Building links is a several stage process. Aside from the initial stage of, “Where do I find the sites in the first place?” (upon which a whole separate document could be written). Once the sites have been found, you’ll then have to choose the sites that you’d like your site to receive a link from.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
This is as relevant as ever here. If you would like your site to appear trustworthy, reliable and authoritative, you must surround it by sites that are trustworthy, reliable and authoritative. Hence, it will take on these positive signals and grow into the site you would love it to be. If you surround your site with signals from negative sources, it will naturally not grow into the positive, healthy environment you would like.
Fortunately, we have several tools, which allow us to perform various background checks on these potential friends before we choose to solidify the deal.
There are various third-party metric sites, who will normally have an enormous database of websites, with which they can compare your given site to. They will then, based on these varying signals, offer their educated opinion on the trustworthiness of the site.
Majestic is a wonderful tool and a great starting point at the beginning of your search. It offers the largest commercial Link Intelligence database in the world, crawling a staggering 185.8 billion unique URL’s and with its bulk site checker allowing you to check up to 400 sites at once, is great at whittling lists down at the first stage.
Majestic has two primary metrics; “Trust Flow” and “Citation Flow”. Trust Flow considers the trustworthiness/quality of the links are that are pointing to the given site, whilst Citation Flow is more looking at the quantity of links pointing to a site. Considering this, the Citation Flow will almost always be higher than the Trust Flow.
We should hope for a Trust Flow of no less than 15 and a ratio between the Trust/Citation Flow of no greater than approximately 1:2. A greater ratio difference would insinuate that the site has a larger number of links pointing to it, but which are of a lower quality and are thus not passing on the Trust metric to the site.
Majestic also introduced their Topical Trust Flow in April of 2014. This seeks to categorize the niche of a page/site at several different levels by looking at the niches of the sites/pages that are pointing towards it. At this stage, it can be worth having a quick look at a site’s Topical Trust Flow, as any unexpected results there could indicate some unnatural backlink trends, which we will investigate into later.
It’s worth quickly using Moz’s Open Site Explorer to check the Domain Authority of the site. We should hope to see a score of 25+, but it’s more as a second opinion. If the Majestic score falls within our specification but the Moz score doesn’t, we may want to investigate further as to why. It will be easier for webmasters to manipulate one metric than both.
They also have a handy “Spam Score” metric, introduced in 2015, which allows a quick snapshot at any red flags that may require further investigation.
At this stage, the site has passed the initial metric tests, so we can look to delve a little bit deeper to understand more about it. AhRefs is a brilliant tool to really dig in and understand more about the link profile of a site.
Initially, we can check the site’s outgoing links. This will give us a good quick idea of whether the site has indulged in any nefarious outward linking activity, including accepting paid links out to any unpleasant sites that may harm its own trust value further down the line. It’s worth quickly searching the outgoing link profile for any domains containing the following examples of phrases that are not relevant to you, or potentially spammy:
If they do, then at least you know. You can then consider the quantity of these links and the niche of the site you are building towards to make an informed decision as to whether you want a link from this site.
You may also find that you will edit and amend this list depending on the characteristics of the niche that you are building from/to. The above list is merely a basic starting point.
Obviously, if you’re building for your betting brand, you may be less concerned about some outgoing casino links. The key point is relevance. If any of the above terms are relevant to the site, then, of course, it is nothing to worry about.
Following this, we will check the incoming links to the site. We would like to make sure this site is being influenced by the right “people”, before we choose to be influenced by them in turn.
Begin by checking the backlink profile for the list of “bad” phrases above.
We can then look at the “Referring Anchor Terms”. When looking at the these we can mentally refer to any red flags we may have noticed when looking at the Majestic Topical Trust Flow.
The Anchors Cloud will give us a quick snapshot, whilst the full report will allow us to look a little more in depth. We are looking for any unexpected themes in the referring anchor terms. For example, if we are looking at a food/cooking blog site and we see a referring anchor term for “Ray Ban sunglasses”, this should throw up a red flag for us. Other common terms would be expensive fashion brand phrases “Louis Vuitton Bags Cheap”, “Burberry cheap outlet” etc. We should also keep an eye out for an over
We should also keep an eye out for a high frequency of terms such as “Visit Poster’s Website”, as this could suggest forum profile backlinks, wherein profiles are automatically created on low-quality forums with a link back to the website. Any unexpected characters should also throw a red flag, such as many Russian/Chinese/Arabic characters in the anchor text. Of course, if we are looking at a Russian website then Russian text is expected, but if we are looking at an American based website, then a large portion of Russian backlink anchors would be unexpected.
