28 SEO Experts Reveal Their Link Building Criteria

We all know that backlinks are one of the top there ranking factors of Google. Their importance can’t be denied but are all links created equal? How can you tell if a link is worth pursuing, if it’s worthless or if it’s harmful to your site?

When it comes to links some people believe that the more the better but that it’s not always true. 

In the ever-changing world of SEO, we wanted to find out what criteria SEO professionals use to evaluate backlinks.

That’s why we hired Minuca Elena to reach out to 28 SEO experts and ask them:

What is the most important thing you look out for in a backlink?

Read below to see what the experts had to say.

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The most important thing to look out for is the bad neighborhood effect. If a site (PNB or actual site) is linking out to a bunch of viagra and casino offer sites, you probably want to steer clear of it.

There is a good chance that this link isn’t passing any link juice anyway. At best you get no effect. At worst you can get a sort of guilty by association effect.

If other sites that get a link from a site are likely to disavow that link, then that is not good for you if you are also getting a link from the same site.

To check this, use Ahrefs Site Explorer and look through Outgoing Links > Linked domains. Try sorting by different parameters such as First Seen (descending). You can also try the Anchors view as almost universally these spammy sites tend to build links with highly/over-optimized anchors.

For most other factors to look out for, they are very situational and will depend on your site and your goals. But this bad neighborhood effect is always relevant for any link.

In a word: “relevancy”. This means that it must absolutely make sense for a page to link out to another. The destination page must be on the same topic or very close to it and it must add something that the linking page was missing. 

This could mean:

  1. More up-to-date information or statistics
  2. Expanding the topic providing more information
  3. Provide a better context and a better explanation for the given topic. 

I always try to ask myself: “Does it make sense for them to add my link in here?”, “Would I have added this link if I was the writer?”. 

Link relevancy can be of a few types as well:

  1. Domain relevancy – the overall linking website is on a topic related to my page
  2. Page/URL relevancy – the exact linking page is on a topic related to my page but the domain is on a different topic

If possible, always go with number 1. Domain relevancy usually beats page/url relevancy. It’s also very important to think about using a relevant, non spammy anchor text. 

Many people focus too much on arbitrary metrics (and we too kinda have to as a way of reporting to our clients), while all that Google really wants to see and provide people with are relevant, quality results. 

Link building

Links have always been one of the most important ranking factors in organic SEO. But over time, Google has changed how they assess the quality of a link.

How do you know you got the right type of Link?

Now, I already assume you are going after high-quality sites

(RDs / Traffic / DR), and going after a do-follow link… but how do you the separate good links from the RANK BOOSTING MONSTERS!?

Here is my process for link vetting before reaching out to new prospects:

1 – The Eyeball Test: Seems silly right? It’s not! UX/UI is a quality metric and if the site has great content, visuals and is functional it’s going to do well online. This means it’s going to rank better, no matter the Google update and you want to be on this type of evergreen site.

2 – Title/Topic of the Page: I am sure we can all agree that RELEVANCE is a major influence on how much of a ranking benefit a link will bring. Nail down a few extra relevant links and watch your rankings soar.

3 – Natural/Value: If the link offers something of value to the reader it is going to get more CTR. This usually occurs when you are getting natural links from a valuable link asset. If you are offering 10x value and the page is better than any other web page out there, your going to get more links.

Ask yourself this for a second, why do we get links in the first place? Rankings? Well..sure that is a clear benefit. But, I would like you to change your mindset a little, and say “Sales”, instead.

Always ask yourself, “Would I want this link if Google didn’t exist?” think about the traffic that might come through from your target site… do you still want the link? Do you believe that the traffic coming through that link will end up in a sale? If you start to build links this way, you will see both Rankings & Sales for your company.

It’s a two-parter, really. First and foremost, relevance. We’ve had numerous clients come to us with a backlink profile that had absolutely nothing to do with their site. Then we have the “not all backlinks are good backlinks” conversation.

The second is domain and page strength. If it’s relevant, does the domain have the power to make it worth your while? How about the page that will link to yours? It’s important to note that this is a sliding scale, based on how new your site is. 

For most people, getting powerful backlinks from relevant sites when you’ve just started your own website is unrealistic. Learning to balance between many lower authority sites versus one or two high authority sites is a major key in a strong backlink building strategy.

