How to Identify Quality Sites for a Link Building Strategy

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By Boris Dzhingarov

In the last few years, link building has become more sophisticated and detail-oriented. This is because there is an increased risk of picking up a Google penalty due to low-quality links.

Because of the inherent risks, anyone running a link building campaign must ensure that backlinks are obtained from quality sites that won’t raise any flags unnecessarily. This provides a safeguard for link building, like the “First, do no harm” creed in the medical field.

This article discusses how to approach identifying quality sites for link-building purposes to get better rankings in the future and avoid penalties.

High-Quality Publishing

Think beyond the link. Don’t obsess about it.

Instead, think like the searcher. What do they look for in a quality website? Well-written content based on factual information, or at least, an informed opinion.

Similarly, the content found on a link prospect should read well, clearly not be written mostly by an AI content generator, or a non-native speaker. The grammar should be correct too, or close to it. It needs to look and feel like it was written by an educated, knowledgeable person with something valid to share. They’ll also be some longer pieces in there too. Maybe 1,500 words or longer on occasion.

Otherwise, why would you want a link from the site other than for its domain rating? Or to put it another way, if it’s publishing bottom-of-the-barrel content, how long before Google hits the site directly or indirectly with a manual penalty or an algorithm update?

Over Half the Content is Informational

Talking of algorithm changes, a recent Google update effectively targeted websites with over 50% content comprised of buyer guides, affiliate reviews, and product comparisons. Essentially, all affiliate content, all the time. This is too much sell…sell…sell… and Google decimated those sites.

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Even if the linking prospect site in question came out relatively unscathed, it may not the next time. Receiving a link from a site that subsequently gets hit by an update isn’t cool. While it may not affect the power of the link, an affiliate site that’s been badly hit will often get abandoned soon enough. At worst, they won’t keep publishing new content to it and its domain ratings will decline inside of a year.

So, look for a balance of content where informational is the majority. If every other post is “best…” or “xyz product vs abc product,” steer well clear.

The Ratio of Outbound Links vs Inbound Links

A website that’s primarily used as an outbound linking resource will have far more outbound links on the domain than inbound ones. It’s a tell-tale sign that something is amiss.

A range of tools including can be used to review a domain to verify its count of outbound vs inbound linking. While it’s not an exact science, when there are 5 or ten times as many outbound links to inbound ones, that doesn’t look correct. Or natural.

Even a rudimentary manual review of the linking site will determine whether it is linking too frequently and looks suspicious.

Domain Ratings

SEO websites provide metrics to gauge the relative strength of the website. These are useful to get a sense of the theoretical power of a backlink. Many SEO practitioners use this as an initial filter to screen out the less desirable websites.

These should only be used as a starting point, rather than the be-all and end-all in deciding if a site is desirable or not.

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The DR has also been compared to keyword ranking and found to have a high correlation. This makes sense because keywords ranking well in the search engines will naturally generate greater traffic, whether they’re boosted by backlinks or not.

Their URL rating (UR) is at the page level and reflects the backlinks pointing at a given page. This is helpful when considering a particularly strong page versus a weak domain. Some sites will have a few pieces of content that garner many powerful links, but fewer other links point to the home page or elsewhere, leaving the Domain Rating weaker than the URL rating. is used less frequently now to rate a website now. However, they’re still updated and useful. Their metrics also run from 0 to 100 on a logarithmic scale.

Their Domain Authority (DA) score aims to confirm the strength at the domain level. It is calculated based on the power of the domains linking into the site.

Also, there is a Page Authority (PA) metric for page-level strength, based on backlink power. Both the DA and PA from Moz are somewhat equivalent to the DR and UR metrics from Ahrefs. Both aim to do the same thing, however, Ahrefs tracks more backlinks overall, making their metrics likely to be more accurate.

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Other SEO tools aim to provide something similar. They differ in their accuracy, so it becomes necessary to either pick your favorite or take the average of data scoring from several sites.

Spam Score

Some backlink monitoring sites or tools, including Ahrefs, have a spam score for domains.

The idea here is to highlight when the volume of links or their type looks suspicious to them.

This might include many foreign backlinks using different character sets – such as Chinese backlinks on an American domain targeting US consumers, which looks out of place. While backlinks from a foreign country don’t themselves look bad, if the websites linking have already been flagged as spammy or have low domain metrics, these play a factor.

Backlinks from sites marked as spammy by leading backlink analysis tools should be avoided. When receiving them unsolicited, it’s best to use Google’s disavow tool to remove any negative effect.

By being diligent about backlink sources, it’s possible to keep a relatively clean backlink profile. While manual penalties for bad link building don’t happen quickly, they do stack up eventually. So, it’s best not to be complacent.