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What Are Backlinks And Why Are They Important?

What Are Backlinks? 

Backlinks are links from other domains that point to pages on your domain. In terms of SEO, backlinks are good if they come from reputable websites, but they are bad if they come from disreputable websites. The reason for this is simple: Google views your backlinks as a signal of how useful and respected your website is.

Why Are Backlinks Important for SEO?

Backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s algorithm — probably the most important. This makes sense. If a lot of good websites think your content is good enough to link to, then your website must provide the kind of content people want to read when searching on Google. 

All other things being equal, the website with a better inbound link profile will outrank content from competitors with inferior profiles. Furthermore, if a company’s inbound link profile is much, much better than average, competitors will have a hard time equaling or surpassing the company in rankings without closing the link profile gap, no matter what else they do in their SEO campaign.

This is why link building is an extremely important component of SEO campaigns. If your company is weak in terms of SEO backlinks, you must make up ground. If your company is strong, then your campaign will want to increase the distance between your site and the competition, in order to solidify your ranking position for months and years into the future.

Now that we’ve addressed, “What are backlinks?” … it’s important to put the definition to use in the right way for SEO.

How to Get (and Not Get) SEO Backlinks

Considering the massive importance of website backlinks, companies are often tempted to cut corners in their SEO campaigns to acquire links. Some link building techniques are perfectly legitimate, others violate Google’s rules and can lead to a website being de-listed from Google (a marketing death sentence), and many link building techniques are in a grey area, pushing the limits of what is acceptable and unacceptable.

Generally speaking, if links are acquired by marketing high-quality content, then you are OK. There’s nothing wrong with, say, creating an awesome infographic on your website and having an SEO company let others know about it in hope of getting them to link to it. 

On the other hand, if the SEO company promises a reciprocal link in exchange for linking to the infographic, or offers money or free goods in exchange for a link, then you are engaging in a link building “scheme” that clearly violates Google policy.

Other types of link building schemes that should definitely be avoided are trying to get links from shady directories, trying to manipulate anchor text in links (i.e., the words used in the link) with too many keywords, and creating too many links too quickly. Here is a rundown from Google on its link scheme definitions — essential reading for any company engaged in SEO. 

The issue of speed in building SEO backlinks is worth elaboration. You might think that an enterprising SEO campaign would try to get as many links as possible as quickly as possible. From a strictly mathematical standpoint, this makes sense, but Google interprets rapid growth in link building as a sign of a scheme — an effort that is based not on marketing high-quality content, but rather one based on some sort of trick, gimmick or ploy.

Google is very suspicious of link building schemes for good reason. If it allows companies to manipulate its algorithm to acquire high rankings for inferior content, then its search engine users will be unhappy with the results of their searches and start using other search engines. Google certainly doesn’t want that to happen.

And, the fact is, many “Black Hat” SEOs have done or attempted to do just that — trick Google into high rankings. Some of these link building schemes have gotten a lot of media attention over the years, and have led some people to fear or look down on link building efforts of any kind. This is an overreaction. Again, there is nothing wrong with telling the world about your great content and earning SEO backlinks based on the value of your website’s information.

SEO and Backlink Anchor Text

Backlink anchor text are the words used in the link. There are different types of anchor text, including: 

All of these links point to the same web page but use different text. Years ago, SEO campaigns always tried to get target keywords in every link, and this was OK until, due to overuse and abuse, Google began to view excessive keywords in links as a sign of scheming. In 2012, Google announced its “Penguin” algorithm update, which among other things was intended to stop the practice of excessive keywords in anchor text. Since then, from an SEO backlinks perspective, it’s become important to strive for what Google calls a “natural” distribution of anchor text, using all the varieties of anchor text noted above, and others.

In other words, if all of your backlinks to a given product page of your website use keyword-rich anchor text, Google might be suspicious of a link building scheme. If those backlinks have different types of anchor text, Google assumes people are “naturally” linking to your content. 

The disconnect in all of this is that people interpret Google’s phrase natural links as meaning no marketing effort can be made to acquire links, that your website’s content must be found “naturally” by other websites and then linked to the “natural” course of business. However, what the phrase really means is that SEO campaigns should not dictate anchor text to external websites, they should not attempt to use keywords-rich anchor text as a way to make inferior content rank better, and — above and beyond anchor text issues — they should not try to acquire links from just one type of website in one type of industry.

What Are Backlinks — Link Sources 

This last point brings up a final aspect of website backlinks that every company engaged in SEO should understand. It helps the SEO cause when backlinks come from diverse sources. If the vast majority of your links come from, say, websites in your precise niche with a certain threshold of traffic, then Google may suspect you have been doing too much targeting (scheming) in marketing your links. If, on the other hand, your links come from sites of all shapes and sizes within your industry — from websites related to your industry, media websites and maybe even sites with minimal relevance — then Google will view yours as a “natural” link profile.

Although the definition of what does a backlink mean will not change, the best practices for building SEO backlinks will continue to change. It’s extremely important to use SEO techniques for link building that conform to current standards at all times.

To discuss how to improve your SEO performance, contact us now or call 855-883-0011.