Our team at Wiideman looks for three distinct criteria in a quality backlink, beyond the obvious “would Google look at this link as being for SEO or being natural”:

The likelihood of the linking page earning organic links of its own in time

The likelihood of the linking page sending in-market audiences (often quantified from display ad conversion history)

The likelihood of the linking page being seen by thousands of readers, such as Buzzfeed, WSJ or New York Times, which builds brand awareness

I know what you’re probably thinking, “well, what about an .edu link?” If the page isn’t helpful enough to meet any of these criteria above, it’s rarely worth the effort, even if a .gov or .edu. 

There are rare circumstances where we notice an article directly linked from the root of a high traffic domain that we could contribute to and possibly earn a link, but the page should still partially align with our three criteria requirements.

It’s a two-parter, really. First and foremost, relevance. We’ve had numerous clients come to us with a backlink profile that had absolutely nothing to do with their site. Then we have the “not all backlinks are good backlinks” conversation.

The second is domain and page strength. If it’s relevant, does the domain have the power to make it worth your while? How about the page that will link to yours? It’s important to note that this is a sliding scale, based on how new your site is. 

For most people, getting powerful backlinks from relevant sites when you’ve just started your own website is unrealistic. Learning to balance between many lower authority sites versus one or two high authority sites is a major key in a strong backlink building strategy.

The most important thing I look for in a backlink is that it is real, not fake. It has to be real and it has to look real. If a backlink had a flavor, it would have to taste real.

What do I mean by “real”? It cannot be contrived. When strangers write me to offer a backlink for money, I usually just ignore it, not because some search engine tells me how I should handle my financial affairs, but because a paid link is rarely very real. And a fake link just isn’t useful.

A real link has five qualities.

  1. It makes sense in its context – it has to fit well on the page and in the paragraph where it is placed. Else, it’s fake.
  2. It is placed where real people can see it, not just for search engines. Else, it’s fake.
  3. It serves a purpose, so that people seeing it have a reason to click and follow the link. Else, …it just sucks.
  4. It is helpful to those people by telling them what’s at the other side – real information, not a string of keywords.
  5. It brings traffic – not necessarily customers, but interested humans who will in some way interact with my website. That means the linking website itself has to be real, with real traffic.

I am less interested in quantitative measurements than in these qualitative aspects. Get it real, and you’ll get it right.

If I have to say just one thing, its traffic.  Google is stingy with giving rankings and traffic to websites.  

If a website has traffic, then I’m pretty damn sure Google is ok with its outbound links. 

To check on traffic I refer to Ahrefs.  Plug in the domain and see what the monthly estimated traffic value is.  

If it’s greater than 1000 visitors per month, I’m ok to move forward. 

1000 doesn’t seem like much, but it actually filters out 90% of the internet.

The factor I focus on the most is the quality of the website content. Ideally, I want my backlink on an established and trusted website, but I also think landing a backlink on a site working toward establishing itself as a trustworthy source of information is valuable.

Relevance is another factor closely related to this. For example, gaining a link to a relationship therapist’s site on a site about self-care is a good fit. But gaining a link on a site for spa owners would be a no-go. There should be an audience overlap.

What I aim to avoid is placement on sites with poor-quality content that link to spammy or overly-commercial sites. These sites are more likely to hurt my clients’ reputation — both with visitors who read the content and with search engines.

If you want to earn a backlink from a website there are a few things that you should take into consideration to determine if that link is good for you.

  1. The website must be in the same niche as you. For example, a link to a paleo website is most valuable if it comes from another paleo website. A bit less valuable but still good is if the link is from a general food site. Less valuable than that is if the link is from a lifestyle site that has content about things like food, parenting, home decor. DIY etc. 

So you want the domain linking to you to be in the same niche as you, preferably, or at least in a related niche.

  1. The page must be on a topic related to your content. For example, a link to a paleo site from a post about a paleo recipe, on a lifestyle blog is alright but a link from the same site in a post about how to decorate your home doesn’t make much sense. 
  2. You must check if the website’s external links are trustworthy. For example, if the site links to casinos, porn sites, or to random sites from other niches then it’s better to not try to get a link from it. 

