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Backlinks 101: What They Are and How to Get Them Right

posted by Michael Epps Utley Michael Epps Utley
Dodgeball seo backlinks blog

Are backlinks still a “thing”? Maybe more so than ever!

This article will explain everything you need to know about backlinks — including how to earn ones that will improve your search engine results while keeping you out of the Google penalty box.

What to Know About Backlinks

What Are Backlinks?

Backlinks, often referred to as inbound links or external links, are the links on one website pointing to another site.

Google views backlinks as indicators of quality content. That’s because a backlink shows that a piece of content has the support of another website, and the site owner considers it worthy of being read, viewed, or listened to by their website visitors. Pages with many backlinks from respected sites rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) than those that do not.

Do Backlinks Still Have an Impact on SEO?

Despite all the changes made by Google to its algorithm recently, backlinks are still a big influencer on SEO. Earning authoritative backlinks is one of the most important signals that Google considers when it compares and ranks content.

What Makes a High-Quality Backlink?

The answer to that is surprisingly simple. If a quality website with an excellent reputation links to your site, you’ve earned a quality backlink. The other site’s demonstrated that it has confidence in your content and is willing to stake its reputation on it by linking to it.

On the other hand, if you have a site Google considers spammy linking to your website, it's not likely to help you much. It may even harm your rankings.

Popularity is another consideration. Because Google views external links as votes of not just confidence, but also likability, for a website or webpage, there is a strong correlation between sites with lots of (quality) backlinks and higher rankings.

Here’s another way to think about it: You trust recommendations from people you know and respect over someone you've never met. Google does the same with links. It trusts links from sources it knows and respects.

Types of Backlinks

As previously mentioned, not all backlinks are created equal. Let's look at the different types of backlinks your site can earn.

Nofollow Links

What if you don’t want to vouch for another website but still need to link to it? Perhaps you want to present it as a “bad example” of a business or site. You’d use a nofollow link to do this.

Nofollow links use the rel=”nofollow” attribute to convey to Google that they shouldn’t view the link as one that passes on trust.

By their very nature, nofollow links won’t necessarily help you rank higher in search engine results. In fact, if you have a nofollow link pointed at your site, it could indicate an issue with it to Google.

Like most things related to backlinks, not all nofollows are treated equally. Google made changes to its algorithm that now allow it to treat nofollow links as a hint instead of an absolute. It means that Google will pass trust through nofollow links in some cases, like when a respected news platform includes nofollows throughout its site.

Toxic (Unnatural) Links

The wrong types of links can negatively impact your website’s chance to rank and hurt the rankings you’ve already earned. These bad links are known as toxic or unnatural links.

Toxic backlinks usually come from low-quality websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Toxic backlinks are only used to manipulate search engine rankings to get bad sites high positions.

Examples of toxic backlink situations include:

  • paid links that aren’t marked with nofollow or sponsored attributes

  • those from low-quality directories or bookmark sites

  • an unnatural number of links that use exact match anchor text.

To avoid having toxic backlinks on your site, use a backlink audit tool to review your backlinks and identify toxic ones. Once you’ve completed your analysis, create a disavow list and submit it to Google via its Disavow Tool. You can also contact the offending site and ask for the link to be removed, but suspicious sites usually do not respond to these requests.

Editorially Placed Links

These are the links you REALLY want.

Editorially placed links are links that you didn't have to request. Instead, a website links to your site to back up or enhance its own content.

Google places high value on editorially placed links because they enhance a user's experience and in no way seek to manipulate search engine algorithms or rankings. In short, they’re a good thing.

Why Are Backlinks Important?

Here are the top reasons you should care about the links pointing to your site.

Good Backlinks Improve Search Rankings

Without a significant number of quality backlinks pointing to your site, Google won’t know whether it’s trustworthy. Backlinks from sites Google considers trusted ones to your site show they trust it. This conveys trust to Google. Once Google trusts your site, it’s more likely to rank it — and its content — higher.

Google Finds New Pages Through Backlinks

Google’s bots leverage links to find new web pages. It’s a primary way Google identifies new content, crawls it, and indexes it.

Put simply, links are how Google makes its way around the web. A link from a trusted source will help get your content indexed quickly by the search engine.

Backlinks Send Quality Traffic to Your Website

The people sent through referrals to your site will likely be very interested in your content and engage with it. High levels of engagement, a long time on page, and multiple page views are all positive indicators to Google that will earn your pages better rankings.

How to: Check a Website’s Backlinks

Checking sites for backlinks is a crucial step when you're planning a link-building campaign. It’s also an excellent way to compare the quality of your site against those of your competitors.

You can get insights about your site's backlink profile from the Google Search Console. Use Semrush to get similar information about the backlink profiles of your competitors’ websites.

How to: Get Backlinks to Your Site

Earning backlinks can be time-consuming, challenging, and frustrating, but it’s not impossible. Here are some relatively easy and proven tactics to help you gain more of them.

  • Ask business partners and suppliers to link to your site. You should always avoid link-building schemes or anything that could seem like one. However, you can reach out to an organization you regularly work with without concern. Because you are associated with them naturally, a link from them won’t seem suspicious to Google. Also, because you already have relationships with these businesses, they’ll be more likely to help you out than the ones you’re unaffiliated with. After all, improving your search ranking will lead to more business for you, which is also good for them.

  • Use HARO. Many respected bloggers and content developers at major media outlets use HARO to get quotes and information about topics they’re writing about. If your business is in a unique niche, the likelihood of getting these requests through HARO could be pretty high. This can be a relatively easy way to get backlinks because the content developers are often under pressure to find courses.

  • Write strategic guest posts. Guest posting can provide you with some beneficial backlinks. Just make sure that it makes sense for you to write the blog post and that your content is helpful to its visitors. If your content isn’t a natural fit, it could be viewed by Google as suspicious.

  • Contact websites that mention you. If a site favorably mentions your brand, the owners may be willing to link to your content, as well. Use the Brand Monitoring tool to find unlinked brand mentions that you can take advantage of.

  • Create great original content. If you publish an ebook that has a unique point of view, original case studies, or new research, there's a good chance that others in your field may link to your content as a reference or to enhance their content. Just make sure everything you publish is well researched and fully backed up by data, so it’s viewed as reputable.

The Final Word on Backlinks

Not only are backlinks still valid, but they may also be more critical than ever. Earning them should be a key aspect of your content and SEO strategies. They may take more time to do effectively than other SEO tactics like tagging and keyword use, but they can pay off more, as well.

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