They can be the difference between a website that earns the spot of #1 on Google and the one that gets ranked on page 10.
That’s not to say you won’t need other pieces to complete the puzzle, but without backlinks, you may as well consider that puzzle unsolvable.
So in this blog post, I want to get down to some of the most critical questions on backlinks.
- How do you get backlinks to your website reliably?
- Is buying backlinks a viable tactic?
To answer these, let’s take a step back for a second.
Taking a look at the bigger picture — SEO
To understand the best way to get backlinks, you should know why they’re so important and the effect they have on your website.
To know the effect they have on your website, you’ve got to understand the machine that backlinks are a cog in:
Since you’re already here, there’s a good chance that you already know quite a bit about SEO.
But in case this is your first rodeo, let’s do a quick crash course on SEO 101.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization, which may sound a bit complex, but it just means getting as close to the top of Google’s results as you can.
Over the years, people have started to figure out what works well in getting your website to the top and what doesn’t.
Any business owner that’s serious about their digital presence (which they should be) knows that SEO is one of the main priorities when it comes to digital marketing.
Why is that, though?
Why SEO is so essential for any business
Being at the top of Google’s search result can seem like just a vanity metric at first impression, but that’s pretty far from reality.
When you break it down roughly, this means that each of the top three websites for a given term ends up with 20% of all organic traffic.
While 20% doesn’t seem like much, when you factor in the fact that 40,000 searches go through Google’s engine per second, it certainly adds up.
Beyond that, the rest of the first page results share about 15% of all internet traffic; this isn’t as good as being in the top three, but it’s still a pretty sizeable traffic source all things considered.
But what does that mean for the rest of the websites for any particular keyword?
For any given keyword, every website on page two and beyond has to share 25% of all organic traffic.
That’s a lot of websites sharing a meer 25%.
And it doesn’t just stop at page 18.
Hopefully, that gives you a good idea of why SEO is so important.
But what makes up an SEO-optimized page? And what role do backlinks play in one?
The anatomy of an SEO-optimized page
When you think of a search engine on the surface level, it just seems like a box you type words into that gives you relevant results.
But as you could probably imagine, a search engine is a bit more complicated than that.
Because it has to figure a way to intelligently sort and provide the information that’s best to show to you given the term that you’ve typed in.
How is it supposed to know what to show you when you type in “cats”?
Well, one big part of SEO is the keywords you include in your content.
Keywords are useful for telling Google what your content is all about. Otherwise, it’s going to have a hard time categorizing your information and knowing who to show it to.
But keywords alone aren’t going to be enough for a rank.
After all, if it were that easy, you could fill a page with the word “cats” and get ranked #1 consistently; it wouldn’t be a competition of the best website, it’d be who had the most pages full of the word “cats.”
Obviously, most people don’t want that when they look for cats on the web. So Google has to know how to rank webpages beyond just the keywords.
Another big part of it is the layout of your content.
Well laid out content is another crucial factor in ranking your website. If no one bothers to read your blog post because it doesn’t look great, then people are going to bounce, which negatively impacts your rank.
But that’s enough skirting around the bush, we all know the part of SEO we’re going to be talking about today:
And backlinks are a big reason why websites like pets.webmd.com can rank for the keyword “cat.”
What is a backlink?
While getting backlinks can seem like a complicated task, the concept of backlinks themselves isn’t all too hard to understand.
In essence, a backlink is when another website links back to yours, hence the name backlink.
This is a backlink to CNN.
So no, it doesn’t count when you link to your own website, that’s called an internal link. Internal links are useful for other SEO purposes.
They help Google sort out the information on your website, but they don’t play as big of a part as backlinks do.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
“Why does it matter if another website links to mine?”
The simple answer to that is because our SEO overlord, also known as the Google algorithm, says so.
But I have a feeling that answer isn’t going to suffice for many of you, so here’s a bit more of an in-depth explanation.
The role of backlinks in SEO
You can think of a backlink like a social share.
When you link to another website from your own, you’re telling people, and Google, that the website in question is worth sharing.
And in Google’s eyes, if a website is worth sharing, it’s probably a high-quality website.
Or in SEO terms, a high-authority website.
And the website with the most shares has the best chance to get ranked near the top.
How backlinks can help a page
Like I said before, a website without any backlinks is going to have a very rough time trying to get ranked.
