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Regardless of what you’ve heard, you should always care about how and where you are getting backlinks.
Links are the main way Google traverses the web. Links help provide valuable context and will always remain part of Google’s algorithm. That will never change.
However, as Google shifts its focus to value sites that provide Helpful Content and strong E-E-A-T signals, link quality will matter more than quantity.
Gone are the days of ranking through brute-force, high-scale link building. Welcome to the era of quality, relevant links.
What’s more, is that relevant links hold value outside of just SEO. Relevant links provide real value to users because (if you’re doing it right) traffic can actually turn into customers.
Luckily, it is very easy to identify relevant links (and irrelevant links). And once you know how to find them, you can begin to strategize on how to build them.
So let’s take a look at everything you need to know about relevant links.
What Is Link Relevance?
Link relevance measures how relevant a backlink is to your site. There’s no set scale for link relevancy and we don’t know exactly how Google measures this either.
But, we can infer a great deal from a few key documents from Google (and some good old-fashioned common sense).
For as much as Google likes to hide in its algorithm, it puts a lot of helpful information out there on how to win at SEO:
- Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines
- Google’s How Search Works
- Google’s SEO Starter Guide
- Google’s Link spam policies
From these documents, we can infer five factors that may go into evaluating a link for relevancy:
- Page/post title
- Keywords on a page
- Link placement on the page
- Anchor text of the link
- Text surrounding anchor text
How to Check for Link Relevance
To check for link relevance, create a scorecard for yourself using the following:
A page title is the strongest SEO signal you can send to Google as to what a page is about, so a link on the page should be relevant to the title. There are certainly degrees of relevance, but it should be obvious why the two pages are interconnected.
For example, if you are a football blogger, you shouldn’t be linking to a cooking site. (Unless, the football blog is writing something like “Top Tailgating Tips from Professional Chefs”.)
Keywords on a page
Similarly, the keywords used on your page tell Google what the page is about. Therefore the links on the page should have some semantic relevance to the keywords on the page.
Link placement on page
A very old patent by Google, called the Reasonable Surfer Model, essentially puts more weight on links that appear more prominently on the page. So, a link at the top of a page is more important and should be more relevant.
For example, you might find a link farm shoe-horning unrelated links towards the bottom of a post.
When Google follows a link from one page to another, it looks at the anchor text. The anchor text should be semantically relevant in some way.
Text surrounding your anchor text
The text surrounding your anchor text is just as important as the anchor text as it gives users/Google more context.
Here’s a quote from Google’s Developer Blog:
“Remember to give context to your links: the words before and after links matter, so pay attention to the sentence as a whole.”
So, when evaluating a link placement, ensure that the surrounding text gives context relevant to the topic.
Link Relevancy Vs. Authority
Authority plays a part in all of these relevancy factors as well. When evaluating link relevancy, you can also look at site or page authority.
The matrix looks something like this:
Low Relevance, High Authority
Google is getting smarter and smarter about how they evaluate sites. Just because a site is high authority doesn’t always mean it’s a great fit. Think of your customers. Would they spend time on the target site?
High Relevance, High Authority
These links are the best, but also the hardest to achieve. News links are a great example of high authority and high relevance.
High Relevance, Low Authority
Although they are lower authority, these links are still valuable because they typically represent your core customer.
But, these sites need to pass the eye test. If they are low authority because they are low-quality, spammy sites, then ignore them.
Mid-tier bloggers or brand-new sites in your niche are great examples of relevant links that can help you in the long run.
Low Relevance, Low Authority
These low relevance, low quality sites should be obvious and there’s really no reason for you to actively build them.
Overall – try to aim for a mix. Google likes a link profile full of both low and high-quality, relevant links built naturally over time.
Why Do Relevant Links Matter?
Relevant links matter because they enhance the credibility of your content and provide value to your users.
Relevant links may also bring in customers. This is especially helpful in SaaS businesses or other industries where a single lead is can be very valuable. Here’s another way to think about it: if Google’s ranking system went offline, would your site still be getting referral traffic from relevant customers?
If your answer is no, then you aren’t getting enough relevant links.
Although we don’t know how much links play into the algorithm, we do know that Google wants you to focus on relevant links.
In one of Google’s Office Hours episodes, when asked, “what is most important, the number of unique domains or the total number of backlinks?” John Mueller responded:
“I would tend not to focus on the total number of links to your site or the total number of domain links, because we look at links in a very different way.
…Because you could go off and create millions of links across websites if you wanted to. And we could just ignore them all.
Or there could be one really good link from a really good website out there that is for us a really important sign that we should treat this website as something that is relevant because it has that one link.”
This is one of the more direct answers you will see from Google on the matter of link relevancy.
How to Get Relevant Links
Now that we know what to look for, let’s talk about how to get relevant links. A mix of strategic planning and relationship building can get you the numbers that you want.
Brainstorm and Map Out Relevant Site Types
Think about all of the areas that your site can play in. Create customer profiles.
For example, if you were a coffee blogger, what is “relevant” in your industry?
