What Are Backlinks (and How You Build Them)
April 28, 2021 |
If you are new to SEO then most likely you’ve heard how important backlinks are.
Before running out to earn links or worse yet, buy them on Fiverr, you must have a good understanding of:
- What backlinks are and how they improve your SEO
- How to create an actionable SEO strategy that skyrockets your site
- How to build high-quality links
- Which backlinks you should go after and which ones you should avoid like the plague
I'll cover it all in this post.
Let’s dive in...
What is a Backlink?
Backlinks are when a third-party site links to your website. Looking at it from your site, these links are called inbound links. From the perspective of the third-party site, the links are called outbound links. These links are usually highlighted in blue.
In 2016, Google confirmed
that links are an important search ranking factor and to this day they still play a role in any robust SEO strategy
How do Backlinks Improve Your SEO Marketing?
are one of the ways Google uses to establish a website’s reputation. This works because Google considers each link as a vote in favor of the site or page the links are pointing to.
Simply speaking, if many people vote for the quality of a page, the page is perceived as authoritative and trustworthy. However, you shouldn’t just focus on quantity, you must also focus on the quality of the links (more on this later.)
Does Link Building Still Work?
Often we hear that link-building is dead, and less of value now than just a few years ago. That’s true, but with a huge twist to it.
The spammy kind of link-building, as mentioned above, is dead.
As dead as a rock!
Google is simply too intelligent, and for the most part, ignores these backlinks.
Real link-building on the other hand, requires relationship-building behind the screens.
- Earning quality shares
- Content promotion
That's the future. It's what I would call "real link-building”, building links from scratch.
This starts with personal connections, which could be online via social networking sites like LinkedIn, but preferably starting with a connection in real life. Not hiding behind a computer screen. Think of this as part of your overall marketing strategy.
How to see Backlinks to my Site?
In order to improve your backlink profile, you must first know what links are already pointing to your site. This is easy to do with a link explorer.
For instance, if you log into the Rank Ranger Backlink Explorer
, you can add a domain or URL to the search bar. By hitting enter, you will be redirected to the overview, where you can see a summary of all the links pointing to the domain.
You can also see the specific links pointing to the domain by going to the Backlinks tab.
This will show you:
- The link source and target
- Anchor text
- Page Score
- Domain Score
- First Seen / Last Verified
- New Backlinks
- Lost Backlinks
You can also see new and lost Referring Domains.
This is granular data that can help you understand your link profile.
What’s more, you can also use the data to analyze your competitor’s backlink profile. This will help you create a link-building strategy.
What is a Backlink Strategy?
A link-building strategy
starts by first understanding your site’s link profile. As I mentioned above, you can see that by using a link explorer.
Once you have that clear, you must understand your overall SEO strategy. In other words, what do you want your site to rank for? What is your area of expertise? What topics do you blog about?
Once you know what you want your site to be known for, you need to do some keyword research to understand what keywords you need to rank your website for.
You can easily do that with a keyword research tool.
The next step is to do some competitor research to understand which sites are the major players in your niche.
Once you have all of this clear, you should research your competitor’s link profiles to see what’s working for them. What sites are linking to them? Can you get those sites to link to your site?
How to Build Links
Everyone knows that building links is challenging. How exactly do you get someone else to link out to your site?
What’s more, many link builders end up begging sites for links. I get emails all the time asking me to link out to their sites. The worst part is, there is almost never anything in it for me.
Why would I link out to them if I get nothing out of the deal?
So the question is, how do you build links without feeling like you’re begging for change?
Before I give you some practical strategies to build links, you must first understand the two fundamental principles of link building.
- Solve a problem
- Relationship building
Getting this right will help you to understand the general process of link building.
Once you have that clear, you can use almost any marketing tactic.
1. Solve a Problem - What’s In It for Me?
The simple process of link building is to position your content as a solution to a problem. In other words, is there any value in me linking out to your content? Does the link provide me or my audience some value?
Would my audience get value from me linking to your tool? Does your data make my blog post more believable?
If it doesn’t there is little to no chance of me linking out to your resource.
What’s more, people are not likely to link out to your content if they don’t yet know or trust you.
