If you’re even remotely connected to the marketing, blogging, and SEO world, then you’ve probably heard the term “backlinks”.
Since the beginning of Google’s algorithmic model, backlinks have been one of the most important players to determine the context of an article (or webpage), the value it provides and ultimately the authority of the article.
If you want to rank higher in the search pages, then building backlinks for SEO is a must.
And in this backlink mastery guide, I’ll show you what backlinks are, the importance of backlinks in SEO and how you can build backlinks safely, step-by-step.
Let’s start this detailed guide to what are backlinks in SEO with examples and strategies!
Choose A Topic To Start
What Are Backlinks?
Glad you asked!
Backlinks or inbound links are the links that another website directs towards your website as an attempt to refer or cite your website or its content.
These are often the tokens or votes of confidence a website shows on your website or the content of the web page it is linking to, in particular.
In a layman’s terms, consider the whole web to be a beautiful busy city. The search engines are the vehicles that crawl through the city enabling passengers (you searchers) to easily locate and move from place to place.
Backlinks here are the streets that help search engines move from one place to another. The best places will always have the most streets linking to them, while remote, not worthwhile places (poor quality, spammy content) will not be hugely connected.
Now, the places that are connected richly (they are connected richly because they provide value) get more visitors and hence more business.
This is exactly the same with websites the number of backlinks they attract. The more valuable or information-rich your content is, the more backlinks it gets. And hence, better rankings, more visitors and more sales.
Now that, you have understood what backlinks are, let’s take a quick look on the importance of backlinks on search engine optimization.
What is a referring domain?
Referring domains are the number of unique websites (or domains) that are linking to your website via backlinks. They are called referring domains because they referred your site on their website.
The key difference between referring domains and backlinks is that you can have as many backlinks from one referring domain and not the other way round.
For example, if site A is your only referring domain and it has linked to your content 10 times, you can say you have 1 referring domain (or ref domains as some backlink tools say) and 10 backlinks.
Backlinks SEO: How Important Are Backlinks in sEO?
Before the internet SEOs spammed the heck out of link building, backlinks were the sole metric to rank a website in search. Sites with the most backlinks ranked the most.
However, with SEOs leveraging this weightage of backlinks for their vested interests, and search engines becoming more sophisticated and coming up complex ranking algorithms, there are now over 200 ranking factors that gauge the potential of a page and how and where it needs to rank in the SERPs.
That being said, links still carry the most weightage when it comes to analyzing how to rank a page on Google. Don't just take my words for it, check out the proofs below to see how important are backlinks.
While Google always hasn’t been vocal about what are it’s top ranking factors, it recently revealed that backlinks along with content quality are their top two ranking signals.
There are many such researches conducted by various SEO scientists with completely different sets of data and each time, only to prove that backlinks are still the strongest chord of Google’s ranking algorithm.
This is not to scare you that backlinks are the only factor you need to rank and bank.
Google’s core ranking formula is so complex with over 200 other ranking factors (like domain age, pagespeed, user experience, site architecture, relevancy etc), all bundled up so no one factor dominates the SERP ranking trend.
How Do Backlinks Work In SEO?
Backlinks in SEO help search bots to locate and identify other pages from one page to another. Just like a traffic support personnel who shows the right direction.
This makes the whole web connected and hence search engine bots (drivers) can easily find related content and information from other pages.
As a additional benefit, backlinks help pages that provide quality content to rank higher because the more backlinks to a page means more votes of confidence from other web pages to that page.
On the other hand, sites that have thin content or or are spammy in nature do not gerner links from any other web pages or blogs and hence can easily be striked off.
This way, search engines (combining other ranking factors) gauge how authoritative a piece of content is and where on the SERPs should it rank.
In a recent study done by Moz using 15,000 competitive keywords, they found out that 99.2% of all websites that ranked in the top 50 had at least one external link pointing towards them.
This is huge! It shows how backlinks and Google rankings are related to each other.
Even though correlation is not causation, it does imply that in order to rank for competitive keywords, you need to be focusing on getting backlinks from relevant sources.
