Backlinks for SEO: Backlinking Strategies and Concepts

Tuesday, January 23rd
Content Manager

Mark Wilson

Quick, what’s a backlink? Why is it important? How are you generating backlinks to your website?

If you didn’t have immediate answers for any of those, don’t worry. Neither do a lot of business owners and those interested in upping the digital presence of their brand.

Backlinks are one of those things that digital marketers seem to talk about a bunch, but they’re largely invisible next to the more obvious efforts you can make in marketing your brand. This means that they’re largely forgotten by company leaders who demand splashier metrics to quantify their company’s successes or failures.

So do backlinks actually matter? Yes, they can matter quite a bit. Understanding why this is, and what steps you can take to increase your backlink profile, can be a valuable tool for you or your marketing team.

What Are Backlinks?

Backlinks are outgoing links from one website to another, usually tied to an image or descriptive phrase. For example, if you were to write an article on digital marketing and website development and linked to this website, that would be a backlink for Leadflask’s site.

Backlinks vs. Internal Linking

Internal links are links within a web domain, backlinks are links between domains.

That link just above in this article, which goes to the Leadflask homepage, is not a backlink. In this case, it would be considered an internal link, since it’s linking to the same web domain. It’s only a backlink in the hypothetical example where the link comes from a different site entirely.

As we’ll see in just a moment, there are SEO differences between the two types of links. Internal linking is important to SEO as well, but will not be the main focus of this particular article.

Why are Backlinks Important?

It would be pithy to say that backlinks matter because Google says they do, but there’s also some truth in this statement.

Strong backlinks, in both quantity and quality, can affect your site’s search rankings. This, in turn, affects the amount of traffic you’ll receive, and the amount of potential revenue you can generate through your website.

Why does Google (and other search engines) say they’re important, though?

The idea is that a link to another website is a vote of confidence for that site. If I want to link Leadflask readers to another article on backlinks, for example, I won’t want to send them to a disreputable website or an unknown website. I’d pick something like Backlinko’s guide to backlinks, which is ridiculously thorough. It might actually be too intimidating and information-dense for some, but they’re an authoritative source on backlinks.

So that right there is a “vote” for Backlinko’s website, and also for that page in particular. If they get enough of these “votes,” the page will be seen as more trustworthy by search engines.

This isn’t just academic. That page pulls in thousands of visitors each month for Backlinko, and it’s because other people - and thus Google and search engines - see them as an authoritative voice on the subject.

Do All Backlinks Matter for SEO?

No, not all backlinks matter for SEO. Some have little or no equity with search engines depending on the overall authority of the website and code that can modify the value of a backlink.

This is where we get into talking about quality backlinks. A link from, say, the US Government is going to be more valuable than a link from your Aunt Sally’s travel blog. In fact, that link from a government website is likely going to be more valuable than 100 links from small websites like personal blogs and local businesses.

Additionally, the source of the link matters even when you ignore the authority of the website. If you run a local plumbing business in Sacramento, CA, the backlinks that will be most valuable to you are those from other plumbing websites and those within Sacramento.

Why? Because this teaches search engines that you’re trusted within your industry and within your local area. You’re more likely to rank for local searches such as “plumber near me” in Sacramento

Nofollow vs. Dofollow Links

There’s a small bit of code that can be tagged onto links on a website, notating the link as either “dofollow” or “nofollow.” This relates to backlink value.

Remember how we said backlinks are a vote of confidence? If you append “nofollow” to a link, it basically takes away the vote, while leaving the link in place for anyone reading your site.

A lot of people don’t understand the difference between these types of links, and it causes them to attempt backlinking strategies that are useless.

If you post to a discussion forum, for example, links will be tagged as “nofollow” by default. This is to prevent spammers from loading forums with thousands of links to their site. You’ll still see some people (or, more usually, automated bots) trying these techniques. But they’re wasting their time because they have an imperfect and outdated understanding of how backlink value works.

In any major web platform, you or your website manager should be able to toggle between these two options, depending on how you want to handle backlinks coming from your site that point to others.

Can Backlinks Hurt Your Website?

Yes, backlinks can hurt your website, but this is rare and usually only happens when backlinks are purchased instead of earned.

To break down that sentence a bit more, there are companies that will “sell” backlinks, promising significantly higher traffic volume within months or even weeks.

