What are backlinks?
Backlinks are links from outside domains that point to pages on your domain; essentially linking back from their domain to yours. To a larger degree, your backlink profile is made up of backlinks from external sites (also known as referring domains) that contribute to the overall strength, relevance and diversity of your domain’s backlink profile.
The total number of backlinks can often include many links from the same referring domain or multiple referring domains. It’s common for referring domains to link back to your content if it is relevant, authoritative or useful in some way to their own domain. In an ideal world, that’s how backlinks are accumulated; unique content that other websites want to be associated with.
Generally speaking, backlinks are considered to be a “vote” of confidence for the content that’s being linked to on your domain from outside sources.
Why are backlinks important?
Backlinks are important for Search Engines and users alike. From a user’s perspective, backlinks provide a way for people to find other sources of information on the same or related topics.
For example, if the consumer is visiting a page about the “best smart phones” he might find links out to other carriers, cell phone providers or user generated review pages. Links create a solid consumer experience because they transfer the user directly to additionally desirable information if needed.
For Search Engines, backlinks help to determine the page’s importance and value (i.e. authority). Historically, the quantity of backlinks was an indicator of a page’s popularity. Today, due to the way backlinks are evaluated based on different industry-related ranking factors, it is less quantity focused and more about the quality of sites from which the links are coming.
Alternatively, too many backlinks from many unreliable domains can hinder the authoritative signals of your domain.
What does a good Backlink Profile look like?
A natural link profile has variety. The links come from different domains and links will have different strengths.
To best understand your backlink profile, it makes sense to look at a few top level KPI’s such as the referring domains and IP’s, the country from where the backlink is coming from, and the Top-Level-Domain.
There are domains which are better to receive links from than others. These are domains that are “trusted” sources and have higher domain authority.
For example, links from educational institutions (.edu) and government entities (.gov) tend to carry a lot of authority and indicate “trusted” content or sites to search engines.
Backlink Ranking Factors
||Suite Area / Action
|Backlink||There is still a correlation between high rankings and the amount of backlinks, but this trend will continue to decrease moving forwards.||
|Anchor Text||The percentage of links with keyword continues to decline.||
|News Domains||Pages in the middle of the first SERP have the most links from news domains. An indication that current content ranks highly.||
|New and Lost Links||URLs ranked with positions 1-4 have significantly older links on average than in the previous year. The differences across all rankings have become greater.||
How do backlinks help SEO?
Make sure your backlinks appear to be natural. Don’t ask webmasters to link back to your pages with a specific anchor text since this can haphazardly result in a pattern that may get noticed by search engines and cause you to get a linking penalty, a la Penguin. Also, don’t do anything shady or unnatural to create backlinks, like asking a site to put a link in the footer of every page on their site.
NEVER offer to pay someone for links! If you’re trying to build backlinks by pushing sponsored content, it has to explicitly say “Sponsored” on it. That’s an FCC regulation. Most publishers will mark these backlinks as “nofollow” but they still have link value and they can drive traffic to your site.
At one time, directories like DMOZ were a good place to add listings and get backlinks. However, these large web directories aren’t really relevant anymore. But, if you do find industry-relevant directories or niche communities online, it can be worth building a relationship with the webmasters to get a backlink from this type of site.
.GOV domains are quite valuable since they can’t be started by just anyone. So they inherently have more domain value.
How do I build backlinks?
Outreach to webmasters should be personalized. You can list reasons why you like their brand, think your brand would partner well with them or citing articles and other content they published are great ways to make them more receptive. Try to find an actual point-of-contact on professional sites like LinkedIn. A generic blast of “Dear Webmaster…” emails is really just a spam campaign.
Who links back to my site?
It’s important to monitor the backlinks your site is accumulating. First, you can verify that your outreach is working. Second, you can monitor if you pick up any shady backlinks. Domains from Russia and Brazil are notorious origins of spam. Therefore, it can be wise to disavow links from sites originating from this part of the world through Google Search Console as soon as you find them – even if they haven’t impacted your site… yet.
This blog post by Searchmetrics has more details: