“Backlinks” has been a common term tossed around in the SEO space for quite some time.
And for a good reason:
They undoubtedly make or break Google rankings in competitive niches and will bring you significantly more traffic if leveraged correctly.
Understanding what a backlink is, how they affect your website, and how to get good backlinks for SEO to your website is essential to any online business.
It can get confusing, but there are different types of backlinks, as well as different ways to obtain each kind.
If you’ve never heard of a backlink — don’t worry. We’ve compiled everything you need to know about SEO links and how to plan the best backlink strategy for your website.
What are backlinks in SEO?
Backlinks are often the leading factor when trying to rank for competitive keywords on Google — especially with newer sites.
You can think of backlinks as a referral from one website to another. These referrals are called outbound links or external links, and they can transfer users from one webpage to another by clicking on that link.
Outbound links take the form of text, images, videos, buttons, or any other digital property that’s embedded with a URL.
Backlinks play a massive role in keyword rankings because Google prioritizes webpages that have been mentioned by other trustworthy sites.
However, the quality and relevance of a site will determine the amount of authority passed through an external link.
High-quality links (more on link quality later) will increase your website’s authority the most.
Website authority in backlinks
Website authority has two aspects:
- URL authority (UR, URL Rating)
- Domain authority (DR, Domain Rating)
UR is the strength of a specific page and will determine how that URL will rank on Google. UR increases when other authoritative sites link to that page.
DR measures the authority of an entire site. Each URL connects back to the parent domain. So every external link to individual pages will increase the overall domain authority.
Authoritative domains will have an easier time ranking for keywords with new pages without backlinks. Google prefers to rank trustworthy sites, so being recognized as an authority will give you a rankings boost.
You don’t always need high authority to rank for keywords if your content is good enough. However, without backlinks, your content could take several months to get on the first page, if it can at all.
The best way to rank for keywords — particularly competitive ones — is to work towards having a good backlink portfolio.
Here’s where it can get a little tricky:
Although any link will boost your authority as long as Google doesn’t view it as spam, backlinks aren’t all equal.
And a “good” backlink to one site may not be as productive to websites in different niches.
What makes the best backlinks?
The highest quality backlinks are:
- From an authoritative and trustworthy source
- Relevant to your niche or subject
- Embedded in a context that makes sense
- Won’t be seen as spam or saturated by Google algorithms
Although there are tons of factors behind how Google reacts to backlinks, understanding these main points will give you the general perspective you need to identify the best links for your site.
Similar to how Google ranks higher authority sites, backlinks from stronger websites will also hold more weight.
You can look at it as one website sharing their authority juice with another. Hence a more recognized source will have more “juice” to share compared to lesser ones.
However, this doesn’t mean that high authority sites are the only ones that hold value. A link from a smaller website can sometimes be even more beneficial to you than links from larger sites.
How can that be?
Relevance. Google recognizes links coming from a website that shares relevance more than one with a higher domain rating that’s completely irrelevant to your niche.
Contextual backlinks are awesome.
Backlinks that come from relevant sources placed naturally in the body of a post are called contextual backlinks.
Contextually linking to a site means to organically mention their URL in a way that is helpful to users. This almost always means linking to informative content on another website that dives deeper into the subject at hand.
Let’s say that you own a website in the computer niche, and you just wrote a blog post about the best keyboards.
In your keyboard post, you mention how the height of a computer desk will affect your typing skills.
That specific content doesn’t fit onto a blog post about keyboards. So rather than writing additional content irrelevant to keyboards, you’ll instead link to another post strictly about desk height.
A helpful external link gives users the option to learn about a subject while keeping the post as on-topic (keyboards) as possible.
Meanwhile, that post about desk height will get a boost in authority because a relevant contextual backlink is linking to their page.
Getting links from sites related to your website’s niche shows Google that your peers can trust you.
Here’s an example of a bad contextual backlink:
If a bakery blog linked to the keyboard post instead, there’d be less of an authority boost because of a lack of relevance.
Keyboards and computer desks are related, especially in the context of desk height. However, a bakery blog linking to a post about the best keyboards doesn’t make much sense.
Either way, a healthy contextual backlink from a fellow genuinely helpful website is beneficial regardless of the niche.
Just keep in mind that the best links will come from the peers in your market space.
Spam links will cost your website.
It’s important to know that not all links are good, and in many cases, quality is better than quantity.
Google is smart. And it knows when there’s fishy-behavior going on when it analyzes backlinks.
Google has implemented algorithms to ignore, or in some cases penalize, sites that use non-legitimate backlinks.
A non-legitimate backlink is one that Google sees as spam or inorganic.
In the earlier days of SEO, blog owners would link to their posts on forums and comment sections across the web. Spamming community posts would give blogs significant ranking boosts, and tons of admins were doing it.
Google eventually noticed all of these black hat link building strategies.
When Google released an update penalizing those that used black-hat tactics like these, websites were blacklisted. Some tried to go back to their old white-hat tactics, but it was too late.
