How to Spot a “Quality” Site for Link Building Purposes

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By Boris Dzhingarov

Obtaining a link from a valuable site can do much to boost the ranking of certain keywords. However, getting links from other types of sites can fail to move the needle or, worse still, can
“tank” existing rankings badly. Therefore, considerable care must be taken with link-building processes to ensure that quality sites are found and bad ones are avoided.

Here are some of the ways to spot a quality site (and avoid the bad ones).

Industry or Sector Relevance

Beyond the real heavy hitting sites that are so huge and well-known that they have a “raise all boats” effect on ranking, it’s necessary to pay attention to the industry or sector that a site is in.

When you’re dealing with a site that has content that’s all over the spectrum, that’s a red flag. Many sites that link out all over the place, or have negligible (or no) traffic, necessarily publish content on seemingly every topic to generate as much revenue from paid links as possible.

Sticking to sites within the same industry or sector whittles away at the ones that aren’t worth paying attention to.

No “Write for Us” link in the Navigation or Footer

Sites that are actively looking for free content will usually have a “Write for Us” page and link to it in their top navigation or the footer navigation. SEOs may search in Google using operators that specifically find such sites advertising that they effectively sell links.

Whatever your stance is on paid links – almost all links are paid these days in some fashion as site owners now realize the value of a single link. The “Write for Us” page is a bad signal. The problem with it is that it attracts far too many guest post opportunities. These posts usually aren’t marked as “promotional” because they were paid for, which is another red flag with Google.

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You want to avoid having any link from a site that links out often, but has few links from other sites pointing to it. A ratio of 5 to 1 or lower for outbound to inbound links is advisable. Use Ahrefs or SEMrush to look up the number of links going in either direction.

How Compelling is the Content?

Content should be beneficial to the reader. While it can be shorter, even down to 500 to 600 words, it still must answer the question asked or provide an informed response. Ideally, it should provide a solution and not talk in generalities too.

Determine the estimated average time on site to see if people are visiting and leaving quickly, or sticking around for at least a minute or longer? The SimilarWeb tool – there’s a browser extension for it – allows free lookups of sites to view their estimates.

Examine Traffic Country Mix

When your business or site is aimed at US audiences, then it’s valuable to gather links from sites that have a similar audience.

Obtaining a link from a site where almost all the audience originates from Eastern Europe or Asia won’t do much for you. It may also look odd to Google when the link is from a site that doesn’t have much US traffic because there isn’t a logical reason for it.

Take a Deep Dive into the Traffic Sources

Traffic sources are another interesting thing to look into.

Certainly, with sites that receive almost no traffic, and sites with mostly “Direct” or “Referral” traffic, it’s time to be suspicious. For sites set up mostly to publish guest posts to sell links, then their traffic usually sits under these two sources with “Search” or “Organic” being minimal, at best. This would be bad.

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What you want to see is a mix of traffic sources including mostly organic search traffic, with some social, direct, email, and other sources mingled in. This looks far more natural.

What’s their Spam Score?

Some SEO tools offer a spam score for a domain. The idea with this is to rate whether the site looks suspicious or if it has a clean bill of health.

For sites with low-quality inbound links, they may get a higher spam score. Eventually, they could receive a manual bad links penalty. Any sites they’re linking out to might be impacted by that too, so it pays to be careful. As mentioned earlier, verifying the outbound to inbound link ratio goes hand-in-hand with the spam score.

Are They Recognizable in their Sector or Industry?

How well known is the site/company within their sector or industry?

In other words, are they a non-brand that no one has ever heard of? Or are they a site that’s been around for years, well respected, and that’s reflected in all the site metrics? Do they pass the sniff test?

While you can check the quality of their backlink profile – never a bad idea – they should be a site that’s on the map. When operating in a certain niche, sector, or industry and you’ve never even heard of them, that should cause concern. You’ll then want to look deeper into the site.

Check the Wayback Machine

It’s possible that the site was redeveloped and isn’t what it seemed. A popular tactic in SEO circles is to acquire an expired domain that’s still retained many powerful backlinks pointing to it. By recreating the site by using the site records from the Wayback Machine site, webmasters can breathe new life into a previously dead site.

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It’s also possible that the site has completely changed industries with the new version operating in a completely different industry. Either way, by using a 301 redirect for the pages with live links, it’s possible to share the link juice around effectively on a brand-new site. When doing so, it ranks highly and fast.

However, this type of tactic courts considerable risk that Google penalized it for blatant abuse of Google’s TOS. So, receiving links from such a site opens the door to a penalty later if it’s hit by Google, because sites being linked from it may also receive a knockdown too.

Spotting a quality site to receive a link from is not only about locating what seems like a good one. It’s also about looking for tell-tale signs that it’s one to be avoided. Only by diving into the specifics on a site, its backlink history, site history, and other aspects covered in this article can it be confirmed if the link is safe to accept or pursue.