One of the major steps of a Link Building project is selecting the best opportunity for your website. Thus assessing the worth of the available prospects is a must if you are to successfully boost the online presence of your business.
Creating bulk backlinks from random sites simply because you can is not a path you want to take. If you do not learn to discriminate between your link building opportunities you will eventually have to start reading articles on “How to Disavow Spammy Links”, “How to Recover from Google’s Manual Penalty”, or “Easy Tips on Submitting a Reconsideration Request to Google”. Remember there are no “easy tips” that can make it all go away in a blink of an eye when your site reaches the bottom. So do your homework before risking it all and submitting your link to a shady site, whose webmaster is way too eager to welcome you aboard.
Discriminating between DA and PR
Assessing the value of a given prospect could be done quite easily if you base your assumption on a few useful metrics. If you have read an article or two on the topic, most probably you will start parroting things like PageRank, Domain Authority, and Website or Domain age. You won’t be wrong, but you will also be rather far from the complete truth. Each criterion has its limitations and those should be kept in mind when making your prospect analysis. Let’s go over the two most popular metrics that you could use in your prospect assessment stage:
As you may know Domain Authority (DA)is MOZ’s alternative to Google’s PageRank metric. The DA score aims to predict the strength of a given site in terms of Google rankings based on its unique link profile (that is external link profile). As MOZ puts it DA is a score that results from calculating over 40 distinct metrics including “linking root domains, number of total links, MozRank (a value that examines the backlinks from popular sites), MozTrust (a value that reflects backlinks from trusted sites like government or university pages)”. The DA score of a site could fall in a 0-100 range, giving a pretty clear signal of the site’s actual worth and popularity.
DA alone is a good criterion to use when you need to get a quick overview of a given site. However, be careful and do not rush into hasty conclusions. Make sure to verify the presented data by comparing it to a second independent metric (for instance you can use PR) when deciding on whether a backlink from the selected site will boost your online presence or not. Here are some examples why the DA score can mislead you when assessing the value of a certain potential backlink:
– The selected blog is a subdomain of a web hosting service domain, like for example Blogspot or WordPress, and the DA reflects the authority of the blogspot.com or wordpress.com domain instead of presenting us with an insight of the actual worth of the specific blog.
Let’s say that you stumble upon a blog whose main topic is relevant to your business niche (you are a financial advisor and the blog prospect that you have found mainly deals with frugality tips and saving advices). You also see that it has a sky-rocket high DA. You could swear that you have found a hidden jewel and you get ready to contact the webmaster. Now is the time to sit back, take a deep breath and calmly verify whether the prospect is really valuable for you. Meanwhile check out the following scenario:
As you can see on the image above, the blog has 93DA (check out the field circled in red in the toolbar), which is a score close to absolute perfection. As the saying goes, if something is too good to be true, it often isn’t. In this case the tempting DA score is due to the undisputable popularity of the “blogspot” domain, and it does not characterize the subdomain, where the actual blog is hosted. After conducting a simple research you can see that the website doesn’t have a single backlink leading to it and thus your affiliation with it won’t give any value to your online presence and it would not help you build up your rankings at all. Our perfect prospect quickly crashed and burned after a simple verification.
(Of course similar conclusion should not be drawn as a long term assumption. Often the site is relatively new and with time it could turn out to be a good prospect. The best approach is to file it as a future prospect and check out in a few months if it has gathered a loyal audience.)
However, at this stage a site that is not referred by any external site and that has no mentions in the social networks, probably does not have regular readers. Thus Google could justly conclude that the site is not useful to Google’s users and it won’t rank it high in its searches. You do not wish to be related to such a site, right? No, you want to play with the popular kids. So let’s try to find them and borrow some of their shine.
NOTE: Furthermore, if you are building links to boost conversions and brand image, in addition to achieving the SEO higher ranking goal – you simply cannot succeed by posting your link on a new, unpopular site (with low daily traffic) even if it is on a domain with 70/90 DA.
