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Filtering Out Bad Websites For Link Building

Yeah baby - we're about to go big with A LOT of filtering, so let's get crackin'

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Last updated on March 5, 2024

There are dozens of ways to build backlinks. And most of them will involve you — or someone you’re paying — assessing the quality of a potential source of backlinks.

In other words, you must be able to tell whether a referring domain would be good to have in your backlink profile.

Sometimes, it’s obvious. Other times, not so much.

And the mark of a truly great link builder is the ability to filter out the bad websites so you get incredible, high-quality backlinks every time.

The flip side of that, of course, is that a bad link builder might get you links from bad websites (if they get any links at all). And that puts your entire SEO strategy at risk.

By the end of this article, you’ll have everything you need to properly assess the quality of potential link sources AND tell whether your link-building service is putting your dollars to good use.

Let’s get into it.

Most Websites Are Terrible Backlink Sources

As of the time of this writing, an estimated 1.88 billion websites were live on the internet. Let me just be real with you:

Probably more than 99 percent of those websites are TERRIBLE. As in: not useful, outdated, poorly designed, not functioning, spammy, virus-infested and/or fake.

That means you don’t want backlinks from those websites — from 99 percent of the internet.

That leaves 1 percent — so around 1.8 million websites. Many of those are high-quality websites that you MIGHT want backlinks from.

But there’s more math to do.

Of those 1.8 million, probably less than 5 percent are actually relevant to your niche, whether it’s law, insurance, tech, etc.

Down to 940,000.

Of those, probably only 10 percent are realistic link sources. In other words, if The New York Times is in that list of 940,000, you can likely count it out.

Adding to that, many of those websites don’t link out to other websites or simply won’t respond to link building tactics.

Down to 94,000.

And if your business website is relevant only to a particular geographic location, many of the remaining possible link sources won’t be good opportunities because they’re only relevant to other locations.

Combine that issue with other miscellaneous problems — websites charging way too much for a link placement, for example — and you’re left with maybe 10 percent of those 94,000 sites.

Down to 9,400.

That’s still a lot of potential websites that could provide powerful backlinks. But that’s just a fraction of 1 percent of the websites out there on the big, wide internet.

And someone — whether it’s you or your professional link building service — has to find them if you hope to get links from them.

That’s going to involve A LOT of filtering.

Why Filter Out Bad Websites in Your Link Building Strategy?

Why go to all the trouble of sifting through countless websites to find potential sources of backlinks?

Perhaps a better way to phrase that question is this:

Why shouldn’t you just get links everywhere possible, bad websites included?

Great question with a simple answer:

Getting backlinks from bad sites — whether they’re low-quality, irrelevant or some other problematic thing — defeats the purpose of link building.

The purpose of building backlinks is to improve your rankings in Google search results. Plain and simple.

And if you get terrible backlinks from terrible websites, you’re telling Google yours is not a safe or high-quality site to serve in its search results.

Your rankings will suffer. You could even get a manual action that removes part or all of your site from Google results altogether.

Ouch.

Yes, it’s fun to watch the number of referring domains in your backlink profile skyrocket. But if you’re only achieving that by getting terrible backlinks, you WILL see the much less fun destruction of the rankings you’ve worked so hard to build.

So, you have to filter out the bad websites. The good news is that’s not as hard as it sounds. Keep reading.

How to Filter Websites for Backlink Quality

Looking for link building opportunities is like sifting through sand while you’re looking for gemstones.

Each bad website is a grain of sand. You want it to fall right through the holes in your sifter. You want to eliminate those sites quickly without too much effort.

Each possibly good website is a colorful stone. It’ll catch your eye based on one metric or another. You’ll pause your sifting and investigate.

It could be that it’s just a colorful rock. It doesn’t have real value from a link building perspective, and you move on.

Or it could be that it’s a diamond or a ruby or a sapphire. You grab it, celebrate the find and set it aside for safekeeping. You’re adding it to your backlink profile.

So, how do you start sifting through the sand and finding gemstones? Follow these instructions, step by step:

Look for Organic Traffic

When I say organic traffic, I’m talking about traffic from search engines. Look for at least 1,000 organic visits per month, in most cases.

Why does this matter?

Because if a site is getting traffic from search engines, it has content ranking in search engines. And that means those search engines — Google, hopefully — trust the site.

In this way, you get Google to do a lot of the vetting for you.

Google doesn’t want to rank bad websites.

So if a site is getting Google traffic, there’s a pretty solid chance that the website isn’t “bad” in any traditional sense (although it might have other problems for you specifically, such as being irrelevant to your niche).

