People become fixated on shiny metrics like domain authority when it comes to link building–and why wouldn’t they?
Too often, you see content pros praising domain authority (DA) in the SEO world, lauding it as the be-all-end-all in link building.
However, they’re missing out on the bigger picture, which this article will reveal: relevancy.
What Defines High-Quality Backlinks?
Everyone knows backlinks are important, but many don’t know why. This lack of understanding often causes SEOs to get caught up in metrics like DA.
That’s a big mistake. Focusing on vanity metrics wastes resources on the wrong things. While this happens, competitors with their priorities straight will leave you in the dust.
Good SEOs know that high-quality backlinks are based on relevance.
Relevancy Over Domain Authority
The typical DA-first mindset revolves around one misconception: “A high-DA link to my website is always good. Websites with good metrics will pass on lots of ‘link juice.’”
That may have been the case twelve years ago, but not anymore.
Today, Google cares much more about the “why” behind every link. Relevance is at the forefront of answering “What is a high-quality backlink?”
Now, with all this talk about “relevancy,” you might wonder what that means in link building. It comes down to a few things:
- Site Topic: What topics does the linking site discuss? Where does it have topical authority?
- Page Topic: What’s discussed on the page linking to you?
- Immediate Link Context: What do the sentences around your link discuss?
- Anchor Text: What are the words hyperlinked to your website?
At the end of the day, the best backlinks make sense. Imagine a webpage as a puzzle with a single missing piece. Relevancy comes down to whether your link completes that puzzle.
If a page isn’t relevant to your site, it doesn’t matter how high its DA is; it won’t help. It’s like solving that puzzle with pieces from a different set.
Qualifying Link Prospects
Link relevance will play a driving role in your outreach efforts. A relevance-first mindset demands you see past surface-level metrics and focus on substance in your digital PR efforts.
First, establish who you are. If you don’t know your brand, you won’t identify relevant targets for link outreach. What is your niche? What are your website’s goals? What topics do you focus on, and why?
Your identity is central to choosing your outreach targets. The best backlinks make sense to users and search engines, regardless of domain authority.
Use the same relevancy metrics as above to qualify good link prospects, making sure:
- You have topical authority on the same subjects
- The page linking to you is relevant to your link’s topic
- The exact placement of your link fits its immediate context
- The anchor text describes the link’s destination
Without relevance, your link is useless. For example, imagine you’re a gardening blog receiving a do-follow link from a digital marketing blog.
In pure DA metrics, that’s a valuable link. This digital marketing blog is a prestigious SEO publication that carefully selects its do-follow recipients.
Yet, in your gardening blog, it’s useless. This digital marketing blog has no topical authority on gardening and thus no “link juice” to pass on to your website. On the contrary, a link from your friend’s small gardening blog would benefit you more.
Domain Authority vs. Relevancy
Don’t let this article give you the impression that you should abandon authority metrics. Instead, learn to use them correctly.
Many well-intentioned SEOs identify link outreach targets based purely on their DA. This behavior isn’t because they’re lazy, but because they think it’s a comprehensive authority signal requiring no further context.
This myth is so prevalent that Moz has to clarify that “Domain Authority is not a Google ranking factor and has no effect on the SERPs.” They created DA specifically to compare websites and relative strength, not do all your SEO work.
A Closer Look at Domain Authority
What does domain authority actually tell SEOs?
Moz calculates DA using a web crawler to scour the web for authority signals, including:
- Total number of backlinks
- Quality of the backlinks in question
- Topical relevance of the backlinks in question
Its most fundamental purpose is to determine how likely a site is to rank compared to others. Moz notes that websites should not strive to reach a “100” score but to outrank their peers.
Moz emphasizes your immediate context as the more significant metric than a flat number. If your direct competitors average a 45 DA, you don’t need to stress over hitting 100. Your job’s hitting 50.
Remember, your ultimate goal is to build a superior backlink profile to your competitors.
Creating a Solid Backlink Profile
First, what is your backlink profile? In simple terms, it’s all the links that point directly to your website. For example, imagine you have links from Ignite, Fiverr, and LinkedIn–all these define your backlink profile.