– DA metric simply does not look at the whole picture. Even if DA is a really useful metric it misses some valuable aspects in its algorithm that should in no case be ignored. In this regard there is quite interesting research conducted by the guys at Analitics SEO. They conclude that in calculating the external links to a given site MOZ faces a “missing link numbers” issue. Thus their DA score might get a bit skewed and should be supported by additional info before you select a prospect to outreach. Here is an interesting example:
Example 2. (We have chosen to hide the URL of the site for the purpose of this article and we will refer to it only as an example showing interesting current DA vs. PR score)
As you can see on the screenshot above, the given website has a high DA score of 53. The site manages to draw our attention and next we are to verify whether the given score is reliable or misleading. We will compare it to Google’s PageRank (PR).
TIP: Given that DA is a score ranging between 0-100 and PR ranges between 0-10 we need to find a way to compare those metrics when examining a given website. A rather simplistic, but useful approach, is to divide the DA score by 10 and compare it to the PR score: thus a DA of 30 will roughly correspond to PR3, A DA of 29 will be close to PR3, but not yet there and so on. Do not adopt this tactic as an absolute truth, but it will serve you well when you need to find strange signs and trends when assessing the value of a given prospect. Thus a websites of PR N/A, 0 or 1 (and DA up until 20, respectively) could be considered to be a relatively new and unpopular (again you can look at the domain age for verification – the low score might reflect a poorly maintained and unpopular site just as well). A good score would start from PR 3 and above, combined with DA above 30. But you must always be vigilant for discrepancies and be alarmed when you see rainbows and unicorns all around.
Let’s continue with our second example. So the website has a DA 53 and PR 2 (see the field circled in green on the screenshot above). If we are to refer to the tip shared in the paragraph above we will see that there is a serious discrepancy between the DA and PR score. We need to find out which metric should be paid attention to as a more credible one. Stumbling upon such a strong signal definitely means that there is something wrong; ignoring it is simply not an option, so let’s conduct our research.
1. First you’d better check the backlink profile of the site with MOZ’s tool Open Site Explorer – we can see a high number of linking root domains, a high number of total links and a good number of links with high DA (the site has a good branded anchor text profile, so the low PR cannot be due to this variable, thus for the sake of our current research topic we will ignore the anchor text variable when making our assessment). So – there is no sign of smoke here. We should look for the problem elsewhere.
2. We should look for additional source of information. In this case, as it comes to assessing a link profile, the help of the Majestic SEO tool and the Ahrefs insights turn out to be invaluable. When we enter the URL of the site in the Majestic SEO site explorer we immediately see the problem: the Trust Flow (8) is way too low as compared to the Citation Flow (58)*. Respectfully, we do not wish to be associated with such a website and the DA has simply failed to warn us on this one.
*Understanding Majestic’s Trust Flow and Citation Flow
Majestic’s metrics Trust and Citation Flow are core aspects to pay attention to. And while Citation Flow examines the number of linking domains to your site, Trust Flow assesses their trustworthiness. You will get a clear idea of the Trust aspect once you examine the ratio of the Trust Flow to the Citation Flow, which results in the Trust Ratio. The higher the Trust ratio – the more trustworthy the site is. Neil Patel gives a good advice as to what kind of Trust Ratio you should be after: “a good rule of thumb that I use is that you don’t want the trust flow to be less than half of the citation flow”.
However, if we are to work with the Majestic SEO’s metrics, we might as well see what their team shares with their readers:
“… if the Citation Flow is high and the Trust Flow is low, this means that the website being checked has a lot of link equity (or “juice”), but barely any trust from those links. This usually indicates that the site has gained those links from “spammy” areas of the web as they are not close to authoritative sources … if a site has a high amount of Trust Flow and low Citation Flow this means that the links pointing to that site are from very trustworthy sources…”
Below you can see a good example of a “Reasonable” profile of a website, as Majestic SEO puts it, where the Trust Flow is much higher than the Citation Flow, a scenario that only high authority websites could take part in.
PageRank actually measures the importance of a given website and its algorithm is aimed at determining the position that the given website is to take in Google’s search results. You’d say that every optimization project including the Link Building one is performed in order to improve a given site’s ranking in Google, thus the main metric that should be keep in mind should be the one that Google presents us with, namely the PageRank (PR). Actually you could not be more wrong.
