What is a Backlink and How to Evaluate and Acquire Them
Written by Andrew Ansley and published
One of the greatest benefits of SEO is the residual, targeted traffic to your website through search engines. But if you don’t yet understand the beauty of backlinks, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
Not only do backlinks help you rank, but you can start using them to get traffic before you even hit the front page for your keywords. This is probably the most immediate way you can get results if you do it right.
Let’s dive into exactly what a backlink is, and how you can start attracting them to your website.
More Than a Link
On the surface, the word “backlink” is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a link back to your site from another website. But once you really dive into the topic you’ll understand that backlinks are more than just links, and the better you understand them, the more you can benefit from their true power.
“True power”, you say?
Benefits of Acquiring Backlinks
Backlinks can help your website SEO in a plethora of ways:
- You get more traffic directly from the site hosting the link
- By having more backlinks from high authority sites you build your own domain authority, which pushes your site up the search rankings
- When your audience is surfing the web and sees a bunch of other websites linking back to yours, you develop real, psychological authority in your industry. They’re going to assume that if everyone’s talking about your business, it must be worth checking out and trusting.
- Ultimately, a proper backlink strategy and profile will help you build relationships. You’ll build relationships with the other business admins and owners who are linking back to you, and you’ll have a better relationship with your audience because they’ll trust you more if you’re reputable.
Now, if you want all of these benefits the last thing you want to do is start trying every way you can to get any old site to link back to yours. In the beginning of SEO, it was that simple – but it didn’t take long before search engines got wise and realized that not all backlinks are created equal. Now you have to check the quality of your backlinks if you expect to get results from them.
How to Assess Backlink Quality
A lot of website owners started spamming their backlinks all over the web. Directories were created just to stuff content full of backlinks so websites could doop search engines into ranking them first – even though they didn’t have any real quality content on their site to warrant the authority.
Now there are types of backlinks that Google favors over others – and other types of backlinks that Google actually hates and will tank your site for using them.
If you’re ever unsure if a backlink you’re going to acquire is a good one or not, check in with the following list of questions:
Is the source relevant to your own site and content?
If you own a plumbing company, getting the UFC website to link to your site won’t do much for you. It’s as if Google’s smart enough to think “What does martial arts have to do with plumbing?” and be skeptical of the link instead of trust it.
If you got a link back from a popular Home Improvement website, that’s a different story. Google will be smart enough to know that it’s a relevant – and therefore trustworthy – endorsement of your credibility.
Does the source have authority/is it trusted by search engines?
The Google algorithm is also smart enough to see if it trusts the site that’s linking you. It will basically assume you are the company you keep. If spammy, low-quality sites are linking back to you, it will think your site is the same quality. But if websites it trusts to be high-quality are linking back to you, it will infer you’re a high-quality site by association.
You can always use Raven Tools to check a site’s domain authority to make sure it’s in good standing with Google before getting a backlink from them.
Will you actually get traffic from this link?
… Or will it be buried behind mountains of other content or otherwise hidden in a hard-to-find spot? While this might not affect Google’s impression of the link much, you should still consider your personal standards when assessing backlink quality.
It’s not bad to have some backlinks that will help your domain authority without sending you direct traffic. But overall, it’s important you prioritize backlinks that will actually send you visitors directly while helping you make your way up the ranks.
Is it an “editorial link”?
Links can be presented on a page in a bunch of different ways.
Some are standalone call-to-action links. Others are housed inline within a block of content. While some are at the footer of the page, and so on. You want your links to be editorial links for the most part. This means you want them housed within a block of content so it’s clear to Google that it’s not some random link stuffed in the page, rather a valuable source for information.
Is it a one-way street?
Imagine you saw two people sharing testimonials about one another’s companies. Would any doubt cross your mind about the authenticity of those testimonials? Would you wonder if there’s some sort of bias at play?
That’s how Google feels about link swapping. If you swap backlinks with another company’s website, as far as Google can tell, it could be completely inauthentic. There are too many possible incentives at play like swapping with a friend, or two new businesses being so desperate for traffic that they’re willing to trade blindly without actually being able to vouch for one another.
On the other hand, if one site is linking to another without a link back in return, what could that possibly mean? Usually that the source site is genuinely vouching for the quality of the other – which is what Google is looking for with backlinks.
Is it a unique source?
Again, Google wants to make sure there aren’t any weird deals going on. So getting 10 backlinks from 10 different trustworthy sites is better than getting 20 backlinks from 3 different sites. The more sites you have talking about you, the more probable it is that it’s not an inauthentic echo chamber full of bias and fluff pieces.
Are there few other backlinks on the page?
If a page looks like it’s stuffed full of links out to other pages, it’s obvious to Google that the incentive for that page is to trade exposure with other sites and industry leaders.
Doing this every once in a while won’t kill you. There’s a true advantage to roundup and list posts like “Top 10 Best X” that serve backlinks to those listed. But, it could hinder your domain authority if that’s the only way you’re getting backlinks.
Make sure you’re also acquiring backlinks where you’re the only one on the page or only among one or two more for a longer post.
Raven Tools also has a backlink analysis tool that can provide Majestic and Moz insights for the link you’re looking at. Its a much simpler way to do some high-level research.
There’s one more thing that’s probably the biggest quality factor in link building. And that’s whether or not Google will even follow your link.
The Two Types of Backlinks
While you’re collecting backlinks, Google is creating and maintaining a profile on you. Basically, it’s keeping score, taking note on different factors like how many links you have and the quality of each link, among other SEO components that factor into your authority and rankings.