Such anomalies can flag either a previous deliberate SEO attack, through a distribution of bad links to the site, or a repeatedly dropped domain that has been used for nefarious activity in the past.
The below example is from a travel/food blog. Aside from its own domain name, it is showing several non-related referring anchor terms. To check if these terms hold any relevance to the site, we can do a simple Google site search with:
Site:domain.com “rayban sunglasses”
If no relevant pages are returned, then we can assume that the domain has been previously dropped and used for a non-relevant purpose. It may also have been victim of an attack. Either way, this should raise a red flag for us.
This shows how the referring domains are distributed by countries based on their country code top level domains.
Once again here, we are looking for any unexpected referring link behaviour. Thus, if we are looking at a UK/US based site, yet a very high proportion of backlinks are coming from Russian TLD’s, we may question why and wish to investigate further to discover what kind of links these may be.
Such behaviour can often be a sign of low-quality forum links, profile bio links from low-quality websites and other questionable, poor quality link activity.
In keeping with this, if a website has a large quantity of backlinks, yet is still showing low Majestic/Moz metric scores. This may be a sign that many of the links are from low-quality domains.
If the incoming link checks throw some relevance red flags, we can use the Wayback Machine to take us back in time to look at the site.
Clicking on a highlighted date will show us the site at that point in the past. Thus, we can look to see if the site has been previously used for an entirely different purpose, which may explain an unnatural link profile/referring anchor texts or highlight any other unwanted past activity.
SEMrush is another brilliant tool with an extensive functionality. In this instance, we will use it for its Organic Search and Keyword Ranking analysis functions.
SEMrush can predict the organic traffic for a website by analysing various signals including its ranking pages, keyword rankings and the search volume for these terms, versus the position the site is holding in the SERPs for them at that time. By collecting this data over time, it allows us to see a pattern of this predicted traffic.
Time with the tool and comparison between Google Analytics data has shown that it can predict these trends with good accuracy.
The screenshot below shows the traffic pattern over a two-year period for SearchEngineLand.com.
As we can see, the traffic fluctuates over time, but there is a general upward trend. Small fluctuations are completely normal. What we are looking to avoid is any drastic downward trend over a period of months.
The below screenshot shows us the trends over a two-year period of the keyword positions held by SearchEngineLand.com. Whilst these fluctuations are less drastic, we can see that it follows a similar pattern to the traffic behaviour above. Thus, whilst there are fluctuations, the overarching trend is in an upwards direction.
Any significant traffic or keyword drop off, specifically directly after a Google update, could indicate a resulting site penalty and thus, if the deterioration continues would not offer as much long-lasting benefit to your site.
If you are ever unsure about the data SEMrush is showing you, Ahrefs does also offer traffic/keyword information. Thus, you can use these tools together to validate each other. At Blueclaw, we apply this validation on an ongoing as to make sure our SEO strategy is on track for each of our clients.
No follow links? – Does the site use primarily nofollowed links? If so, it probably isn’t worthwhile contacting them to try and haggle for a followed link. A nofollowed link won’t offer any SEO benefit to your site, aside from visibility, and thus it’ll be more time than it’s worth to go after it.
The NoFollow Chrome extension will make this easy and painless for you, by simply outlining any nofollowed links on a site in red, as below:
Aside from all the technical investigation, what you can see with your own eyes can be as good a metric as any. If a site has been recently dropped, bought, and taken over, it is possible these third-party sites haven’t crawled it yet and all the metrics will look technically great still. If it doesn’t look right, there’s a good chance you’re correct.
For example, this “home improvement” site, which I think speaks for itself.
All of these points are as a guide only, but are great starting point for your search for the right link. It is important to combine data from different sources to give the most honest and unbiased overview of a domain. Extra processes will certainly be added and perhaps changed for specific niches, depending on their requirements.
Wherever you are in terms of your own SEO and linkbuilding strategy, the Blueclaw team is ready to help. Download one of our free resources or get in touch to start a conversation – we’re always ready to answer the trickiest of SEO questions.