Fundamentals of Digital Marketing #4: Backlinks
By Alexander Bussey
Alongside the unique content we spoke about in our last guide, Google also looks at the backlinks pointing towards your site whenever it?s trying to determine your relevance, trustworthiness or authority.
In fact, the presence of high-quality backlinks is probably the second-most important factor when it comes to your keyword rankings. It?s also the one thing that most small businesses lack, so getting out there and building some really good backlinks can give you a substantial advantage.
In this guide, we?re going to look at the importance of backlinks, and explain how they work so that we can talk you through some of the strategies that are used to acquire them in next week?s guide.
What is a backlink?
First things first, we need to establish what we mean by a ?backlink?. Backlinks are created whenever somebody creates a clickable link to your site. These links are primarily designed to aid visitor navigation, but they do also act a bit like the references or citations on a scientific journal in that they tell Google (or Bing/Yahoo) that a webmaster found your site interesting enough to point his own visitors towards it.
They?re a trust signal, and an easy way to measure the online community?s interest in your site. They?re also a very good measure of the relative ?fame? of a website. If you consider the number of times people link to something like Wikipedia, the NYT website, versus a smaller site like our own, you can see how a search engine could use the relative disparity in links to quickly establish that our site wasn?t as well known, or as authoritative.
Whenever Google?s algorithm crawls a site, it maps any links and follows them through so that it can build up a complete picture of how all the different domains connect to one another – allowing it to categorize sites according to their importance, and develop a sound understanding of the internet?s landscape.
Good links and bad links
In the early days of the web, all links were of equal value, and proving your authority just meant building hundreds of links from a variety of sites
SEOs were quick to exploit this though – leading to the development of directory sites and link farms that existed for the sole purpose of ?gaming? Google?s understanding of a site?s value, and pushing bad sites into the top spot for a variety of competitive keywords.
To combat this, Google started to pay much more attention to the source of a backlink. Every site on the web was awarded a score for ?authority?, and the search giant?s core algorithm then attributed a value to links from sites according to this score
A link from the New York Times would now be worth 10, 15 or even 20x what a link from a local news site would be worth, and links from sites that were seen as ?low value? could actually have a negative impact.
The authority of a site does change over time – based on a whole host of different factors – but it?s fair to say that you want to avoid links from sites with a ?low? value, and prioritize links from high-quality websites, like:
- New sites
- Reputable company websites
- Sites with a strong focus on quality content
Google does also look at the context of a link, so building citations from sites in the same industry do tend to have a bigger impact on your overall rankings.
Does it matter where they point?
If a link is pointing to a specific page, that page will receive most of the benefit. So if you write a guide to something like link building and a lot of other sites start to ?cite? it, you would expect that page to start ranking better than other, equivalent content on your site.
That said, the benefit does tend to spread across the entire site, and Google does have a good idea of your site?s overall popularity, so don?t get too caught up trying to build links to individual landing pages.
What about anchor text?
The ?anchor text? (or the text that?s actually hyperlinked) also matters. In times gone by, Google used to look at the language used in the anchor text to establish why the link had been given, and making sure that your target keywords were used could provide a bit of a ranking boost.
Unfortunately, this led to a lot of spammy behavior, so Google actually revised their algorithm and started penalizing sites that had a lot of links anchored to over-optimized text. As a rule, it?s now much better to have links anchored to your brand name, or to phrases like ?click here? that won?t be flagged up by Google?s spam filters.
No follow vs. follow
It?s also worth noting that some websites mark up any outbound links as ?no follow?, which tells Google not to consider them as a citation or mark of authority. This prevents certain types of Google penalty, but it does also make any links from these sites slightly less valuable.
Of course, there is something to be said for having a good blend of following and no follow backlinks to avoid looking ?spammy? and it is important to note that experiments conducted by Moz confirm that no follow links have some value. That said, always opt for ?dofollow? links if you possibly can!
The Anatomy of a Good Link
To simplify, a good link:
- Comes from a reputable website
- Links to specific pages on your site
- Is not marked as “no-follow”
- Is not anchored to a specific keyword
Using tools like Moz?s brand new Link Explorer to look at the backlinks pointing towards top sites shows a lot of links that match this profile, and it?s fair to say that building more really is the key to securing good visibility on Google.
As you can probably imagine, acquiring backlinks is one of the most challenging aspects of digital marketing. Rather than gloss over the finer points here, we?re going to cover this subject in more detail next week – in the fifth installment of this series.
If you have any questions about backlinks before then, we?d welcome you to reach out. We?re always keen to hear your thoughts, and we?re always more than happy to answer any questions! Just send us a message using the contact form on our site, and someone will be in touch as soon as possible.