If you want your website to rank higher on search engine results pages then you need to build relevant backlinks.
But what is a relevant backlink and how can you ensure that the links you build meet the criteria?
This article aims to explain all this and more.
What Are Relevant Backlinks?
Relevant backlinks refer to backlinks that are closely related to the content on the websites that link to them.
They are important because search engines consider backlinks when ranking websites on their results pages. The relevance of the backlinks pointing to your website is an important factor in this.
For example, let's say you run a fashion e-commerce website. If you have links from fashion bloggers, then these links will be more valuable in terms of ranking on search engines than links from a tech blogger.
Why Is Link Relevance Important for Ranking on Search Engines?
When you type something into a search engine like Google, it needs to decide which pages are relevant to your search query and provide the right information. It also needs to decide in which order to present the results.
A number of factors go into determining this. One of the most important is how many other websites link to yours.
But it’s also important that those backlinks are high quality. A high quality link is:
✔️Authoritative: It comes from a site that also has lots of high quality links pointing to it.
✔️High traffic: In other words, lots of people visit the site.
✔️Relevant: As mentioned above, the content is about the same or a similar topic.
In other words, the more high quality backlinks you have pointing at your website, the higher it will rank on Google.
To understand why, it helps to consider why content creators link to other websites in the first place. They do so because the content helps their reader in some way.
It might help them prove a point, highlight useful information, or help them buy a recommended product or service.
Search engines use the number of backlinks pointing to a website to help indicate how useful its content is for readers. The more useful it is, the higher it will rank the site in the search results.
Example of a relevant backlink
The article explains how to replicate a look recently made popular by Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown. The article includes links to the different items she wore on the Shein website.
The backlink is relevant because the Elle brand is well-known in the fashion industry and the article talks about Shein’s main product, clothing. This link will almost definitely help the Shein website to rank higher on Google.
Example of a not-so-relevant backlink
Here’s another link to the Shein website. This time it’s on the support forum for code hosting and collaboration platform GitHub.
On the page, the creator of a cloud shipping management platform is communicating with users. Someone from Shein who uses the platform has posted on the page and has included a link to the company’s website.
This website has nothing to do with fashion and nor is the page’s subject matter. It doesn’t help support Shein’s expertise in the industry. It is unlikely to contribute to the retailer's rankings.
Relevant links and Black Hat Link Building
Backlinks have been an important ranking factor on search engines like Google for many years.
However, to begin with, they weren’t sophisticated enough to measure relevance. The number of links your website had was a much more important factor.
This led to lots of website owners building tons of links from irrelevant websites. This would artificially increase their website’s ranking.
Since then, the way search engines measure a website’s backlink profile has become more sophisticated.
💡What is a backlink profile?
A backlink profile is all the links pointing to a website from external sources. The number, quality, and types of backlinks are all important factors to consider when analyzing your backlink profile.
But some link builders and site owners still try to boost their site’s rankings by using a large number of irrelevant links. This is usually the mark of black hat link building techniques.
This is when you build links for the sole purpose of improving your website’s ranking and not to provide useful content for the reader.
Black hat link building usually involves techniques like:
Spamming comments sections with links to your website.
Paying for links on websites that exist solely to sell links—for example, private blog networks (PBNs) or link farms (more on this below).
Hacking websites and adding links to them.
These link building strategies often result in irrelevant links.
For example, link farms are websites that exist for the sole purpose of linking to other websites for profit. They usually publish low quality content and have very little traffic. Critically, they will also accept content from anyone who pays them.
As a result, these websites are almost never relevant to your niche and you’re unlikely to get much of a rankings boost.
But there are several other potentially negative outcomes:
Google might choose to ignore the link so you get zero rankings boost.
Because link farms produce poor quality content, they get little traffic. Google will notice this and over time the link farm’s authority will decrease making links from it less and less valuable.
Google will see that you are using black hat link building techniques and will give your website a manual action—this is when the search engine reduces your rankings (sometimes to zero) for purposefully manipulating search results.
💡What is authority?
In SEO, authority is used to describe websites whose brand is well-recognised and trusted by readers. Search engines tend to rank more authoritative websites higher in their search results. Most SEO tools provide an authority score. This is usually calculated based on a website’s backlink profile. Ahrefs calls this Domain Rating (DR).
Spammy link example
Here’s a good example of a spammy link to fashion, beauty, and lifestyle magazine clothedup.com.
We haven’t linked to it to avoid giving it any credibility. As you can see, the menus are completely unrelated—not to mention seemingly random. The body copy makes no sense and is full of random backlinks.
