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What are backlinks and why are they important?

backlinks explained

With the recent roll out of yet another Penguin update, it’s important now more than ever to understand what backlinks are and the importance of having good quality and natural looking links in your website’s profile. So what are backlinks and what are the best practices to follow?

Backlinks are essentially links that come from other websites to your website. They are also referred to as ‘inbound links’, ‘incoming links’ and sometimes ‘inward links’. Backlinks can come in many different ways, from adding your site to online directories to blog comments and article submissions. There is some information about this from Google themselves in this ‘blogger’ post.

Search engines will often take the amount and the quality of backlinks to determine the website’s rankings, importance and popularity. In basic terms, backlinks are important because they act like ‘votes’ to your website from other sites. They are like endorsements to your website, your service or product and your content, which, in turn, adds to your credibility and can help your standing in search engine results pages.

Like any vote or commendation, endorsements from credible sources count more in the eyes of search engines. For example, if you have an endorsement from John Key, the public would see this as a reliable and trustworthy source.

There are several factors that contribute to search engines determining the value of a backlink. Some of these factors include:

  • The authority of the site that the link is coming back from
  • How relevant the content is surrounding the backlink. The rule-of-thumb is that links from industry related websites can be more valuable than links from unrelated sources
  • How many links are coming from the one domain – having hundreds and thousands of backlinks from a singular domain does not look natural to search engines
  • The anchor text of the link. The anchor text is the ‘clickable text’ on the link. Again, this needs to look natural to search engines – not everyone linking to the site would use a key-phrase

So, what are the consequences if your site has an undesirable backlink profile? Most websites will inconsequentially have a small portion of low quality links coming in. Some unrelated sites may still link to you naturally and search engines understand this. For example, a butcher may really love a bicycle store and link to them because he’s part of a riding community. Bikes and meat aren’t necessarily related, but search engines can’t punish the bike shop for having this link.

It’s important to ensure that the bad quality, unrelated links don’t make up a large portion or majority of the profile.

Some factors that search engines deem as bad quality links (other than unrelated links) are:

  • Links from ‘link farms’
  • Site-wide links
  • Links from paid advertisements on other websites
  • Links from websites that are based in other countries other than the country that you trade in – for example India, Russia, Ukraine or South American countries
  • Links that all have the same keyword as the anchor text

All or some of the above can lead to algorithmic or manual penalties.

There are tools online (such as ahrefs.com) and also Google Web Master Tools that allow you to see your website’s backlink profile. Any tool that is not a Google, Bing or Yahoo tool is not a source from the search engine themselves but can give you an indication of what the search engines may be seeing.

Link building is a very important component of SEO and increasing a website’s authority with search engines. Once a link is there it can be hard to remove, so building authority is best left to the experts.

If you’re unsure of what to look for, or think your site may have bad backlinks, speak with one of our Digital Strategists. Results First have strategies for ‘cleaning up’ a websites backlink profile and combat penalties. Contact us or call 0800 878 833 today.