Good backlink profiles are natural. Every kind of link is present in an organic backlink profile:
- Do-follow links
- No-follow links
- Links from high-authority sites
- Links from small niche sites
- Links from review sites
- Links from social media sites
- Links for directories
- Even links from spammy sites
When any link type appears too often in your backlink profile, Google considers it unnatural.
Even websites with only high-DA links will get funny looks from Google. It’s all about building a backlink profile with a natural quality distribution.
Don’t worry; building an organic link profile isn’t complicated. It’s all about creating high-quality content that gets viewed, shared, and linked organically.
A good backlink outreach campaign won’t interfere with this process. Instead, it will complement and accelerate it.
Now, test your newfound understanding of high-quality backlinks. Imagine you’re a finance blog with two other finance sites ready to link to you:
- Mitch’s Money Magazine, DA 65
- Richie’s Get Rich Digest, DA 45
Mitch’s site is the superior choice based on the information immediately available. Note that we are using DA to compare similar websites—that’s how you should use it!
Now consider a more complex scenario and flex your SEO skills. Imagine this:
- Mitch is offering to link to you on his page about dental care
- Richie is offering to link to you on his page about the best finance blogs
In this scenario, Riche’s lower-DA site is the superior choice.
We don’t choose Mitch because his page about dental care won’t enhance your site’s topical authority–even though he has a higher DA. Instead, we go with Richie because his finance blog page is most relevant to your site.
Just because Richie’s DA is lower does not make it inferior. While you should factor in DA, relevance is far more critical.
There are some instances in which DA takes precedence over pure relevance. For example, imagine that Richie’s website was only 5 DA in the previous example.
In that case, Mitch’s link would be better because of the vast difference in domain authority. Even though a lack of relevance would hinder the link juice passed onto you, it would still net more than a site with a non-existent link profile.
Setting Client Expectations Accurately
Many hold simple metrics as the gold standard of quality in SEO; your clients likely will too.
With that in mind, the relevance-first mindset might seem counterintuitive to them at first. If you try to explain why a DA 60 link can be better than a DA 80 link, they might think you’re trying to rip them off.
After all, how could a lower score be inferior to a higher score? We live in a world of quantifiers, be they credit scores, stock tickers, or football goals. You can’t blame your client for being initially shocked at the suggestion.
Instead, patiently educate them on how relevance defines the best backlinks for SEO.
Keeping Priorities Straight
Imagine this common scenario: a client approaches you for DA 85+ website links to boost their web traffic. The way they see it, these high-quality backlinks will increase their own DA and thus their search rankings.
Here, it’ll be your job to explain why that’s not necessarily true. While DA metrics help identify valuable links, they’re not the ultimate judge of quality. High-DA links might boost their score, but they won’t always translate into increased traffic.
Remind your clients that you’re building links to pique Google’s interest, not Moz’s. Moz is a tool for ranking higher on Google and shouldn’t be mistaken for the end goal.
Instead of increasing a number on a screen, move to realign their focus on building relevant links. As stipulated in this article, topical relevance is essential in defining a link’s quality. Google weighs a link’s value against its context, not only the linking page’s backlink profile.
Although they aren’t wrong to desire backlinks, informed SEOs should teach them to target the right ones.
High-DA is a good starting point, but you should consider it in relation to the client’s website. Other websites will only pass on their “link juice” if the receiving website fits the context and intent behind the link.
Wrapping It Up
At the end of the day, Google has one mission: to provide the best search results possible.
Therefore, Google regards backlinks as reliable authority signals, but only if they’re relevant to the website.
To ensure incoming links apply to your website, consider each link’s context. Ask questions like these wherever one of your links is present:
- Does this website deal with the same subject as yours?
- Does the page discuss a topic for which you want recognition?
- Does the anchor text match the intent of the user clicking it?
When it comes to SEO, quality beats quantity every time. One hundred high-relevant links are worth more than 1000 links from random, unrelated websites. If you’re serious about becoming an excellent SEO, make high-quality backlinks a top priority.