11 min read

Authority Backlinks: Worth the Effort

Dmytro Sokhach, CEO of Admix Global
Authority Backlinks

Many link builders promise to “help secure authority backlinks for better Google rankings” in their LinkedIn bios. SEO folks glorify the concept of authority.

But are authority links really essential for your SEO success? Should you bother to earn high DA backlinks at all?

We’ve talked to leading SEO experts to find the answers to these and other questions. Here’s what we’ve got.

What is a High Authority Backlink?

When speaking of high-authority backlinks, we refer to links from websites that search engines consider trustworthy.

Simply put, these links serve as a strong indicator to search engines that your website is a credible and trustworthy source of information. As a result, the SEO-driven content you’ll create will rank faster and higher.

I also found that once the site’s backlink profile becomes robust enough, Google’s core algorithm updates stop impacting it nearly as hard as smaller sites. Once you’re big enough, things just get a lot easier.

Max Desiak, Senior SEO Strategist at Takeoff
Max Desiak

Senior SEO Strategist at Takeoff

How ‘Authority’ Is Defined

Authority refers to the perceived trustworthiness, credibility, and expertise of a website or web page on a given subject.

Who determines the criteria for determining authority in SEO?

Search engines, like Google, use authority as a crucial factor in determining the ranking of web pages. In SEO, authority is made up of many factors.

How Authority is defined

Some of them are:

  • Content relevance and freshness
  • Link profile strength and diversity
  • Technical SEO aspects
  • Age and history of the domain
  • UX signals (e.g. bounce rates, time on page, etc.)

There are many more trust signals Google uses to accurately determine the trustworthiness and authority of the website, but the above-mentioned are the most influential ones.

Let's explore why backlinks are given so much weight in discussions about authority, especially when there are numerous other signals used by search engines.

Are Backlinks a Trust Signal to Google?

In short, yes, they are.

It’s becoming more and more challenging to determine which factors Google uses in its ranking algorithms.

What we know for sure is that the concept known as E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) plays a critical role in evaluating the quality of the website and therefore, its likeliness to rank higher in search results.

According to Google’s explanation, links pointing out to the content are a reliable indicator of its relevancy and quality:

After identifying relevant content, our systems aim to prioritize those that seem most helpful. To do this, they identify signals that can help determine which content demonstrates expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

For example, one of several factors we use to help determine this is understanding if other prominent websites link or refer to the content. This has often proven to be a good sign that the information is well trusted.

Backlinks act as a form of third-party validation. When reputable websites link to your content, it signals to Google that your information is relevant and valuable within a specific context or industry.

What's the Significance of DA or DR?

The authority of a website is often measured using metrics such as Domain Authority (DA) or Domain Rating (DR).

None of these are used by Google to determine the authority of the domain.

Both metrics are developed by SEO tools (DA by Moz and DR by Ahrefs) based on the strength of the site’s link profile and some other factors.

For instance, Moz uses a machine learning model to predictively find a correlation between link data and rankings across actual search results. The resulting metric is relative, meaning it's most useful when comparing the authority of different websites on a scale from 0 to 100 rather than providing an absolute measure of authority.

Google doesn’t use third-party metrics for rankings, but these metrics do have utility. For example, DR measures the strength of your link profile. It’s not 100% accurate, but it gives you a rough idea of your authority. This is critical for SEO performance because backlinks are a big piece of the ranking equation. I’d argue that overall site authority is the biggest factor outside of content and UX.

Nathan Gotch, Founder of Gotch SEO Academy
Nathan Gotch

Founder of Gotch SEO Academy

That being said, both DA and DR are helpful when you need to:

  • Compare the strength of your link profile against competitors.
  • Get a grasp of the strength and quality of a website's link profile.
  • Prioritize link-building efforts and allocate budget.
  • Track the impact of your link-building campaigns over time.
  • Assess your website's overall SEO health (only if you don’t try to manipulate authority).

Although not used by search engines like Google for determining rankings, DA and DR provide valuable insights into a website’s potential for search engine performance. These third-party metrics are a good place to start for analyzing the site’s authority.

At What Point Does a Website Achieve High Authority?

High authority is made up of multiple factors, but there’s no clear-cut threshold that determines the point at which a website earns significant authority. Third-party authority metrics usually help to gauge the relative strength of a site's backlink profile.

Generally, we’d say websites with a DR (or DA) of 70 or more are most likely trustworthy.

example of website with 70+ DR

But this rule only works if you analyze established domains in the industry. The problem is that domain authority as a third-party metric can be manipulated.

The key is to get backlinks from websites with high-quality link profiles. This requires manual analysis to qualify opportunities. Don’t qualify link opportunities based on DR or DA alone because these metrics can be easily manipulated.

Nathan Gotch, Founder of Gotch SEO Academy
Nathan Gotch

Founder of Gotch SEO Academy

In my recent experiment, I demonstrated that one can easily grow DR from 0 to 70 with just a bunch of paid backlinks.