With every link you receive back to your site, in Google’s eyes that’s like a point. You’ll hear a lot of people call these points “link juice”. The higher profile the site, the more link juice from them is worth. Technically, if you have a bunch of links, you have a bunch of juice, then you win, which brings us to Follow Links.
Follow Links or “dofollow links” are links that give link juice to your site. They’re links that Google is actually crawling and assessing as passing authority from the linking site to your own.
But not all links are Follow Links. Your source sites actually have the ability and autonomy to tell Google that their backlink to you doesn’t count – so you don’t receive that authority or “link juice”. Those juiceless links are referred to as No Follow Links.
No Follow Links
No follow links are meant for specific types of content such as paid links, comments and forums, and basically “untrusted content”.
If you have other sites link back to your sales page they might very well tag it as a “nofollow” because there’s a price tag attached to that page. Other times, they simply have their own reasons for not wanting to pass along their authority. But if you have them link back to a high-quality, actionable blog post on your site it could be a different story.
As long as you make trusted, quality content, you’re totally capable of building a profile of Follow Links. And even the ones you get that are “No Follow” will still send referral traffic your way. It’s still good to be aware of what kinds of backlinks you’re receiving for which purposes.
Now that you understand what backlinks are and what separates quality backlinks from poor-quality ones, it’s time to answer the big burning question: How do I get them?
5 Ways to Attract Backlinks to Your Website
Over time, SEO wizards have come up with a ton if ethical tactics for getting backlinks to build authority. Before I dig into some backlink options, which we’ve also listed out in more detail in our link building article, I’ll also mention that you can use the Raven Tools “Link Spy” to search for a keyword and then identify what backlinks competitors have for their ranking pages. Once you find a competitor, group the domains together and review their links for possible opportunities for outreach.
The following options some of the most popular ones because of their cleverness and ease of application, but if you keep your eyes open you’ll start seeing link building opportunities in lots of different places. It’s simply up to you to take advantage and keep it ethical (aka “white hat”).
1. Guest Blog for High-Authority Sites
This is one of the most common ways to build backlinks.
1. Build a list of larger sites that complement your niche and attract your audience, and see if they accept guest submissions. If they do they will have guidelines for submitting and an application to become a contributor, or for submitting a post you’d like them to publish.
Normally, even if you aren’t allowed to link back to your site in your post you will be able to link to your site in your author byline. These sites will usually state upfront whether you will receive a Follow or No Follow link. If you’re unsure of anything, email the editor to double check if it’s worth your time.
2. Tap Into News Trends with Fresh Content
The good news about backlinks is that social sharing counts and some of the most shared content on the web are news stories and trends.
If you post a breaking story on your blog that your audience will be eager to know about, you’re likely to receive shares on social media from them, because they’ll want to spread the word. This is a great way to attract backlinks from other webmasters that are interested in your content.
3. Contribute to High Ranking Roundup Posts
One of the easiest ways to get backlinks is to contact authors of existing roundup posts and request to be added to the post. It’s simple:
- Search Google for roundup posts like “Top 10 [something relevant to your niche/product]”
- See which posts you can add value to. For instance: for a “top 10 tips from experts post”, you might see room for one of your own expert tips that haven’t been mentioned. This is a good opportunity to squeeze in and get a mention.
- Shoot the author an email saying you’d like to contribute to the post alongside the other experts or businesses listed.
- Offer to share the post with your network in exchange – as is good etiquette. Everyone wants to know “what’s in it for them”.
Not everyone will say “yes”, but a lot of authors will. You can also ask the author if you’ll receive a Follow or No Follow link.
4. Utilize Influencer Marketing for Your Own Roundup Posts
Again, remember that social sharing matters. So if you create your own roundup from your own blog of Influencers or Industry Leaders, they’re likely to share your post as well. The more people you have sharing your post, the better link authority you have, especially if you get high-authority users on the post itself.
5. Use “The Skyscraper Technique”
The Skyscraper Technique was created by Brian Dean from Backlinko and took off because of how clever it is. By following a few simple steps you can get high-authority sites linking back to your content in no time.
How to Use the Skyscraper Technique to Acquire Backlinks
Step 1: Search for popular content on your topic or within your niche. It’s important that this content is popular because that means it likely has backlinks already (you can use Raven Tools to see their backlink profile). But it’s also important for the content to be a bit outdated, or have opportunity areas to make it way better.
You can usually use tools like BuzzSumo to find trending articles on any topic. Otherwise, a good old-fashioned search on Google will do the trick too.
Step 2: Create an updated piece of content that does the topic more justice in an objective way. This could mean that you got more creative by using multiple mediums, did a deeper dive into the topic, presented a unique point of view, or present some more timely or evergreen material in place of dated content material.
Regardless, it should be easy for anyone to look at your content piece and think it’s a much better post than the original inspiration piece.
Step 3: Use Raven Tools to see who’s linking to the original piece, and contact them offering your updated, better version to link back to. This audience you’re reaching out to is already primed and cares about the quality of resources they’re giving their audience.
If your post is objectively better like mentioned before, then you’ll definitely have some takers who will replace the old link with your new shiny one.
You can find even more ideas for attracting backlinks in this “7 Step Guide to Creating Linkable Content”.
Get Backlinks and Track Your SEO Progress
If you’re going to go after some link juice to build up your website’s authority, it’s important that you aren’t going in blind.
From finding backlink opportunities to seeing your own backlink profile, with Raven Tools you’re able to track your progress as you make your way to the top. Get started for free.