You know you need backlinks. And everyone’s offering them.

But what really makes a quality backlink? And which ones should you avoid like the plague?

Let’s find out exactly how to identify quality backlinks – so you can skip the toxic ones and grow your blog with confidence.

How to Identify Quality Backlinks (And Avoid Dodgy Link Farms)

Almost every day, I get emails offering me “high quality backlinks”. 🫠

I ignore 99.9% of these emails, and you should do the same.

But once in a while, someone contacts me with a genuinely interesting backlink offer.

Here are the six things I always look for before deciding whether to allow a site to link to mine.

#1. Relevance

First things first, I Google the potential backlink domain and examine it carefully to see whether the content is relevant to my own site.

Ideally, I want the overall content focus of the domain as a whole to be relevant to my own, not just the content of a single page.

For example, let’s say someone who runs a website about blogging contacts me about a link partnership. I’d certainly be interested because the topic is directly relevant to the focus of this site.

But if their site was all about camping, then I’d be much less interested because the topical relevancy is far lower.

You can also look for relevancy of the specific page where the backlink will be located. But in my experience, it’s more important to look for overall domain relevancy, rather than relevancy of one page.

The only time I’d make an exception to the relevancy rule would be for large news outlets, such as the New York Times, the BBC, CNN, or similar.

The sheer power and traffic volume of those domains makes them highly valuable for backlinks, despite a lack of direct relevancy.

#2. Traffic

Another key metric to look at is site traffic. Is this a real site with a genuine audience? This is extremely important because it’s possible (and common) for a website to have a high domain rating, but very little traffic.

Sites like this are often used to sell backlinks to people who don’t know any better.

They get blinded by the high domain rating and assume it’s a quality site, when really it’s a total waste of time (and probably a toxic link farm).

So be sure to check that the site gets a healthy amount of traffic each month. Personally, I’d want to see a minimum of 1,000 visits per month, ideally more.

You should also check which geographical regions the majority of the traffic comes from. If your site focuses on a US audience, then it’s less valuable to get a backlink from a site with the majority of its traffic coming from India.

#3. Domain strength

Domain strength (also called domain rating in Ahrefs and domain authority in Semrush) is another important metric to consider, although it’s less important than the previous two.

Keep in mind that domain strength is (to a certain extent) a vanity metric that’s easy to game. That said, it’s important to get maximum ‘SEO value’ from your backlink outreach activities, so definitely don’t discount it.

I’d typically avoid getting a backlink from a site with a lower domain strength than my own (unless it was hyper relevant to mine with a healthy amount of traffic).

#4. Link profile

Another factor I always check is the potential link partner’s own backlink profile. Does it look natural and healthy? Or is it full of toxic backlinks or potential link farms?

The easiest way to do this is using a tool like Ahrefs or Semrush. You can either check the referring domains list for the potential link partner, or check the anchor texts.

Here are examples of what these reports look like in Ahrefs (using my own site as a model).

Both of these reports will give you an easy and quick overview of the site’s general link profile.

If you see lots of dodgy anchor texts, for example about online casinos, crypto, or porn, then you might want to avoid getting a backlink from that site.

But keep in mind that the site could have been a victim of a negative SEO attack (where a dishonest competitor buys a bunch of toxic links and uses them to target the site).

If the other metrics are positive, particularly relevance, then I’d likely go ahead and ask for the backlink anyway.

#5. Red flags

When you’re scoping out a potential backlink opportunity, it’s important to head back to their site and keep your eyes peeled for some common red flags.

One thing to watch out for is a “write for us” page. While not always a deal-breaker, it can be a sign that the site is more interested in getting free content than building genuine relationships.

Another potential issue is a lack of named writers on the site, or ones that seem suspicious or fake. A high-quality site will typically have a clear roster of contributors with real bios and credentials.

You should also be wary of sites that cover a really broad, random assortment of topics.

This can be a telltale sign of a link farm that’s just churning out content to game the search engines, rather than providing real value to readers.

Here’s an example of a link farm masquerading as a genuine news site

Finally, ask yourself: does this site have a legitimate reason to exist? Is it a genuine business or brand, and does it seem to be solving a real problem for its target audience?

If the answer is no, that’s a major red flag that the site may not be a valuable backlink partner.

#6. User experience

Alright, so you’ve checked for those red flags and everything looks good so far.

But before you pull the trigger on that backlink opportunity, there’s one more crucial factor to consider: user experience.

Put yourself in the shoes of a regular visitor to the site. Is it painfully slow to load and clunky to navigate? Does it look like it was designed back in the early days of the internet, with a dated, unappealing layout? If so, that’s not a great sign.

Another big turnoff is a site that’s absolutely covered in obnoxious, in-your-face display ads. You know the type – flashing banners, pop-ups that won’t go away, and videos that start playing automatically.

Not only is this annoying for users, but it can also slow down the site and make it feel spammy.

Bottom line: if the user experience is terrible, that’s a huge strike against the site as a backlink opportunity. Even if it meets all the other criteria, a site that’s frustrating or unpleasant to use is unlikely to drive much valuable traffic or engagement.

Actionable Next Steps

The next time someone reaches out to you offering a link building opportunity, take some time to go through the above steps and thoroughly research the domain first.

By doing so, you can confidently weed out the majority of inbound backlink opportunities (most of them are useless, trust me!).

Only move forward with the ones that will truly benefit your blog.

Remember, high quality backlink opportunities tend to emerge through genuine relationship-building (having a strong presence on LinkedIn is one of my favorite ways to do that).

Make sure your blog has something of real value to offer, and you’ll soon find backlinks much easier to attract.

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