Dmytro Sokhach experiment with domain rating

Does a high DR indicate high authority in this case? Obviously, it doesn’t.

Whether you’re building up your own site’s reputation or looking for high-authority sites for link-building, you need to look at a combination of factors:

A holistic DA strategy involves looking beyond links. You should look into organic traffic, site age, and link velocity.

  • Traffic will help you understand how much Google trusts the site. If a site has hundreds of pieces of content but less than 1,000 organic visitors then it’s a sign of low quality.
  • Site age is important and should match the DA. If a domain is new but already has a high DA is a sign that the DA is likely built artificially.
  • Finally is link velocity. There should be a natural growth in links being built due to new content and the content having enough time to be indexed and ranked by Google. Huge spikes in links over a short period is a clear sign the DA was built artificially.
Steven J. Wilson, SEO Specialist and Consultant
Steven J. Wilson

SEO Specialist and Consultant

It’s safe to conclude that a high-authority website is one with a healthy and robust link profile, organic traffic that correlates with its DR or DA, a natural link velocity, and established expertise in the subject.

Prioritizing Relevancy Over Vanity Metrics

While there are plenty of metrics and quality indicators to pay attention to, there’s nothing more important than the relevance of resources pointing out to your website.

When external websites with expertise in a particular subject link to your content, it signals to search engines that your site is a valuable resource in that field.

Authority is definitely a good metric to look out for, but it shouldn’t overlook other vetting criteria such as relevancy. Indeed, authority can be misleading if the site linking to you has very little relevancy in terms of vertical.

For example, ask yourself if it would make sense for a high-authority coffee website to link out to your sales tech website. The answer is obvious.

In contrary, I’d take any day a backlink from a website with a lower DR but with high relevancy to my target website.

Jules Davies, E-Commerce SEO Expert and Founder at Skale Up
Jules Davies

E-Commerce SEO Expert and Founder at Skale Up

We ran a quick experiment to back the point. We googled “why submit 1099” (referring to a form used to report money paid to a non-employee for their services) and checked the search results for the query. Among high DR sites (>80), there were two domains that had neither tons of linking websites nor high DR.

Example of DR in search result

Does it mean Google mistakenly allowed low-authority sites into the search results? Surely not.

The presence of these sites suggests that Google considers factors beyond just DR and the number of backlinks when determining search rankings.

The two law firms didn’t boast strong SEO performance, but their expertise in the topic was evident through the site content and the highly relevant links pointing to their resources.

Strategies for Acquiring High Authority Backlinks

Strategies for acquring high authority backlinks

Well, cherry-picking the most relevant authority links for your site is one thing, but acquiring them is a completely different animal. Here are the most common strategies that you can use to win high-authority backlinks.

Link Swap

Link swap, or link exchange, involves exchanging links with other websites. You simply reach out to a site you’d like to get a link from and ask for it. In return, you offer a reciprocal backlink from your website.

While this strategy can be effective, you need to be careful.

Google considers excessive link exchanges one of the forms of spam and punishes websites involved in it.

To stay safe from Google penalties and scale link-building, you can implement a tweak known as a triangular link scheme, or ABC link exchange.

This involves three parties where A links to B, B links to C, and C links back to A. This triangular arrangement adds a layer of complexity, making the link swap appear less like a straightforward reciprocal exchange and potentially reducing the risk of triggering Google's spam filters.

example of A-B-C link exchanges

The main problem with ABC link swaps? They require a pre-established domain authority to entice potential partners into linking to your site. With a zero DR site, there’s no sense in reaching out to sites like g2.com (DR≥80) because they’ll never respond.

Editorial.Link will get you backlinks from reputable sites regardless of your site’s DR or DA. We cooperate with world-famous companies like podium.com, monday.com, namecheap.com, envato.com, cloudways.com, wordstream.com, and hubspot.com to deliver only high-authority, contextually relevant links to our clients.

Connectively (formerly HARO)

Connectively, better known as HARO (Help a Reporter Out), is a platform connecting journalists with expert sources. Content writers place requests on Connectively to source quotes from subject matter experts and include them in their articles, often on high-authority websites.

Here’s what a typical HARO request looks like:

Example of HARO requests

To regularly receive writers’ requests in your inbox, just sign up for Connectively and specify your area of expertise. From now on, you get access to a large network of journalists who write for Business Insider, Forbes, Databox, Zapier, etc.

Example of HARO links by Editorial.link

There are only two major drawbacks to HARO link building:

  1. You rarely know what media outlet you’re submitting your quote to. Often, writers prefer to remain anonymous, which makes it challenging to select media opportunities.
  2. HARO’s conversion rate is unpredictable. You never know how many comments will get published, and you most likely won’t hear back from the journalist when the article is live.

