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Dissecting Link Anatomy: Elements That Impact The Quality of Your Links

Dissecting Link Anatomy: Elements That Impact The Quality of Your Links

As the digital marketing world continues to expand, more and more importance is being placed on content as a promotional tool. Whether it’s creating internal content for your own website or seeking guest posting opportunities on relevant blogs, content is one of the most valuable tools for marketers.

There are many reasons why marketers use content, and why content has become such a powerful tool. It forms the basis of blogger outreach campaigns, for example, through backlinks to your website, and also works to boost brand reputation through external linking to authority sites. It’s not just the content created that’s transforming digital marketing; more specifically, it’s the links present within that content.

Links are considered by Google to be a significant ranking factor and can mean the difference between an above-the-fold position and a below-the-fold position. However, not all links are created equal.

Link Inequality

 There is notable inequality in links, with some links proving to be more valuable from a ranking perspective than others. With the average small business spending up to $50,000 per month on link building, it is essential for marketers to understand the type of links that will bring them the most value.

 Most small business marketers will already have a good idea of what constitutes a high-quality link, and what constitutes a low-quality link. For example, it’s clear that dofollow links are more valuable for ranking purposes than nofollow links, and that contextual links are better than bio links. Domain authority is also a common determiner of high quality vs. low-quality links, highlighting trusted domains.

Link Building tips

What’s interesting is that domain authority only makes up 23 percent of the publicly shared components of Google’s ranking algorithm. There is much more to link value than simply the obvious. If your content marketing campaign isn’t having the desired effect, you may need to delve deeper into link anatomy.

The Anatomy of Links

 The rapid rise in content-driven marketing means that today’s marketers understand a great deal about the ins and outs of many aspects of link anatomy, yet link quality is one aspect that remains challenging. The issue is that link quality is not black and white; it’s a highly subjective area that’s tricky to navigate.

In spite of the subjectivity that surrounds link quality, many agree that there are a number of elements that impact the quality of links, making some more valuable from a ranking perspective than others. These elements can increase — or decrease — the quality of a link, either boosting your Google ranking or place your ranking position at risk, so it’s vital marketers are aware of these particular elements.

Here are some elements that can impact the quality of a link:

Type of Link

There are various types of possible links: linked text, linked images, or linked forms or frames. Out of all types of link, it appears that, in many cases, text links are the most valuable form. There are two reasons why textual links seem to have more of a positive impact on ranking that their graphic counterparts.

Link Building tips

First, while Google treats alt attribute text contained within linked images in exactly the same way as it treats the anchor text used for text links, it doesn’t appear to place quite as much value on this alt attribute text as it does on anchor text; a fact that doesn’t seem to have any clear underlying reasoning.

Secondly, research shows that, as a call to action, text links work better than graphics, as they encourage visitors to click, while linked images such as buttons can actually deter visitors. “Value”, in this instance, is not just about SEO and ranking, but also about how links engage with visitors and impact conversions.

Site/Content Relevance

The concept of relevance is one that’s a hot topic in the digital marketing world right now, particularly with the introduction of Web 3.0 — the “semantic web” — which prioritizes context and meaning in order to deliver more relevant results for search engine users. Google’s internal algorithms are placing more importance than ever before on the relevance of content, and this idea is extending into link quality, with links placed on what is determined to be relevant sites usually more valuable. “Relevance”, in this case, can mean different things: the relevance of the site, a particular page, or even other published content.

Once again, there are two ways in which relevance can impact the quality of your links. First, the more relevant a site, a page, or adjacent content, the easier it is for content marketers to link using relevant, natural-looking keywords and anchor text. Without any sort of relevance, marketers will likely be using what’s known as “money keywords”; those that are written exclusively for SEO. There is a well-known mantra in content marketing — write for audiences, not for SEO — and there’s a reason for that: money keywords are more likely to be penalized, while natural keywords are more likely to boost ranking.

