I was recently asked how to make sure that each link you build (however you do it) remains a safe one — and I have to say that I truly had no idea how to answer that. A few years back, my answer would have been different than it is today. Remember when we all said that any free link was a good link?
Today, things are more tricky. How can you do the best job possible at judging a site that isn’t an authority? And what about those pesky little new sites that are happy to link out but aren’t yet established? How can you tell what the future holds for them? In this post, I’ll focus on analyzing those sites, as this is much trickier than analyzing sites that have a defined presence and backlink profile.
What To Ask When Evaluating A New Site
Is the site indexed in Google and Bing? Do a site:domain.com search in both. If it’s not indexed, check the robots.txt file to make sure it’s not blocking the engines. If there’s no real reason why it’s not indexed and it’s more than a few weeks old, that’s not a good sign.
Does it rank for its brand? Obviously, if the brand name is one that’s very close to another established one, this may take time. But unless they’ve chosen a poor domain, they should be in the top 5 at the very least.
Do they have a blog? If so, do they regularly write good posts? I guess you’d have to define “regularly” here — for some sites, blogging once a month may be the norm, while others might not manage to blog unless they actually have something notable to say, which could be once every few months. If you see a blog link and there aren’t any posts, that’s a bad sign.
Do they have social sharing buttons set up? If they do have a blog, they should make it easy to promote the posts socially. Not having that set up, in my opinion, is a sign that the site won’t be very active socially.
Do they seem active on social sites, or are their profiles stagnant? If there are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn accounts that are all fairly dead, that isn’t good.
Is their content unique, or are they just rewording or scraping someone else’s content? If they can’t be bothered to have a unique voice, how will they compete with everyone else?
Do they have Google authorship set up? Plenty of content creators don’t (and maybe never will), but those who take the time to set it up might enjoy the benefit of having their content rank better when they contribute to a site with a lower quality signal. If you’re a recognized authority and you write a post on a site that has a low PageRank, due to your authorship authority, it should still do well despite the site’s low PageRank. Danny Sullivan has also written that “[b]eing on Google+ alone is a potential ranking boost, one that can sometimes trump all other factors, including links.”
Is there an “About” page? You want to be able to get some actual information about the site. Sites that don’t give you this… do they have something to hide?
Is there contact information of some sort? There should be, even if it’s just an email address or a contact form. You should feel confident that someone’s actually managing the site. Note: I will say that I’ve run across sites that list an invalid email address or have a contact form that is either broken or doesn’t seem to actually work, and it’s been a lack of testing that’s caused those issues, so try multiple routes if you find that one isn’t working properly.
Do they have some sort of analytics set up? Check the source code for this. While I know that not everyone does look at their analytics, most people who want to do something good with their sites will be tracking visits.
Do they have links from any authorities yet? If they’re very new they may not — but if you find a new site and it has some good authority links already, that’s a really good sign.
What type of links do they have? Some new sites may make the mistake of taking shortcuts and trying to get networked links up, or just spam a ton of free directories. If the link profile is already suspect, it might not get any better.
What is the domain’s history? Was it parked for 5 years? Was it previously a porn site? Are there tons of crap links coming to it, or bad sites 301-redirecting in? If the site’s been around for a while, check it in the Wayback Machine to see what it used to be. Was it previously a PR 5 and is now a 1?
Is the site a new player in an exceptionally competitive market? If so, does anything truly set them apart?
Site Evaluation — Some Examples
Let’s take two hypothetical examples.
Example 1: A domain was registered in July 2010 and the site went live within a day or so. As of this date, the site has a homepage PageRank of zero. There are 5 pages indexed in Google. There is a grand total of 1 domain that provides 1 backlink for the site. Majestic metrics show a 0% citation flow and a 0% trust flow. The site is indexed in Google and ranks for its brand, though at number 4.
Here’s what that information tells me: this site is not somewhere I’d want my link. It has very little, if any, value to users as no one is linking to it. It’s been around for three years and should have a higher PR than zero. Five pages indexed tells me that it’s probably a stagnant site that won’t be updated or improved upon.
Example 2: The domain was registered in June 2013 with the site going live almost immediately. The site does not yet have any PageRank but has 150 pages indexed, with new blog posts going up every few days. There are 25 linking domains providing 75 links. The site is indexed, ranks for its brand name and other search terms, and they’re active on Twitter and Facebook. Each post they write tends to generate 10 good comments minimum, with the blog writers responding to comments. Most posts get around 25 tweets on average.
I’d probably want a link on this site, as it would seem that they’re doing all the right things in order to be successful. The lack of PR wouldn’t bother me because they’re so new. Twenty-five linking domains in a few months doesn’t raise any flags with me, but I’d check them out and make sure they weren’t from a network or just from press releases.
There’s really no failproof way to determine what’s going to happen down the road, of course. Some sites may start out doing none of the “right” things only to later see the light and hire someone who get them on track. So, just because they don’t have it together when you first check them out, that doesn’t mean that they won’t later on.
If you do happen upon a site that looks like a good one for your purposes (whether it’s writing for them, partnering with them, asking them for a link, etc.) and it doesn’t yet have much good stuff going on, note it and go back to it later — or heck, offer them some pointers! (That might get you a link faster than anything else.)
Tell them that you’d be much more likely to socialize their content if they had social buttons on each post, or that they might want to start being more active on Pinterest if that’s where their demographic usually hangs out. We use this sort of tactic for broken link building, so why not use it for other things?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.