A Guide To Grading Link Quality

TLDR; Link Quality For More Traffic

Want to learn which links really drive traffic growth?

At We Outreach we’ve built thousands of links over the years… And in this post we’ll demystify link quality once and for all.

We know which links drive traffic growth, and the proof is in the pudding with countless results like this for our clients:

In this post you’ll learn the quality grading framework we use to drive these results – How we built it, why it works, and yet more juicy screenshots of client results.

All that is coming below.

But if wanna skip the details (I can relate…) you can jump straight to our quality framework below.

And here’s a quick summary of our criteria with importance weightings:

  • DR/DA [0.7]
  • Amount of organic traffic [1]
    • Traffic geo-location
    • Traffic stability (no sudden large drops)
  • Link farm likeness [1]
    • % of low quality outbound links
    • Number of topic categories covered
    • Is the website more than just a content publisher (a “real” business)?
  • Relevance (high, medium, low) [1]
    • Sitewide relevance
    • Page-level relevance
    • Page section relevance

Client Results: Why Trust Our Quality Framework

We grade hundreds of links per month at We Outreach, and our quality framework has been refined based on years of experience.

Here’s what really matters: Our clients see great results from our link building, which all stems from our quality framework.

Here’s some recent client results:

Here’s why you can trust this framework:

  • It’s generating traffic growth for our clients.
  • It’s been developed over years and tens of thousands of links.
  • Our clients are SEO experts, who trust and help to mold this framework.

Intro out of the way, let’s jump in…

Laying The Groundwork For Quality Grading

Quality criteria in isolation are meaningless.

Instead of choosing arbitrary link quality metrics we should firstly identify our goals, and then work backwards to establish meaningful quality metrics.

Imagine you were asked to grade the quality of a hammer (stick with me here…) – You’d probably consider the weight, feel, and durability.

But there’s a key question: For what will the hammer be used?

A small handheld hammer could be a high quality tool for driving nails, but a low quality tool for breaking down a brick wall.

The same is true of backlinks… We can only grade the quality when put in the context of our goal.

Therefore our first step is to identify the goal of our link building.

The Goal Of Link Building

The Goal: Increase traffic, while mitigating risk.

It’s obvious on the surface: The Google algorithm loves links, so more links = more traffic.

But we don’t just want to pursue traffic with reckless abandon. No, indeed, we have a caveat attached to our traffic growth.

The Caveat: Don’t Get Penalised By Google

Google defines all link building efforts as a violation of their guidelines.

In their own words: “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines”

Every link building strategy from the blackest of blackhat to the whitest of whitehat is a “link scheme”.

Google doesn’t prejudice – If you’re putting any effort into link building, you’re already in breach of their guidelines.

Google Doesn’t Care About You

Back in the late 2000’s it was easy to build links (and increase traffic) – Just fire up a simple automated blog comment tool, and let it spam the comment sections of unwitting blogs with links to your website.

Then the Google Penguin update came along in 2012 and suddenly the algorithm was sophisticated enough to distinguish these spammy links from “natural” links.

The algorithm could now easily detect these “link schemes”.

Most SEOs who’ve been around the block know what happened next…

Any benefits gained from these types of links were removed overnight, and many websites lost 90-100% of their search traffic.

Events like these have scarred the minds of SEO professionals.

These days link building isn’t just about achieving traffic growth, but also mitigating the risk of exposure to a possible future Penguin-like event.

So here we have our goal: Increase traffic, while mitigating risk.

The We Outreach Link Quality Framework

With our goal in mind we can now design the means to reach our end.

We consider 4 areas of quality. Some are concerned with increasing traffic, some with mitigating risk, and some with both:

  • DR/DA
  • Organic traffic
  • Relevance
  • Link farm likeness

DR/DA

Domain Rating (Ahrefs) or Domain Authority (Moz) are the most widely used SEO metrics.

We think they’re somewhat useful for quick relative comparisons of link profile sizes between websites. But at the end of the day they’re a “best guess” (probably still a poor one) of how Google views these sites.

Organic Traffic

While DR/DA are a best guess of how Google views a website, the amount of traffic Google sends to a site is much easier to read.

If Google didn’t deem a website to be high quality, they wouldn’t give it exposure in search results. Therefore, organic traffic is one of the clearest quality indicators we have available.

We spend our days trying to guess what Google thinks about the quality of a site… But with organic traffic, we have the answer “right from the horse’s mouth” as they say.

Relevance

Google is pretty good at understanding the topic of a page and website. And with this understanding, it makes sense that the “relevance match” between a linking and linked page would be factored into the algorithm.

We think about relevance at 3 levels:

  • Sitewide relevance. Site tightly related to the linked site, e.g two gardening sites.
  • Page level relevance. A specific page on a site, related to the linked page.
  • Page section relevance. A page section, related to the linked page.

All 3 types are acceptable, with page level relevance being the most common. We think about it in terms of what “looks natural”.

Link Farm Likeness

Link farms are sites existing purely for the sake of linking out to other sites.

They charge a low fee for a link and link out to anyone who pays – Meaning they link to all sorts of low quality websites. Think gambling, pharma, essay writing, or all sorts of other shady sites.

These link farms are “bad neighbourhoods” – You don’t want Google to see a link to your site from a bad neighbourhood which also links to all this shady stuff.

These link farms are likely somewhat easy to identify algorithmically (as they have a very obvious “footprint”), which is a good reason to exercise caution with them. 

It’s difficult to draw the line between what is and isn’t a link farm. It’s more likely judging a scale with 100 shades of grey than it is making a black/white judgement.

This is why we say “link farm likeness” – We’re using a few factors (discussed below) to judge how far along this likeness scale a website lies.

There’s two main factors which indicate a link farm:

  • The % of their outbound links which are shady/low quality
  • The topical scope of the site (broader scope is worse)

Putting It All Together

Here’s our exact list of quality grading criteria (with weighted importance in brackets):

  • DR/DA [0.7]
  • Amount of organic traffic [1]
    • Traffic geo-location
    • Traffic stability (no sudden large drops)
  • Link farm likeness [1]
    • % of low quality outbound links
    • Number of topic categories covered
    • Is the website more than just a content publisher (a “real” business)?
  • Relevance (high, medium, low) [1]
    • Sitewide relevance
    • Page-level relevance
    • Page section relevance

We input all this data for a given link into a simple tool, which then outputs a grade on a scale from A to F.

Not all links of a certain grade will be alike. For example a link might be a B because it has super high DR and organic traffic (despite lower but still passable relevance), or because it has very high relevance despite lower DR and traffic.

We chose these criteria and weightings based on our years of link building experience and on the feedback of our clients (who are mostly SEO experts).

Wrapping Up

The goal of link building is to grow traffic while mitigating risk. It’s important to keep this at the forefront of your mind when determining link quality criteria.

The world of SEO is a hazy maze of self proclaimed experts attempting to guess what Google wants. Some folks try to treat Google as a friend and take a minimal approach to link building, while others go the opposite direction with a hyper aggressive approach to sway the algorithm in their favour.

It’s our view that side stepping all this nonsense and making a simple strategy based on the facts we have available is the best approach.

We want to increase traffic while mitigating risk. No need to make it more complicated, especially when those extra complications usually come in the form of guesswork.

Google is not your friend. Google is an algorithm. Give it the inputs it needs to look on your site favourably, and minimize the inputs which add risk.

We mash all this into a simple framework and let it make the quality decisions – And so far, it works extremely well for most of our clients.

Apply to work with us.

About us

We Outreach grows your organic traffic with quality link building. We use email outreach to build solid links on quality sites that are relevant and receive organic traffic.

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