This violates Google’s terms of use and can be seen as misleading or unethical. If you’re caught doing this, your entire site could be removed from search rankings.

The reasoning behind it is that backlinks as an SEO indicator are dependent on websites earning the backlinks by creating useful, authoritative content. Purchasing links no longer makes this true.

So can a large purchase of backlinks increase your site’s traffic? Quite possibly. But it’s short-term thinking and highly risky, not to mention unethical, and therefore never recommended.

Disavowing Links: Is It Necessary?

Google has a Disavow tool that essentially lets you tell Google to ignore certain backlinks from other sites.

First, you shouldn’t be using this unless you’re a marketing and SEO professional who’s familiar with the tool. It’s easier to hurt your website than to help it otherwise.

But why disavow backlinks? Most sites, once they get enough of a digital presence, will start to see spammers linking to their site dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of times. These links are not providing SEO value and are sometimes part of malicious attacks to try to hack or discredit your website.

Marketing analytics tools like SEMRush will allow you to collect these backlinks easily for submission to Google’s disavow list for your site.

However, Google’s system has gotten really good at identifying spammers and ignoring them for SEO purposes. Their internal team has made statements that advise marketers to ignore these backlinks, and not to worry about disavowing them.

If you’re still worried about the effect these spammy links could have, it isn’t going to hurt your site to disavow them. But they can also be safely ignored 99% of the time.

Conversely, if you have purchased backlinks, it’s best to disavow them. This is the one use case that Google still wholeheartedly recommends, as do we here at Leadflask.

Otherwise, the industry’s advice on disavowing backlinks is mixed. Some will tell you to audit your backlinks every few months. Others think you can go years without ever paying attention to it. The best advice is probably somewhere between the two: keep an eye on your backlinks via analytical tools, but don’t fret about them unless something extremely anomalous occurs or you have paid backlinks to purge.

Checking Your Site’s Backlinks

There’s no manual way to search easily for backlinks, particularly for larger sites with thousands or even millions of total backlinks. But analytical tools such as Moz and SEMRush can pull backlink reports and audit your site for potentially toxic backlinks.

As mentioned above, you may not need to take any action on these, but it’s a perk of various tools that can do a lot of similarly powerful analytical tasks to assist your digital marketing.

How to Get More Backlinks

The million-dollar question: how to get more backlinks? Calling it a million-dollar question isn’t rhetorical either; it could really be worth that much to some companies.

First, let’s get something out of the way: there’s no silver bullet solution that will net you tons of backlinks. Any strategy worth pursuing takes a lot of work.

There’s some good news, though. The number one strategy for building a long-term backlink profile is one that has numerous other benefits for your company: create great content, then share it among those most likely to benefit from it.

It’s as simple, and as hard, as that. Because creating great content isn’t easy. Finding a receptive audience isn’t easy. Automating how you distribute that content to scale your business isn’t easy. But this is what will grow your web presence via backlinks.

Take our Backlinko example from earlier. They have an authoritative, thorough piece of content. So a lot of people are going to want to link to it from their own sites, as well as their social media platforms, personal blogs, and industry discussion forums. Not all of these will end up as quality backlinks, but the process slowly builds that page’s backlink authority.

And what can you create that will net you backlinks:

  • Educational and entertaining blog articles
  • Podcasts
  • Videos that you host or embed on your website (links to your Youtube channel are nice, but won’t count as a backlink for your company’s website)
  • Infographics on interesting topics

You can use your imagination to come up with others, but these are some of the most common that people are eager to link to when the content is informative, useful, entertaining, or some combination of those qualities.

There are a lot of other backlink strategies out there.

  • You could email local businesses to try to get reciprocal links between sites.
  • You could create an account on Help a Reporter Out and answer questions within your industry, getting backlinks in the process.
  • You could target potential partners at trade shows or larger events

These are all valid, as are many others that exist. But consistent, quality content is the #1 driver of backlinks for sites.

Your Backlinking Strategy

A good backlinking strategy looks a lot like good content marketing. The two aren’t identical, but include a lot of overlapping strategies.

Both can be incredibly difficult to execute well over a long period of time. But if you follow through for months and years on quality content generation, and regularly find ways to share this content with large groups of people across email, social media and other communications channels, you’ll find success.

Additional Resources

Let's set up a call