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Just started your SEO journey? Maybe you’re building your backlink strategy or just planning further steps to create a website. In any case, this guide to backlinks should come in handy.
We’ll discuss what backlinks are and why they are considered to be one of the most important Google ranking factors. This guide will also teach you how to get good backlinks to your website and how to check their quality.
So, let’s get right to it.
What is a backlink?
Backlinks play a crucial role in any SEO strategy. Without quality backlinks, you won’t get very far. To have a chance at building domain authority, you must understand what backlinks are and how they work.
Backlinks (also referred to as incoming or inbound links) are links from a page on one website to another. If someone links to your website, you have a backlink from them. If you link to another website, they have a backlink from you. That is to say, a link from an outside domain that points directly to a page on your website is your backlink.
The link appears as an image, a button, or a hyperlink with descriptive text known as the anchor text. The anchor text is clickable, usually appears in a different color than its surrounding text, and is often underlined.
A backlink is good for UX because any user can get additional desirable information from it if needed. The user can simply follow the link attached to the anchor text by clicking on it.
Take a look at these two examples:
- In the screenshot below, you’ll see a link on Search Engine Land’s website. It points directly to SE Ranking’s landing page. This means SE Ranking has a backlink from Search Engine Land.
- In our guide to search engine indexing, we described ways to help crawlers find your website or find a new page. Here, we wrote about ping tools and left a link to the Ping My Links website. This tool currently has a backlink from SE Ranking.
Backlinks, hyperlinks, referring domains, and external links: what’s the difference?
Now that you know what backlinks are, let’s look at some similar—but not identical—terms and look closely at the differences between them.
Backlinks vs. hyperlinks
A hyperlink is a broad term. It can be defined as any link used to navigate a given website. A hyperlink can be a word, phrase, or even image that a user clicks on to jump to a new document, another page, or a new section within the current page.
In fact, all links (external, internal, backlinks) are hyperlinks added to any given document.
Backlinks vs. referring domains
Referring domains are websites from which the target website or page has one or more backlinks. This means that if a page has a backlink from, let’s say, the New York Times, then it has one referring domain. If it has a link from the New York Times and Forbes, it has two referring domains
SEO specialists pay a lot of attention to referral domains when analyzing backlink profiles. Typically, the more quality referral domains a website has, the greater likelihood it has of reaching the top of Google.
Whenever your website gets an endorsement (in the form of a backlink) from a new domain, Google appreciates it. When the same domain endorses you again, the value of that second show of support pales compared to that of a new domain. So, getting a fifth backlink from the same source won’t be as much benefit to your website. This is one reason why you must pay attention to the referring domain metric—it shows the actual value of a backlink profile.
Backlinks vs. external links
An external link is a link from your website to another site—the opposite of a backlink.
Strategically placed external links can increase your content’s expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, especially if you refer only to quality sources that have a history of providing valuable content. You can also give users additional information about what interests them with external links.
Why are backlinks important for SEO?
While there are around 200 known ranking factors, backlinks are one of the most significant for Google. That’s because a backlink represents a vote of confidence from one site to another. The website is saying to the search engine that it trusts another source and vouches for its content, making this website worthy of users’ attention. If several quality websites link to yours, search engines are more likely to display your content on top of the SERP. Plus, backlinks are the foundation of Google’s PageRank algorithm.
Let’s go over these points in finer detail.
1. Website authority
Google takes several factors into account when ranking pages on the SERPs, and website authority is one of them. Google uses one critical method to measure it—backlinks. Backlinks are considered votes from other websites. Each website’s vote tells search engines that the content is valuable, credible, and useful.
Website authority is determined by the number of and quality of backlinks, so the more quality backlinks your website has, the better it is perceived to be in the eyes of whatever search engine you’re using.
