Most professionals outside of the digital marketing world often think of two things when the topic of SEO is brought up: keywords and backlinks.

Keywords used to be the main factor in search engine rankings prior to Google. This made sense. Show websites where the word “dogs” appears often if someone searches for “dogs”.

But does relying solely on keywords really produce the best results for a user? Google didn’t think so. Old search engines showed this with their inconsistent search results which often returned results from untrustworthy sources.

Google knew they had to consider the overall value of websites that were displayed in their search engine. But how?

Their solution was backlinks.

What Is A Backlink?

backlink is a link from another website that points to your website.

Backlinks pointing to website illustration

“Oh, so you mean those clickable pieces of text on a blog post that are colored differently?”

Exactly! But not all of those links are backlinks.

Internal links lead to different pages on the same site. These are important for navigation reasons, but they carry much less value than backlinks from other sites.

Links, both internal and external, can come in all different shapes and sizes:

  • URL text links: The most primitive of links consists solely of a URL. For example, this is a URL link to a very creative website made for lovers of The Office: http://theofficestaremachine.com/
  • Anchor text links: Most links won’t contain that long, ugly looking URL. Instead, the URL will be replaced with anchor text to indicate which site it leads to. For example, you can click the following anchor text link to view a website for making never-ending ambient sounds to relax to.
  • Button links: Some links are built into a button to add a bit more styling to them. Click the button below to test your typing ability with a speed test!
Visit Website
  • Image links: Many links are built into images. Some blogs will put links on images that go directly to the source where they found it. Click on the following image to view the source.
House with mountain in background

Why Do Backlinks Matter? A Brief History of Search Engines

Keywords have always been the primary factor behind finding accurate and useful search results. If someone searches for a word or phrase, then show them website pages where that word or phrase appears frequently. This was the general idea behind older search engines.

But Google saw many problems with the way these early search engines worked. Website owners could stuff their pages with keywords in order to appear higher on search engines.

Google saw that the number of times a keyword appeared on a page carried no indication to the value of that page. Something needed to be changed and Google saw the answer.

Their solution was to combine the value of keywords with backlinks. They found that valuable webpages were linked to more often than spammy, useless websites.

This seemed to be a foolproof solution to the problem of valuing pages based solely on keywords and other on-page factors such as images and site speed. However, unethical problems similar to keyword stuffing began to appear.

Website owners found that they could give themselves backlinks by creating many different useless websites and linking to their main site. Or they could pay link farmers, people and organizations who ran hundreds of sites that linked to paying customer’s sites.

So, in 2005 Google released one of their most important updates named Jagger. Jagger’s main goal was to target these low-quality backlinks. Many websites saw their Google rankings drop virtually overnight.

Google has continued to release many updates similar to Jagger. Each update has pushed Google’s search results to be fairer and more effective. They have focused on getting away from quick-and-easy techniques and going towards content. Because at the end of the day, nothing is more important for a website to have than valuable content for their users.

“Successful SEO is not about tricking Google. It’s about PARTNERING with Google to provide the best search results for Google’s users.”

- Phil Frost

Are All Backlinks Equal?

One of the most common misconceptions regarding backlinks is that they are all equal.

There are two different types of backlinks:

  • Dofollow backlinks: These are what most people are referring to when they bring up backlinks. Google gives value to recipients of dofollow backlinks. All external links are dofollow links unless otherwise stated.
  • Nofollow backlinks: Some links are marked as “nofollow” by website creators, blog writers, developers, etc. This tells search engines not to give any credit to the recipient.

But why would anyone want to mark a link as nofollow? Well, Google doesn’t like certain links, such as paid-for links pointing to products or services, to hold value. Links like these were paid for instead of being earned.

Most social media, forum, and messaging sites automatically add the nofollow tag to links. This protects against sites posting hundreds of links to their site with the hope of getting free backlinks.

How to Find Backlinks

Backlinks can be found using many different analytics tools. One of the free and most used tools for finding your backlinks is with Google Search Console.

Finding Backlinks with Google Search Console

  1. Log into your Google Search Console account. 
  2. You should see a menu on the left with options for OverviewPerformanceURL Inspection, etc. Scroll down this menu and click the Links button. It should be located near the bottom of the menu.

That’s it! You should now be on the page where you can find information about your website’s backlinks. This page will be split into two columns: External Links and Internal Links.

Internal links are the links on your website that link to your website. These are not backlinks, but they are still important to have for navigation reasons.

External links are backlinks. But be careful because not all of the links shown here will be backlinks. Google breaks this column up into different sections: Top linked pagesTop linking sites, and Top linking text.

Top linked pages are the pages on your site that are linked to the most from external sources.

Top linking sites are your backlinks! These websites link to your site.

Top linking text is the text used when linking to your site. This will be a mix of anchor text and URLs (when no anchor text is used).

Google Search Console is a good option for its price (free) and ease of use. But it lacks in supplying some of the more useful data that other tools offer.

Finding Backlinks with Neil Patel

  1. Head to this link: https://neilpatel.com/backlinks/
  2. Enter the URL of your website and click Search.

Neil Patel’s site is great because of the amount of data shown. You can see visual representations for the number of backlinks your site has had over time as well as new and lost backlinks. However, unpaid users will only be able to see around 50 of their top backlinks.

One of the most useful bits of information is the Domain Score. This is a score calculated by their algorithm that shows the overall strength of your website. But it will also show you the Domain Score of the websites linking to you. This is important because quality backlinks from websites with high domain scores is a must for any website.

Neil Patel will allow you to look at limited data for up to three websites per day. But if you want to view all of your backlinks or look at an unlimited number of websites then you’ll have to pay for their premium subscription starting at $29/month.

The Current State of Backlinks

Do backlinks still have value today? Are there ethical ways to obtain more backlinks, or should they be avoided altogether?

Backlinks are still one of the most important factors in any website that hopes to increase their rank on Google. However, backlinks are now judged by their quality and not their quantity. Two or three backlinks from popular, well-respected websites are worth more than 50 backlinks from websites with few visitors and little to no content.

"Focusing on quality [backlinks] over quantity is what can help you protect your site as Google updates."

Adam Riemer

If you are a website owner looking to increase your search engine rankings, then I’d recommend a hundred other things to do before trying to get more backlinks:

  • Make sure your website looks good on desktop and mobile screens
  • Optimize all webpages to load fast (ex: reducing image size, minimizing unnecessary animations, etc.)
  • Research which keywords you want your site to rank for
  • Customize title tags and meta descriptions for every page
  • Make sure the element hierarchy of your pages make sense (ex: h1 headings say what the page is about, h2 headings are titles for sections, h3 headings are subheadings for sections, etc.)

However, if you are one of the few website owners who has already taken all of these steps then there are some ethical things you can do to try and increase your backlinks:

  • Are you a B2B business? Offer to link to your client’s websites if they return the favor. Just remember to link to external websites in ways that make sense! Consider adding a “Clients We Have Worked With” section to your About page. Don’t just throw random links at the bottom of a page.
  • Are you a B2C business? Find bloggers or critics that can write a review for your business. Just remember not to exchange any money or else they will be forced to mark any links to your site with the nofollow tag.
  • Are you a blogger? Try guest blogging on other blogs in your niche! Just remember that you should reach out to other blogs with a similar following to yours.

Regardless of where you are in your SEO journey, remember that good search engine rankings take time. Websites with tons of valuable backlinks have earned them through years of releasing quality content.

If you are a business owner who doesn’t have the time to optimize their own website, then consider outsourcing to a third-party digital marketing service like us. Click here to contact us today.

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