Many people use Google PageRank as a measure of the quality of a link target - usually derived from the little green bar that you see when you download the Google toolbar. This is a mistake.
The score that is shown on the toolbar does not represent the real PageRank that Google assigns to the page. It is notoriously inaccurate almost to the point of being meaningless: it should only be taken as a very rough guide and in my opinion should be marked ‘for amusement only’.
So if the PageRank scores Google shares with us are meaningless, how can we gauge the quality of a potential link target? Here are some suggestions:
1. The target website is somewhere you'd like to be seen
This is an absolute must when looking for link targets. Look for respected sources of information in your industry and it's probably safe to say that it will be regarded as an authority site by Google, and a link from them to your site will be valuable.
2. The target website must be relevant to your business
It's likely to be used by people who would be interested in what you have to offer. That doesn't mean you stick rigidly to sites that are exactly on topic. Look also for sites that are related.
For example, a company that offers data recovery services will want to be seen on technology sites. They may also try to get on to sites whose main focus may be on health management, education or local government but have a section on ‘technology in health management’, ‘technology in education’.
3. The website should be able to drive appropriate traffic
That not only means the same target market as your website, but at the right stage of the buying cycle. As John Alexander shows in Wordtracker Magic, the best time to target recent mothers is not after the baby has been born but before, during pregnancy when the mother is searching the web to find potential names for her child.
4. The website should perform well on Google
The pages upon which your link might sit should be found in the Google index. To find out simply select a unique group of about 6-10 words, put them into the Google search box and enclose them in quotation marks. If the page has been crawled it should come up in the research results.
5. The links must be visible to the search engines
There are some dynamic linking techniques designed to hoard PageRank by not letting the search engine robots follow the links on a page. Such links are valuable only for the traffic that they bring: they will not help your search engine rankings in any way. The most simple of these is the ‘no follow’ tag, agreed by the major search engines to prevent ‘blog spamming’.
6. The website embeds the links in the body copy
This is much better than listing them at the side or bottom of an article. I've found that if another writer links to a site in the body of an article it generates more traffic than from an article that includes a link at the bottom.
7. The page with the links should be near the homepage
Search engine bots are unlikely to go more than three levels deep on any website. Links buried deeper may not be found. When looking for quality links look for websites that provide links as close to the homepage as possible. For those of you designing websites, follow the example of the BBC: their rule is that every piece of content on the BBC News site must be available within three clicks of the News home page.
8. The target website lets you use your own linking text
Webmasters know the value of linking text and they should take the trouble to link to you with meaningful text rather than just your URL.
9. The target website links to specific content
External links to your site, particularly if they are included in editorial should link to a specific resource, not just your homepage.
You are unlikely to find link targets that satisfy all these criteria, but use the list as a checklist and concentrate your link building efforts on those that score highest.