Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links

Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links

Not all backlinks are created equal.

There are good links and bad ones.

And you want to build the good ones, not the bad ones!

It’s easy to tell when a link is good: it comes within your niche, from a site relevant to what your website is involved with.

What Makes a Link Good or Bad?

Not so much has been written about what makes a link good or bad. But let’s look at some of the factors involved.

  1.  Relevance

The first and most important factor is that a link must be relevant to your site. If your website is about organic gardening, you want to ensure the links are from other organic gardening-related sites.

  1. Page Rank

Google uses the number of links that point to your site (and other factors) to determine your page rank. So, naturally, you want to get links from high-quality sites with high page ranks and domain authority.

  1. Site Quality

The site/page from which you source the link must be high quality. If it’s full of broken links and low-quality content, then it won’t do your business much good to get your links from there.

  1. Link Relevancy

Not only do you want to make sure the link is coming from a relevant site, but you also want to make sure it’s linking directly to the niche-relevant page on your website. For example, suppose you have an organic gardening blog and write about organic pest control methods. In that case, you have to make sure the links are directly pointing to the page discussing organic pest control methods and not anything else. 

  1. The anchor text

When someone links to you, make sure they use an anchor text phrase relevant to what you’re writing about. For example, if you write an article about growing green beans indoors, it would be much better if the other site used a phrase like “How to Grow Green Beans Indoors” for their link text.

What Are the Benefits of Getting Good Backlinks?

When you build links from within your niche and from sites with high page ranks, you send signals to Google that your site is an authority on its subject matter. In other words, if lots of people are linking to your website from relevant sites within your niche, that tells Google that you know what you’re talking about, and, for that, it will rank your site more highly.

Good Links are also DoFollow

Only DoFollow links pass authority to other sites. They have SEO juice, making them more likely to improve your rankings. Conversely, links that aren’t DoFollow (NoFollow link) pass no SEO juice. They have no little to no SEO value; save for the traffic you may get from the referrer.

So, before you pitch or guest blog for a link, always check if the site is DoFollow or not.

12 Examples of Good Links

  1. Health sites linking to fitness articles
  2. Fitness sites linking to health articles
  3. Real estate sites that link with other real estate companies. This is considered natural because all these companies are in the same industry.
  4. Links from sites or pages with high page ranks
  5. Links from sites with good Alexa rankings
  6. Keywords from sites that are already ranking on top of search engine results for your target keywords
  7. Publishers and sites that already rank on top of Google for your target keywords
  8. Links of authoritative sites — these are sites with high domain authority, like Forbes, Wall Street Journal and
  9. Natural, editorial links — these are links that fit in with your content. You can’t buy these. Someone has to like your content to link to it naturally.
  10. Legitimate, non-spammy guest posts on sites with high domain authority 
  11. Anchor text links from websites that are already ranking for your target keywords — this is one of the most powerful types of links you can build.

“Bad” Links: What Makes a Link Bad?

Now that we’ve established what constitutes a good link,

let’s look at what makes a link bad.

  1. Unrelated Sites

This is pretty self-explanatory. If you get a link from a site that’s completely unrelated to your niche area, then the link will have little to no SEO value to your site. 

  1. Low-Quality Site

This is another no-brainer. If the site your link is from has thin content and broken links, don’t expect it to do much (if any) in helping you boost your rank score.

  1. Over-Optimized Anchor Text

You must ensure the anchor text isn’t overly optimized for your keywords. A lot of SEOs do this, and it’s a bad practice.

Over-optimizing anchor text means forcibly using the exact keyword you’re trying to rank for as the anchor text. 

  1. Topic Spamming

This means you’re creating links for the sake of having links. If all your links point to high-volume keywords, Google will see right through it and act accordingly. 

  1. PageRank Sculpting (PBNs (Private Blog Networks)

Many people think they can “game” Google by creating link networks of low-quality sites to inflate other websites’ PageRank artificially. Google sees right through this, so it’s a bad idea to even think of trying it.