Remember: Google is all about user experience. Therefore, it only makes sense that links that don’t benefit users, get penalized.
There are many ways to get penalized by Google, but you have nothing to worry about if you stick to the rules.
The lesson here is that trying to “pull one over” on Google might give you a surge of success for a while. But unless you’re willing to gamble all future traffic, stick to the organic white-hat SEO methods.
Diluted backlink sources are a waste of time.
Less damaging than spam links, diluted links get disregarded by Google.
You may pay money or write a guest post for these diluted links, but all they do is waste your time and money.
So what’s a diluted backlink source?
Some sites will give out links like candy on Halloween, which lessens the quality of them.
When a page is giving away more links than necessary, Google devalues their worth compared to more scarce sources.
Externally linking isn’t bad; in fact, Google prefers to rank sites that externally link a few times in a post.
But when a blog has 50 external links on a 750-word post, it doesn’t have much authority juice left to give at that point.
You’ll notice that most sites willing to sell links have a very diluted external link portfolio.
Quick tip: NEVER waste your time getting a backlink from a website that openly advertises backlinks and guest posts for sale.
Buying and selling links will just get your site penalized when Google catches on.
How to create backlinks for SEO
Here’s how you can get backlinks like an SEO expert:
- Create excellent content that adds more value than the competition.
- Study competitor’s backlink portfolios.
- Reach out to blog owners and offer value (like a guest post).
- Ask for a backlink after doing a favor.
Creating awesome content is most necessary.
The first step to generating the best backlinks to your site is creating fantastic content that adds genuine value to users.
Regardless of your backlink outreach approach, nobody will link to you if you don’t have useful content.
Having the best content isn’t only a rule-of-thumb for ranking in general, but website owners and content creators are picky about where they externally link.
Having good content will help people feel much better about linking to you when you ask them later.
Plus, the best content often generates backlinks organically. When you start to rank for target keywords, sites will use your content to refer to the subject that you covered with excellent content.
There’s no better feeling than getting excellent links you didn’t request to get.
It’s the best long-term link building strategy:
Blog owners that go above and beyond with their content get organic links all of the time.
Create content that’s a linkable asset.
If you want to optimize your content to get the most organic links, you’ll need to have linkable assets.
Linkable assets are images, videos, or GIFs that provide insane amounts of value to your users. Usually, in the form of stats or graphs, linkable assets offer unique information that users can’t find elsewhere.
The best way to create linkable assets is to research the facts on your subject.
Ask yourself: “What information is missing in my niche?“
Let’s use the average hourly rate of a law firm in Delaware as an example.
You could look at the consensus, contact experts, and read forums related to law firm rates until you have everything you need to build your asset.
If you don’t have the time or skill to create one yourself, you can pay $5-$10 for a graphic designer to create a professional infographic.
Use your custom infographic of the average hourly rate of law firms in Delaware on one of your blog posts — then sit back and soak up links like a sponge.
Humans retain information from pictures thousands of times faster than reading written text. So it makes sense that a useful infographic will be shared and reused if it’s helpful enough.
More on graphics later.
Other sites will use your graphic and link back to you for credit, which will increase the SEO for your law blog SEO.
Study Competitor Backlinks
Once you’ve backlink-optimized your content, you’ll want to study the backlinks of other sites that are ranking for your target keywords.
With an SEO tool like Ahrefs, you can analyze your competitor’s backlink portfolio.
Doing your homework on the type of backlinks your competition is getting will give you an idea of what you need to rank higher.
Once you know what is required to rank your website, you can start targeting your backlinks of your own.
Your ideal link will come from the most relevant sites in your niche, but don’t expect your competitors to be the ones to help.
Realistically, you’ll want to find blog sites that aren’t trying to rank for any of the same keywords as you but are in a similar niche.
If you’ve written a post about living room furniture, other furniture sites aren’t going to help you out because you’re competing with them.
However, a website with a post on wallpaper that compliments living room furniture won’t be targeting those same keywords.
Looking into the backlinks of other sites in your field is an excellent place to start. These guys are already linking to your competitors.
So why wouldn’t they do the same for you?
Reach out to the websites linking to your competitors and offer higher-quality content to link to.
Once you’ve researched the type of websites that link to your competitors, you’ll have a better understanding of the ideal site to contact.
Then you can reach out to those similar sites like the ones linking to your competitors.
You’ll need to compile a list of these websites with the owner’s name and email address. Usually, Google will do just fine for this.
Reach out to blog owners with value
Next, you want to contact each of these owners with an offer of value via email or LinkedIn. Let them know about a problem on their site and offer insight to help them out.
Be human, and do NOT ask for a link right away. People have to like you first before they decide to help you out.
Start by telling them what you appreciate about their blog. Be specific! Nobody will care about you if you say something generic like: “Your blog is cool!”
Then, follow-up by telling them that you want to help them in some way.
Your favor could be a list of typos, malicious inbound links, 404 pages, or anything you discover that the site owner could implement to improve their website rankings.
