Usability-first Search Engine Optimization

Ultimate Guide to Measuring Quality Backlinks

Backlinks for SEO

Augmenting the number of quality websites that link to yours is crucial to any search marketing effort, and offers both direct and indirect benefits to promoting your site.

Direct Benefits of backlinks

The direct benefit of a high level of external incoming links from quality sites is fairly obvious; the more links pointing to your site from high traffic sites relevant to your niche, the more targeted traffic you’ll see from these referrals.

Indirect Benefits of backlinks

The indirect benefit of acquiring numerous external backlinks from authoritative websites is less obvious, but is the fundamental, driving force behind any search engine optimization campaign. The algorithms used by Google and other leading search engines consider links to your site as votes of confidence, therefore link building adds to the overall trust and power behind your site, if you have the right type of quality backlinks.

Building trust with the major search engines is of utmost importance in establishing a competitive web presence in the organic SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages); once your site has trust, the rest of the SEO process will be given the respect required to flourish. Let’s examine a bit of how this works.

Link Placement

Backlinks that occur naturally within the main content of a web page carry much more weight than sidebar or footer backlinks. Search engines have started using block segmentation to identify link abuse efforts such as accumulating meaningless template footer backlink. This is just another of many reasons to prioritize time in developing the usability and overall content quality of your pages rather than trying to game the system with an abundance of low quality incoming links.

Pagerank
The days of relying on PageRank alone to measure the worth of a backlink are gone
An enlarged view of Google Toolbar’s PageRank™ display – The original juggernaut of link popularity metrics.

Google’s Pagerank™ is a system of ranking the popularity of websites on a scale of 0 to 10, with PR10 being the best case scenario (albeit a rare one). The original Pagerank algorithm was built on the principal that a link pointing to a site is to be considered an endorsement, or vote for that site. The more ‘votes’ your site has, and especially if those votes are from sites that have high PageRanks themselves, the higher your pagerank, i.e. popularity.

Until recently, Pagerank was one of, if not, the deciding factor in evaluating the value of a backlink. The logic here was that high Pagerank sites linking to yours help raise your Pagerank (still true), and the higher your Pagerank, the easier it will be to rank well for your chosen keywords (still true, kind of). Pagerank is no longer considered to be the end all in rating backlink quality, because many other variables must be factored in to measure the effect of any given web page’s PR. You can view the Pagerank of any web page using Google’s toolbar, a lightweight browser add-on, obtainable from http://toolbar.google.com.

Mozrank™ and Moztrust™
The Mozbar displaying Mozrank and Moztrust - 2 valuable indications of a webpage's strength
Close-up of just a small portion of SEOMoz’s Mozbar™ – metrics for link popularity and link trust.

Mozrank (mR) and Moztrust (mT) are 2 links popularity metrics developed by Rand Fishkin and the good folks over at SEOMoz. Mozrank is a logarithmically scaled 10-point algorithm and measure of global link authority/popularity, similar to Google’s Pagerank. The Mozrank metric is one of the many free features of SEOMoz’s toolbar (Mozbar), and it’s one of the SEO tools I strongly recommend and use regularly.

Just as Mozrank helps measure global link popularity, Moztrust measures a link’s trustworthiness. Acquired from links across the web, trustworthy “seeds” are manually selected by experts to start the process instead of allocating voting egalitarianism across the web as it is with Mozrank and Pagerank. TrustRank, a link analysis technique similar to Moztrust, has been referred to by Google and Yahoo engineers, however we have yet to see any quantitative data or metric for measuring TrustRank from the search giants.

TLDs
Backlinks from authoritative TLDs such as .edu or .gov can have a huge impact on your website's TrustRank
Some TLDs tend to carry more trust than others.

Certain top level domains (TLDs) have a tendency to carry more authority and trust than others. Backlinks from .edu (educational institution), .mil (U.S. military) or .gov ( U.S. governmental entity) TLDs have the potential to offer a more valuable endorsement than traditional TLDs such as .com or .org.

Effective anchor text
'click here' is not the type of anchor text you want to see in your site's backlinks!
‘Click here’ is not the direction you want to go with anchor text.

Anchor text (the clickable text of a hyperlink), is another important variable that search engines take into consideration when ranking websites. Web pages linking to yours with meaningful anchor text can be a strong indication to the engines of the nature of your page or site.

Two examples of meaningful anchor text related to other pages on this site are SEO Montreal and Search Engine Optimization Services in Montreal. Anchor text such as this can help push a site ahead in the SERPs for the keywords used, whether the anchor text is internal or external to your site. Keep in mind that naturally occurring inbound links will have a diverse of anchor text used over

Domain age/history
Old domains can pass more trust than backlinks from younger ones
Older domains have a greater chance of passing link authority than new ones.

Inbound links from older domains have more potential as valuable links than newer ones. Older sites usually have greater link equity, as the chances of having accumulated links from trusted sites are significantly higher.

Nofollow links
For backlinks to pass along trust, nofollow attributes cannot be present
Backlinks with nofollow attributes might not pass PageRank, but often pass anchor text value.

Introduced by Google in 2005 to prevent comment spam, the nofollow attribute, when added to hyperlinks prevents the flow of Pagerank to the destination page of the link. This being the case, an incoming link without the nofollow attribute will earn you some Pagerank aka link juice/link love, as well as some anchor text value.

Until recently, the attribute not only prevented Pagerank from being passed to the target page, but also prevented the loss of Pagerank associated with linking externally. However, in June 2009 at an SMX Advanced conference in Seattle, Matt Cutts announced that the nofollow attribute no longer prevents the loss of pagerank. Because of this policy change regarding nofollows, many blog owners are gradually removing the attribute from outbound links altogether in an attempt to augment community participation. Don’t let this sway you into beginning a campaign of meaningless “Informative post, thank you!” type comments on various blogs in an effort to rack up on link juice. Remember, Google is watching – as are Yahoo, Bing, and many other engines. If you participate in shady link building practices, you run the risk of being slapped in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages – not an anatomical reference).

Deep links and relevant anchor text
A combination of deep links and content-relevant anchor text is one of the most effective off-page optimization techniques.

Deep linking refers to links from one page to another within a particular website, as well as inbound links that point to interior pages of a website other than the home page from external websites. Both internal and external deep links are beneficial to the targeted page/site, in a number of ways:

  • Deep links send a clear signal to search engines (as well as humans) that each page of your site is important.
  • Internally linking to pages within a site brings relevance to the target pages, assuming appropriate anchor text is used.
  • External links to sub-pages of a site also bring relevance to the target pages if appropriate anchor text is used.
  • Search engines favor sites with higher levels of deep links. Websites that develop links naturally have a tendency to boast higher levels of external deep links, whereas a high ratio of domain to deep links can be a signal to search engine of unnaturally inflated rankings (Yet another reason to focus on producing unique, useful, well organized content worth linking to).
Relevant Authority

One natural inbound link from an authoritative site relevant to your industry or vertical can be worth more than hundreds or even thousands of backlinks from sites outside your niche. How do you get authoritative relevant sites to link to you? Many types of link building campaigns exist, and they all share one thing in common; great content.

Backlinks are the fuel to SEO campaigns
Think of SEO as maintaining a vehicle; even the best chasis (on-page SEO) will do you little good unless you have fuel (quality backlinks) to power it.

Understanding the principal factors that influence the value of potential incoming links is essential before moving forward with a variety of effective and ethical link building campaigns.

About matt

Matthew Edward is the founder of Springboard SEO, a usability-first search engine optimization company in Montreal.