoughts are.

    1. Does the link add value to the linking site where it is, does it make sense for the link to be there?
    2. Is it a good site, that is related to the site I’m building traffic for, will that site’s visitor actually be interested in my content.
    3. Does that site get good traffic and will it send me traffic from my link.

    My thoughts are that if you act as if the search engine’s don’t actually exist and you’re only going to get traffic from the links you build around the internet, then you’re never going to end up with a bad link in the eyes of Google

  • Charles Floate

    Nice article Hannah :)
    I wrote my traffic generation guide a lot around this style of “link building” (though the reasoning behind it, as you said is very different).

    I didn’t however think of link exchanges, good suggestion! I thought more towards local blogs/newspapers for getting traffic from related sources.

    Thanks for the post, pretty informative and shared it around :)

    • Hannah Smith

      Thanks Charles – glad you found it useful :)

  • Charles Floate

    Nice article Hannah :)
    I wrote my traffic generation guide a lot around this style of “link building” (though the reasoning behind it, as you said is very different).

    I didn’t however think of link exchanges, good suggestion! I thought more towards local blogs/newspapers for getting traffic from related sources.

    Thanks for the post, pretty informative and shared it around :)

    • Hannah Smith

      Thanks Charles – glad you found it useful :)

  • Hannah Smith

    Hey Jim,

    Thanks for commenting!

    I’d definitely concur with you there, both in terms of determining the value of a link – and indeed looking to be less reliant on Google in general – remember this: http://www.seo-chicks.com/2900/predatory-thinking-for-seos.html :)

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  • Jack

    So would you consider disavowing directory links ?

    • Hannah Smith

      That’s a great question :)

      It really depends on whether or not your site has been penalised (either algorithmically or manually).

      If you have been penalised, in the first instance I would try to get the links taken down. If you can’t, then and only then should you disavow them. Additionally, I wouldn’t limit this activity to directories – if you’ve been penalised you’re going to need to go through all of your backlinks.

      Personally I’m of the opinion that if you’ve not been hit then there’s probably better things you could spend your time on (i.e. building ‘good’ links). However, I know many disagree with me on this and are cleaning up their backlink profiles preemptively. I guess it really depends on how ‘bad’ your backlink profile is.

      • Jack Jones

        Well on or about May 22nd I lost about 10-15 ranks in the rankings on almost all my keywords. I went through all my backlinks and changed most of my anchor texts to the name of my site instead of keyword rich anchors. Really hasn’t helped.
        I was going to hire someone sooner or later I think to do a link audit because at this point I am without an answer what to do.

        • Hannah Smith

          Sorry to hear that.

          I’m not surprised that changing the anchor text didn’t help though – in my experience it’s not the anchor text that’s the problem – it’s the link.

          May 22nd makes it very likely that this is a Penguin penalty – there was an update then.

          • Jack Jones

            Yeah, I buggered up something. Appreciate the responses. Was a great article. Made me think about my “good” links.

          • Hannah Smith

            You’re welcome :)

  • Jack

    So would you consider disavowing directory links ?

    • Hannah Smith

      That’s a great question :)

      It really depends on whether or not your site has been penalised (either algorithmically or manually).

      If you have been penalised, in the first instance I would try to get the links taken down. If you can’t, then and only then should you disavow them. Additionally, I wouldn’t limit this activity to directories – if you’ve been penalised you’re going to need to go through all of your backlinks.

      Personally I’m of the opinion that if you’ve not been hit then there’s probably better things you could spend your time on (i.e. building ‘good’ links). However, I know many disagree with me on this and are cleaning up their backlink profiles preemptively. I guess it really depends on how ‘bad’ your backlink profile is.

      • Jack Jones

        Well on or about May 22nd I lost about 10-15 ranks in the rankings on almost all my keywords. I went through all my backlinks and changed most of my anchor texts to the name of my site instead of keyword rich anchors. Really hasn’t helped.
        I was going to hire someone sooner or later I think to do a link audit because at this point I am without an answer what to do.

        • Hannah Smith

          Sorry to hear that.