With all other things being equal, a website with more backlinks is going to outrank the other one every time.
Even if the site isn’t as well-made, a good list of backlinks can put it above other websites that would’ve otherwise beat it.
How backlinks can harm a page
But that doesn’t mean all backlinks are good.
If you go about your backlink-building strategy the wrong way, you’re in for a rough surprise, because Google will penalize you if you’re getting backlinks from the wrong places.
These penalties make it much harder for you to get near the top, but more on that later.
Let’s talk about the various ways you can get more links to your website first.
How to get backlinks for your website
There are two paths you can take with backlinks and SEO in general.
You can try to get ranked through Black Hat methods, or you can use White Hat methods to try and get on the first page.
One of these will only hurt your rankings, and one will have your website shining on Google.
Black hat vs. white hat: What’s the difference?
The main difference between black hat tactics and white hat tactics is that Google approves of white hat tactics, while black hat tactics are generally frowned upon and can get you in trouble with Google.
Black hat tactics use ways to exploit Google’s algorithm, while white hat tactics play along with the rules instead.
Black hat tactics used to be much more common, but Google has since wisened up.
Google’s consistently getting better at cracking down on black hat SEO approaches because it leads to subpar search results taking up spots that they don’t deserve.
Whereas a white hat tactic is putting actions into place that don’t break Google’s rules, they’re often even actively encouraged by Google because it leads to higher-quality content.
Do black hat tactics work?
I’m going to break the news to you right now.
Black hat tactics don’t work.
Not because they’ll never help you get ranked higher. Unfortunately, some circles still use black hat tactics is that they do get websites higher ranks… sometimes.
The reason black hat tactics don’t work is that in the long-term is that you’ll get caught.
It’s not a matter of if you’ll get caught, but when.
And when Google catches a website using these tactics, the site can get hit with some severe penalties. These penalties can hamper your organic traffic for weeks or months at a time.
So is it worth it to use black hat tactics for a short-term win if it ends up getting your website tanked in the end?
Now let’s get into the various black hat backlink practices:
Trading links with another domain isn’t inherently wrong. The problem comes when you trade with a domain purely for the sake of your page rank.
It used to be a pretty standard practice back in the day.
There were entire websites and forums dedicated to posting and exchanging links just to boost each other’s ranks.
But trading like this just pushed low-quality websites to the top of the results, so Google decided to put an end to it.
While other black hat tactics still get used, link trading is harder to hide from Google.
Which is why link trading isn’t nearly as frequent as it used to be, because if they find you trading links often, and without a genuine reason, you’ll get a penalty.
Remember, Google can tell when you’re reciprocating a link for a valid reason, and when you’re just doing it to get another link back to your site.
Buying backlinks for your website
Another approach to backlinking that you should avoid is link buying.
Link buying is a self-explanatory process; you pay for someone to link back to your site through their own.
On the surface, it may seem like a good idea.
There are multiple approaches you can take to buying links, but here’s the thing.
They’re all terrible for your website’s long-term health.
There’s a reason that this is in the black hat section and not in the upcoming section about how you can get links the right way.
The different approaches to buying backlinks
Check out what Google says about buying backlinks:
Buying links is bad, and there’s not just one way to buy backlinks.
So before I drill down into why they’re all not worth your time, let’s talk about the various approaches that people use.
Link buying services
The first, and probably worst, way to buy backlinks is through a link buying service.
These services enable you to get backlinks in bulk. They’ll go out and buy the links for you, which sounds like it’d be a great way to save time. But there are a few big problems with this approach.
The first problem is that you don’t know what you’re going to get when you make your purchase.
Buying links from services like these usually get you a load of “spam links.”
For those uninitiated to the world of backlinks, “spam links” are backlinks from domains with low-authority, and you should avoid them like the plague.
PA stands for “Page Authority,” and DA stands for “Domain Authority.”
Domain authority is how well your whole website stacks up, while page authority only measures a specific page.
Notice how much higher Wikipedia’s authority is on both fronts? That’s in no small part because of the number of links that Wikipedia has.
A link from the website in the bottom image is what you’d consider a “spam link.”
When you get backlinks, you want to make sure the website linking to you has a high DA, and preferably the link is on a page with a high PA too.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to choose the authority of linking domains as well if you use a service like this.
