Search Engine Optimization is strongly influenced by the quality of your site’s backlinks and will continue to be for the coming years. Even so, not all backlinks are good for SEO. To maintain your organic traffic growth and assure that your site is safe from any Google penalty, it’s wise to perform an in-depth backlinks analysis.
While links from quality sites can help you rank higher for more keywords, backlinks from bad sources can ruin all your marketing efforts. Any site will naturally earn backlinks, but it doesn’t mean that all of them will be strong. Hence why monitoring the links of your website is just as important as running a content marketing campaign to acquire quality links.
In this article, I’ll show you how to determine if a backlink is right or bad for SEO and what are the most important SEO metrics to look for when doing a backlinks analysis.
Avoiding the common misconceptions about backlinks
Just like in any industry, SEO has a lot of misleading information on blogs and forums. That’s mostly because Google has never shared their SEO ranking factors. As a consequence, everyone makes their assumptions based on the results they achieved in different niches. What works for some, might not work for you.
You might read on a forum that all backlink are good or perhaps read a case study about how fantastic blog networks are. None of that is true. Don’t let yourself manipulated by black hat SEOs and always get your information from trusted sources. Most of these guys brag about their fast results, but they never tell the story of when they were penalized and buried their site deep in the SERPS. If you want to learn more about the backlinks that are violating Google’s guidelines, it’s best to check Google’s resources or watch the Webmaster Hangouts with John Mueller.
It’s also highly important to understand that SEO is an industry that changes every few years. What used to work five years ago is obsolete nowadays. For example, in 2008, link exchanges were a common technique for SEO, and the results were excellent for most sites. Using the same strategy today would have significantly different results. Even if you are reading an article from a trusted site, make sure you checked the date when that was written, and it has up to date information.
The most relevant SEO metrics for backlinks
When you want to determine if a backlink will have a positive impact on your SEO, you have to check the SEO metrics of the site that’s linking to you. The majority of metrics used by experts nowadays are given by third party SEO tools. However, there was once an exception.
In 2000, Google released the first version of the PageRank Toolbar, giving webmasters the first SEO metric that showed the importance of a page, in Google’s view.
For many years, this has been the most reliable SEO metric, but those days are long gone. Google hasn’t updated the toolbar for more than two years, and recently they have removed it completely. However, this doesn’t stop scammers from selling backlinks based on their pagerank.
PageRank is dead and thrown in Google’s graveyard. There are better alternatives that you can use. To decide if a backlink is good, you can’t rely on just one metric. Instead, you have to check multiple ones, to assure that the link is going to help your rankings improve.
Below I’ll talk about the most important SEO metrics to help you analyze your backlinks better.
1. Backlink status
According to Google, for SEO, only dofollow links count. To quickly determine if a link is dofollow or nofollow, you can install the Chrome Nofollow extension, which will highlight all nofollow links. Whenever you come to a site that links out to external sources with nofollow links, it will look like in the screenshot below.
While nofollow links will not have an adverse impact on your SEO performance, they will not improve your rankings either. It’s totally fine, and natural to have nofollow links, as they’ll make your profile look natural. In the long run, they can even help you earn dofollow links. For example, if a blogger is referred to your site from a nofollow link, and he likes your product/site, he might link back to you from his site with a dofollow link.
Besides the common dofollow and nofollow backlinks, other statuses that can influence the quality of your links. Some of the most common are:
- Robots.txt blocked
- Meta nofollow
- Meta noindex
- 302 moved temporarily
- And other site errors or redirects
Even if the backlink is dofollow, and it might look like a great link to have for SEO, if the page linking to you has a meta noindex tag, the link will not have any SEO value. It’s the same with sites that are blocking a page from being indexed by Google using robots.txt.
To see all the statuses of your links, you can use Monitor Backlinks. The tool makes it easier for anyone to see the status of the links and tell if it passes any link juice or not.
Using the filters from the right side of the backlinks page, users can also select to see all their links that have a particular status.
2. Google index status
The index status of the domain and page that’s linking to you can tell a lot about the quality of the site. Whenever you analyze the quality of a site, make sure to check that the site is indexed in Google. There are three scenarios:
- The domain and page that’s linking to your site is indexed in Google. In this case, if the link is dofollow, Google will count the link to your site.
- The domain that’s linking to you is indexed in Google, but the page is not indexed. When this happens, it could be because of several reasons.
- The page was recently created and Google has not crawled it yet.
- The page is an orphan, and no one links to it, making it impossible for Google to find it. It’s often the case with sites that have a very poor reputation and have very few backlinks.
- The page is blocked from being indexed by robots.txt or meta noindex.
- The domain and page are not indexed in Google. In this scenario, almost certainly you are dealing with a website that has been removed from the search results. That’s because Google has severely penalized the site for violating their guidelines. Or it could also be the case that the webmaster has accidentally set robots.txt not to index his site.
To check if a domain or a particular page is indexed in the search results, type in Google:
Here’s an example of a domain that’s not indexed in Google.
To verify if a page is indexed, type:
If you want quickly to identify the Google index status for all your site’s links, Monitor Backlinks is again the best tool to choose. Below the link status, a small Google icon indicates the google index status for all your links. These are the three options:
- Green icon – Domain & Page are indexed in Google
- Yellow icon – Domain is indexed in Google, but the page is not
- Red icon – Domain and page are NOT indexed in Google’s results.