Do them the favor of sending your findings their way as a friend, then wait.
Not everyone will respond, but the ones that do will appreciate that you did them a favor.
In your follow-up, let them know that you’re happy to help, and ask if they’d mind linking to your site from a related page on theirs.
Guest posting to get SEO backlinks
Depending on a link’s value, some website owners will offer guest posts on a topic.
The guest post should produce an excellent relative link for you, and also fit well on the target website.
Website owners are also more likely to let you link to your post if you offer to write your own post, especially after you’ve done them a favor.
Think of three different posts that you could write for their site relevant to the post that you plan on linking to. Pitch the site owner with your ideas and let them choose their favorite.
This creates an opportunity for them to get a solid new post, and for you to gain an excellent relevant backlink.
Writing entire posts to publish it on another website might sound like a waste of time, but linking to yourself from the right sites will be worth the authority gained.
Plus, if your budget allows, you can hire writers to create that post for you.
Just be sure to let the site owner know your intentions of linking to yourself before writing the post.
Reaching out to website owners at random can seem intimidating. Nevertheless, don’t just think about the link you’re getting in exchange.
The odds are that the vast majority of owners won’t link to you, and that’s ok.
Your goal is to help these sites out with a quick problem that you solved in exchange for their appreciation. The links are the reward.
Offering graphics to blog owners
Although Google will penalize websites for buying or selling links directly, there’s nothing against paying for a remarkable asset and trading it for a link back.
Here’s how it works:
Pay a graphic designer (or design it yourself if you can) to create an awesome graphic that would be useful for specific keywords.
After you have this awesome infographic, offer it to website owners competing for that keyword directly.
If the graphic is relevant to their content, and they decide to use it, you can ask for a link in exchange and boost your authority.
Broken link building
Linking to dead pages isn’t good for SEO.
Blog owners will benefit by having 404 errors pointed out to them so they can be fixed. You can leverage this by pointing out the broken link yourself, and recommending your page as a replacement.
By plugging a domain into Ahrefs, you can run a broken link audit and see all of the external 404s.
By searching these links, you can find one that would fit the context of a page of yours, especially if you’re looking through websites in niches relevant to yours.
Once you find a 404 that your page would fit nicely in, reach out to the blog owner. Next, let them know about the dead link on their post.
Address them by their first name and tell them about what you found. Compose an email that’s short and as sweet as possible. Tell them in two sentences why their post is beneficial to you, and that you noticed a problem on the page while reading.
Then, let them know that you have a relevant page, and link to your post from the email.
Answer forums and comments on the web
Leveraging community platforms like Quora or Yahoo Answers can be very beneficial to young blog sites.
Using Quora as an example, you can search for questions about content that you’ve already written.
You can answer a question with information you’ve already created, then link to your blog post to offer more of the same info.
An important thing to note:
The point of this strategy isn’t to get a link from a forum. The point is to get exposure to your post to increase the chances of receiving valuable backlinks.
This is an excellent tactic to get brand new blogs off of the ground, especially if your answer is good enough to get tons of upvotes or likes.
Dofollow vs. Nofollow backlinks
The “physical” difference is code embedded behind the links, but dofollow links pass along SEO authority to the mentioned URL, while nofollow doesn’t.
Nofollow links can still be clicked and followed through by users, but Google algorithms won’t recognize these as SEO mentions.
If you do a favor for a blog owner, make sure that they’ve linked to you with a dofollow link.
Here’s how to tell:
- Click “Inspect” (or Ctrl + Shift + C) on a page
- Roll your mouse over the external link to your site
- The HTML will read “nofollow” or not
Dofollow links don’t need additional code. So if you don’t see anything, it’s legit.
How to disavow existing bad backlinks
Bad backlinks can negatively affect your rankings, or even get you officially penalized by Google.
But don’t worry, they’re easy to fix.
You should check your link portfolio often to avoid malicious linking toward your site.
Using Google Analytics, you can take a look at where your traffic is coming from via referrals, or you can use an SEO tool to look at your backlink portfolio directly.
Spam referrals have a high bounce rate, and you can usually spot them by their URLs. Terms like “SEO” or “click button” included in the website domain is always a red-flag.
If you’ve manually linked to yourself or bought links from an untrustworthy source, you should disavow them using Google Search Console.
Need help with your SEO backlink outreach strategy?
Unfortunately, over the years, when it comes to many “SEO agencies,” many have been caught using black hat backlink building strategies.
These, as you now know, do more harm than good.
You can’t trust anyone to build you a quality backlink portfolio that’ll actually boost your SEO rankings.
And not having an SEO backlink building strategy puts you at a significant disadvantage with your competitors. Backlinks are too good to be missing out.
If you’re too overwhelmed to handle this daunting process yourself, it’s essential to hire the right professional digital marketing team.
Are you ready to boost your SEO rankings with white hat backlink building? Contact us today to take your business to the next level. Don’t forget to request our media kit and review our case studies.