Why Backlinks Matter For Great SEO

seo backlinks, magnifying glass on paper

Your website is the lifeblood of your business, but for it to generate revenue or leads for your business, prospects need to find it first. There are many parts to search engine optimization, but one of the most important parts is getting good backlinks.

In this guide, we’ll cover what backlinks are and why they are a vital part of any SEO strategy. You’ll also discover proven link building strategies, as well as a number of tools you can use to simplify all of this.

What Are Backlinks?

Backlinks are also known as either ‘incoming links’ or ‘inbound links’. Backlinks are established whenever one website links to a different one. Any link pointing to an external website is known as a backlink.

Why Backlinks Matter In SEO

Backlinks are considerably powerful tools in terms of SEO due to the fact that they are a form of status and reputation between websites. Basically, backlinks pointing to your website tell search engines that other websites consider your content worthy of respect and attention. If a large number of sites all link to the same website, then search engines assume that the content of that central site is worth showing to their users. This means that SEO backlinks move your website’s ranking position up the SERPs, boosting your search visibility.

Google’s Algorithm and Backlinks

Backlinks accomplish two things for search engines:

-First, they help them find new websites.

-Second, they help search engines determine how high a page should rank in the search engine results. This is based on a number of factors.

Once a search engine crawls pages across the internet, it extracts content from those pages to add to its index. Search engines decide if pages are of high enough quality to rank highly for related keywords their users might input.

The number of links a website has is something that has always mattered to Google’s algorithm. One of the founders of Google, Larry Page, was the inventor of PageRank. That was a tool Google employed in measuring website quality, and it put a lot of importance on how many links were pointing to it. In short, it was basically a popularity contest, where more links presumably meant a kind of ‘social proof’ from other webmasters. If a website points a link to another one, they’re saying that site is a great resource.

Google’s algorithm doesn’t just look for backlinks; backlinks are arguably the second or third most important factor in ranking.

The Different Types of Backlinks

There are two main types of backlinks: “follow” and “nofollow”.

As a rule of thumb, you want links with the “follow” attribute. The “follow” attribute tells Google the link is important and should be “followed”. Another way of putting it is that “follow” links have maximum SEO power.

Another type of hyperlink is known as the ‘”nofollow” attribute. If this gets added, normal users don’t notice any difference on the page. The link shows up in the text, underlined or in blue, and functions in taking them to the website or file the link points to.

So, what’s the difference? Nofollow signifies a webmaster doesn’t necessarily want PageRank passed through the link to the targeted URL. In short, you get to tell Google the link shouldn’t be considered for SEO purposes. Nofollow links don’t give the same power to the target URL with their rankings. Nofollow links are commonly used in:

  • 1) Blog comments
  • 2) Editable Wiki-style pages
  • 3) Guest book comments
  • 4) Guest post signatures
  • 5) Forum posts
  • 6) Q&A boards, such as Yahoo! Answers, Quora, etc.
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This isn’t to say “nofollow” links are worthless for SEO purposes though. Obviously, ‘follow’ links are better since search engines will count them. But only having “follow” links can appear sketchy. A healthy mix of “follow” and “nofollow” links is recommended in SEO.

There are a couple of new nofollow links we should mention here: “sponsored” and “ugc”. Sponsored links are like that users have bought or otherwise exchanged services for. This attribute tells Google the link isn’t as valuable as follow.

UGC links are links that Google should largely ignore. UGC stands for “User Generated Content”. These links are found in forums and blog comments. They’re somewhat spammy and unnatural.

Good Backlinks vs. Bad Backlinks

Not all backlinks are created equal. In fact, there are backlinks that can actually harm your SEO.

The content of a website isn’t the only factor, though, as the number of links pointing towards a website from other websites also matters. So, too, does the quality of the external websites hosting those links. So, it’s not just about getting lots of backlinks, but getting them from high-caliber websites.

A good backlink strategy gets links from relevant, authoritative websites that users frequently visit and trust. A great backlink that comes from an authoritative website and includes your target keyword in the hyperlink can do wonders for your SEO. There are downsides to getting links incorrectly.

Because backlinks are important, it didn’t take long for creative spirits to learn how to manipulate Google’s PageRank. They figured out how to manufacture and automate hundreds, thousands, and even millions of backlinks using link building software. The race to the top was built on a mountain of links. These shortcuts and cheats are referred to as “Blackhat SEO”.

Google started rolling out updates that started discounting or even penalizing certain link-building activities. Penguin was the big update that did a lot of this, but there have been hundreds and even possibly thousands of smaller updates along the way.

It’s crucial you only use techniques that are kosher within Google’s current guidelines. Otherwise, your site might get penalized, pushed down the rankings, or even blacklisted. Fortunately, there are still plenty of ethical ways to get great backlinks that help you and Google both out, as well as other search engines you might choose to optimize for.

How Does Building Links Benefit Your Business?

By now, you should have a good grasp of how backlinks can boost your website up the rankings. Did you know they can actually help your business overall, though? It’s not just about more traffic.

For starters, building links can build actual relationships. It means reaching out to other blogs and websites related to your niche or sector. If you create a great infographic or another piece of content, you might be able to share it with industry experts and influencers. Earning their trust means you eventually earn the trust of those who listen to them.

Generating referral traffic is another benefit you should look forward to. If you get a great link from a website that not only has high traffic but has traffic truly relevant to your own products or services, then you can see a boost in sales.

At the very least, you get a chance to build up your brand. When you pair up effective link building with great content creation, you can establish the expertise and authoritative nature of your business. Competitors notice this, the press notices this, consumers notice this, and so do search engines.

