What is the difference between a referring domain and a backlink?

Before we discuss the difference between a referring domain and a backlink, it's best that we get on the same page by going over a few basic terms.

Just the Facts, Ma'am  

  • Domain: A domain is an organization's unique descriptor listed within a URL. For example, in the URL “http://www.honkeytonkhero.edu,” honkeytonkhero is the domain name.
  • Referring Domain: Also known as a ref domain, a referring domain is the domain that backlinks are coming from.
  • Backlink: A backlink is a link on another website that points to your site.

So a referring domain is where your backlinks are coming from, and backlinks are the links on the websites that link back to your site. Think of the referring domain as a phone number and backlinks as the number of times you've gotten a call from that particular number.

Why You Need to Know the Difference

If you've dug into your backlink profile or had us do so with a free website analysis, then you have seen how many referring domains and backlinks are associated with your website. But what do they mean?

What you're looking for is the ratio of referring domains to backlinks. If you have a ton of backlinks and not very many referring domains, your backlink profile is very weak. For example, if you have 10 referring domains and 110 backlinks, Google is likely dinging your site for shady backlinks, which negatively impacts your page rank.

They punish high backlinks and low referring domains because, when a high number of backlinks come from a few sites, it's almost always a paid linking scheme, such as a private blog network. Increasingly, search engines are de-indexing blog networks. If your website is connected to the de-indexed network, your ranking will be affected. Because of this, it's best to stay far away from paid blog networks.

Getting Better Backlinks

If you find that your backlinks are all coming from a few referring domains, you have some work to do. Begin by reading our advice on the best way to get backlinks for SEO. Using these tips, begin to slowly increase the number of backlinks pointing to your site. This will take time, but it's worth the effort. Google is always on the lookout for  quality, natural backlinks and will reward your handsomely if you are able to obtain them.  

Want more advice on how to improve your backlink profile and increase your SEO power? Call 888.886.0939 to request your free website audit or speak with a member of our attorney SEO team.

Laura Johnson
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SEO Manager and Web Marketing Strategist