Relevance, Trust, or Authority: Which Is More Important in a Link Building Campaign?

By: Tabitha Wilson

If you’ve spent any time within the SEO community, you’re likely well-acquainted with the three foundational pillars of effective SEO: authority, relevance, and trust. These three pillars form the bedrock of any successful SEO strategy, and creating a website that harmonizes all three is as much an art as it is a science.

In spite of, or maybe due to this, there is a lot of debate among SEOs about which metric matters most to the Google algorithm and which one should be the center of your link building strategy (feel free to argue about this in the comments section – I’ll be there!). While all three are essential, each serves a different purpose and has different advantages for your website. 

It’s tempting to argue that any one of these metrics could claim the title of the “most crucial” aspect of SEO. Yet, at Resolve, we stand firm in our belief: relevance reigns supreme when it comes to link building. While authority and trust are undoubtedly important, no backlink strategy can thrive without making relevance its focal point.

In this article, I’ll dive into why relevance must be central to your link building strategy. When you have a killer link-building strategy at your disposal, authority and trust will follow. 

What Google’s Algorithm Has Preferred in the Past

There are only three sure things in life: death, taxes, and Google changing its search algorithm.

As Google continues to optimize its search function and determine the best ways to match content to search queries, different aspects of web development are weighted differently. Google is notably opaque about its updates and how they weigh different metrics, but as SEOs, we’ve noticed some patterns.

Throughout its life, Google has consistently tailored its search algorithm to cater to user experience. After all, SEO is a human endeavor – you have to remember how people interact with search engines and what kind of content they want to find.

One of the first major updates was Panda in 2011. This update was meant to combat low-quality content and made many black hat SEO techniques obsolete, such as keyword stuffing, “invisible backlinks,” and low-quality keyword-stuffed content that added nothing to the conversation. This update adjusted the algorithm to focus more on authority and quality and weed out the “content farms” unfairly gaming the system. 

The next relevant update was in 2013, with the Hummingbird update. This one focused on how the search algorithm understands and categorizes search queries. At this point, Google began implementing Natural Language Processing (NLP) AI programs to better understand search queries – especially long-tail keywords. 

If you’ve been around a while, you probably remember how Hummingbird shook up the SEO world. Optimizers everywhere had to adjust their strategy to create content that better matched what their audiences were searching for. This update is a large part of why we believe relevance is so important – if your content is irrelevant to the queries Google receives, it will not be seen! 

The follow-ups to Hummingbird, RankBrain, and BERT, each fine-tuned the algorithm’s AI to understand and match queries to content consistently. Google’s continued dedication to understanding its users’ intent and queries proves that the algorithm prioritizes relevance above all. 

What is Authority in SEO?

We think that relevance is slightly more important than authority. But that doesn’t mean authority doesn’t matter – it’s still vital to successful SEO! 

In this context, authority refers to a website’s perceived expertise, influence, and credibility within its niche or industry. It’s the digital reputation that your website accrues over time through quality content, backlinks, and user engagement. Just as relevance focuses on the alignment between content and user queries, authority emphasizes a site’s ability to serve as a trusted source of information in a particular field.

Panda was a heavily authority-focused update; there have been many others since. Google determines your authority based on your backlink portfolio, “link neighborhood,” and internal link structure. However, Google’s authority ranking system analyzes your website based on 200 unique points, so measuring your site’s authority is a detailed and involved process.

Raising Your Authority

Elevating your website’s authority in SEO involves implementing various strategic approaches. One common strategy is producing high-quality, informative, and authoritative content that positions you as an expert in your field. This content not only attracts and engages your audience but also encourages other websites to link to your valuable resources, thereby boosting your backlink profile—a critical authority signal. 

Collaborating with industry influencers and thought leaders can also enhance your authority by association. Optimizing on-page elements, ensuring a seamless user experience, and consistently delivering up-to-date and accurate information contribute to establishing your website as a trusted source. Ultimately, building authority in SEO is an ongoing process that combines content excellence, user satisfaction, and vital networking to solidify your position as a respected voice in your niche.

