What are backlinks?

Backlinks, also known as inbound links or incoming links, are any links (hyperlinks) directed at your website from another website. They’re an integral part of Search engine optimisation (SEO) and could well be the most important Google ranking factor in 2023.

How do backlinks work to boost rankings?

In theory, a website that has a good number of inbound backlinks from other relevant and authoritative websites has more credibility and is therefore more likely to rank higher on search engines. Think of it like references or citations in a scientific study, whereby the most trusted papers are commonly found in the reference list of other relevant studies.

Backlinks act like votes or stamps of approval for your business’ website.

At the end of the day, Google is one big vouch system. You search for a service, then Google recommends what it believes to be the top 10 best websites for your query on its first page. Links are one of the ways Google rates your sites credibility and trustworthiness, which drive its confidence in recommending you to its customers.

Simply put: More links = more credibility and trust = more Google recommendations = more customers.

However, it’s essential to remember that not all backlinks are the same. Backlinks from low-quality sites or unrelated domains can do a lot of harm to your website’s ranking.

Backlinks tie websites together by topical relevance

Links – both internal or external – help readers and search engines quickly navigate around large bodies of information to find exactly what they are looking for.

In most instances, links might allow a reader to find more granular information on a topic, or quickly jump to another page on a related topic. For this reason, it makes sense for Google’s algorithm to connote links with relevance to a topic.

In practice, if you have a website that sells shoes, you want to find backlinks from others in the same niche e.g., sporting products and fashion. If you intertwine your website with enough websites with similar themes and topics, Google and other search engines will have more certainty about what your site sells, and slowly begin to trust what you have to say more than your competitors.

Why are backlinks important?

As we now know, quality backlinks are vital to your own websites ability to rank on search engines, but there are many other reasons that backlinks are so important to the overall function of the internet.

Without backlinks, the internet would be a very different place. It would be more difficult to find information and resources, traffic would be less evenly distributed, and quality content would be less likely to be seen.

Backlinks are an essential part of the internet as a service, and they help to make the internet a more valuable and useful resource for everyone. This is why we believe backlinks will always remain a Google ranking factor in some way.

Backlinks are integral to the function of search engine algorithms

As discussed, backlinks play a major role in search engine ranking algorithms, making them crucial for determining the relevance, authority, and ranking of webpages in search results.

1. They help define the authority and trust of a website

Remembering our analogy of citations improving the trustworthiness of a research, we now know that backlinks from authoritative and trusted websites establish the authority and trustworthiness of a webpage, influencing how search engines and users perceive its credibility.

2. They help search engines crawl and index the internet

Backlinks guide search engine bots around the web, helping them discover and index new webpages, ensuring the inclusion of relevant and valuable content in search engine results. If you have more backlinks, any new content you create is crawled and index faster.

Backlinks allow for smarter, safer information discovery

Backlinks serve as pathways for users to discover new websites and content, enabling seamless navigation and exploration across the internet. Positioning yourself on as many relevant sites as possible increases your brand awareness and reach.

1. They allow for content attribution and citation

Backlinks are used for attributing and citing original sources of information, lending credibility to content and allowing readers to explore referenced sources. This is critical in areas related to your money or your life (Medical and finance) where getting factual information should be of the highest priority.

2. They encourage collaboration and networking

Knowledge sharing and collaboration is essential to the way the internet functions. Backlinks facilitate collaboration among website owners and content creators, allowing them to establish connections, build relationships, and leverage each other’s audiences. Without backlinks, knowledge would grow much slower, and information would be far more segmented.

Backlinks encourage the flow of traffic around the internet

Backlinks drive traffic from one website to another, allowing traffic to flow from one relevant topic to another. Without backlinks, it would be much harder to find deeper information on a subject when the content you are reading hasn’t provided it.

1. They allow for efficient information exchange

Backlinks create a connection between to sources of information, the benefit of this is it encourages the linking of related content and the dissemination of knowledge across different websites making it easier for different experts to add their two cents to a topic instead of one large body of information providing all insights with no specialist input.

2. They help us avoiding traffic monopolisation

Backlinks help prevent certain websites from monopolising all the traffic by diversifying the sources from which visitors arrive at different sites. While the websites of large companies have more authority and are more likely to rank, a smaller more specialised website will still have success by offering far more detail around a given topic that they are experts in and generating links due to the higher value of their insights.

What types of backlinks are valuable?

The highest value backlinks have three core traits

  1. They come from trusted websites e.g., for our website a link from AHREFs would be far more valuable than a link from a blog with no backlinks or traffic.
  2. They use anchor text that correctly describes what the user can expect to find on the other side of a link. E.g., when we link to our page for SEO, we might link to it with SEO services.
  3. They come from a website that is topically related to your site and services. E.g. we would be much better off finding links from a site that publishes content related to SEO, such as the podcast How the F*ck SEO, instead of a low grade website filled with content on celebrity culture.