To check a site’s organic traffic, you will need to use an SEO tool like Ahrefs or Semrush.

Here’s how to get a monthly organic traffic figure in ahrefs Organic Research tool – pop the domain into the search field and go to overview:
monthly-organic-traffic-ahrefs

This is going to apply to every factor I talk about in this list:

Simply meeting this one requirement — significant organic traffic, in this case — is not enough to PROVE that this website is a worthwhile backlink source. But it certainly raises the chance that it will be one.

Check the Location of the Traffic

What if the site you’re assessing has millions of organic visitors every month? It’s an all-caps YES, right?

Not necessarily.

You still need to make sure the traffic is geographically relevant.

What do I mean by that? I mean the traffic has to be coming from a place that’s relevant to your website.

That site that has millions of organic visitors every month — if nearly all the traffic is coming from internet users in India, it might not be a relevant or high-quality backlink to get for your U.S.-based website.

Keep in mind:

All websites will have SOME traffic from other countries. But the majority of the traffic should come from a place that is going to be relevant to your business.

Otherwise, why would that site link to yours? A link in this context would look unnatural to Google.

And when backlinks look unnatural, you’re in risky SEO territory.

So, how do you check the geographic location of organic traffic? Most SEO tools will do it pretty handily:

Consider Domain Authority

Look, domain authority isn’t perfect. But it isn’t useless, either.

Call it whatever you’re comfortable with — domain authority, domain rating, authority score, and so on. But you’re talking about a metric made up by an SEO tool company like Moz, Ahrefs or Semrush.

Don’t focus too much on the fact that the terms are made up. They still describe a set of factors that influence how authoritative a website LIKELY is in the eyes of Google.

No, Google employees aren’t sitting around discussing DA or DR. But they — and the algorithm itself — ARE looking at things like backlinks, which DA, DR and similar metrics take into account.

So, check the domain authority of any site you’re considering getting a backlink from. A general rule of thumb is that the score should be over 30 (the maximum is 100).

What if the score is lower? Don’t immediately rule it out. Examine WHY the score might be lower.

For example, is it a super relevant and high-quality site that just launched a couple of months ago? It hasn’t had time to build its domain authority.

But it very likely WILL build its authority over time. So it might be worth having a backlink from there — think of it as an investment that will mature and become more valuable over time.

What if it, by all accounts, should have a high domain authority but doesn’t? That tells you there may be something fishy about the site. And you should probably remove it from your link building strategy.

As you assess the authority of various websites, remember this:

Domain authority is a metric that can be manipulated. The SEO tools that measure it aren’t perfect, and bad actors can use various schemes to artificially raise their authority in the eyes of the tools in order to sell more backlinks.

That’s why it’s essential that you never rely on domain authority as the sole metric for determining whether a backlink is worthwhile to pursue.

Actually Visit the Site

It’s amazing how often people don’t think to do this. Actually go to the website you’re assessing. Click around to various pages.

Do not fall into the trap of simply plugin domains into your SEO tools and making a decision based only on what you see there.

Use your human eyes — and human judgment — to assess the quality of any website you’re considering pursuing a backlink from.

Does it look and feel like a legitimate site? Or does it look scammy? Trust your instincts.

And Read the Content

While you’re poking around on the site, don’t forget to actually read the content.

Some sites can look great, but the words that appear on them sound like a toddler wrote them. Or worse.

If you think Google can’t tell the difference between high-quality content and low-quality content, you’re wrong. The company has invested billions into being able to do precisely that.

So, read what’s on the site. Is it well-written? Does it make sense? The answers to those questions should most definitely be yes if you plan to pursue a backlink from the site.

Check the Index

Believe it or not, a lot of what you should do to assess the quality of a site as it relates to a possible backlink overlaps with what Google does to determine whether to index a site and rank it well.

So, let Google do some of the work for you. You already know how to test the organic traffic, but take it a step further.

Check how many pages the site has indexed in Google. It’s not hard — you don’t even need an SEO tool to do it.

Just type this into Google “site:https://website.com”

By doing a site search like this, you’re telling Google to only surface results that come from the particular site you’re searching.

Obviously, replace “www.website.com” with the site you’re checking. Then, check how many results Google has in its index that come from that site. It’s near the top of the search engine results:

There’s no hard rule about how many pages should be indexed in order to make a site worthy of your interest, but in general, bigger, more powerful sites will have more pages in Google’s index.

And if the site has very few pages in the index, that’s a bad sign.

