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What Is a Backlink & Why Do I Want Them?

What are these things called "backlinks", and why would I want them pointing at my website? Simple: they help your rankings in Google. Here are the most important details!

Ever wondered why your website isn’t topping Google search results? You may be missing out on backlinks – a crucial element of SEO.

If you’re clueless about what a backlink is or why it’s vital to your website’s success, never fear. I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about what backlinks are, how to aquire high-quality backlinks and how they can boost your online visibility.

Let’s rawk.

So, What’s a Backlink?

Backlinks, also known as inbound links (which does little to explain them to civilians), are links that direct users from one website to another.

When you click a link, and your browser takes you to a different website, the link you clicked was a backlink to the website that you ended up on.

Backlinks play a vital role in search engine optimization (SEO) strategies as they serve as proxies to indicate the popularity and relevance of the webpage to which they point.

Creating quality backlinks to a website can help enhance its online visibility, improving its credibility and attracting organic traffic.

So how do you create a link on someone else’s website? You’ve got to ask them nicely!

Quick example of a backlink from my site to another site

Here’s a link to one of my client’s websites that sells office space in San Ramon. She will now benefit from this link (at least a little bit!), especially since I used some nice anchor text.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into why getting other websites to link to yours is even a thing.

Understanding the Role of Backlinks in SEO

When search engines analyze webpages, they consider the number, topical relevance and quality of backlinks as a measure of their authority and relevance. The more high-quality backlinks a webpage has, the higher its chances of ranking higher in search engine results.

It is important to note that not all backlinks hold the same value.

Search engines assess the authority and reputation of the referring website when evaluating the significance of a backlink. Backlinks from reputable, relevant, and authoritative websites hold more weight and contribute to a webpage’s credibility and visibility.

You want backlinks because they act like votes of confidence for your webpage, indicating to search engines that your content is valuable, credible, and useful. This can significantly improve your organic search engine rankings.

But not all backlinks are created equal. Factors affecting backlink quality include the authority and relevance of the linking site, anchor text used, and whether it’s a ‘follow‘ or ‘nofollow‘ link.

Backlinks play a pivotal role in SEO. Their importance and benefits lie in boosting your website’s visibility, credibility, and, ultimately, its ranking on search engines.

To evaluate your site’s current standing, you need to check backlinks regularly. You can use tools such as Google Search Console, Ahrefs Site Explorer or Semrush for a comprehensive analysis.

Or ask a super-sharp digital marketing agency to do an analysis for you.

Evaluating the Quality of a Backlink: Key Factors

It’s crucial to understand that not all links pointing to your site are created equal, and several factors can dramatically affect their overall quality.

  1. Source Domain Authority: You should measure backlink authority by the credibility of the source domain. High-authority sites lend more weight. DA stands for “domain authority” but it’s only a proxy metric invented by a company called Moz to help quickly evaluate the strength of a website.
  2. Relevance: In a backlink relevance assessment, you should consider if the linking website is in line with your industry or niche. This is also known as “topical relevance”.
  3. Link Page Location: Links in main content areas (usually an article) are typically of higher value than those on sidebars or footers.
  4. Link Density: Even if a link is in the main content area, if it’s surrounded by 700 other links, it’s not going to pack the same punch as a piece of content that only has 2-3 links.
  5. Dofollow vs Nofollow: Dofollow links pass “ranking power” (also sometimes known as “link juice”) while nofollow don’t; thus, dofollows hold greater value.
  6. Anchor text: The text that is used for the link itself. Above, when I linked to Executive Base Network, I used the anchor text “office space in San Ramon“, which imbues some topical relevance. However, you don’t want to go nuts with anchor text, because it might be seen by Google as “unnatural”, since numbskulls typically link to your site using a variety of anchor text.

Not-So-Good Backlinks

So are all backlinks “good”? Not exactly.

So-called “toxic backlinks” are so-called because they are usually poor-quality links that someone (hopefully not you!) created and pointed at your website.

If you receive enough of these, Google may actually de-rank your site.

Can a competitor build toxic links to your site? Well, yes, they can. Fortunately, this is a rarity.

Definitely take a look at my toxic backlinks article that I’ve linked above if you’re interested in digging into such esoterica.

Civilians, read on!

Getting Links: Strategies for Effective Backlink Acquisition

Let’s dive into some strategies that’ll help bolster your ability to get backlinks and help your website’s SEO.

One way to start is to reverse engineer your competitors’ backlinks. This means analyzing their links, figuring out where they’re getting them from, and then attempting to get the same ones for your site.

In my experience, SEO tools are notorious for pointing out these “opportunities”, no matter the quality of the link: “Hey, your competitor has this link. You should, too!