The most important thing to look out for in a backlink is a combination of relevancy, quality, and legitimacy. Ensuring the niche is well matched, that the backlink is of high quality and that the backlink is from a legitimate website is key in seeing a smooth transfer of link authority.

The most important thing to look out for in a backlink is a combination of relevancy, quality, and legitimacy. Ensuring the niche is well matched, that the backlink is of high quality and that the backlink is from a legitimate website is key in seeing a smooth transfer of link authority.

Finding link opportunities that have this combination can be a challenge, but starting by leveraging your own connections (industry connections, suppliers, dealers, etc) can be a powerful initial step.

When starting a link building strategy, focusing on relevancy and legitimacy is far more important than focusing on raw metrics such as DR, DA, and TF.

When looking at the quality of backlinks the first thing you should do is not put too much trust in metrics like page authority or domain rating. 

These metrics are not controlled by Google and therefore can give misleading information. 

The most important thing I look for in a backlink is first the relevance and if it is expected to send actual relevant traffic to my website. 

If the link does not pass this test it immediately goes down a notch losing relevance and authority.

The most important thing to consider when garnering backlinks is to ensure it comes from a relevant and trusted source. 

Remember, not all backlinks are equal and sometimes a poor-quality backlink can actually do more harm than good. 

For this reason, it is important to assess the linking domain to determine how the backlink will impact your site. Make this determination by assessing their domain authority score and the number of outbound links from the site. 

If they link to a high number of domains, then it’s less likely the backlink will have a positive impact on your domain. It’s best to receive backlinks from others in your industry, with government and educational backlinks delivering an extra bang for the buck.

When evaluating a backlink and trying to figure out what you should look for there isn’t just one most important factor as there are a few things to consider.

A quality backlink is good for your rankings, that is an undisputed fact but aside from that, a great backlink can also bring relevant good traffic from the site that you are being linked from. 

This is a natural side effect when you are building backlinks for SEO. Although not all backlinks are the same, evaluating them for SEO benefit and their natural traffic benefit tends to have a lot of correlations.

Most of us would like to get a link from an authoritative source such as a reputable industry blog because it gives potential customers further trust in our brand and reaches a very relevant audience. 

For the same reasons it will also benefit our SEO, you can use metrics such as domain authority to try and measure how ‘authoritative’ a website is. 

It is important to note that metrics are easy to manipulate which is why you should not just look at the surface level when trying to evaluate a backlink but furthermore look into how those websites gained that domain authority (i.e check their backlinks). 

Just like you would prefer to have your company mentioned in an industry blog because it has a more relevant audience you will also want to have your backlinks coming from a relevant website, and the placement and anchor text of the link should make sense from a user experience perspective.

Surrounding the link with high-quality keyword-rich content will improve the user experience and also the quality of the backlink.

In conclusion, if the link is placed in a relevant authoritative website, has natural anchor text and good surrounding content then you can assume it’s a pretty good link. 

You can use metrics such as domain authority and many others depending on which tools you’re using to determine ‘link strength’ but don’t forget to do your research if the website looks off by checking what kind of backlinks the website linking to you has.

It’s no secret that not all backlinks are created equal. It’s definitely tough to choose the most important thing to look out for in a backlink. 

Of course DR is near the top of the list as well as whether or not it is a do follow link. But in the end, for me the most important thing is relevancy. By relevancy I am referring to the site and content where the link lives is relevant to my link. For example, there’s little relevance for getting a link for my social media automation tool Bulkly on a site that sells bowling balls. Instead, I’d want to ensure the link is on a site around social media marketing or digital strategies.

In the end, a relevant link is not only a better one but since the link should align with the audience of the site there is a good chance to get some clicks which can also drive new traffic and awareness to your site.

Google has said that links are one of the top 3 ranking factors. Acquiring backlinks to your website is a must and outgoing practice.

When I create a backlink acquisition strategy, I research the competitors. I use SEMrush to spy on my competitor’s backlinks. If my competitor has a good backlink profile, I try to target the same backlinks or similar ones.

 For me the most important thing is relevancy. I will only build links on websites that are from the same industry or related to one of my client’s website. I also look at Domain Authority. I won’t build a link on a website that is DA less than 30. 