Of course, don’t forget to compare the total number of indexed pages to the actual size of the site. If it’s a small site in general, it could still be authoritative and powerful but have relatively few pages in the index.

Dig Into the Site’s Backlink Profile

Admittedly, you have to know a decent amount about link building to make this one work for you. But if you master it, this technique is going to provide you with a wealth of information about any site you want to check out.

I’m talking about looking at the backlinks the site has.

If you want to get a backlink from a site, it should have some backlinks. And the backlinks should be high-quality.

Why? Because high-quality sites get high-quality backlinks. And they DEFINITELY don’t get only backlinks from spam sites.

How do you check this? With your SEO tool of choice. Ahrefs tends to be strongest for backlink analysis, but most of the major ones will do the trick just fine.

What are you looking for?

To start, look at the domain authority of the sites linking to the site you’re considering getting a backlink from. It should be decent on the whole (not in every single case, but on average).

Then check out some of the sites linking to the site you’re assessing. Are they real, legitimate sites? Are they relevant to the site you’re assessing?

There are other things to assess here, but those two points will get you most of the way. You can also check the anchor text profile of the site. We’ll get into that below.

Assess the Anchor Text (On and Off the Site)

Anchor text is the clickable text that comes along with a link online. It’s usually blue and underlined. Like this.: click here for Anchor Text Optimization

Google “reads” the anchor text that accompanies every link its crawlers follow. What that anchor text says is hugely important for how Google understands both the linking page and the linked-to page.

There are lots of things to consider when it comes to anchor text. And they apply primarily to the backlinks you’re building to your site.

However, you can assess the anchor text of any website you’re considering as a target for your link building efforts.

First, check the anchor text for relevance. Is it relevant to the website it’s pointing to? For example, if the site is about personal injury law, is the anchor text generally focused on legal concepts?

Then, check for malicious-sounding anchor text. This might be sexual in nature or all about prescription medication or something similar.

If you see a lot of this, avoid the site — although some is probably unavoidable for larger sites.

Then, ask yourself whether the anchor text seems spammy. In other words, does it look natural, or is completely stuffed with unnatural-sounding keywords?

If it’s too obvious, the site’s rankings (and organic traffic) may come tumbling down with a Google update, rendering any links you got from the site MUCH less useful.

How do you check the anchor text? Go back to your favorite SEO tool. It’s usually in the backlink analysis section.

Hopefully, your tool of choice will allow you to filter the anchors by most common or for particular keywords.

Play around with the list you see to figure out just how spammy the website’s anchor text profile is (if it’s spammy in the first place).

Look Out for Post Labels

Scan through the website’s blog posts or articles. Do you see any post labels like “Sponsored,” “Guest Post” or “Guest Contributor”?

If so, STRONGLY consider avoiding this link building opportunity.

Why? Because those kinds of post labels are a dead giveaway that the post is a guest post intended to build backlinks — rather than a normal article meant to inform, engage or entertain the website’s readers.

It’s about future-proofing. There’s not much hard evidence that these post labels matter too much to Google right now. But what about in a future algorithm update?

Google may one day decide to penalize sites that are getting links from articles with “Sponsored” or similar labels. Where will that leave you and your business?

You would be better off aiming for the many websites that will allow you to contribute an article without labeling the content as a guest post.

And Be Wary of ‘Write for Us’

This is similar to the previous point. If you’re considering a website as a potential source of a backlink, a “Write for Us” page is a negative — not a positive.

That’s because those kinds of pages often signal that the website is open to publishing guest posts.

And while guest posts do not specifically violate any Google guidelines by definition, any backlink generated with the sole purpose of manipulating search rankings DOES violate Google’s rules.

Some day, Google may decide that sites that accept guest posts are publishing content and producing backlinks that violate its guidelines. And it may use a “Write for Us” page as evidence that a site is engaged in that sort of behavior.

What happens then? One of two things:

  1. Links from those kinds of sites stop passing any link juice, meaning they have no SEO benefits.
  2. Sites that have built a bunch of links from those kinds of sites get penalized via a manual action, meaning some or all of their website is removed from Google search results.

You don’t want either of those things to happen, so the safest bet is to avoid sites that have a “Write for Us” page.

You can usually find that kind of page in the top menu or footer of a site. Sometimes, they hide that page, but you can still find it by either checking the sitemap or searching the following in Google:

Site:https://website.com “write for us”

Replace “website” with the domain you’re checking out. The “write for us” part should surface any “write for us” page the site has indexed by Google.

Sneak a Peek at Social Media

Let’s be clear: A website’s presence on social media has very little — almost nothing — to do with its SEO situation.

