Forget PageRank: A Link Metrics Checklist for 2013 (and Beyond)

It’s one of the most common questions that I get from clients and Backlinko readers:

“How do I know if a link is going to make a difference in my search traffic?”

In my experience, PageRank is one of the worst ways to figure that out.


  • Easily gamed
  • Only updated a few times per year
  • Only measures authority
  • Doesn’t indicate the relevancy of the site or page

The only reason I use PR at all is because it’s one of the only metrics to come straight from Big G. For that reason I don’t discount it altogether.

But it needs to be used in conjunction with other link metrics, like trust, branding, and referral traffic potential.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to go over today 🙂

Quick note: for this checklist we’re assuming that the site you’re vetting is relevant to yours. If it’s not, you probably don’t want to spend a lot of resources chasing that link (even if it’s somewhat authoritative).

Trust Metrics

In my opinion the Google algorithm boils down to this:

Authority + Trust + Relevance = Rankings

Yes, they use over 200 ranking signals to figure out these 3 things. But they’re all in place to determine authority, trust, and relevancy.

And if you’re working day and night to build authoritative backlinks, you may want to take a step back and start paying more attention to trust metrics.

While not a perfect science (only Google knows how trust is actually calculated), Moz has a pretty nice visualization of how it probably works:


Basically, the web has a number of hand-curated “seed” sites. These include government and educational institutions, highly-respected news sites, and Google itself.

Because of their tough editorial standards, these sites don’t link to anyone that asks. Because of that, getting links from these highly-trusted seed sites pass TrustRank directly to your site (not unlike how PageRank flows via links).

Even if you’re not able to get links from the seed sites themselves, getting links from sites “1 link away” also passes some trust onto your site.

But the farther away you get from the seed sites, the lower a site’s trust. According to Moz, sites with trust AND authority rank better than sites with authority alone.

You can check a site’s trust metrics in a few seconds using the TrustFlow inside of Majestic SEO’s site explorer:


Or using Open Site Explorer (called MozTrust):


If you want to learn more about the trust element in SEO, I go over TrustRank in quite a bit of detail in this post.

Brand Signals

This is a little more subjective than trust, but I think it’s something that Google cares about…which means you should as well.

Also, a strongly branded site typically has very engaged readers. In my experience highly engaged readership tends to send serious referral traffic through your link (a nice bonus!).

Here are a few brand signals that I pay attention to when vetting a potential link target:

  • Social Media Followers: Are these people active on Twitter, Facebook and Google+? How many followers do they have?
  • Blog Comments: Do people actually interact with the site’s content? You’d be surprised how many authoritative sites lack comments.
  • Social Signals: Do people share their content on social media?
  • Offline Presence: Are they a brand name your mom would recognize?

Domain Authority

Although Moz has officially claimed this metric as their own, I tend to look at Domain Authority as general metrics to figure out how much value my link will bring me.

After all, in the case of most editorial links, you’re not sure about the page level PR or Page Authority. So you have to make a best-guess estimate using the domain’s authority.

In addition to checking Moz’s DA using OSE:

Domain Authority

You should also spot-check some of the already-published for PA and (yes) PageRank. That way you can get a feel for what type of authority your linking page is going to have.

Subjective Look and Feel

I know that SEOs love objective data (after all, that’s how Google algo ranks sites). But sometimes it makes sense to pretend that you know nothing about SEO…and act like you’re just another visitor.

I find that in 2 seconds I can tell whether or not a site is worth working to get a link from.

It’s hard to put your finger on it, but it’s just a feeling that you get from shady sites. The sense that this isn’t a trustworthy resource, like this:

Shady Looking Site

In my experience most shady looking sites have the link profile to match. After all, who’s going to naturally link to a site about a Clickbank product with a free WordPress theme?

Link Profile

Whether you use PR, PA, DA or LDRs, you’re running the risk of getting a link from a shady domain.


Because spammy sites can sometimes have AMAZING metrics.

For example, here’s the ahrefs report from a site from the payday loan niche:

67,000 links from 2,700 domains. On the surface this looks like a stellar link target.

But when you dig deeper, you can see that almost all of these links are from low-quality blog networks:

Blog Network Links

If you’re going to put a lot of work into getting a link, take a glance at the link profile, to see whether or not it’s legit.

Closing Thoughts

One thing to keep in mind is that for most white hat link building strategies — like broken link building — you don’t want to spend too much time on your link analysis. After all, that’s time you could spend sending emails and getting links!

But for long-term strategies — like guest blogging or relationship-building — this is a valuable exercise. It takes a bit more time up-front, but you’ll spend your precious time on sites that are actually going to bring you more organic traffic.

And isn’t that what SEO is all about?

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Brian Dean

Brian is a professional SEO consultant who contributes regularly to some of the top SEO sites on the web, including Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Guide.

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3 thoughts on “Forget PageRank: A Link Metrics Checklist for 2013 (and Beyond)”

  1. Great post Brian. In regards to further analyzing potential link profiles post Penguin, it’s important as you said not just to rely on PR, DA, PA, etc. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is to assume that just because a site has a certain link (say for example a
    site-wide anchor text link in a sidebar) that’s the reason they rank for
    something. Often times sites rank despite certain links in their profile and
    not because of it. As you know sites that have a higher level of trust can “get away” with
    a lot more than those sites that haven’t earned Google’s trust so it’s
    important to consider other factors like:

    Location of links, are they in footers, sidebars or body content? Links in body content look more natural and are (in most cases) the safest ones to build.

    How many links are on the page where you want a link from? Are they on a page that has a ton of other links on the page?

    Referring IPs, are most the links coming from one IP or same C block or are they diversified?

    Anchor Text being used (what works for one site could trigger a filter and a penalty in another)

    Does the page you want a link from rank well in Google? If it’s a competitive term, then it has trust and you want a link from that page. If it’s a non-competitive search (such as a branded term) and it’s in the the title tag and it still doesn’t rank for the keywords in the title….you probably should stay away from getting a link there.

    1. Thanks for your insights, Mike. I totally agree with what you’re saying; it’s impossible to flesh out causation from correlation in SEO.

      And as you mentioned, there are so many factors that go into evaluating a link that it’s impossible to really make heads or tails from it. That’s why I prefer to keep it simple and focus on the metrics that I discus in the article.

      That way I don’t spend too much time analyzing every link/site/anchor text etc.

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