The Degrees of Backlink Relevance

When SEOs are taught how to build links, one of the first things that are discussed is that the prospective backlink source needs to be relevant. That is, the website where the link will come from should have a strong contextual relationship to the destination page on your website.

It sounds simple enough in theory: if you’re building links to a website that sells computer hardware, you need to acquire links from another website that talks about the same thing.

In practice, things can get a little more complicated. There’s a tendency for you to keep finding competitor websites where you don’t have a prayer of getting links from. Even when you have a process that helps you filter out competing websites, you’ll eventually hit a saturation point where you’ve acquired links from every relevant website that you can possibly get links from. At which point, you can find yourself at a loss when trying to find new sites to get precious link equity from.

Relevance Isn’t Bipolar

After more than a decade of training link builders, I’ve seen the various pain points that limit their abilities to acquire quality backlinks at a consistent rate. The biggest one is how they view relevance. More often than not, novice link builders view website relevance as a bipolar property. To them, a link prospect website is either relevant or not – and there’s no middle ground.

Of course, this isn’t the case at all. Instead of looking at relevance as a Yes or No question, we encourage our link builders to answer it with “mostly,” “somewhat,” “maybe,” and “a little.” You see, natural linking action is relative, contextual and subjective. Authors can link from one page to another for a wide range of reasons and sometimes, it will be to webpages that don’t seem all that relevant to their core content themes.

This doesn’t mean that the backlink is invalid or is devoid of any ranking value. As a matter of fact, these links can still carry a lot of weight when it comes to helping a webpage rank for its target keywords. For instance, you may run a website that sells bicycles, and you’d be served well to receive links from other bike-oriented sites. However, I highly doubt that you’ll say no if the White House’s website asked if they can link to your home page. Even if the two websites have little in common contextually, the sheer authority of the White House link will inevitably have a positive impact on your rankings.

Degrees of Relevance Visualized

To help people who are new to link building get rid of the bipolar relevance notion and understand relevance as several layers of contextual closeness between topics across websites, we came up with this simple chart. Below, you can see each level of backlink relevance explained and visualized:

Degrees of Backlink Relevance

The layers represent each degree of relevance, with the first degree being the websites that are most contextually related to yours. They’re also the smallest in number and after you’ve exhausted efforts to get links from them, you’ll have to move on to the succeeding layers which tend to have a greater number of applicable link prospects. Relevance tends to diminish as you advance through the layers, though there will be a greater number of websites to prospect and a lot of them will possess greater Domain Authority attributes.

Here’s a brief explanation of each degree of backlink relevance:

  • First Degree. These are websites that focus their content on the same keywords that you’re targeting. Many of them are your competitors, but there will also be neutral sites such as niche blogs that write extensively about narrow topics.
  • Second Degree. The websites in this layer tend to talk about your target keywords a lot, but they don’t exclusively focus on them. Typically, these websites have content categories or sections dedicated to your target keywords, but they also write about other closely related topics.
  • Third Degree. This layer includes websites that do not focus on your target keywords and have no categories about them but they belong to the same general industry. They may have written an article or two in the past about your target keywords, but do not extensively cover them.
  • Fourth Degree. Includes websites that don’t belong in the same industry or topic niche as yours but can publish articles related to its core content theme and your website’s.

To help newer link builders better understand how this would look like in a real world situation, we usually cite the following examples:

For cryptocurrency Link Building


Cryptocurrency example

In this example, you can see that the websites in the first degree of relevance would be other sites that primarily discuss cryptocurrency news, advice, and insights. These would be the most relevant sites if you’re optimizing for crypto-related keywords.

If you run out of link prospects in this space, it’s time to turn your attention to broader finance and fintech-related websites that may have entire content sections dedicated to crypto.

Moving on to the third degree, you have websites about NFTs or non-fungible tokens. While NFTs and crypto are mutually exclusive topics, they’re often associated with each other in the current economic landscape. This makes websites about NFTs still somewhat relevant and valuable for the SEO campaigns of cryptocurrency websites.

In the fourth degree, we have more generalist websites like mommy blogs, personal finance sites, business sites and others that may have never written about crypto, but can comfortably push a crypto-related topic that intersects with their core topics. An example would be for a mommy blog website to post an article like “What Every Mom Needs to Know about Bitcoin.” It’s not too much of a stretch from other mom-related topics and it talks about a crypto-related website’s core content theme.

For a website that sells leggings


Leggings example


The same concept applies to an ecommerce website that sells leggings primarily. The first degree would be razor-thin with just a few websites dedicated to this particular type of apparel. The more you advance, the more generalist the websites will be.

And that’s about it for degrees of relevance. In summary, it would be a big mistake to view link prospects through a bipolar lens. Understanding that there are levels to relevance and that you can extract value from each level will open up more opportunities for you to score more of those all-important link placements.

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