How to determine if a link is qualitative or not?

October 15, 2015 - 10  min reading time - by Emma Labrador
Home > SEO Thoughts > How to determine if a link is qualitative or not?

Link building and the number of links pointing to your website are still an efficient strategy to improve your rankings. But as not all the links are equal in terms of quality and relevancy, it is good to know what makes a good link to avoid poor ones.

A few years ago, measuring the quality of a link was quite tough. Actually, even with the use of the PageRank or the anchor text, it was hard to identify link spammers. Later, search engines get more insights about these links and was able to tell whether it was an editorial link, a genuine one or a spammy link. The thing to know is that it is not really the link in itself which matters but more its provenance (page and domain). And then three elements describe its quality:

  • diversity
  • trust
  • relevance

Based on that asset, you should know which type of link prefer and which one you should avoid for your website. It’s quite difficult to quantify these three entities, but keep them in mind.


Diversity of links refers to their types of link or their type of domain. A strong link structure is based on these two particularities.
When talking about diversity of domain, it just about having a lot of links from many different domains and not always fostering the kind. In the other hand, diversity of link types means to have links from different kind of domains (like directories, press release, forums, blogs, etc) to create a rich link profile.


It concerns links that come from trusted and authoritative websites. But let’s be honest you cannot only have links from trusted websites. Majestic or Moz offer solutions to calculate the trust of a link by giving them a score. I would more than recommend you to try these tools. Google used to measure this trust with its PageRank, but this tool is not relevant anymore. The more PageRank a page had, the more trusted it was by Google, the more likely it was to rank and the more likely it was to help you rank better if it links to you. But this PageRank didn’t calculate the quality of a link to help you rank higher. This is where TrustRank comes up.
TrustRank in the other hand takes into account the quality of a site and is more difficult for spammers to trick. It is based on a trusted seed set of websites like .gov .org or reviewed websites that are authoritatives. This seed list has no spams. If you move to sites with one link away from the first category, they are still qualitative but integrate some poor links. Like, if you take a website three links away from the first one, links are more likely to be spammy ones. The key is to  get links from both the seed list and the sites linked to that one but at different stage. The site Moz has realised a diagram that sum up this:

moz trust rank

Search engines have their own list of trusted sites to crawl the web and establish web TrustRank. Then, from these starting websites, spiders can follow external links and know how far a link is from this given website and if it is spammy or not. If you want deeper insights about PageRank and its alternatives, you can read this article.


The relevance of a link refers to the link in itself and its anchor. This anchor helps Google determine what the page is going to be about without even having to crawl it. To build a relevant link, it is important to focus on its signal by choosing the right keywords you want to be targeted for. But even if anchor keywords is not the subject of this article, note that over optimizing these anchors is quite risky nowadays.

What does affect the quality of a link on a page?

As we said above, Google identifies different factors to evaluate the value of a link and to determine how much value it should attribute to the target page. Here are the main factors of a page and the link that have an impact on efficiency.

Number of outgoing links on a page

Google takes into account how many outgoing links a page contained. For instance, if you receive a link from a page containing thousand of them without any content, this link won’t be that qualitative. These types of pages are often made to only create links and do not offer any value for users. Google considers the user experience as a leading ranking signal, so these pages are simply not respecting that rule.
With these pages, you should thus consider if it worths spend time to acquiring those links or not. Actually, sometimes, those sites are still trustworthy even if they own a bunch of links.
Also, you should check if the links contained on that page are related to your subject. If it not the case, don’t waste your time.

Number of incoming links to the page

In the other hand, if the page you are having a link from has a lot of link pointing to it, it reveals a certain degree of authority that can pass into your website. Moreover, if the website is a reference, this signal will be stronger and you will benefit from it. As thing are never easy, the more authoritative this website will be, the harder it will be to get a link from it but it will definitely have a better impact on your page.
So when prospecting websites for acquiring links, take a look at how many incoming links they have. You can use the Moz Toolbar to check that and get access to the page authority and the number of links directing to that page.

