A number of factors can help assess the quality of a link; particularly the domain/website it comes from. It is important to look at a combination of factors to fully understand link quality.
Understanding the metrics that search engines use when evaluating links is beneficial for effective backlink analysis, with regard to if a link is manipulative or not.
In this section I have broken down some of the key factors to consider when evaluating link quality.
Spammy Link Anchor Text
One of the biggest factors that search engines take in to account when trying to spot ‘spammy’ tactics is the clickable anchor text of the backlink, or an image’s alt text which is treated the same as anchor text by most search engines.
Branded anchor text, including URLs, is generally considered to be ‘natural’, in that it isn’t a deliberate attempt to manipulate keyword rankings and relevancy by using spammy keyword anchor text.
As is often the case when it comes to links, it’s all about identifying the natural balance for the particular vertical. In many instances, it is perfectly reasonable to use keyword-specific link anchor text, and therefore a search engine doesn’t automatically penalise sites when it finds keyword anchors. Instead, it looks at the link profile and anchor text breakdown as a whole, aiming to spot any unnatural balance in the types of anchor text used.
As a very general rule of thumb, you might expect to find at least 50% of your link anchor text to be natural, generic or branded, and approximately 5-15% of your links to be keyword-specific. As this varies across sites and industries, these percentages should only be used as a top-level guide. However, if you find that, say, 50% of your links use the same keyword as referring link anchor text; it’s time to take action. It’s important to be clear that just because a site only has a small number of commercial anchor text pointing to it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t manipulative.
If you find that your site uses a high proportion of commercial keyword anchor text, it may be useful to get links removed, nofollowed, or disavowed – even if the links don’t appear to have been generated to manipulate search engines. This is particularly relevant if you suspect that your site has suffered as a result of the Google Penguin update, which pays close attention to spammy keyword anchors.
If you spot links that use exact-match keyword anchor text but are good links in terms of referral traffic and citation value, you may not want to remove or disavow them. In this instance, you could contact the website and request that the anchor text be changed to a branded link, or, if the link wasn’t given freely, adding a nofollow to the link.
Referring Site Quality
One factor that can give you an idea of a referring website’s quality is the domain strength and its own link profile.
You can run the site through link and domain analysis tools to identify key information about the domain, such as:
- How many links point back to the site?
- How trusted are these links (using trust metrics such as Majestic TrustFlow)?
- How long has the domain been active?
- How many links does the site have compared to referring domains? Is it a natural balance?
- How did they get links? What pages/content do links point to?
Using 3rd party link analysis tools can quickly help identify and visualise if a domain’s link profile has been legitimately earned, rather than artificially manufactured. It is important to note, however, that these tools have access to alternative data sets compared to search engines, so therefore may not represent the links search engines are aware of.
Further to a domain’s link profile legitimacy, how does the site look and feel? You usually don’t need to do much domain analysis to spot a low quality, spammy site.
Look at the site navigation and design; does it feel like it was built for users, or for search engines and links?
Lastly, what does an actual page feel like? What is it about? Was it created with users in mind? Strong sites can sometimes have low-quality pages that were created only to link out to other sites; in some cases with a financial aim in mind.
If the page your link is coming from feels spammy or unnatural, it’s worth contacting the site to get it removed, or the link nofollowed – even in cases where the rest of the site is strong. If that isn’t possible, consider disavowing the page itself rather than the entire domain.
Once you’ve understood the quality of the site, it’s also important to consider the relevancy of the link to the site and the page it comes from. Does it look natural? Is it appropriate alongside the rest of the content on the site, and specifically the linking page?
Irrelevant links that don’t feel as if they fit in should be considered a risk, and suitable action might be necessary to protect the link profile of your site – whether it be to disavow the referring domain or reach out to the site and request amendments.
This isn’t by any means a conclusive list of the quality indicators to consider when carrying out backlink analysis, but it should give you a good place to start.
If you have any questions or would like any more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, or tweet me @Koozai_Emma.
This section of the SpamFlag “Definitive Guide To Manipulative Links” was created by Emma North, an experienced Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai; a Marketing Agency based in London and Southampton.