Website authority also depends on where the link was placed on the page. While assessing the backlink quality, search engines consider the following:
- Anchor text (its meaning and main message)
- The nesting level of the donor website page
- Link attributes
- The number of links on a page
- Link color
- The likelihood of its being clicked (e.g., links placed on top of the page or links with adequately informative anchor texts are usually more visible and attractive to users)
- Your other backlinks from the website
Each of these parameters affect the link’s quality which subsequently affects the website’s authority.
Link juice—which refers to the value passed from one website to another—is best passed on from authoritative sources. The more authoritative the domain, the more link juice your website gets. By default, links are followed by search crawlers and pass on link juice to the pages they refer to, but when the nofollow attribute value is specified, this default behavior doesn’t apply.
You can pass on authority manually by using nofollow and so-called dofollow backlinks. A dofollow link is just a regular link—a way to pass on authority to a website. If you don’t want to imply any endorsement to the link, including passing along ranking credit to another page, use the nofollow attribute.
Since 2019, Google has what are now called sponsored attributes and UGC attributes. The former identifies links created as part of advertisements, and the latter stands for User Generated Content, such as comments and forum posts. Both are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within the search.
If the website is authoritative (i.e., has a lot of votes from high-quality domains), it is more likely to rank higher. Backlinks remain a key ranking signal because the primary goal of Google is to provide users with the most relevant, high-quality results based on search queries that define their wants and needs.
With the PageRank algorithm introduced in 1998, Google began treating links like votes that pass authority from page to page, making the most cited ones the most high-ranking. The algorithm has changed and so has the way SEO specialists approach link acquisition, but the main thing about links remains the same—getting high-quality referring domains will increase your rankings.
Also, without indexing—an essential stage in the ranking process—your page won’t be able to get to the top of SERPs. In this case, it doesn’t matter how good your page is. It can—but not always— take a lot of time for search engines to index new content. To speed up this process, you can simply build quality backlinks on authority websites (these are high on Google’s list) that get a lot of daily traffic.
3. Referral traffic
Backlinks aren’t just a way to show Google your authority. They’re also an excellent way to point users to valuable sources. Backlinks themselves can drive qualified traffic to your website, especially if they’re placed in content published on high-traffic sites relevant to your niche. This means that when someone clicks on a link to your website, you get referral traffic—users that come to your domain from other sites without searching for you on Google.
Why is referral traffic important?
Backlinks send potentially qualified visitors to your website from trusted sources that are likely to have the same target audience as you. This makes it easier for you convert these users into leads and then convert them into new customers.
Also, when someone visits your website from another trusted source, Google considers this social signal to be a positive ranking factor. If some users are interested in your content, why not show it to others?
4. Brand awareness
Backlinks help you build an online reputation and brand awareness. We know already that backlinks are, essentially, a vote of confidence given by one website to another. But they can also significantly impact how your brand is perceived by website visitors—potential customers.
Expert roundups, guest blogging, and interviews get your company name in front of large audiences that might never have heard of you otherwise. With the help of links and mentions on authority websites in your industry, you’ll become a well-known brand for users. And over time, your brand will flash in users’ minds when they search for goods and services in your niche.
Plus, the more backlinked mentions on authority websites you have, the less work you will have to do to get high-quality links. You must work for your reputation first, and then your reputation will work for you 😉
Backlinks evolution: Google updates
A few years ago, Backlinko analyzed 1 million Google search results to confirm that backlinks remain an extremely important ranking factor. In the 2000s, many SEO specialists bought backlinks openly—wherever and whenever they needed them. At one point, black-hat link-building techniques such as link farms, PBNs, and comment spam allowed SEO specialists to create vast backlink profiles and successfully get to the top of SERP. Sure, website rankings increased according to the quantity of the acquired backlinks, but these tactics no longer work in 2022—for obvious reasons.
Google updated its backlink strategy through the Penguin algorithm, moving the focus from quantity to quality. The search giant started to discredit certain types of backlinks because the content they linked out to wasn’t useful or relevant. Nowadays, too many “unnatural” links may even earn your site a penalty.
