Expert opinions: Varies depending on situation

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Expert opinions: Varies depending on situation

Welcome to the third and final installment of my series on
relevance versus authority, exploring which link has more

To really tease out the argument of relevance versus authority,
I asked industry experts the following question:

“All other metrics being equal, would you rather have a
high-authority link with lower relevance or a highly relevant
link with low authority?”

Part 1
, I shared responses that valued relevance; in

Part 2
, I highlighted responses from those who chose

In this last part, I’ll present responses that discussed
how it varies depending on the unique situation.

Expert opinions: Varies depending on situation

So, here are the respondents who cheated. Just kidding!

As I mentioned before, this is a complicated question with no
real right or wrong answer. These experts spoke to the merits
of both relevance and authority as metrics, explaining how
choosing one over the other can depend on the specific
situation or context.

Generally authority, but depends on situation

These experts explained that they lean toward authority in
general but noted situations where they would pursue a
more relevant low-authority link.

“Relevance is a pretty subjective term. For example, a link
from The New York Times may not be seen as highly relevant (as
the site covers many topics), yet I’d love to get that link. So
in that situation, I’d lean towards authority. But, if the
relevance gap is large — such as getting a link from a
high-authority site where neither the page nor the site are
relevant to my site — I would probably lean towards the
higher relevance. Not a single answer to your question, because
there are a lot of nuances to it!”– Eric Enge, Stone Temple Consulting

“At the end of the day I would value (as a blanket statement)
authority over relevancy.

“Why? A high-authority site tends to have a much broader
‘relevancy umbrella’ anyways, but the value is (or should be)
obvious and immediate to anyone with an SEO background
regardless of the number of themes being covered through the
various categories of a site. Relevancy takes care of itself a
bit as well because as a best practice you shouldn’t approach a
site like this — high-authority site, with broad categories —
without specific intent. This means you know what kinds of
topics and tone are appropriate and the editor or webmaster
will clearly be able to see that and appropriately place your
link (for example, guest articles or a resource) in the
relevant section, or your ask will be rejected for missing the
mark and audience.

“However, let’s come back down to reality, where many clients
are likely never going to be an appropriate fit for the kinds
of sites I am talking about when referencing high authority
(major media, news, entertainment, government and city
sites, etc.). In these cases, do I still value authority over
relevancy, even when I know the authority bar is much lower?
No. In cases like this, target site relevance and topical
relevance are going to trump authority, specifically because
the authority metric will likely not be anything to write home

“Although I would love, just for the sake of conversation, to
draw a hard line in the sand and radically shout a decisive
winner between relevance and authority, it is and always will
be a sliding scale filled with exceptions and nuance —
just like SEO and link building should be. That’s ultimately
why a human element is so essential, because truly great SEO
work takes human thought and critical thinking.” — Amy Merrill, Page One Power

“Right now, I’d generally want the higher-authority link as it
will likely have more impact and be seen by more people.
Traffic and exposure are important, too, and have secondary
impacts. There’s a case to be made for more relevant links
driving more business impact, however, so it just depends. Over
time, I think Google will get better at understanding content
and determining relevancy, possibly by tagging and weighing
different topics within content or for a whole website, then it
will just depend on how they decide to weight the different
factors and it could go either way.” — Patrick Stox,

“It’s more hypothetical, and all else is never equal, but I’ve
seen a discrepancy between what we hope is rewarded more, and
what actually is. In isolation, I’ve seen the
high-authority/low-relevance link have more of an impact than a
high-relevance/low-authority one. The best place to see this,
and where the trade-offs of authority/relevance are most made
on a link-by-link basis, is on the local level.

“But with that said, my approach is to not be going after
high-authority/low-relevance links in any serious volume for a
long-term campaign — higher relevance links are more
“defensible” and are the ones that build more foundational link
profiles. But in the end, it’s never this clear-cut, and any
theoretical debate here may be counterproductive.” —
Jon Cooper, Point Blank SEO

Depends on the content

Much of what you do in link building depends on the content or
assets you are promoting. This can determine which links some
of our experts would pursue.

“This is not a simple question because high authority is a
straightforward quality, but relevance isn’t. Whether you use a
tool such as Ahrefs or a metric such as unique visitors, a
high-authority link equals a number. Relevancy is not as
mathematical; it will depend on the page the link is pointing
out to and the context that surrounds the link.