You will also find that a backlink is more valuable if it comes from a domain that hasn’t linked to you before, using a “dofollow” tag.

There are several types of backlinks

Backlinks can come in many different forms, but the 5 most common types of backlinks that an SEO agency may try to acquire are as follows.

1. Natural backlinks

The most valuable backlinks. These are backlinks you earn from HARO (Help a reporter out), news mentions, interviews, comments on forums, references from blogs, and brand mentions.

2. Guest posting and editorial links

The most common form of link building, whereby you reach out to an authoritative news site or blog in a relevant niche and request they post content that you have written with a link back to your site. Often these will also come with a small fee and a set of content guidelines that are different from site to site. The value of a link from a guest post depends on the relevance the site has to your site, the number of backlinks directed to the site you guest post on, and quality of the content that you have posted.

3. Links from citations and business directories

Links from directories such as Yellow Pages. These links are of low value but are often built in larger volumes and take less time to build. They are very important for local SEO as they provide Google with strong signals around your Name, Address and Phone number (NAP) as well as the industry you exist within, and the services your business offers.

4. Links from social media profiles

Like links from directories, social media profiles help search engines establish your N.A.P but they also provide other forms of trust with the addition of reviews, comments, and other relevant business information. Links on social media are important, but it is also worth noting that due to privacy on these platforms, many links in comments and posts are hidden from search engines – only visible to friends or connections on the social media platform in question.

5. Links from infographic and image references

If an image or infographic you own is used by another site, they should be linking to your site as a source. If you find someone has used your image without your permission, you are best asking for a link to credit your site for its input into the article.

Dofollow vs. nofollow links

In the simplest sense, there are two kinds of hyperlinks on the internet; “dofollow” links and “nofollow” links. A “dofollow” link is a standard hyperlink that allows search engines to follow the link and pass on authority from one website to another – hence why an SEO specialist will always favour a dofollow link.

On the other hand, “nofollow” links include a line of code (rel=”nofollow”) that tells search engines not to follow the link or transfer any SEO benefits. Nofollow links are often used for sponsored content, user-generated content, or when website owners want to avoid passing authority to the linked website. It is worth noting that Google has not explicitly said that it doesn’t count nofollow links, in fact there have been many documented cases of nofollow links having great SEO benefits.

Best practices for building backlinks

When it comes to building backlinks, you want to be extremely careful with the types of links you are acquiring, as you don’t want your site to be pulled down by association. If you want a few rules to live by in the world of backlinks then make sure you do the following.

1. Focus on quality over quantity

Don’t fall down the trap of buying links in high quantities expecting faster returns. We all know you get what you pay for, no site will link to you without money or effort – if they will, Google will quickly learn not to trust links from their site.

2. Look for sites with healthy traffic

If a site is generating a large amount of traffic organically, it is a sign that they are highly visible on search engines which as we know indicates that Google finds them trustworthy. Links from trustworthy sites carry more trust to your site.

3. Look for sites that are popular in the country of your target audience

Location plays a strong role in Google’s method of rating the relevance of your content for searches made by your target audience. If you are mentioned frequently in local forums and websites that are popular in the country you service, the links will carry a higher value.

4. Diversify the types of links you are acquiring

As the saying goes, “everything in moderation, including moderation”. Building links on a large scale in an unnatural way is going to see you a penalty or diminishing returns faster than you might expect. That’s why its always best to acquire links from several sources to ensure your backlink profile stays natural and healthy.

Here are a few link building strategies so you can diversify between each of them

1. Links to build authority

To build authority, you need to position your business as a source of truth. To do this you can start by trying to acquire links from authoritative sites such as local newspapers and other local businesses. Start by responding to questions on HARO (Help a reporter out), Finding sites that have mentioned your brand name and requesting a link, and promoting newsworthy content around your business that journalists would be interested in, such as charity events, milestones and industry insights.

2. Links to build topical relevance

To build relevance, the best start is guest posting and link insertions. Write unique and helpful content that is relevant to your industry or niche and reach out to sites to see if they will post the content for you. If you are short of time, there are plenty of marketplaces that list sites that will publish content for a fee, such as Loganix.

3. Links to build location relevance

With local SEO becoming more important by the day, it is very important that you ensure Google understands where your business is located, and the areas you service. The best place to start building is on directories. Check out our list of Australian directories you can list your business on to boost your SEO.

Remember, slow and steady!

Remember, the key is to build quality backlinks gradually. Prioritise backlinks from websites relevant to your industry or topic, as irrelevant links will harm your reputation on search engines. Patience and consistency in building backlinks will reward you with a higher position in the search engine results.

If you’d like to discuss how backlinks can help your website, feel free to get in touch. We’d love to chat.

Alistair Hinchliffe

SEO Specialist