Search engine optimization (SEO) has many foundational elements that are critical for success: content, keywords, meta titles and descriptions, directories and backlinks. These links are the basis for search engines’ ability to serve relevant and timely content, so it’s important for marketers to understand the the concept of backlinks through and through. If you’re new to SEO marketing and the realm of backlinks, below we answer marketers’ most frequently asked questions about the subject.
WHAT IS A BACKLINK?
A backlink is a website that links to yours in a blog article, product page or another place on the site. Backlinks have been the foundational metric for ranking a webpage in search engines (Google’s origin is based on backlinks). Pages with a large number of backlinks tend to rank higher on all major search engines, including Google. This is still true today: in 2016, a Google employee confirmed that links, content and RankBrain were the top three search ranking factor the search engine considers.
Google has updated its algorithms as the company comes to better understand users and their search patterns. The last Google algorithm to affect backlinking, Penguin, impressed upon marketers that quality links on relevant websites are the key to moving your position up on the platform. If a site is found to have spammy links, Google’s trust in your entire website could be reduced.
HOW DO I BUILD BACKLINKS?
There are a variety of methods used to build substantial backlinks to your website. For example, one popular approach is to post your content or website information on forums so that users who find your material will link back to it on their site.
However, if you want the most “bang for your buck,” you will want to make sure that your information appears on relevant websites. To do this, develop an intelligent architectural structure on your website by creating a reverse silo. The idea behind this method is to acquire backlinks to content-rich pages (blog posts, information-driven pages) instead of non-linkable pages like homepages, product pages and category pages.
More people are likely to link to content pages rather than sales-driven pages. These links will also transfer link authority from high-volume content pages to those bottom-of-funnel sales pages through internal linking.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF A BACKLINK?
IMPROVE ORGANIC RANKING
Backlinks reward your site with higher search engine rankings. If any of your content pages are getting organic links from other sites, those specific pieces of content will naturally rank higher on Google and other search engines. The overall goal is to create links to individual pages that also lead to your homepage, contact page and service and products pages.
Search engine bots are constantly searching the internet for new pages to add to their index (there were 74 million blog posts published in October 2018 in WordPress alone). Backlinks are an effective bridge for these bots to crawl numerous pages in an extremely short amount of time. If you’ve started a new website, getting backlinks is especially helpful for quick discovery and site indexing by search engines.
Referral traffic points to users who have landed on your webpage from a source other than Google. When a user clicks on a link on one webpage (the “referrer”) that takes them to a different webpage, Google Analytics counts that as referral traffic. These backlinks can be used for marketing purposes, namely targeting. They also produce a low bounce rate because visitors have actively clicked on the link to learn more information.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY BACKLINKS ARE QUALITY?
Not every backlink is created equally, so it’s important to know the indicators of a high-quality backlink.
The most important objective in building links is to get them on relevant websites. Former Googler, Andre Weyher told an Australian marketer: “…getting a link from a high PR page used to always be valuable, today it’s more the relevance of the site’s theme in regards to yours, relevance is the new PR.”
While 100% relevancy is ideal, it’s not always realistic. Nathan Gotch developed a Relevancy Pyramid that prioritizes links based on the limited supply of link opportunities.
This concept can also be applied to local SEO, where the most relevant sites would be geo-targeted and niche relevant.
If your site is getting tens, hundreds or thousands of links, that’s great. However, some “authoritative” sites who are giving you a backlink, aren’t always trustworthy. The low authority of the page will then leak onto your website through that backlink. Therefore, you should always dig deeper into the referrer’s link profile with tools like Ahrefs, Majestic and Moz.
The video below outlines the basic guidelines for checking link profile inside Majestic’s Trust Flow:
While it’s important for the domain and webpage to be authoritative, it’s also helpful for your backlink to be surrounded by other high-quality outbound links. Here is a list of questions you should ask when there are multiple backlinks on a referring page:
- What are they linking out to?
- Are the outbound links relevant?
