Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Inbound Link Reports But Were Afraid to Ask
Ever since the days of PageRank, inbound link reports have been a critical part of the growth of any web domain. Though PageRank’s influence has waned in importance, and links are now just one of many factors that are factored into your site’s overall rank, links are still a crucial part of your off-page SEO.
(See that internal linking? That’s a great way to get started!!)
Basically, when sites link to each other, they lend a portion of their own reputation. A link is a way of vouching for the quality of the other site. If relevant, reputable sites link to your own site means that your own reputation (the measure of your quality and reliability, as determined by a search engine) will increase.
With your site’s reputation in the balance, it’s imperative that you take an active role in building your own link network. That means you’ll be looking at a lot of link reports, but spreadsheets like these are opaque at the best of times. What’s a good Spam Score? What distinguishes DA from PA, and which is more important? Are my links equitable? What does that actually mean, in practice?
There’s certainly a lot to take in, and in some cases there’s no clear industry consensus ready to give you a straight answer. However, we’re taking it upon ourselves to break down link reports as best we can to give you the grounding you’ll need to cultivate the link network your site deserves.
Basically, inbound link reports tell you the details about which sites are linking to your domain, and how they’re doing it. By evaluating a series of metrics, the various linking domains, and the links they’re hosting, are graded so that you can evaluate how useful a particular link is to your network, and how healthy your network is as a whole.
When you talk about the value of a link, you’re really talking about “link equity.” No two backlinks are created equally, and some links can actually be detrimental to your overall standings. The report helps you get a clear reading on what kind of impact you can expect from each individual link, and the aggregate impact on your site from your link network as a whole.
Domain Authority vs. Page Authority
“Authority” refers to the reputation or trust-worthiness of a site. Generally, sites with higher authority will rank more highly for a particular search query, and they will be more likely to be sourced for a “featured snippet” (those excerpts you sometimes see which provide a quick answer to your search).
Where page authority measures the reputation of the specific page which hosts the link to your site, domain authority measures the overall reputation of that site as a whole. Most often, the two metrics will rise and fall more or less in unison, but it’s important to track them separately. There will be cases now and again of a middling site with a particularly excellent, high-reputation bit of content, or an otherwise strong site with a weak page. The latter case is more common, and often results from directory pages.
Is There Any Value in a NoFollow Link?
A “nofollow” tag on a link instructs crawlers not to pursue it when indexing the hosting page. Thus, it doesn’t directly contribute to your link network as far as search engines are concerned. Conventional wisdom has always been that these links are essentially worthless, but that doesn’t take the discussion far enough.
It’s definitely important to keep track of these links, for a number of reasons, and they might have more value to your site than you would expect.
First, treating them as irrelevant completely ignores the human element. Just because a crawler doesn’t pursue the link doesn’t mean a user won’t. You could see a measurable impact on your traffic from a nofollow link, assuming it’s still relevant and compelling, and the user experiences themselves can raise your rankings.
On the other hand, a particularly bad link, or some unflattering anchor text, might be warding off potential users, and a link report can alert you to vindictive content which might be sullying your site’s good name.
When you embed a link beneath a phrase (ahem… “Great Link Building Tips for SEO!”) the choice of phrase matters. That’s called “anchor text” in that it describes the text to which your link is connected. That text should be clearly relevant to your content.
Google’s natural language processing technology has been making leaps and bounds lately, and it’s more than capable of understanding the basic semantic sense of a simple phrase. If your anchor text has little or no relevance to your content then you can expect the link to be given less relative import by a curious crawler.
That may seem a little vague, so here’s an example:
If we had a link anchored to the phrase “top San Francisco digital marketing agency” we would expect it to be of significantly more benefit to us, all other factors being equal, than a link anchored to the phrase “should my dog eat avocado?”
(Dogs shouldn’t, incidentally. Avocados contain a fungicidal toxin called Persin, safe for humans but dangerous to most pets, and the pits pose a particularly intense choking hazard.)
This section is a little fuzzy, and it’s one of the only metrics that leans so heavily on the subjective side.
Since 2014, Google’s Penguin algorithm has actively penalized sites that are in some way “spammy” by severely decreasing their rankings or by delisting them altogether. Since a direct link is a way of essentially sharing a site’s reputation, a link from a site with a high spam score can in some cases actually harm your overall rankings.
Spammy sites are hard to quantify, so the score takes account of a number of different red flags. Moz’s Open Site Explorer gives the site a score out of 17, with one point for each flag. A site might be flagged for thin content, for hosting a disproportionately large number of links relative to its overall scope and reputation (which could suggest a link farm), no contact info, an alphanumeric domain name (which would suggest a registry rather than a user-facing site), or very little markup relative to the amount of plain text. These, and other factors, help weed out link farms, directories, and so on.
Basically, if the site isn’t providing something of real value to a potential user, it ought to be flagged, and you’ll get no benefit from a spammy link.
Ideally, your site wants a variety of inbound links from sites with related content or in a similar industry, with a higher reputation than your own. You want any inbound link to be clearly relevant, and useful for a potential user. There is scant value in having a link just for its own sake, and even a large network of empty links could ultimately harm your overall standings.
At the end of the day, a valuable link will come from a site that you’d be proud to link your own user traffic to. If you keep that respectful attitude in mind, your site is sure to thrive.
Colibri Digital Marketing
We’re the San Francisco Digital Marketing agency in the heart of Silicon Valley. As a registered B Corp we have built our own reputation on collaboration, quality, and responsible conduct. We’ve got a track record of superb digital marketing service for our clients, and we never resort to spammy, shady tactics in the promotion of good content.
Curious how your inbound link network stacks up? Click below, and schedule your free digital marketing strategy session!
Originally published at colibridigitalmarketing.com on February 25, 2018.