In short, not all backlinks are created equal. There are many contributing factors to why some backlinks are more valuable than others, and vice versa—some backlinks may even harm SEO. That’s why it’s critical to understand what makes one backlink high-quality and another one a candidate for the disavow list.
What are good backlinks vs. bad backlinks?
If you want to get the most out of your backlinks, you must prove to Google that each of your backlinks is high-quality and credible. This is probably the most challenging part of SEO, but don’t worry. Below are some useful tips to help you get there. We’ll discuss the difference between good and bad backlinks and why being able to differentiate between the two is key to creating a strong backlink profile.
First, let’s talk about good backlinks. They are links from such websites:
- Authoritative. The website should have an authoritative backlink profile (i.e., many votes of confidence), as such sources generate a lot of traffic, rank well on SERPs, and pass on the most link juice.
If you want to check any website’s authority, do it at SE Ranking. Use our Competitive Research tool to see the Domain Trust metric. Just paste any website and look at the main dashboard. The Domain Trust metric is an aggregate domain quality score based on many factors, including the number and quality of a website’s referring domain and backlink profile.
- Relevant. The referring page with your backlink should have content that is relevant to your website page. It can be an article section, a separate paragraph from the main text, or a whole page that tackles a similar topic or niche. For example, if your SEO agency’s homepage gets a backlink from a blog post on “How to cook pasta”, this would not be seen as a relevant or quality backlink.
- Indexed. If the referring page isn’t indexed and cached, then Google will not be able to crawl it quickly or assess your backlink. Make sure the donor website’s page is on top when searching for its brand keyword.
- With top-quality page experience. This ranking factor includes Core Web Vitals (a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page). Core Web Vitals also measures search signals such as HTTPS, mobile-friendliness, and the number of pop-ups and ads. Also, pay attention to the number of sponsored posts—their percentage should be low.
- With your target traffic. If your company works for the US market, why would you need backlinks from an Indian website with a South Asian target audience? You wouldn’t. The same goes for the niche. If you get backlinks from an online grocery store, your SEO agency definitely won’t get target traffic because these users will not be interested in your services. Remember—you want quality leads. To get quality leads, you must have quality backlinks.
- With a positive or neutral dynamic of growth. A drop in traffic is a problem for any website. A domain with a negative growth dynamic reduces your chances of getting quality referral traffic from backlinks.
- Without signs of mass selling links. Pay attention to an unnatural number of outgoing links. The donor website should avoid having too many (roughly defined as more than 100) hyperlinks on any given page. This is critical because Google will consider this to be a spammy website. Second, the search engine most likely won’t follow or index hundreds of links. Finally, when a spammy donor website divides the PageRank of that page between hundreds of links, each link is only going to pass along a minuscule amount of PageRank.
- With a balanced dofollow and nofollow ratio. This can vary greatly depending on your industry. 50/50 and 70/30 ratios can be a normal practice. You can check this data with our Backlink Checker by entering the domain name of any donor website and assess the dofollow/nofollow ratio on the main dashboard.
Another critical factor to determine backlink quality is where your backlink exists on a page. For example, in-content links are more valuable than links from the footer or links from comments. If a link is located at the top of the page (the main content), this signifies that your link is prioritized. This is because Google’s spider crawls the HTML code from top to bottom. External links placed at the footer typically act as watermarks—paying respect to the company that developed the site—and are not relevant to users.
Also, pay attention to your anchor text. It should not be spammy (For example, every other link to your website has the same words except the name of your brand).
If your anchor text includes a keyword that mirrors the page it is being linked to, it is an exact match. The anchor text should be relevant both to your page and the donor website.
Keep in mind! If the backlink doesn’t meet all these requirements, this doesn’t necessarily make it bad. But you should strive for perfection.
Now that we’ve covered just about every aspect of good backlinks, let’s take a look at bad backlinks—links from an irrelevant page, from a low-quality or spammy website or from an irrelevant anchor text.
How to check backlink quality and what to do next?
