What should you know about backlinks
The world we live in is quickly becoming more interconnected than ever before, and Google’s algorithms and online trends are a big part of that. The Internet allows us to do business without boundaries. On the contrary, Google’s algorithm actually prioritizes sites which are better connected to the rest of the Internet with backlinks to other sites.
However, achieving Internet success is a lot more complex than simply posting as many randomly hyperlinked articles as possible. It’s important to know why those hyperlinks matter, what they lead to, and what makes backlinking, resource linking, and every other manner of linking content across websites, companies, influencers, and platforms a social commercial and social tool.
So what are backlinks, and how can you use them to take advantage of the interconnectedness of the online sphere and boost your SEO ratings like never before?
First things first – for the uninitiated, backlinks are a way of linking different websites together. As a general rule, the more high-quality backlinks you have to your site, the better. Google’s algorithm privileges backlinks as votes of confidence in your site’s quality as given by other outlets and users. If a lot of other sites are referring back to yours, as the thinking goes, your website must offer something valuable. Backlinks are thus hugely important for building up your organic search engine rankings.
Popularity and backlinks can be akin to the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? A popular site is naturally more likely to get backlinks from other websites than an obscure one, and a well-backlinked site will likely get more views, thus making it more popular.
That question of popularity is immensely important to Google’s algorithm. There are only so many pages which can rank at the top of its search rankings for any given keyword – and it’s those precious few top slots which really matter. Ask yourself, when was the last time you clicked to page two or three of a given search request, or even scrolled far down page one? We nearly always click on one of the first few search results, so you need to do everything you can to improve your SEO and thus your search result ranking.
In a sense, backlinks represent the individual strands of the World Wide Web.
The more interwoven your website is within the Internet’s backlinked webbing, the better.
Backlinks are a huge part of the SEO process. For any given keyword, Google’s algorithm has to choose from among countless sites to determine which results make it to the first page, and the top of the page at that.
Search engine optimization helps determine which search results rank where. Two of the top attributes that Google’s algorithm looks for are the popularity and quality of a site. Google wants its search results to be as accurate as possible, and likewise wants to make sure that the sites to which users are linked are accurate as possible.
When you search for medical advice, for example, which would you rather see – the Centers for Disease Control and the Royal Society of Medicine, or some random blogs promising “miracle cures” with little in the way of sources or link attribution? The former are more qualified and obviously far more popular than the latter, which is noticed by search engine bots, which then rank them highly in search results.
Of course, the CDC and RSM also have the benefit of being major institutions which already have name recognition. What’s more, they have the budget to pay for improved Google AdWords results by paying to improve their rankings with certain results.
You may not have the money to spend on high Google AdWords rankings, so you’ll have to generate higher search results more organically. That means using SEO techniques, and one of those is to aquire quality backlinks from real sites.
University students, journalists, doctors, and academics understand the importance of a well-attributed source. When you compile the works cited page for your thesis, you need to list where all those quotes and facts you cited came from – and the attribution had better be accurate, and from trustworthy sources. The same long holds true when it comes to compiling the link attributes for your backlinks. Other users and Google’s algorithm need to know where you’ve gotten all these backlinked sources, and that they are reputable and relevant.
There are three main basic types of link attributes, nofollow (rel=“nofollow), dofollow and sponsored (rel=“sponsored”) Which is better? Given Googles best practices that links should be given freely and not purchased, sponsored links won’t carry much weight and should be only a very small part of your link profile. Many people (including SEO consultants) believe a nofollow link is useless when it comes to providing ranking power. From our own testing nofollow links definitely pass link juice and can contribute towards ranking increase. A healthy, natural link profile should contain a good proportion of nofollow links.
Good vs. Bad Backlinks
With those factors in mind, we can start to flesh out some trends in what separates good backlinks from bad ones.
For starters, you should always prioritize quality over quantity. Just as keyword stuffing of subpar content won’t generate sustained positive traffic to your site, getting a bunch of low-quality or irrelevant backlinks isn’t anywhere near as beneficial as getting one or two from well-regarded sites.
