Nobody knows for sure exactly how Google measures the value of each link. But there are some general concepts of evaluating links that the SEO community believes to be true.
Imagine that your friend has just launched a blog and linked to your website from one of their recent articles. That’s no big deal, right?
But what if The New York Times published an article linking to your website? That would surely be something you can be proud of.
The point is, we perceive those two websites as having different levels of “authority.” The New York Times is a world-famous publication trusted by millions of people around the globe. While your friend’s new blog barely gets any visitors at all.
So how does Google measure the “authority” of a website (or a webpage) that is linking to you? Well, if links are votes, then it would be fair if a page that has more votes would cast a stronger vote to other pages, right?
And that is actually one of the main principles behind the PageRank algorithm, which Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin conceived back in 1996.
There also used to be a browser plugin that displayed the PageRank score of any webpage on a scale from 0 to 10. But somewhere around 2014 Google discontinued it, leaving the SEO community wondering how much “authority” they assign to each web page.
Luckily, many SEO tool providers have developed their own link-based authority metrics, which are based on some of the same principles used in the original PageRank algorithm.
The authority metrics that we have here at Ahrefs are Domain Rating (DR) and URL Rating (UR). Both are measured on a scale from 0 to 100.
The URL Rating of our homepage is 87, which means it’s a high-authority page. And the Domain Rating of the ahrefs.com domain is 90, which is considered very high (nytimes.com is DR 94).
Some SEO professionals also look at a website’s search traffic to gauge it’s “authoritativeness.” The logic here is simple: if Google ranks a website at the top of their search results and sends it traffic, then they likely consider the website to have high authority.
As a general rule, SEO professionals strive to acquire links from websites and pages that have high authority, because those links are more likely to help their own pages to rank higher in Google.
But does this mean that you should avoid getting links from low-authority websites and pages? Not at all. Those links aren’t “bad” in any way. They just carry less “weight” in the eyes of Google and therefore have less influence on your rankings.
The proper way to use link authority metrics when building links is for gauging how much effort you should invest in getting a link from a given website.
If your friend asks you to write a well-researched, 10,000-word article for their new blog (DR10), the link you’ll end up getting isn’t really worth the effort. But should you get a chance to write the same article for NY Times (DR94), you should absolutely do it.
One last thing. Some people obsess over their own link authority metrics a little too much. To the point of asking our support team questions like this one:
If you’re building links “to increase UR” you’re pursuing the wrong goal. You should be building links with the goal of ranking higher in Google. Better yet, you should be building links to help visitors of other websites discover your website.
Let’s say you own a blog about coffee and you publish a review of your favourite coffee grinder. Later, two of your friends decide to link to it. One from their “10 Best Coffee Recipes” article and the other from their “10 Money-saving Tips” article.
Which of the two pages would cast a stronger vote in the eyes of Google (given that both these pages have equal authority)?
The more relevant one!
You’d rather get coffee advice from a fellow foodie, rather than a personal finance expert, right?
SEO professionals believe that relevance also applies at the website level. And there’s actually some evidence for that on Google’s “how search works” page:
If other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign that the information is of high quality.
Which means that you should strive to get links from websites that are somehow relevant to yours, instead of pursuing every single link opportunity that pops up.
3. Anchor text
Just in case you’re not already familiar with the term, “anchor text” is a clickable snippet of text that sends you to another page.
So it’s no surprise that Google uses the words in anchor text to better understand what keywords the referenced page deserves to rank for. In fact, Google’s original patent talks about this quite explicitly:
[…] Google employs a number of techniques to improve search quality including page rank, anchor text, and proximity information.
So how do you leverage anchor text when building links?
Well, you don’t. The more you try to control how different pages link to you and shoehorn all the “right words” into the anchor texts of your backlinks, the higher the chance that Google will penalize you for that.
And besides, most white-hat link building tactics give you little to no control over the anchor text, which only prevents you from shooting yourself in the foot.
4. Nofollow vs follow
“Nofollow” is a link attribute that tells Google the linking page would rather not give its vote to the page that it is referencing.
Here’s how this link attribute looks in the HTML code:
Historically, Google didn’t count votes from ‘nofollowed links’ (or so they said). Then, in 2019, they switched to a hint model, which means that some ‘nofollowed’ links may now influence your search rankings.
They also introduced two new link attributes at with this announcement:
- rel=“UGC” — should be applied to “user generated” links, e.g., blog comments and forum posts.
- rel=“sponsored” — should be applied when the link is part of an advertisement, sponsorship, or some other compensation agreement.
As a general rule, you want to be building “followed” links (i.e., links that don’t have any of the aforementioned attributes), because these are the ones that are supposed to cast votes.
However, if you see an opportunity to get a nofollowed link from a relevant high-authority page, you should absolutely do it.
A good example is Wikipedia where all outgoing links are nofollowed. Getting a link from Wikipedia is incredibly hard, which is why many SEOs are convinced that those links are quite valuable in the eyes of Google.
Google’s reasonable surfer patent talks about how the likeliness of a link being clicked may affect how much authority it transfers. And placement of a link on a page is one of the few things that can affect its CTR.
Let’s say there’s a webpage that consists of three blocks: content, sidebar, and footer. As a general rule, links in the content will get more clicks, because the content block gets the most attention from visitors.
One other thing that can affect the CTR of a link is how high on the page it appears. Readers are more likely to follow links at the very beginning of the article, rather than the ones at it’s very end.
And finally, the more links you have on the page, the more they will compete with each other for clicks and thus dilute the authority which will be transferred to other pages.
Just like with anchor text, most white-hat link building strategies give you little to no control over the placement of the link.
But if you’re writing a guest article for someone else’s blog, you should definitely try to entice readers to click on your links. Not just for boosting the SEO value of those links, but because it will also send some nice referral traffic your way.
When building links to your website, there are three destinations where you can point them:
- Your homepage;
- Your linkable assets;
- The pages that you actually need to rank high in Google.
And quite often the pages that you need to rank well are also the hardest ones to get links to. That’s because people prefer to link to informational pages where their audience can get value for free, rather than commercial pages where their audience are likely to part ways with their cash.
Thus, one of the most common questions in SEO is:
“How to rank boring pages?”
And while there’s no single right answer to this question, everyone agrees that you should leverage the power of internal linking to help your “boring pages” rank better.
In other words, build as many links as you can to your linkable assets and funnel all that “link juice” towards the pages that you actually want to rank via internal links.
And keep in mind that things like placement, relevance and anchor text affect the value of your internal links too.