Key takeaways:

  • Third-party site metrics don’t tell a full story.
  • A link should always come from a relevant source.
  • A good link should look natural.
  • Nofollow links can help – they can bring in referral traffic.
  • Don’t discount unlinked mentions either! These can bring in significant brand searches if placed on sites that your audience frequents.

When you start to go down the link-building rabbit hole, you will come across metrics such as Domain Rating (DR, Ahrefs), Domain Authority (DA, Moz), Authority Score, (AS, Semrush), TrustFlow (TF, Majestic), and Citation FLow (CF, Majestic).

Each of these metrics are calculated in their own way by their respective companies. They try to emulate how Google measures the concept authority using their own backlink indexes. But Google has its own way of measuring the “authority” of a domain and DR, DA, AS, TF and CF mean nothing to Google.

Therefore, when you’re evaluating a site as a link prospect, don’t rely on these metrics alone because they don’t tell the full story.

In this blog post, I’m going to show what I look for when building links for my clients.

Let’s get started!

What is a good referring domain?

A good referring domain is one that you and your audience recogniwe.

These usually include news/tabloid publishers, real businesses, and recognised blogs.

1. News & tabloid publishers.

The best websites to get a link from are news and tabloid publishers.

This is because news publishers have a circulation in the millions and a lot of returning visitors.

In the North America, these include The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, Star Tribune Chicago Tribune, New York Post, The Boston Globe, Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun, and Calgary Herald.

In the UK, these include BBC, Daily Mail, The Times, Financial Times, The Guardian, Daily Mirror.

In Europe, these include Bild, De Telegraf, Quest France, Corriere della Sera, Hurriyet, Helsingin Sanomat, La Gazzetta dello, El Pais, Marca, La Stampa, Frankfurter, Aftonbladet, Freie Presse, Posta, Verdens Gang, Sachsische Zeitung, Mlada Fronta DNES, Blesk, Kurier, Die Welt, Ilta-Sanomat, Pravo and Trud.

In Australia, these include Financial Review, Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph, The Age, Illawarra Mercury, Herald Sun, Courier Mail, The Advertiser, and The West Australia.

Press mentions require a fair bit of investment. You may need a data researcher, a data analyst, a data visualizer, a graphics designer, and you will need a list of journalists to pitch to.

2. Real businesses (including your competitors).

Outside of major news and tabloid publications, good links come from real businesses.

For example, if you’re a car insurance company, wouldn’t you want a link from Dunlop, Michelin and Goodyear?

If you’re a psychologist, wouldn’t you want a link from a government mental health directory?

If you’re a national car dealership, wouldn’t you want a link from Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai, or Honda?

If you’re a health practitioner, wouldn’t you want a link from Healthline?

And if you’re an ecommerce site, wouldn’t you want a link from each product manufacturer? For example, if you’re an authorized Apple reseller, wouldn’t you want a link from Apple Inc.?

The best type of link you can get is from a direct competitor.



But is it impossible?

3. Recognized blogs.

The third and last bucket of websites you can get a good link from websites that employ in-house writers or freelance journalists.

Backlinks from these sites are good because they have editorial standards and will not link out to anyone who is willing to pay for a guest post.

These include HuffPost, Mashable, Harper’s BAZAAR, Autoblog, Houzz TechCrunch, Smashing Magazine, Gizmodo, Business Insider, Buzzfeed, Forbes, Fast Company, MarketWatch, GQ, Engadget, Men’s Health, RollingStone, Cointelegraph and Entrepreneur.

And because they have writers or journalists, you can come up with relevant newsworthy topics and pitch the individual writers, editors, columnists, or journalists.

Next, you need to assess if the site is a relevant source.

What is a relevant source?

The ideal backlink will come from a page that is relevant to your URL.

For example, a feature article on home improvement tips should link out to home-related services, information and products. The same article linking out to a supplements product page or cryptocurrency exchange makes no sense.

Some websites cover broad topics while some websites cover just one core topic.

Let’s break this down with examples.

1. Evaluating relevance on a website that covers a broad range of topics.

Has the site covered your topic category before?

>> If yes:

  • How much content/coverage has it done before on your topic category?
  • Was it a once-off or do they consistently publish articles about it?
  • Is the topic category linked from their main navigation or is it in a section of the website that is difficult to find?
  • Using Semrush or Ahrefs traffic estimates, does your topic category get many organic visitors?

>> If no, this site isn’t for you (click here to understand how I categorise “bad backlinks”).

2. Evaluating relevance on a website that covers a single core topic.

Is the website’s primary topic category directly related to yours or does it require a bit of a stretch of the imagination?

>> If directly related, proceed!

>> If it requires a bit of creative thinking involved, does the site’s audience overlap with yours?

>> If yes:

  • How can you offer a piece of writing, a quote, or graphic that is adds value to their audience?

>> If no, this site isn’t for you.

What does a natural link look like?

Search engines rely on links to determine reputation (source).

Google is not against links per se but they discourage link schemes and they acknowledge that buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes (click here to read their definition of unnatural links).

A natural link is one that doesn’t seem placed by you (source).

A natural hyperlink is one that references to a supporting piece of content on another website, further reading, or source of original information.

And this is where content marketing led link-building excels. By taking this approach, you can earn multiple links as your story is syndicated by various media publications.

Nofollow links can be good too.

As a final note, some major online publications have a site-wide policy to apply rel=”nofollow” on all external links.

When clicked, a nofollow link will still take the user to your page. And if you’re done your content marketing well, users can navigate to other relevant articles, pages or blog posts.

Nofollow links get a bad rep because they supposedly do not pass on PageRank. But if you’re investing in topical authority, PageRank should not be a measurement of success.

In other words, referral traffic from the relevant sources is a good thing.

Want to learn how to apply SEO like this?

For years I have recommended clients to invest in customer education to showcase their expertise. So watch me practice what I preach by showing you the exact process I deploy for my clients.

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