2. Relationship - Who Are You Exactly?
Since I run a blog and get link requests all the time, I can say from personal experience I’d never give away a powerful and valuable link to someone I don’t trust, in the same way, that I wouldn’t expect or request a strong link from someone that doesn’t trust me.
The reason is simple.
People generally do business with people they know, like, and trust.
Trust is everything.
Think about it this way...
Link-building is a long-term investment, not a simple one day to the next process. The goal is to acquire links that will increase your SERP position, increase sales, and grab a bigger piece of the market share.
Get to know people and demonstrate reasons that they should trust you.
You never lose by building relationships.
Now there are exceptions to this.
For instance, if there is something in it for me I will consider it (as I mentioned above). Also, if the person asking for the link has a big following I also might consider it. In other words, the person’s following might help to either help build trust or provide me with a concrete benefit.
With this in mind, your best strategy would be to build a network of people you have a real relationship with.
Business and Social Networking
Since it’s all about connections, relationships, and trust, you should invest your money in the right places. Some of the money that you might have set aside for purchasing links could instead be spent on social events and making connections with people.
For example, participate in meetups, exhibitions, tailored events for your niche. Get yourself out there. Meet people, help people meet you, and get to know you.
Now I do understand that this is not always possible to do in person. But, the internet has brought us countless ways to get together.
You can now simply connect to a person on social media. Social media connections can easily develop into real relationships if you are genuine enough.
Don’t promote yourself as a link builder.
Outspoken link builders can come across like salesmen. No one likes to be sold to.
Promote yourself as a writer, a damn good writer, writing top-quality content that's worth sharing and passing on to others.
Once you have a relationship with someone, and you have an asset that makes sense that they should link out to (think win-win), you can simply go out and ask for a link.
But, if your relationship isn’t yet strong, you might want to reach out to them to simply start a conversation. This way, once you have the ball rolling, you might find a natural reason to ask for the link.
If you want to understand the outreach process more in-depth, check out our link-building guide
Here are some basic strategies that you can use to make link building easier.
Tactics to Help You Earn Links
Link building is hard as things stand, so why not make it a bit easier? I'm a big fan of getting clients involved in the campaign. Especially when it comes to things that can be done to strengthen the results of the SEO campaign.
Here are a few things that a client can do to help their own campaign. I hope you like these ideas and more importantly try some of them.
1. Supplier / Clients
Many suggest contacting suppliers or clients of your client to obtain links, however, to succeed in this operation it has to be done tactfully.
In order to do this effectively, I generally compose a template and then assist my client technically. I do however allow them to contact the particular parties involved instead of me. This generally improves their reply rate as your client is contacting someone that they already have a relationship with.
2. Exhibitions and Conferences
Many agencies try to fake being the thought leaders in their client's industry. Why not work together with your client on choosing the face of their company and pitching them to speak at conferences and expos. Training a client in seeking out speaking opportunities or doing it yourself can be very worthwhile and should be part of your prospecting process.
Tip: When your client exhibits at an expo you should monitor the mentions they receive and act to turn them into links and relationships for future campaigns. This will earn you links and strengthens the relationships you have.
Many companies have their favorite charity they work with but not many utilize this correctly for SEO. Organizing a fundraising event for a local charity and getting a few bloggers and local businesses involved is a great way to naturally earn links.
This requires a lot of organization and is a long-winded process, but again, it strengthens your relationship with the client and can generate solid links that are very hard for your competitors to copy. At the same time, you're doing charitable work.
4. Social Listening
By listening in on social media and on the web (for example, using Google Alerts) you can find opportunities for your client to show their knowledge. Forums and Q&A sites are also great for this.
Think of every question asked as an opportunity. Collect the best questions and then send them to your client for them to cherry-pick and contribute their expert knowledge by answering the questions.
5. Research and Whitepapers
Okay, I know this one doesn't sound simple. However, often clients have offline research or content that could be utilized online. Many have content behind a paywall/login box that is very rarely accessed that could be introduced anew on the blog.
This reused content can often lead to links. For example, it could be reused as a PDF ebook and submitted to PDF sharing sites (like Slideshare
) to gain some basic links.
