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Backlinking for SEO: What it is and Why it Matters

Jeremy Ellens

Backlinking for SEO: What it is and Why it Matters

To succeed with content marketing and SEO, just creating amazing content for your audience is not enough. Your readers might love your content and even make purchases after reading it, but there is one more authority whose vote counts: search engines. To determine if a piece of content is worth something, search engines look at one thing – backlinks.

Backlinks to your website signal that your website is a great resource and that it should be awarded with a better ranking in search engine results. But what are backlinks really and how do they work for SEO?

What is a backlink?

A backlink is a link from another website to yours. It happens when an author on a website finds your content useful and valuable and links to it. For search engines, backlinks are a strong ranking signal.

The reason is simple: if your website gets high quality backlinks from other websites, it’s a valuable resource. And since it’s so valuable, search engines such as Google will rank it higher in results compared to other websites that don’t have any links, or have low-quality links pointing to them.

For example, if you have a website that sells sneakers and you get a mention from Forbes.com, linking to you in an article about sneakers, this is a valuable backlink.

Backlinks are the vote of confidence to search engines that your quality is good. As such, they will reward it in search engine results pages and rank it well for your target keywords.

Why are backlinks important for SEO?

In the simplest of terms, backlinks are a signal of trustworthiness for Google. Let’s say there are two websites, with two different pages on beer koozies.

Page one has no backlinks pointing to it.

Page two has 20 backlinks pointing to it, from high-quality websites.

The second page on the second website is guaranteed to rank better in search engine results.

Or if you want an authoritative source on that, take it from Brian Dean of Backlinko, who says that backlinks are the second most important ranking factor for SEO. Right after high quality content, of course.

If you don’t want to take Brian Dean’s word for it, take it from Google themselves. Time and time again, both Google as a source and many other websites showed that backlinks matter if you want your page to rank well in search engine results.

You can create the most amazing content in the world. But if you’re in a highly competitive industry, just content is not enough. You will need to invest time and money into link building. But at this step, it can get complicated. How do you know what you’re doing?

Which types of backlinks are not good?

Building backlinks is not easy. In one way or another, you will have to ask someone to add links to relevant pages on your website. But unless you know what you’re doing, you could request just about any link in the world. Here are the types of links to avoid adding to your web pages.

  1. Links from spammy websites

If a website covers gardening in one post and financial advice in another one, it’s not very likely to be a high quality one. You want links from legitimate, reputable websites that ideally have relevance to your industry.

Your backlink profile benefits the most from links from those websites that are relevant to your pages. The links you get should come from legitimate websites with businesses behind them. Avoid news aggregators or anything advocating drugs, gambling and porn.

  1. Links from websites with a low domain rating

Domain rating (DR) is a metric coined by the SEO tool Ahrefs. A domain rating is a score from 0 to 100, signifying how “good” a website is in SEO terms.

The higher the score, the better the link that comes from that website. Websites with high domain ratings usually have high quality content, have been around for a good while, and have a good deal of backlinks pointing to them.

Another metric that is commonly used is Domain Authority (DA) created by the company Moz. However, DR is more commonly used in today’s link building circles.

That being said, this should not be your only criterion for building links because DR is a metric that can easily be manipulated.

  1. Nofollow links

There are many ways to classify links, and one of the main divisions is into dofollow and nofollow links.

The attribute “nofollow” is attached by the person adding the link. “Nofollow” means that search engines such as Google should not follow the link. In other words, they should ignore it when considering backlinks to rank your page higher in the SERPs.

Ideally, most of your links should be dofollow. However, some nofollow links are good in order to have a more natural link profile.

  1. Links from PBNs

PBNs or private blogger networks are websites built with the sole intention of gaming the system. These websites have one point only: to add links to them and manipulate the search engine results into ranking them higher.

Recognizing PBN backlinks can be difficult, but it’s important to know that you do not want links from these kinds of websites. Not only do they not move the needle, but they can actually get your website penalized.

  1. Links from forums

Forum links will do nothing for your SEO strategy, for two reasons. First, just like blog comment links, forum links are nofollow by default.

Second, just about anyone can join a forum and start adding links to websites. If anyone can get a link from a website, it’s not the kind of link you want to your website.

  1. Paid links

Following along the lines of our previous entry, try not to pay site owners for links. If a webmaster or an editor is asking money for links, it means that just about anyone can come in and purchase a link from them.

Purchasing links in this fashion is strictly against Google’s guidelines. Also, it means that ironically, despite the link costing money, it’s worthless because anyone can purchase it.

Which backlinks should you go after?

If you’re feeling demotivated after that exhaustive list, don’t be. Here are the kinds of links that Google search will reward and that will stand the test of any upcoming Google algorithm.

