What the heck is a backlink, and why are they so important?

Backlinks - What they are - how they work - and why you should be creating them (1)

Welcome to the weird, wacky and wonderful world of SEO, today we’re going to be delving into the intricacies of backlinks, what they are, how they work, and how to get them. So without further ado, let’s get into it.

A backlink is any link to your website from an external source. There are a number of different types of backlinks, including: social, citation and editorial. They all have their place in creating a diverse backlink profile, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of the pure ranking potential it can have for your website, and that is an editorial backlink. But let’s go through some of the others first.

Social backlinks, pretty self explanatory, right?

A social backlink or ‘social signal’ is any link to your site from a social media site, usually from a post of some sort on any social media platform (like Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter etc). These are arguably the least valuable kind of backlinks, because they happen a lot and can be directly influenced by the person or business looking to get something from that link.

Ad backlink

Ad backlinks are again pretty self-explanatory, they’re any links to your website from advertised content, such as sidebar ads on a website, that aren’t using Google’s display network. You most often see these on exhibitor websites or local football clubs that have sponsor links on their website. They’re usually in the header, footer or sidebar of a webpage. Again, these kinds of backlinks are less valuable because they are directly influenced, and not considered a ‘natural’ way to build backlinks to your website.

Citation, what’s one of those?

A citation is any mention of your business (usually your NAP – Name, Address, Phone Number) on the web. These are most commonly found on Directory websites, and often include some kind of link back to your website (usually a nofollow link). There is still some debate about how valuable these are to a website, as back in the glory days of SEO they were used and abused to build a website’s authority, so became less trusted in Google’s eyes. I still think a good citation/directory profile is valuable, as it helps to build a diverse backlink profile. Lots of links, from lots of domains. But be wary of submitting to any and all directories, this could lead to being blacklisted by Google. Before submitting to a directory, do your due diligence and scope the website out first. Look at the domain authority and trust score (using a tool like Majestic SEO) first. If the trust score is good and it has an alright domain authority, it’s probably safe. Common sense comes into play here, if it’s a shit site that is just jammed full of crap and spam within the comments etc, then avoid it like the plague!

You mentioned NoFollow links, what the heck is that?

So when linking to a website, you have a few options. One of the options is to add a rel=nofollow tag to the a href (link), this tells Google & other Search Engines not to follow that link and to treat it as a reference only link. This will stop Google passing any authority over from the linking website to the linked website.

Although a lot of SEO’s think this is a bad thing (it kind of is), if the site is strong enough, then having a nofollow link is definitely still better than having no links at all. It’s still somewhat taken into account when Google looks at your link profile. But the ultimate goal is to create a lot of high quality follow links.

Back to the types of links… What is an editorial backlink then?

An editorial backlink is any backlink that is within a body of text. It’s a ‘natural’ backlink that is within the content of your website. The most common place to find editorial backlinks are within the content on blog posts. For example, this website sells Level 2 Gym Instructor Training Courses. That link is an editorial backlink, it’s somewhat less valuable in the context of this article, because this article isn’t specifically about becoming a Gym Instructor. But in a normal article it would be valuable because it’s providing the user with more context about the point I’m trying to get across. And it also is using one of their keywords as the anchor text, which is a big thumbs up. Although this is supposedly no longer as relevant as it once was, it’s still a good signal to Google, and will help the receiving website rank better for that particular keyword.

What makes a good editorial backlink?

A great backlink comes from within a natural article or page. The referring website should have a good domain authority, a strong trust score, and it’s own strong backlink profile. It should also produce high quality articles and content, and link to the receiving site naturally within the content of that content, rather than within a footer, or on a link farm page.

How do I build a good backlink profile?

A healthy backlink profile should be made up of a lot of strong links from a lot of good referring domains. The key is to ensure you’re getting links from a wide range of sites, from small DA 10 website, to big DA 80 websites. Your backlink profile should be made up of a combination of links including editorial, citation/directory, and social links.

Sounds easy, sign me up!

Hold on there keen Karen. Building backlinks is arguably… actually not arguably… is the most difficult part of an SEO campaign. Outreach takes a lot of time to research and to perform and more often than not, has a very low conversion rate (meaning for every 100 outreach emails you send out, you’re likely to get 2 or 3 replies, and of these replies maybe one might convert into a backlink). And it’s the number one contributing factor in why SEO campaigns often seem so expensive. It’s time consuming and low yielding, BUT is one of the best ways to help get your site seen online.

So, should I do it, or what?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, but be prepared for the pain and misery an outreach expert experiences on a daily basis. It’s a long, frustrating process, and if it’s not done right can end up meaning… well not a lot.

SEO is an ongoing process, and isn’t just a one week, or one month thing. It takes time and effort to get it right, so instead of wasting your time trying to do it yourself, why not hire an expert and get on with what you do best *cough* me *cough*.

If you’ve made it this far, hats of to you kind sir/madame, you deserve to treat yourself. If you need help with your SEO campaign, or just want some friendly advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at ryan@laikadigital.co.uk.

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