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Just make sure your website is as authoritative as your content and links make it look like, because if you want great links, you better be delivering when users come to you.

8 Ways To Build Effective Backlinks

You read earlier that Google only honors certain methods of generating backlinks, and that you needed to stay within that realm to be successful. Here are 8 ways you can get great backlinks these days:

1) Produce Great Content

The cornerstone of a great SEO strategy is having content that others want to share. Each of the tips relies on your content being worthy of a backlink. Google has some best practices you can read about, including the EAT standard.

2) Interviews

Online interviews are surging in popularity right now. Once you establish yourself as a niche authority, you should get plenty of invitations to interviews. Until then, you might have to make yourself openly available and let people know what you can share. A good interview can turn into a YouTube video, a podcast, and a text transcript all at the same time. That means multiple backlinks for the same piece of content.

3) Broken Links

This one probably sounds very counterintuitive, and yet it’s an effective means of coming up with one-way backlinks. All you need to do here is to contact webmasters about broken links on their website. Broken or dead links make their website harder to navigate, and even look bad to users. As such, webmasters love learning about broken links, so you’re doing them a favor of sorts. If you can, make a suggestion about other websites that might replace the broken links. Your own website should be in those suggestions, if not the only one. Just make sure you are visiting related websites.

4) Guest Posts

Guest articles are a very effective method of reaching out to new audiences. Whenever you have the chance to publish an article on a popular website, other than your own, you put your content right in front of new readers. You gain more exposure, and usually a good backlink in the article or author bio box. You also get to grow your online reputation and perhaps enjoy more social media following.

5) Infographics

Infographics are a very popular means of generating traffic and backlinks. People love them because they’re not only easy to share, but also easy to understand. Look for topics trending in your industry and then come up with an infographic with interesting yet informative statistical data. If you can’t generate these on your own, you can easily find content creators who do. The token expense of these is a small sum to pay for the links they can generate, especially if one goes a little viral on social media.

6) Promote Content

Great content isn’t enough to generate backlinks without promotion. Fortunately, a simple email outreach can get mileage out of your best articles. Just Google ‘keyword + roundup’ and look for very recent results. Many bloggers, influencers, and webmasters loving doing roundups on a weekly or monthly basis, and they need content, which you have. Just remember to think win-win in terms of what’s in it for them. This isn’t cold-calling for direct backlinks. Form relationships, but don’t abuse them.

7) Reach Out to The Press

Finding the names of influential members of your industry’s press or blogging community. Finding their email addresses can be a little harder. Fortunately, you can use tools such as Emailfinder.io, Thrust.io, or Voilanorbert to do so. LinkedIn is a great place to get email addresses. Send pitches that are short and sweet, and hopefully, a few will respond back to you.

8) Spy on the Competition

If you really want to generate more organic traffic, then it’s imperative you keep up with your primary competition, especially in regard to their online marketing strategies. Keep up with them on social media and their content marketing. See what they’re doing to earn or build links. Monitor Backlinks is an effective tool for tracking their work, because if they’re guest blogging on certain industry sites, you need to follow suit, even if only to keep up with them. You can also set up a Google alert that tells you whenever they have new content coming out. While this article hopefully tells you all you need to know about generating SEO backlinks, it doesn’t change the fact that your enemy is often your best teacher.

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Helpful SEO Backlink Tools

Once your content takes off, you’ll need tools to help scale your link building. Fortunately, there are a number of tools that can help you skip the time and stress while saving you effort and money. Here are 4 of the most popular you should know about:

1) Ahrefs’ Content Explorer: While you’re in Ahrefs, check out their content explorer. It has access to a database of nearly a billion webpages. You can use it to find niche blogs you can do guest posts for, hopefully before your competition. You can also use it to find relevant mentions of your company you might be able to convert into full-blown backlinks.

2) Ahrefs’ Site Explorer: Remember earlier when you were told that if your competitors were guest blogging on particular sites that you needed to be too? The same goes for all backlinks. With Site Explorer, you can see who links to your competition and strategically reach out to those websites for backlinks.

3) Muck Rack and/or HARO: Journalists use these databases when they are hunting for experts or sources on stories or upcoming content. You can sign up for daily alerts about any questions or queries that relevant journalists or media members are looking for. If you can offer them a good answer or quote, you get credit in their content. That obviously builds your exposure and authority, on top of the fact that reputable journalists always link to their quoted sources.

4) SEMrush: This is a popular SEO tool emphasizing competitor analysis and keyword research. It’s not really fair to just call it a tool though, as it really is a diverse and powerful suite you can use to do many things, including generating lists of potential keywords to rank for and then seeing which ones make the most money or traffic.

Final Thoughts on Backlinking

Getting high-caliber backlinks can prove challenging at times. However, now that you have read all of this, you know not only what SEO links are and why they are important, but also numerous ways to generate them. You even learned a few tools you can use to make it all easier. Just keep in mind that maintaining your backlinks is just as crucial as building them in the first place. Don’t let your efforts go to waste as you build up a great portfolio of backlinks.

Track all the backlinks you get and simplify this part of the process using tools such as Ahrefs, Majestic, or another SEO tool. Remember, the more backlinks you have from the right sources, the more reputable your website looks to search engines. So long as the links are quality ones and you stick to white hat techniques, you should soon get rewarded with additional exposure and traffic that your website converts to leads and revenue.

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Austin Cline is the founder and CEO of ASUN Digital. He frequently writes about brand strategy and digital marketing with expertise in B2B marketing. He has served as a senior director of marketing and director of digital and web for previous marketing agencies and has over 10 years of marketing experience. You can follow him on Twitter at @itsaustincline or connect with him on LinkedIn by visiting his profile.