What is a backlink? And how to get more of them?

SEO

Glen Burnett

18th May 2022

Table of contents

What are backlinks, and how to get them?
So why are backlinks important?
Ok, so what makes a good backlink?
How can I get more backlinks?
Summary

Since the beginning of the internet, links have been a tried and true method of traversing the internet, moving from web page to web page. Before search engines like Google even existed, this was the only way to get around the web (other than typing in the website address directly). So if we know what a link is, what is a backlink? Let's explore this together:

What are backlinks, and how to get them?

Backlinks are links leading from one page to another. So if someone links to your website from theirs, that means you have a backlink, and if you link to someone else's site from yours, they have a backlink.

For example, we could add a link using this sentence to Instagram, and now they have a backlink from us to them.

So why are backlinks important?

Backlinks are helpful for three reasons. They give you rankings; they help your website get discovered both by Google and by users, leading to referral traffic.

We'll explore these below:

Ranking

Search engines such as Google view backlinks as a confidence vote. The more websites that link to your website, the more votes your website gets.

Research has shown a correlation between the number of unique backlinks (by unique, we mean one per domain) and the amount of organic traffic it receives.

Important tip

Keep reading; not all backlinks are created equal, and getting any old website to backlink to you might harm your search ranking more than good. We'll elaborate as we go.

Discoverability

Every time a search engine visits a website, it'll discover new website pages elsewhere through any backlinks that the website has added. Popular websites get visited more frequently, so backlinks from those sites to yours get found more quickly.

Referral traffic

Backlinks are there to help people find helpful resources. That's why they're usually there and why they're clickable.

When someone clicks a backlink, the website that puts it there essentially recommends it. If someone gives you a referral verbally telling you something is good, you're usually more inclined to take that advice. Because someone you know has recommended it. That's referral traffic. You're being referred and vouched for by another website.

Ok, so what makes a good backlink?

This is a good question, and it's super important to know right now that not all links are created equal.

Google will want to look for certain qualities a backlink has before it considers giving your website a slightly higher ranking in search results.

Let's go through them now.

Relevance

Google places more importance on relevancy, so relevant links that people will want to click will be favoured more.

For example, a pool cleaning website has a backlink from a blog that talks about pool care; that will be more valuable to a user than a backlink from a website that talks about dogs. Dog owners won't particularly care or click on a pool cleaning website link.

Authority

If there's a website that most people consider knowledgeable, is very popular or holds much sway, a backlink from that website will result in more organic traffic.

A backlink from a website that isn't trusted or that people know well won't drive as much organic traffic.

So there is direct relevance between a website's page authority and the amount of potential organic traffic a backlinked website can receive.

That being said, backlinks from more authoritative pages won't necessarily provide more organic traffic. Google splits authority out equally among all backlinks on a page.

This means that if you have backlinks from two different web pages, and one of those web pages has much more backlinks to other sites, you'll more likely find that the page with fewer backlinks going out will transfer more authority.

It's also worth noting that internal backlinks (links from one page of your website to another page on that same website) can also transfer authority.

Traffic

This one is a no-brainer; a backlink from a website with more traffic will, in turn, refer more traffic to your website. But does this mean a positive effect on your own website's search rankings?

It seems that websites with a good page ranking and the number of unique (per domain) backlinks received appear to have the best results.

Placement

People tend to click links placed in prominent spots more often than those that aren't, so search engines like Google will view these as more significant.

The same can be said for the choice of font, colour contrast and whether the anchor text (what the words of the link say) is interesting enough to get the reader's attention.

Suppose the link stands out in some way because of that. In that case, it's more likely to gain importance to Google than links that are, say, in the footer or further down, hard to read or otherwise doesn't stand out very much.

When deciding whether you want to pursue a backlink from another site, this is something to think about. If they're going to push your linkway down the bottom or put it somewhere out of the way, side by side with fifty other backlinks, you may want to rethink if it's worth it.

Followed versus Not Followed

There are a few ways a link can be marked, and two of them are nofollow links and follow links. This is an extra bit of internal code added to the link that's not visible to viewers, but it's there. They serve to provide a little extra info about the link.

Nofollow links indicate that ranking power shouldn't be given to whomever they're linking to.

On the flip side, a backlink marked with follow code implies that ranking power can and should flow onto the page it's linking to.

However, it should be worth noting that Google may still look at what kind of backlinks you're getting when making an overall assessment, something they've started doing since 2019.

They use it as a hint to understand things like what your website is about and better understand unnatural linking patterns.

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the clickable words that make up that link. You might notice on some websites; that these words are sometimes underlined and highlighted in a different colour than the rest of the text.

Google has stated that one of the many things they look at to improve search quality is the anchor text on a website. Though it is worth noting that the strength in rankings due to good anchor text isn't as great as some other factors that Google looks for.

If anything, you should still create good anchor text, as your readers will appreciate it.

Important tip

When trying to get more backlinks, you won't have much control over what the anchor text says. That's ok, though, because it'll show Google that the link was acquired naturally, and that's a good thing.

How can I get more backlinks?

There are three ways you can get more backlinks for your website. Creating them, earning them and building them. We'll go through them below:

Creating backlinks

This is where you are manually adding your link on another site. It could be submitting a request to be listed in a business directory, it might be a link you had in an online forum, or it could be in a comment on a blog. Just be sure you are not spamming and that the link is relevant and justified.

Earning backlinks

This is where you're creating content on your website that others will discover organically and find incredibly useful. So much so that they choose to backlink to it on their website without you asking them to. This can be not easy to do, but if the content is beneficial, you can increase your chances of earning a backlink from them.

Building backlinks

Probably the toughest of all methods, this is where you reach out to other website owners asking them to link back to you. But keep in mind they're not going to do it just for fun; there has to be some kind of benefit they're getting for it.

Here are some examples of link building strategies:

  • Guest blogging:
    This is where you offer to write a blog post on their website about something relevant and link to your website somewhere in the post
  • Unlinked mentions:
    If you notice your website has been mentioned somewhere else, but they haven't included a link to you, ask them if they would be willing to add the link in
  • Sky-scraper tactic:
    If you find lots of links leading to another website page with very similar topics to your site, make better content than theirs and ask those backlinking to it to backlink to yours instead
  • Broken links:
    Find other websites where their backlink to another site is broken and offer them to backlink to your working website page instead

Summary

Backlinks can be a very effective way to help boost your search engine rankings and build awareness of your website. It can take a lot of time, effort, and patience, but if done right, it can pay off significantly in the long run.

But remember, not all links are created equal, and some links may be seen as less valuable than others to Google. The easier it is to get a link, the more likely it is that the link's value is far less.

Ensure the links you earn are relevant, have good placement on the page where it's visible, and that you're not trying to gain links from any old website. Users want to click through to relevant and useful websites to what they were already browsing.

Stand Out.

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