ClothedUp is a credible and well-respected publication, so we’re unsure how it got a link like this. But needless to say, it won’t be doing its search rankings any good.
Should every backlink be relevant?
As explained above, too many irrelevant links indicate poor link building tactics and negatively impact your website’s rankings.
But it’s not critical for every link to be relevant. In fact, a healthy backlink profile has a mixture of different link types.
For example, your fashion website is likely to have lots of links from people in the fashion industry. But it could also have links from:
Local news sites reporting on you as an entrepreneur.
Technology or marketing websites highlighting interesting tactics you’ve used in growing your business.
Directory sites providing links to your business.
As you can see, it’s perfectly normal to get links from a range of websites.
Links to your website should be viewed on a “sliding scale” with authority and quality. In other words, if a link isn’t relevant then it should have a high authority and if it's not relevant or authoritative then it should at least be high quality.
News sites are a good example. They cover a huge range of topics but are usually viewed as high authority by search engines.
Similarly, a local directory site might cover a range of industries and have low authority, but as long as it has decent content, the link is worth having.
What does a bad backlink profile look like?
A bad link profile is usually imbalanced or includes too many links from low-quality sites.
What are low-quality links
Low-quality links are usually irrelevant. They typically come from casino websites, porn sites, crypto websites and other sites associated with spam. Or, as mentioned earlier, they might be from PBNs and link farms.
This is usually because the website owner is using black hat link building strategies to boost their website’s backlink profile artificially.
What is an imbalanced link profile?
An imbalanced link profile occurs when you have too many of a certain type of link. A good link profile consists of a variety of high authority and low authority links.
Some will be highly relevant, a few will be less so. They will come from a broad range of different websites.
What Makes a Link Relevant?
Now that you understand what link relevance is and why it is important, we’ll explain what a relevant link looks like.
Search engines consider four main factors:
The main way Google identifies relevance is through the keywords in your content and that of the website that links to you.
If we use our fashion website as an example again, relevant keywords might include:
Product categories like shoes, hats, dresses, and jeans.
Descriptive words like season, fit, and measurements.
The names of well-known designers or companies.
These keywords show search engines that your content is about the same subject.
Your location isn’t always important—but it is a factor if the services you provide are relevant to a certain area.
A good example is if you provide a service like plumbing. It’s likely you’ll only want to get work from your local area. In which case, it’s important to get links from websites associated with that area.
Link relevance isn’t just for your website. It’s also important for the sites that link to you. The websites that link to your site should also have healthy, balanced link profiles full of relevant and authoritative links.
Anchor text and surrounding context
The text used in the link itself is called anchor text. This and the surrounding text is important for link relevance.
The text you use should not only be relevant to your website but also the content of the page it links to.
Here’s another good example from Visit California. This article on travelandleisure.com lists 12 best places to go in August. Malibu is number one on the list and it links to Visit California’s article on the city.
The anchor text just says “Malibu” but the surrounding description is rich with keywords that will be similar to those on Visit California’s page.
How to Get Relevant Backlinks for Your Website
Now you should have a really clear idea of what relevant backlinks are and why they’re important.
This section provides step-by-step guidance on how to earn relevant backlinks.
1) Review your backlink profile
Getting an overview of your backlink profile can be difficult. Various SEO tools will give you an overview but none of them are comprehensive.
Here are two places you can look:
Google Search Console
Connecting your website to Google Search Console allows you to collect search data and website analytics.
Click on the links tab to see all the sites that link to your website and which pages they point to.
Take a look at them, including clicking through to the linking web page. Use the criteria mentioned earlier in this article and decide how relevant and authoritative they are and judge their quality level.
Pros and cons of Google Search Console
Google Search Console gives you very reliable information. But it only records data from Google and not other search engines like Bing.
It also doesn’t provide a score to measure a website’s authoritativeness. It only tells you the number of backlinks you have and which websites they are from.
Ahrefs is an SEO tool. One of the many things you can use it for is to review your backlink profile. It doesn’t provide a specific capability for checking relevance but it does provide a lot of information that allows you to check them manually yourself.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for how:
1. First, sign up for Ahrefs and plug in your website. Then choose backlinks from the left-hand menu.
Domain Rating: This is Ahrefs authority measurement. It is calculated based on the quality and size of the domain’s link profile.
Number of linking domains
Anchor text and target URL
3. Click on the categories at the top to reorder the list. Take a look and get a feel for the balance of your link profile.
4. You can also type words or phrases relevant to your niche into the bar at the top and choose whether to search for these in the domain name, URL, anchor and surrounding text, and more. This is useful for finding which websites contain relevant keywords.
