Backlinks are important for SEO because they act as a “vote of confidence” from one site to another. Backlinks tell search engines which content is trustworthy and search engines rank them higher.
Backlinks, in particular, are hotly discussed in the SEO community and its periphery. There are plenty of myths about backlinks, including those that question their relevancy and the importance of backlinks for SEO.
You’ve probably heard it already, but now you’re going to hear it from us—backlinks are essential for SEO performance.
What are Backlinks, Exactly?
Simply put, a backlink is an incoming link to your website from another website. They are also called “inbound links” or “one-way links.” Writers and site owners use backlinks to add context to their articles without elaborating on a specific topic.
In essence, backlinks are a sign of trust and an endorsement from the source linking to you—they tell search engines like Google that your website’s content is credible, relevant, and valuable. They are comparable to citations, which are used to support research and scholarship in an academic setting.
It sounds confusing, but the way backlinks work is fairly simple:
- A website publishes an article that links to your content.
- Google indexes the article (including the backlink) and sees that your website is linked in reference to a specific topic.
- Google knows that your article is a valuable source of information for that respective subject.
- The next time someone searches for information regarding that subject, topic, or keyword, Google will put yours higher on its results pages.
Google’s job is to give its users contextually relevant information. And by reading backlinks, its ranking algorithm has a better understanding of which page’s content should be included in search results.
Why are Backlinks Important?
Let’s examine a few reasons backlinks are so valuable.
1. They tell Google that your site is trustworthy.
Google needed a way to decipher which pieces of content are the most trustworthy to show their users. Backlinks validate your website’s content in the eyes of Google.
From a user’s perspective, backlinks provide a way to navigate between related pages and build greater context around the information presented. But from a search engine’s perspective, it’s the easiest way to understand contextual relationships between different pieces of content.
2. They can increase your company or brand’s visibility.
You can boost your company’s visibility on and off SERPs when you get backlinks from another site.
Imagine this: You just released a new product, and you’re trying to get the word out.
You could write a blog post, sure. But what if the New York Times mentioned your product in their article?
How many people do you think would click on it?
Leveraging other sites’ audiences by having them link to your content is invaluable for building a larger audience. It’ll drive people to your website, leading to higher engagement, better brand recognition, and even more inbound links.
This is more an example of Digital PR link building which is completely different from traditional link building services that most SEO agencies offer but you get the point.
3. They make it easier for search engines to crawl your website.
Backlinks are important because they act like pathways leading search engine crawlers to the pages your website wants indexed.
These crawlers use backlinks as a guide, so if you don’t have any backlinks pointing at specific pages on your website, chances are those pages aren’t getting seen by search engine bots.
Backlinks can help search engines to understand that your site is relevant to the topics your target customers or viewers are searching for.
4. You can build relationships with other site owners.
In the process of growing your backlink profile, you’ll connect with other website owners and content creators. You can even form relationships with them, just like you would in the real world.
Often, these relationships can lead to more opportunities for your business—like getting featured on other websites with a larger reach than yours.
Is Getting Thousands of Links From One Site Considered Spam?
Technically, no. Link spam is characterized by a few things:
- Out-of-context links
- Several links in forums, comments, or other off-site locations
- Numerous links pointing to unrelated websites
- Link farms and private blog networks (PBNs)
- Online directory placements that aren’t valuable
- Predatory links to manipulate search engine rankings
If you earn multiple high-quality links from one site that are relevant and practical, it’s not considered link spam.
If you get thousands from the same source, chances are someone could have linked to you from their footer. While I’ve seen this work, I wouldn‘t recommend it because it can be seen as spammy tactic and create a pretty obvious footprint.
Either way, Google’s algorithm doesn’t use a website’s spam score to determine its rankings. The algorithm has gotten so sophisticated that it can detect some link farms and other forms of manipulative link building practices, so a few spammy links won’t prevent you from ranking well and garnering search traffic.
How Many Backlinks Should a Website Have?
The number of backlinks a website should have hinges on a few factors:
- Size: The larger the website, the more content it can create—and thus, more backlinks.
- Existing Authority: Does your site have existing authority? If so, you’ll likely get more links than if you had a brand-new site.
- Content Quality: You’ll earn more inbound links for quality content than for mediocre or low-quality content.
- Topic and Keyword Difficulty: If you’re targeting popular topics with high keyword difficulty, expect to get more links than if you were targeting niche topics.
- Industry Competition: Depending on the industry, you may need more or fewer links to reach the same position in SERPs.
Let’s look at our site as an example.
To rank our homepage for the term “link building agency,” we need to have approximately 68 referring domains.
But link building services face high competition—you can find several other link building agencies, and all of them want that coveted number one spot for that keyword. Other industries may require fewer links to rank, while some may need more.
The above example is just one keyword, though. Building a link profile means creating hundreds of backlinks from different sources and with varying keywords. A quick look at our total link profile reveals that there are a lot of different links pointing to our website.
A good link building strategy should involve obtaining a diverse profile of sources linking back to your website.
What Makes a Good Backlink?
There are three criteria that ensure high-quality backlinks:
- The anchor text appears in the context of the content and occurs naturally.
- The referring domain has high authority.
- The link destination (your page) is relevant to the content and offers value.
When all three criteria are met, you have great backlinks.
If you aren’t building links that meet these criteria, then you probably won’t get as much value out of your link building campaign as you’d like.
Dofollow vs. Nofollow Backlinks: What’s the Difference?
There are two types of backlinks: dofollow and nofollow links.
Dofollow links are followed by search engine crawlers and can pass SEO value from the referring domain to your site. They’re the type of link you should be aiming for if your goal is to rank higher in SERPs.
A nofollow backlink isn’t followed by search engine crawlers, so it doesn’t pass PageRank. However, they still serve a purpose—they can help you build relationships with websites and get more visibility for your brand.
Both kinds of links can be valuable, but dofollow links are the ones that directly impact search engine results.
How Can You Build Quality Backlinks?
There are three ways you can build quality backlinks:
- Build Links Manually: You can manage your own link building campaign, reaching out to publications or websites in your industry to try and get them to link to your content. You’ll need a good understanding of SEO best practices, though—otherwise you risk accomplishing less with more effort.
- Hire an In-House SEO Team: If you have the resources, you could hire an in-house team or individual to manage your SEO strategy. Creating content and guest blogging requires a writer, and you’ll need an SEO specialist to manage blogger outreach and other elements of your SEO strategy.
- Use Link Building Services: You can hire a freelancer or link building agency to help you grow your link profile. This is often seen as the easier route since it’s less costly than hiring an in-house team and it allows you to focus on other aspects of your business.
Getting backlinks from other websites requires an extensive network of website and business owners, an outbound strategy that helps you reach them, and the time, resources, and knowledge to get links the right way.
At Linkflow, we take a customized approach to building backlinks, based on your SEO goals, content strategy, and specific business objectives.
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