It’s no secret that quality backlinks are a highly effective way to strengthen your site’s SEO performance.
But what are backlinks? And how can a backlink strategy be used to help increase traffic to your site, whilst also improving your visibility through organic search?
What Is A Backlink?
Backlinks, inbound links, incoming links...whatever your preferred term is, a backlink is essentially a link directing from a website, to your site. Although the premise of a link may seem small, backlinks yield great SEO power as they help to establish your content as valuable, and you as a reputable source to be trusted.
If we look at Google’s mission statement we can begin to understand why backlinks are so important...
Google’s goal is to give its users the information they need and offer them further reading on other sites that help to deepen their understanding. Each link to your website acts as a vote of confidence for your site, saying that your content is useful and valuable to readers. So, the more links/votes you have, the more credible the content appears - similar to how the more engagement a Facebook post receives, the more likely you are to take heed of it and trust it.
Backlinks are essentially endorsements that can’t be bought (without Google penalising), so must be earned. Having to earn these naturally means your content must, by nature, be of very high quality, informative, interesting and, overall, add value.
Why Are Backlinks Important?
Backlinks offer many benefits in regards to organic search and play a massive role in off-page SEO. Backlinks are essentially about the reputation of your site. The more popular and authoritative you appear to Google, the more you will:
Improve search engine visibility
Increase traffic to site
Directly influence your rankings
Strengthen your brand’s reputation
What Is A 'High-Quality' Backlink?
Did you know that the #1 result in Google has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions 2 to 10? There’s no ignoring the incredibly important role backlinks play in search engine rankings. Google’s PageRank is a mathematical formula that measures the importance of a page based on the links pointing at the domain. Not only does it assess the volume of links to a page, but it also analyses the page that shared the link. Pages that are seen as more important and hold more authoritative value will cast a stronger vote, so the backlink will mean more. These links are seen as ‘high-quality links’.
There are many aspects that are taken into consideration when deciphering what it means to count as a high-quality link.
a) An Authoritative and Trusted Source
Of course, the most important quality of a high-quality link is the authority and trustworthiness the site holds. Much like how we are more likely to trust information from BBC News than we are a random guy who lives a few doors down (unless maybe he is a BBC newsreader), Google will trust sites with higher domain authority than those with low ones.
BBC News has an extremely high Domain Rating and has an incredible total of 6.77billion links pointing to it. If your site was lucky enough to receive a backlink from the BBC, your link would hold great power as some of BBCs authority, value and trustworthiness (which is partly earned by all the backlinks pointing to it) would be passed to your site.
The strength of a link from a site with zero referring domains would be minimal.
b) Relevance of the Site
A good indicator to Google that your content is of value to the intended audience, is the relevance of the sites linking to yours. For example, if you published content about ways to care for your indoor plants, which was then shared by botanist bloggers and other websites related to nature and gardening, Google would know that your content serves a purpose in your industry’s realm and the links are legit. However, if the links pointing at your content were from a technology website and a blog about sandwiches, Google would know something was amiss and attribute less value to the links.
c) Anchor Text
The words which include the link to your site (the anchor text) is also taken into consideration by Google - if your link text is over-optimised with keywords and appears spammy, this is not good - for Google OR your reader! However, if one of your target keywords appears naturally in the anchor text, this can be beneficial. Overall, you want it to be descriptive, relevant but not stuffed with keywords for the sake of it.
d) Link Placement
Where has your link been placed? Placement also plays a role in the quality of the backlink. You will want your link to appear naturally in the main body of the text rather than in the footer or sidebar.
You want the link to places editorially and naturally. The whole point of link building is sharing your page with people who have a genuine interest in it, and so the person placing the link should genuinely want to, and see that it adds something to their content.
So How Do You Get Backlinks?
So, by now you understand the importance of backlinks, and more than likely just want to get to the part where we tell you how to start getting your haul. Unfortunately, backlinks are notoriously time-consuming and difficult to obtain. In fact, a study showed that 94% of all the content online doesn’t have any links at all. Fortunately, though, there are tried and tested strategies and techniques you can adopt, so you too can start your backlink journey and enjoy some of the sweet success that link equity brings.
