Backlink Relevance Explained (And How to Get It)
If you’re serious about SEO, there’s no way you haven’t at least seen link relevance mentioned by this point in time. But what exactly makes a backlink relevant, and how can you get relevant backlinks?
In this article, we’ll be covering:
- What backlink relvance is
- Why relevant links are good for you
- How to check for link relevance
- How to get relevant backlinks yourself
Things will start off pretty general and conceptual and gradually get more in-depth and specific with real-world examples of relevant links to make sure you really grasp this extremely important topic.
The following is an edited transcript from an over-the-shoulder video tutorial on link relevance. Feel free to read along, or if you’d prefer to watch the video that walks you through this subject – skip to the end of the article.
What is Link Relevance?
What is a relevant link, anyways? What is relevance in SEO?
Relevance means being closely connected or appropriate to something else, so link relevance means that a backlink coming to your website is closely connected or appropriate for your website or page.
Like your on-page and content, link relevance lets Google know what your site is about. You are making your page relevant for your keywords by optimizing your content and on-page, and likewise you are making your page relevant in Google’s eyes for those keywords with your link building – or more specifically, your link relevance.
There are two kinds of link relevance:
- Location relevance
- Topic relevance (niche relevance)
For affiliate SEOs, you probably don’t care much about location relevance or getting it for any of your links because you aren’t trying to rank for any location terms. However, if we have a plumber in Houston as a client, links that have relevance for Houston would have location relevance.
All SEOs will be concerned with topic relevance (niche relevance). For the plumber in Houston, links coming to his website that have relevance for plumbing have niche relevance. As an affiliate, backlinks coming to your site relevant to your topic or whatever you’re selling would have niche relevance.
How do we know if a link has location or niche relevance? We’ll be getting to that, we promise!
How Important is Link Relevance?
We know that it’s important, but how important is link relevance? Very important.
When you are determining how valuable a link is for you, there are three things that you want to look which we refer to as the “Holy Trinity” – authority, power, and relevance.
We think of authority as the power and trust of an entire domain. CNN has a lot of authority in Google’s eyes, and if a site like CNN links to your website, it passes on that trust and authority to your website.
We think about power as a more direct push that a link gives you. Power is generally determined by the backlinks going to a specific page, and that power is passed to you when the page links to your site.
Lastly we have relevance. If a website or page has relevance for a location or niche and link to you, that relevance is then passed on to your site.
All three of these are very important, and we need all of them to rank effectively. You can think about things on a sliding scale. If a link has:
- Low authority – You want more relevance and power
- Low power – You want more authority and relevance
- Low relevance – You want more authority and power
Can non-relevant backlinks do any good for you? Absolutely. Just because a link is not very relevant doesn’t make it useless. A powerful, authoritative backlink without much relevance can still do great things for your rankings.
However, it’s worth noting that it’s always better to have relevance in a link than not to have it. If two links are equal except that one is very relevant while the other isn’t, you should always take the more relevant link.
It’s not always possible to get highly relevant links every time, so you don’t need to worry about a few links not being as relevant as you would have liked them. What you don’t want is to have a backlink profile of only non-relevant or not-so-relevant links.
You need relevant links to help show Google what your site is about, what terms to rank your pages for, and that your pages are more relevant than your competitors’ pages. Your website may be penalized if it’s associated with a lot of irrelevant links.
How to Check for Link Relevance
You can determine a link’s relevance much the same way you determine if a page is relevant for a topic – by the page’s on-page SEO, content, and backlink profile.
To make pages relevant, you need to add your location or niche keywords into important places such as your domain, inner page URL, title, meta description, h-tags, and the content itself. Your on-page along with relevant links coming to the page make that page more relevant for your terms.
Relevance for links is very similar. For links, you want the linking page (the page that is linking to your site) to be relevant for your keywords (same as discussed above) with the addition of having your keywords and related keywords in the link’s context and anchor text.
The anchor text is the (usually) blue text that you click on the link itself, and the context is the content that is immediately surrounding the link.
Search engines have become more advanced over time. They look at much more than just the anchor text of a link to determine if the link is relevant for the page that it’s linking to.
