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What does Quality Link mean in SEO?

Quality links or quality backlinks - they are the prize most Search Engine Optimizers seek. A link to your website from another website is a backlink and its one thing but the exact characteristics of that link make all the difference. So what turns a backlink into a quality backlink?

Backlinks, link juice and authority

If another website creates a link to a page on your website that's a backlink. Backlinks pass on something called link juice which is another way of saying authority. The more authority the backlink passes, the greater the impact on your page's rankings for certain search terms. We'll talk about that in a moment.

To give you some idea of the scales we're talking about - 50,000 poor quality backlinks won't pass on even a fraction of the same link juice that you can get from one really good quality backlinks.

So what affects the level of link juice or authority of a link?

  1. The link is on a page or website which itself has good quality backlinks
  2. There aren't too many other links (internal and external) in the main body text or content of the page - Authority or link juice is divided among the links on the page.
  3. The content of the page and the website overall has thematic overlaps with the page it is linking to on your website.
  4. The link is in the body text of the page and preferably within text rather than in a list of links.
  5. The link is close to the top of the main content - the closer it is to the top, the greater the share of link juice you will get.
  6. The link is not marked 'nofollow' - if it is it means that webmaster wants to link juice to flow down the link so hard cheese!

So a high quality backlink is on a page or website with a lot of its own quality backlinks, in related content that does not contain too many other links and located close to the top of that content.

A low quality backlink is on a page or website with few or no quality backlinks of its own, in content that bears no relation to your content and in content that contains a large number of links draining the link juice left, right and center.

So lets try an example. Let's say you have a dog training website and the New York Times runs a piece called "101 of the best dog training websites" and features you at number 20. We'll also say they link to all 101 websites and none of the links are marked 'nofollow'.

OK. The New York Times has just buckets of link juice to share so it sounds great. The theme of the page is also strongly related to the theme of your website but, but, but the New York Times is not known for its content or expertise in dog training, or even dogs in general, so that will dampen the effect. There are also 101 other links on the page all getting a bit of the link juice. Your fairly high up so your getting a fair share but its only a slightly bigger slice out of 101 slices.

Now don't get me wrong. I'd be very happy to get a backlink from the New York Times and I wouldn't be moaning about it. I'd probably get a steady and well targeted flow of traffic from the article but I would be realistic as to how much effect I can expect it to have on my rankings. If I was battling for rankings on highly competitive keywords the answer would be "not much".

Look at it from Google's point of view. Here's a website, the New York Times, writing about dog training. Do I trust the New York Times when it comes to dog training? Not so much. I do trust the New York Times not to link to useless websites though so I have to give some kudos to those sites for being recommended by the New York Times. But should I rank them any higher for dog training keywords and phrases? A little because the New York Times trusts them but not a lot because what does the New York Times know about this subject!

How can you measure link juice

So you've got a backlink. What you really want to know is how much link juice its sending you. Can you get a value?

Not really. Google used to make something called Page Rank available for everyone to see. It was a score of 0 to 10 where 10 was a page Google viewed completely trustworthy and 0 meant it had no trust at all - or in other words no authority or link juice. That didn't mean it was untrustworthy, only it had not done anything yet (or achieved anything) to suggest it should be trusted in any way.

Third party services like Moz, AHrefs and Majestic make attempts to deliver Page Rank replacements. Moz does so by using its own forumla to calculate what it calls Page Authority for millions of website pages as a best guess of what sort of levels of link juice they may have to offer. But its a Moz creation and not everyone is convinced that their data is that accurate.

AHrefs and Majestic can also be hit and miss.

In all cases these are 3rd party tools and shouldn't be over relied on completely but they can be useful in some cases which I'll come to in a moment.

But even if you knew how much authority the page had as a number you would still need to know exactly how Google divides this up and we only have rough guidance on that one.

The Common sense approach to quality backlinks

If someone links to your website how do you know if that link is sending you any link juice? Have a look at the website and think "Is this outstanding content?" Your might agree or disagree with the content but that is irrelevant. The question is about its quality.

Do some quick checking around the web. Do others mention the domain or brand name and talk about it positively as a place of useful content?

If you find the answer to both of these is Yes then its a good quality backlink. How much link juice it has to pass on now is not truly relevant. You can be confident it has some but the point is, that site - and perhaps even that page - are likely to get more links in the future and so as time goes on they'll be sending more and more to you.

Conversely if you look at the content on most Private Blog Networks (pretend blogs set up as places to sell links) you just need to take one look at an article or post to know it will never accrue any meaningful backlinks of its own so why pay for a backlink there?

Identifying quality backlinks when link building

If you're actively going out there to link build you might well be using the Skyscraper technique. This is where you look at the backlinks your competitors have got and try and get the same. If you can get all, or nearly all, of the backlinks that are holding the top ten search results in place you stand a pretty good chance of outranking them all.

There are plenty of services out there like Moz, AHrefs, Majestic or SEO PowerSuite which can tell you what backlinks your competitors have. The only problem is that even a medium successful website can have thousands of links and most of them are worthless.

It is in these cases that estimators like the Moz Page Authority are useful in flushing out the backlinks that come from websites with no authority of their own.

My advice in this sort of work is to use three or four services like Moz to build up proper, comprehensive lists of backlinks and their authority.

Summing up

Good quality backlinks can have amazing effects on your rankings but the better the backlink, generally speaking, the hard it is to get. Remember there is nothing wrong with medium quality backlinks and they can be much easier to come by. They all count.

And remember a good quality backlink means far more than just coming from a trusted website. Its also affected by what the general theme of that website is, what the theme of that page is, where the link is on the page and how many other links there are getting a share of that all important link juice.
Tim Hill SEO

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

If you need help simply get in touch.

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