DA vs. DR

There are two main ways to represent a website’s authority: Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) and Ahrefs’ Domain Rating (DR). Every SEO has a personal favorite, but both ranking systems have pros and cons. Both programs synthesize data they scrape from your site to assign them an authority metric – but how they determine this number is very different. 

Ahrefs determines your DR based almost entirely on your website’s backlink portfolio. The quality and quantity of your backlinks are analyzed to determine whether or not other internet users seem to trust your website. Ahrefs measures how many links you have to your sites, but also measures the quality of the sites linking back to you. This means that if you’e trying to raise your DR, going for a few high-quality links may be a better strategy than just taking whatever backlinks you can get. 

One important thing to note is that Ahrefs does not factor no-follow links into your backlink portfolio, so your DR may be significantly lower than your DA if many of your backlinks have been marked no-follow. 

By contrast, Moz analyzes your backlink portfolio but also considers other factors like your existing content, traffic, and website’s potential to rise in the SERPs While DR is an indication of the links that have already been built to your website, DA is an indication of how well your site can do on any given Google page. This means that Moz analyzes your site more holistically, and gives you an idea of your site’s authority compared to other websites in your niche. 

Both of these scores are logarithmic, meaning it gets harder to raise your score the higher you go. Going from 0-25 DA or DR is a breeze, but you’ll have to claw and fight your way up from 75 to 80. This is why having a robust and detailed SEO strategy is crucial to maintaining your site’s authority. 

At Resolve, we use both of these measurement systems in tandem with one another; we believe that looking at a site’s authority from all angles is essential to determining your best SEO strategy.

What is Relevance in SEO?

At its core, relevance in SEO is understanding what your audience is searching for and cares about. If, for example, you run a business that sells fair-trade hand-dyed wool yarn, most of your content should be related to yarn, wool, knitting, crocheting, and other fiber arts. These are the terms that your intended audience is likely to search for and the kind of content they are likely to click on and keep reading. 

Relevance is essential to the user experience because, well, what’s the purpose of a search engine that gives you results irrelevant to your query? By ensuring that search results align with user queries, relevance reduces search frustration, enabling users to find the information they seek quickly. This efficiency saves time, boosts engagement, and reduces bounce rates, as users are more likely to stay and interact with content that meets their expectations.

Moreover, relevance contributes to user trust and loyalty as users return to websites that provide valuable content. Suppose you consistently pose yourself as an expert on fair-trade hand-dyed wool yarn and produce helpful and relevant content. In that case, users will continue to turn to your site as a valuable and reputable resource. 

At Resolve, we take a relevance-first approach to content creation, as we know that highly relevant content is essential to a successful link building campaign. We do extensive keyword and demographic research before drafting an outline to ensure that the pieces we craft will be read and linked to! If you want to see the fruits of our labor, check out these SEO case studies of past satisfied clients and let the numbers speak for themselves. 

Why Relevance Takes Center Stage

You can be the most highly respected authority on your subject in the world. But that won’t matter if people aren’t searching for the things you’re talking about. Here’s why we believe that relevance outweighs authority, especially in today’s SEO landscape.

When your content directly addresses your target demographic’s questions, challenges, or interests, you’re doing more than just exchanging information with the reader. You’re teaching them something, enriching their lives in some way, or answering a question they searched for. 

Users are naturally drawn to content that is pertinent to their daily lives or professional interests, resulting in extended on-site dwell times and reduced bounce rates. This heightened engagement augments your website’s SEO metrics and opens the gateway to increased conversions and a devoted following.

But relevance is even more critical when you are running a link building campaign because having backlinks on other websites increases your reach to an incredible degree – as long as they are relevant sites. When your content and links are published on another blog, you gain their established audience as well as your own. With all the labor required to build links successfully, you want to know that their readers will be more likely to become part of your marketing funnel

But What About Trust?

As Vanessa Hudgens croons in the kids-pop classic “Gotta Go My Own Way” from High School Musical 2, “What about trust?” 

