How to Determine a Quality Backlink 2019 Edition

by Stuart McHenry December 10, 2018

Detailed Look on How to Evaluate SEO Backlinks

Link Building Link Checker 5000

We get asked often about all sorts of link building questions. By far the most common question we get asked about is what makes quality SEO backlinks? So today we will share with you the metrics and characteristics we look for to determine if it’s worth getting a link from or not.

First, let me explain good link building is hard to do. It is very time consuming and often can take months to get a high-quality link. Even when you have an established relationship with publications pitching the right article at the right time can be more of an art than a task.

Below are the factors we look at when determining if a website is a good place to get a link from. Why is this so important? Because one good link can have more power than 100 mediocre links. This is the order we evaluate websites for link building.


Quick Reference Guide (detailed explanations below)

  1. Look to see if the website gets traffic from Google. Yes, good. No, pass.
  2. Is the website relevant to your niche? Yes, good. No, pass.
  3. How old is the website? Less than a year. Skip it.
  4. How many unique websites link to the website you want to get a link on? 100+ decent. 250+ good. Less than 100 probably not.
  5. Quality editor. Good well-written articles are great. Poorly written articles with grammatical mistakes should be avoided.
  6. If the author is a known expert in the industry this is a huge plus. (seek these out)
  7. Don’t get caught up on DA.
  8. Loosen up restrictions for local links.


Google Traffic

SEMRush Traffic Report

Our single favorite method and a good place to start is determining how much traffic the website gets from Google. There are several SEO tools you can use for this like Alexa, Ahrefs, and SEMRush. We personally love SEMRush for this as we find the information to be more credible. This isn’t an exact method and you won’t get exact traffic numbers but it will give you a good idea of traffic estimations.

SEMRush shows what position the keywords rank for and then applies a traffic estimation based on the search volume and position it ranks.

A good example of this would be if your keyword has a search volume of 2,400 searches per month. And the website ranks in the number three spot. It would estimate 9% of that search volume because that is the average click-through rate for that specific ranking position. So based on this for that keyword, that website should receive approximately 216 visitors per month for that keyword.

Why is this important? Because Google is picky as all heck. It shows that Google must like that website enough to rank it and give it some traffic.

When evaluating a website for quality the higher the traffic number the better. I previously mentioned this is our first go-to tool because so many website lack quality. If you plug a website into SEMRush and run a “domain analytics overview” report you can tell if the website is worth diving in deeper for.

So what is a good traffic number? We tend to look at websites that have organic search traffic over 200. However, this isn’t the be-all and end-all method for quality.


Domain Age

Domain Age

An important factor is the age of the website. We generally try and stay away from getting backlinks from newer websites but there are exceptions to that. Most of the time websites less than a year old lack quality backlinks.

There are exceptions to this of course. If a website had a good launch and received lots of press and links from other bloggers this might be the exception. I would then take into account how long they have been receiving significant amounts of traffic from Google. Did it just happen within the past month? Or is this an upward trend you see happening the past five to six months?

If you’d like to check on the domain history you can use SEO Chats tool.



Google Site Operator

This is one of the most important factors when deciding if a website is quality or not. A website can be high-quality in one niche but not appropriate for another. When you first look at the website you can get a good sense for what topics they cover. If it feels like it might be a good fit then you can move on to the next step.

For the next step, we like to perform a site search using Google to find how many pages discuss the topic. This is easy to do you simply search Google using the site operator and subject. Here is an example: + subject

Now you will be able to see how many pages mention your subject. If it’s one or two it’s not likely the most relevant website. However, you should take other things into consideration like how related to other subjects the topic may be. An example of this would be a blog that has several pages that discuss Botox. But maybe your subject is about Juvederm. You wouldn’t want to pass this blog up because it related so closely to each other.

Don’t try and place a round peg in a square hole here. If the blog is about technology more than likely it is not going to be a good fit for your beauty website.


Root Linking Domains

SEMRush Backlink Report

How many unique domains (websites) link to the website you want to get a link from? In general the more links the better, well, at least it’s a good indicator. We know that not all links are created equal.

One website could have 500 links from brand new websites with no link authority. If you compare that to a website with 25 links from major publications the website with the 25 links would be better. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case but every once you might run across a website like this.

A good rule of thumb is to look for websites that have at least 100 unique root linking domains. You can check how many backlinks the websites has by using Moz, Ahrefs, SEMRsuh, or many of the other backlink tools out there. Ahrefs seems to do the best job at finding links.


Editor in Chief

Editing Content

Most of the larger publications and blogs have an editor. With smaller blogs usually, the owner of the blog acts in the role of the editor. This is the person that approves article ideas, reads the articles, and ensures the overall quality of the publication. You want high standards here. If the editor is just allowing any piece of content on their blog that is usually not a good sign of quality.

Some editors will make you work for hard to get an article published. SEO is not easy. They want a high minimum word count, quality images, researched and well-written articles. This isn’t a bad thing as this weeds out those that are lazy or don’t have the skills needed to write properly. Most of the time the harder it is to get a link then the better the link is.

So how can you tell if the editor is good or not? Read a handful of articles and scan for errors. If you want to speed up this process copy and paste an article into Grammarly’ grammar checker to find grammatical errors and misspelled words. You might find a few because nobody is perfect. However, if you find numerous errors stay away as it’s likely the blog will is going downhill.


The Author

Author Expertise Google SEO

In a perfect world, the author of your content will be someone that is a known expert in their field. Someone that writes for multiple publications on the topic related to your link. You won’t always be able to build links like this or find writers willing to write about your website.

These are the type of links that are usually earned through content-driven link building. They require high-quality data-driven content displayed in a visually appealing manner on your website. Then you would want to perform outreach to this writer in hopes that your content is newsworthy or exciting enough for them to write about it.


DA/Domain Authority

Moz Domain Authority

We don’t really look at DA or Domain Authority when building links. We do have a few clients that like seeing that metric as a quick reference in their link building reports. We are only mentioning it because the SEO industry has really grabbed ahold of this term.

DA is not an official Google terminology or metric. DA comes from the people at Moz. It is not a bad metric but should be taken for what it is. It basically shows how strong a domain is based on which websites link to it and from which pages. Similar to how the PageRank number used to be. Although the range for DA is from 0-100.

The reason it should not be used solely is that it doesn’t take into account if Google rewards that website with traffic. Also, in the past few years, some people have snagged up dropped domain names with high DA and built websites around them for the sole purpose of selling links.

Take into consideration the DA number but be sure to do your homework and check the other website metrics.


Local Links

Local Link Building Shop

Some of the hardest links to build are local links. Sure, you can usually get a few by asking local friends and business that you have good relationships with. But outside of that finding local link opportunities can take more time and energy.

Because of this, when we do local link building we have to relax our metrics. There are a ton of really good websites, usually local merchants, which have very low metrics. This doesn’t mean you should ignore those links. The relevance factor for being a business within your geographical area can have a strong impact on link building campaign.

So what do you look for when trying to find local links? Real businesses and local blogs. I wouldn’t solely focus on local link building but it can be nice to sprinkle some local links into your campaign.

Track Results

After you worked hard at getting a quality link it’s important to track your results. If you are looking for an easy way to track rankings check out Nighwatch.



There are a lot of factors that go into determining if a link is good or not. You shouldn’t use a single method and try and gather as much information as possible. Whatever you do ensure you complete the proper research so you know where to put your time and efforts.

Stuart McHenry
Stuart McHenry is a US-based SEO Consultant focusing on link building, content marketing, local SEO, and reputation management. Follow Stuart on Twitter @smindsrt