If you own or manage a website, then unless you’ve been living under a (virtual) rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard the word backlink before. But what exactly are backlinks and why do you need them?

piece of chain link in the sunshine

What is a Backlink?

A backlink is a link from one website to another. If you post a link to a YouTube video on your website then you are creating a backlink to YouTube. Therefore, the backlink is from the website posting it to the website that is the subject of the link – in this case, from your website to YouTube. Backlinks are also sometimes referred to as incoming links or inbound links.

Why Do Backlinks Matter?

Backlinks are a crucial element of SEO (search engine optimisation) and should be an important part of any digital marketing strategy you employ. There are several reasons for this:

Backlinks improve your ranking

If your aim is to rise through Google’s (or any other search engine’s) pecking order, then having backlinks is non-negotiable. If you carry out keyword research on any search term, you’ll see that the highest-ranking sites or pages also have a ton of backlinks. This is because the more websites that link to your pages, the more authority your site is perceived to have. And the more authority your site has, the more likely it is that Google will offer you up to its users on its SERP (search engine results page).

Backlinks refer people to your site

Backlinks direct people to your website from other places. Every backlink is an extra source of traffic for you. Also, when someone clicks a link on a page, it’s usually because they’re interested in the topic they’re reading about and want to find out more. This means the visitors you pick up through backlinks are more likely to hang around to read your content and maybe explore your site further. 

Backlinks help search engines to find you

Search engines put their databases together by using bots (also referred to as spiders) to crawl websites so that they can index them. However, to crawl a site, the bot first of all has to know it exists. And how do bots discover a new website or webpage exists? By following backlinks from other sites. Therefore, if you’re starting a new site or page, backlinks are key for getting it on the map.  

table with numerous laptops and devices

Are All Backlinks Created Equal?

In a word: no. In the dim and (not so) distant past, there was a time when any old backlink would do. You could buy them up by the hundreds and send your site rocketing up the search rankings. Sadly for duff websites – but happily for internet users – that ploy has been consigned to the dustbin of digital marketing. Google is smart and getting smarter by the day. It’s not just the quantity of your backlinks that matters. It’s the quality. 

What makes a good quality backlink?

There are a number of factors that mark a backlink out as good quality. These include:

    • Relevant backlinks. Backlinks need to be relevant to be good quality. An example of a relevant link would be a local news site posting a link to the local police website in an article reporting a crime. 
    • Links from authoritative websites. Links posted by sites that are considered trustworthy and high-quality will be given greater value and are usually considered good quality backlinks. 
    • Good anchor text. Anchor text refers to the words on a page containing the hyperlink to a website. Search engines use anchor text to understand which keywords the link relates to and if the webpage should rank for them or not.
    • Unique links. The more separate, individual websites you get backlinks from, the better. After all, if lots of different people leave a good review for a restaurant, it’s more persuasive than just the one. 

What makes a bad quality backlink?

Bad quality backlinks will either have no effect whatsoever on your ranking or, in some cases, could actually harm it. Things that make a bad quality backlink are:

    • Irrelevance. Just like a good quality backlink needs to be relevant, irrelevance marks a backlink out as bad quality. For example, if your website sells shoes, a backlink from a site reviewing pet food is probably not going to be considered particularly relevant by Google.
    • Links from bad quality sites. If the website a backlink originates from is untrustworthy or lacking authority, then the links they post will not be considered good quality either. 
    • Links you’ve paid for. Don’t do this. Just don’t. Bulk-buying backlinks might have paid out dividends once upon a time, but these days it’s more likely to see your website penalised. 
    • Repetition. Nothing sets alarm bells off at Google HQ like repetition. Whether it’s duplicate text or – in this case – duplicate anchor text, search engines don’t like it. Equally, having dozens of backlinks from the same site will dilute their quality.

red arrow on grey wall point up a staircase

How Do I Build Up My Backlinks?

So, now you know what backlinks are, why you need them, and what does and does not constitute a good quality backlink. But how do you build them up? There are different considerations and approaches for growing great quality backlinks. For example:

Produce great content 

Sounds simple, right? Admittedly, it’s not a shortcut, but it is the most effective and long-lasting way to get other websites linking to yours. Evergreen content – articles with a long shelf life that people will still be using as a reference for a long time to come – is particularly good. 

Produce long-form content

With dwindling attention spans on the rise, it may come as a surprise to discover that long-form content rules. Well, when it comes to backlinks, at least. Statistics show that long-form content over 2,500 words garners the most backlinks. So if you’re trying to build up your inbound links, play the long game. 

Get listed in directories

While limited in value, you can still create some foundational backlinks by making sure you’re listed in various online directories. There are different types of directories out there:

    • Business directories. These are a more generic type of directory, listing businesses from a wide range of fields and industries.
    • Niche directories. These directories focus on specific areas of interest and contain far fewer listings than generic business directories. 
    • Local directories. These are directories that cover a particular geographic area and include listings for local businesses. 

While this approach won’t make you a household name, it’s definitely still worth getting listed in any relevant directories.

Get your social media in order

If you haven’t already, set up social media accounts on all the main platforms. Some platforms may be better suited than others, so decide where to focus your energy. By building up your followers and sharing links to your content – which will hopefully be shared by others – you also can start earning backlinks this way. 

Now you have everything you need to start building up your backlinks! So, what are you waiting for?