In a nutshell, backlinks show Google that your website is a trustworthy source of information and an authority in your sector.
But what are backlinks and what is the importance of backlinks in SEO? Backlinks connect external websites back to your own using hyperlinks. Having backlinks to your site can increase your site’s popularity and search engine ranking, especially when those links come from a website with a higher domain authority (DA) than your own.
It’s important to note that there’s a difference between good and bad backlinks. Good backlinks are relevant (they come from sites that offer similar services or services relevant to your own), high-quality (from a site that also ranks well in Google), different (from a variety of web sources and websites, for example blogs, forums, directories, commercial sites), and acquired over a reasonable period of time (i.e. not 1,000 links overnight).
Bad backlinks, on the other hand, are links that Google thinks you paid for – like suddenly getting that jump to 1,000 more backlinks overnight, or gaining links from a vegan diet website when you sell car parts. All backlinks need to be earned the honest way, and this means they take time and effort to gain.
Backlinks are like votes of confidence from other sources, signalling that your website provides high-quality information that’s authoritative and relevant. Not all backlinks are created equal, though: if you gain a link from The New York Times or Wikipedia, for example, it’s seen as higher quality than your friend’s blog. The more visitors you get to your website through those links gained (this is known as ‘referral traffic’), the more SEO brownie points.
Having backlinks improves organic ranking, raises brand awareness, boosts referral traffic, and positions your site as an authority, which means gaining backlinks serves many important functions in your overall SEO strategy.
Improves Organic Ranking
Once Google sees your site as an authority, then your website will rank higher in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Google prioritises sites that users visit frequently about topics they search for regularly. If you have multiple quality backlinks, Google assumes your website is a trusted and valuable source of information around that particular topic.
Raises Brand Awareness
When someone links to your site, it demonstrates that they feel the reader will find what you have to say important. And, once you get a reader to click through to your website you may find they read one article then navigate to more of your content that they want to read. Any time people visit your website, they are increasing the awareness of your brand and its reputation, so your company becomes known for your particular product or service.
Boosts Referral Traffic
Referral traffic is traffic that comes to your site through means other than the Google SERP. If a visitor reaches your site through a backlink, then Google Analytics tracks that click as a referral visit to that second site (in this case, your website). Referral traffic is generally targeted and relevant, and has a lower bounce rate than other types of traffic. After all, a reader is actively choosing to click through.
Positions Your Business as an Authority
When enough sites keep linking back to your website, it positions your business or company as an authority on a particular topic, service, or subject. Google uses many factors – including backlinks – to ‘learn’ what your website is about. And the more traffic that links back, the more Google knows about your business.
Some backlinks are gained naturally (without your intervening), but other ways to get backlinks (besides creating awesome content that people want to link to and share) are through public relationships tactics, guest blogging, and engaging with other relevant articles in your industry.
Create Quality Content
One of the easiest ways to gain backlinks is by creating content that people love. If someone’s enjoyed reading your content, they are more likely to share it, engage with it, and link back to it. But reading isn’t all about words, in fact, a study by Buzzsumo found that articles with an image once every 75 to 100 words got double the number of social shares than articles with fewer images.
You can create some of your own quality backlinks through public relations tactics such as sending quality and relevant press releases to online publications and news sites. The news site or source where your press release is published will then have a backlink back to your website.
Guests posts are valuable, but more difficult to land. When you guest blog, you submit quality content or a proposal to another relevant website’s editor in the hopes they will publish your piece (with your backlinks in it). It’s best to target sites that rank highly in Google and have a strong domain authority. Explain why your company has expertise, share samples of your writing, and ensure that you’re pitching an idea that will appeal to that website’s readership.
Commenting and engaging with forums, blogs, articles, and directories in your industry can help you earn backlinks (think LinkedIn groups, Reddit, etc). When commenting be sure to provide information that is insightful, and link back to your site using a relevant source – otherwise these links can be seen as spammy.
Backlinks are one of the most difficult SEO tactics to master, but, once gained, they can really pay off. Gaining backlinks is called ‘outreach’ in the marketing world, so start creating great content, shouting about and promoting this content, and reaching out to relevant websites. All of these are tactics which can help you gain those much coveted top spots.