What are backlinks and why are they important?

Picture of Alex Haswell

Alex Haswell

Backlinks are hyperlinks from one website to another. They are important because web users and search engines rely on them to navigate between pages and websites on the internet. Search engines also consider them as indicators of a website’s authority and relevance, influencing its ranking on search results pages.

What is a backlink?

In simple terms, a backlink is a hyperlink on one website that leads to another website. By clicking this link users can navigate to a new page on a different website.

Let’s take a look at an example.

Here you can see a backlink embedded in an article in our blog section. The underlined text is known as the anchor text, which is the clickable words that form the backlink itself. Anchor text usually gives you an indication as to what can be found on the page that it is being linked to. In this case, we’re discussing our work with the online travel brand Think Galapagos.

Backlinks are created using HTML tags, which is the language used on websites to mark up the text content. Let’s take a look:

Here we can see the anatomy of our example backlink. In this case, we can see that our HTML is made up of two tags, each tag is contained between a set of angle brackets – <>.

The ‘a’ stands for attribute, whereas the ‘href’ stands for HTML references. The website you want to link to is included between the two speech marks, with the anchor text added between the two tags. In this case, the linked web page is Think Galapagos’ homepage, https://thinkgalapagos.com/, while our anchor text is simply their brand name, ‘Think Galapagos’.

Most common content management systems (CMS), such as WordPress, Shopify or Wix will typically have a function built into their interface that simply allows you to enter a website address and anchor text (link title) and generate a backlink instantly.

Why are backlinks important?

The first reason that backlinks are important is that they allow users to navigate the internet effectively. By clicking on a link, you can travel through to a new online destination that may enable you to find a resource, product, service or piece of information you require.

Search engines, such as Google and Bing, use backlinks to discover new pages and often use them as a vote of confidence in the page being linked to, thus potentially improving their organic search performance. Pages with more backlinks, or higher quality backlinks, are typically assumed to be higher quality pages than those with fewer/lower quality ones and will typically outperform them. Within SEO, this is the primary reason website owners are keen to attract backlinks. They are fundamental to your ability to become more visible in search results due to their impact on your rankings.

Types and Qualities of Backlinks

Not all backlinks are created equally. There are several different types of links and qualifying factors that will make a link great, useless or actively harmful. Let’s take a look at the qualities and types of backlinks you need to be aware of.

Link Quality & Relevance

Link quality refers to the authority, credibility, and trustworthiness of a website that provides a backlink. High-quality links come from reputable and well-established sites, and they carry more weight in influencing search engine rankings. For example, a backlink from a popular and trusted news outlet is likely to be more valuable than a backlink from a blog with a poor reputation for accuracy in its reporting.

Relevance, on the other hand, pertains to the thematic connection between the content of the linking page and the linked page. A relevant link is more valuable in SEO because it indicates to search engines that the content is related and contextually significant. For example, a travel agent would likely prefer to attract a backlink from a travel review website rather than a food review website.

Although we know that both quality and relevance are significant factors to consider when assessing the value of a backlink, it’s important to note that we don’t really know how they stack up against each other. There is ongoing debate regarding whether the authority of a website or the relevance of it to your website is more important. Regardless, link quality and relevance are crucial factors in building a strong and effective backlink profile for a website. You should look to attract backlinks from both highly relevant and highly authoritative and trustworthy websites.

NoFollow vs DoFollow vs Sponsored Backlinks

NoFollow, DoFollow and Sponsored are attributes used in HTML to control how search engines follow and value links on a webpage.

DoFollow Links:

  • These are the default type of a link. If a link doesn’t have a NoFollow attribute, it is considered a DoFollow link.
  • Search engines, like Google, follow these links and consider them in their ranking algorithms.
  • DoFollow links contribute to a website’s authority and can influence its search engine ranking.

NoFollow Links:

  • Links with the NoFollow attribute suggest to search engines that although you want to link to the website, you do not wish to endorse it.
  • They are often used for user-generated content, comments, or in situations where a website doesn’t want to vouch for the credibility of the linked content.
  • NoFollow links are currently considered a ‘hint’ to Google, meaning that they will consider the tag, along with other information, to assess the relationship between two sites. They may choose to ignore the tag and still pass authority.

Sponsored links:

  • Exclusively for paid link placements, such as those used for advertising purposes.

The distinction between DoFollow and NoFollow links lies in whether the backlinking website intends to pass any authority to the website they are linking to. Typically, SEOs will look to attract primarily DoFollow links, as they are assumed to provide the most value, however a natural link profile will include both types. As the NoFollow attribute is considered a hint, it’s also important to remember that they can still hold value. Sponsored links are only for those links that the recipient has paid for.

Paid vs Earned Backlinks

Probably one of the most divisive issues in link building is the practice of paying for backlinks. Backlinks that were placed in exchange for money, or through any other means of exchange, are considered to contravene Google’s rules if they are not marked as rel=”sponsored”.

