Sign up for our daily recaps of the ever-changing search marketing landscape.
Relevance vs. authority: Which link has more value? (Part 2)
In part two of his three-part series on authority versus relevance in link building, columnist Andrew Dennis hears from experts who favor authority.
Welcome to Part 2 of my series on relevance versus authority in link building. In this series, I’m sharing expert opinions from around the SEO industry. The question I asked these experts was:
“All other metrics being equal, would you rather have a high-authority link with lower relevance or a highly relevant link with low authority?”
In Part 1, I shared answers from those who opted for a highly relevant link over a high-authority link. They made some excellent points about the merits of relevance.
However, there were also a fair number of respondents who made a case for authority, which I will share here. This is why I wanted to explore this topic with industry experts — there are valid points to be made on both sides.
Expert opinions: Authority
Without further ado, let’s go through the answers that favored authority.
Authority links impact search more
Some of the experts who chose the high-authority link cited the impact these links can have on search.
“As far as I’ve seen, I’d rather have the high-authority, low-relevance link over the high-relevance, low-authority link, assuming the latter doesn’t have clear additional value that may outweigh the pure link authority (such as an ability to send direct conversions) that may [contribute to] mak[ing] it preferred. Google may change their tune in the future, but as far as I’ve seen, high authority seems to have more punch.” — Ross Hudgens, Siege Media
“Oof, tough question. Definitely a peanut butter-and-chocolate situation, but if I had to choose, most of the time I’d go with the authoritative link. If I’m in a competitive space, it’s going to be tough to rank without authority (regardless of how relevant my other links are). I can make up for some of the relevance issues by optimizing keywords, internal links, etc.” — Paul May, BuzzStream
“Relevance and authority are both important, and when you’re judging the value of a link, it’s almost impossible to think of them separately — I usually think about what the ‘ratio’ is between the two when determining how valuable I assume a link in question will be.
“Still, if I had to choose one, I think I’d go for authority. With a highly authoritative link, you’re relying extremely heavily on your on-page optimization to help a search engine understand what a page should be ranking for — but if you’ve got that down, authoritative links can be a huge help.
“That being said, there’s a point at which a link can be so irrelevant, even if it’s a high-authority link, that you’d have been better served pursuing less authoritative, more relevant links. Again, the ratio between the two should be a big determining factor in your valuation of a link.” — Nash Ricci, Page One Power
“This is a really difficult question to answer. The authority of the link is really important, but so is the relevance of the link. You really need your links to have both authority and relevance. I wouldn’t go out of my way unless both checkboxes are ticked.
“… [I]f the origin page is at least 50/100 on the fictitious relevance scale and has a lot of links behind it, I’d probably opt for that link over a page that hasn’t been linked to much but has 100/100 on the fictitious relevance scale.” — Paul Shapiro, Search Wilderness
“Can I have them both? It obviously depends on what I’m doing, but in general, I’d prefer a link from a high-authority site, even if it’s less relevant. The reason being, I can probably get other lower-authority links much more easily, but a link from a high-authority site may help me from an overall perspective in the long run.” — Casie Gillette, KoMarketing
Larger audiences and more exposure
Some experts also pointed to bigger audiences and greater overall visibility as determining factors for targeting high-authority links.
“What a question. Can we have both? Or option C — more links than just one from varying sources? So option C is my choice. Failing option C existing, I would probably lean toward the higher authority/less relevant for one reason: more eyeballs. I’m going to assume higher authority means a site with more traffic. More traffic equals more eyeballs. More eyeballs equals more chance for links that generate on their own. And more links is better than one. And also more links for less work means more time at the pub.” — Wayne Barker, Boom Online Marketing
“I’m not sure all else can ever be truly equal, but all else being equal, I’d rather have the higher-authority link because it suggests that my content/website has cleared a higher editorial hurdle, and that can mean a greater chance of success getting more links. It also (typically) filters down to additional links from niche sites through the visibility afforded by coverage on a major mainstream/generalist site.” — Will Critchlow, Distilled
Authority links build credibility
Authority links lend credibility to your business and content, presenting your brand as an authority in your niche.
“My selection is: a high-authority link with lower relevance. Let me provide some context for my answer.
“I made this selection due to the human authorities I encounter as part of my work in the academic industry — as a student, researcher and contributing editor of an academic journal. I also represent a professional organization to the US National Science Gateway.
“My point? I encounter TRUE topic authorities as part of my SEO work. These people don’t try to game the web search engines. That is not their concern. Their concern is studying, publishing and updating their knowledge.
“Therefore, their online documents might not be relevant to a search query at a particular point in time. However, when their online documents ARE relevant to a topic? I know where to go. Link builders like Eric Ward and Garrett French know where to go.
“Besides, I don’t believe search engines truly measure authority. They measure popularity.
That concludes all the experts who preferred authority over relevance.
- Total respondents who chose authority: 8
- Total respondents who chose relevance: 13
In Part 3, I’ll share the responses from the experts who felt it varies depending on the specific situation.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.