Everybody wants links from high authority websites. This article will go into depth on the reasons why high authority backlinks are important for SEO, and challenge the status quo on how to earn those links.
First, Let’s Explain the Concept of ‘Authority’
When people in SEO talk about a site having ‘authority’, they’re really referring to whether it has a strong reputation as a thought leader in any given industry.
SEO software company Moz created a ranking system called ‘domain authority’, which ranks a website on a scale between 1-100. The higher ranking, the better your domain authority.
For example, Facebook and Amazon have an incredibly high DA score of 96.
Nowadays, the DA ranking system is seen as outdated by many SEOs, who prefer to use the Ahrefs DR (domain rating) system. Again, it’s based on a score between 1-100, but is considered more accurate than Moz domain authority.
If you're looking to improve your DA score, check out this article we wrote - How to increase my domain authority
How Google Judges Link Quality
It’s important to understand that not all backlinks are equal.
Links are a trust signal to Google
Google places more trust on links that come from established websites that have a strong, trustworthy reputation.
This makes perfect sense when you think about it, because Google needs a system to give weighting to links, they can’t treat all inbound links as equal.
If you have a link coming from an editorial article on Vice or Business Insider, that’s going to be considerably more influential than a link from your local barber’s website.
If only link building were this easy...
If you have lots of links from high authority sources, Google is going to inevitably rank your website higher, because the algorithm is being told “This site is trusted be all of these fantastic sources, we should really give them more visibility in our search results, because this is a good website”
How important is DA?
Generally speaking, a higher domain authority or domain rating correlates with better ranking positions in Google.
Having a higher DA score does definitely correspond to generally higher rankings, provided you also have a strong on-page SEO and content strategy.
With that said, there's always outliers in SEO, and although the average top ranking pages are going to be from sites with a higher DA score, there's still plenty of successful websites with a lower DA score, as shown below.
Google is also looking for relevance, which is why it’s important to have lots of links from websites related to your particular industry.
Lastly, there’s a misconception that low authority links are somehow ineffective, or even bad, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Provided the website is a credible source and not a spammy, blackhat type of link, then you’re going to be pushing your site in a positive direction with each new inbound link.
What are High Authority Backlinks Exactly?
High authority backlinks can be defined as links from highly trusted sources.
When is a website considered high authority?
In terms of metrics, any website with a domain authority (DA) of greater than 70 can be considered a high authority website.
However, in some industries the benchmark for a high authority site can be much lower.
For example, a website in the pet industry with a domain authority >55 would often be considered high authority, because there’s a much smaller pool of sites in that space compared to an industry like business or marketing.
Therefore, the average authority of sites in that industry is going to be significantly lower.
Additionally, there are a ton of DA75 websites which are absolute junk. So just because a website has a high DA score, doesn't mean it's good.
Quality over Quantity
Many people in the SEO industry are obsessed with link volume, mainly because studies show that more links equals higher rankings.
For example, we looked at websites in the CRM space, and found that generally speaking, a larger volume of inbound links equates to more search traffic per month.
So we should all just focus on building link volume right?
The main reason being, is that we end up going after a higher volume of mid-range links, and don't reap the incredible rewards that high authority links can provide.
Us SEOs use tools like Ahrefs to figure out the link gap between different pages, and assume that achieving the link gap will lead to success.
Link quantity is important, but I often find that getting caught up on quantity clouds your judgement when it comes to quality.
So yes, use a link gap strategy to cherry pick the best links that your competitors have, but don’t get overly obsessed with link volume alone.
I’d estimate that a single link from a super high authority site >DA 75 is worth more than 5-10 links from a lower authority website (DA 30)
How To Land High Authority Links
Landing real high authority links is incredibly difficult, which is why legitimate link building agencies will charge high fees for the service. I'd recommend exploring the best link building services before deciding upon a strategy to try out.
With that said, we've outlined some of our most popular methods of getting backlinks below.
I don't care what anyone says, this is still the most reliable way to get the most incredible backlinks from incredible websites.
However, when I talk about guest posting for high authority links, I mean an incredibly high quality of content.
For example, a couple of years back we a legitimate guest post on HubSpot (DA 92 website) for our client in the real estate space.
We pitched them some genuinely amazing ideas, and explained what the article would be about. We also used our client's own persona for outreach, so we had a lot of social proof and credibility behind us.
The HubSpot team were supremely well organized and understood the value proposition...
Here's the guest post we landed: https://blog.hubspot.com/sales...
I consider this a fair trade - HubSpot received 100% free content from us, and one of our best writers spent over 10 hours carefully crafting the content, researching sources and putting together images.
That guest post now has over 80 sites linking to it, and it ranks #1 on Google for 'real estate business' and 'starting a real estate business'
To be honest, landing this guest post would easily be worth $10,000.