First of all, you will need to conduct some groundwork to really understand your audience. You’ll need to arm yourself with answers to questions such as ‘What websites do they currently visit?’ and ‘What content do they engage with?’. From this, you can carry out a backlink audit of your competitors’ websites, and find a list of sites who are in your niche and already have linked to websites similar to yours. After all, if they’ve linked to them, why shouldn’t they link to you? For this stage you will need to use your SEO tools to audit these sites, thus creating a ready-made list of potential target sites for you to browse and choose which are the most relevant to your site and realistically likely to link to you. If your competitor is a very well known brand with a big following, and you’re just starting a small business, it’s unlikely you will be able to match their success of link quality immediately. However, you can work your way up by starting with lesser-known sites and blogs that are still highly relevant and have decent domain authority.
Link Building Techniques
a) Linkable Assets
Perhaps the most well known, and well-received, method of link building is the creation of linkable assets. This is a piece of content you have crafted which is shareable and interesting that will add value to other people thus will get shared naturally on their sites. A linkable asset should offer further understanding into your industry and will help to reaffirm the expertise of your site.
Linkable assets can take many forms. Including (but not limited to):
- Blog posts
- Case studies
- List Posts
- Original Research
To create your linkable asset, you’ll need to consider what is currently missing in the content of other sites. Are there any questions about your niche that members of the online community ask about? For this, you can check social media pages, Reddit and other online forums where there are discussions from enthusiasts on your type of product.
Another great way of doing this is by conducting your own research about your industry. Through Google surveys, you can create your own questions for a survey, and have the opportunity to target them to your desired demographic. From your findings, not only may you find out some useful information about your business, but also have created your own statistics you can create a post about. Why not go one step further, and create an eye-catching designed infographic to display your results?
It may be time-consuming to create your linkable asset, but there is no denying that often the results are really worth it. Don’t forget to promote your content to your existing audience via social media and email marketing.
b) Link Outreach
Now you have your list of target sites, and your interesting and valuable linkable asset, it's time to get your content out there. In theory, it sounds simple enough - contact your target site and ask them if they would like to share your content. However, people are savvy to this and similar to how you may be alarmed if a stranger contacted you to persuade you to share their content, they may be hesitant. At this stage, it’s important to understand that you want not just a link off them, but to build a relationship. You want to create a personalised message to the site owner, or whoever is in charge of the site’s content, and show how exciting your content is and what value it adds to their site. You may use a similar script to reach out to each site, but take the time to understand who you are messaging and to find reasons and opportunities where your content can be shared on your site, and why the site’s audience will enjoy it.
c) Link Roundups
Another way to obtain backlinks is to have a look for roundup style posts in your niche. A roundup post is simply an article which features a recommended list of products or websites with a (you guessed it) link to each one. For example, take a look at our round-up of Shopify apps.
If you’re in the early days of garnering links this is a good place to start, however remember that the link equity won’t be as strong on these posts (as you have to share it with all the other links on the post).
Are you, or someone in your company, an industry expert? If so, why not try to leverage this and see if you/they can offer interviews which when published will include a link to your site. You can contact journalists, bloggers or websites that are relevant to your topic and see if you can share your wealth of information, in order to help achieve links, as well as establishing your credibility.
e) Guest Posting
To guest post or not to guest post...
What was once a go-to technique of SEOs looking to grow their online audience, became an area to tread carefully in order to avoid penalties from Google (remember their brand mission?). Many marketers used guest posts to quickly build up backlinks without actually offering anything in the form of quality content and real value. Although spam guest posts can harm your site's performance on Google, that doesn’t mean you have to abstain completely from the practice. A guest post should be a very high-quality piece of content and posted on a website that is highly relevant to yours.
f) Link Reclamation
Are there any sites out there that have mentioned your brand, but failed to link to your site? Possibly the easiest of link building techniques is to contact the website and ask if they can include a link to your site. As their content already mentions you, chances are they’ll be more than willing to include a link. Just ensure it's a DoFollow link and follows the best practices in regards to high-quality links.
How NOT To Get Backlinks
As backlinks are so important to SEO, there are naturally a lot of people who have tried to manipulate Google’s algorithms in order to gain more. However, Google will penalise for these methods, which can result in your ranking falling, or even possibly being removed from Google’s index altogether.
Methods to avoid are:
Paying for links. This includes in terms of money and free products in return of a write-up which includes a link.
Excessive link exchanges, i.e. don’t incorporate an “I’ll link to you if you link to me” style scheme into your backlink strategy. Google will see through these as merely linking for the sake of it.
Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
Automated services that create links to your site.
A large scale marketing campaign including guest blogs with keyword-heavy anchor text.
Backlinks are a key element in any website’s SEO strategy and success in search results pages, but it’s imperative that you go about building your links in the correct way. Follow our tips, keep Google’s mission in mind, and you’ll reap the rewards that a strong backlink profile can bring to your site.