What is a solid link, really? Every off-page SEO guy you talk to claims to offer “quality” links, but anyone who even bothers to define what that means usually hides behind a pile of generic SEO jargon about extra clickable high value white hat links (!) without explaining what any of that means.
Though it’s always fun and profitable to make our job sound incredibly opaque and complex, we don’t need to act like it’s wizardry. Let’s take a minute and talk about what actually makes a valuable link in clear and simple terms.
Here’s what you need to look for to see if your link is going to do its job.
Nobody Wants to Cross a Bridge to Nowhere
You can’t have a good link if it doesn’t go anywhere interesting, and your product pages don’t count. Your website needs something that a visitor can get value out of without spending any money, otherwise viewers will think of your site as a dead end and a waste of their time. This “linkable asset” could be anything from useful information, to free applications, to entertaining pictures.
Good Websites Live and Breathe
Once you’re sure that your link is going somewhere useful we need to make sure that it’s planted in a good, living site. That means making sure that it’s a website that actual humans visit and read.
While putting links on low-traffic sites can work, it’s definitely not what we’d call a “good” link. It’s like planting roses in the shade behind the compost heap, where they won’t grow much, you can’t see them easily, and it smells a bit funny.
An easy way to check for signs of life is to use a site that tracks web traffic like SEMrush. If you prefer a more direct approach then another quick trick is to just go and see if people are leaving comments and interacting on the site, or if anyone’s talking to them on social media.
Your Link’s Environment Has to Make Sense
This is what your SEO company is talking about when they tell you that they build “relevant” links. Your link has to make sense in the context of the writing around it and the site that it’s posted on. Putting a link to your law firm onto an environmentalism blog about tiny houses in an article about the latest season of Game of Thrones is like installing a sauna in a grocery store in Arizona.
No one in their right mind would use it.
That’s an extreme example, but it really is that simple. People are much more likely to click your link if it’s in a place where someone might expect it to be. At the end of the day, the real purpose of a link in any article is to support the content, not mislead your readers.
Your link ties together two sites, and the SEO of both sites influences the value of your link. Your target site needs to have good on-site work if you want Google to find your link in the first place. Explaining what good onsite formatting looks like is another article, but there are a few simple things you can look for to make an educated guess about whether they’ve done their homework.
- Google search an article title – If the article comes up, then you know it’s been indexed, and the site is at least not so broken that the Googlebot can’t get through.
- Check to see that links are dofollow – there are chrome extensions and apps that can identify nofollow links. If you don’t want to download one of these you can just right-click, go to “view page source” and search for “nofollow” to see if any of the links are tagged. A nofollow link won’t pass value the way that a dofollow link will. For more information check out Google’s Matt Cutts’s interview on the subject here.
- Use those keywords – the article that holds your link should reference keywords that are relevant to your link, and the link’s anchor text ideally matches or partially matches a keyword as well. Knowing that, it’s also important not to overdo this too much, because it’s more important for the anchor text to fit into your article naturally than for it to match your SEO preferences perfectly.
A Great Link Should Make You Want to Click
The best links aren’t just useful and reasonable, they’re necessary. To elevate your link you have to control its context and get your reader to see it as a part of your conversation, rather than some sort of aside.
For example, you’ll be much more interested in clicking on a link that’s framed like this:
“Check out this mortgage calculator to get a better idea of what you can really afford in today’s market. If you clicked the link you’ll notice that….”
…than something general, like this:
“Organizing your finances can be difficult, and it helps to have a mortgage calculator to give you an idea of what you can afford.”
Building User-Friendly Links Is About Being a Real Person
Taking the time to sit down and make sure that your links don’t have that used car salesman vibe is well worth it.
Today’s internet-using generation has a very well developed sense for in-authenticity and corporate shenanigans, and the best way to deal with it is to make sure that your links honestly have something to say.
If you’d like to dig into this topic a little more deeply there’s an excellent and more technical breakdown of what makes a great link on Moz over here.