Secondly, we need to look again at “value” not only in terms of SEO but also in terms of audience engagement. Backlinks on sites that are relevant — on sites where your target audience are likely to visit — massively boost the chances of these links being clicked, improving traffic and conversions. Consider a link to a tent manufacturer being placed on a blog about cruise vacations. That link will most likely be lower quality in terms of value than if the link was placed on a blog about camping vacations.

Link Quantity

One link or multiple links—that is the big question on every content marketer’s lips. The truth is that there really is no hard and fast rule regarding how many links you should have pointing to your website, but what we can be certain of is that the number of links can affect the overall quality of the links.

For example, Google tends to frown upon seeing a large number of backlinks coming from a low number of referring domains, so it is often more valuable to have 1 link coming from each of 10 domains, than it is to have 10 links coming from just the one domain. In terms of actual quantity, it’s impossible to say what’s best, although the average “Top 100” ranking website has at least 10,000 different referring domains.

Link Building tips
A more specific (and perhaps even more difficult) question to answer is how many backlinks it’s best to include within a single piece of content, or on a single page. Until recently, content marketers have typically stuck with just the one link, fearing a Google penalty. However, in an interview, former Google spam team expert Matt Cutts confirmed that the “ranking points” generated by any given page are split equally between all links. Essentially this means that double the links = double the PageRank effects.

If you have multiple links pointing to your website — regardless of whether these links are on the same page or coming from different referring domains — a good idea might be to chop and change the anchor text, using a number of variations rather than sticking to the same exact wording. That’s because it appears unnatural to use the same wording for all links, and Google knows it!

Link Position

Generally speaking, links that are placed earlier in content or higher up on a webpage are more valuable in terms of SEO and ranking than those placed nearer the bottom of the page. It’s safe to assume Google favors the first link, understanding it to be more visible and, therefore, of greater importance.

Link Building tips

Even in cases where a later link has the keyword placed first in the title element, which marketers will know plays a big role in search engine optimization, this ranking element is still trumped by position, with links placed higher up within the HTML code being determined by Google to be the most valuable.

Backlink Status of Linking Domain

So far, the impacting elements we’ve looked at have been those that marketers can tailor to ensure high quality. However, sometimes there’s not much that we can do about these elements, and link quality is not always firmly within our control. This is the case with the backlink status of a linking domain.

Spam links that are featured on the linking domain — “black hat” link schemes such as paid links, for example — can significantly hurt the quality of your own links placed on that website. While it may not always be possible to remove all of these links manually, Google does provide a helping hand with the Google Disavow tool, which can help to remove any spam links that are pointing towards your domain.

Monitoring Backlinks

With so many possible elements that can impact link quality, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for content marketers to keep on top of all these factors and maintain control over the quality of their links. However, more and more backlink checker tools are becoming available which can make this task easier.

While the exact features and functions of these tools will differ, they will generally all undertake a similar job: checking the quality of your links and letting you know if there’s a problem. The average backlink checker tool will look at the number of backlinks pointing to a particular site or a particular page, the anchor text used for these links, the PageRank of the referring website, and possible associated schemes.

Content marketers that are not seeing expected results from a content marketing or blogger outreach campaign are urged to use a backlink checker tool which can help to identify and remove any low-quality backlinks while simultaneously maximizing the number of high-quality links directing visitors to their site.

 Deriving More Value From Your Links

As we can see, there is much more to link quality than simply domain authority and dofollow vs. nofollow links. In fact, there are many, many aspects that can affect link quality, but without a full insight into Google’s ranking algorithms, it’s impossible to identify them all. However, the elements discussed above can have some of the greatest effects on the way Google views a particular link, so by placing text links high up on relevant websites and taking measures to prevent spam links, content marketers can significantly make their links “better”, ensuring that they’re getting the best possible ROI.


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by Josip Mlinaric // Josip Mlinaric is e-mail marketing and outreach specialist at Point Visible, a marketing agency providing link building and digital marketing services. He likes to say he has a simple and calm mindset in his approach towards life in general, and likes to relax by experimenting in the kitchen or listening to music.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.