However:

What does an active social media presence tell you? Think about it.

It means someone who runs the site you’re thinking about getting a backlink from actually cares enough to post the site’s content on social media. It legitimizes the website and its associated brand.

That’s important — not just for your peace of mind, but because Google reviewers might see the same thing. And the more legitimate the sites linking to your site look, the more legitimate you look. And the more powerful your backlinks may be.

Get the SEO Metrics

Websites with strong SEO metrics are usually strong websites. Not always, but often enough to make this a legitimate strategy for assessing the quality of a website and its potential to give you a backlink.

What metrics am I talking about? We’ve already covered some, but this is where you put them all together. Break out your favorite SEO tool and get the lowdown on the following:

  • Domain authority/rating
  • Organic traffic
  • Traffic cost
  • Number of keywords the site is ranking for
  • Number of keywords the site is ranking for in the top 10
  • Number of referring domains
  • Number of backlinks in total
  • Anchor text ranked by most frequently used phrases

Get the numbers, and ask yourself:

Would I be proud to run this website? Would having these SEO metrics for my own site make me happy?

If so, you’re on the right track.

Understand the Publishing Frequency

When was the last article published on the site? What about the one before that?

Go back at least a few months and make note of how frequently the website you’re assessing publishes new content.

Why? Because publishing frequency tells you a lot about how Google probably crawls the site.

If it publishes frequently — at least once per week, ideally — Google probably crawls it frequently to find the new content.

And that means Google will see a backlink on that site (pointing to your site) more quickly.

On the other hand, if the website hasn’t published anything in a year, it could take a long time for Google to notice the new content that contains your backlink.

Google has likely determined that it shouldn’t waste crawl resources on this site because there’s almost never anything new on it.

The other thing to keep in mind, of course, is that a website that hasn’t published anything recently simply looks less legitimate.

It looks defunct, and it also suggests that the site isn’t actually selling many backlinks. And there could be a reason for that.

Dig Into the Site’s History

Sites that have been around for a long time tend to have an easier time ranking well. Google often sees websites with a greater domain age as more authoritative.

Plus, they’ve had more time to rack up backlinks over the years.

So, you need to check out just how long any site that might link to you has been around for.

I need to make something really clear:

New websites aren’t bad websites. Not by definition, anyway.

And old websites aren’t always good websites.

But there is definitely a correlation between the age of a website and its potential to pass link juice to your site via a backlink.

So, if you’re considering pursuing a backlink from two websites, you could use the age of the domain to help you make your decision, assuming most other factors between the two sites were equal.

How do you check how old a website is? Two ways:

First, go to the Wayback Machine. Pop the domain into the tool. And you’ll see a bunch of snapshots of the website over time.

These usually go back about as far as the age of the site, unless it’s a VERY old site. But make sure to click on a few throughout the timeline.

What are you looking for? Look for what was on the site. Was it pretty much the same deal as what’s on there now? Or something completely different?

If it’s different, ask yourself: Is it appropriate? Is it relevant? Is it likely to throw up some red flags with Google?

If all looks good, go ahead and check the site’s age in the second way: the ICANN Lookup tool.

Pop the domain into the tool. Scroll down until you see the “Created” date. That’s when the site was first created and registered with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

Assess the External Links

So far, we’ve gone over a couple of ways to filter out bad websites by looking at inbound links — that is, the backlinks the site has.

But there’s another link factor to consider when you’re assessing the quality of a potential backlink:

The external links on the backlink site. In other words, what sites is this site already linking out to? And what anchor text is it using?

If this is a site that sells backlinks, you’ll probably be able to tell pretty quickly which external links were paid for by a business like yours.

Remember this: If you can tell, Google can tell.

That’s not the end of the world, necessarily. But it’s something to consider.

A better question:

Is the site ONLY linking to sites that clearly paid for the links? Or is it covering the paid links up with other external links (preferably to high-authority websites like .orgs, .edus and .govs)?

Another factor to consider is the external anchor text. How keyword-rich is it?

If you see hundreds and hundreds of clearly exact match anchors (stuff like “Austin car accident lawyer” and “accountant in Cleveland”), that’s a sign that the site may be too lax with its anchor text policy.

That means it’s at risk of getting dinged by a Google update or manual action. And that could sweep you up in it if you’re not careful.

To some degree, most backlink-providing sites will have some measure of detectable SEO gameplay. That’s generally OK — just make sure it’s not over the top.

