What is link building for SEO? - Backlinks 101 Guide
Taking things right down to basics, you may have heard the terms ‘link building’ and/or ‘backlinks’. These phrases are used daily in most Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) discussions.
But what do they mean? Why is link building important? How do backlinks help your SEO campaigns? It doesn't matter if you are a business owner, online store, blogger, run an affiliate marketing website, or have any kind of web presence, link building is going to be important for you so keep reading for more.
These topics will all be covered in this guide, but first, it will be useful to define what a link is.
The image below visually defines what a hyperlink is.
We call them links, because people are lazy and the word ‘link’ is shorter and easier to say than ‘hyperlink’.
You have most likely used links when working on any kind of document, email, Facebook post, or pretty much anywhere you write text on your PC/phone. Most places will allow the usage of links within the text editor.
Basically, a link provides you with direct access to an external or internal resource (mostly contained within text) that is ‘clickable’ by a mouse on a desktop/laptop, or ‘tappable’ by a finger on a mobile device. The content you can ‘link to’ can be just about anything you can think of.
Files, images, videos, audio, PDF documents can all be links. In the SEO world, we mostly care about links to web pages and websites.
Note: A link does not have to be text. A link can be an image, button, or almost anything else. Typically for SEO purposes, we focus on text based links.
How do hyperlinks work?
Web pages use html and the syntax behind what builds a functioning hyperlink requires you to have a basic understanding of how html works.
To create a link, you need a destination URL (where you want to send someone who clicks the link) and anchor text (the text that becomes the clickable link).
We start with the opening HTML tag which will be where you place the destination URL:
<a href="destination URL goes here">
Next, we need to add the anchor text and the closing </a> HTML tag to make the code complete and functional:
<a href="destination URL goes here">Anchor Text Goes Here</a>
Below is an example that will create a link to the homepage of my website, with my brand name as the anchor text.
The resulting link and anchor text will be this: HyperWeb
Most cases this link generation process is taken care of for you through use of text editors, meaning that you don’t need to build the html tags yourself. But understanding what goes on behind the scenes gives you more context around how they are important from an SEO perspective.
What is a Backlink?
A backlink is basically the same thing as a hyperlink or link. The main difference between backlinks and links is that backlinks are referring specifically towards using links for SEO purposes.
Google weighs specific ranking factors stronger than others when it comes to determining which websites deserve a place at the top of the search engine results.
Links from one website to another are one of the top ranking factors that influence search ranking positions.
When you think about it, this makes sense. Let me give you an example…
If Website A and Website B both publish something about the same topic.
The main difference being that Website A had a far better marketing team who engaged in a link building campaign to make other website owners aware of the content, and try to get them to link to it. They then successfully end up getting 30 other websites to reference - or link back to their article as a useful resource.
Website B did nothing once the article was published, and there was no sign of the content being of value to others.
Which article would be more likely to rank higher in Google for the topic it was written about?
- Website A: With 30 backlinks from other websites that found it useful.
- Website B: Sitting alone on the web in a dark corner.
Clearly, in this example Website A has the advantage. It will be highly likely that the article published on Website A will rank the highest due to the backlinks that it has.
It can be useful to think of backlinks as votes, and the website with the most votes from the most credible sources will come out on top.
With all the information covered above, you should now see where this is going.
Backlinks are valuable and help to get your web pages to rank higher in Google. But how do you get other websites to know your content exists?
According to John Mueller and any other Google spokesperson.
Creating quality content is all you need to do. If the content is good, people will magically find it and link to it.
Easy right? - WRONG!
That’s just not how it works unless you are already a very well established brand with a large following.
How can people find something that doesn’t already rank high in Google, and how would they even know it existed? - Unless they looked really, REALLY hard.
To get backlinks, you need to actively work at building links. The higher quality link you want, the more time and resources it will take to acquire one.
Website owners are not stupid. They know the value of their site and what a link is worth. They are also constantly being bombarded with people wanting backlinks from them especially if the site is meaningful.
This means that it takes a lot more than sending them a quick email and sharing your article hoping they will gladly accept it and link to it.
You need a link building strategy. A way to find the right websites that will link to your content.
Offering value to website owners is a common tactic - for example guest posts - creating a free article to publish on their website that includes a backlink to your website.
Outright paying websites to add a link to their site is another common way to get links - there is a huge industry built around this too.
Just know that it takes a lot of work, experience, and out of the box thinking to get high quality backlinks from websites.
With that being said, there are many companies - ourselves included - who have done the hard work and built systems/processes to effectively build links for websites, so just reach out if this sounds like something you need help with.
Not all links are equal
There are many ways that you can interpret the value of a backlink for SEO purposes.
Below is a simple way to help determine if a link is useful:
How do the linking page and the link source page relate to each other?
If a cake shop had an article about their chocolate cake recipe. And within the recipe article they added a link out to a mobile phone repair website, is there any relevance here?... Not really.
But a web design site that links to a local marketing company has far more relevance.
What context is the link used in? Does the content or paragraph surrounding the link make sense to include the link within it? And what anchor text is used?
We generally determine the anchor text we want to use based on competing websites and what they are doing. Then we try to find a way to use that anchor text within a relevant article.
We use organic website traffic estimates from third party SEO tools such as Ahrefs. It makes sense that a website that is generating traffic must have some trust from Google if they are showing that website to users in their search results. Acquiring a link from a website that is already generating a good amount of traffic outweighs a link from a website that generates zero organic traffic.
This isn’t necessarily always true, because organic traffic isn’t always the businesses main source of users. They may be using paid ads, or have a large social media following so it is important to take that into consideration - we just look at organic traffic because it is an easy filter for us to qualify good quality websites.
These you should take with a grain of salt. SEO metrics for links are typically pretty inaccurate for determining link quality and link value. Attributing a third-party score such as Moz Domain Authority, or Ahrefs Domain Rating isn’t really too useful.
The only thing to note about these scores is that typically when you get higher metrics, it means the site has more referring domains (backlinks) pointing to it, and generally it is a somewhat decent website. But always make sure to look at the other factors as well because these scores can be easily manipulated or inflated.
We use Domain Rating (DR) as a metric mostly because clients ask for it and many people still see value in having high domain rating.
There are also additional tags that can be added to the HTML code of a link that are called link attributes.
The most common ones are Do-Follow, and No-Follow.
By default, if no attribute is added to the link, it will be set as Do-Follow.
What is the difference between a Do-follow and No-Follow link attribute?
From an SEO perspective, the main difference between Do-Follow and No-Follow is that Do-follow links tell Google to pass on authority (or link value) through to a website, while a nofollow link signals to Google that you don’t want to pass on any authority with the backlink.
This is debatable, and it has been tested that No-Follow links do pass on value, however Do-Follow links are considered to be far more valuable for people who are paying for someone to build links for them - or just outright buying links themselves.
There are other link attributes that have been recently recognized by Google as important.
Sponsored, and User Generated Content (UGC). These two recent additions are attributes we tend to avoid unless we are creating links on our own websites.
They essentially tell Google that a link is sponsored (paid for) which is likely to devalue it since paid links are a breach of their guidelines. User Generated Content is an attribute that is suitable for comments sections of web pages, therefore not really relevant to what an SEO would try to acquire when building quality links that have any sort of impact.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding around what link building is and how it applies to SEO. You may even now see the value in building links to your website but don’t really know where to start. If that is the case you can have a read of our link building process to find out more about what is involved along with some of the results it can bring in.
If you have any further questions don’t be afraid to reach out!