Once you are running a link-building campaign, you must track your efforts. In other words, since the internet is volatile, are your most valuable links still live?
To do this effectively it really pays to have a link tracking tool.
To do this, simply log into the Rank Ranger Link Manager
. Once there you can upload your earned links and keep track of them.
The link manager will show you if your links are valid or dead. This is crucial if you are actively trying to build links.
In the case of paid links, you can keep track of each and every link's purchase price, the position on the page that you paid for, start and expiration dates.
If you're merely exchanging links, or someone has allowed you a non-paid link, it’s still important to track and evaluate the source page's social media share value, page authority, number of referring domains, and page backlinks.
Backlink Quality - The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
In a nutshell, good backlinks can substantially improve your search engine rankings while bad backlinks can do the opposite. On the other hand, ugly backlinks can get your site demoted or removed from search results, and even if you realize your mistake, disavowing them is not a simple solution either.
That can hurt.
And that's why you should never sign up with SEOs who promise you hundreds of links overnight because most probably, these would be ugly backlinks.
As a related aside, it’s important to remember that Google’s algorithms don’t just take backlinks into account, you also have to ensure your pages are optimized correctly
, and that your website provides a great user experience for visitors.
Google updates its algorithms frequently so it is vital as an SEO to keep up to date with ranking changes and the reasons why a website’s search performances might change.
What are Good Backlinks?
Google wants to see people (or websites) linking to your website naturally.
Google hates what it calls "link schemes
", which include "any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site."
But why would people link to your site naturally? Google thinks the best way to get other sites to link to your site is to create high-quality content.
"Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice."
In order to determine if a link is manipulative or genuine, Google's Penguin algorithm measures a myriad of factors. These include the quality of the linking domain and the other links leading from it, the anchor text, the surrounding links and text, the domain authority, and link diversity, among many other factors.
The goal is to measure three things:
Relevancy means that the link's context, anchor text
, and the linking domain's other content are relevant to the page where the link is leading. For instance, a link from a vacation rental website to a limousine service may qualify as a good backlink.
How much does Google trust the website linking to your page? Nobody knows for sure how Google measures trust, but in all probability, they have a list of hand-picked websites that they consider to be 100% trustworthy (i.e., sites with domain authority
These may include sites like Wikipedia, CNN, BBC, the Telegraph, etc.
Google's spiders measure the number of links a particular website is "away" from the trusted domains in order to find out "how much" that website can be trusted.
This dimension takes into account your overall link profile.
If most of the backlinks are coming in from the same domain, Google may interpret it as a link scheme. To achieve higher rankings, you should have a broad-based link profile with several websites of different types linking to your site.
What are Bad Backlinks?
The bad and ugly backlinks happen when a link-building campaign goes wrong.
For instance, if you're building backlinks through aggressive guest posting without considering the authority or trust of the linking domain, Google's algorithm can sniff out spammy links.
Or, if you're into exchanging backlinks with friendly websites, Google may penalize both websites.
Other examples of bad backlinks include links from private blog networks and article directories, low-quality guest blogs, irrelevant domains, advertorials, low-quality directories, etc, not to mention links you buy on Fiverr.com.
As for the ugly ones, these are the backlinks that openly and unabashedly violate Google’s guidelines.
Examples can include backlinks built by robots on hundreds of websites, backlinks built using "dofollow" widgets (such as a badge or plugin), links hacked into other websites without their permission, or links from foreign language websites that have nothing to do with your business.
Google is likely to take notice and may even demote your website so that nobody will ever visit it. In cases like these, Google’s Search Console Disavow tool
comes in handy.
Use Your Head
Using the information provided in this post, you should now be able to start improving your website’s link equity.
Don’t forget that the foundation for link building is always to build relationships that earn trust. Once you’ve earned someone’s trust, you should demonstrate how linking to your site will add value to your prospect’s business.
It’s important to remember to only build links from high-quality sites.
Your best tool when determining whether you would want a backlink from a website is your own head. If you view a website from a neutral perspective, you should be able to quickly determine the quality of the site.
If you have doubts about the quality and relevance of the website, don’t pursue the opportunity. Instead, move on.