To reiterate, a link is more relevant if your keywords or related keywords are in:
- The linking page’s domain
- The linking page’s inner-page URL
- The linking page’s title
- The linking page’s meta description
- The linking page’s h-tags
- The linking page’s content
- The anchor text of the link
- The context around the link
As well as if the linking page’s backlink profile is relevant for your terms or related terms.
Checking Backlink Relevance in Ahrefs
It’s possible to do this more in-depth than we are about to show you by manually checking all of the things listed previously, but this method will generally be more than you need to quickly assess the relevance of a site’s link profile.
For the purposes of this demonstration, we used Abacusplumbing.net. We don’t have any kind of affiliation with this site, we just searched for “Houston plumber,” and this was the top-ranking site organically. They should have a good mix of relevant links and non-relevant links.
Once you have entered the site into Ahrefs, click the “Backlinks” tab on the left side.
You can now see a list of the backlinks coming to the site. Look at each link one-by-one using the information provided to determine if the links are relevant or not. First, let’s look at this link:
On the right side of the page, you see some blue text with their website URL. This is the anchor text they’ve used for this link. It has a line through it which means it’s a nofollow link (doesn’t mean it’s bad).
The linking site used our website’s URL as the anchor text for the link, and because our URL has “plumbing” in it, this anchor text adds relevance for “plumbing.”
Around the blue text you can see a bunch of black text. This is the content directly around the link itself – the context. Of course there will be more than Ahrefs is showing here, but this will give you a quick look.
The context here says:
Metroplex call Abacus at ____ or visit their website at ____.
“Metroplex” looks like it could possibly be adding some location relevance to the link, and “Abacus” will add some relevance for their brand name.
On the left side of the page, you will see some more important information about this link:
The blue text is the title of the linking page, and the green text is the domain and inner-page URL of the linking page.
You can see that the title of the linking page adds relevance to the link for a lot of useful keywords. This is a very relevant page title.
The domain and the inner-page URL of the linking page, however, don’t really add any kind of useful relevance. It would make the link more relevant if they did, but it’s not always possible or natural to get relevant keywords in every single one of these locations for every link.
Overall, this linking page has a highly relevant page title, non-relevant domain name, non-relevant inner-page URL, relevant context, and relevant anchor text. We’d be very happy with this link if it was our site – it adds a good amount of relevance for a variety of useful keywords.
If you wanted to look at this link more in-depth, you could click through to see the page and inspect it yourself. You could also pull it up in Ahrefs to see if has a relevant backlink profile itself.
Let’s look at another link:
On the left side, you’ll notice there isn’t anything relevant for us in the linking page’s title or domain. However, on the right side we have highly relevant context and anchor text. You’ll most likely get many links similar to this over the course of your link building.
Although relevance on the left side (title/domain/inner-page URL) is highly beneficial, you will often have less control over these positions than you do over the context/anchor text of your backlink.
Like we’ve mentioned previously, you won’t be able to get relevance in all of these places with every link and that’s completely OK – especially if the link is stronger in other areas such as authority or power.
Bulk Checking for Relevant Links
Every now and then someone will ask us:
“Why isn’t my site ranking for these terms? I’ve got all these links, but I just can’t figure out why I’m not ranking for these terms.”
You can pull up their backlinks in Ahrefs and scan the page manually, or if you want to be more meticulous you can use the browser’s find function. For doing a quick check for plumbing relevance, we hit CTRL+F and typed “plumb.”
The browser has highlighted all the occurrences in yellow. You can very quickly see how many of their links specifically mention plumbing in the linking pages’ title, domain, inner-page URL, context, and anchor text.
You can repeat this with any keyword you’d like to be relevant for such as different locations, services, etc.
It’s important to note again that the relevance you’re getting from these positions doesn’t always have to be exact keywords. Related keywords also help to increase your relevance for your main terms and is a lot more natural.
Looking at the backlinks for this site, most of the links have some kind of relevance. They might not all be relevant or be very relevant, but that’s OK. These links can still be helpful and are a healthy part of any natural backlink profile.
This is a top-ranking site for some competitive terms that most likely earn the business significant amounts of income. They don’t have the most relevant links in the world, and you don’t need to stress about every single link being highly relevant either.