          I’m not surprised that changing the anchor text didn’t help though – in my experience it’s not the anchor text that’s the problem – it’s the link.

          • Jack Jones

            Yeah, I buggered up something. Appreciate the responses. Was a great article. Made me think about my “good” links.

          • Hannah Smith

            You’re welcome :)

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  • KD

    Hannah, with the statement “It’s because [these links] are impeding your ability to rank – you need to remove them.”, are you referring to the fact that a high percentage of low quality links will result in a Penguin penalty and thus cause lower rankings? Or are you actually saying that certain “bad” links can actually lower your Google Trust and cause your site to rank lower? However, what if some of these “bad” links are linking to your homepage, but your homepage ranks for its brand name and you have many inner pages that rank in the top 10 – is it still possible that these links are having a negative affect on your ability to get indexed and rank quickly?

    • Hannah Smith

      Hey KD,

      Apologies – that statement needs some context.

      I would make a statement like that only if I was reasonably confident that a site had been hit with a penalty.

      Nevertheless it’s true to say that: a high percentage of low quality links may result in a Penguin penalty.

      It’s very difficult to say what effect low quality links might have on a site. It depends on the site and the balance of high quality and low quality links.

      For example – I’d suggest you could point as many low quality links as you wanted at Wikipedia and their rankings wouldn’t change. Conversely, a lower authority site could easily find themselves penalised with just a tiny fraction of those low quality links.

      Furthermore, we can’t possibly know definitively how Google are handling low quality links.

      For example – it may be that some low quality links are simply disregarded – i.e. they don’t harm your site but neither do they help your site rank better. However, as we’ve seen, some low quality links trigger penalties which are only lifted once those low quality links are removed.

  • KD

    Hannah, with the statement “It’s because [these links] are impeding your ability to rank – you need to remove them.”, are you referring to the fact that a high percentage of low quality links will result in a Penguin penalty and thus cause lower rankings? Or are you actually saying that certain “bad” links can actually lower your Google Trust and cause your site to rank lower? However, what if some of these “bad” links are linking to your homepage, but your homepage ranks for its brand name and you have many inner pages that rank in the top 10 – is it still possible that these links are having a negative affect on your ability to get indexed and rank quickly?

    • Hannah Smith

      Hey KD,

      Apologies – that statement needs some context.

      I would make a statement like that only if I was reasonably confident that a site had been hit with a penalty.

      Nevertheless it’s true to say that: a high percentage of low quality links may result in a Penguin penalty.

      It’s very difficult to say what effect low quality links might have on a site. It depends on the site and the balance of high quality and low quality links.

      For example – I’d suggest you could point as many low quality links as you wanted at Wikipedia and their rankings wouldn’t change. Conversely, a lower authority site could easily find themselves penalised with just a tiny fraction of those low quality links.

      Furthermore, we can’t possibly know definitively how Google are handling low quality links.

      For example – it may be that some low quality links are simply disregarded – i.e. they don’t harm your site but neither do they help your site rank better. However, as we’ve seen, some low quality links trigger penalties which are only lifted once those low quality links are removed.

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  • http://bloggersideas.com/ jitendra vaswani

    Hannah Help me if u can

  • http://bloggersideas.com/ jitendra vaswani

    Hannah Help me if u can

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  • Spook SEO

    I’d say that my definition of a good link is one that leads to a page that provides relevant value to where it was linking from. I’ve been using that as my guide when adding links.

  • Spook SEO

    I’d say that my definition of a good link is one that leads to a page that provides relevant value to where it was linking from. I’ve been using that as my guide when adding links.

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  • Spook SEO

    I’d say that my definition of a good link is one that leads to a page that provides relevant value to where it was linking from. I’ve been using that as my guide when adding links.

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  • gagaan

    I’d say that my definition of a good link is one that leads to a page that provides relevant value to where it was linking from. I’ve been using that as my guide when adding links.

  • http://benacheson.com Ben Acheson

    This is a good post – and it just got a lot more relevant.

    Peraonally, I think Google has gone way too far in its policy of penalties:

    http://www.digivate.com/blog/seo/google-penalty-madness-must-stop/

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