SEO can feel complex and confusing to beginners who want to rank their website. There are numerous elements to the algorithm, with differing opinions on how to approach each one. Factors like mobile optimization have grown in importance in recent years, while there is a far stricter approach to low-quality content. One factor that remains central to SEO, though, is backlinking. While the way backlinks are considered has changed, the top-ranking pages will almost certainly have links from valuable sites. The following elements can be used to determine whether a backlink should be considered useful for your ranking efforts.

Relevance

Relevancy has become a highly important factor in backlinking. A large number of links from irrelevant sites will look suspicious to Google, so you want to consider relevancy within your backlink profile. Broadly, a relevant link could be contained within content that has a topical relevance to your own. Additionally, though, you can look at the geographical location of a link, particularly if you are targeting local search terms. An effective link profile could feature links ranging from highly relevant to more broadly relevant sites within your niche, with other links coming from authority sites that feature a range of topics.

Authority

The authority of a page and site plays an important role in the effectiveness of the backlink. Authority links carry more weight than less important ones, increasing your chances of ranking. Google used to show authority through its PageRank metric, but this is no longer indicated publicly. Tools like Moz, and Ahrefs carry their own versions, though, so you can get a sense of the authority a page carries. If possible, looking at a number of tools will give a more accurate indication of authority as each company will have its own method of calculation.

Traffic

An added complexity to link building is the additional requirement of traffic. In the past, links could be placed on paid blog networks that weren't receiving any traffic. To counteract this issue, though, Google wants to see real visitors who click the links. When you find a potential link target, check to see if the site is getting visitors; look for blog comments and popular social media platforms, while checking the page ranking for any substantial keywords. SEO tools like Ahrefs can help to perform these tasks quickly and efficiently.

Acquisition Difficulty

How difficult a link is to acquire will play a role in its effectiveness. Unmoderated blog comments, for example, can be used by anyone, including automated comment tools. Even if you are the only current commenter, eventually your competitors and other sites will discover the page. Editorial links, though, require manual addition within the body content, so they are harder to gain. It is important to consider how difficult it will be for others to get the backlink, being cautious of any page that has an open policy to adding a backlink.

Spam Score

Spam Score is a metric used by Moz that compares common features that have led to Google banning sites. The Spam Score is based on 27 elements that Moz identified when studying millions of sites suffering penalties or bans. The metric shouldn't be used in isolation but can be combined with the other core elements that indicate backlink effectiveness. You can look at the Spam Score quickly, showing an initial indication that there may be a problem. If the score is high, there may be some problems that are not immediately obvious.

Indexed

A site might look professional and meet the initial criteria when you analyze an SEO tool. In some cases, though, you can find that a site is not indexed by Google. New sites take time to be indexed, but these sites are unlikely to have any authority yet. Established sites that are not indexed usually have experienced a ban from Google, removing any benefit of acquiring a backlink. The Google search operator site:domain.com will let you know if the site is in the index. There are also free tools that can perform the indexing search in bulk.

Backlinks are a key factor in ranking a page, but not all links are the same. While it is possible to gain a lot of backlinks, they may be of a low-quality, harming your chances of ranking. In some cases, a small number of links that meet the listed criteria can be enough to outrank sites with a greater volume of links. Backlink analysis has become an important SEO factor, with various tools helping to simplify the process. If you want to rank content that maintains a high position long into the future, start looking deeper into the type of backlinks you have, and aim to acquire.