Backlinks for SEO: The Beginner's Guide to the Good and the Bad
is the Head of Marketing at Lean Labs. His experience ranges from higher education to SMBs and tech startups. When not doing digital marketing, he's sure to be enjoying some kind of nerdy pastime.
Backlinks are all of the hyperlinks from external websites that link back to your website. The more backlinks you have to your site, the more authority your domain appears to have, the better your rankings in search results.
At least, that's how it was a few years ago.
Today, though, more backlinks can actually hurt your website rankings. Following the conventional method of building backlinks can be catastrophic to your traffic. In this article, though, we're going to explore backlinks so you can get a better understanding of how to build them the right way, so your website is never penalized later.
Using Backlinks for SEO
Never Confuse Quality With Quantity
As the search engines get more sophisticated however, it is becoming increasingly important that you focus on quality, not just quantity. So twenty links from a variety of low-level sites would not even compare to a single backlink from an authority website like Forbes.com.
Google understands this.
How can you tell the quality of a website?
Check their engagement rates - websites with high traffic are one thing, websites with high engagement are another.
- Are people sharing their posts?
- Are they being linked to by other authority sites in your industry?
- Do other influencers refer to them, or guest blog on that domain?
You can also check their domain authority through the Moz Rank - it's not a perfect replication of Google's disconitnued Domain Rank, but it's close.
Follow vs NoFollow Backlinks
To count as a backlink, it also cannot be a “nofollow” link.
Most of the big sites have most of their profile and comment links marked as nofollow. This means Google will not use it to consider ranking factors, they will ignore it. This prevents spammers from making a bunch of profiles with links to a particular site to boost their rankings. So make sure anywhere your link is posted, it’s a followed link.
Still, I don't think Google is being honest in their claim that they don't consider nofollow links in their algorithm. I think they still do, especially if those links are from authority sites.
That's a conspiracy theory of mine, but I believe if you have a chance to build a quality backlink on an authority site, the fact that it's nofollow doesn't mean you should decline that opportunity.
With that said...
The Good Backlinks
Backlinks are the number one factor for increasing your rankings, and there is a prime opportunity for you to come out ahead.
Backlinks are tough to get (we will cover that in a minute), but it is a great opportunity for you to win out over your competition who likely isn’t or can’t effectively build backlinks.
The fact that quick wins and spam comments no longer work means that you will be valued for creating quality content that naturally gets shared and linked to.
The recipe to get started:
- Social media profiles (LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Google+...)
- Social sharing buttons on every post and page
- Amazing, valuable, interesting, quality content (see “The Bad”)
Getting backlinks comes down to two things:
- Create high quality content and host it on your own site so that people will read and want to link back to and BAM! - backlinks.
- Create high quality content and offer it as a guest post on a related site. Link back to your site within the article, but make sure it is natural and does not come off as a sales pitch. BAM! - more backlinks.
OK, so it’s not quite that simple.
It's not necessarily easy, but it's definitely worth the effort.
It is time-consuming, resource-intensive, and sometimes costly. But the payoff is big.
Here are some tips and ideas to get started:
- Build relationships with influencers in your space, these will become invaluable as you increase the readership and reach of your content. Read their posts, share their images, re-tweet them, comment on their blogs. Eventually you will also leverage these relationships to get guest post opportunities. Remember, you get what you give!
- Conduct interesting research that only you can create - use your customers, your product, your industry, whatever makes you unique, and pull interesting data that other people will appreciate out of it. (EX: Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs’ fourth annual B2B Content Marketing: 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report)
- Use your unique insights to write lengthy how to articles and videos. If you’re in a big company, get the executives and experts in your business to contribute. Make sure that whatever you create is very high quality and will be valuable to your target audience. Record them on a particular subject and post an audio-blog. Transcribe it and use it as a blog post.
- Be sure to repurpose your content into every form imaginable - infographic, video, blog post, white paper, podcast, etc.
The Bad Side of Backlinks
Now here is the ugly part: bad backlinks are real and you need to get rid of them.
If you have ever had in in-house person doing SEO work, or even worse, if you ever outsourced SEO to an "SEO Agency" or freelancer, it's highly likely you have bad links in your backlink profile.
Bad links are low-quality, spam-like links that appear in spun articles, purchased URLs, blog networks, directories, and the like.
Five ways to remove bad links:
- Pay for a service to remove them. There are a lot out there and it is the most convenient way to do it, if you trust the company and have the extra cash. But hiring an outside service might have been what got you into this mess in the first place, so be careful if you go this route.
- Locate the web developer or webmaster of the offending sites and request they remove links to your URLs. Depending on how many bad links you have, this can be extremely time consuming, and it is rarely an effective strategy. But it is one possible tactic.
- If the former doesn’t work, and the bad links are pointing to low-quality pages deep within your site, you can always delete that page entirely and it will just lead to a 404.
- In the era of negative SEO, defense is removing the link from the web. The offense, is in making bad backlinks a small portion of the overall backlink profile. To tip the scales back in your favor, work on adding more quality links. This will demote the low value links to a less-impactful ratio as you build up better ones.
- No matter what success you have with the above, I recommend you disavow all of your spammy and questoinable backlinks with Google.
Backlinks for SEO
Backlinks will continue to be an important factor, even as social proof and content affect rankings more and more. However, the best way to stave off potential penalties is to deserve every backlink.
Stay away from easy wins, and focus on building a backlink profile from authority websites only. Remember, one link from a high-authority website is worth more than thousands of spammy links - so never fall for a quantity over quality mistake.
Ultimately, if your website adds value - it will get links. The best link-building method is to create that value, and then help influencers find it. Then, all links are natural, deserved, and high-value.
Your search engine rankings will thank you later.