“I can tell you what they are (the first two ranking factors). It is content and links pointing to your site.”
- Andrey Lipattsev (Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google)
What is a backlink?
A backlink is simply a link to your website from another website. They can also be called incoming links, inbound links, inlinks, or inward links. You can think of them like citations or references. The quantity, quality, and relevance of backlinks are among some of the factors that search engines use to estimate how valuable the page is.
Google says: “Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B.” We know that sheer volume of links is not always beneficial, unless those links are of good quality and relevancy. Bad links can even be harmful and have serious consequences for your rankings.
Google is pretty good at determining good links from bad, and since you can’t stop people linking to your website (disavowing aside, but that’s a topic all of its own), Google won’t punish you just for having a few bad links. There are, however, shady backlinking practices that are carried out by unscrupulous SEO agencies. These practices involve gaming the system, and they work in the short term, but Google will discover them sooner or later and your website will be penalised. It’s not worth it.
So how do I get genuine, good quality backlinks?
Organically - Google says that backlinks should happen organically. That, over time, websites that are relevant to each other should naturally build links between them. Build it and they will come. If you make high quality content then it will naturally become linked to, as more people discover it. Now this does happen, and it’s just one of the many, many benefits of creating high quality, optimised content for your site, but realistically you will need to take a proactive stance to get more backlinks.
Inorganically - Outreach is an important part of link building but it can be time consuming and frustrating. The basic process is this:
- Conduct some research and compile a list of websites that are relevant and trustworthy.
- Contact those websites, but don’t just ask for a link. Every day thousands of emails requesting links get ignored, you have to give them a reason to link back to your website. If you’ve written a piece of content that’s a great citation for a piece of content on their site, perfect!
Types of link
Until recently there were only really two types of links, a ‘dofollow’, and a ‘nofollow’. They are still the main attributes of concern, but Google has added two new ones; ‘sponsored’, and ‘ugc’. But what do they all mean?
- rel=”dofollow” - Is an instruction to search engines to follow that link, ideally giving your website the Pagerank benefit of the link. You want this.
- rel=”nofollow” - The opposite of a ‘dofollow’. This tells search engines not to follow the link. That’s not to say ‘nofollow’ links are completely useless as they still offer a portal to your website for potential visitors. A link in the description field of a YouTube video for example is a ‘nofollow’ link, but if you have an eCommerce site and the video is advertising a product, you’ll want a link to that product in the description.
- rel=”sponsored” - As it might sound, this indicates that the link is part of some form of sponsored content.
- rel=”ugc” - This indicates the link is “User Generated Content”, such as comments or forum posts.
But wait, there’s more!
Backlinks are important, super important. But it’s also important to always remember the power of internal links. Google employees have stated the importance of properly optimised internal links and there are several case studies highlighting the benefits of high quality internal link building.
Links are important. Internal, external, nocturnal. You heard it straight from one of Google’s many mouths, content and links! Building high quality, relevant content and links is the secret to a successful SEO strategy, forego them at your peril!