Posted On 19 Nov 2018
What are “backlinks”? Why should you understand them?
The greatest single blessing of the world wide web is that it’s possible to find information much more quickly than it used to be able to find it. Of course, it’s good for other reasons (such as for entertainment) as well, but finding answers to problems we consider important is, for me, its most important benefit.
To find information, we simply type relevant phrases into search engines like Google and Bing. If I’m buying a house and want the assistance of an attorney to help me with all the paperwork, I might search for “real estate attorney” and include my geographical location. My problem is that I need an attorney and searching online is a fast way to find some solutions.
Let’s look at this from the other side. Let’s suppose that you are a real estate attorney and want to market your legal services. You hire someone to put up a website for you that you hope will attract prospects who will contact you and become clients.
You want prospects who would like a real estate attorney in your area to be able to find your website quickly and easily. How can they do that online?
When, for example, someone does a Google search for “real estate attorney Buffalo,” Google employees don’t read that and then send you to relevant webpages. Google uses an algorithm to list the results of that search on a search engine results page [SERP].
The algorithm ranks the listings in order. The search engines want users to find exactly what they are searching for as quickly and easily as possible. They want their users to have a good search experience — otherwise, they’d eventually go out of business.
As the owner of your website, you want to be listed on the first page of relevant SERP’s. Prospects only infrequently search beyond page 1.
On the first page there are often not just the free (“organic”) listings, but also ads and “3-packs.” There are often ads right at the top of the page. However, they are always marked as ads and, so, searchers can skip them or develop “ad blindness.” Sometimes there are no 3-packs there at all. So, let’s here just focus on the free listings.
You want the listing for your website to be on page 1. How can you get it listed there?
The SEO Problems
There are three important problems here.
First, the exact nature of the algorithms that search engines use is unknown outside the search engine companies. They don’t want people gaming their systems.
Second, the algorithms change frequently. Minor changes occur nearly daily and major changes may occur several times a year.
Third, the algorithms are complicated.
The result is that researchers outside the search engine companies have to test for results; they work backward to figure out what website features are valued by the algorithms. They deliberately tweak websites, learn how the SERP’s respond to those tweaks, and then alter the feature of websites to get them to rank as highly as possible.
This never-ending process is search engine optimization [SEO].
It’s been well-established that backlinks are an important consideration when it comes to free SERP rankings.
A “backlink” is just an online link that points to a webpage from another webpage. Think of a backlink as like a vote, a citation, or a recommendation similar to (many kinds of) footnotes or endnotes in a printed article or book.
Both the quantity of the backlinks to your website as well as the quality of those backlinks matter.
The quantity is easily measured. The search engine algorithms simply count them.
The quality is either low (artificial) or high (real).
Suppose that you purchased 100,000 backlinks from some link farm to boost the ranking of your site. That would be cheating, right? Those are low-quality backlinks. There are various kinds of sites such as harvested, automated, or spam sites that attempt to boost rankings artificially. Avoid them! Even if they work temporarily, the search engine companies will eventually find out about them and punish websites for using them.
High-quality backlinks are real citations or recommendations. Suppose that you post an article, video, or graphic on your personal blog that has a link to a relevant page of your business’s website. That would be a high-quality backlink.
The backlinks from some domains are much more valuable from other domains. For example, a link from an educational domain ending in .edu is more valuable than from other kinds of domains.
Backlink Terminology (Related Jargon)
An “internal link” is simply a link that goes from one page in a domain to another page in that same domain.
“Link juice” or power is passed to your webpage whenever any “do-follow” link points to it. Link juice boosts the ranking power of a page.
If you are writing a webpage and include a link to another page, by default that link will be a do-follow link that passes link juice to that other page. If, though, you tag that link with a “no-follow” tag, it won’t pass any link juice to that other page.
When the search engines count the number (quantity) of links to your website from another website, they’ll only count one link from any other unique domain. For example, if you referred in your WordPress blog to your business website twenty times, the search engine algorithms would only count that as one link instead of twenty.
“Anchor text” is text that is used for hyperlinks. Search engine words or phrases such as “real estate attorney Buffalo” are called “keywords.” Hyperlinks work well for keywords. There’s an example in the second to last sentence of this post.
The Value of Backlinks
The chief value of having a lot of high-quality backlinks to your website is that its organic listings will be boosted naturally.
There’s no penalty for having lots of fresh, relevant content on your website and backlinks to that content. In fact, the search engines reward it; that’s what they value. The more, the better.
A second major benefit of having a lot of high-quality backlinks is the quality of the online traffic your website will attract. The people who visit it will be more targeted prospects who will have a much lower bounce rate than other visitors who are less interested or not interested. The search engine algorithms penalize a high [fast] bounce rate, i.e., the longer a visitor stays on your site, the better in terms of its rankings.
A third benefit of having a lot of high-quality backlinks is faster rankings. The search engines send out “bots” or “spyders” that crawl websites. The more high-quality backlinks your site has, the faster the bots will find it and crawl it. This is especially important for new sites.
If you have enjoyed this post and learned something from it, I hope that you’ll leave a comment to that effect.
If you are serious about getting more high-quality backlinks to your website, proceed to the post on backlink pyramids. I’ve some ideas that may really help you.