In a recent Q&A session conducted online, Googles own John Mueller was quizzed about the potential value of amassing backlinks. Confirming what most experienced SEOs already knew, he stated quite clearly that quantity is absolutely and unequivocally irrelevant.
Wise words, but not exactly a revelation for anyone who knows what it takes to make quality SEO. It has been common knowledge for years that quality is more important than quality.
Getting to Grips with the Three Grades of Backlinks
To accept that quality is everything with backlinks is one thing, but what does ‘quality’ actually mean? More importantly, how can you be sure that the backlinks you distribute around the web will work in your favour, rather than resulting in potential penalisation?
Much of this comes down to common sense and intuition; if you genuinely believe that a backlink pointing to your website is housed by a source of relevance, quality and value then it probably is.
Backlinks having consistently placed within the top-three Google ranking factors highlights the importance of taking this seriously, something that begins with getting to grips with the three primary tiers of backlinks, as outlined in brief below:
Grade 1 Backlinks
These are the best backlinks on the web; they can make a major difference to your SEO performance and help drive a ton of organic traffic your way. Unfortunately, these are also the kinds of links that are 100% organic nature and cannot be purchased at any price.
This also means that the highest-grade backlinks are naturally the most difficult and time consuming to earn. It is worth the effort, but not easy to come by.
As for which specific types of links rank within this band, you should be setting your sights on the following:
- Editorial Backlinks – This is where a link to your website is published by a credible blogger, journalist or writer of any kind from a source of authority. An example could be a high-profile blog, a news website or an online journal of some kind.
- Relationship-Based Backlinks – More or less the same, only in this instance this is due to a relationship having been established with you and the publisher. Friends in high places can work wonders.
- Guest Blogging – Realistically, guest blogging is the closest you will get to buying your way into Grade 1 backlinks territory. This is where you invest the necessary time and effort in one or more high quality guest posts.
Each of the above is an example of the kind of backlinks John Mueller highlighted as highly valuable. Hence, each of the above also represents a worthy investment of your time, effort and resources.
Grade 2 Backlinks
This is a somewhat grey area where things get undeniably sketchy, given the fine line between quality backlinks and those of no value. Grade 2 is where you attempt to pull off a strategy that combines quality with quantity – whether or not doing so is advisable is up to you to decide.
Grade 2 backlinks are those that can and often do hold value, but not merely on the same level as the ‘gold standard’ outlined above. A few popular examples of Grade 2 backlinks are as follows:
- Mass Guest Posting – This is where quality and uniqueness must take a backseat to quantity, resulting in dozens of ‘spun’ versions of the same article being fired out to a long list of potential publishers. As a general rule of thumb, publishers who are willing to showcase this kind of medium-grade rehashed content are not capable of delivering top-shelf backlinks.
- Header, Footer, and Sidebar Links – They may not be completely devoid of value, but backlinks positioned in these supplementary areas of a webpage are nowhere near as prominent in the eyes of Google. This counts double where hundreds of links are included by a publisher across the same website, this is treading dangerously close to spam.
- Link Exchanges – Make no mistake about it – some of the most prominent and authoritative sources on the web are happy to consider link exchange offers. Nevertheless, this can also be a red-flag warning sign of source sites that are mainly concerned with promoting themselves rather than supporting your SEO strategy.
A link building strategy that features some of these links alongside Grade 1 links can certainly deliver the goods. Though to rely exclusively (or primarily) on Grade 2 links is inadvisable, for the simple reason that they often simply do not work.
Grade 3 Backlinks
Scraping the very bottom of the barrel, Grade 3 links are those that should be avoided at all costs. Not only are they guaranteed to do nothing positive for your SEO strategy, they could result in heavy penalisation.
All links that fall within any of the following categories are almost certainly Grade 3 links to steer clear of:
- Paid Links – Selling backlinks is a practice Google has always frowned upon, though remains rife. Irrespective of whether you plan on buying a handful or hundreds of backlinks, paid links are easy for Google to detect and are immediately flagged as spam.
- Comments Section Spam – This is where spam backlinks are posted in comments sections all over the web, which just as with paid links are always counterproductive. These have zero value and are more likely to see you falling in the SERP rankings than climbing.
- Backlinks from Irrelevant Websites – Just because a website is fairly credible and publishes genuinely decent content does not mean it is safe. If it is outside your niche and irrelevant to your audience, it could still be flagged as spam.
Ironically, just a few years ago these were the most common types of links used by webmasters to get ahead. Today, Google and its counterparts are just too savvy and sophisticated to enable anyone to get away with shortcuts like these.
We undertake a stringent approach to ethical back linking for all our clients.