Dave Chaffey - Insights Director at ClickThrough Marketing, The Search Conversion Experts

This month Dave explains why not all links are created equally and shows some of the measures and tools ClickThrough use to benchmark link quality when performing link audits for our clients.
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We all know that in competitive markets (aren’t they all?) success in SEO is all about the links.

Sure, you can improve results through re-engineering what we call the TDKs at ClickThrough. That’s the Page meta data like the Title, Description and Keywords targeted. That’s always worthwhile and  gives quick wins at the start of a project.

If you’re reading this you’ll know that it’s not the quantity of backlinks from other sites that matters, it’s the quality that counts for better results.

So when you’re working with a new agency, it’s essential to determine early on precisely what a quality link is. That way you can set targets for quality links and make sure that the right types of links are delivered each month.

Setting criteria for good links also helps you avoid bad links which won’t contribute value or can even be damaging since they’re from an unrelated or spammy site.

So what is a quality link? In my Econsultancy best practice guide we look at many factors that form a successful link, but here’s what I recommend you look for and some tools that can help you decide their value.

Ask your agency or internal team which tools they use and how they score links.

Here are five of the most important criteria to consider:

1. Authority of site. Sites which are themselves authority sites are the most effective link sources – that’s why a link from the BBC or a .gov or .uk are most coveted.

A simple measures of authority is the Google Page Rank of a site. A more sophisticated measure is available from the SEO Moz Linkscape (mozRank) and Majestic SEO (AcRank).

All of these measures vary by page also, so I suggest you create reports which overlay the measures above onto them onto  tools which list backlinks such as Google Webmaster Tools or the Yahoo! Site Explorer.

The Google Chrome extension SEO Site Tools helps with this – I have listed it with my selection of the best Google Chrome Extensions.

2. Anchor text. Links containing keyphrases are more valuable, so audit the the number of links not containing anchor text.

The Open Site Explorer from SEOMoz shows you the overall authority of a domain and proportion of no followed links which could be reconfigured. It’s a powerful tool, but limited to a 1,000 links.

3. No followed links. Many blogs and social networks have external links using the rel=”nofollow” attribute in an effort to combat link spammers (it doesn’t work). These don’t pass the same value as vanilla links, so should be devalued.

4. New domain links. Gaining a link from a new domain is more powerful than gaining another link from a site that already links to you. Since ongoing link growth is important you should benchmark link growth of a site against its competitors. But not only simply total links, but links from domains. We use Majestic SEO – their Backlink history tool allows you to compare link growth from unique referring domains.

5. Relevant links. Finally search engines love relevance when assessing links and if they don’t see it, it can even give rise to a penalty. So links should be from relevant pages with a similar theme in terms of Title, headings and content.

Of course you can also review visits from different link partners, but oftentimes, clickthroughs from an individual publisher will be low unless you have a very prominent editorial link, that’s why I’ve concentrated on effective links from Google’s point of view.

I hope this prompts you to think how you review your link quality, or give you questions to ask your search engine optimisation agency. Next time I’ll look at benchmarking content effectiveness for SEO.

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About the author:

An acknowledged expert on digital marketing, Dave was recognised in 2004 by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of “50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have shaped the future of Marketing“. Dave is also author of five best-selling books including Internet Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice; and eMarketing eXcellence.