Guest Posting

Guest posting remains the bulletproof strategy for securing high-authority backlinks. To make it work, you need to find relevant sites that regularly publish informative articles on their blogs and offer to contribute unique content for them.

Some websites, like g2.com, include a page with general guidelines for guest authors, others don’t — but it doesn’t mean they don’t accept guest posts. So don’t hesitate to reach out to every blog on your list.

write for g2

The biggest benefit of guest posting is that you can include multiple links in your content. For instance, if you have link exchange partners, adding their links in your guest post will secure you more reciprocal placements on partners’ sites, thus increasing the project efficiency and ROI.

Also, you almost never have to deal with rejections because your own site’s authority is too low yet.

On the other hand, guest-posting is more resource-intensive than HARO link-building or link swaps. Crafting high-quality, original content requires time, effort, and writing skills (or money to pay for writing services).

PR Backlinks

PR backlinks come from mentions in media outlets. This tactic involves reaching out to editors and asking them to feature your link-worthy content on their websites.

PR link building may come in different forms such as:

  • Link insertions;
  • Press releases;
  • Thought leadership content.

Contrary to link swaps or guest posts, PR link building puts your brand in a more prominent position, often including a story behind the link. A distinct example of PR link-building is when you see study results from a particular brand shared across major media outlets.

example of forbes

Broken Links

Another effective strategy for acquiring high-authority backlinks is broken link building. This method involves identifying broken or dead links on authority websites and reaching out to the site owners to suggest replacing the broken link with a link to your content.

While time-consuming, this approach may appear incredibly rewarding.

The best place to start is looking for your competitors’ broken pages with backlinks. With a website crawler or link analysis tool like Ahrefs, you’ll do it in a few steps:

  1. Sort the site’s pages by the number of inbound links;
  2. Filter for “404 not found” pages.
dead pages on monday.com

Dig deeper to identify sites linking to these dead pages, and you’ve got yourself a list for outreach.

Build Link Bait Content

Meet an almost utopian link-building method — creating link-worthy content.

Why utopian?

Every day, millions of new posts are published, and only a handful of them get traction. If you’ve published high-quality content, but haven’t done anything to make it stand out, you won’t see an influx of inbound links any time soon.

Jakub Rudnik, Director of Content Marketing at ActiveCampaign, has once shared how easy it was to gain links with statistics roundups (one of the most popular types of link bait content) back in 2018:

how easy it was to gain links with statistics roundups

Sounds good, right? Well, let’s read on:

“Of course, this strategy has been replicated over and over again in the last five years. There are literally hundreds of "email marketing statistics" articles that we'd have to compete with at ActiveCampaign. With a 90 DR, we could make it to page 1 for this one, but most companies shouldn't waste their time.”

Instead of publishing another stat roundup and struggling to keep pace with niche giants, Jakub recommends finding a unique angle and exploiting it. And we can’t help but agree.

Producing link bait content is more than writing up another article. It’s a project that requires planning, research, and creation of content nobody (or, let’s be real, almost nobody) has published before. Moreover, if you can’t boast the reputation of G2, you’ll need to do some PR outreach to get the word out.

Red Flags On Authority Backlinks

Authority backlinks undoubtedly have a stronger impact on your profile than links from sites with weaker link profiles. Yet there are red flags to watch out for.

Relying on surface-level metrics like DR or organic traffic without deeper investigation is a major red flag. Shady link vendors buy expired domains, create fake keywords, and artificially inflate organic search traffic. So, on the surface, a link opportunity might look “good,” but it’s just a glorified PBN.

Nathan Gotch, Founder of Gotch SEO Academy
Nathan Gotch

Founder of Gotch SEO Academy

Link opportunities that seem promising based solely on DA or DR may hide shady practices. These third-party metrics are a good place to start, but you should always look into the site’s link profile, traffic numbers, and content they publish before trusting those numbers.

Looking at DR/DA in isolation is highly misleading. If the website barely has any traffic or its traffic is not coming from the countries you're targeting – it's better to skip it. Another thing to look at is the traffic dynamic – you want to see stable growth rather than sharp fluctuations. 

Here's an example of what to avoid – the website has DR 72, but its organic traffic is just 1.1K. It's clear that the DR has been manipulated (see the screenshot).

dr 72, but organic traffic is just 1k

Another example is an abrupt traffic drop, which demonstrates the website wasn’t growing with sustainable strategies (see the screenshot).”

traffic drop

Evelina Milenova, SEO Manager at Opinion Stage

Don’t Confuse Authority for Third-party Metrics

Google indeed uses authority as a trust signal. But third-party metrics, like DA or DR, are just relative indicators that give us a rough numerical representation of a website's potential influence. While they’re helpful in many instances, you should remember they’re also easily manipulated.

Link relevance is a factor fewer people talk about, but it holds a similar weight as authority. When evaluating a site’s potential impact on your link profile, always make sure it not only shows strong SEO performance but is also topically relevant to your own content.

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