Relevance vs. authority: Which link has more value? (Part 3)
In the third and final installment of his series on authority versus relevance in link building, columnist Andrew Dennis shares insights from experts who believe that the better metric depends on the situation.
Welcome to the third and final installment of my series on relevance versus authority, exploring which link has more value.
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?”
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 about.
“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, StoxSEO.com
“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.