And if you end up getting large amounts of spam links to your domain, Google’s going to find out about it.
Buying links through direct outreach
Another avenue you could explore(could, not should) is doing direct outreach to popular blogs.
Many people will contact blog owners and ask them for backlinks in exchange for upfront payment, and then often, they’ll regularly pay to maintain the link.
Admittedly, this is a safer option than using a link-building or buying service, but it still comes with a host of problems that we’ll get to in a moment.
In Conclusion: Is it worth it to buy backlinks?
So far, the practice of buying backlinks might not seem too bad.
I mean, if the only risk is a few spam links, then it’s worth a shot, right?
Not at all.
No matter how you decide to go about buying backlinks, it’s probably not going to go well.
Here’s exactly why you shouldn’t buy links:
Google isn’t a fan of it
The first reason that you shouldn’t go buying backlinks is that Google has made their stance on it clear.
Google does not like backlink buying practices.
It’s not just speculation either; Google has made it well and clear in their guidelines that they don’t approve.
Which makes sense from their perspective, too buying a link is just a way to circumvent their quality-assurance, which again, could end up in subpar websites, making the top ranks for no good reason.
They even have a system for reporting domains that sell links.
Google’s disapproval should be reason enough not to buy links because when Google finds out that you’re buying links, whether it’s because of a high amount of spam links, or because you’ve got links from reported domains, it’s going to put a huge roadblock in your way.
Once you get hit with a Google penalty, it’s going to be hard to dig yourself out of that hole. So it’s best to avoid getting into that situation in the first place.
But if that weren’t enough to change your mind:
Buying links isn’t worth the cost, either.
Cost is another thing to consider when attempting to buy backlinks.
One of the great things about an SEO strategy is that it doesn’t cost much to put into place. This is one of the reasons that it has the potential for such a high ROI.
When you have to start buying links to boost your popularity, you’re immediately reducing that potential ROI.
Especially since many of the websites you’d be trying to buy links from aren’t cheap with their rates.
Which just means you’ll be adding more overhead to your website that you didn’t need in the first place.
Also, consider this:
If your link-buying strategy goes awry, and you get hit with a penalty, you won’t just be reducing your ROI. You’ll be actively paying to make your website’s rank worse.
If that’s not a waste of your marketing budget, I don’t know what is.
So if you were considering a link-buying strategy, how about we take a look at some alternative uses of your marketing budget?
Paid ads are a better use of your marketing budget.
If you were already considering buying your backlinks, then paid traffic might be the answer for you.
A big problem that many people have with SEO is that it takes a decent amount of time before you’ll be able to get high ranks and see the fruits of your labor.
This is why many people resort to buying backlinks, it saves time, and they think it’ll get them ranked much faster, meaning more organic traffic.
But if you want the fast-track to website traffic, you might as well just go with paid ads.
Paid ads can be an excellent way for a business to expand its marketing efforts, especially when you’re waiting for your SEO strategy to kick in.
Hiring an SEO specialist or agency
Alternatively, if your goal was to save effort or energy and still get a good rank in the search results, hiring a specialist is going to be a better choice.
Whether this is an individual or an SEO agency — cough cough — like us — cough cough — is up to you.
There are a few reasons that make hiring a specialist an excellent choice:
Reason #1: If you pick the right one, a specialist is going to know exactly what they’re doing.
This will be able to save you the time and money that you’d be spending to try and learn SEO the right way.
Reason #2: Someone who specializes in SEO knows what to avoid just as much as they know what to do.
This will help you avoid any of the pitfalls that SEO newbies often walk into that would otherwise slow you down.
Overall, hiring specialists for any job is often the best choice, because it allows you to focus on what you do well so they can focus on what they do well.
The dangers of hiring an SEO expert
Outsourcing your SEO doesn’t come without its own risk, though. It’s not unheard of to find sketchy SEO “experts” who do more harm than good.
When you hire them to get your website ranked higher, these “experts” might even put black hat strategies of their own into play, which can end up damaging your site instead of helping it.
If you know what to look for, these SEO scammers can be seen from a mile away. Often they’ll promise super-quick results, super cheap rates, or both.
In general, if the SEO “expert” makes promises that sound too good to be true, then they probably are.
The white hat approach (Please do this!)
Now let’s talk a bit more about the right way to do SEO.