Number of incoming links to the domain

It is quite similar as the previous point but it refers to links pointing to the domain as a whole entity. If a site has a lot of links pointing to its domain, it reveals that this is a qualitative one.
Quality of other websites linked to from that page Outgoing links coming from the same page as you can impact your rankings. Actually, if Google notices that you are associated with low-quality websites, this might harm your trust. By this I mean if it happens often ; if it only does concern 2 or 3 links, it won’t have a significant impact on your rankings. It comes along with what we say above: if a page contains a lot of links, in most cases it means that the websites has low editorial requirements and that most of those links are poor. Watching out that you don’t belong with those low-quality links is a proof of genuity to Google.
To identify those pages, trust your instinct. I mean if as a user you won’t waste your time on this kind of pages full of links, then the page is probably not qualitative.

PDF containing links

As a normal page, if a PDF is hosted online and contains links, they can point to external websites and thus be crawled by Google bots. You should take time to identify those links if you’re working in a field that produce a lot of PDF like whitepaper or ebooks. It can help improve your linking.

Pages crawlable by search engines

If search engines cannot find a page, then your link won’t be find and won’t help your SEO. A page can be blocked by a robots.text file, so you should check if your important pages are crawlable by search engines. Use this JavaScript bookmarklet to test if a page is blocked in robots.txt. Also, if a link is contained within a page with JavaScript or AJAX, then it might not be found.
To see if a page is cached or not by Google, you can just type “cache:” before the URL and put it into the Google Chrome toolbar. If the page is cached, you will see a copy of it. If it isn’t cached, you’ll see something like a 404.

Which elements of a link affect its quality?

More than just the quality of a page, the link in itself can impact its quality and these elements will determine how much link equity Google will attribute to that link. Different elements can determine whether or not a link is relevant like:

  • the number of word used in the anchor text
  • the position of the link on the page: on the header, the body, the sidebar, etc..
  • if the link is part of a list and its position in that list
  • if the link is a text or an image
  • its font size and color
  • URL
  • its position on a page
  • link title
  • no follow vs followed
  • and more

But now, let’s dig further into some of these points that can impact the quality of a link.

Position of the link on the page

The position of a link can impact its influence. Actually, studies and common sense have revealed that people are more likely to click on a link placed on the middle of the page rather than on the footer or the sidebar for instance. Thus, all links won’t be followed the same way and Google knows that. That’s why relevant and useful links will get more traffic juice than a link placed in the terms and conditions area for example.

Anchor text

Anchor text signal is still a strong ranking factor and element to determine the quality of a link even if it has lost some weight. Google is now more strict toward anchor text optimization as SEOs used to over optimized keywords for which they wanted to rank for. With the rolled out of Pinguin, a lot of these unnatural links get penalized. Instead, be rich and natural with these anchors as semantic is the key.


A link is formed with an URL, and this one can have an impact at how Google might evaluate that link. For instance if a link pointing to an URL with lots of redirects, spammy, with oncrawled characters, tracking parameters or blocked by robots.txt files then Google might not follow that link or to not pass any PageRank. So when linking to other pages, you should worry about the quality of the landing page because you could get a penalty to link to spammy ones. The good practice is to avoid linking to 302 redirect pages or pages with URL tracking parameters. In fact, Google will split the link juice within these links except if you use a rel=canonical tag to inform Google which version to follow.

No Follow vs Followed

No Follow helps search engines to know that they must not pass any PageRank and that they do not count these links to rank a page. But they help look natural and they still can bring traffic. In the other hand, links followed will help you get indexed and ranked.
We wrote an article about that subject a few months ago if you want to have a look.


Title of a link is important as it provides better understand of that it is going to be about. Even if it is not a ranking signal it has an impact on usability and user experience. To know how to optimize a title you can read that article too.

Text around the link

This isn’t a certitude but it seems like the text surrounding the link could have an impact of its relevance as sometimes the anchor text isn’t enough descriptive. So it might be judicious to place targeted keywords around that link if you can’t take the control of the anchor text.

How to make an audit of your existing links?

From what we’ve said above, you should have a look of all your links on your site to know what to improve. With Oncrawl, you can access a complete report of all your links, whether it is inlinks or outlinks.

Then, you can have deeper informations about their status, target URL, value, anchor, source, page depth, etc and to exactly know how your links are behaving and which ones you should improve.

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Emma Labrador See all their articles
Emma was the Head of Communication & Marketing at Oncrawl for over seven years. She contributed articles about SEO and search engine updates.
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