What Defines a Good Link?

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There is a lot of confusion out there when it comes to link building.  People throw out terms like “ethical link building” “quality link building” “Google approved links” but what do those really mean?  Just what does make a “good” link?

Well that depends on what you want the link to do.

You see, there are human qualities to a “good” link and there are search engine qualities. And in many cases, the two are at odds with each other.  That is because what we as humans perceive as “quality” is difficult if not impossible to translate into an algorithm a search engine can use.

Sure we can say that a quality link is one that appears on a site relevant to your own, that has some value to you.  But what value?  The possibility that a customer will find that link and click on your site?  The value that is assigned to that link that ultimately translates into rankings for your site?  Some other value?  This is where true link building becomes a very grey area.

From an SEO perspective, almost any link is a good link.  That is because search engines like Google are built on the foundation of links.  In general terms, the site with the most links ranks the highest.  Granted this simple theory has evolved over time but essentially it is still true today.

So if any link is a good link, then any link is a quality link right?  Well again that depends.

What I may think of as a quality link, in SEO terms, may not appear to be a quality link to you the viewer of the page on which the link resides.  So who is right?  Are you right because you don’t like the page? Or am I right because I know such a link will help you achieve your ranking goals?

Much like we might differ on what constitutes your businesses competition.  To me your competition is the website online that is ranking where you need to be, and not necessarily the other store in town selling the same items as you.  In many cases your online competition may not even be in the same city as your own.

To me, a quality link is found on pages that are not only indexed by the search engines, but recently indexed.  They have a link popularity score (such as a Google PageRank value), have a limited number of other links on the page, and are somewhat related to your own site – either the same industry or one related to the industry your site is in.  But that’s not the only factors one must consider.

For example, if your site sells clothing, and your link is found on a real estate site is that considered a “good” link?  What if the real estate site has a high PageRank value and your link is on a page with few other links.  What then?

Well from my SEO point of view this is a good link.  This is a good link because it satisfies most of the criteria laid out above – it is on a page that is cached by the search engines – it has a good link popularity score, and it has few other outbound links on the page.

But because it is not in the same industry, or somehow related is it considered bad?  Well, in my eyes no it is not.  This is because the search engines still really can’t tell that the real estate site and the clothing site are unrelated.

And even if they could, who is to say they are unrelated?  Do people who purchase real estate also buy clothes?  Based on that argument alone they could be considered related?

Granted a link from another clothing website, or a shoe website, or even a baby accessory website would be more relevant to the clothing site (from a human perspective), but in this case most of the criteria are met so it is a good link.

Of course I wouldn’t suggest going out and getting a bunch of real estate links because they have a PageRank value, but having a few unrelated links does not hurt.

In the end, that is my point – search engines don’t have the subjective nature of people.  They are mathematically calculating the value of the link on the page based on the same criteria they use to determine if your site has value:  The text on the page (IE is it readable and understandable), the other links on the site, the overall site usability and navigation, and so on.

I know there will be lots of SEOs out there who bash this idea of quality but if you think about it, it makes sense.  Sure we all would like to live in an ideal world where these other qualities are more influential but the truth is they are not.

Humans are very subjective, decisions you make on a day-to-day basis are based on your upbringing, the events that have changed your life, your belief system and those around you who influence you.  A machine on the other hand bases its decision on the facts presented.  And the facts are these:  Page indexed and recently cached?  Page has a link popularity value?  How many other outbound links are there?  Relevance to the link target is subjective and therefore less valuable than the other factors.

Look at it another way – all the search engines use social signals in some way.  Are you telling me that a link from Twitter to your website is somehow relevant simply because you have more followers than I do?  Sure it is a factor – but one factor out of hundreds.

So if you find that as you build links to your site, some don’t appear TO YOU to be as relevant as they should be, don’t sweat it.  Because I can tell you from my experience the search engines don’t.

In fact having a few unrelated links is beneficial.  I say this because having unrelated links actually appears MORE natural than having all your links from related sites.

Again, consider from the search engine point of view.  We can’t control who links to our site.  I have links from technology sites, gaming sites, health food sites and hundreds of others.  Aside from the technology sites (which many are only slightly related) the rest would be considered non-relevant.

Yet my site is not penalized because I have these non-related links.  In fact it prospers online because of them.

How do I know my site is prospering from non-related links?  Because I know my traffic is 10 times what it was last year at this time.  My unique visitors are up almost 600%.  Site visitors are spending more time on my site and my bounce rate is ¼ of what it was just a year ago.

Is this because I’m getting traffic from these supposed non-relevant links?  Nope it’s all search engine referrals.  My rankings have been steadily climbing because my site is becoming more visible online because other sites are linking to my site via articles, social media and other online sources.  Are all these links from other SEO related sites? Nope.  In fact I would guess only 25% to 50% of my links are from industry related sites.

More often than not they are, like I said above, non-related non-relevant sites.  Yet their links add value, causing my rankings to improve so that I get more visitors to my site resulting in increased business.

So then I ask you – are these links quality after all?  Even though many are unrelated – do they provide something to me?  Definitely! Are they valuable to me? Of course! Will I ask Google to remove these links from my site?  Definitely not!  I know the ONLINE value of them, therefore I will keep them.

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