You can also do it to find websites that exclude certain key phrases. Do this by clicking on the phrase and selecting “doesn’t contain” from the drop-down menu.
2) Find opportunities for relevant backlinks
Now you’ve reviewed your backlink profile and seen what types of links it needs for improvement, it’s time to identify websites to contact in order to build relevant, high quality links.
Here are three ways to find opportunities for relevant backlinks:
1. Use Google
The easiest (and cheapest) way to find opportunities for relevant links is to use search operators in Google. These are types of queries that allow you to find certain types of results quicker.
Some useful examples include:
Intitle: [keyword] — Searches Google for web pages with your keyword in the title.
Intext: [keyword] — Searches Google for web pages with your keyword in the on-page text.
Site: [website] [keyword] — Searches a specific website for the keyword.
Using speech marks allows you to search for precise key terms.
This Ahrefs article provides a full list of search operators, including how to use them.
For example, let's say you sell men’s wedding suits. Typing intitle:“mens wedding shoes” brings up a list of relevant pages. Most are e-commerce websites selling wedding shoes. But the result on page two is a roundup of the best men’s wedding shoes. You could ask the website owners to link the article to one of your products.
2. Use Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
You can also use Ahrefs to discover websites that publish content relevant to your website. Here’s how:
1. Click on content explorer at the top of the page
2. Search for a relevant keyword.
3. Choose websites based on your link building strategy. For example, you may wish to target websites whose DR isn’t unrealistically high but also not so low that it isn’t worth it.
4. Once you are happy with the sites you have found, export them to a .CSV file ready for outreach.
3. Use Ahrefs' competitor backlinks
This is when you identify websites that already link to sites like yours. One way to do this is by using Ahrefs’ keywords explorer tool.
1. Click on the Keywords Explorer tab in the Ahrefs toolbar.
2. Type in your keyword and click on the search icon.
3. Look for the page with the most links and click on the number under “Domains”.
4. This will bring up all the domains that link to that page.
5. Once again, you can filter this page based on your link building strategy and download a .CSV file for outreach.
4. Use Ahrefs’ Link Intersect tool
This is another Ahrefs tool for finding relevant backlink opportunities. It allows you to automatically sift through all of the links that a competitor’s website has but yours doesn’t.
Here’s how to use it:
Click Link Intersect in the menu.
Type in each competitor website you want to scan for backlink opportunities.
Add your own website where it says, “but doesn’t link to” and click “show link opportunities”.
Ahrefs will bring up a list of websites that link to your competitors but not you.
Once you have a list of relevant websites to build links from, it’s time to perform outreach. This is a critical step that involves contacting the website owner or editor and asking them to link to your website.
Many link builders get this stage wrong. That’s because it’s easy to send out a generic mass email to every website on your list asking for a link.
The problem is, most webmasters are inundated with these requests. Send a generic outreach message, and you will either be ignored or you’ll be sent an extortionate quote for the link.
Good outreach is all about relationships and offering value. It’s important that the webmaster wants to link to your website.
Doing your research: Research the website, the owners, and the webmaster to understand who you should contact and what content they might be interested in.
Writing a hyper-personalized email: Use the webmaster’s name in the subject line and ask a question. Make a partnership with you sound enticing and offer something for them in return.
Building a relationship: Don’t ask the webmaster for a link straight away. Find another reason to connect with them and build rapport.
Pitching a compelling new idea: Eventually, pitch an idea for content for their website. Make sure it is original and valuable for their readers.
Following up: The webmaster you contact may receive hundreds of emails every day and may have missed your email. If they don’t respond within a few days, send a friendly follow-up email. If they don’t respond to this, then assume they are not interested.
3 Types of Relevant Backlinks
There are many types of backlinks that you can build. But it’s sometimes difficult to ensure they are both valuable and relevant. Here are three types of backlinks that you can control where they are placed and the type of content used.
Sometimes known as niche insertions, this is when you search for websites with content relevant to yours but that don’t link to anything yet.
They are a great way to build relevant, high authority links. However, webmasters will usually ask for payment, unless you have built a strong relationship with them.
Here are some tips for getting niche edits right:
Find pages with many links: As mentioned earlier, you can use Ahrefs to find pages with a lot of links. If a page already has a lot of links, then it suggests others have built links from it. It’s worth asking if they will accept a link insertion from you too.
Always negotiate price: Webmasters will often try to charge you more than what a link is worth. As a rule of thumb, we recommend offering them 50% of what they request. Think about anchor text: Make sure the anchor text and surrounding text is relevant to your site and the content being linked to. Don’t be afraid to insist that the webmaster phrase it how you want it—especially if you have paid for it.