“If my client is a real estate agent and I’m building links
with a piece of content about TV homes, then real estate sites
will be relevant to the client while entertainment sites will
be relevant to the content.

“Now, I know that your question is about authoritative vs.
niche links. Having that in mind, I will prefer highly relevant
yet lower authority links when working with content that is
niche and close to the client because those are the people who
will actually care enough to take action. However,
high-authority links will be a priority when working with
editorial content that has potential to be featured on big
online media outlets.

“In short, it shouldn’t be an either/or question. Who doesn’t
want to get both?” — Gisele Navarro, NeoMam

Depends on clicks

If everything is truly equal, some experts would lean towards
whichever link would actually get clicks.

“If those are the only metrics I can take, I’d take the
high-authority, low-relevance link. If, however, the relevant
link were lower authority, but sent more direct traffic, I’d
take that one!” — Rand Fishkin,

“This is a tough question to answer. I have seen small sites
get a a few links from non-relevant sites that actually seem to
help with rankings significantly. I would like to answer with a
third option. I would like to get the link that is most likely
to send me referral traffic.

“There are two reasons for this. The first is that I may drive
some business from people who click on that link. But, the
second reason is because of a theory of mine. I really do think
that one of the ways in which Google can feel confident about
devaluing links with Penguin is that they have algorithms that
value links based on how likely they are to be clicked. Now, I
don’t think it’s as black and white as saying that a link that
never gets clicked on will have zero value. Rather, I think
that people clicking on links is just one of the ways in which
Google can determine whether the link is valuable.

“If all things were equal, and both of these links were likely
to get clicks, then I’d choose the link on the authoritative
site even if it weren’t relevant. But, if the link on the less
authoritative site was much more likely to drive traffic, then
I’d take that one.” — Marie Haynes, Marie Haynes Consulting

Pursue relevant links first, then target high-authority links

Some experts indicated that they would of course want both
links but would prioritize highly relevant links first.

“Which link to take, an authority link or a relevant link? Of
course I’d take both! What I wouldn’t do is pursue the
authority link first though. A high-authority link coming from
nowhere to a new site raises a red flag to Google. It looks

“A highly relevant link with low authority is much more likely
to be organic and not built artificially. Thus, I’d favor the
relevant links and seek an occasional authority link while at

“When doing outreach I always go after similar sites and don’t
try to convince huge influencers to link. It takes much longer
and is very often unsuccessful. I can get 10 highly relevant
links while still striving after one authority link.” —
Tadeusz Szewczyk,

Respondent totals

So, who wins the battle of relevance versus authority? Here’s
the breakdown of responses I received:

  • Total respondents whose answer varies depending on the
    situation: 8
  • Total respondents who chose
    : 13
  • Total respondents who chose
    : 8


I didn’t expect to come away with a singular answer, and the
experts I contacted made compelling points for both relevance
and authority.

Relevance got the slight nod, with 13 respondents leaning
toward relevance versus eight who chose authority and eight who
essentially said their answer changes based on the situation.

This is truly a complex question that can be answered in a
variety of ways.

Reading through the great responses, I had some takeaways:

  1. Link building has evolved and become more
    marketing-centric. I noticed that all of the respondents —
    regardless of which side of the debate they fell on — focused
    on how the link would be valuable, from a variety of
  2. The prospect of qualified referral traffic — and potential
    conversions — appeared to be a common benefit experts pointed
    to in favor of relevance.
  3. Many of the experts concluded that links from trusted,
    authoritative sites have the biggest impact on search rankings.
  4. There is no definitive answer one way or the other;
    evaluating link prospects must be done on a case-by-case basis.
    Factors such as competition level, what you’re promoting for
    links, the links you already have in your backlink profile, and
    so on, all play a role in deciding which links to pursue.
  5. We have an awesome, open-minded industry where people are
    willing to take time out of their busy days to answer
    hypothetical questions and debate philosophy, because they are
    invested in fostering an informed community.

Thank you

Finally, I want to thank all the folks who responded to my
question. I know it’s a complex issue, and I appreciate how
candid people were with their thoughts and opinions.

The topic of relevance versus authority remains an integral
part of link building, and I hope this post will continue to
push the debate forward. I’d love to continue the discussion on
Twitter, and you can tweet me here.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a
guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff
authors are listed here.

2017-05-18T16:02:36+00:00 2017 May 18th|Categories: SEO blog|