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SEO 13 min read

What Everyone Must Know About Backlink Quality, Link Penalties And Bad Links

Backlink Quality, Link Penalties And Bad Links
Kas Szatylowicz
Nico Prins
Founder of Launch Space
It would hardly be a surprise if I told you that backlinks were fundamental to the success of your SEO efforts. To greatly oversimplify SEO, as long as your content is of a good enough quality, the more quality backlinks you get, the higher the chance of your content ranking on Google.

Some obvious questions arise; what are the quality backlinks? How do you identify them?
In this guide, I'll walk you through how to identify suitable sites to get backlinks from and check how many backlinks a website has. Specifically, I'll share with you the different SEO metrics to check before sending a guest post request or asking for a link insert. We'll also cover link penalties and how to identify websites you want to avoid.

The importance of niche relevancy

Logically, niche relevancy should be a ranking factor. In 2012, a member of the Google Search Quality Team publicly acknowledged that backlink relevance was a ranking factor.
Getting a link from a high Page Rank page always used to be valuable, today it's more the relevance of the site's theme in regards to yours, relevance is the new Page Rank.
Andre Weyher, Google Search Quality Team
There are three ways that Google can assess backlink relevancy. I've listed them in order of probable importance:
Website Relevancy: backlinks should come from authoritative websites in your niche
Page Relevancy: the backlink should be contextually relevant to the post
Anchor Text: the anchor text should be contextually relevant to the content that is being linked to
When all three of these factors align, you would logically get the best type of backlink. For example, a quality backlink for this post would be:

  1. A backlink from Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, Backlinko or similar.
  2. From an article that discusses backlinks
  3. With the anchor text 'backlink quality'

Given this fact, one of the first things you need to do when assessing the kind of backlink you want to generate to grow your blog through guest posting or link building is to analyze relevancy. There are several tools that can do this.
A Step-By-Step Guide To Revealing Your
Niche Ranking Factors

How to quickly identify relevant domains

One of the easiest ways to identify a large number of relevant domains to target for a link building campaign is to study the backlink profile of a competitor. Even better, the backlink profile of a leading website in your niche.

You can check a website's backlinks using Serpstat.
Serpstat Backlinks dashboard
After reviewing the backlink profile of a competitor, you'll end up with a list of sites. You can manually study this list. To do this you just need to:
Visit the website: check the homepage and identify the focus of the site.
Look through the blog: look over a few blog posts. Check the links the site goes to. If the site is linking out to a lot of sites that are not relevant to the niche, this is a warning sign.
It will usually take you a couple of hours to check the backlink profile of a competitor. Alternatively, there is a bulk of backlink tools that can automatically categorize domains by niche, thus speeding up the process.

So that covers why you want to target sites in your niche, and how to quickly identify relevant domains. The next stage in assessing backlink quality is reviewing relevant SEO metrics.

Domain Rating, Domain Authority and Page Rank

One of the well-established SEO metrics that a lot of people consider when identifying sites to guest post on is Domain Authority (DA). It is a parameter used to assess how well a website will rank on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Domain Authority is ranked on a scale of 0-100. A new site will start with a DA of 0. A website like Hubspot, which gets around 4 million visitors a month, has a DA of 91. There is a similar metric called Domain Rating (DR). Like DA, the scoring is done from 0-100. The higher the score, the better the site.

Serpstat has its own internal parameter, which is known as Serpstat Domain Rank. Like the others, SDR is scored on a scale of 0-100.
serpstat domain rank
A web site with a high SDR will pass on some of that trust to any website it links to. Many people call this link juice.

DA, DR, and SDR are useful to keep in mind when conducting a link building campaign.

I suggest targeting sites with a DA or DR of 30+. There are several websites you can use to check the site's DA for free. Rather than listing them out here, I suggest you run a search for "DA checker" on Google.

How to view website traffic

While DA, DR, and PR offer a quick way to see backlink quality, there are other metrics that you should consider, for example, website traffic.

The more traffic a website gets, the higher the chance that people will click on a backlink and visit your site. Google recognizes this, and that's why a backlink from a website with a lot of traffic will typically benefit your site.

In theory, a site with a high DA or DR gets a lot of traffic. However, this isn't always the case. Some websites have a high DA but have very little traffic. For this reason, it's worth checking the number of visitors a website gets before you try to get a backlink from them.
You can use Serpstat to see traffic estimates. An alternative tool you could use to check the stats of a website quickly is SimilarWeb. Keep in mind, the figure that is provided is an estimate.
How To Read Your Traffic: 4 Major Tools For
Marketing Attribution

Follow vs nofollow links (and rel attributes)

Rel tags are HTML attributes that were created to help keep separate spam links from valuable citations. Google provides clear guidelines for when you should and should not use rel attributes.

The most common type of rel attribute is nofollow. A nofollow link looks a little something like this:
<a href="website.com" rel="nofollow">anchor text</a>
The nofollow attribute should be used by a webmaster to tell Google they don't want to associate your site with their content. These links won't help your content rank.

A follow link, on the other hand, has no HTML value attached to it. It looks like the example below:
<a href="website.com">anchor text</a>
The nofollow attribute should be used by a webmaster to tell Google they don't want to associate your site with their content. These links won't help your content rank.

A follow link, on the other hand, has no HTML value attached to it. It looks like the example below:
Serpstat Backlinks dashboard
If you do think rel tags impact the quality of a backlink, then you should check what type of backlinks the site is offering. You can do this by inspecting elements on a website through your browser to check the HTML tag.

What are link penalties?

Almost everybody who runs a website is trying to build backlinks to their content. Of course, the way people get links will vary. Some will use so-called black hat methods. This includes things like buying backlinks to try and increase search rankings.

Other people will try to generate backlinks ethically. This is known as white hat SEO and includes things like guest posting.

Google tries to ensure people who use black hat techniques get penalized. The way Google manages its search results is by implementing various manuals, and automated penalties against sites they believe are gaming the system.

There are six common reasons why a site might get a Google Penalty. They are:
#1 Excessive Reciprocal Linking
You can get a penalty for frequently exchanging links with other websites
#2 Manual Link Spam Penalty
A manual penalty occurs when a person at Google has reviewed your site and believes you are buying links
#3 Algorithm Link Spam Penalty
This type of link penalty is applied automatically by bots for the same reason as those listed above
#4 Low-Quality Link Penalty
This can occur when you are collecting spammy backlinks
#5 Unnatural Outbound Link Penalty
This happens when Google thinks that you are selling links. Often it is the result of linking outside of your niche. For example, a gardening website linking to a betting website with no affiliate code attached
#6 Private Blog Network
This can occur when your site is part of a PBN, or you are getting lots of links from a PBN
When you get a backlink from a site that has been penalized by Google, your search rankings are likely to drop. To avoid this issue, you need to be able to identify sites that have link penalties.

An alternative method is to use a tool to review website traffic. If there is a sudden drop in search traffic, then there's a high chance a link penalty has impacted the site. This will affect the quality of the backlink.

If you have a backlink from a website that has a link penalty you can submit a disavow through Search Console. When you do a backlink disavow, you are telling Google that you want nothing to do with the backlink.
Private Blog Network (PBN) As A Link Building Method: To Try Or Not To Try

Your link quality checklist

To help you come away from this post with some actionable insights, I've created this quick checklist I run through whenever I do backlink research.

Here it is:
Relevancy: in your niche with no obvious spammy outbound links
Domain Authority: minimum DA 30+
Website Traffic: minimum of 5,000 visitors/month
That's it. The checklist is pretty simple. If you follow these simple rules when conducting backlink research you will easily be able to identify quality backlinks to get for your site.
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