While many SEOs posit trust as a separate pillar from authority and relevance, trust is a natural consequence of having high authority and good, relevant links. Like in our interpersonal relationships, trust is earned from users – if you have little to no authority and your content is irrelevant to users’ needs, you won’t generate trust. However, you can do a few things to ensure you keep your audience’s trust. 

One is to be consistent. You should publish new content regularly and predictably so that your audience knows when they can expect to hear from you. 

Another is to create helpful and higher-level content. Sure, you can write an article titled “Why You Should Buy Your New Fall Wardrobe From Target”, and it may even get a lot of traffic. But it’s not highly relevant to your business, so the people who do read it are less likely to stay on your site once they’ve finished scrolling. Also, the people who follow your blog for thoughtful posts about their knitting hobby will be put off by that kind of content and not regard you as a valuable source. 

By contrast, content like “How To Care For Your Hand-Dyed Fair-Trade Wool Garments in the Winter” is helpful, detailed, and markets right to the people at the bottom of your marketing funnel. It’s the kind of question that your target audience actually needs answered – and you should be the one to answer it. 

Of course, not all of your content should be written toward experts – but the content that is will establish you as trustworthy. 

Google’s Helpful Content Update: How the September 2022 Algorithm Update Shifted the Scales

We walked through the history of Google’s updates earlier but purposefully left out one of the most significant relevance-focused updates: the August/September 2022 Core Update (which was just updated again in September 2023!). This update introduced the “Helpful Content System,” which analyzed content for its authority, relevance, and, well, its helpfulness. 

Much like Panda, this update was implemented partly to mitigate black-hat SEO tactics and reduce the prominence of “blog farms” and generalist sites that only published content to produce backlinks. These sites took a significant hit to their authority, while specialized sites highly relevant to their niche were rising in the SERPs.

The September 2022 update hit fast but wasn’t as dramatic as some SEOs thought it would be. However, we’re seeing lasting effects from it, as “generalist” sites experienced less traffic andit lowered DA/DR in the year since. These types of sites publish any content about any topic – you may see an article about DIY home renovations right next to an article about finding scholarships for college. These kinds of blogs used to do well based on their publication schedule and backlink portfolio alone, but in the wake of the helpful content update, they’ve fallen out of favor. 

As SEOs, we’ve had to adapt and start weighting relevance and specificity above simply the quantity of links. 

To return to our theoretical fair-trade hand-dyed wool yarn business: before the September 2022 update, having your blog linked on generalist sites was still valuable. Sure, you may not reach your immediate audience by having a backlink on “AnyBlogEver dot com,” but it was still weighted the same as any other backlink regarding the algorithm. Now, though, you want to avoid (or at least limit) the number of backlinks you have on irrelevant or generalist sites and instead focus on getting backlinks on sites like “Wool Enthusiast Blog” or “The Hand-Dyed Yarn Lovers Blog”. This signals to Google who your potential audience is, allowing the algorithm to catalog your content better. It also ensures that the people who click your backlinks are closer to the bottom of your marketing funnel.

Devising a Relevance-First Link Building Strategy

So, how do you strategize a relevance-first link building strategy? Do you need to overhaul your previous link building strategy completely? 

The answer is no! But you should probably shift your strategy and try new techniques to ensure every backlink is highly relevant. 

At Resolve, we calculate relevance on four different levels: domain-to-domain, domain-to-page, page-to-page, and link-to-page. We strive to ensure that all four levels are completely relevant to each other, but place the most focus on domain-to-domain and link-to-page relevance. This means that all client links end up on a blog with an audience similar to theirs, and their backlinks end up in articles that are highly relevant to the link placed within them. 

But before going into those nitty-gritty levels of relevance, here are the steps you should take to plan your own link building strategy. 

Keyword Research

The very first step is thorough keyword research. But you have to do it the right way. 

One powerful keyword research method is to research your competitor’s sites. If your site is ranking well for “hand-dyed yarn,” but your main competitor’s site is ranking for “indie yarn dyer,” then you should start targeting “indie yarn dyer” to glean some of your competitors’ traffic. Analyze the content allowing your competitors to rank, and try to emulate it on your site.

