While link building for SEO remains a solid long-term strategy for growing search rankings and increasing online exposure, manual link building and outreach remain a topic of debate.
But how to build backlinks that won’t elicit the ire of Google STILL remains an topic of perpetual debate.
As it should.
Link building is not what it used to be. Quality matters more than quantity and when a single link in your backlink portfolio can create Google penalties, you should take inventory of your current strategies to make sure they are in-line with today’s best practices.
What worked as white hat only a few months ago, may now be considered a black hat tactic.
When assessing these various metrics, we typically run them in a spreadsheet that has a header tab that might look something like this:
Creating something like this in your own link building outreach campaigns should prove helpful. Now, let’s dig into the metrics!
Both Moz and Ahrefs have their own proprietary metric to assess the authority of a given URL/page and a website overall. This gauge is done by taking into account the totality of the site’s linkgraph, judging how the site looks relative to other sites based on the quantity and quality of links pointing to the site.
Both gauges are logarithmic, meaning a 1x jump in “authority” or “rating” equates to a 10x jump in quality.
Similar to Google’s old system of Pagerank, the Domain Authority/Domain Rating of a website can help provide with an initial gauge of the quality of the site and help you determine 1) the value of a backlink from the site and 2) how much effort should be expended in acquiring a link.
However, it’s important not to become too fixated on third party metrics. These are both good gauges, but they’re certainly not perfect by any means. Even Google itself reiterates the need to be wary of third-party metrics.
Similar to Moz Domain Authority, the Moz Spam Score..
…represents the percentage of sites with similar features to the site you’re researching which we’ve found to be penalized or banned by Google. Spam Score is based on our machine learning model which identified 27 common features among the millions of banned or penalized sites in the data we fed it.
Bear in mind, the Moz Spam Score is also wildly imperfect. We have noticed that sites with non-dotcom (.com) TLDs are weighted unnaturally poorly via the Spam Score, without any links to them. Just use it as a gauge, but not necessarily THE gauge or a definitive one. If a high Spam Score is present, but not other factors point to negativity, we have no problem using the site in guest posting.
It is, after all, a third party metric.
Majestic publishes two metrics that can help you gauge how natural a given link profile might look relative to other sites of similar age and in similar niches. Not only are solid Trust Flow and Citation Flow numbers helpful, but comparing the two with one another can provide further detail on the quality of the site in which you’re considering adding to your guest posting repertoire. Majestic has a great piece outlining how to read and interpret trust flow and citation flow. Essentially, these metrics help determine how naturally distributed a site’s links might look.
Similar to Domain Authority and Page Authority, Trust Flow and Citation Flow measure both the authority and trust of a given site based on the site’s backlink profile.
We have discussed natural vs. unnatural link profiles in depth before, but mostly for assessing your own website and cleaning up spammy links. But, the Moz link graph can also help you tell whether a given publisher has a naturally distributed link profile.
We suggest a full assessment of the trustworthiness of a potential guest posting publisher would include a look into Majestic’s Trust Flow & Citation Flow as well as Moz’s link graph to see how natural a given publisher’s link profile appears.
There are several types of websites from which you can attempt to acquire links. Here are just a few, in order of decreasing difficulty:
We always tend to avoid websites that fall into the last two bullet points listed above. They’re easier to acquire links from (remember difficult to acquire = better link opportunity), tend to link to ANY content provided, offer paid link programs and don’t typically filter for quality. In other words, they look more like a private blog network (PBN) than perhaps any other guest posting opportunity.
Here’s what a typical header menu looks like from one such site:
The most egregious sites like this will offer every topic under the sun in their menu with the invitation to “Write for us!”
Which brings me to my next point…
If anyone can write for a site and they are offering it as an option, then it diminishes the site’s value for a number of reasons:
We tend to avoid sites that include “Write for us” promotion plastered all over them. The lack of exclusivity greatly diminishes a site’s value as a quality publisher.
When determining whether or not to use a publisher site for guest posting, we always perform a manual review of the site’s overall content by reviewing several pages, posts and articles while asking the following questions:
This last question is the most important. Google can tell when content is good in most cases by simply looking at bounce rates. When real humans bounce (all else being equal), then the quality is likely poor. The algorithms know that and will adjust quality rankings accordingly.
Would you want links from a site that is certain to get majorly devalued at some point, regardless of the current authority?
I didn’t think so.
A site that has not been updated in a couple of years is not likely to be crawled that often.
Furthermore, if you are the only one to post on that site after a couple of years of little to no publication, do you think that will look very natural if suddenly a couple of posts go live which anchor texts that include “lawyer marketing” or “best personal injury attorney Los Angeles”?
That’s grounds for an immediate red flag from the algorithm.
Make sure if you’re planning on publishing on a website that there has at least been some recent, relevant cadence to the previously published content.
A quick and dirty review via archive.org can help you assess whether or not the site is simply a repurposed domain bought at auction or from the expired domain drop list.
In such cases, archive.org will show a lag in captures that perfectly coincides with a change in Whois registry for the site ownership.
Yes, sites change hands all the time, but when the site lapsed for six months as a result of a dropped or registration lag and then was resurrected with something that was completely different, didn’t match the original site’s purpose and now includes a bunch of articles with links to other commercial sites using unnatural anchor text, it reeks of a PBN and it’s best to avoid the site as a guest posting opportunity, regardless of how high the Domain Authority is.
Before we ever consider using a website, we keep a list of other blacklisted sites in a spreadsheet from which we run a check for IP address duplication.
It’s a simple task, but will show you what other sites are using the same IP address as the potential SEO publisher in question.
Take a look at who else is on the same server and you’ll be able to quickly see what else this server owner is doing.
Links from different domains on the same IP address rarely look natural unless there is common branding among the sites.
In most cases this is going to be seen as manipulation and viewed as a poorly implemented PBN strategy.
Is the site indexed by Google? If so, how many pages are actually indexed by Google?
When a site has been repurposed or penalized, it will often show very low or no-indexation rates relative to the total amount of content available to webcrawlers.
If you need help making this assessment, you can review our article on checking Google indexation here.
Make sure the level of total page indexation coincides with the site’s sitemap count. If that is not the case, then the site should be avoided at all costs.
These are the very same filters we place on websites we source through our own guest blogger outreach service. While you can’t control every link pointing to your website, there is some control on who you invite and beg to link to a particularly compelling piece of content you may have created.