Link Building Metrics: What Makes a Powerful Backlink? | Linkflow
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Link Building Metrics: What Makes a Powerful Backlink?

October 18, 2023

Getting a bunch of Fiverr links for $5 a pop is definitely not the same as purchasing a 10-link/month package from an agency like us.

Yes, the number of links pointing to your site is crucial. Research has shown time and time again sites with a higher total number of backlinks generally perform better on search engines.

But Google looks at every site’s link metrics as part of a complicated equation that determines…

  • how valuable your site is for specific topics.
  • if your linking domains are also valuable for the same (or similar) topics.

So, for link building success, you have to look at more than just the number of referring domains.

In this article, I’ll break down what the most important link building metrics are, where you can find them, and how you can track them.

Page Authority (PA)

Page Authority measures a specific web page’s potential to rank well in Google search results. A high PA means that the page has a lot of quality inbound links and excellent content (among 40+ other things) and is, therefore, more likely to rank well on search engine results pages (SERPs).

This can be a valuable metric to track because it gives you an idea of how popular and influential a page is, which translates directly to the link equity it’ll pass onto your page. It isn’t the most important measure of backlink quality, though.

Since it only shows the authority of a specific page, there’s a chance that:

  • the prospect’s website is spammy, and this one page is an anomaly.
  • the page you’re looking at doesn’t have authority relevant to your niche.

Plus, it only works for content that’s already published. It’s great for finding link insertion opportunities, but you won’t be able to use it to gauge new placement sites (e.g., for guest posts).

Domain Authority (DA)

Sites with lots of high-authority pages will have a high Domain Authority (DA).

Domain Authority is a proprietary metric developed by Moz. It predicts how well a site will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs) on a scale from 1 to 100. The Moz platform calculates DA based on dozens of factors, including the number of incoming/outgoing links, their quality and authority, and the domain’s age.

A high DA score indicates Google trusts your site and considers it a reliable source of information. For link building, your best bet at securing reasonably strong backlinks is to target sites with at least a 50 DA.

Compared to Page Authority, Domain Authority is a much better way to assess the overall quality of links. It considers all of the site’s content and backlinks, so you can use it to vet new placement sites.

You can easily check any site’s Domain Authority using Moz’s free Link Explorer tool.

Domain Rating/Domain Authority

Domain Rating is sometimes confused with Domain Authority. In reality, they’re quite different.

Domain Rating is the famous Ahrefs metric that shows the strength of a website’s link profile. Like Domain Authority, Domain Rating is a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100 that estimates the overall quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to your site.

But, unlike Domain Authority, it isn’t a predictive measure of ranking potential. It’s an objective measure of a domain’s backlink profile. And it’s purely link-based.

This means that…

  • a website only linking to you with nofollow links won’t raise your DR.
  • the first link from a website boosts your DR, but all the ones after won’t.
  • links from higher-DR sites pass more “juice” to the linked page.
  • when the DR of your link’s placement site increases, it might pass those benefits on to you.
  • as linking root domains link to more and more other sites, your DR will probably suffer.

In that sense, DR is closer to the money than DA. Shoot for websites with DR 50+, and you’ll have a good chance of securing a high-quality backlink that’ll boost your site’s authority.

Note: DR is an important metric for vetting a website, but be careful not to focus your link building campaign around raising this number. Google ranks high-quality content that has high-quality backlinks. So, for your own website, focus on those two things and your DR score will increase as a byproduct.

Site and Page Traffic

Like I mentioned above, DR is a link-based metric. It doesn’t account for the website’s search traffic, domain age, or parent brand popularity.

It’s entirely possible for a site to have a high DR with little to no organic traffic (by doing something shady like buying a bunch of low-quality backlinks from PBNs).

When traffic doesn’t add up with DR, you can expect theirs to fall off eventually (and bring yours with it). That’s why you’ll want to keep an eye on the actual traffic when considering it for your link building efforts.

You can use the Ahrefs Site Tracker to look at the organic traffic and performance over time for any web page.

You can also look at a site’s top-performing pages to understand what type of content gets more organic traffic. This is helpful when you’re evaluating the site’s relevance to the page you’re building links to (more on that later).

If you have a Google Search Console account (you should… it’s free), you can start by looking at the site and page traffic of sites that already link to you.

Under the ‘Links’ tab, it’ll show you your top linking sites. Some of these will be high-authority websites that will probably link to you again. 

Cha-ching.

Relevance

For the most part, you want to target niche-relevant backlinks.

