What is a Backlink?
What’s all this hoopla over backlinks? Every SEO forum and blog you stop by is constantly touting the power and necessity of backlinks they must be a pretty big deal! So what exactly is a backlink? Simply put, a backlink is a link on another website (external) that leads to a page on your website. For instance, a link on this page to a page on another website would be a backlink for THAT webpage.
How do Backlinks Help us Rank?
Think of it like this: backlinks are human citation. In a sense, we decide what pages we, as internet users, want to show up in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) by linking to the content we like. A page with more links of a higher quality than others will rank higher. The part about quality is really important. It’s not just about who has the most backlinks it’s about where those links are from.
If you were trying to lose weight, would you be more inclined to trust the opinion of some Joe Shmo or from a professional health expert? This principle is applied to backlinks and the way they affect our rankings. Links from sites that are established as authorities (like the health expert) carry much more weight than a link from someone commenting in a fitness forum somewhere. Google weighs out these links and their value using their complex algorithm and uses this data to decide how to rank your website/webpage. Your site does not have to be a monster authority site to rank highly. Rather, you can rank highly by getting high quality backlinks from other authority sites.
Let’s pretend that the health expert from earlier told us that Joe Shmo actually made some good points and his opinions are quite valid. Wouldn’t we start to trust Joe Shmo more and see more value in his opinion? Similarly, if an authority health site linked to Joe Shmo’s small niche site, Google would realize that maybe Joe’s site is more authoritative then they realized, and they would rank it higher. The web is not controlled by computers. It is run by people, and this is reflected in the way we act and link online. Search Engines know this and respond accordingly to try to give us the results that we demand and construct ourselves.
How do we get Backlinks?
Now that we know the importance of backlinks and why they affect our rankings the way they do, we need to figure out how we can get some. A full answer to this question might take some hundreds of pages, so we’re going to take a broad view of some backlinking strategies to get a good idea of how to get quality backlinks.
Sadly, backlinking isn’t as simple or straight forward as our health expert example above. You’re not so likely to be granted a link from some powerful authority such as CNN or Apple just for creating great content. Our techniques are going to have to be a little more guerrilla-esque. This isn’t to say that the quality of your content doesn’t matter, it’s quite the opposite. At the core of your promotion and backlinking strategy should be great, quality content. We’ll assume you already know how to make great content and get on with the backlinking.
There are many different ways to get backlinks and each of the methods takes time to learn and master. Rather than getting super-in-depth with any single backlinking strategy, I’m going to provide you with a list of ways to get backlinks. We are going to continue this SEO course by covering the governing principles of backlinks and how to measure their quality – knowledge you can apply to every single backlinking method successfully. Here’s a comprehensive list of ways to get backlinks:
Free blogs (blogger, wordpress, squidoo)
Each of these methods can be deeply explored to achieve the best results. For this SEO Course, we are instead going to cover the factors that make a great backlink.
Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyper-link. For example, if you look at the links in the resource box for this article, one of them has the anchor text “SEO Course” while the other simply has my website’s URL as the anchor text.
Anchor text is very powerful and has a big impact on how effective a backlink is. Anchor text gives search engines a quick glimpse of what the page on the other side is going to be about, so you want to use your keyword and other keyword variations as often as you can. Google and other SEs look at the text closest to a link to decide what it’s about, and in essence, your anchor text is technically the closest text to the link (it IS the link!). You won’t always have the option to use anchor text, but don’t give up an opportunity when one presents itself.
Relevance is another factor that decides how effective a backlink is. Relevance really is the name of the game when it comes to ranking in the search engines. Google says over and over again, their goal is to provide the most relevant search results. This means having relevant content and having relevant backlinks pointing to your content. A relevant backlink appears to be very relatable to your keyword. The same factors that make any page relevant to a keyword are the factors that would make a backlink relevant to your keyword. For instance, an article with a good keyword density for your keyword and your keyword in your anchor text would be pretty relevant. To increase the relevance of any backlink you can use proper anchor text, surround the link with relevant text, and use a relevant title if possible.
The effect of PageRank on you rankings is often completely overrated. The honest truth is that PR is NOT that important in how well you rank for your keyword. It is but one of over 200 factors that affect your ranking and its value is often exaggerated. It’s always better to get backlinks from high PR pages when you can, but don’t place too much importance on it.
One really obvious misconception is that if the home page of a site has a high PR, then any page you get a link from on that domain is going to pass a lot of PageRank. For example, people who sell link packets sometimes tout how they have high PR forums you can get links from. This doesn’t make any sense at all because your link is not going to be on the home page. It is called PAGE Rank, not SiteRank – it’s right in the name! If you create a profile link on any forum, it’s going to be on your new profile page with a PR 0. Getting links from High PageRank pages (pages – not sites) is great and definitely helpful, but it’s not the holy grail to ranking.
Nofollow Vs. “Dofollow”
Another factor that affects links is whether or not they have the nofollow link element applied to them. The nofollow link attribute was created to tell Google to ignore certain links. In essence these would be links to sites that you aren’t completely comfortable linking out to. Google states that the nofollow tag should be used for links that are paid or lead to untrusted content. Also, they are a little vague about how they crawl nofollow links. They say that they generally do not, but they do sometimes:/ (I know right?) So what does this mean for our backlinking?
Google states very clearly that nofollow links do NOT pass anchor text or PR. Matt Cutts, Google’s outspoken web spam engineer, has also said plainly that there is no SEO benefit in a nofollow link. He might have said that in an effort to slow down people spamming sites/pages with nofollow links, or he might have been completely truthful. We can’t really tell, so I’ll let you be the judge.
So do we care or not if a backlink is nofollow? Here’s a logical way to decide which links will be worth your time:
When blog commenting, if you come across a blog, and all the comments are “nofollowed” ask yourself this: Will I get traffic from this link? If the answer is yes then post a comment, if not, you might want to just move on. Don’t forget – the whole point of doing SEO is to get targeted traffic, so why would you ever turn down targeted traffic just because a link is nofollow? I will still leave comments on blogs that use nofollow on comment links, but only if there are signs of decent traffic on the blog.
Indexing Our Links
The last thing you need to know about backlinks is that they need to get indexed. Search engines won’t give you credit for a link they don’t know exists. You need to get one of their spiders/bots to the page with your backlink on it so that they crawl your link and find that it leads to your site. There are two easy (and FREE) ways to go about getting your links indexed.
1) Social Bookmarking
Social bookmarking sites get crawled constantly by the search engines. When you post a bookmark on one, you’re link will likely be crawled in a matter of hours. It really is that easy. Of course, you can never guarantee anything that Google or other search engines will do, but you’re link/page is more than likely to be indexed in a relatively short period of time with just a bookmark or two.
The actual technical process of pinging isn’t important to us. Put simply, pinging notifies the search engines that you have new content, and in response, they crawl that new content. This is another fast and effective way to get your backlinks indexed. There are a number of good, free pinging services, but the one I use most is pingomatic.com