Where would coffee lovers get their news about coffee?
What newsletters would they subscribe to?
You can easily do this yourself, but ChatGPT or Google’s BARD can do it faster.
Use Search Operators to Find Sites in Your Niche
Once you have some buckets mapped out, search Google using these search operators:
This shows websites related to the specific site.
Example: related: bonappetit.com will get you sites similar to bonappetit.com
Use this operator to find pages with the specific keyword in the title.
Example: intitle: cooking tips will get you pages with cooking tips in the title.
Use this to find sites with a target keyword within the url.
Example: inurl:cooking will get you websites with the word “cooking” in the URL.
Combine Search Operators
You can use these operators together to narrow down a search and build a list of target sites to pitch.
Example: inurl:cooking intitle:barbeque will get you cooking sites about barbeque.
Buzzstream Tool Tip:
You can find relevant sites in your niche using search operators and keywords with the “Add Prospects from Web Search”. Simply choose “Create New Research List” and then select “Search the Web”.
Create Content That Relevant Sites Will Share Through Outreach
Once you have your list of target sites, you’ll want to create content that the target sites want to share.
Explore these sites to understand the types of content they like to share. If you see that your target site shares a lot of map content, create and pitch some map content.
You can also look at Top Content on your target sites sites with Ahrefs.
For example, if I wanted to get a link on TheVerge, I could look at some of the top shared content. I see lots of content on NFTs, Twitter, and Facebook getting lots of shares. So, I might want to pitch a story or research around those topics because the writers most likely gravitate towards topics with which they’ve already had lots of success.
In another example, Homebuyer.com knew that they needed to build relevant links from news sites.
After analyzing a lot of the top shared content from local news sites, they saw that local news liked to brag when their city was featured on content like “X City Named Best for Y”. So, Homebuyer.com created a data study called the Least Expensive Cities to Buy a House.
Then, they built a list of news outlets to pitch to in each city featured on the list. This netted them 50+ high authority, and highly relevant links from news sites and personal finance sites where their target audience spends time.
Create Content That Relevant Sites Will Share Organically
Look at the type of content your target writes about and create content that they will need to cite when researching their own content. This is also referred to as passive link building.
The most obvious example of these are statistics posts. But others include definitional keywords and calculator posts. You can even do this with your survey campaigns.
For example, the pet information site, Betterpet, knew it needed to build relevant links in the pet care space. So, they found a keyword that, if they could get it ranking, would have the potential to get cited whenever sites wrote about determining a dog’s age: a dog age calculator.
The post ranks for the keyword and when looking at the anchor text in a backlink report from Ahrefs, you can see that bloggers are naturally referring to the content within their posts.
Build Relationships With Bloggers or Journalists
Building relationships with bloggers and journalists in your niche is another great way to get repeat links from a trusted, authoritative source. And although multiple links from the same place yields diminishing returns, it is still a clear signal to Google and users alike that your site is a trusted source.
Here are some ways to build relationships:
- Like, follow, and interact with them on social media posts before pitching
- Pre-pitch content ideas to get their feedback
- Research their niche so that you aren’t pitching something that isn’t in their wheelhouse
Buzzstream lets you easily strike up email conversations, follow-up and find old contacts that you haven’t reached out to in a while.
One of the easiest ways to get content ideas is by looking at what successful sites are doing in your niche.
Top Pages or Best By Links report on Ahrefs will tell you how and where your competitors are getting links.
Then use the aforementioned link relevancy score to see where they fall. If it looks like the content ideas are getting relevant links, then create something similar (and better.)
For example, if I was a senior care site, I could look at the Top Links for SeniorCare.com on Ahrefs.
Their Home Health Care Costs post has 115 Referring Domains. Using a quick snapshot of the backlinks, you can see a healthy mix of relevant page titles, domains, semantically related anchor text and/or surrounding text.
What to Avoid When Building Relevant Links?
There are lots of black hat and gray hat tactics out there; some are used more frequently than others.
Here are some to avoid:
- Excessive reciprocal linking
- Link Farms and Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
- Comment and forum spam
- Keyword stuffing
- Hidden links
- Duplicate content
- Paid links (from any of the methods above)
All-in-all, ethical, white hat building is what will yield the best long-term results.
Frequently Asked Questions About Relevant Links
What Are Irrelevant Links?
Irrelevant links are not related to the subject matter or theme of the destination page, and they may not provide any significant value to the user. Irrelevant links can have a negative impact on a website’s SEO and user experience.
How Do I Find Relevant Backlinks?
To find relevant backlinks, you have to understand your audience. Find out where they spend their time on the web. Then try a competitive analysis and see what is already working in your niche. Build your own content and pitch it for links.
How to Get Free and Relevant Links
There’s no such think as free links, but by building content that people want to share and link to, you can build links passively—or without link outreach.
How Does Google Determine if a Link is Relevant or Not?
No one knows how exactly Google determines if a link is relevant or not but it’s most likely a mix of page title, anchor text, contextual placement, surrounding content, website authority, and spam signals.