Obviously, sites like the New York Times will pass tons of link equity despite being generalists. But the best links will come from relevant sites with high DA and DR scores.

Relevance is important for two main reasons:

  • Google cares about it. When a website links to you, they’re essentially endorsing your site’s content. Google takes this as, “the content on your page is valuable enough for someone in the same industry to reference it in their work.” It’s like having a celebrity endorse your product instantly boosts its credibility.
  • It might get you referral traffic. Direct traffic to your website isn’t the main goal. But, it is a residual benefit of link building campaigns. If someone clicks on a link from a relevant page, they’re much more likely to be interested in what you have to offer. This increases the chances of them converting into a customer or subscriber.

Using Ahrefs, gauging a site’s relevance to your niche is simple.

  • Search the target site for a topic you cover on your page.
  • Click on the ‘Top Pages’ report to see which pages have received the most organic traffic.
  • See their relevance based on their titles, URLs, keyword rankings, and content. You can visit any URL simply by clicking it.

From Site Explorer, you can basically see a site’s entire content map, ranked by performance. And you’ll see it right next to their top keywords. The closer they are to your content topics, the better.

You can also use the Organic Competitors report to find other sites in your niche. Ahrefs will show you the ones with the most traffic and authority. You can use these to go down the rabbit hole. 

Just like your site’s backlink profile is a crucial ranking factor for your own site, you need to look at the link profiles of sites you want links from.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Relevancy is still a big deal. A website can have an amazing backlink profile but still be irrelevant to your niche. Remember, Google cares about relevance.
  • Be wary of toxic backlinks. If a site has a lot of low-quality backlinks (spammy comments, forum profiles, etc.), they’re probably using link schemes to manipulate their DR. Avoid these sites as they can damage your site’s reputation.
  • Don’t be afraid of nofollow links. Ahrefs’ 2019 Links With Traffic study demonstrated a correlation between nofollow links from high-DR websites (e.g., Forbes) and higher search engine rankings, especially compared to higher volumes of spammy dofollow links from obscure websites. Chances are, your link building prospect sites will have some. If they’re from authoritative sites, that’s a positive indicator.

Using Ahrefs’s Backlink Profile feature, you can see the DR, domain traffic, and how many backlinks each page has, sorted by score.

Look at the details:

  • What kind of sites link to it?
  • What content topics/quality do those sites have?
  • What’s their DR score?
  • What volumes of traffic do they get?
  • What does the anchor text look like?

If a website is building backlinks from tons of high-DR sites, that’s a good sign. If, upon clicking on the URLs of their different backlinks, you find obscure sites with tons of random, poorly written content, you’ll want to stay away.

Page’s Keywords Indexed

When you’re building links to your site, you also want to make sure the page your link is placed on has a good chance of ranking.

Ahrefs’ Organic Keywords report shows you the keywords each page ranks for with their search volume, current rankings, and current organic traffic.

As a general rule, I don’t build links to sites/pages that don’t target relevant keywords with at least some traffic potential.

If I’m building links to a page that doesn’t rank for any keywords yet, it’s usually because the content is brand new.

To properly qualify a site:

  • Make sure they generate traffic from organic search.
  • Verify the keywords are similar to the ones you want to rank for.
  • Look at the number of ranking keywords. If they have a high volume with many high-traffic positions (top 20), that’s a good sign.

These are all good indicators that getting links from this site would actually help you.

I also like to use the Content Gap feature to see if there are any topics pertinent to their site’s niche that they don’t cover. That can be an easy link opportunity because you can offer to write a guest post on that topic and link back to your page as a resource.

If the site owner agrees, you get a relevant backlink from an authoritative site!

To Summarize…

When building links, it’s essential to look at a website’s:

  • Organic traffic and performance over time
  • Top-performing pages for insights on what type of content gets more organic traffic
  • Relevancy and authority in your niche
  • Backlink profile for quality, authority, and context
  • Keywords the page ranks for to ensure it has potential to rank with more backlinks

If you don’t want to learn everything about search engine optimization, buy the software subscriptions, or hire an in-house team to manage link building, you could just do what everyone else does: hire a link building agency.

Brittney Fred, SEO Analyst
Brittney has been working in SEO and digital marketing for ten years and specializes in content strategy for the B2B SaaS industry. She is based in Denver, CO and absolutely fits the Denverite stereotype. You’re just as likely to find her hiking, snowboarding, or doing yoga as reading sci-fi or playing video games.