Did you know that when ranking websites for a given search term, Google’s algorithm factors in over 200 ranking variables?!
That means, if you want to rank high in Google, you need to address as many of those 200+ ranking factors as possible.
But, who has that kind of time?
If you outsource your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts to a professional agency, it could cost you a fortune if they address each and every ranking factor, as they are not things that can be automated. This is manual, time-intensive keyboard labor we’re talking about here.
Some ranking factors are more important than others.
Google, who rarely goes into detail about their search algorithms, lists the three most important ranking factors as:
Incidentally, RankBrain is Google’s machine learning tool that helps them determine a site’s relevancy to each search query. That means your site can rank higher as long as you have quality and relevant content, along with plenty of great backlinks.
But, what are backlinks? And how do they even work?
And if they’re so important, how do you go about acquiring lots of relevant, authoritative backlinks for higher rankings?
That’s the subject of today’s guide to backlinks and link building. With these insights, you’ll come to understand how backlinks can catapult your website to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs).
What Are Backlinks and How Do They Work?
Backlinks are the backbone of the internet. Ever since we surfed the net on Netscape, we’ve clicked on links to discover helpful content.
Backlinks are meaningful for many other reasons. To Google, backlinks indicate whether a web page has high-quality content or low-quality content and if the page is relevant.
External links are the name given for backlinks to your site’s web pages from other websites. And internal links are the links you place in your web pages that direct users to other content on your site. Of the two, external links have the most SEO value, although internal links have their place, as we’ll discuss later.
External links from authority sites are similar to a “vote.” They tell Google that another quality site thinks your web page is worth recommending. Usually, the more “votes,” (i.e. backlinks) you have pointing to a web page, the higher that page will rank in Google.
Why Are Backlinks Important for SEO?
SEO expert Michael Ugor says backlinks are the “most strongly correlated factor” for higher search rankings. Here are the many ways backlinks carry so much SEO weight.
They Help Google Find Your Site
For starters, backlinks are what Google spiders use to find web pages. These spiders follow links to your site and then crawl and index all the pages it finds on your site.
Your site will be found faster if it has numerous backlinks pointing to it. That means your site can enjoy quicker indexing and higher rankings in a shorter time frame.
Because Google uses backlinks to find new web pages, building more links to your site reduces the average time it takes for SEO to work.
Backlinks Drive Traffic to Your Site
Having a backlink on a reputable and popular site can really boost the web traffic to your site. This referral traffic is valuable because a visitor has been recommended to your site from another site.
To that end, Google trusts sites with strong traffic metrics over sites who receive little or no traffic. Google figures that high traffic sites must be helpful and offer value in order to receive that traffic in the first place.
In your link building efforts, try to get backlinks from relevant and reputable sites. Most SEO tools, such as Ahrefs and SEMRush measure the reputation of a website with a metric called Domain Authority (DA). If you’re using an SEO tool, aim for backlinks from sites with a DA of 50 or higher, and, preferably, with high volumes of monthly organic traffic.
All in all, links from high DA sites will net you more visitors and boost your authority in Google.
Backlinks Boost Your Site’s Organic Ranking
Google is the world’s premier search engine because they offer the most relevant search results. Most people use Google every day because they know they can find what they are looking for very quickly.
Thus, Google wants to vet your site and make sure it is relevant, trustworthy, and authoritative. Using their proprietary RankBrain technology, they determine if a web page delivers value for a keyword search.
Let’s say you want to rank for the keyword phrase “treadmills for sale.” You create an in-depth post reviewing all the treadmills for sale on your site.
If the backlinks to that page are from non-related websites, such as a food review site and a tennis instructor, you’re not sending any relevancy signals to Google. The backlinks have limited value as they are not relevant to the keyword phrase “treadmills for sale.”
However, if your site has numerous links from treadmill manufacturers and treadmill review sites, it will surely rank higher in the SERPs.
Case Study: Links & Rankings
Below you’ll see a chart from Ahrefs, an SEO software we use every day here at Direction Inc.
We wanted to see how many links would be needed to rank at the top of Google organically for the search term “accounting software”.
What you’ll see is that the sites with the most backlinks are in the top three positions organically, while a site with hundreds of less backlinks is below the top three results.
What is Link Building?
Now we know the importance of backlinks, but how do you get them? You get them from some good old-fashioned link building, that comes from a backlink strategy put together by an SEO expert.
Link building, in short, is the process of acquiring links, sometimes referred to as hyperlinks, from other sites to your own website.
There are numerous link building techniques that vary in terms of time, commitment, and difficulty. Most SEO professionals will tell you that link building is one of the most difficult and time-intensive duties they must carry out.
Because this process is so demanding most of your competitors likely put in limited time and effort to acquire quality links. And many others don’t pursue link building at all and, instead, focus on all of the other rankings factors in Google’s algorithm.
That means if you can learn and master the art of high-quality link building, you can position yourself ahead of your competition in the search results pages each and every time you try.
Quality of Backlinks
After nearly 20 years, links remain Google’s go-to ranking signal that determines the quality of a web page.
And while you want as many links as you can muster, it’s the quality of the links that matter. In fact, the Google Penguin algorithm update wiped out many high-ranking sites that depended on low-quality backlinks for their success in the SERPs.