No metric on its own can singlehandedly and accurately determine whether a backlink is of high or poor quality. But having the skills to interpret link-related metrics will help you get oriented. After a bit of practice, figuring out the quality of a link will come naturally to you. There are also SEO tools that can do all the heavy lifting by checking all the necessary metrics of a backlink for you. One of them is SE Ranking’s Backlink Checker.
Use SE Ranking
I will show you how to get all the necessary data on your website’s backlinks with SE Ranking’s tool.
Go to the Backlink Checker tool ▶️ Enter any domain ▶️ Click the Search button
You’ll see the main dashboard with a bird’s-eye view to assess the backlink. The tool provides data on crucial metrics:
- Domain & Page Trust: scores that reveal your website’s authority and the quality of your backlink profile.
- The ratio between dofollow and nofollow backlinks that link out to your website.
- A complete list of your website’s backlinks. By clicking the Backlinks area, you’ll get essential information on every link parameter: the target URL, Domain and Page Trust, an anchor, and the type of backlink (e.g., image, text).
Next, go to the New section, where you’ll discover how many backlinks (and what new backlinks) you’ve gotten over a specific period. You can visit the Lost section to assess broken backlinks.
- The total number of referring domains. Click on the Referring domains area. It will take you directly to the section with all the necessary data on websites linking to your domain (a complete list of referring sources with a Domain Trust score and the number of your backlinks from each website).
Now, go to the New section. Here, you’ll find the history of acquired referring domains.
Again, don’t forget to visit the Lost section. It contains crucial data on referring domains that disappeared.
- The total number of anchors. This is a list of the most common anchor texts used in the referring domains and backlinks.
- Distribution map. You can see where your website traffic comes from and assess your target audience.
Each of these sections will help you analyze your backlink profile. To better understand which backlinks are the most valuable for your SEO (and from which websites it is better to get citations), pay attention to the following metrics:
- Domain Trust of referring domain & Page Trust of the page with a backlink. As described above, these metrics are vital to the success of your backlink.
- Relevance of referring domain. Open the list of backlinks or the referring domains section and click on any URL. This will bring you to the landing or blog page, where you can assess its content and relevance.
- The traffic of the referring domain. Copy the URL of the referring page and go to the Competitive Research tool, where you’ll see the estimated number of clicks the analyzed page gets on Google per month.
- The number of referring domains. To assess the value of any backlink, compare the number of website backlinks and referral domains. The ratio should be as close to 1:1 as possible. This figure can vary. It all depends on your niche.
Utilize Google Search Console
Google also provides information on backlinks. Go to the Links tab in Google Search Console and pay attention to the Top linked pages in the External links section.
Push the More button to see a detailed report with a total number of backlinks and a list of the website’s top target pages. Here, you can find out how many incoming links each website page has and how many of their referring domains are unique.
Next, go to the Top linking sites section with the list of the most popular referring domains.
Click on one of the referring domains to see which of your pages the website links to and how many times it is linked to.
Finally, take a look at your top anchors.
This information will help you analyze your backlink profile in-depth so you can select the best backlinks for further monitoring.
What to do next?
Once you have selected all the backlinks according to the parameters described above, add them to the Backlink Monitoring tool.
You can input them manually or import Excel, CSV, or Google Sheets file from Google Search Console.
The fastest way to do this is to add good backlinks for monitoring right to SE Ranking’s Backlink Checker. Just select necessary backlinks and push the Add to backlink monitor button.
Once you’ve added your valuable backlinks, the system will run parameter checks regularly.
In addition to parameters that you can see in Backlink Checker, this tool:
- checks if your link is still where it should be
- shows if a page with your backlink drops out of the Google index
- displays when your backlink was first spotted and last checked
- provides data on the external links of a referring page
If changes happen to any of the backlinks you’ve added, this monitor tool will notify you via email.
All your bad links should be disavowed. This process allows websites to discount the value of an inbound link, helping to prevent link-based penalties. You can also disavow bad links with our tool by checkmarking the ones you want Google to disregard and exporting a ready-to-go disavow file.
Next, go to the Disavow links tool in GSC to upload the list of pages or domains to disavow.