13 Examples of Bad Links

  1. Links from link directories or link farms with little to no content
  2. Links from sites with explicit content, associated with unethical or spam practices
  3. Links from blog comments with overly optimized anchor text links
  4. Links for completely irrelevant sites (like a pet grooming site linking to your sneaker blog)
  5. Links from doorway pages or automatically generated links
  6. Too many links from the same page or content
  7. Broken links
  8. Repetitive links — too many links using the exact keyword phrase as anchor text

It gets search engines suspicious. 

  1. Purchased, solicited or incentivized links (these are big no-no’s)
  2. Paid links masquerading as natural links
  3. Keywords links from page footer or sidebar
  4. Link exchanges and link party links, which are hosted on sites with no real value to the user
  5. Comment spam — this is when you leave blog comments on 1,000s of blogs with tons of anchor text pointing back to your site. This practice will get you banned from Google very quickly.

A quick note about reciprocal links:

Never make a link deal on the condition that both parties link to each other. That is highly unethical and another tactic Google takes issue with, so you’re better off not doing it.

How to Identify Bad Backlinks to Your Site

Every SEO needs to monitor their sites for toxic backlinks. That means they need to know what low-quality backlinks look like and, most importantly, how to identify them.

First, you’ll have to conduct a backlink audit. All that means is that you’ll go through all the links pointing to your site and weed out the bad ones. You can use a backlink checker like SEMrush or Ubersuggest to identify some of these links.

Backlink Analysis with SEMrush

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use SEMrush to sniff out spammy links on your site:

Step 1: Set Up Your Audit

You can start by going to SEMrush’s Backlink Audit tool. Enter your domain name. Next, we suggest choosing the first option (root domain) as your campaign scope in the pop-up box, unless you’re working with a sub-domain. 

Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links 1

You might also want to choose your domain categories and target countries. Note that these are all optional. But it helps when you want to analyse niche specific links in a particular country or region. 

Once you’ve set everything, you can go ahead and click on “Start Backlink Audit.”

That should initiate the backlink audit. You’ll also receive a confirmation email once the process is complete.

Step 2: Connect SEMrush to Google Search Console

In the meantime, you can connect your SEMrush account to Google Search Console. We suggest you go through with this as it will help you disavow toxic backlinks and, at the same time, gain more insights into your link building strategy

Note that you must be the verified owner of the Google Search Console property to go through with this. 

SEMrush will inform you if the connection is successful.

Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links 3

Step 3: Go through the Report, Starting with the Quick Overview

In the audit report, you can start by going through the quick overview to check the overall health of your backlink profile

Here, you’ll get to see the total number of referring domains, the number of “bad” or toxic links, as well as the number of potentially toxic links.

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You’ll also be provided with an overall toxic score. 

Step 4: Dig Deeper into the Audit Findings

After this, the next thing you want to do is go through the results provided to dig deeper into the audit findings. 

Click on “Go to Results.” 

At this stage, you want to pay attention to your overall toxicity score specifically. 

Unless the toxicity levels read “low” or none, you want to do some serious clean-up. 

For this, go ahead and click on the audit tab.

Step 5: Start Auditing Toxic Backlinks

First, sort out the results by “toxic score” to work through the links based on the ones you deem to be the most toxic.  

Toxic Score” is how the SEMrush Backlink Audit tool determines which links are potentially more harmful to your site’s ranking (based on a scale of 0 to 100). 

0 being good

And 100 being very toxic. 

Note that the tool uses over 50 toxicity markers to come up with this score. 

Go through these toxicity marketers to figure out how you’re going to fix the issue.

Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links 2

Work through the links to determine what actions to take.

However, we strongly recommend removing these links. Alternatively, consider disavowing them.

Here’s a guide you want to read to learn more about link disavowal:

Step 6: Create Your Whitelist

To keep your links clean, you have to create a whitelist. That list should include all the domains with a low toxic score or that you know are natural and safe. 

