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Backlinks Explained – Everything a Small Business Owner with a Website Needs to Know

If you have heard the term backlinks before, it is probably in relation to SEO. In fact, most SEO professionals believe that backlinks are one of the most important factors to consider when trying to improve the ranking of your website on Google.

What are backlinks, though, and how do you get them?

What Are Backlinks?

The term backlink is used to refer to a situation where a third-party website links to another website. We just did it in the previous sentence. The phrase “term backlink” is linked to the backlink entry on Wikipedia. Therefore, we just gave Wikipedia a backlink.

Another term you might hear in relation to backlinks is anchor text. This is the word or phrase that makes up the link. In the above example, the anchor text was the phrase “term backlink”.

How Does Google Use Backlinks?

The Google search platform is based on a computer algorithm. Of course, that algorithm is big, very advanced, incredibly complex, and, as far as computer programmes go, intelligent.

It is still just a computer programme, though.

So, how can the Google algorithm determine the ranking of two web pages on the same topic? In real life, there are usually hundreds or thousands of web pages on any particular topic that Google has to rank, but for the purposes of this explanation, we’ll limit the example to two.

Google uses what’s called ranking factors to determine which of the two pages is better than the other. As it is a computer algorithm, these ranking factors are objective, i.e. page A has ranking factor 1 which is good, but lacks ranking factor 2, which is bad.

Okay, that is a bit over-simplistic, but you get the idea.

The fact that ranking factors are objective is important, however. After all, if a person was making the same decision, they would use subjective and objective reasoning.

One way that Google gets around this shortcoming (that it can’t use subjective reasoning) is to tap into the subjective reasoning of humans. It does this using backlinks.

So, backlinks are a ranking factor that helps Google decide which of the two pages in this example is better than the other.

For example, page A might have more backlinks than page B. From Google’s point of view, this means more people have used their objective and subjective reasoning in favour of page A than B, therefore it should rank higher.

Other factors come into consideration too, of course – around 200 of them. Backlinks are one of the most important.

Not All Backlinks Are the Same

Before going any further, it is important to also understand that not all backlinks are the same. Here are the main examples:

  • Website authority – a backlink from a website that has high authority on the internet will be worth more than a backlink from lower authority websites. Therefore, getting links from trusted websites that get high levels of traffic and that regularly appear on Google search results pages will help to improve your ranking in Google.
  • Links from the same source – getting a backlink from a website is good, but the more links you get from the same website, the less powerful or helpful they become. Google’s thinking behind this is that lots of backlinks from the same source don’t hold as much weight as backlinks from multiple sources. Also, lots of backlinks from the same source could be an indication that a website is trying to game the system.
  • Related content – it is also better to get a backlink from content that has some relevance to the content of your own website. For example, let’s say you own a jewellery store and your wife owns a construction company. Getting your wife to put a backlink on her construction company website to your jewellery store website is unlikely to very helpful to your SEO efforts. It is much better, in this situation, to get backlinks from jewellery blogs and other websites in the jewellery industry.
  • Do Follow / No Follow – when a third-party website gives you a backlink, it can either be a Do Follow backlink (which has a dofollow tag) or a No Follow backlink (which has a nofollow tag). The dofollow and nofollow tags tell Google whether or not the website wants Google to follow the link to see the content on your web page. Therefore, Do Follow links are the much better option.

Backlink Warnings

The above section highlights some of the dangers when trying to increase the number of backlinks to your website to improve your ranking in Google. After all, on the surface, there is a simple solution – Google likes backlinks so get as many of them as possible from wherever you can.

Lots of people have come before you with that thought, though, with many of them using dishonest practices to obtain backlinks. Over the years, Google has responded to this by implementing updates to its algorithm which help it separate good and honest backlinks from those that are trying to trick the algorithm.

So, here are a few things you should avoid when getting backlinks to your website:

  • The anchor text warning – it is good when third-party websites use keywords when they give you a backlink. If this happens too often, however, it can look like over-optimisation which can get you hit with a penalty. Therefore, there must be variety in the anchor text of your backlinks.
  • The getting lots of links, including paying for them, warning – this usually doesn’t work and even when it does, the positive effects don’t last. The much more effective strategy is to get good backlinks from high-quality websites on a consistent basis.
  • The source of backlinks warning – there are steps you can take to encourage websites to give you backlinks, but they should come in naturally. The example above of a jewellery website getting a backlink from a construction company is a good example of a forced or unnatural backlink strategy.

If you can’t do these things, what can you do to get backlinks to your website? There are lots of strategies and methods you can use that are all above board. However, they all centre around one essential and indispensable point… a point which is our number one tip for getting backlinks.

Number 1 Tip for Getting Backlinks

Create content that is valuable to your readers and that they love reading.

People will give you backlinks without you even asking them if you create fantastic content on your website. This could be infographics, blogs, articles, reports, white papers, discussion documents, help guides, or anything else that will be helpful, informative, or entertaining for your audience.

The more of this type of content you create, the more good-quality and useful backlinks you will get.