Paying for DoFollow links is still a very common occurrence, with a large industry centred around selling backlinks that are intended to look natural. If caught, website owners run the risk of receiving a manual action against their site, which removes them from search results. Despite this, paid backlinks remain one of the most popular tactics across the web for improving search performance.

Good Backlinks vs Bad Backlinks

When it comes to assessing how good or bad a backlink is, there are several factors that are critical in almost every case. Good links are likely to have the biggest impact on performance, whereas bad links are likely to have no impact on performance at all. In rare cases, bad backlinks can result in a manual action against your site from a search engine, meaning it’s removed from search results.

Good backlinks are:

  • From websites that are thematically related to the linked content, providing context and relevance.
  • From reputable and authoritative websites that are known to publish accurate information.
  • Going to contribute to the growth of a natural backlink profile that typically includes backlinks from a variety of sources and of various types (DoFollow & NoFollow).

Bad backlinks are:

  • From unrelated or low-quality websites will provide limited to no benefit to your own website.
  • Using over-optimised anchor text that makes excessive use of keywords, as this can be seen as manipulative to search engines.
  • Obviously obtained through link schemes, for payment, or using other manipulative methods that violate search engine guidelines.

How can I find what backlinks my website has?

You can get a quick look at your backlink profile by looking at your website in Google Search Console (GSC). Simply click on the ‘Links’ button within the side panel and you’ll be taken to a page showing your link data.

Unfortunately, GSC only shows a snapshot of your link profile and does not update particularly quickly. Many active links to your site will likely be missed in your GSC report, making it a poor option in most cases.

Your other option is to use industry tools, such as SEMRush or Ahrefs. These tools are great for finding links and in many cases can find new links the same day. They also include a huge variety of other super useful SEO and web marketing tools. Unfortunately, neither of these tools is free (like GSC).

How can I get backlinks for my website?

Most websites will naturally attract a certain number of links over time as people view your website, read your content, or view your products and services.

Natural Link Acquisition – Content

One way to attract links is to produce interesting and high-quality content. If you do this on a consistent basis, your website will begin to attract links. The more quality content you produce, the more links you’ll likely acquire. However, it’s important to note that this is typically the slowest road to take. If you’re going to be investing in SEO, it’s worthwhile investing in a dedicated link building campaign.

Link Building

Link building is the process of building links deliberately. There are many ways you can do this but we’ll just touch on some of the most common and popular ones here.

Blogger Outreach

If there’s a relevant or popular blog in your niche that discusses topics that are related to your business or website, you can try reaching out to them to see if they’d be willing to accept a guest post or other type of contribution.

It’s important to note that in most cases blog owners will expect something in return. Site owners understand the value of their platforms when they have built a successful site, so don’t be surprised if you get very few replies or replies asking for money.

Journalist Requests – HARO, Qwoted & Help A B2B Writer

HARO (Help a Reporter Out), Qwoted, and Help A B2B Writer are platforms that connect journalists, writers, and content creators with sources or experts in various industries. Leveraging these platforms can indeed help generate backlinks for your website.

Many journalists and reputable media outlets use HARO and similar platforms to send out requests for quotes and sources on topics that they intend to write about. You can access these platforms and submit material on behalf of your business to be in with a chance to be featured in their articles.

It’s important to approach these platforms with a genuine intent to provide valuable insights and information. Focus on building relationships and offering expertise, as this will increase the likelihood of earning backlinks naturally. Additionally, ensure that your responses are well-crafted, relevant, and aligned with the needs of the journalists or writers seeking information.

Industry Publications

Industry publications can offer many routes to gaining backlinks. Similar to blogs, many industry bodies offer authorship and guest posts, individuals can include links to their websites in bylines or within the content, providing valuable backlinks. Collaborating on interviews, features, and joint content projects with these publications can also result in links. Press releases, awards, and event sponsorships covered by these publications often lead to backlinks, contributing to increased visibility and credibility. Furthermore, being cited as a resource in articles or recognised for achievements can result in additional links.

Review Sites

If you’re a business that produces a physical product, particularly one that has mass appeal, it’s likely that there is a review website dedicated to comparing these products. In many cases, leading news outlets will be regularly reviewing your product.

For example, imagine you’re a company who manufactures and sells fitness equipment. If you Google ‘best bench press 2024’ you’re likely to find plenty of review and comparison websites. You can reach out to these websites offering to send them a product to review or arrange a referral agreement. Not only will this potentially gain you customers, but also land you a backlink to your website if it results in a successful feature.

Final Thoughts

We’ve gone over what a backlink is and how they typically appear in content. We’ve also touched on why you, as a website owner, should care about them and how search engines use them to connect and evaluate web pages. You’ll find several recommendations on how you can find your current backlinks and how you can start developing a plan on how to acquire more backlinks to further boost your SEO efforts.

Browndog Agency has a full range of SEO services that can help take your website to new organic heights, including a variety of link-building strategies. Chat to us today about how we can support your organic growth.

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