Go through the list of links and select all that you safe and natural. Add them to your safe list once done. 

Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links 5

Only remain with links that you consider unsafe. 

Backlink Analysis with Ubersuggest

Ubersuggest makes a great alternative to SEMrush’s Backlink Audit tool. 

You can use the tool to check backlinks and keywords. It’s also an excellent tool for pinpointing what your competitors are doing. 

If your competitors outrank you, they must be doing something you’re not. You can use this tool to determine what they’re doing and adjust accordingly. 

Suffice it to say, it’s an excellent backlink and spying tool.

Step 1: Enter Your Website’s URL

Head over to ubersuggest and enter your website’s URL in the search bar provided before clicking on “search.”

Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links 4

Step 2: Click “Backlink” in the left sidebar

Click “backlinks” in the left sidebar followed by “Backlinks Overview.” After which, you want to scroll down until you get to the “backlinks” section. 

Here, you’ll find all the pages linking back to you. You can sort out the links based on NoFollow and DoFollow.

We specifically ask you to pay attention to the second column, “Domain Authority.” 

For the uninitiated, Domain Authority measures the strength of a website (based on a scale of 0 to 100).

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As a general rule of thumb, you want to link to websites with a domain authority of 40+.

Note that: the “free” version of Ubersuggest only works if your site is relatively new and has only a handful of backlinks.

If your website has hundreds of backlinks to analyse, then you want to opt for the paid version.

How to Check if a Link is a DoFollow or NoFollow?

You can tell if a link is a do-follow or a no-follow by looking at the html code.

Simple: go to the link and right-click to “inspect its elements.” Go to “inspect elements.”

You’ll be provided with an HTML code associated with that particular link. 

If you see “rel=” nofollow, the link is a nofollow. If you don’t see the rel=”nofollow”, then take that to mean the link is a dofollow. 

You’re specifically looking for the presence of the nofollow link attribute (and lack thereof). 

Note that SEMrush and Ubersuggest aren’t the only backlink analysis available. You can also use Moz and Ahrefs. 

Directory Listings & Article Submissions

Directory listings are backlinks that you earn by submitting your website to directories

There are countless directories that allow you to list your website for free or for a fee (usually under $50).

Note that there’s nothing wrong with posting your website on a directory. However, pursuing random directory listings specifically for quick links can be considered a bad link-building strategy.

Why so?

That’s because most directories are nothing more like link farms posing as link directories. They add absolutely no value to the user. And anything that doesn’t add value to the user is typically a spammy link.

However, before you swear off directory links completely, we’d like to remind you that not all directory links are bad. The point is to look for high-quality directories, such as The Open Directory Project (DMOZ)

So, the trick isn’t to avoid directory listings but to identify high-quality ones.

Here are a few examples when getting links from a directory may be considered an intelligent decision:

  • A restaurant getting listed in the directory of local eateries
  • A wedding planner getting listed in the directory for wedding professionals
  • A business getting listed in the directory for industry-related trade associations 
  • A local business getting listed in the directory for local chambers of commerce
  • A local farmer getting listed on their city or county counsel’s “buy local directory.

As you can see, it’s not about getting listed for links. But getting listed on a relevant directory, specifically created for people within your industry and not the general audience. 

Any directory listing with over 100 pages (and 100,000 Alexa Rank) is considered high quality. You can also spot quality directories by the lack of advertisements on their sites.

Too Many Links for a Single Website

There’s no maximum or a minimum number of links a page should have. In fact, Google has yet to write anything on this. So, we leave it up to your best judgment. 

But it’s common logic that a webpage stuffed with keywords will always come off as spammy and unnatural to search engines. And as a web owner concerned about their SEP effort, the last thing you want is to be associated with any spammy site. 