Let’s discuss several reasons why Google has proven that the data it releases out in the open is actually unreliable or at least obscured in purpose:
– Problems with data update. As you might have heard already, last year there were great disputes as to whether PR still provides up to date information. In October Google’s public representative Matt Cutts shared before the PubCon audience that Google is not planning on updating the current PR data in their toolbar, at least not by the end of the year. Given that “people get a little too obsessed with PageRank anyway”, Google has decided to monopolize on the info and stop exposing such data for public use. Thus the last update of the PR score as of February 2013 seemed to be the final one for months to come. However, in early December 2013 (suspected date December 5th-6th) Google updated the PR toolbar without any notice.
At first starting as a rumor the news spread quickly only to discredit Matt Cutts’ public stand on introducing any PR update soon: “I would be surprised if that happened.” Shockingly, he made this statement on December 6th, when the update had just been enforced or was just about to be enforced in a matter of a few hours.
Thus, even if we assume that currently we dispose of relevant PR info, thanks to the latest update in December, we cannot rely on the fact that this metric will continue to be updated on a regular basis. For all we know there could be another 11 months until its next update takes place, or worse yet, Google can decide to restrict the public access to this metric for good.
– We cannot be sure how reliable this data actually is – a PR update in December 2013 sounds great, but the online dynamics changes daily, how long till the latest data update becomes obsolete and unfit to base our link building decisions on?
– Google in general has a tendency to withhold valuable information that could serve people to better understand and/or attempt to manipulate Google’s algorithm. A proper example would be the latest “Keyword not provided” scandal in which Google decided to encrypt the organic search activities and thus stop reporting the terms used to drive traffic from Google.
But let’s look at a specific example that serves as evidence of why the PR score could mislead us on certain occasions.
The website in example 4. has a PR score of 5. Great news, you’d say, but then when you compare it to the DA score of 17, you should sense that there is something wrong going on. If we are to go over the verification steps described earlier you would see that:
– A lookup in Moz’s Open Site Explorer shows that the website has backlinks from only 12 distinct domains (a really poor backlink profile for such a high PR score);
– A lookup in Majestic ‘s Site Explorer shows that the Trust Flow is way too low as compared to the citation flow (TF=5; CF=16);
– The above signs combined with the benefit of the doubt lead us to think that the website probably is rather new, however a domain age checkup verifies that the domain has been used for more than 2 years already.
– We start wondering how this site has been active for more than 2 years and yet has so few backlinks. Furthermore it is curious how it is possible for Google to rank the site as a high quality site? Well, checking in the domain archive at the Way Back Machine will give you the answer – the domain has been recently redesigned and repurposed to offer content on completely different topics, erasing the previously active pages. In this regard the lingering PR5 score could refer to the worth of the previous version of the site and its former backlink profile and not the current one. The repurposing of the site drastically decreased its value, but Google has not shown this in its PR score yet. Not in the toolbar version of the PR metric anyway, but surely Google has a pretty clear picture of the actual worth of the given site, and so should you.
Rembember: this prospect verification method should be used as a quick checkup only! If you want to make a detailed analysis you have to check the nature of the linking root domains, their authority, the anchor texts used for the links, etc.
DA and PR – the combined approach – to wrap it up: the easiest way to assess the value a prospect, and the quickest for that matter, is to benchmark the two scores (PR and DA). If those prove to be compatible and high enough for the purpose of your project, you could proceed and consider your inclusion in the given website.
What additional factors you should keep in Mind
If you are interested in conducting a more detailed research of a given prospect you could also pay attention to:
The nature of the linking domains: sometimes both PR and DA scores could seem satisfactory, but when you check the external link profile of the prospect, you can see warning signs like for instance prevalent mentions from Japanese sites. This is a grey SEO tactic that you would not wish to be associated with when Google catches up and finds a way to punish it.
The anchor text of the backlinks: much has been said on the topic, basically the main thing to remember is that numerous backlinks with exact match anchor texts would eventually, if not already, compromise the given site – thus you do not need referrals from sites that have abused this aspect of their backlink profile.
The domain age: Google usually refrains from presenting relatively new websites with high ranking opportunities regardless of their linking profile or monthly traffic.
After having read all this you should have already concluded that there is no universal formula for successful prospect assessing. However, learning to recognize conflicting or suspicious signals is what really matters when you assess your Link Building prospects. Be vigilant, don’t be lazy and do your research, doubt prospects that are way too easy and valuable at the same time, and stay away from shady techniques.
Cherish your site in order to protect your business!