Finally! After all these steps, you can monitor your best backlinks without wasting valuable time on bad links.
How to get high-quality backlinks
So, now that you know what good backlinks are and how to check their value, how do you get high-quality backlinks to your website?
Getting quality backlinks can be challenging, but here are four proven methods used by all SEOs.
1. Free outreaching
Outreach is the practice of getting high-quality backlinks by establishing relationships with other websites who will promote your brand. This is how to get passive traffic and expand your audience.
To get free backlinks, you should:
- Identify websites to work with. These websites should be similar to yours, but they shouldn’t be your competitors. For example, the SE Ranking team can get backlinks from content websites or news portals that provide the most up-to-date news and the latest on best practices in the SEO niche.
- Research websites with great domain authority. As mentioned above, a website’s domain authority is an indication of what search engines think of them. The higher the domain authority, the better the website is for backlinks.
- Come up with an offer. You will want to come up with an offer based on the website you are planning to work with. In most cases, a website owner will request a guest blog post from you in return for a backlink. You will get a valuable link and they will get free content.
- Contact website owners. Once you have an excellent offer for website owners, it’s time to reach out to them! See if there is a contact form on their website or if the website owner has contact information. Send them an email to see if they are interested in your offer and wait for a response. After that, it’s in their hands. Consider reading tips on how to write an outreach email that strikes a chord.
This category includes all methods of getting backlinks (You can also create your own). Here are a few of the most popular methods:
- Create a Google Business profile of your company with your home page URL so users can find you on Google Search and Maps. For the best results, try to get reviews on the most popular platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor. In addition to these famous ones, you should also consider getting reviews on niche platforms appropriate to your site to get highly relevant backlinks.
- Writing testimonials for websites you use is an easy method to earn quality backlinks. You’ll spend only a few minutes and earn a link from the homepage of an authoritative website.
- You can also leave links to your website pages in forums. Find relevant forums to your niche and answer questions (don’t forget to provide links to your landing pages, blog posts, and home page).
3. Paid links
In addition to free methods, you can also pay a third-party domain for backlinks. These can be paid guest posts, press releases, or news articles. Plus, you can get a sponsored link in the footer, on the homepage, or the sidebar.
But you need to be careful with paid links. Google says buying or selling links to manipulate search results violates their Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact a website’s ranking. Though paid links are a normal part of the web economy when done only for advertising purposes, Google recommends that you specify that the links were purchased for advertising. You can do this by:
- Adding a rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored” attribute to the <a> tag
- Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file
4. Organic backlinks
You can become a valuable source for other bloggers and journalists by using your expertise and unique data. Other sites will naturally (organically) link to your content if it is valuable. Here are a few tried-and-true ways to get organic backlinks:
- Publish ultimate guides that provide a comprehensive answer on a given topic. These ultimate guides attract inbound links because they help bloggers and journalists reference useful ideas or concepts.
- Create infographics. This is probably the most common visual asset used to earn backlinks. As we all know, users like visual content. The main text is essential, but text combined with an infographic is a winning move because it keeps the user on the page. Authors often take a ready-made infographic from other sites to save time, leaving a link to the original resource.
In addition to infographics, you might consider creating:
💡 Charts and graphs with original data
💡 Diagrams to visually explain complex concepts
💡 One-page templates
- Perform unique research. This is another type of sharable content. Blog authors usually leave links to data provided by reliable sources to back their claims. As a rule of thumb, you should do your own unique research if you want to get backlinks.
To sum it up
Backlinks are the lifeblood of your SEO efforts. They have the power to push your content to the top of the SERPs, establish you as an industry thought leader, and drive traffic to your website.
Getting high-quality backlinks might be challenging, but don’t let that deter you from building a strong backlink profile. Now you have an entire arsenal of best practices under your belt, including:
- knowing what backlinks are
- why they are so crucial for SEO
- how to get links
- and how to check their value
Now it’s your turn! Use our advice to succeed in link building 😉