When you choose to implement SEO into your marketing strategy, you’ve got one big choice to make:
Do you want to do it yourself? Or would you rather hire the job out?
There are pros and cons to each, doing it yourself may save money, but it’ll take a bit more time, and you’ll make more mistakes along the way.
You’ll have to teach yourself the ropes and learn as you go, which can be pretty time-consuming. For some business owners, that’s just not viable.
And we’ve touched a bit on hiring the job out, which can save you time that you’ll be able to elsewhere. The only catch is that it’ll cost a bit more.
The do-it-yourself method for building backlinks
It’s far from impossible to get your website ranked with the right backlink strategy in place.
You’ll trip up here and there, and some months may be more steps backward than forward, but if you’re willing to put in the time, it’s well worth it.
So if you intend to go through with backlink-building yourself, here are a few great ways to do it.
Getting backlinks naturally
First and foremost, a website that deserves backlinks will get them naturally over time.
Of course, you’ve got to build some amount of steam first, but once the ball is rolling, you’ll be able to passively build backlinks without having to put in any extra work.
Think about a website like Facebook.
See how many backlinks they have on their website?
Yes, Facebook really does have this many backlinks.
I’ll let you in on a secret:
Facebook probably doesn’t have a backlink-building strategy in place.
Nike most likely doesn’t have a backlink strategy in place either.
Do you know why these websites get so many backlinks?
It’s not a backlink team working behind the scenes to get these backlinks up to the millions; it’s because these websites provide some sort of value and have built a name for themselves.
The most surefire way to succeed at backlink-building, as well as most other areas of business, is to provide value to your audience.
The whole point of a business is to give consumers what they want. So if you’re providing value to your audience, they’ll keep coming back, and many of them will end up linking back to you.
Facebook does this by giving people a platform to speak on.
Nike does it by providing merch and clothes that people want.
Youtube does it by giving people video-based entertainment.
So how you do it?
It’s really up to you, but as long as you’re providing the audience with some sort of value, you’re on the right track.
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t ways to speed the process up.
The real “Quick Start” to backlink building — Using guest posts to boost your SEO results
There aren’t any “get rich quick” schemes when it comes to backlinking, or SEO in general.
But one of the fastest ways to get backlinks when you’re starting is going to be through guest posting.
Unlike with link-buying, guest posting is a way for you to get backlinks without angering the Google algorithm, and it’s free too! At least, it should be free of payment if you’re posting on the right websites.
Guest posting is when you write a blog post and have it posted on another website, usually in a similar niche, but not a direct competitor.
The reason they’re so good for backlinks is that they allow you to get value in front of larger audiences than your own and give you a place to link back to your own website through the host site.
When you’re guest posting, you should at least have room to put a link back to your website in your byline, if nowhere else. This effectively means at least one guaranteed backlink per guest post.
But how does guest posting even work? And how can you start doing it?
How guest posting is different from trading
Guest posting isn’t seen as a black hat tactic, even though it’s a way to boost your website’s SEO.
When we look back at link trading, remember that I said it’s not inherently bad.
If you’re linking to a website for a good reason, that’s completely fine. The problem comes when you’re trying to exploit Google through link trading.
In fact, exchanging guest posts could be a great way to utilize link trading as part of a white hat approach.
If you do go with this approach, you just have to make sure you’re guest posting on the right websites.
Why guest posting works so well
As I mentioned a few sections back, providing value is one of the surefire ways to improve your SEO results. When you break it down, any business is just a catalyst that lets you exchange value with others.
And guest posting is a way to do just that.
With guest posting, you’re providing value to multiple parties.
First, is the blog that you’re guest posting on. You’re giving them value by putting content on their blog.
Second, you’re providing value to their audience with content that informs or gives a new perspective.
And in return, you’re getting referral traffic and a boost to your website rank.
When done right, guest posting is a win-win for all parties involved.
How to get started with guest posting
The first step to successfully building links through guest posts is finding the right websites to post on.
While it’d be nice if you could just go to the first website you found, ask to guest post and then get a quick backlink, it doesn’t quite work like that.
Guest posting takes a bit of work to get right, so buckle up.
As we said before, Google favors certain websites over others. When you get a backlink from one of these favored sites, it makes a much more significant difference than it would from any other site.
Which is why you should only aim to guest post on websites with high authorities.
Guest posting on too many low-authority domains will just hurt you in the end, or at the very least, waste your time.