Moreover, I check each website so that I have a better sense of quality. If the website looks spammy or has poor content, I won’t consider it. Another important thing is the traffic. I consider websites with real traffic and with traffic in the USA.

I won’t consider a website without traffic or with irrelevant traffic like from India. I prefer backlinks from an authoritative website.

Of course, to acquire these types of links I need to create amazing content that offers value. Then, people will be more likely to link back to the content.

Authority.

Link building is often seen as a cat and mouse game between SEO’s and Google.

One of the most important factors is building links that will last through the most stringent of manual reviews.

By getting links from top sites from respected writers we’re able to ensure our links will last

I always look for a high Domain Authority (DA) & High Relevance (HR) when assessing a backlink. 

Long gone are the days of any link is a good link.  Now the biggest benefit can be gained from a High DA & HR website.

Getting a backlink from a high DA website is still more likely (not always) to provide more benefit than a low DA website. A lower DA site that has HR can still provide significant rankings benefit to your site. 

A backlink is more valuable if it comes from a relevant source. A backlink from a website within your niche logically is going to provide a better user experience when better click them. If you had a painting business a backlink from homedesign.com is better than skateboard.com. A user on homedesign.com is more likely to be interested in your painting business than a skateboarder is. 

In the end, though it can be a simple question, does the site look and feel trustworthy as a user? – If yes, a link can be valuable. If the answer is no, you probably don’t want it. It could end up doing more harm than good.

Backlinks are a critical component of SEO. While there are a number of popular analysis tools available such as Moz DA to evaluate backlink quality, these metrics only represent one piece of the puzzle.

They don’t reveal anything about the actual quality of a linking website itself, which is why we don’t rely on traditional backlink metrics alone.

During our site auditing and analysis, we use a multi-layer backlink website evaluation process to gain a holistic understanding of that site’s overall quality.

Where most SEO agencies will focus solely on domain authority and related metrics, we dig deeper and perform a more extensive analysis of the backlink profile to evaluate factors such as organic visibility, user engagement, relevance, and quality of content — factors that are extremely important to backlink quality but aren’t necessarily reflected in the numbers.

That way, we can be confident that the backlink profile will add SEO value and not hurt rankings.

Usually, the main factors people consider when evaluating backlinks are Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA).

Although they’re pretty strong indicators of a backlink’s value, search engine algorithms have evolved to the point where context is also critical.

What’s in the area surrounding the link? Is it a blog post? Is it a resources page?

How many other backlinks are on the page? Is it spammy or does the placement look natural?

What keywords does the page rank for? What is the anchor text?

These are all questions you need to ask yourself to gauge contextual relevance.

The idea is to get the most contextually relevant link possible, which means as related to your content as possible.

You want to aim for backlinks from websites that are relevant to your target keyword and that use links naturally within the text (most common in blog posts).

Context is just about as important a factor as the authority when it comes to backlinks.

Keep this in mind for more link building success!

Google rewards quality content. Thus, the most important factor to be considered for a backlink is the quality of the content on their site. Is the site attractive?

Does it provide good value for its consumers? Does it have quality writing, images, and videos? Does the site appear to be spammy (too many affiliate links) or misleading in some way?

My goal with backlinks is to receive visitors that are interested in my content and what I have to say. These visitors can come directly from clicking the backlink or from Google or another search engine. If they like the content on that site, then they’ll like it on mine. That’s my philosophy for backlinks.

The result? I get high-quality leads from those backlinks. What many webmasters miss is the goal is not a huge amount of visitors. The goal should be to get visitors that convert. 

By ensuring the backlink sites are of high-quality, I raise the bar and tend to receive higher conversion rates and more engagement.

I love backlinks !

But the first rule about backlinks: DON’T CALL THEM BACKLINKS!

The best links come from real content intended for consumers. The value of a link from a top authority site, regardless of whether it’s a deep link or domain link and regardless of The link anchor text, will perform 100 links engineered on search sites.

To get these kinds of links, you need two things :

1 ) content for readers of these sites ( this can be as little as a mention of your company in an article but best if you’re co-creating content for the website)

2) relationships with the people that create content on that site. This is just good old-fashioned PR. learn what the reporters want and make sure they get it

The biggest bonus for useful links is the direct traffic that comes to your site from people interested in finding you.