When we talk about high-quality backlinks, we’re referring to links from authoritative sources. For example, if you want to establish your site as an authority on dirt bikes, a link from KTM is going to be a lot more valuable than a link from USA Today. Of course, you still want that USA Today link, but it won’t carry as much weight for the audience you are trying to reach.
You see, when a high-quality site links to your website, it passes relevancy and credibility to the page that it links to. In SEO-speak, the backlink is passing “link juice” to your web page. These quality backlinks elevate your site’s authority and search engine positions.
How to Get Backlinks
Getting backlinks takes work. There’s no way around it. There’s no magic button.
We see that as good news. That means there’s a barrier to entry for search engine success. Most people don’t want to do the tedious work, so websites that build links enjoy a distinct advantage over competitor sites who don’t put in the work.
There are dozens of link building strategies and techniques. The following are the most popular options:
Outreach is the lengthy process of reaching out to editors at relevant websites in order to get a backlink.
For instance, you might ask an influencer in your industry to review your products or services on their site.
Probably the most common outreach technique is to email a web publisher who has published an article that links to other content such as yours. You might say something like:
“I really enjoyed your article on (topic). I especially liked the part about (name something specific). I just published a similar piece on (topic) and I thought you might enjoy it. You may find the post to be a good addition to your page. Either way, keep up the good work.”
This process is tedious and it takes time, but it works. You won’t get a backlink from everyone you contact, but you’ll get quite a few.
Creating relevant content is one of our favorite link building techniques. The more high-quality content you produce for your website, the more links you will attract from people with related content.
Simply put, the better your content is, the more shares and engagement it will get, which send “social signals” to Google that your page is being talked about.
Your best content increases your online reach, attracting followers who share your content on their various social media channels.
The best way to get reviews is to let influencers know about your products and services and ask for a review. When popular bloggers and web publishers mention your site, you’ll get a relevant link. Not to mention you’ll get exposure to their large social media following, many of whom will share your content.
Guest blogging is when you write a helpful post for an authoritative site in your niche.
Google claims that guest blogging no longer works for rankings. Frankly, we believe that’s because everyone was doing it and too often guest blogs were posted on irrelevant sites.
Nevertheless, we’ve found that guest posting still works as long as you post quality content on relevant and authoritative sites.
Let’s put it this way: Google doesn’t want you trying to “game the system” with link building. They want you to acquire links the natural way. That’s why they discourage guest posting for link building.
But when you remove Google from the equation, guest blogging makes business sense. Why wouldn’t you want to post on a popular site in your niche? A quality post positions your site in front of another site’s audience who is interested in what you are talking about.
At the very least, you’ll get a fair amount of traffic from a relevant site.
And we believe you’ll get some positive link juice from Google as well. We believe Google’s public stance on guest posting is due to web publishers who abuse the practice.
Let’s put it this way, if the majority of your backlink profile is from guest posts, Google understandably considers that to be “unnatural.” We believe selective and prudent guest posting has SEO benefits as long as it doesn’t make up the majority of your link profile.
Broken Link Building
Broken link building is very simple. First, you find relevant broken links using an SEO tool like Ahrefs. Next, you create something similar to the resource with the broken link. For the final step, you alert the web publisher to their broken link and suggest they link to your resource as a solution.
To multiply your links, plug the broken link into your favorite SEO tool and look at the backlinks to that page. If a broken link has 100 links pointing to it, you can potentially contact 100 web publishers to notify them of the broken link. And naturally, you suggest they substitute the broken link with a link to your fresh content instead.
Do you see how you can add dozens of links to your web resources in a short period of time through broken link building?
Help A Reporter Out
This website allows you to sign up to receive emails that include topics/questions reporters and editors at publications online have and are looking for answers to. It’s free, and all you have to do is include answers to the journalist’s questions, any specified requirements and a bio with your contact information (typically including your website so that they can link back to you as the source of their information).
If the journalist is interested, they’ll reach out! Or they’ll publish your answer, link back to you, and email you to let you know that your answer went live on their website!
Internal Backlinks (Interlinking)
External backlinks are obviously valuable, but hard to acquire because you don’t have any control over them. However, you do have control over internal backlinks.
By inserting links to other pages on your website, you can alert Google to new content and even tell them what the content is about.
Anchor text is the words that display in a link. It’s an important variable that search engines take into account in ranking to a page. It usually indicates what the page is about.
So don’t forget to link to your new content. But don’t use the same anchor text over and over. For example, let’s say you want your newest post to rank in the search engines for the keyword phrase “DIY mosquito repellent.” If you link to the page from six pages on your website, don’t use that keyword phrase all six times. It looks like spam to the search engines, or like someone is trying to game the algorithm. Instead, use anchor texts that flow naturally with the content and are relevant (don’t use click-bait techniques to drive users to a new webpage. That’s a BIG no-no).
As we said, quality backlinks pass valuable link juice to the pages they link to. You can pass some of that relevancy strength to other related content on your site through internal linking, creating a hierarchy that shows search engines what your power pages are.
The Bottom Line
Along with quality content and relevancy, backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors for Google and other search engines. Relevant backlinks alert search spiders to find your content and let them know what the page is about.
Finally, if the backlink is from a quality site, the strength of their authority is partially passed on to your site. You can then link internally to pass some of that link juice to other pages on your site.
Your business can gain a competitive advantage over other sites through consistent link building efforts.
Would you like some help with your link building strategy? Contact us to receive a results-driven SEO strategy for your company.