Think of backlinks as endorsements. Who is more likely to provide a more powerful endorsement for your website – a single A-list Oscar winner or a dozen unknown actors?
Of course, just as it isn’t likely you’ll be able to call out of the blue and get Meryl Streep to endorse your company, your chances of scoring a major backlink as a new blog are low. While that may be frustrating, it makes sense. Backlinks are about trust, and you have to work your way up to the level of A-listers and prove yourself trustworthy and your site worthwhile before they’ll consider backlinking to your site.
if you look at the stats backlinks are largely reciprocal (great article on reciprocal links here), and where is the incentive for bigger, more popular outlets to link to obscure ones, particularly if they cannot verify your efficacy? They probably don’t have the time to spend backlinking to sources which likely can’t help their own ranking and which may hurt it if your site is of poor quality. You thus first need to work on improving your own site’s standing.
One way you can do that is by focusing on high-quality anchor text. This is the visible text part of your link, and once upon a time shoud be mostly the keyword or key phrase you wish to target. Know days however exact keyword anchor text should only make up 2-3% , although the exact percentage does depend on the niche.
Google makes use of a filter called “Google Penguin,” which works to filter out websites that it identifies as trying to abuse link building methods. One of the biggest things it targets are build backlinks with exact anchor text matches. While correlation is not causation, backlinks nevertheless correlate quite strongly with high Google rankings. By some estimates, it is the biggest determining factor in domain ranking.
That said, not just any old backlink will do. While we can get incredibly analytics-focused when doing SEO, it isn’t only a numbers game. As mentioned in our A-lister example, quality counts.
Still, it won’t matter how good your backlinks are if they connect to content which is of poor quality or is totally unrelated to the source of the backlink. If you are writing about tourism in New York or London, a random off-topic backlink to something about mowing equipment or plumbing probably won’t help much. Ideally, your content should be as topically-focused and in-depth as possible.
A good backlink should also be somehow related to the content of the two articles being linked. Sticking with our tourism example, links to articles about hotels, flights, or things to do in New York and London would be an example of quality backlink building. These topics are all directly related to the common topic of tourism. The stronger the link, the better, so if both articles mention New York or London, it could help boost the locational SEO and thus their relevance for New York- or London-related searches.
That said, a massive brick of text which is several thousand words long may ward off weary readers looking for a fast answer. You thus have to balance readability with in-depth analysis. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here. Every site has different focuses and priorities readership-wise. That said, while blogs can run long or small, the average Google first page result tends towards slightly longer content.
That said, while some estimates put the average Google first page at approximately 1,890 words, as other sites point out, it’s backlinking correlated with that length which may actually be more responsible for that better performance.
Check Backlink Quality
Now that we’ve established the importance of good vs. bad backlinks, however, the question still looms large as to how you can check backlink quality. Unless your backlinking are from A-list sites such as The New York Times or The Guardian, the quality of the backlink may not be immediately obvious. You don’t want to waste time on a backlink which won’t help you, so you need to make sure you understand the quality of the backlink before attempting to acquire it.
Thankfully, there are a few online tools that can help determine link quality such as Ahrefs, SEMRush or Majestic to name a few.
In addition, these tools can also help you guard against unwanted backlinks to your site and the search engine ranking knock which can come along with it by allowing you to discover and remove these links while sending a toxic backlink report to Google Disavow. Of course, keeping your website clear of these toxic links can be a full-time job, and not one you’re likely eager to slave away over yourself. Just as Norton or McAfee regularly scan your computer for viruses, the best backlink auditing tools feature perform regular recrawls to search for and remove any toxic links.
Before you commit to a backlink checker, make sure that you can import the data you need from other sources and that it can scan and report all the backlink-checking data you require.
You’ll also want to check the quality and balance of your domains. The higher the domain authority score the better, but that doesn’t mean that every backlink you earn has to rank highly in terms of how influential it is. On the contrary, one of the most important aspects of website building is how organic everything seems, and a site with a mix of high- and no-influence links fits in organically with the structure of the Internet. Not every site is The Washington Post or The Financial Times, so unless you’re working for a website of that status and quality, it isn’t necessary for all of your backlink’s influence ratings to meet those lofty standards.