The same can be said about a directory, forum, or comment section with a long list of links. Come to think about it, no sane site owner will allow people to flood its comment section or forum with links unless they’re in the business of selling links. Repetitive Links

Carefully check your link profile for repetitive links. That’s important because it’s easy for search engines to find out if you’ve built the same backlinks more than once (which can result in a penalty).

The simplest way to identify repetitive links is by using Ubersuggest again. Enter your domain name before clicking on search. Click on Backlinks and then scroll down to your link list.

Next, filter through the links based on “exact match” keywords. This will show you all the links that use identical keywords, indicating that they’re repetitive.

Repetitive links are considered spammy and unnatural. It makes it look like you’re in the business of buying links. 

It’s the same as trying to slide a link into your website’s footer. Nothing about this looks natural, and search engines are advanced enough to see through some of these games. 

The thing is, when someone writes naturally, they don’t end up using the same keyword over and over. The same can be said about the people linking to your site. If the link building is natural or editorial, then we don’t expect to see a hundred of them using the same keyword as the anchor text.

Article submissions are Another Way to Get Natural Links. 

Article submissions are a great way to get quality backlinks – as long as your article gets published on a trusted and high-quality website.

When researching websites for posting opportunities, be sure to look up their Page Rank or Alexa Rank (which reflects website strength and traffic). You can also see how many incoming links it has using Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, Ubersuggest, or SEMrush.

Links from Sites with Longform Content Are More valuable

It’s no secret that Google prefers high-quality, long-form content. So, it’s safe to assume that pages with longer content perform better than their shorter counterparts in the search engine result pages. 

This is also true for backlinks. Links from high authority sites with long-form content are obviously more valuable than other types of links.

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SERPIQ did a study on this. 

They would find out that websites that ranked on the first page of Google had an average of 2,450 words. 

Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links 7


Medium also decided to find out which of their content ranked better on search engines, and your guess is as good as mine – long-form content from the platform generally performed better. 

Medium would go a step further and measure the average amount of time users spend on a page on the site. They would find out that users, on average, spend about 7 minutes on a page on their site.

They also found out that the users would have read about 1600 words of content within those seven minutes.

Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links 6

So, when you think about it, it’s not about search engines wanting lengthy content, but the user. 

And Google operates on a simple principle: if users value your site, their ranking algorithm will have no option but to value it too.

So, give users what they want, and search engines will reward you with a higher rank. 

It’s the same with link building. Google doesn’t care about links, not that much — only to the extent to which users find them valuable.

Why is this So?

It’s simple: long-form content dig deeper into topics, addressing them from every point of view. That way, the user can be sure to find whatever information they’re looking for instead of having to open several 300-word articles. 

Of course, a section of users prefer short-form content, but they only represent a tiny substratum of online content consumers. 

Do Users Click on these Links?

The performance of your link is also dependent on the site where it’s embedded. For example, if you have a link on Twitter, chances are it won’t get clicked because people hardly click on the links they see on social media.

Similarly, a link on a low authority site won’t get any click. That’s because no one is even visiting the site in the first place.

The best way to understand backlinks is to look at the amount of traffic the link will generate. Look at the site’s Alexa rank. If it has high traffic, chances are your link will get more clicks.

You can’t also expect a user to click on a link if they are going for something totally different. For example, if the user visits a pet store site linking to an electronics site, it’s far unlikely they will click on the link.

Should All Your Links Be DoFollow?

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We mentioned that NoFollow links don’t carry any SEO value. So, does it in any way imply that all your links should be DoFollow?

That’s not the case.

That’s not the case. There’s more to a high-quality backlink than its SEO value.

First, NoFollow links from fellow bloggers and business owners provide social signals that could get search engines to index your site faster. 

So, even though those links don’t pass any SEO value, they’re still helpful.

It goes without mentioning the traffic they bring. When people click on those links to come to your site, that translates to free traffic for your site.

Lastly, having a mix of DoFollow and NoFollow links will also make your link-building strategy look more natural in the eyes of search engine crawlers. So, when talking about backlinks, it’s not always necessary to focus on either one.