Consider broken link building: Broken link building is similar to niche edits, except you look for links where the target page has been taken down. These broken links are a problem for the site owner because they affect the quality of their content and can also impact their rankings.
You can do this easily using Ahrefs. Here’s how:
Go to site explorer and type in the competitor's website.
Choose broken backlinks, and you’ll be presented with a list of broken backlinks pointing to that site.
Find websites that you think will accept a request from you.
Contact the website owner and tell them that you were reading their website, and you came across a broken link. Tell them that you are writing a similar article and that they could link to you instead if they want to.
Create your own version of the content and let the webmaster know when it is ready.
Guest posting is when you publish an article on another website and include a link to your content.
If done correctly, it benefits both parties. You get relevant backlinks and the websites you write for get free content.
Relevance is an important factor when choosing which websites to target with guest posts.
For example, here’s a guest post we published on Pitchbox.com. Pitchbox is link building software so it’s hugely relevant to us.
But it would still be relevant if we were published on Hubspot’s marketing blog. That’s because
Link building is part of SEO.
SEO is part of digital marketing.
Digital marketing is a cornerstone of your wider marketing strategy.
Help a Reporter Out (HARO)
HARO is a free service that connects journalists and content creators with experts who can answer their questions.
If the journalist likes your answer then they will publish your response and link to your website.
Sign up to HARO and you’ll receive emails several times a day with lists of questions.
Relevance is key to successful HARO link building. The reason journalists use the service is they want to add credibility or expert insight to their content.
This means they are only likely to publish responses from those people who have relevant expertise or experience.
It’s therefore a good idea to focus on answering questions that you know you are an expert in.
Here’s an example of a HARO request:
Notice the query mentions B2B marketing several times. That means that if you run a fashion e-commerce business then it’s probably not a good idea to respond.
Even if you did respond and (somehow) got published, the link you get would be low-value as it has nothing to do with the fashion industry.
Here’s an example of a mention we got on a marketing news website, probably from a HARO request. The website and article subject is digital marketing, so it’s relevant and the website’s DR is 77—so it’s a decent link.
3 Tips to Get Relevant Backlinks
Here are a few things to bear in mind when building relevant backlinks:
Do your research
Always research the sites you target in link building campaigns to ensure that they are relevant to your industry.
Try to avoid sites that cover a wide variety of topics. Not only will these sites provide less valuable links, but they are often the mark of link farms or PBNs.
Look out for sites that have generic, unrelated topics like business, technology, and crypto.
As mentioned earlier, a website’s authority is also important. But this can be manipulated, and many link farms have a high DR. Check the website’s traffic—if it seems low for the authority level, the chances are it is a link farm.
Create great content
Relevant links help your website rank higher because search engines think readers will find your content useful.
When you are planning and creating content for your link building campaigns, it’s important to consider:
Who will be reading it.
What interests them.
What format they will find most compelling or digestible.
If your content isn’t genuinely useful for your audience, then you probably won’t see much of a rankings boost and any you do get will be short term.
Great quality, relevant content, on the other hand, will not only boost your rankings, but will engage readers. This improves your website’s organic traffic and increases your brand value.
Plus, if your content attracts lots of traffic to the linking website, then they are more likely to partner with you again in the future.
Here’s a great example of content we created for our clients, the Accounting Institute for Success. It’s an infographic and blog post explaining the history of Donald Trump’s tax fraud.
We heavily researched the subject and employed professional writers and graphic designers for the campaign. At one point, this page was getting more than 3,000 monthly visitors and peaked at 139 referring domains—these include big names like Mashable, AOL, and Techdirt.
Avoid targeting competitor sites
The companies you have most in common with are probably your competitors. This means that these businesses’ websites will be most relevant to yours.
However, you shouldn’t build links with these websites. The main reason why is the same reason why you don’t market your business on any competitor websites—it dilutes your offering and confuses your readers.
But when it comes to link building, you and your competitors probably want to rank for the same keywords. By providing them with content about these subjects you are helping them to rank, removing any boost that you might get from the link.
Conclusion: Relevance Is the Core of White Hat Link Building
Building relevant links is critical for a healthy link profile. But it shouldn’t be difficult if you are using a good quality white hat link building strategy.
This involves writing original content that your audience will find useful and that you have genuine expertise in. This content needs to be published on websites relevant to your industry.
However, building these links is time-consuming and may feel overwhelming to some. That’s where we come in. At Linkbuilder, we’re experts in planning and implementing link building strategies that deliver relevant, high quality backlinks that help your site rank higher on Google.
Get in touch to find out what we can do for your site.