Backlinks, apart from the SEO benefits, also do have a lot of advantages for SEOs and website owners (which we will talk later in this post).
Types Of Backlinks In SEO (Backlink Examples)
Now that we know what SEO backlinks are and what importance links hold in ranking a website using SEO, let’s head over to know the different types of backlinks.
While backlinks have no types themselves, we have classified them into 3 broad categories or types of backlinks in SEO which potentially fit every other backlink building methods out there, no matter you use black or grey hat link building techniques or reply solely on “earned” white hat backlinks.
With each type described below, you'll find examples of backlinks so that you can understand and replicate them.
Before we talk about how to get quality backlinks, let’s take a quick look into the SEO linking strategies:
1) Natural Backlinks Or Editorial Backlinks:
When a website links to your website from within its content as a general way to refer to the content, author or the visual content it has, you get an editorial backlink.
What They Are?
Natural or editorial backlinks are the ones that you earn organically solely on due to your brand power or the “epic content” you provide.
If you create link worthy content that the readers love, solves their problem or talks about something they didn’t know before, you are sure to be discussed elsewhere. These can be on social media sites, other blogs and even in offline conversations.
If you want to naturally create backlinks for free from high quality sites this is the technique to use.
Good, innovative and well formatted content is the key to get editorial backlinks.
PRO TIP: You don’t always need to be cheesy, sometimes differing from the common notion and writing posts that you want to present to the world, no matter they be controversial, are good link magnets too. Controversial blog posts get links easily.
How to get natural or editorial backlinks?
You can get editorial backlinks using the following techniques:
- Write epic, in-depth guides on a particular topic: In a study by Moz and Buzzsumo (see image below) of over 1 million articles, they found that in-depth long-form content gets most shares with average referring domains jumping from 3.47 for 1000 words to 11.07 links for articles with 3000-11,000 words.)
- Formulate a list post: List posts also do get a lot of backlinks, in fact through the same study by Moz above, lists posts get far better backlinks than other forms of content like videos, quizzes, or infographics)
- Use Visual content: Visual content like informative video tutorials, high-quality images and infographics tend to get more user engagement and more links than normal text content. Make sure to design visual content that showcases a new angle to something that already has a craze. This will help you attract more links to it. Visual content are often the best link magnets since people love to use them on their site and link back to the source as credits.
Natural or Editorial Backlinks Examples:
Backlink Example 1
The (Don’t Get Burned) Kitchen Remodelling Guide: Consists of 3000+ words and sails fairly well with 464 backlinks which is a great feat for a single article. Please note: I cited this particular example of how long form content gets more editorial backlinks to show that you can build backlinks or earn them irrespective of the niche you are working on.
Backlink Example 2
Infographics and visual content not only gets you good links, but also brings you the much coveted high authority backlinks, citations and brand signals. WordStream is a perfect example of earning linkings through visual content where it used innovative content and design to get to the homepage of Digg, an editorial backlink from CNN and tons of traffic and leads.
2. Manual Or Outreach Backlinks
In this backlink creation process, you create backlinks by reaching out to site owners, industry peers and influencers to link to your content because it might add value to theirs.
If you are wondering how to create backlinks for free, this is probably the best feasible method to build links organically.
Basically, you'll find high quality link prospects, find what page of yours can be a good fit to ask for a backlink (or create a new linkable asset altogether) and then reach out to them to add it to their page.
The success rate of outreach backlinks directly depends on what value you provide to the link prospect and not how worthy your article is.
Let's dive into the details:
What Are Outreach Backlinks?
Unlike the editorial links, manual backlinks are the ones you build for your blog by reaching out to other blogs, writing guest posts, sponsored or paid links to name a few. For those of you wondering how to do link building for SEO, the below methods will work like a charm.
Manual link building techniques cover a wide range of backlink building activities covering every other backlink strategy other than the first half.
PRO TIP: While Google stands clear in it’s stance that any link building effort intended to manipulate a site’s ranking will be considered as a part of link scheme and will not be tolerated. You can still build some links that won’t violate Google’s webmaster guidelines and add value to the readers or the web in general.
How to build natural backlinks manually?
