What makes a good backlink?
“Well, it depends”, is the correct answer. There are some general things we can look for when trying to determine if a backlink is worth acquiring, but each backlink needs to be considered in the context of the target website.
So here is a step-by-step breakdown of how a professional SEO would go about assessing the strength and quality of a link. To get the most out of this guide, you would benefit from having access to an SEO tool such as Ahrefs or SEMRush – remember these have free or low investment trial options!
A backlink prospect has replied to your email – what next?
Copy their URL and paste it directly into the Ahrefs Site Explorer tool. Make sure it exactly matches in terms of www and https status, as applicable. You want the subdomain or domain option selected, as this will provide the complete set of data we’re after. Most sites don’t have subdomains, but keep this in mind when looking at the data in case your particular prospect does.
You should see something like this.
In the top bar you will see an overview of some of the most important data. Below that are some graphs, which give you an idea of the historical data. There are also 2 other tabs in addition to the Backlink Profile tab that opens by default – Organic Search and Paid Search.
Let’s start with the data overview.
AR, UR and DR values
These give you a general overview of where the site sits compared to other sites on the web. AR (Ahrefs Rank) compares it to all other sites. An AR of 1 would make the site the most authoritative on the internet. This is briefly glanced over and compared to the DR, which is the Domain Rating.
Domain Rating is a measurement of how authoritative the domain is, and therefore how likely is it to rank against its peers. DR is specific to niche, and so it’s easier to increase DR in low competition niches.
UR is URL Rating and is the authoritativeness of a single specific page. This is useful in assessing where on the website to place your link, as the importance of the page will give you a guide on how much link juice will pass to your target website.
Backlinks and Referring Domains
The backlinks measurement equates to the total backlinks pointing to the website, and referring domains measurement equates to the number of unique domains pointing to the website. Generally the number of referring domains is a much better measurement of the strength of a backlink portfolio, as getting multiple links from a single domain isn’t going to improve a website’s authority.
In the backlink tab on the left-hand sidebar, it’s possible to dive deeper and determine how many of these links are do-follow, as these are the links that will pass link juice. The quality of them can also be assessed in the same way – by punching the URLs one by one into the site explorer, or by looking at the summary next to each link.
Organic Keywords, Organic Traffic and Traffic Value
Organic keywords refer to how many keywords the website is ranking for that are in the top 100. Combined with the traffic, organic keywords will provide an idea of how the backlink portfolio is translating into rankings, and can give an indirect measurement of the quality of the site’s backlink profile, as well as screen for black hat SEO practices.
It’s common sense that if Google trusts a website, the website will rank for keywords and will have organic traffic. If the website has a ton of backlinks, but does not rank for anything and has very little traffic, well then that’s a massive red flag and you should avoid the website!
Traffic value is an estimate of how much the organic traffic generated is worth in a dollar value. Generally, SEOs don’t pay much attention to this, but it can give you an estimate of how profitable the site could be if it were monetised properly.
As briefly mentioned, the graphs provide some useful historical data. The 2 most important graphs are the referring domains graph and the organic traffic graph (found in the organic traffic tab).
The referring domains graph provides a picture of how the referring domains changed over time. What you want to look for here is a natural steady climb in referring domains without any sharp increases, as this could signal unnatural link building.
The organic traffic graph will illustrate how organic traffic changed over time. Here, again, you’re looking for a gradual climb. Spikes can mean volatility, but this is not necessarily bad if the site secures a high-volume keyword. However, what you really don’t want to see is a sharp decline in traffic. This is likely associated with either a manual or algorithmic penalty, and associating with such sites can hurt your own. Even if the traffic has somewhat recovered, this is generally a red flag. It’s also possible that the site was down for some time, in which case some damage was probably done to the domain as well.
Geographical spread of backlinks
Another thing to consider is where are most of the website’s backlinks coming from? Generally quality links come from the anglosphere – places like the USA, UK, Canada and Australia. Other countries such as India, Pakistan, China and Russia are known for poor, spammy or malicious domains.
This is of course not always the case, but if your prospect has mainly .in , .cn , .ru domains pointing to it you may want to investigate this. If the .in domains are the majority, but still make up 1% or so of the total domains then this is likely not an issue.
The best domain extensions for your website will always come from websites local to you – that is, businesses that are within your local community. For example, if you’re an Australian business you want to concentrate on websites with backlink profiles high in .au domains.
A backlink should be assessed by traffic, referring domains, geographical association and historical trends primarily. AR, UR and total number of backlinks and keywords can be used to verify the primary measurements of domain strength.