- Are the outbound links going to respected, trusted sites?
- Do the outbound links look natural or do they look like paid links?
The goal of building links is to get real traffic onto your website. When you change your mindset to meet this objective, you will begin to approach link acquisition differently. You will begin to look to dependable, relevant sites and news sources for links.
This also establishes the idea that the harder it is to get a backlink on a particular site, the more valuable that backlink is. The vice versa is true: the easier it is to get a backlink, the less valuable it is. Take time to list out sites that would be easy, moderate or difficult to get a backlink from, and create an actionable plan to put your links on those sites.
DO YOU NEED PERMISSION TO BACKLINK?
Links are supposed to be references to sources of new information, not an implication of endorsement or ownership. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) says a normal link does NOT imply:
- Endorsement of the linked page
- Developers of the current page created the linked page
- Indication that the linked page is part of the originating page
It’s important to note that the existence of the link does not carry any meaning, but the contents of the linked page or the link’s hypertext often does. For example, “John’s website is really cool!” is an endorsement while “The blog I wrote on YouTube advertising is really helpful” implies ownership.
Because the act of linking to an external site does not imply either endorsement or ownership, you don’t have to ask permission to link to a publicly accessible website. For this reason, finding a webpage through a search engine will not have any legal consequences.
ARE THERE ANY DANGERS OF BACKLINKING?
We’ve talked a lot about getting backlinks from authoritative websites and ideally having those backlinks surrounded by other high-quality links. One way to ensure that all of that happens is by avoiding violating Google’s link guidelines.
Here are a few unnatural backlinks that you should avoid:
- Link exchanges
- Participation in blog networks
- Automatically-generated backlinks
- Irrelevant backlinks
- Backlinks from websites with duplicate or spinned content
- Intention to manipulate PageRank
HOW DO I EARN QUALITY BACKLINKS FOR MY CONTENT?
When you’ve earned a backlink, you deserve it. You’ve created great content that users enjoy, thus sharing it on social media and linking to it on their sites. Your motivation for earning backlinks (or really any marketing strategy) should always stem from generating content that your audience will find beneficial. In turn, website visitors and Google will reward you.
IMPROVE WEBSITE USER EXPERIENCE (UX)
While many web developers and marketers try to manipulate Google algorithms, get ahead of the game by asking what you can do to help your potential clients. When you go all out to your website’s UX, the backlinks you inevitably earn will be interpreted by Google as a “vote,” some carrying more weight than others.
UNDERSTAND WHAT “GOOD” CONTENT MEANS IN YOUR FIELD
In some industries, good pieces of content contain thousands of words and hours of research. However, this isn’t the standard across the board. There aren’t any detailed rules on how to create “good” content, so don’t let search engines dictate the kind of information you produce. If a blog article solves a problem for 10 people, that’s real traffic that have been introduced to your company and have become prospects in your customer value journey.
INCREASE READABILITY AND VISUAL APPEAL
There are many websites that rank highly on Google because of the authority and trust they have built within the search engine platform. These pages, though, can lack readability and visual appeal to the audience (no images, no headings, big blocks of text). If you want to beat those sites, add these elements to your pieces:
- Black font on white background (this is the easiest way to read any type of copy)
- Descriptive headings
- Bullet points
- Complementary designs (your content is the most important part of the page!)
- Visuals (video, images and infographics)
STRIVE FOR CONSISTENCY RATHER THAN PERFECTION
It’s important that your company is producing some type of content as often as possible. Not every piece you put out will win an award or rank first on Google, but the routine act of producing this content will build on itself. Eventually, it will amount to a large pool of assets that can solve any problem your reader might have.
This results in earning backlinks because your website visitors will be impressed with the information they find. Consistency is still the key, though, with the help of planning and organization. Editorial calendars are great resources for clearly creating a path to stay on a marketing objective throughout a given time period. It also allows for your content creation to be streamlined. Your planning gives specific directions on what needs to be done every day in order to stay on top of your consistent publishing.