Read the ‘About Us’ Page

While you’re doing all of this digging into various websites that might give you a backlink, don’t forget the simplest technique of all:

Read the “about us” page.

It’s so simple. Legitimate sites have “about us” pages. And those pages sound real.

More specifically, they tell a story. They showcase real people. They provide contact information (beyond a simple form generated with a WordPress plugin).

I know, I know. No one wants to read an “about us” page. But it’s worth it.

You’ll notice pretty quickly that the fake ones are easy to spot. They will speak generally about the site itself. They’ll often refer to the site as its actual domain (Website.com) rather than a brand or company name. And they won’t name any names of real people.

The real ones, on the other hand, will do the opposite. They’ll be specific about the brand name and when and why the site was founded. They’ll have some kind of mission statement. They’ll link to LinkedIn profiles for website staff or feature staff profiles.

Of course, the simplest “about us” page to assess of all is the one that doesn’t exist. And you’ll find that many of the websites that you’re already suspicious of won’t have any sort of “about us” page for you to review.

It doesn’t take long to parse all this out. But it provides an unbelievably clear indication of the quality of a site you’re considering for a potential backlink.

How to Assess the Quality of a Link Building Service

What if you don’t have the time, expertise or, frankly, energy required to vet thousands of sites to see if they might make good referring domains for your backlink profile?

You wouldn’t be the first. And that’s why so many businesses like yours turn to professional link building services.

But you can’t just pick a link building service out of a hat and be done. You still have to do a bit more vetting. You have to assess the quality of the link building services you’re considering and choose the best one.

To be completely honest, it’s also about not choosing a bad one. Unfortunately, link building is an industry that has more than its fair share of BSers and fakers — even some scammers.

So how do you sort through link building services to find one that will actually do the job and do it right? Here’s how:

Emphasize Experience

Creating a simple website isn’t hard to do. Any old scammer can decide to call themselves a link builder, create a basic website and start selling link building services.

That’s not who you want in charge of your backlink profile. So, look for experience.

Check the “about us” page or reach out to the company directly. But make sure you know EXACTLY how long the company has been in business and, beyond that, how much experience the individuals who make up the company actually have.

The more experience, the better. Link building is hard, and over time, you get better at it (if you stick with it and work hard).

But at first, you’re terrible. It’s just how this business works.

Be Realistic About Pricing

Business owners are always looking for ways to save on costs for their businesses. Rightfully so.

So when you find a link building service that offers hundreds of links per month at a fraction of the standard price, you may think you’ve found a gem.

You haven’t. I promise. Building GOOD backlinks is expensive. Prices are high, and trust me — if there was a way to sell cheap backlink building services that ACTUALLY get results, lots of people would be doing it.

There are no shortcuts to great link building. It takes time, effort and investment.

By all means, use price as a factor in your considerations, but be realistic. If the price feels too good to be true, it is.

Check Their Backlinks

Link builders should have great backlinks. If they don’t, that’s concerning.

You’d think a professional link builder would have plenty of opportunities to build backlinks for their own website. They definitely would.

If they don’t have the links to show, then they probably aren’t as good at building backlinks as they say they are. And that’s a sign you need to pay attention to.

So, make it a matter of routine to pop the website of any link builder you’re considering into your SEO tool of choice and check out their backlinks. Look for number and quality.

Get the Details

Ideally, you’ll find a link building service that allows you to focus on your business while the links come rolling in.

You’ll get there, but at first, you need to be more hands-on.

In fact, well before you sign anything, get the details from the link builder. Ask for detailed answers to the following questions:

  • What methods do you use to build backlinks? Please list all of them.
  • What criteria do you use to assess whether a site is worth getting a backlink from?
  • Can you provide case studies or screenshots showing results you have gotten for past clients with businesses in my niche?

You may even think of a few more questions to throw in. But don’t settle for anything less than a HIGHLY detailed response to those three questions, at the very least.

Oh, and don’t forget to actually read the response. Make sure it makes sense and seems safe to you.

And if you’re considering more than one link building service, show the responses one service gave to the folks at the other company. See what they say, and ask them how they can do better.

Trust Your Gut

In SEO, we love hard data and numbers. But there’s still room for the human element. And what’s more human than trusting your gut?

After all, your gut feelings are just your subconscious mind speaking to you in a language you don’t fully understand.

So, trust your gut as you’re assessing the quality of a link building service. Does it feel like a scam? Does it feel like the company is misrepresenting their skills?

If so, trust yourself. There are plenty of link building services out there that WON’T give you bad vibes.

Further reading: ChatGPT and Link Building: What the Future Holds

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