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Contextual Relevance of Links: Why Does It Matter?

A Link Building Refresher

Link building is the process of securing links back to your website from other sites. The more high-quality backlinks that point to your site, the more likely you are to be rewarded by Google with higher organic rankings and, in turn, inbound search traffic. 

One of the most effective and efficient ways to build links is through a process called Guest Blogging. This gains you authorship as a thought leader on a publication website, which provides a platform to drive referrals to your site through a backlink.

What makes a link valuable?

Not all backlinks are created equal and here are several factors that help determine their quality. Let’s revisit some:

  • Domain Rating (DR) – This metric goes by different names (for example, Moz calls it Domain Authority) but they all refer to the same thing: the overall strength of the site for backlinks.
  • Anchor text – This refers to the hyperlinked text, which Google uses to understand the subject and premise of the destination page–that is, the page on your website to which you want to direct readers. Using anchor text that exactly matches the target keyword in moderation can be helpful, but too much can put your site at risk of a penalty.” (Be sure to check out our blog about anchor text for tips on how much exact matching is too much!) 
  • Contextual relevance – Similar to anchor text, copy and content surrounding it helps reinforce Google’s understanding of the subject matter on the linked page. While the inner workings of Google’s algorithm is a well-protected secret, link context is known to be a strong ranking factor.

The contextual relevance of the post gives Google additional information about the meaning of the link.  

What is contextual relevance?

Also referred to as topicality, contextual relevance gauges the extent to which an article or post, specifically the copy directly surrounding the anchor text, is relevant. While anchor text and keywords in the URL provide helpful clues, they don’t always tell the whole story.

Simply put, context improves our understanding. Let’s use an example from a language arts class.

She couldn’t keep up with the fast pace.

What is this sentence about? A student enrolled in an honors class? A new employee at a rapidly growing startup? 

With additional context (in bold), we have a clearer picture:

She took off her running shoes and sat on the curb. She couldn’t keep up with the fast pace. The lack of sleep was taking its toll. 

Aha! This sentence is about a runner! While this example is simplistic, appropriate context gives us clarity on what we’re reading. 

Why does this matter in SEO?

Google isn’t much different. It turns to the content surrounding a link not just for context, but relevance. This is of even greater importance when anchor text isn’t keyword optimized. For example:

  • Visit butterflyspirit.com for makeup, haircare, and accessories. 
    • Here, the backlink is called a naked URL anchor. Without the surrounding context, it’s safe to say the site is about butterflies; with context, we know it’s a beauty brand. 
  • According to the owner, sales of used gasoline-powered vehicles have never been better.
    • On its own, “according to the owner” tells us little about the topic of the destination page; with context, we can guess it’s an auto dealership.

Conversely, anchor text that is woefully out of context can raise a red flag for Google as a sign of black hat link building:

  • Step Two for DIY movers is to carefully pack and label boxes of your belongings according to room and contents (i.e., KITCHEN: bakeware, dish towels, utensils). And if you need a break from moving, visit basketballbets.com for NBA betting.

In addition to confusing the reader (“What does basketballbets.com have to do with moving?”), the context of the link is about DIY moves, not sports betting. Therefore, this link placement is less valuable for basketballbets.com, especially if their goal is to rank for sports gambling keywords. Fortunately, awkward link placements like these are easy to spot. 

How can you optimize links for contextual relevance?

Links that come in naturally are impossible to optimize, but if you participate in link building efforts, there are some specific things you should keep in mind. Let’s say you have a site that sells Japanese kitchenware. While the narrowness of the niche might feel limiting, there is actually a wide range of opportunities to find relevant placements. You could get links placed in: 

  • An American news article about kitchen supplies
  • A general blog post about cooking
  • A Japanese culture magazine
  • A business blog post discussing supply chain woes of the culinary industry

When writing content for placement, make sure that the article is relevant to your target website and that the anchor text is in appropriate context with the surrounding copy. Above all, your website content must reflect the backlink anchor text to justify the placement of that link. To clarify, if a site that hosts your backlink is understood to be an authority on Japanese cutlery, be sure that your destination page features a significant amount of content about Japanese cutlery that is informative, transactional, or both. (For more on search intent, click here.) 

What matters more: site relevance or page relevance?

Site relevance refers to a website that is devoted to a niche (i.e., “60smusclecars.com”). Page relevance is focused on the niche, but as an element of a broader site (i.e., “60s Muscle Cars” as a top-nav page on “coolvintagecars.com”). Focusing on site relevance is powerful but doing so exclusively can be hard to scale since many niches have limitations. For instance, if 25 sites are competing for rankings in the Japanese kitchenware niche, it is unlikely that your 25 competitors are going to link to you.

That’s why securing backlinks with page relevance is more efficient. When it comes to gaining links from publications, page relevance is more than enough to provide additional value to your backlinks. There are a limited number of relevant sites for any given niche, but the number of relevant pages for your link building is infinite. 

Final Thoughts

Contextual relevance is an important part of link building since it helps Google understand the relevance and ultimate quality of the backlink. When evaluating the quality of your placements, be sure to consider the relevance of the page and surrounding content.

 

 

 

 

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