Backlink Relevance in 2024: Fully Explained

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By Tomislav

Key Takeaways

Definition and Importance: Backlink relevance measures the topical relationship between the referring and referred domains, serving as a crucial factor in SEO due to its significant impact on search rankings.
Degrees of Relevance: Backlinks from least to most valuable:
No relevance: Links between completely unrelated websites.
Sentence-wide relevance: Contextual relevance within a specific part of the content.
Article-wide relevance: General thematic alignment within the entire article.
Site-wide relevance: Broad topical match across the entire domain.
Impact on Local SEO: For local businesses, backlinks from geographically related websites can dramatically boost SEO, regardless of topical relevance.
Strategic Link Building: Prioritize acquiring backlinks that offer the highest topical relevance. Avoid overspending on links from high DR/DA sites with low topical relevance, which often provide diminished SEO benefits.
Common Mistakes: Neglecting backlink relevance and focusing solely on domain strength metrics can lead to ineffective spending in link building campaigns. Opt for relevance over perceived domain strength to maximize ROI.

What is Backlink Relevance and Why is It Important?

Backlink relevance reflects how closely the website hosting the link (referring domain) and the website it points to (referred domain) are topically related.

Google considers backlinks as votes of confidence and uses them, among other factors, to rank content and websites in the SERPs.

However, not all backlinks are created equal.

The topical relationship between the two sites is crucial in determining the usefulness and impact of the backlink for the target site.

The closer the topical alignment between the referring and referred domains, the greater the SEO benefits the backlink will provide.

Thus, backlink relevance is extremely important for SEO.

4 Main Degrees of Backlink Relevance

No two websites are identical, so different backlinks carry varying amounts of SEO benefits or ‘link juice’.

While we don’t know exactly how search engine algorithms score backlink relevance on a scale because that information is proprietary, it’s clear that relevance is a key quality of backlinks.

Given this, we can categorize backlink relevance into four main categories:

  • No relevance – occurs when two websites, including the article containing the link, are completely unrelated (e.g., a desk chair website links to a website on exotic pet care).
  • Sentence-wide (or paragraph-wide) relevance – the two websites aren’t closely related, but the link is contextually relevant within a specific sentence or paragraph (e.g., a desk chair website links to a physiotherapy website after briefly mentioning lower back pain in an article)
  • Article-wide relevance – the topics of the two websites aren’t entirely matching, but the topic of the article containing the link aligns with the website it points to (e.g., a desk chair website dedicates an entire article on quick exercises people can do while sitting down and links to a fitness website).
  • Site-wide relevance – the topics of the two websites reasonably match on a domain-wide level, which doesn’t have to be perfect as perfectly matched sites are often competitors and won’t link to each other. Examples for a desk chair website: office supplies and equipment, home décor, remote work, and home office solutions.

Backlink Relevance and Local SEO

Everything from the last section still applies to local SEO with one additional factor besides the topical relationship between the two sites.

And that factor is location. For a local business, getting backlinks from websites Google associates with the geographical location of the business carries immense SEO benefits.

For example, if your dental office makes a donation to a local charity and they thank you on their website with a link to your website, even though there’s absolutely zero topical similarities between the two websites, the link is very valuable in terms of SEO.

Such backlinks demonstrate to search algorithms that your business is a part of the community it operates in and that people know about it and like it.

So if you have an opportunity to build a backlink for your local business from a website of any kind associated with your geographical location, make an effort to do so. It’s very much worth it.

How Does Backlink Relevance Inform Link Building

Relevant backlinks disproportionately benefit your site, which means you should prioritize acquiring backlinks from most to least relevant.

This also dictates how much you should be willing to spend on each individual backlink if you’re paying for links.

It doesn’t make sense to pay premium prices for links from sites that are low on the topical relevance scale.

Just FYI, buying backlinks is against Google’s guidelines but the ultimate decision is yours.

I’m just here to inform you and hopefully save you some money.

Don’t be blinded by the domain strength metrics (DR or DA).

Links from topically unrelated high DR/DA sites are still considered substantially weaker than links from super topically related sites that are of low DR/DA.

I’d even go as far to say that no amount of DR/DA can overcome the lack of topical relevance, taken to extreme of non-related site vs super-related site.

Of course, you’re not always going to deal with extremes so you’ll definitely run into scenarios where you’ll have to weigh things and make judgement calls.

Common Mistake in Link Building Related to Backlink Relevance

One of the most common mistakes in link building is ignoring backlink relevance and blindly chasing the high DR/DA domains.

It’s almost never worth it paying through your nose for a “strong” high DR/DA backlink if you have the option to go for a “weak” but super-relevant domain for a fraction of the cost.

If you have a limited link building budget, prioritizing your targets can make or break your link building campaign.

Do it poorly, and you might spend a fortune on links that won’t move the needle as much as you need them to.

Don’t get me wrong, high DR/DA sites are great even when they’re only loosely topically related to your website, but links from such websites are hardly ever easily obtainable.

Go for the low hanging fruit first and then when your site gains authority and trust, raise the bar and go for the bigger targets.