But having a high-quality, high-authority website isn’t all it takes to make the right guest posting candidate.
Once you’ve found a prime target for guest posting, you’ve also got to do the outreach and contact them for a guest post.
And then comes the content creation itself.
This is why many website owners overlook guest posting. While it does offer the potential for great results, it takes a lot of time, and some people just don’t have that time to spend.
Which is why there’s another option for those on more of a time-crunch:
Another way to hire it out — Guest posting services
Guest posting services are services centered around getting your website ranked higher, but instead of doing it with a full SEO strategy, they’re hyper-focused on guest posts.
In essence, when you use a guest posting service, you’re buying links in a white hat sort of way.
It’s great because it covers all of the bases that link-buying does, but in a way that abides by Google’s rules
How do guest posting services work?
You’re not buying links. You’re buying a service.
The premise of most guest posting services is that they go through the whole guest posting process for you.
When you hire them, they’ll go through the steps, from content creation to outreach, which lets you focus on other things while still enjoying the benefits of guest posting.
Though, just like with any service, you’ve got to be careful when choosing your guest posting company.
Finding a high-quality company
Some guest posting services will end up buying links behind the scenes instead of actually putting in the work to get guest posts published for you.
Again, these companies aren’t too hard to avoid when you know what to look for.
The rules for finding a quality guest posting service are pretty much the same as they are for any other SEO service:
- Avoid promises of super-quick or super-cheap results (e.g. “#1 rank in 1 week”).
- Find well-rated companies with social proof.
- Avoid anything that sounds too good to be true.
What to do if you’ve already taken a penalty
While you’re probably not going to have tons of bad links pointing to your domain, if you didn’t actively chase them, sometimes it’s out of our control.
Or maybe you unknowingly hired a job out to one of those “SEO experts,” and they got your website hit with a manual action from Google.
While doing due diligence before hiring the SEO expert should be the first step, we’re all human, and sometimes we miss crucial information until it’s too late.
Fear not though, regardless of how you got the Google penalty, there are ways to reverse the damage.
Removing the backlinks
Your first step should be contacting the websites that are damaging your own with bad links.
When you contact the owner of the host site, ask that they remove the links that lead back to your website.
While it may seem too easy, sometimes this is all it takes.
But if you can’t get the website to remove the spam links for whatever reason, your next step is to disavow the backlinks.
The backup plan: How to disavow backlinks
Google recognizes that it’s not always in our control who links to us and that sometimes mistakes happen.
Their first defense against this is that one or two bad links isn’t going to hurt your website.
The algorithm isn’t going to hit you with a penalty if you only have one spam link, even if the link doesn’t help you, it won’t end your website either.
But they have a system in place for people if they end up with a large number of bad links pointing back to them.
Google explains precisely how you can go about it in their guide here, but to give a shortened version, here’s the quick recap of the steps you should take.
(Though if you’re going to go through with disavowing backlinks, you should consult with Google’s guide too, since it’s information right from the source.)
Step #1: Decide if it’s necessary
If you misuse the disavow links feature, it can further harm your website rather than reversing the damage.
Before disavowing links, make sure you try to get them removed first and that disavowing them is actually necessary.
Step #2: Make a list of the links that are harming your website.
Step #3: Upload them to the disavow tool
Then Google’s spider will start to recrawl the web to get things sorted out.
Just be warned, it can take a bit to see the effects once you disavow backlinks, so patience is key.
Disavowing backlinks is no joke.
Getting backlinks — Slow & steady wins the race.
If there’s one thing to learn today, it’s that SEO is not a fast game.
No matter which tactics you try to use, you’re not going to see sustainable results right away. And if anything brings the promise of quick & easy SEO results, it’s probably too good to be true.
Rather than focusing on how you can get to the finish line as quickly as possible, focus on building strong foundations for your SEO strategy to stand on.
It may take more time, and it may be the harder path, but as the saying goes:
Slow and steady wins the race.
If you’re going to spend money on backlinks, spend it on a link building service.
If there’s one thing you’re going to take away from this article, take away this:
Don’t buy backlinks. It’s almost never worth your money.
Instead, a better investment is hiring out the link building process to professionals.
Are you ready to boost your Google rankings with some legitimate links? Contact us today to take your business to the next level. Request our media kit and review our case studies today.