The Anatomy of an Excellent Backlink: What Makes the Best Links to Acquire for Traffic and Ranking?
Every digital marketer recognises the importance of high-quality backlinks pointing to a website. They drive it higher in the search rankings, as well as potentially providing excellent traffic independently of the search engines. However, not all backlinks are created equal, so what should you be looking for during the link building process?
Topicality and Relevance
The days when all links had rank-boosting power are long gone. To have any real benefit, a good link should be from a page which has a topic related to your own, for example, a Facebook page about search marketing. The closer the match, the larger the potential advantage, although links from sites with a lateral rather than direct topic relationship can also be very effective. In contrast, having large numbers of links from completely unrelated sites can be actively damaging, as it implies that your page lacks focus and authority in any particular field.
Ideally, a backlink should have the ability to deliver direct traffic rather than just an SEO impact. This means that links from busy sites are better than those from obscure ones, all else being equal. If a link could provide valuable visitors regardless of ranking considerations, then it’s definitely an attractive one to receive.
Organic Anchor Text
The format of a backlink also plays a huge role in its power. The text used within a link, known as the anchor text, can have a significant impact on its target, for good and for bad. Not so long ago, it was an effective search engine optimisation tactic to generate thousands of links with the exact anchor text you wanted to rank for, but this sledgehammer technique is no longer advisable – it can easily lead to penalties specific to the anchor text phrase if it’s overdone.
Instead, aim for a natural spread of anchors, using a range of words and phrases related to your page’s content, as well as a good mix of neutral text, descriptive sentences, image links, and bare URLs. Never turn down a link purely because it offers vague or untargeted anchor text, as this is a vital part of any organic-looking backlink profile.
Link Position and Context
The position of a link on a page will have an influence on the benefit it has for its target. Links which are placed naturally within the main body of a page will be more powerful than ones stuck to the side in a blogroll, or surrounded by dozens of other links within a footer. Also, be wary of sitewide links which appear hundreds or thousands of times on the same domain. It may seem like a simple way to rack up your link totals, but these links provide diminishing returns at best, and in high volume can even be damaging.
Keep Good Company
You may prefer your link to be the only prominent one on a page so that you receive the full benefit of both traffic and ranking power. However, your site can be judged by the company it keeps, and in linking terms, this means that co-citation is important. If a page links to your site as well as to a well-known, highly respected one, then some of the reputational benefits of the authority site can be transferred in your direction.
Keep Co-Citation Tight
However, co-citation can work against you by sowing doubt about the theme of your site. If your site is often found alongside links to wildly disparate sites of dubious quality, then it acts as a signal that your site is just one of the crowd rather than something unique and valuable. Because of this, avoid so-called link farms which don’t exercise sufficient editorial control over who they link to, or you may suffer from guilt by association.
Spread Your Targets
It may be true that genuinely useful and popular sites will rise in the search rankings without any help, but building backlinks is an essential step for most online marketers, even if only to set the ball rolling. However, a backlink isn’t simply a backlink, and if you don’t aim for the highest quality, you’ll be wasting time and resources instead of seeing solid ranking improvements that pull in the traffic.