If you’ve been involved with SEO for any length of time, you likely know the importance of link building. And you’ve probably heard just how important PageRank and Domain Authority are when selecting sites from which to try to get links. And this is sort of true. A site’s PageRank and its Domain Authority determine to some extent how valuable it is.
However, we’ve found in our years of working with real-world sites that these aren’t the only metrics you should concern yourself with. In fact, you should probably put your focus elsewhere entirely when seeking out new links if you want to see tangible results.
PageRank Just Doesn’t Matter
At least, it doesn’t matter like you think it does. A lot of SEOs with outdated information — and clients with the same — seem to think getting as many links as you can from sites with a high PageRank will make their sites suddenly awesome. And sure, you might see an increase in PageRank by following this strategy. But this strategy doesn’t matter all that much when Google uses around 200 different metrics to determine a site’s value. PageRank is just one.
Trying to get all the links from high PageRank sites, or chasing the green bar as Search Engine Watch calls it, is only one piece of the puzzle. If all you focus on is increasing this one metric, it’s actually pretty easy, but it won’t necessarily boost your site in the SERPs or see your site have increased authority or value all of a sudden. No, those metrics can only be obtained through building a relevant, high-quality site.
It’s All About Relevance Now
Rather than looking to PageRank or Domain Authority, now it’s important to think about the relevance of the links you get. What is relevant, you might be wondering? Good question. That can be a bit hard to define. It might seem like it’s all up to personal opinion but the latest Google algorithm has determined a way to assign a value to the relevancy of a link.
Basically, a relevant link is one that relates directly to the content you offer on your site. The link should come from a site that speaks directly on this subject. The page itself should also be directly related. When links to your site are relevant, it shows Google that you must be an authority on this subject matter. It’s all about context.
The Value of Natural Links
Relevant links are natural links. That is, since they relate directly to the subject matter of your site, they are something people would naturally click on when navigating the web about that particular subject.
Natural links are those that you would make even if SEO didn’t exist. You’d simply link to this content because it would offer value to your readers. These are the best kinds of links to get pointing toward your site’s pages. They are relevant within the context of your niche and are valuable to the people clicking through.
Think of it this way. Let’s say someone were to be searching for information on motorcycles and came across a website on the subject. Included in the content is a link to your site. However, your site is about makeup tips. How likely is it that the person looking for motorcycle information is actually going to click on the link to your site? Not very likely, right? So what’s the value of this link? It’s not relevant and therefore not much use to those with the motorcycle query.
Now do you see why this makes irrelevant links unimpressive in Google’s eyes? Without relevancy they don’t offer any value to searchers. Even if the linking site has a high PageRank. Google looks at whether or not the link is actually driving traffic as a major metric for a link’s value.
Natural links also add more value to the Internet as a whole. A natural link structure based on user intent and needs rather than attempts to boost search engine rank make websites more intuitive to use and more helpful in context. A good rule of thumb is to only seek out links from sites that relate directly to your content. Be very selective. It’s not about quantity here. You want to build links that last and that still hold as much power in a few years as they do right now.
Building Relationships Matters
Sometimes, it’s not about SEO at all. And though link building is one of the oldest SEO activities, it can actually be used in a very new way. Well, new for the online world, at least. We’re talking about relationship building here, and sometimes the process of reaching out for a link can help you to build a relationship with a highly beneficial contact.
Of course, your first step probably shouldn’t be asking somebody for a link. It should be attempting to create a real relationship about the subject you’re both passionate about. Social media is actually a great tool for the initial contact phase. Engage in discussion. Offer the insights only you can provide. Then, after some time has passed, you can inquire about getting that link.
Relationship building has always been an important component of marketing but it’s expanded in scope so much over the past few years. Social media, in particular, has changed the way we communicate and we think that’s something that a lot of SEOs have lost sight of. The previous methods of trying to get as many links as you could from any old site and then getting links from as many high authority sites have all but died off. When relevancy and context rule, the relationships between its owners matter, too.
So now you know why PageRank and Domain Authority don’t matter nearly as much as some SEOs would lead you to believe. And the next time you hear this bit of misinformation, you can speak up right away and set them straight. High quality links are relevant links. There’s just no way to get around that fact. So think about context. And think about what would be the most valuable to Internet users. Keep those two things in mind and you can’t go wrong.
Timothy Carter is the CRO for AudienceBloom. Since 1997 he's been helping businesses maximize their sales revenue from websites via content marketing, SEO and Internet Marketing strategies.
Over the years he's written for publications like Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, MarketingProfs and other highly respected online publications.