Link Building Quality vs Quantity

Invest in One High Authority Backlink or Many Low Authority Backlinks?

There are many approaches to succeed in link building. One internal debate we’ve always had in our company is the classic quantity vs quality debate. So I posted this question in SEO Signals Lab, a closed group with thousands of SEO pros:

The opinions were diverse and interesting. Some of them even inspired me to do more research. This blog post is a distilled version of all the insights I gained through the comments, my research, and the experience I’ve had running an SEO agency myself. 

One thing which almost everyone agreed upon is the importance of Website Authority. But how exactly do you figure out the authority of a website and who decides it?

The who is pretty simple. At the end of the day, Google has a pretty sophisticated algorithm to decide the most authoritative results for a given keyword. As everyone is trying to rank in Google SERPs, it is safe to say that Google sets the rules. Google’s algorithms were always heavily dependent on a ranking system called Page Rank which assesses the number and quality of backlinks associated with a page. With time, they’ve updated this system and added a lot more factors to prevent people from using black-hat link building techniques.

Though we have a fair assessment of Google updates and what each means, no one really knows all the factors which make a website authoritative.

SEO industry leaders Ahrefs and MOZ have come up with their own indicators to figure out what these factors could be. Though a lot has changed, one thing we do know for sure is that quality backlinks can boost your chances of ranking on the first page of Google.

Ahrefs’ Domain Rating vs. Moz' Domain Authority

Ahrefs has come up with a metric called DR (Domain Rating) which is an indicator of a website’s backlink portfolio. After doing years of research they’ve concluded that there is a correlation between high DR websites and their possibility to rank high in Google SERPs.

Moz, another giant in the SEO industry has come up with a metric called DA (Domain Authority) which takes into account a lot of factors to predict the ranking ability of a website. Though we know backlink portfolio is one of the factors, Moz is a bit vague concerning the exact factors that go into the rating.

So which metric should you follow? As we are in the business of link building, DR is a more relevant metric to figure out the value of a backlink.

High DR vs. Low DR Backlinks

Domain Rating is on a 1 to 100 logarithmic scale. This means that the difference in authority between a DR 80 and DR 70 website is exponentially higher than the difference between a DR 60 and DR 50 website. 

So is a backlink from a high DR website always better than that of a low DR website? Not quite! There is a myriad of contexts where a backlink from high DR websites might actually provide less SEO juice compared to a low DR website:

1. Relevancy

For an eCommerce gift company, a backlink from EdibleArrangements.com (DR 73) would make more sense than from Healthline.com (DR 92) despite the lower DR. Google gives a lot of weight to relevancy. Relevant backlinks increase the user experience of the reader and are also harder to gain through black hat means. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a DR from Health Line could hurt. A genuine backlink from a high DR website is always valuable.

2. Link Position

An editorial backlink from a low DR website is more valuable than a backlink from a high DR website that’s in the header, footer, or sidebar.

An editorial mention is something that’s spotted in the main content of a web page. This could be:

  1. Citing someone from your company for adding value to an article
  2. Citing a blog post or page as the real source of information
  3. Giving credit for an image or infographic you made

3. Type of Anchor Text

Anchor text is the clickable text which is hyperlinked to your website domain. Branded hyperlinks are links that mention your company name. These are ideal if your website homepage is being linked to. But if your blog post is being linked to, it is better to have relevant keywords in the anchor text.

Having a keyword-filled anchor text redirecting to a landing page with no relevancy could be flagged as suspicious by Google. The same goes with branded anchor text being linked to your blog post. Again, relevancy is key. From Google’s perspective, it’s all about creating useful experiences for people on the internet. Any incoherent linking patterns will be of less value.

4. Link Type

Many publications give backlinks that are no-follow in nature. These are links that have a rel=”nofollow” HTML tag attached to them. This is to indicate to Google crawlers that the linked website can be ignored. It will also ensure that  no SEO juice is passed on.

Google gave webmasters the ability to do this type of tagging in 2005. It was done to specifically combat “comment spamming” where people would post spam comments just to link to their website.

Do-follow links do the opposite. It specifically tells Google crawlers to check out the linked website and pass on the SEO juice. In short, no-follow links from a high DR website is worthless compared to a do-follow link from a low DR website.

So Why Even Pitch to Low DR websites?

Assuming the above 4 factors are in favor, why would anyone prefer low DR backlinks compared to high DR ones? Time. Acquiring a relevant high DR backlink is immensely tougher compared to acquiring low DR backlinks. Most high DR websites have been in the game for a long time. They will have multiple editors and strict editorial policies in place. It’s not easy to get access to these people even online. The only exception to this rule is HARO outreach where journalists and webmasters themselves reach out for expert insights.

On the contrary, websites with low DR are low-hanging fruits. The webmasters are new and are trying to build more content on their website. So if you genuinely reach out to them, they’d love to have your guest post or your expert quote in exchange for an editorial backlink. 

You can easily get more low DR backlinks than one high DR backlink with the same effort. 

Cons of Going After 1 High DR Backlink Instead of Many Low DR Backlinks

Compared to one high DR backlink, having many low DR backlinks does have one advantage though. After analyzing 2500+ backlinks we helped our clients earn in the last 2 years, we learned that the status of a backlink is susceptible to change. These are the things that could happen to your hard-earned backlink:

  • The page itself could disappear. This is common with websites like news websites that publish a lot of time-bound content.
  • Webmasters might remove the backlink or sneakily change its status to no-follow. Yes! It’s happened!
  • In rare cases, Google might penalize websites if they were into black hat SEO practices. This can reduce the SEO juice significantly as well.

The Ideal Situation: Marrying Volume with High DR Backlinks

Ideally, you should be acquiring a lot of high DR backlinks. HARO is a great platform to consistently find such opportunities. The beauty of HARO is that it’s a thriving community where both webmasters and link builders are equally doing each other a favor. In almost all other link building strategies, the link builder has to pursue webmasters making it a tiresome process. Also, the entire process is completely white-hat and doesn’t go against any Google policies. 

Apart from webmasters, there will also be a lot of journalists who write for multiple publications. If you help them and build a relationship, they’ll even start reaching out to you with opportunities. Consistency is key, you can easily gain about 10 backlinks a month if you answer at least 2-3 queries per day. 

When we started, we did find HARO a bit overwhelming. HARO sends 3 emails a day with around 70-150 opportunities. We had no idea about the publication’s DR nor their link policy (do-follow v no-follow v unlinked mention). We created Sourcery to sort out the opportunities by DR, traffic, and backlink policy. This helped us prioritize queries from high DR publications that were known to give do-follow backlinks. 

Sourcery is going to be available for the public very soon. Sign up now and we’ll send an update about functionality & an early bird special launch announcement!

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Keith has been using HARO for ~90 days. He went from never having heard of HARO to landing himself and his business in articles in The New York Times, Parade.com, Brides.com, U.S. News & World Report, and much more — all from just ~40 pitches in ~90 days.

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