Backlinks are the backbone of any SEO strategy. Content is king and on-site optimisation is important, sure… but you can’t really beat a referral… which is exactly how search engines see backlinks.
They’re one of the top ranking factors for Google — they’ve been that practically since the search engine’s inception, and they’re poised to remain that for the foreseeable future.
What are backlinks and why are they important?
Put simply, a backlink is just a link leading to your site. That’s really all there is to it. Basically, when one site links to your content, that means they think that your content is authoritative, fun, noteworthy, or relevant in some way. This confers some of their authority to your site and helps it rank better on search engines results pages (SERP).
From the perspective of search engines, backlinks are important because they allow them to better categorise content based on quality and relevance. This makes it easier to produce relevant results to users queries and thus enhance the user experience.
How do backlinks work?
Backlinks play an important role in search engine optimisation and thus impact your overall digital marketing strategy.
As we mentioned, the simplest way to think about backlinks would be as referrals from one site to another. Search engines note how many links lead to your site and what kinds of sites they come from (for example, a link from a fashion blog leading to a VPN service has low relevance and thus doesn’t confer much value), and combine it with many other (proprietary) ranking factors. This affects your overall score in the eyes of search engines and allows them to judge how to rank your website for specific keywords.
Search engines also rank backlinks themselves, but we’ll get into more detail on that in the next section.
Types of backlinks
There are two basic types of backlinks based on the instructions they give to search engine crawlers.
Nofollow backlinks – these backlinks have a Nofollow tag that tells search engines to ignore a link. This means they don’t pass on the site’s authority and aren’t helpful for improving your search rank or visibility. However, Nofollow links can improve your SEO indirectly. If someone clicks on the link, visits your site and spends some time reading the content there, you get a bump in the traffic and read time metrics.
Dofollow backlinks – these links are much more valuable as they do pass on the hosting site’s authority and directly improve your site’s ranking. But keep in mind that not all links are created equal.
The second division is not as clear cut, and it concerns the backlink’s value, which comes from the value and relevance of the site. The site’s value is calculated by search engines in different ways and the topic is worth a series of articles by itself — suffice it to say that this is often summed up as domain authority (DA for short) and traffic (ie, how many unique visitors a site receives in a given period).
Links coming from high-value sites hold the most value, while low-value sites with spammy or plagiarised content can bring low or no value. The latter can even damage your site’s credibility if you have a lot of backlinks from them (especially if their security is poor or if they host malware) — this can lead to search engine’s penalising or de-indexing your site.
Keep in mind that while quantity is important, quality makes the difference in ranking.
More on link quality
We mentioned already that not all backlinks are created equal. If you want sustainable growth, you need to get quality backlinks from reputable sites.
Reputable sites are relatively easy to identify. They’re well known, they have high domain authority, they receive a lot of traffic, and they’re bursting with quality content. Pretty much everyone links to their content, and they probably have to fight guest posting (see below) offers off with a stick.
Medium-quality links come from decent sites you may not have heard of. They’re usually solid but are lacking in some way, be it content quality, domain authority, traffic, or something else. Their backlink portfolio is solid and focused on quality. They may have the potential to be good some day, but they’re not there yet.
Low-quality backlinks usually come from sites that are struggling. It may be through no fault of their own, but their authority is minimal, the content is often low-quality, duplicated, or spammy, and any backlinks they have usually come from low-quality sources. It’s usually worth it to disavow backlinks you get from these sites as they may do more harm than good — especially if they’re not in the relevant niche.
Other sources of low-quality backlinks are social media platforms, forum posts, and directories. While these links won’t damage your site’s SERP ranking, they won’t boost it by much either. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have them and they may bump up a fledgling site. Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t rely solely on them for any kind of long-term SEO campaign.
How to get backlinks
Here are some basic methods you can use to get valuable backlinks:
This is a common strategy, and pretty much every blogger has implemented it at some point in their career. It’s fairly simple, all you need to do is publish a post on someone else’s blog in exchange for a link back to your site.
Keep in mind that links from established, high-traffic sites with a high domain authority are worth a lot, and owners or editors may require a significant amount of money in exchange for such a link.
Creating quality content
While this should be a no-brainer, creating quality content for your own blog often gets overlooked. This is an excellent way to attract backlinks in addition to improving your site’s metrics and thus indirectly improving its SEO.
In addition to blog posts, you can publish surveys, statistical listicles, and other types of engaging and shareable content.
Basically, what you want to do is make your content so engaging, informative, or fun that people simply have to link to it.
Creating high-quality content is a good start, but you also need to get that content in front of as many right eyes as you can. That’s why you should build relationships with other sites in your niche (and adjacent ones). If you do, you can simply share newly published pieces of content with them and (hopefully) get some backlinks.
Backlinks are the lifeblood of any SEO campaign and one of the most important strategies for improving your site’s SERP rankings.
Taking shortcuts and purchasing a large number of low-quality backlinks will do more harm than good in the long run. Consistency is key, and search engines consider steady and consistent growth much more relevant to your site’s ranking than a massive spike followed by months of middling efforts.
Focus on quality — both when it comes to content and backlinks — and build relationships with your clients/customers and other people in the industry, and you’ll be on the right track.
Not sure how to develop a long-term linkbuilding campaign? EBS Marketing can step in and help you out! Our SEO team can identify the best sites to get links from and can perform outreach campaigns that will be cost-effective and efficient.