What are backlinks and how can they help my website rank better?

We will start with a basic definition of a backlink:

backlink: an incoming hyperlink from one page to another website.

Basically, a backlink is any link on another website that points to your website. Here is an example of a backlink for Best of the Web found on our website:

Backlink: Illustrating a link to a reputable external website.

 

The words "Best of the Web" are highlighted in blue, and when the cursor hovers over them, they become underlined. This embedded link is known as a hyperlink. Hyperlinks can be internal—taking you to another page on the same site—or external—taking you to a page on another website. In the case of backlinks, the link is external, and the backlink on our site takes you here:

Backlinks: Best of the Web homepage

I am sure you have clicked on a link like this before; a link that took you to a website that explained a term or expanded upon an idea in the article. The link you clicked on to go to the explanation page was a backlink. These links often provide useful information and—as we will discuss in this article—can help improve your search engine ranking when done right.

Now that we’ve covered the backlink basics, we are going to dig a little deeper into this often-misunderstood topic. My goal is to arm you with the tools you need to not only get backlinks, but to get the best possible backlinks; those that help build your brand and increase your reach.

All Backlinks Are Not Created Equal

Backlinks are powerful. They can be used for good—helping your website achieve page one status—or they can be used for evil—as part of link-buying schemes that do nothing but cause harm. Next, we are going to explain both high and low-quality backlinks, and show you exactly how to get the type of backlinks that will improve the search engine ranking of your website.

What Constitutes a High-Quality Backlink?

The previous backlink example was intended to show you exactly how backlinks work. However, I’d also like to use it to illustrate the benefits of high-quality, ethically garnered backlinks. By linking to an external site, we have consented to give Best of the Web a bit of link juice. The more people that link to the Best of the Web site, the better it is for the site’s search engine ranking.

Since Foster Web Marketing is a reputable business that often writes about Web-related topics, and since our website isn't crammed full of other external links—a sure sign of a link farm—Google will view this backlink to Best of the Web as high-quality and, hopefully, reward the site for the backlink. This is exactly what you want for your site.

You want high-quality sites that contain a link that point back to your website. What this does is show Google that you are respected on the web and that people often link to you as an authority. But as you may have gathered, not all backlinks are equally beneficial. So to begin with, we need to discuss exactly what constitutes a high-quality backlink.

  • A high-quality back link is one that:
  • Is relevant to your niche.
  • Is from a trusted website.
  • Sends in referring traffic.
  • Is embedded in the content of the site, not listed in a sidebar.
  • Is not paid or reciprocal.
  • Is located near other high-quality links.
  • Is from a variety of sources—not 100 backlinks from one referring domain.
  • Helps your page rank.
  • Is hard to get.

That last one, "be hard to get," is the most important. Why? Because Google knows when you try to cheat the system—when you buy or trade backlinks. You may not get caught in a week, you may not even get caught in many months, but you will get caught. So, even though getting high-quality backlinks is a chore, it's one worth doing. Next, I’ll show you exactly how to get the kind of backlinks that you need to fully realize your SEO potential.

How to Get More High-Quality Backlinks

It's important you that you understand that backlinks are something to be earned, not bought. To get the kind of backlinks that will stand the test of time—Panda and Penguin be damned—you need a link-building strategy based on one concept: hard work. You don't simply "get" them by buying or trading for them, you earn them. Here's how.

The Wrong Way to Get Backlinks: Backlinks have long been an important part of a successful SEO strategy. They are so important that many website owners and shady SEO companies began buying into link-sharing and link-buying services. But, like any cheat, Google caught on and has been steadily de-indexing these services and blog networks.

And if you cheat, once Google catches onto your cheating ways, your website is going to be in a world of hurt. All of the good, honest, organic work you've done on your site will be lost. Your SEO ranking will plummet. Forget page one, you won't even be on page 21! That's how powerful backlinks are. They have such great potential to elevate your SEO game but, in the wrong hands, can decimate your SEO efforts.

Cheap, fly-by-night SEO companies will try to tell you that they can dramatically increase the number of links that point to your site, and they can. But they cheat. They pay for your site to be part of a shady linking scheme, like a private blog network. This may work for a time, and you may see your page rank improve greatly. But with Google, Bing, and Yahoo getting better at spotting cheaters, you are going to get caught.

And the SEO company you gave your money to and put your faith in? Will they help you out when your site tanks? No way. You've given them your money, and they are on to a new scheme—a new, get-links-quick trick that will work just long enough for them to get paid.

If it seems too good to be true, it is. Never forget that.

The Right Way to Get Backlinks: There is most definitely a right and a wrong way to get backlinks. The wrong way is easy to figure out: don't cheat. The right way is a little trickier, and like all natural, white-hat SEO strategies, it takes time and effort to get quality backlinks.

Here are five ways to get quality backlinks:

  • Enlist the help of reputable directories. Put your name and information on high-quality, human-edited directories such as Best of the Web, Yahoo, dmoz.org, and lawyers.com. Having your link on these reputable sites will give you a few powerful backlinks. Tip: Although dmoz.org is a free site, you will have to pay to be listed on other quality directories. Before you pay to be listed on any site, ensure that it is a trustworthy site, is free from spam, and contains high-quality content. I want to stress that there are precious few directories that are worth your money, so choose with caution.
     
  • Produce effective link bait. If you write and publish interesting, well-written, and timely content, you increase your chances of getting natural backlinks. This is because good content gets shared and linked to. Tip: To create tasty link bait, think hard about what clients and those in your field want to read about. Be sure your content is free of mistakes, easy to understand, and furthers your image as an expert in your field.
     
  • Be a guest blogger. Guest blogging is a fantastic way to get quality backlinks. Just be sure that you never pay for a guest blogging opportunity. This is a big no-no. Tip: To become a guest blogger, be sure that you are involved with the targeted blog. Share interesting posts and comment when appropriate. You should basically "get to know" the blogger. And, as always, make every piece you write interesting, informative. and well-written. Matt Cutts wrote about how guest blogging is dead, but if you are doing it the right way this is still an acceptable practice.
     
  • Get involved. Another way to earn high-quality backlinks is to get involved in your community. Often, when you give money or time to a charity, they will reward you with a thank you on their website. Sometimes there will be a link that points back to your site with the thank you; powerful!  Also, ensure that you're listed with local organizations like the Chamber of Commerce. There is almost always a link on these sites. Tip: Our SEO team came up with a brilliant way to use community involvement to earn top notch, sustainable backlinks. Elsewhere on our site we discuss how we created this natural, sustainable link-building strategy using the charitable work our client has done.
     
  • Link out. When you link out to other reputable websites within your field, you give their website a little boost, a little Google juice. And sometimes, they may give you some back. In this “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” situation, many people who have been linked to will return the favor and link back to your site. Tip: This reciprocal linking can be a good thing, as long as it’s done in moderation. What you don’t want to do is link out to hundreds of sites just for the sake of linking. If you do this you are not only giving away too much of your linking power, if many of the sites link back to you, Google could get suspicious and deindex your website—a death blow in many cases.
     

We've Got Your Back(Links)

Want to know if Google is punishing your site for bad backlinks? Then get your free site audit today. After we comb through your site, we will give you a full report, free of charge. What you choose to do from there and how you decide to go about fixing your site is up to you. We can help make the changes needed, or you can use the information we provide to make the changes yourself.

For more information about our full line of website services, or to ask specific questions about backlink strategies, call 888-886-0939 to speak with a member of our U.S.-based SEO team.

Zach Stone
Senior SEO Analyst & Web Strategist