You just can't actively achieve these links any other way unless you get lucky and a writer decides to cite your source without your knowing.
Why people fail at guest posts…
Where 99% of people guest posting fail is in their approach. They use sloppy outreach and they create generic listicle style content.
We come up with amazing content ideas using keyword analysis, and our content is created by amazing writers. We create a no-brainer proposition for websites, by completing the whole content creation process for them to an insanely high standard.
Of course, in many instances the website is going to respond to you asking for money. If that happens, you'll need to consider whether buying backlinks is the right option for you.
HARO (help a reporter out) is a platform that connects journalists with sources.
Writers from big publications like GQ, Business Insider and Vice are active on the HARO platform.
The process is very simple - Journalists tell people what insights they're looking for, and you email them your insights.
If you're successful, the journalist will mention your comment in their article, and they'll link to your website.
It's a great, scalable way to build lots of good links to your homepage.
For the secrets behind successful HARO campaigns, check out this guide.
Link Exchanges & Swaps
This is a very underrated strategy, and if done correctly it can be incredibly safe.
The idea is very simple - Most established sites will have an SEO team, who understand the value of links. They already understand the value proposition of earning them a link.
Why link exchanges work…
Internal SEO teams and marketing teams understand the value of link building, and generally they’re happy to link out to you provided your website is genuinely relevant and equally as good as theirs. Of course, on the condition that you earn them a link in return.
You can either link to them from your own website, or get them a link from another website - perhaps a site that you're planning a guest post on.
It's a simple transaction that works. Of course, you do need to be smart about it and get creative, because engaging in overt link swap schemes is against Google's rules.
We've talked about link exchange strategy in more detail here, so use this guide if you want to do it in an effective manner.
PR Outreach of Linkable Assets
This is the strategy that everybody idolizes, but is exceptionally difficult in practice.
It's comes under many names and guises - SkyScraper, Data-Driven content, Journalist outreach etc.
But it basically amounts to the same thing - Create an incredible piece of content and show it to the right people. We've developed a methodology to consistently land PR backlinks, but it's tough.
If you want to learn how to succeed, I'd recommend enrolling in Brian Dean's new course - Get Press Every Month.
One trending strategy right now is creating curated reports, which is essentially re-purposing data that already exists, and putting it together in an attractive way.
For example, Fastmetrics put together a list of broadband speeds by country.
They simply use data from other sources on the internet (they mention their sources throughout the article) and the page has hundreds high authority links pointing to it. This is a great example in re-purposing other people's data sources.
For more ideas on linkable assets, I'd recommend this guide from Ahrefs.
Go after evergreen keywords that journalists are searching for
My opinion on PR outreach is that you want to create content which can help you get links on autopilot - So for example, we helped one of our client's create a piece of content around 'Marijuana tax revenue' and launched outreach campaigns to build 6-7 high quality links to the page.
The beautiful thing about this strategy is that if you build a few good links to give the page that initial push, then the rest of the links will come on autopilot. We only actively built a few links, and ended up landing a ton of great links passively because the content started showing up on Google results.
The reason is because these are the types of keywords that journalists and writers are looking for sources on. Journalists LOVE searching for keywords around statistics and data points in any industry.
In another example, Junto Digital released an article a few years ago called 'SEO statistics' - They simply use data from other sources on the internet, and the page has thousands of high authority links pointing to it.
The holy grail of link building is to earn high authority backlinks without lifting a finger, and this strategy helps to achieve that.
What to Avoid
Historically, there’s been a very murky underworld in the link building industry of unscrupulous vendors selling 'high authority' links on sites like the Huffington Post and Forbes magazine, and charging upwards of $2000 for the privilege.
How the Huffington Post rumbled unscrupulous link builders…
In 2016 Huffington Post decided to no-index all contributor articles all articles that haven’t been featured by a Huffington Post editor, which means almost 99% of contributor articles aren’t even visible on Google, and a link from those articles certainly aren’t having any impact whatsoever on your rankings.
Forbes and Inc magazine added nofollow tags to most external links from contributor accounts, much to the chagrin of link sellers on forums like Black Hat World.
The only way you can get dofollow links from those sites is where a legitimate editorial account has published content linking to you.
Another classic example is Buzzstream, where tons of people have contributor accounts. But once again, all of the articles are set to ‘noindex’ which means that even though they have dofollow links within the content, Google has been instructed not to read the content, thus rendering the link useless.
In fact, we found one vendor who’s earned over £40,000 selling useless Buzzstream links to unsuspecting buyers:
Additionally, there’s a ton of sites with exceptionally high DA scores, but all the content is user-generated, like SelfGrowth.com. Most of the content gets no visibility, and Google knows that those sites have a ridiculously high number of outbound links, thus massively reducing the value of those links.
If you're interested in learning more about our processes or talking about link building, please get in touch.