What makes a quality backlink?
It’s a question I’ve had multiple times as we’ve built backlinks for Markitors, our clients, and evaluated spreadsheets from backlink brokers.
Fortunately, we’ve developed a backlink checklist to separate the good from the bad (and the ugly!). The checklist is broken down into sections.
I. Site Authority
- 1. Trust Flow
- 2. Trust Flow / Citation Flow Ratio
- 3. URL and Domain Rating
II. Page Relevance
- 4. Topical Trust Flow
- 5. Content Check
III. Site Credibility
- 6. HTTPS
- 7. Referring Domains
- 8. Organic Traffic
- 9. Moz Spam Score
Let’s dive in.
Backlink Quality: Site Authority
Site Authority establishes minimum quality thresholds on which links are acceptable.
Here’s how we identify quality backlinks from a quantifiable perspective.
1. Trust Flow
Trust Flow from Majestic is the metric we hold in the highest regard for backlink quality.
We feel that it’s a metric that is much harder to “cheat” versus metrics like Domain Rating (DR).
What is a good Trust Flow score? To Markitors, it’s anything that is a 10 or above.
However, there are some domains below a 10 that we’ll still target because of a high Topical Trust Flow (more on that relevance score below).
As part of our link quality check, we analyze each site individually in Majestic using Site Explorer, or use their Bulk Backlink Checker tool.
We exclude any sites below our minimum threshold and move on to the next opportunity.
2. Trust Flow / Citation Flow Ratio
Our target Trust Flow / Citation Flow Ratio is 0.75.
We interpret a positive Trust Flow / Citation Flow Ratio to mean that the website has trustworthy backlinks, and is a good site to target for backlink outreach.
On the flip side, we’re using this ratio to exclude sites with a “spammy” link profile from our backlink list.
There are exceptions to this ratio, as Majestic itself notes that this metric should be a part of the link analysis solution, and that you shouldn’t leap to any conclusions based solely on a link profile. (Majestic itself – and Markitors.com – has a Trust Flow / Citation Flow lower than our threshold).
Learn more on Trust Flow / Citation Flow Ratio.
3. URL and Domain Rating
Domain Rating (DR) is the most common metric for backlink analysis. Because it’s the most common metric, it’s also the metric that is the target of much manipulation. That’s why we factor Domain Rating and URL Rating into our Quality Backlink Analysis, but don’t rely on it solely. If we did, we’d be pursuing lots of spammy links.
We like to use the Domain Rating and URL Rating from Ahrefs. Domain Rating is essentially how important, or popular your domain is on a 100-point scale. The higher your domain rating, the more weight a backlink carries on the quality scale.
The difference between URL and Domain Rating is that Domain Rating factors in the links from all the pages on your site. URL Rating looks at just the URL you’re analyzing. Both are important metrics to factor in to a Quality Backlink Analysis.
Read more on Ahrefs Domain Rating.
These quality backlink metrics are parts of our link assessment. They’re meant to provide different insights into what makes a quality backlink, instead of reaching conclusions based on one checkpoint. By incorporating all of these link quality checks, we do our best to ensure that the link opportunities we pursue are mutually beneficial for websites and site visitors alike.
Backlink Quality: Page Relevance
Backlinks help Google determine what your website is about. If the majority of your backlinks are from sites that focus on Travel, then by association Google will categorize your site about Travel. If your backlinks are from a wide variety of sources – from Science / Astronomy to Computers / Websites – then your relevance gets diluted from the diversity of your backlinks.
So, if your business is about eyelash extensions, you want links from websites that are relevant to Beauty – not necessarily a category like Science / Astronomy. That’s where Topical Trust Flow comes into consideration.
Here’s a few tests on how we measure link relevance.
4. Topical Trust Flow
Topical Trust Flow from Majestic is a quantitative way of measuring relevance. For example, what do you think this website is about?
It’s a safe bet that this website is about Human Resources, Employment, maybe some Legal matters within HR, and educational.
But what about this one?
Is this website about Computers, Boxing, Shopping, or Arts? If there’s not a clear purpose to the site, this is a red flag for link quality.
Majestic has a great post that takes you inside Topical Trust Flow.
The “relevance” of a link determines quality more than any other metric. If a link is highly relevant to a website, then we will lower our thresholds on metrics like Trust Flow to pursue the opportunity.
Image Source: Majestic
5. Content Check
Performing a content check is our qualitative way of reviewing page relevance.
For example, if you’re a travel website…are you posting content about wrestling headgear and shoes? If so, that’s an indicator that a website is not relevant and accepts content from anyone.
Reviewing content of the site for relevancy, frequency, and quality ensures that your content finds a good home as well. Usually, it’s pretty clear from the eye test whether content on a website sticks to a central theme.
If a link passes these relevance checks, we’ll move on to our next set of tests…site credibility.
Backlink Quality: Site Credibility
Google uses humans to evaluate websites. We do too. Here’s how.
Is the website on https? If not, that’s a sign that the website may be low quality – not to mention not secure.
We view Secure vs Not Secure as a synonym for Quality vs Not Quality.
We factor https into our Quality Backlink Analysis because low-quality websites are low investment. Enabling SSL to make a website secure through https requires an investment of time and money (outside of Let’s Encrypt). Typically, low-quality websites don’t care enough about their site to make this additional investment. People who care about the long-term viability of their websites do enable SSL.
That’s the first check of our Site Credibility assessment.
7. Referring Domains
Let’s say a website has made it this far and passed all the Quality Backlink Analysis tests to this point. Now, it’s time to revisit some graphs to see if the site as any irregularities to it.
Referring Domains is a great graph to analyze in Ahrefs.
This is what a natural referring domain graph looks like. Healthy growth over time. Been around for a while.
Now, this is what you want to look out for…an unnatural graph like the one below. This shows that 1,800 backlinks were built overnight to get this site to rank. Not natural, and a red flag in terms of link quality.
8. Organic Traffic
Backlinks were built back in the day without regard to SEO. They were a marketing tactic to simply help drive traffic from one quality website to another website.
It’s easy to lose sight of that original purpose of backlinks.
That’s why we see if there’s a natural amount of organic traffic coming from the website. This can be seen in the graph below. Not only does this site generate almost 2,000 visits / month, but the site also has visibility for 3,200 keywords…with 37 of those keywords in the top 1-3 positions.
Versus this graph. Which, shows that no organic search traffic comes to the site. And, that the site does not have any first page visibility on Google search results for any keywords.
This is right around the time where link building can get hard. You think you’ve discovered a website that passes all the Quality Link quantitive metrics, along with the eye test. Then, this graph detailing organic search can ground those link opportunity dreams.
Which is why this is a great checklist item for link quality.
9. Moz Spam Score
Moz defines it’s Spam Score as “the percentage of sites with similar features we’ve found to be penalized or banned by Google.”
This is how you want a website’s spam score to look…majority of linking domains are in the 1-10% range, with a natural drop-off.
And, this is how you don’t want a spam score analysis to look from Moz, with a spam score of 78%.
In general, you want to target sites that don’t have a spam score from Moz. After that, the threshold of quality sites gets capped at 10% for us.
Backlink Quality: Conclusion
As you can see, there are a few different reliable methods to determine what makes a quality backlink.
Isolated, the method isn’t as effective as a collective evaluation. That’s why next time you’re weighing link quality, walk through a few of these tools to figure out whether the link opportunity is worth it for your site.