Below are some of the 1000s of manual link building techniques that you can follow. Make sure you add value to what you do and not just for the sake of draining the link juice to your own jar.
Below are some of the 1000s of manual link building techniques that you can follow. Make sure you add value to what you do and not just for the sake of draining the link juice to your own jar.
1) Broken link building
Broken link building is the process of contacting site owners and alerting them about a broken link on their page. Then you suggest them to replace the link to a suitable, related, and high quality link of yours.
This method works because you actually help clean up a broke link and thus improve user experience of a site and in return you get a chance to add a link to any of your resource that does the same job as the broke link did.
PRO TIP: You can take this further and get highly-coveted Wikipedia backlinks too. Use a tool like WikiGrabber to find sites with dead links based on your target keyword and see if you got an article that could replace the dead link to add context and value to the Wikipedia page. There are other numerous broken link building tools and extensions like check my link or screaming frog to find broken links on yours or any other blog.
2) Guest post link building
Guest blogging has by far received the most used (and abused) link building tactic and the one that has received the most flak from Google.
Since 2012, Google’s been repeatedly saying guest blogging for links is a strict no-no and recently John Mueller, webmaster trends analyst at Google, said he’d nofollow all links on a guest post no matter what value it adds.
However, guest blogging has always worked and will continue to work as long as the link you add provides value to the article. (I’ll update this post when Google decides otherwise!) So, for now, guest post link building is the easiest way to get quality backlinks for free.
3) Get backlinks using skyscraper technique or 10x content
Skyscraper technique as proposed by Brian Dean is the process of checking the top 10 articles that are currently ranking for your target keyword and then creating a new resource article that beats all of them in terms of information, user experience, content format and value proposition.
10x content stands in similar ground and suggests creating a post that solves user’s doubts so that he’d never have to go back to the SERPs to search for that query. It takes the Skyscraper technique a little further by focusing on user experience, visuals, and invoking action from the reader (like being shareworthy.)
Both these formats are something you should always aim for no matter what because they automatically attract editorial backlinks naturally and have a high success rate when you are doing a link building outreach campaign.
There are a ton of manual link building tips that are outside the scope of this article, but you can read about how to build natural backlinks manually here. (Contains 10 backlink building strategies that work, right now!)
4) Low value, self-created backlink building tactics
The link building strategies that fall in this realm offer far less value than the effort it needs. Most of the backlinks made are low quality and considered black hat link building strategies.
Please Note: I highly recommend you not to resort to the following link building schemes as they can potentially ruin your money site or long term sites. Consider these as link building techniques for short term niche sites.
A few examples of these backlink techniques are forum signatures, getting backlinks through directory submissions, press releases, social media profile links, social bookmarking sites and getting .edu backlinks etc.
5) Expert Roundups: (The New Backlink Building Strategy)
A new fad in the easy and scalable link building techniques that is in its full swing is “Expert Roundups”. Our ultimate guide to link building wouldn’t be complete without the mention of this new craze in link building techniques.
Publications are inviting influencers, bloggers are inviting other bloggers and site owners are reaching out to industry leaders to get a blurb about a certain question in return of a homepage link.
Expert roundups have been hugely successful till now in terms of SEO link building and ranking because:
- Social signals: they get a ton of shares from all the participants and then reshares on those shares
- LSI keywords: These posts have excerpts from different industry leaders who have their own lingo so they cover a ton of latent semantic keywords which help in ranking.
- High CTR: The titles in the format (100 experts reveal their best link building tool) get a high click-through rate in the SERPs because everyone clearly wants to know what the industry leaders have in their arsenal.
- Backlinks: The popularity brings them plenty of inbound links and sometimes the participants themselves link back to these articles in their press pages.
However these are, in my opinion, not scalable link building techniques because of their shallow content format and might soon be axed by Google as a way to purge out the massive way it has been shaping as a link building technique.
How To Build Backlinks
(The Art Of SEO Link Building In 2018)
Now that you know the basics of link building and have an idea about what backlinks are, how backlinks work, let’s have a quick overview of how to build backlinks without violating Google’s webmaster guidelines.