Remove or Repair Problem Links
Toxic and poor quality links aren’t the only potential source of backlinking problems. If you link to pages which lead to error messages, you’re essentially wasting backlinks and may be harming your site’s reputation. You thus want to make sure your backlink checker is also checking for broken links.
For example, if you link to a site which results in the notorious Error Code 404 (link not found) you have a problem. You’ll want to clean these off your backlink list immediately.
Share and Shareability
A 2014 survey found that social media drove more than 31% of online traffic. While 2015 may seem as distant in social media years as Jane Austen is to us, some things are truly timeless (case in point, 2020’s film adaptation of Austen’s Emma becoming a critical hit.) It is thus of the utmost importance that you make your content shareable. The easier access is to share, the more likely people are to do so, thus boosting your SEO metrics and thus search rankings, which in turn can make your page a more attractive backlinking option for others.
Some good strategies for improving your content’s overall shareability include the following:
- Making sure it is well-researched
- Making sure the content is actionable
- Including calls to action for people to share your content
- Practicing targeted distribution
- Making sure your platforms are suited to shareable content
Pinterest is a good example of this. Its focus on high-quality, highly shareable images increases the chances of someone seeing, liking, and sharing content associated with your site. This in turn increases the chances of them creating a backlink when they share your content via a blog post on their own site.
Arts and crafts blogs are a good example of this. There is a healthy crafting community on Instagram, so posts that fit in with that can be shared and backlinked more than they might be on other sites. As such, if your company products can fit in with a certain community’s crafts, you may be able to gain reposts and backlinks of your content by linking it to Instagram first.
Resource Link Building
Another vital backlink strategy involves building resource links. This involves linking to pages which themselves have a large, well-maintained list of links to relevant external sites. Resource links essentially act like reference books or works cited pages.
Just like a works cited page, resource link building is essentially a win-win relationship. You get the benefit of being listed alongside other quality sources on the resource page, thereby improving traffic to your site as well as its respectability. In turn, the resource page is able to expand its retinue of links and sites, thus expanding its reference value to others.
Get By with a Little Help from Your Friends (and Guest Posts)
One of the best ways to improve your backlink game, your SEO, and your overall search ranking is by doing guest posts.
Guest posts are a great way to secure quiality links and drive traffic to your site but the process can be time consuming. Assuming you’re not buying guest posts and going through the process correctly that is.
Firstly there is the research to find suitable sites to contact, then you will need to crate your pitch and if the person in question responds think up a worthwhile topic that their audience will be intersted in. If the site owner agrees its time to write the content or pay a writer to do it. It sounds like a lot of work becuase it is but the rewards can be lots of great links for your website.
You can build up some good relationships with site owners if you follow these basic guidelines, guest posting can be mutually beneficial:
- Only write for sites which are reputable. We’ve already touched on why trustworthiness is such precious capital online, so don’t waste it writing for sites which have a domain authority lower than that of your site.
- Make sure the sites have real organic traffic from relevent countries (Ahrefs is good for this)
- Check a site’s SEO standing beforehand and make sure it’s worth your time to contribute. If no one goes to this site anyway, who’ll be there to click that promised backlink to your site?
- Relationship building is key, so if both parties are happy, keep the partnership going. They get content, you get backlinks – and sometimes you can switch and have them write for you and you link to them.
- As stated, shareability is huge, so make sure the content is posted to both of your social media platforms in an eye-catching, easily-shareable manner.
Organic Backlinks Are Good, Artificial Ones Are Not
Last but not least, as with much of the SEO game, the more organic you can be in building up your backlog of backlinks, the better. Google’s algorithm is very good at sniffing out artificiality, and it gets better at doing so all the time. Programs like Google Penguin can often tell when “black hat” algorithm gaming is going on instead of genuine content. Don’t ever fall for promises of quick, fast, cheap backlinks. Make sure everything you do with your backlinks and SEO in general is as organic as possible.
The Google-verse is a vast and interconnected space, and by mastering the art of the quality backlink, you can help make your website a more prominent and worthwhile part of it.