3. Traffic received from search engines
In case the site you are analyzing has already passed the first two metrics, the next one if very important as well. With the help of SimilarWeb.com, you can get an estimate of how much traffic a site gets each month. More importantly, you can see what percentage of that traffic comes from search engines, making it easy to know approximately how many organic visits they get in total.
When a site has tens of thousands of visits per month, and more than 50% of those visits are coming from search queries, it’s fair to think that Google considers the site to be a good one. On the other side, if the site has lots of traffic, but gets very few visits from the search results, there might be a problem. The more organic traffic a site gets, the higher the authority it has in Google’s view.
Here’s an example of a site that has about 200.000 visits each month in total.
Besides the total number of visits, you can also analyze how the users interact with the site, by looking at the time on site, bounce rate and page views.
Out of all those visits, 69% of them come from search engines. That means 140000 visits each month from Google.
That’s how the metrics of a good site look like. Now let me show you an example of a site that’s not doing so well. The site below doesn’t have many backlinks, and even worst, it gets 0 visits from search engines. You wouldn’t want to have a link from a site that doesn’t get any love from Google.
And here’s another example of a site (Articles.org) that has over 400.000 visits in total, but only 17% of them come from search engines.
4. Brand name ranking
Another way to determine how much authority Google gives to a site is to do a brand name search. If the site is ranking 1st for its brand name, you can move on and start analyzing the next metrics. For example, if I search for “KissMetrics”, Google gives them a lot of credit and even a personalized search box.
And here’s an example of a site with a low authority that doesn’t rank for its brand name.
Needless to say, the website that has more authority is the one that ranks first.
5. Number of organic keywords
Another important metric to check is the number of keywords the site ranks for in Google. For that, SemRush is the tool of choice.
The more keywords the site ranks for, and the more valuable the traffic cost is, the better reputation the site has.
6. Organic traffic evolution over time
SimilarWeb shows you the organic traffic for the last three months, but that can sometimes not be so relevant if the site you are analyzing has been penalized recently. In case he used to have 1 million visits from search engines, but now only gets 40.000 visits per month, there’s a serious problem. To get some insights about how the organic traffic has evolved for any site, SemRush offers a graph that shows the organic traffic for “all time”.
By analyzing this graph, you can easily tell if a site has ever dealt with a Google penalty. Here’s an example of a site that has suffered from a Penguin penalty, but has recovered since.
7. Metrics from third party SEO tools
To help webmasters quickly understand the value of any given link, some SEO tools have created their own algorithm and rate the link based on that. However, these metrics are not approved or agreed by Google, hence why sometimes you might see a site that has better metrics ranking lower than a site with poor ratings. That’s another reason why you should always check multiple metrics, and never rely on checking just one or two.
Some of the most popular SEO metrics from 3rd party SEO tools are Trust & Citation Flow. Both are provided by Majestic.
Citation flow predicts how influential a URL might be based on how many sites link to it, while Trust Flow predicts how trustworthy a page is based on how reputable are the sites that link to it.
Domain & Page Authority are also very common among SEOs, but experts tend to rely less and less on them because of their lack of consistency. These metrics come from Moz, and on a scale from 0 to 100, they tell the authority of a domain and page.
You can analyze the Trust & Citation Flow or Domain & Page Authority for all your site’s backlinks using Monitor Backlinks.
8. TLD and hosting IP location
The domain extension and the location of the hosting can be important for relevancy. When you have a site that targets people from UK, links from sites that are located in Russia, China or any other unrelated country might not be very good for SEO.
The IP location can also indicate if you have multiple links from sites that use the same hosting. In Google’s eyes, such links can be part of a blog network. Monitor Backlinks has a red indicator showing whenever you have multiple links from the same hosting.
9. Number of external backlinks
A quality site rarely links out to more than 100 links from one page. The more external links a page has, the less value the link to your site will have. In Monitor Backlinks there’s a column dedicated to the number of external links for each site.
10. Number of traffic each link has sent to you
A backlink can be good for SEO, but it’s even better when it refers traffic. Although that’s rarely the case, even if all metrics indicate that the backlink might not be good for you, instead of trying to remove it, you can keep it and disavow it instead. Doing so we’ll tell Google that you don’t want them to consider it for SEO, but the link will continue to send visitors to you.
The last column of the links page on Monitor Backlinks show how much traffic each link has sent to your site. This feature works only if you are connecting your account with Google Analytics.
11. Common sense and relevancy
The last thing to do when doing a backlinks analysis is to have a look at the site and ask yourself these questions:
- Would you trust the information from that site?
- Are readers interacting with the content by leaving comments or sharing it on social media?
- Is the content valuable to the reader and well researched?
- Is that the type of site you would recommend others to read?
You can use common sense and determine if the site is good or bad.
It’s not enough to check one metric and think that a site is good. Use a suite of tools and resources to gather data for your backlinks and analyze them correctly. Always check the SEO history of the sites that are linking back to you. Backlinks are very important for Search Engine Optimization and will remain the most important ranking factor in the coming years.