However, your secret weapon for crafting highly relevant keyword-focused content is low difficulty and low volume keywords. It sounds counterintuitive, we know – why should you target a keyword that only 10-20 people are searching every month when you could target the keywords that 10,000 people search every month? 

The answer is simple: you have much less competition for long-string keywords. Yes, you may only target 10-20 people a month, but those 10-20 are much more likely to revisit your blog and turn to your site as a resource. These long-tail keyword-focused pieces can also be hugely helpful in a link building campaign, as they can serve as supplementary information in a guest post, and are more likely to be clicked and read. 

Niche Site Finding

Next, find the sites you want to have your backlinks published on. The sites you choose should have relatively high authority, significant traffic, and, above all else, should be relevant to your subject matter. 

We believe that metrics, while vital, are somewhat secondary to relevance. As a hand-dyed yarn seller, getting a quest post backlink on a 30 DA crafting blog with 1,000 monthly visitors can be more valuable than a backlink on a 50 DA business blog with 20,000 monthly visitors. For one, the niche backlink signals to Google what your website is about, what kind of audience you want to reach, and what kind of content you produce. A more general link gives much less information and can even mislead the algorithm over time. 

You can find niche sites for guest posting with a simple Google search. Search strings like “[niche] blog + ‘guest posting opportunities’” can give you hundreds of results for blogs that will let you post your content and publish your backlink. For a more robust site portfolio, however,  consider contracting professional link builders with experience in the internet and can provide you with surefire backlinks. 

Content Creation

You can’t earn backlinks if you have nothing to link to! The right kind of content can make or break your link building campaign. While keyword-focused content is excellent for your on-page SEO strategy, you need linkable content for a viable link building strategy. 

So what’s the difference? In essence, keyword-focused content is primarily designed to help you rank in the SERPs. However, linkable content serves a distinctly different purpose – to get more eyes on your content and to send strong signals to the search engine algorithm. 

Your linkable content will contain links to your product pages, service pages, and other pages on your site that could lead to a conversion. So while your linkable article may be titled “5 Tips for Designing The Perfect Wool Sweater”, smattered throughout the piece are links to your yarn sales page, your knitting lessons sales page, and your other money-makers. Not only does this internal linking strategy allow your most valuable pages to see more traffic, it tells Google what will be found on those pages, and helps it to catalog your site better. 

Of course, the line between keyword-focused content and linkable content is not always so clear. Your linkable content will still utilize keywords and may end up high in the SERP for those phrases thanks to effective backlinking; your keyword-focused content may end up an excellent source for your guest posts. The way your content is used may differ from your plan, but always be sure which kind of content you intend to create ahead of time. 

Plan out your content strategy beforehand, and determine some linkable topics you can publish on your site. Linkable content should still target keywords, but it should be targeted more toward the top and middle of your sales funnel. At its core, your linkable content should add value to a quest post and make the reader want to click the hyperlink to learn more. 

We hope the takeaway from this article is crystal clear: while relevance, trust, and authority are all valued members of the SEO team, relevance is this year’s MVP (and probably next year’s, too!). 

This is especially true when you’re trying to build a robust off-page SEO strategy. After all, a highly relevant backlink from a high-authority source can boost your rankings to new heights. When it comes to link building, relevance isn’t just an added bonus; it’s the cornerstone that ensures backlinks resonate with your target audience.

Just as Google underscored the significance of meaningful content in the September 2022 Update, it emphasized the need for websites to pivot, placing relevance at the forefront of their link building strategies. It’s not solely about wielding the most authority or trust; it’s about the delivery of content that genuinely matters to your audience.

Ready to elevate your online presence and grow your brand? Explore the power of relevance-driven SEO with Resolve Marketing! Contact us for a free SEO consultation to get started on a journey to enhanced authority, engaged audiences, and sustained digital success. Let’s transform your website into a digital powerhouse together! 

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