And while it might feel good to “match” your competitors, that link may impart zero ranking value to your competitor. This is a classic red herring, and much time can be wasted on such pursuits (he said, speaking from experience — I’m looking at you, sanjose.com!)

Even if you’re not an SEO, you can build backlinks by simply pursuing real-world and online opportunities.

A “real-world” opportunity could be to ask business associates for links from their websites to yours.

For example, a link from even a weak business or mommy blogger website in your local area can impart some ranking power in the form of “geo-relevance” to your website (yet another factor in local SEO). And if they’re local, you can link back to them too. This is one case where so-called “link exchanges” don’t result in penalties from Google.

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An online opportunity could be guesting on a podcast, which will usually result in a backlink to your website from the podcast host’s website. Oh yeah, and you’ll also be on a podcast!

We SEOs get a little too excited about backlinks sometimes.

Of course, your wonderful web page could also “attract” backlinks, right? Yes, this actually happens.

If your article is good enough, and someone is searching for an answer to a question to help them write their article, they may actually link to your website without you even asking(!)

If a site creates truly useful, helpful content, this can definitely happen in reality.

When attempting to attract links, it’s a good idea to build different types of content such as infographics, statistical roundups, podcasts, or case studies, as these often attract more backlinks than plain text articles.

You can find numerous guides and tutorials online and on YouTube on how to build high-quality backlinks. Many of these sources offer step-by-step instructions on various tactics you can use in your link building campaign.

Most of them, in practice, are simply too time-consuming and difficult for the average SMB webmaster to execute. For those folks, buying backlinks might be the only option.

The Power of Linkable Assets for Backlink Generation

Creating linkable assets is a powerful strategy for generating inbound links. These assets are content pieces that other websites find valuable enough to link to.

This approach is the most arduous and involves creating engaging content, which is a LOT harder than it sounds but can significantly boost your SEO efforts.

Why?

Because when you create content worth linking to, people find it and link to it. FREE backlinks, yee-haw!

Here’s a very brief overview of how to create linkable assets:

  1. Research and Understand Your Audience: Knowing what your audience finds interesting and valuable is key.
  2. Create High-Quality Content: Incorporate data, visuals, and actionable tips in your content.
  3. Focus on Linkable Asset Promotion: Don’t just create it; share it across various platforms.

Will your new fans use the perfect anchor text? Probably not, and that’s actually FINE. Google sees this as “natural”, because it is. However, if you can goose at least one of your new buddies to use some decent anchor text, it will help your topical relevance.

Navigating the World of Link Roundups for Backlink Building

You’re about to dive into the realm of link roundups, a strategy that’s highly effective in your journey toward building quality backlinks. Finding link roundups in your niche is key. Use targeted keywords and search strings like ‘your industry + roundup’ to discover opportunities. Once found, approach website owners with your high-quality content.

StrategyStepsPotential Gains
Find Link RoundupsUse specific keyword searches to locate roundups in your niche.Access to a larger audience, increased visibility
Approach Website OwnersProvide valuable content and suggest inclusion in their roundup.Quality backlink acquisition, improved SEO
Leverage Social MediaPromote your participation in the roundup on social platforms.Increased traffic, additional backlink opportunities

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Potential Risks and Penalties Associated With Unethical Backlink Practices?

Unethical backlink practices or so-called “black hat” link-building techniques can lead to severe penalties from Google’s ranking system. They’ll drop your site’s ranking or even remove it from search results, hurting your visibility and credibility online.

Are There Any Tools Available for Monitoring the Health and Performance of My Backlinks Over Time?

Absolutely, backlink analysis tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush can help you track backlink growth and evaluate their quality over time. They’ll provide valuable insights to boost your site’s SEO performance.

How Does the Process of Disavowing Backlinks Work, and When Should It Be Considered?

You’d use the disavow tool when backlink analysis shows harmful links affecting your site’s SEO. It tells search engines to ignore these links, providing negative SEO protection. However, use it sparingly to avoid mistakes.

How Does Social Media Impact Backlinking and Overall SEO Strategy?

Social media platforms boost your SEO strategy by enabling influencer backlinking and spreading viral content. They increase visibility, driving traffic to your site, which can lead to more organic backlinks and higher search rankings.

What Is the Role of Internal Linking in SEO, and How Does It Compare to Backlinking?

You’re optimizing anchor text and distributing link equity through internal linking in SEO. It complements backlinking, directing users and search engines around your site effectively. Consider strategic internal link placement for a robust SEO strategy.

So Backlinks Are — Good!

So, you now understand the SEO power of backlinks and how to snag quality ones. Remember, it’s not just about quantity; relevance and authority matter.

Leverage linkable assets and capitalize on link roundups for effective backlink building.

Stay data-driven with tools like Google Search Console or Ahrefs to monitor your progress.

Now go get those valuable links!

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