What you don’t want to see when you come in and bulk check for relevance is a majority of the links being irrelevant. Then you have a problem, but you also know the solution.
Checking for Relevance with Other Tools
Although we pretty much use Ahrefs exclusively for analyzing sites, there are a few other tools worth mentioning that have some helpful features for checking for relevance throughout the entire backlink profiles of sites.
Majestic has a feature that tells you what the site is themed for by analyzing the relevance of its backlinks. It’s not extremely accurate, but it’s a nice little shortcut.
The color coded key let’s you easily see what they have determined the site to be relevant for.
If you’re hunting for domains, Spamzilla also has some amazing features. For one, they incorportate Majestic’s API into their platform so you can easily see what every domain is themed for without clicking through individually.
Even better, they allow you to search for specific keywords in the backlink profiles of the domains – just like we were doing earlier in the tutorial with Ahrefs.
This is an extremely powerful tool for finding domains with relevant backlink profiles for specific keywords, and it will help you to uncover useful domains for your project that you would have otherwise missed completely.
How to Get Relevant Links
Many SEOs get this far only to get stuck when it comes time to apply their knowledge and actually build some relevant backlinks.
We know what link relevance is and how to look for it, but how do you actually get relevant links for the sites you’re working on?
This might be more true for some people than for others. If you are a very white hat kind of SEO, things are going to be more out of your control than when you’re using grey or black hat methods.
If you’re just waiting for all of your links to come to you (which is not something we do), you are going to have to get lucky and hope that some of those links are highly relevant.
If you’re doing outreach, luck will still play a role. You don’t know what the sites will use for their titles, inner-page URLs, and so on. Some sites might allow you to give some input as far as the article that’s being written and the on-page elements used – but not all.
Buying, Renting, and Building PBNs
One of the reasons that PBNs are so great is that you have complete control over every aspect of the site (if you own it) to make it as relevant as you’d like for anything you’d like.
When setting up your PBN, you’ll want to make it relevant for whatever keywords you’re going after in all of the positions we discussed previously in this article. When purchasing the domains, you’ll also want to make sure they have relevant backlink profiles.
When you’re buying or renting PBN links, you will have a little less control than if you owned the site yourself – but still much more control than many other types of links.
When buying and renting PBN links, you specify your niche, anchors, etc. These are still great options, but you won’t have the direct control as you would if you owned the domains yourself. Regardless, they will still pass heaps of power and relevance.
Be sure to see our PBN Checklist for more information on building PBNs.
Buying Niche Edits and Guest Posts
These are links on real sites, and how relevant the on-page elements of the linking pages are is not always in your control – especially in the case of niche edits as the articles and pages have already been created.
A lot of the time with these types of links you are getting lucky concerning how relevant your link is going to be. That being said, if bought from quality providers, you can pretty much guarantee that they will always be relevant – the question is how relevant.
While niche edits are usually cheaper, aged, and possibly have preexisting links going to the linking page, you do often have more control over the content and possibility some on-page elements with guest posts. We recommend using a mix of both for the best results.
Outreach, Competitor Research, and Free Links
If you don’t have the budget to buy links or the whiteness of your hat doesn’t allow it, there are still other ways of procuring relevant links (although not quite as easy or powerful).
For more in-depth information, please refer to our article on how to get free backlinks. You can apply the principles of relevant links that you learned in this article to all of the backlink types mentioned there.
Some of the methods you’ll need to use might not be as straightforward as if you had a PBN or were putting in for an order of niche edits, but with a little extra time and work, it’s still possible to get quality, relevant links on your own.
That’s about it for backlink relevance. Throughout this article we’ve walked you through what link relevance is, how to check for it, and how to get it for yourself.
Keep in mind that link relevance is not the be-all, end-all of link building. It’s not always possible to get highly relevant backlinks, and links that are low on relevance can make up for their “shortcomings” with higher levels of power and authority.
We hope this will help clear up any confusion you may have had about link relevance, and that from here on out you’ll have no problems analyzing the relevance of links and getting them for yourself and your clients!
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
Watch the Video:
Chris Tzitzis is an SEO and a Co-Founder of SirLinksalot.co. He has extensive experience with Affiliate SEO and running an SEO Agency.
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