A link like this a 100 times as good as a link from a smaller site, worth putting in 50 times effort 🙂

There are a few things that are very important when I determine the quality of a backlink.

First is the domain authority or the monthly traffic the site has that is linking back to my website. The higher the DA or monthly organic traffic the website has, the more powerful that backlink will be for my website. 

Second is if the website and the content listed on the page of that website linking back is relevant to my business. 

Third is the anchor text linking to my website that needs to be highly relevant to my business and written for the user and not keyword-stuffed inside the article.

If the backlink meets the above 3 criteria, then I know that the backlink is high quality and will benefit my website

When I look out for a backlink, the most important two aspects are:

Quality of the website where the links is coming from.

If the backlink actually adds to the website it will be on and the visitor journey from one site to the other.

If I’m not providing quality content that complements the host website and benefits the visitor then it’s not generally a backlink I would seek out.

When assessing the value of a backlink we typically ask three questions. First, does the link provide any editorial value? You can often tell whether or not a link adds any useful information to the reader, or if it has been added for SEO purposes. 

Second, is the article in which it appears relevant to the website it is hosted on? You might find that the link is on topic, but the article itself is irrelevant to the broader topic of the website. For instance, a post about shoes on a food blog might not be relevant, even if the link is well included in the article. 

Finally, is the website legitimate (or built only to sell ads or links)? Check the homepage to see what articles have been posted the last week to see if they are native or commercial in nature – ideally, you’d see native articles only. 

Then, check if the website ranks for any keywords in SEMrush or ahrefs. Real sites with real audiences usually rank for a number of terms organically, whereas low quality, spammy websites do not. If you answer YES to these three questions, chances are that you have found yourself a high-quality backlink.

It’s really tough to single out the ‘most important’ thing to look for in a backlink. We all expect Google is analysing many more factors than we could possibly imagine. Of course, everyone is looking at the authority of a site linking, measured by Moz’s Domain Authority metric in many instances. 

And yes I still look at DA. Aside from that, I’ve always been a big advocate of contextual links, judging a link on whether it was in the same category of your site.

But to give you ‘the most important factor’, well, I simply have to ask myself this question with each link, ‘Can I reasonably expect that some members of my target audience will visit this page and click the link through to my website?’. 

It doesn’t cover all the factors I’m looking for but I think if all you could do was answer this question then you’d be doing well.

Relevance. For me, a backlink could come from a site with high, medium, or even low authority, but relevancy is the most important thing we look for. 

If we are building a site about gardening tips, we want out backlinks to be mentioned on websites about gardening and related activities. If for some reason the site isn’t related to that, at least we want the exact page or article that links to our site to talk about something related to gardening to make it as relevant as possible.

If we get a link in a website about finance and the article and anchor text aren’t related at all it could look suspicious and it won’t provide any value to the audience from the site linking to us.

After relevance, we care about other factors like the anchor text, the authority of the site (the bigger, the better), placement, etc.

Gettings links talking about your brand to build general authority in a niche is also important, plus it helps diversify your anchor text and make it look more natural.

I would say client/site history. 

There are many things to strive for when building links such as authority, relevance, and frequency to name a few. 

All of this also has to fit within the client budget. 

So the most important thing is to look at where they stand currently compared to their competition, and use that to inform the importance for each piece of that puzzle in taking your next step.

As per Google’s guidelines, a naturally created backlink in a highly relevant domain with lots of traffic and authority is the ideal backlink.

There’s a lot to say when it comes to choosing for the right backlink, however the most important thing you can look for in a backlink is the contextuality of the link in the content.

I still consider that kind of link as the most powerful one especially if it is inserted inside a highly-trafficked and shared page.

However here is a caveat and this might be a bit controversial, but you might start to carefully consider that the authority or high trust factor of the website is not always the defining factor for a backlink.

In the advent of social media, shares and freshness of a page from daily traffic is now a game-changer.  

Having more eyes on your backlink matters, because at the end of the day, conversions towards your website is always the ultimate end goal.

Therefore having more clicks from an active page is more powerful.

The best way to determine this is to use paid tools in checking the number of shares of a particular page.

I believe that having a link from a highly active page is the future of link-building.

Thank you so much to all the experts that have contributed to this expert roundup! If you found this post useful, please share it on social media with your friends and followers.

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