  1. Links from guest posts

A guest post is when you write an article for a website to share your thoughts on a specific subject. These links are valuable because they are contextual. And since you’re the person writing, you can share your knowledge and establish yourself as an industry expert.

You also have quite a bit of freedom on how and where you want to place your links. Last but not least, these links can drive referral traffic to your website.

  1. Editorial links

These are links inserted naturally and contextually into content on other people’s websites. These links are highly valuable because of exactly that – they are in a super relevant context.

For example, if a mobile phone review website mentions you in a paragraph and links to your page on phone cases, that’s an editorial link.

  1. Links made by broken link building

When a website links to your competitor, this is an opportunity for you too. Using tools such as SEMRush or Ahrefs, you can find links to your competitors that are no longer working. For some reason, the competitor that got a link removed the page and this is your chance to come in and grab the spot.

By messaging the website owner or editor and offering your own page as a replacement, you can get a relatively easy link. The link is broken (which no one wants on their website) and you’re offering a contextually relevant replacement. Bear in mind that like any other form of link building, it requires experience to get it right.

  1. PR backlinks

Public relations backlinks occur when a journalist links to your website when they’re writing an article. This can happen for various reasons, such as covering a new story about your business or industry or writing new press releases.

If you want to take a more proactive approach, you can use platforms such as HARO to be a source for journalists and earn these backlinks instead of waiting for journalists to think of your brand first.

How to check the backlinks coming to your website

Before building new backlinks to your website, you might want to assess your current backlink portfolio. You can do this in two different ways.

Using Google Search Console

Log into your Google Search Console (which is a completely free tool) and click on “Links” in the left-hand menu. Then click on “Top linking sites” and then on “More”.

This is a nice and free way to get a list of all the websites that are linking back to you. Unlike some other methods, GSC does not update links regularly and you won’t be able to see lost backlinks.

However, it’s a great first step to a successful backlink analysis.

Using SEO tools such as Ahrefs or SEMRush

The beauty of these tools is that they offer many insights about organic search performance, and allow you to do keyword research, among other things. But let’s get back to backlinks.

With Ahrefs or SEMRush, you can do a deep dive into your backlink profile. You can spot new backlinks as they come in, find lost backlinks, and most importantly, look at competitor backlinks.

This way, you can see which external links competitors have and which websites linked to them. You can then use this knowledge to reach out to the same target websites and get the same or similar links.

Also, you can use the broken backlinks approach and target links to your competitors that are now broken and attempt to replace them with your own.

While these tools do cost quite a bit of money, they help out quite a bit. You can analyze and dissect not just your own, but also your competitors’ backlink profiles and devise a strategy for link building.

Ways to get new backlinks to your website

Now that you know why backlinks matter for digital marketing and SEO, you might want to build some of your own. Here are the top ways you can do this.

Earning links with link bait

Link bait is a valuable piece of content that attracts journalists and writers to link to you. For example, Buffer’s State of Remote Work is a treasure trove of research and statistics that many writers use in their content pieces.

This approach takes considerable time and effort but can be a cost-effective way to get links on autopilot. Other examples of link bait include infographics, detailed guides, research pieces, case studies, expert roundups, and many others.

Guest blogging

One of the oldest tactics in the link building world, guest blogging entails writing guest posts for other websites and publishing links to your website within them. On paper, it sounds quite simple.

In reality, this backlinking strategy requires a lot of time, talent and money. It can often turn into month-long conversations with editors before your guest blogs get published. However, there is the added benefit of building your credibility as a business and an author when you get published on relevant industry websites.

Backlink exchanges

One way to get more organic traffic through link building is to exchange backlinks with high-authority websites. This is one of the most common link building strategies that can work to your advantage, provided that you know how to do proper outreach.

If you have a dedicated person in your marketing team for link building, exchanges can be a way to build inbound links at scale. All it takes is finding the right websites, then finding the right people that run them, reaching out and asking for a link.

More often than not, this turns out a lot more complicated than it seems. This is why many businesses turn to hiring agencies that build a large number of backlinks at a great price point.

Hiring a link building agency

The best backlinks are those that you can get without spending months on blogger outreach services and writing. This is where link building agencies come in. They have a network of people that they can reach out to and quickly build relevant dofollow links at scale, without using link schemes or PBNs.

Using an agency is arguably the quickest way to build high authority backlinks quickly, at a great price, and improve your search engine rankings.

Wrapping up

Backlinks are the most important element of off-page search engine optimization. No matter what industry you’re in, if your marketing goal is to improve rankings and get organic traffic, you need to build backlinks.

And if you don’t want to do the heavy lifting yourself, we can do it for you. At ReportCard, we can build high-quality relevant links for your business in a way that won’t get you in trouble with search engine algorithms. Instead, we can get you actual business results with our SEO backlinks.

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