Backlinks and Their Impact on SEO

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | August 2022

Illustration of a small group of people reviewing webpage links.

SEO is one of the most effective ways to stretch your marketing dollars. Optimizing your site will pull in more organic traffic and help you rely less on advertising. But, there's a lot of competition, so understanding what search engines are looking for is vital.

One of the big determiners of how well your site ranks is the number of backlinks that it has. What is a backlink, and how do you get them? We'll break it down in this post. 

What is a backlink?

The term backlink refers to links between websites. As the name implies, the direction of the link matters. When another site creates a link to your site from theirs, they've given you a backlink. Every link off your site to a third-party's site is giving them a backlink. There are exceptions, but that's the general idea of how backlinks work.
 
One benefit is clear; if other websites are linking to yours, you get traffic without any work. But backlinks also help you rank higher in search results. Let's examine why.

Why are backlinks important for SEO?

Think of your experience when browsing a site that you trust. When you see a link to an external site, you likely transfer some of your trust in the original site onto the one you're linked to. This makes sense. If you trust the referrer, then you expect that the content they recommend will be high quality. The opposite is also true. Links from shady sites seem a little shady by association. 
 
Search engines rely on this same calculation. If your site has backlinks from other reputable sites, then your reputation score will grow in the eyes of the search engine. Again, the opposite is true as well. A lot of links from untrustworthy sites can make yours look bad. 

What makes a good backlink?

So you want more good backlinks and fewer bad ones. This seems obvious enough, but what's the difference between a good and bad backlink? How do search engines determine how a backlink will affect a site's reputation and ranking? Below are some of the most important factors search engines use to check backlinks.
  • Domain authority (DA) - The authority of a domain refers to how trusted it is. Factors that determine DA include how many users click on the site, how long they stay, how many backlinks the site has from other reputable sites, and more. The authority of the domain linking to your site rubs off on you, so don't seek random backlinks. Instead, focus on building them from quality sources that search engines trust.
  • Anchor text - The anchor text refers to the text within the link itself. Sometimes, you'll see sites place a single word into the anchor text. Search engines prefer something that tells them what they'll find on the other side of the link. Humans can infer this from the surrounding text, but search engines rely on the anchor text itself. If too many pages use the same anchor text when linking to a site, search engines may suspect that the links aren't organic and less trustworthy.
  • Follow vs. no-follow - Earlier, we said there were some exceptions to whether a link to another site counts as a backlink. This is that exception. Many years ago, there was a problem with spammers posting links to scams and shady sites in the comment sections of reputable sites. This gave them a ton of high-quality backlinks. The no-follow take was introduced to tell search engines that the site with the link doesn't endorse the linked site. Attaching this to links in comments solved the problem. Today, the no-follow idea has evolved to include ways of introducing more nuance into its usage.
  • Link relevancy - The concept of using authority to determine ranking is based on the idea that a site linking to yours is giving you a vote of confidence. It makes sense on the surface that their authority should rub off on you. But what if the site linking to you doesn't know anything about what you do? Are they still qualified to give you that vote, regardless of their trustworthiness? Search engines now measure this by how relevant their link to you is to their core competency. Say a nonprofit organization that works with children receives a link from a school for children. That will likely have more clout than a link from an eCommerce store selling coffee mugs. 
  • Link location - Where the link comes from on the website is also important. A footer link, for example, might sound like a great thing. It's on every page! But, as we can see from the list above, that's a problem. The anchor text will always be the same, and on many pages of the site, it will have limited relevancy to your own. Links are best when they come from the content itself.

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Backlink strategies to avoid

Now, let's do the same to look at some backlink strategies to avoid.
  • Paid links - Paid links will almost always contain the same or similar anchor text, often a keyword for which the person paying wants to rank for. The idea is that the backlink anchor text will associate that keyword with their brand. Search engines avoid backlinks that are all similar.
  • Links in comments - Spamming another site's comment section has been a futile way to get backlinks since the introduction of the no-follow tag. But that doesn't stop untrustworthy "link building" services from doing so in the name of unsuspecting clients.
  • Links from unrelated sites - You can look for links from other sites, but make sure that your core competencies are aligned. Their vote of confidence in you should mean something.
  • Link from low-quality sites - Requesting backlinks from any site that will have you is a bad idea because many of them will be low-quality. Backlinks from them may even end up hurting you.

Ethical backlink strategies - how are backlinks earned?

Now let's talk about how to get quality backlinks.
  • Use your connections - You likely already have partnerships with companies in your field that can provide a relevant link to your site. Leverage these relationships to get easy links. 
  • Reach out to reputable brands - Blasting out requests to everyone is a good way to waste time. Use SEO tools to see who is backlinking to your competitors. Any site linking to most of them will likely be willing to add you to the list as well. 
  • Keep up with current SEO practices We've told you to avoid backlinks from sites that have poor SEO value. This cuts both ways. If your site has poor SEO value, other sites will avoid linking to you. Stay on top of changes to search algorithms and keep your site high in link-appeal. Check out our digital marketing services if you need help with this. 
  • Publish great content - This is the most important strategy of all. If you don't create content worth linking to, people won't do so. A blog is a great way to showcase your knowledge and create link-worthy content. But everything you publish on your site should be of high quality.
  • Hire a reputable link building company - As you see, link building takes time, effort, and expertise. One ethical link building company we recommend (besides for us, of course!) is LinkDoctor.io

Conclusion

Knowing the ins and outs of good backlink building is a tricky and ever-evolving process. Often, organizations want to focus on their core competency and not worry about becoming full-time backlink builders. If that describes you, partner with someone who does SEO full-time. Contact ArcStone to find out how we can increase your search visibility. 

Topics: Digital Marketing

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