In Moz’s classic book “How To Rank”, Cyrus Shepard recommends the 90/10 rule of link building. It means you should focus 90% of your efforts in creating quality content, and 10% towards link building to that content.
That means, you have very less resources to build links and thus have to be very careful when looking for inbound link prospects.
You have no control on natural editorial backlinks but for every link you build manually, you can make sure if it is worth it.
Also in link building, quality of links matters much more than quantity of links. Getting 10 high quality backlinks from authority sites are better than getting 100 low quality poor metrics links.
So, instead of asking how to get quality backlinks fast, you should be focusing on getting links that boost your site's authority and don't worry if they are fewer than low-quality ones.
I have listed some common parameters to gauge the link quality before building it.
1) Topical Authority Of The Site
The concept of topical authority, as pioneered by Teoma search engine, suggests that a link from a site that has a topical authority or relevancy is much more valuable than a link from a site with mixed niche or off topic articles.
Additionally, you’ll want to avoid links from totally irrelevant sites as they directly violate Google’s webmaster guidelines on link building.
Let’s forget Google for a second, what benefit would the link of a fish food selling site get by securing a backlink from a site dealing with Women fashion wears?
These two are totally irrelevant and are valueless for both you and the readers that click on it.
2) Domain And Page Authority of the linking site
As I mentioned above, links that come from a higher authority site pass more link juice to your site than those from sites with low authority.
You can measure domain and page authority of the sites by:
- Moz’s concept: Moz has its own widely accepted domain authority and page authority scores which it updates regularly. You can using Moz’’s chrome extension Mozbar.
- Ahref's Concept: Ahrefs has a slightly more comprehensive and better updated concept of domain rating and URL ratings. You can use it through their SEO link building tool, Ahrefs.
Similarly, links from an URL (page) with a higher page authority are more valuable than links from an URL (page) with low authority even if they belong to the same site.
3) Position of the link on the page affects the quality of link
Getting an editorial link (placed inside the article) is much more valuable than getting a link at the author bio below the content section. Furthermore, a link on the top of the article is more powerful than a link at the bottom of the same article.
The sidebar and footer links aren’t even considered since they will result in sitewide links which is a strict NO. (More on it later!)
4) Link anchor text has a positive impact on backlink quality
Anchor text is the visible, clickable portion of text that links one page to another using backlinks.
For example, in the above definition for anchor text, Ahrefs blog got a backlink from my site with the anchor text “anchor text”.
Anchor texts help readers as well as Google to know what the link underlying the phrase is all about. It gives a brief about the content of the linked page and thus provides a better user experience.
Thus, the more backlinks with your target keyword as your anchor text the better Google perceives what topic your page is on and hence better rankings.
This is confirmed by a study conducted by Ahrefs using 15,000 keywords and their correlation of ranking with anchor text.
The study shows that pages at position 1 had an average of:
- 13% links with exact match anchor text
- 24% partial match links
Having said that, over optimized anchor texts in your link profile can actually put you under wrath of Google’s Penguin update that targets low quality and manipulative link profiles with over optimized anchor texts.
Other Link Signals To Consider When building a Quality Backlink:
1) Co-citations: Co-citations are the text surrounding your anchor text or backlink. Google considers co-citations as baby anchor texts because they surround your anchor text and give a description or context of your link. Co-citations are better link signals than anchor texts because they are not that easy to manipulate as anchor text.
In fact, Google holds a patent called ranking based on reference context which could be used as a ranking factor.
2) Dofollow vs Nofollow: When building links for your sites, dofollow links are what you’d want to go with. Nofollow links pass no link juice and rather signal Google not to consider that link. However, debates in the SEO world are always ongoing as to if nofollow links are worthy of building.
PRO TIP: While nofollow links pass no link juice, however, they do have other SEO benefits that might have a cumulative effect on your rankings. They might pass referral traffic to your blog, get you new readers who might become your returning visitors, brand awareness and thus bring you more links.
Best Backlink Building Tools
(For Scalable SEO Link Building)
Backlink building tools are like magic wands, they help you get what you wish, faster and easier than before!
