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How to Evaluate Links – A Checklist + Tools

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Even with the growing importance of social media one of the most significant tasks of SEO specialists is traditional link building. By traditional I refer to real a href links on websites and blogs not social media mentions on Facebook, Twitter or Google+

Links usually vary in quality to the point where one link looking similar to another can be worthless while the other one is a so called authority link.

How do you know which link is worthwhile? You can take a look at numerous factors to assess and evaluate the value of a link. Of course you scrutinize not only the link itself but also the page it is on and the site as a whole. Last but not least the link profile of the site that links to you also determines whether it’s a good link or not.

Let me explain some of the numerous link value metrics I use daily by now. Some of them I recognize at a glance while others I only discover when I dig deeper than the obvious appearance. Here’s my checklist. At the bottom I list some tools for link evaluation as well.

Site level link value factors

  • indexed? – Is the site in the Google index? Check using a search like site:example.com on Google. It has to be. Otherwise hands off.
  • PageRank? – Does the site have PageRank? No matter how much it just needs at least a PR of one so that you know it’s not completely new, banned or worthless.
  • MozRank – While PageRank is by and large deprecated you can use mozRank by SEOmoz to find out the value of a site.
  • site topic – What is the site about and is it relevant to you and your site? The more relevant the better.
  • language – Does the language of the site match the language of the page it links to? When they match great, when they don’t it depends.
  • editorial or automated? – Is this site run by real people writing articles or is it just an automated aggregator? The less automation the better for the link.
  • regularly updated? – Is the site regularly updated, or at least from time to time? Unless it’s a timeless resource it’s bad when it isn’t.
  • ppp = Does the site deal with pills, pron or poker? Cheap medicine, xxx an gambling sites are a bad neighborhood for most other links.

 

Page level link value factors

  • indexed? – Is the page the link is on in the Google index? Search with the “site:” operator again. Not indexed. No good.
  • cached? – Has the page been cached by Google? Use the “cache:” operator. When? A week ago is great. A month ago is OK. In case it’s not there the page does not seem to be important.
  • number of outgoing links – The fewer the better. Almost none are also bad though.
  • mozRank – Look at the page authority as well as measured by SEOmoz.
  • topic – Does the page deal with the topic your resource it links to does? Or is off topic? The more on topic the better.
  • hidden or low quality links – Does the page contain hidden or low quality links? Some third party services sneak in hidden links for example. The popular Hello bar does. Are there dozens of footer links with overtly optimized anchor texts? Not a good sign either.
  • unique content – Does the page have unique content? Search for the headline or the first sentence in Google. In case Wikipedia comes up first it’s worthless. When the site ranks one #1 for its content and has many copycats that’s OK. In case dozens of newspapers publish the same content that’s a clear sign of low quality.
  • broken links – Does the page contain broken links? A few, like two or three out of 30 might already be a bad sign.
  • bad neighborhood – Does the page link to many low quality sites like defunct domains that are parking now? Then the link is in no good context.

 

Link level value signals

  • text or image? – Is the link a text link or an image link? Text links are better.
  • anchor text – What kind of anchor text does the link have? Does it sound natural or spammy?
  • placement on page head/text/sidebar/footer – Where on the page is the actual link? Is it on top, in the editorial part of the content, in the sidebar or in the worst case in the footer? On top and in the editorial part is best.
  • html vs javascript – Is the link an actual link with a href in it or a JavaScript link? Does the JavaScript have the target URL in it or just some mangled code?
  • font size and CSS declarations – Is the link text so tiny that you need a magnifying glass? Does its color have enough contrast to be readable? Is the position left: -1000px? All of the above are awful.
  • nofollow attribute – Does the link have a rel=nofollow attribute added to it? If yes, why? Nofollow means the link does not count for Google.
  • URL forwarding and cloaked links – Does the link use a server side script or redirect instead of linking directly? In most cases it’s breaking it unless it uses a so called 301 redirect and the page that does the actual redirecting can be indexed.

 

All of these aspects might seem a bit too much to take into account but I see many of them immediately while others get displayed by my tools within the browser. To analyze links more thoroughly you can use Google Webmaster Tools (for your own site), Blekko, Screaming SEO Spider and cognitiveSEO tools.

As I work as a blogger for cognitiveSEO I’m a bit biased towards the advanced SEO tools they offer.

You can gain a quick overview over multiple of the link value factors I mentioned above and some more I haven’t.

The free tools from Google, Blekko and Screaming Frog are also great but it costs a bit more time to get a grip on your links using them. Also the information is not as complete. For beginners and intermediate users they will most probably suffice. Professional users, for instance inhouse SEO practicioners or webmasters having multiple websites can save lots of time and effort using the web based cognitiveSEO software.

Do you agree with my link value metrics checklist? Do you have something to add? Do you use other tools to evaluate links?

 

* CC image by Lance McCord.

 

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11

Discussion

  1. zack  October 20, 2011

    I would take a nofollow link

  2. Anto Mathew  October 21, 2011

    Hi Tad,

    Thank you for the organised and systematic presentation of the link building tactics. I like it. I will also look into IP address,Server location,Country specific domains etc.

    Regards,

    Anto

  3. maque  October 21, 2011

    Why would you take a nofollow link, Zack?

  4. mrw  October 23, 2011

    “regularly updated? – Is the site regularly updated, or at least from time to time? Unless it’s a timeless resource it’s bad when it isn’t.”

    Is there a tool that could show this?

    Thanks

  5. SEO Costa Rica  October 23, 2011

    Now I`m training some of my team in the office about SEO, but one of the questions they do me is about the links, you did a great resume of the main info about this, I`m sharing this post with all them!

    thanks

  6. seotiras  October 24, 2011

    So if you had to choose between a link in an article and a link in the sidebar or the footer of a website what would you choose?

  7. Carla  October 24, 2011

    A link in an article, every time.

  8. Link Fabrik, Switzerland  October 24, 2011

    I would use for a link building campaign also nofollow links because I have made really good experiences with them. But much more important for a good link building is a broad heterogeneity in the backlink structure – so that your website doesn’t have only dofollow or nofollow backlinks, but both of them. Also the context of the website with the backlink is very important, so look that there will appear your keywords. And last but not least, you need time – linkbuilding is not a project but a process ;-) I have got really good results with this guidelines.

  9. Heather@SEOperks  October 24, 2011

    My mentor has read that some “no follows” links are good for the natural development of a profile so that they do have some value. Thoughts?
    Thanks for the resource Tad!

  10. SEO Sri Lanka  October 25, 2011

    In terms of Google PR value nofollow may not be useful but I’ve made use of nofollow links by having users click on it and land on my site.

  11. Tad Chef  October 28, 2011

    Anto: Thanks for the addition. You are right, I forgot those.

    mrw: You don’t need a tool for this, you can see using Google search or simply looking at the site, page in question. I may suggest this feature to the cognitiveSEO team though.

    seotiras: A link in an article is best, sidebar comes second and footer is the least valuable.

    Link Fabrik and Heather: True, a natural link profile is very important indeed. I have written an article about that as well elsewhere, I think on SEOptimise.

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