If you’ve looked into doing any sort of digital marketing or SEO work on your website, chances are you have come across the term backlinks. But what are website backlinks?
Backlinks are one of the few key components of a good SEO strategy. Google confirmed they are one of the top three ranking signals.
But what are website backlinks any why do they matter?
At its basic level, a backlink is a link from another website to yours. They may also be referred to as inbound links.
It can take many forms. It can be a reference to a page on your website in an article, it could be a credit link, or maybe even a banner link.
Along with having great content on your website, having a great backlink profile is one of the most key factors Google and the other search engines will take into consideration when ranking your website.
In the search engine’s eyes, a link to your site is almost like a vote. It’s telling the search engines hey, this website has something worth linking to. It’s giving it credibility.
Google Page Rank
When this was first introduced as a ranking signal many years ago (as part of the Google Page Rank algorithm), webmasters were rushing to build as many links as they could from as many sites as they could.
Sites known as link-farms were popping up, selling the chance to have a backlink, but offering no other content than just a link. And groups of blogs known as PBNs (private blog networks) whose soul purpose was for building links, would build links between their networks to boost the rankings.
Other sites with existing good rankings would also sell backlinks to anyone looking to improve their SEO efforts.
But a lot has changed since then. It’s not just about the number of links. A search engine will assess your backlink profile based on…
- The quality of the site providing the link
- It’s relevancy to your service/product
- The nature of the link (eg follow, no follow, more on that later)
- The anchor text (the text within the link itself)
- Where is the link, eg is it a contextual link/a credit in the footer
- The speed at which your backlinks appear
The quality of the site providing the link can really give that backlink a positive or negative impact.
The site providing the link should in itself be a quality website, with relevant content and its own good backlink profile.
A rough way to determine how good a site is when looking to build backlinks is to check its DA, or Domain Authority.
What is DA?
Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that helps to predict how likely a website is to rank.
It’s a score from 1 to 100, the higher the score the better. It’s quite a weighted scoring system though, moving up into the 20s is much easier than progressing from 30 upwards.
So sites like Wikipedia or the BBC will have a really high DA. But a site launched last week with a small backlink profile itself will have a low score.
So the idea is to earn backlinks from sites with a high DA. Having a load of back links from sites with a DA of ten or less won’t help you, but a link or two from a DA 80+ site would really help.
We say earn as this is important – you should never buy a backlink from a site. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines tells us that buying backlinks is black hat, and something which will result in a penalty against your site.
Don’t confuse this with paying an outreach agency to get links for you. You are paying them to go and find sites that will want to link to you. You aren’t paying the site themselves directly for a link.
So how do you earn these links?
Creating great content which other websites will want to link to is one of the main ways you can earn them. Creating something which is useful and interesting can earn links.
Also finding websites which are looking for people to contribute to articles often result in earning a backlink too.
Outreach agencies can contact websites on your behalf to share with them content which they think they might want to link to.
A good starting point is to look at what your competitors are doing to get an idea of what kind of backlinks they are building.
Remember Google wants to reward earned links.
Types of link
The link can have one of a few different attributes added to it. The main ones you will come across are follow or no follow.
There’s a great article looking at the differences in depth here, but I’ll try and break it down.
These types of links do not influence the search engine rankings of the backlink destination, because Google does not transfer PageRank through them (Google may not even crawl nofollowed links).
A good example of a no follow link is a link to a website in a comment on a blog. In this instance it’s there to prevent webmasters trying to build a load of links by commenting on a load of websites with their URL in the comment.
Most social media websites will no follow links.
This type of link will pass on link juice from one site to another. So if you earn a link to your website from a popular website, chances are it will be a follow.
The website is basically telling Google it wants it to go and look at this site as it recommends it.
Ultimately you want a backlink profile which has both follow and no follow links. A diverse backlink portfolio is more natural, and that’s what it should be.
Consider the time frame
A backlink portfolio which grows very quickly a high number of follow links may appear suspicious to the search engines as it suggests links have been paid for.
But building a number of links naturally over a longer period of time will be more natural, and hopefully more rewarding to your SEO efforts.
What are website backlinks – Conclusion
Backlinks are important. It takes time and effort to build great backlinks, but your rankings will thank you.
SEO is very much a long game, so over time continue to build great content and a earn those backlinks to your content.
Not only will you benefit from the juice the backlink provides, but if it’s for a high traffic site you can also expect to receive a lot of referred traffic.