What is an ideal link building tool?
An ideal backlink building tool or software, for me, has to be one that helps you:
However, no single link building tool can help you in all those tasks I mentioned and it should be link that too (because then it will be like a jack of all trades and master of none). So we broadly categorize link building tools as:
1) Backlink Checker Tools:
Backlink checker tools give you an idea of your competitors backlinks, sites that are linking to them, broken links of your competitors’ or ideal link prospect’s sites and so on.
1) SEMrush: SEMrush is my favorite backlink building tool that also sums of as my complete SEO suite (read how I use SEMrush here). It helps you in checking the backlinks of any site, their complete link profile (what percent of their link is text link, what percentage constitute image links and naked URL backlinks etc) along with anchor text.
You can also use SEMrush (like I do) to keep track of your links, along with content and other PR.
2) Ahrefs: Ahrefs is yet another phenomenal SEO backlink building tool that specializes in link building and backlink management. It gives you the complete link profile of sites you want to outreach for links, their backlink sources, co-citation around the backlink, anchor text, date which the backlink was discovered and if it is a live link, lost backlink or a redirected link.
Ahrefs, is also a great backlink checker tool with the world's largest link index thereby helping you find backlinks to a site (use it to check which sites are linking to your website or competitors' websites.
3) BuzzStream: Buzzstream is one of the best tools for outreach link building. It is a powerful link building software that helps you scan and find perfect prospects for link building. It also helps you send personalized outreach emails and then helps you keep tracks of your outreach campaigns for better efficiency and follow ups.
4) Google Search Console (webmaster tools): This is one of the most underrated and best free link building tool or rather a complete SEO suite offered by Google itself. It doesn’t show you more complex link data but you can use it to get a complete history of your backlink data over the years, see who is linking to you.
You can also conduct backlink audits based on that data and even disavow potentially low quality, harmful spammy backlinks to evade any chances of a Google penalty. Google search console is a best free spam backlink checker.
Spam Or Bad Backlinks
(What are Bad Backlinks & How To Get Rid Of Them)
Link spam is a terrible thing that you as a site owner would never want to deal with.
But, with time as your authority grows you will attract bad backlinks along with good ones.
The good news is...
You can absolutely keep them at bay by following a few steps.
Let's see how...
What are Bad Backlinks or Spam Backlinks?
Spam backlinks are the low quality links that come from low quality sites, casino or porn links as a attempt by someone to negative SEO your site or the result of hiring some cheap link building services like Fiverr gigs or shady SEO consultants.
Getting backlinks from PBNs, link wheels all fall into the category of unnatural link building.
How Do Bad Backlinks Hurt Your SEO Rankings?
Bad backlinks do hurt your rankings in the way that they violate Google’s webmaster guidelines which strictly prohibits site owners to stay away from any type of unnatural link building.
Usually, bad backlinks or spam backlinks come from sites that are engineered to sell links, have poor authority and don’t stand any of the quality link signals that we discussed earlier.
Google can easily detect these footprints and relate any type of unnatural relations between a site and its backlink sources resulting in manual or algorithmic penalties like Penguin Penalty.
How To Get Rid Of Bad Backlinks?
Bad backlinks, no matter they were made intentionally, unintentionally or as a result of someone negative SEOing you, are not good for your site’s long-term rankings.
To get rid of bad backlinks, you have to monitor your link profile using a tool like SEMrush or Google’s own search console (see how here) export a detailed list of sites linking to you and then filter it based on the authority and quality of sites.
After that, you have to create a text file of the bad backlinks you want to get rid of (either manually or using a tool like disavow.it) and then submit the same to Google disavow tool under your search console account.
This way you can remove your bad backlinks by telling Google not to consider those links when assessing your site.
The What, Why & How Of Backlink Building For SEO
I hope this detailed, beginner friendly guide on backlinks gave you a clear idea of:
I hope this article explains the importance of link building in SEO and benefits of link building for your website.
If you want to take full advantage of this link building guide, try to follow it and make your blog a link magnet to attract easy backlinks. Be sure to bookmark this page to always have a access to our link building guide.