As long as they’re from a high authority site, they’re bound to have some SEO value in them, however small it is.

Here’s what Mark Cutts had to say about this:

Too many DoFollow links from unrelated sites will harm your ranking. But too many nofollow links won’t.

That’s because Google ignores them. It simply stops at the door.

Nofollow links are easy to generate. Simply add the rel=“nofollow” attribute to the link tag, and you’re good to go. 

The trick is to invest in both types of links. But put more effort on DoFollow links. 

Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links 9

Take SEMrush, for example. Their site has over 49 million backlinks, of which over 13 million nofollow links. That’s how natural your link-building strategy should look.

You can use guest blogging to get DoFollow links. That’s because guest blogging gives you control over the type of content you’re linking to since you’re the one producing it.

But if you ever get a chance to get a link from a site such as CNN or BBC, grab it with both hands, even if it’s a nofollow.

So yes, invest in both, but slightly more in DoFollow. While DoFollow will help you improve your search engine performance, NoFollow links will get you traffic and sales.

Why Do You Need Links from Sites with High Domain Authority? 

If you get a link from a site with high Domain Authority (DA), and it just so happens the site is also relevant to your hosting page and referring domain, then that, my friend, is a good link.

That link alone is worth a hundred of low quality enough, enough to improve your search engine rankings to dramatic heights. 

Use Moz Link Explorer to check the domain authority of any site you want to link to. If the site has a domain authority of 50 and above, that’s enough reason to pitch or guess blog on for a link.

Good vs Bad Links: How to Identify Quality Links 8

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Link Explorer is a no-brainer to use. Just enter the website’s domain name in the search bar provided at the top and click on “Analyse.”

That will produce the page’s Domain authority, the number of domains it’s linked to, and the number of keywords it’s ranking for. 

5 Tested Way to Get High-quality Backlinks

Now that you know what constitutes a good or bad link and how to tell them apart, it’s time to learn how to get those “good” links.

Here are five tested ways you can do that:

  1. Write High-quality Content:

One of the most effective ways to get people to link back to your site is by providing them with valuable content. If you consistently write stuff people want to read, it’s a matter of time before you earn their trust and eventually a place on their blogroll.

You must note that writing in 2022 is no longer about rehashing the junk you find online. It’s about documenting and facilitating the user’s journey. If your writing skills aren’t good enough, perhaps you should consider hiring a professional to help you out.

  1. Offer Guest Posts:

Offer to write for other blogs in your niche.

You can start by looking around for sites that allow guest posts.

    • The next thing you want to do is study them to understand the nature of their posts. What topics do they publish? 
    • What tone do they embrace? 
    • What’s their preferred content format? 

Now you want to come up with something similar but unique and pitch to them. If they like it, they’ll accept it.

Remember that not all sites will accept your guest posts, so don’t get discouraged by that.

  1. Offer Guestographics:

If you’re great with visuals, consider creating content that other people could use. Create infographics, audio-visuals, or screenshots and offer them to other bloggers in your niche.

For example, you can create a how-to infographic about local SEO and offer it to SEO blogs in your niche.

Don’t forget to include a link back to your site and an author attribution line. 

  1. Look for Unlinked Mentioned:

If you want to get high-quality backlinks, it’s wise to go after sites that already mention your brand name but don’t link back. Sites like Wikipedia and Yelp are good examples of this.

Look for pages that mention your business or brand on their page and then review them with a link checker tool such as Ahrefs.

If a link to your site is missing from the page, contact the blogger and politely ask them to consider adding your link to the mention. You can begin by thanking them for mentioning you on their site and then check to see if they can add your link to the mention.

  1. Look for Broken Links:

Sites are bound to make mistakes, which is why they have broken links. 

If you find one on a blog post or page, contact them and politely ask them to replace the broken link with yours.

Just make sure your website’s page is relevant to what they’re linking to. If it’s not, they’ll most likely decline your offer.

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About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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