When looking into ways to optimise a website for search, your mind may naturally gravitate toward on-page search ranking signals like keyword usage, mobile responsiveness, and site speed.
However, there is a very powerful “off-page” signal that is frequently misunderstood by beginner SEOs: backlinking. Attracting fresh backlinks to your site – sometimes called link building – isn’t as easy as optimising your site’s on-page copy, image alt tags, or indeed any change you can readily make to your own website. Backlinks are links that point to your website from an external source. And because they’re out of your direct control, they’re much harder to build.
But how do links that appear on someone else’s website affect your search performance? Let’s investigate.
What Is a Backlink?
Put simply, a backlink is a link from another website that points to yours. For example, from Google’s perspective, this link to google.co.uk is a backlink. If we were to link to your website here, that would count as a backlink from your perspective.
As a website owner, it’s relatively simple to link out to any site you like – especially if you use a CMS like WordPress. Though search engines do look at these outbound links to get an idea of context, they pay special attention to the inbound links – backlinks – that point towards your website.
Why Are Backlinks Important for SEO?
Backlinks are treated as a precious resource in SEO, and for good reason. To explore why, we need to understand a little about the importance of interlinking between websites from a search crawling perspective.
A Network of Networks
There are a lot of things Google can look at to get a good measure of what a website is about and where it should probably appear in search. In fact, Google uses over 200 ranking factors to gauge a website’s fitness for and placement in search results. On-page signals like body text, image optimisation, site speed, and responsive design can give a lot of information, but the real rich contextual information comes from how websites and online resources link to each other.
The world wide web is an interconnected network of networks, and it’s worth thinking about websites in much the same way. The fact that a website exists and that it contains the information it does is all well and good, but you can get a much deeper understanding of how it’s semantically linked with other sites and the wider web when you look at how, where, and possibly even why it’s linked like that.
Why Are Backlinks Special?
So why are backlinks put up on a pedestal? While it’s relatively easy for a website owner to link to as many sites as their heart desires, it’s much harder to earn meaningful inbound links from others. A backlink from another website is effectively a vote of confidence in your site – someone found your website useful enough to potentially share some of their traffic with you.
Google considers this a strong indication of your site’s credibility and trustworthiness. The more virtual “pats on the back” your website gets from other, relevant websites, the more your site’s contextual importance becomes embedded in Google’s records.
A Crucial Consideration: Website Authority & Relevance
You’ll note that we said “relevant” websites. Google isn’t just looking for links from any old sites here. They’re paying attention to how relevant those sites are to your own subject matter and how authoritative the linking sites are – sites that have an established online history, rank well, and publish high quality content are generally considered to be authoritative.
So let’s put this in real terms. An inbound link from a fellow small business is great, especially if they’re in a similar, relevant line of business to you. However if a much more established, relevant website that has been around for years links to you – say a professional body or relevant nationwide industry source – then that’s even better!
When you embark on your link building campaign, it’s important to remember that links from super-authoritative, hyper-relevant websites don’t simply fall in your lap; they’re a lot of work to achieve. With this in mind – and especially coming at this as a beginner – aim for smaller link building “wins” while you’re just starting out; i.e., links from not so well known sites who have a small, yet established, following in your field.
Words of Warning
Google is smart, so don’t try and pull the wool over their eyes. They know the underhanded tricks that people try, and being caught using these “black hat” techniques can do untold damage to your site’s visibility in search.
Never do anything that can be seen as dishonest or spammy – avoid schemes that promise “I’ll link to you if you link to me”, and certainly never feel coerced into paying for a backlink. Don’t spam blog comments sections with a link to your site if there isn’t a genuine synergy with the article. And avoid automated link building tools like the plague!
Remember that backlinks are just one aspect of over 200 other Google ranking factors, so don’t overfocus on link building. In optimising your site, you should focus on holistically raising your website’s profile across all aspects of SEO rather than prioritising one single practice. In short – don’t put all of your SEO eggs in one basket.
Also bear in mind why people link to other sites – it’s usually because they found that page informative, inspiring, or entertaining and want to share that goodness with the world. Therefore, harnessing content marketing and regularly producing engaging on-site content like blogs, videos, or infographics puts you in an optimal position for link building activities.
For our tips below, we’re going to assume that you do carry out some kind of content marketing – using content in your marketing mix can benefit your overall SEO picture too!
8 Ways for Beginners To Attract Quality Backlinks
Let’s take a look at 8 ways that you can start attracting authoritative, relevant backlinks today – listed roughly in order of difficulty:
- Optimise Your On-Site SEO – A well optimised site with lots of interesting, relevant content sets the groundwork for any future link building efforts. Maintain your website’s on-page optimisation factors and avoid negative SEO practices in order to keep your site “findable” in search. People are much more likely to link to a page they can find than one they can’t!
- Promote Your Content Over Social Media – Social media channels are an excellent place to showcase your best content, so don’t be shy! Again, if people don’t find your content, they can’t link to you in the first place, so maintain an active role in relevant social media groups and hashtags with the aim of getting your content under the right noses.
- Get Your Business Listed in Relevant Local Directories – We’re not necessarily talking about general online business directories like Google My Business or Yell here (though they do have benefits for Local SEO). Search for “[your industry] + directory” and see what comes up. If the directories you find allow you to include a link to your website, then those links can count as backlinks.
- The Broken Link Building Technique – We’re starting to ramp up the difficulty now. The broken link building method is the practice of finding websites in your niche that are currently linking to pages or resources that are no longer there. If you have a blog post or other resource that could take that place quite nicely, reach out to the site’s owners and let them know! They’ll probably be grateful for the tip about the broken link, and may reward you by backlinking to the content you suggest. This Backlinko guide goes into more detail about how to perform broken link building.
- Be Aware of Your Competitors’ Backlinks – Keep an eye on the backlink profiles of your closest competitors as it may provide inspiration for your own link building efforts. We’re not suggesting you try to steal backlinks from anybody, but your competition may be reaching out to new and interesting websites that could inspire fresh link building ideas. Moz’s Link Explorer can give you an idea of where any website’s backlinks are coming in from.
- Create Guest Content for Other Websites – Content marketing is huge, and many businesses are crying out for new, engaging infographics, and videos. If you have a piece of graphical content you’d effectively like to “syndicate” for use on other sites (such as an infographic or video), reach out to a few prominent websites in your niche to see if they’d be so kind as to publish your piece on their site with a link back to your site as the source. Note: this isn’t advisable for written content (e.g., a blog post) due to Google’s duplicate content rules.
- Offer Help to Journalists and Podcasters – Reporters are always looking for new and interesting sources for new stories, opinion pieces, and interviews. Sign up to resources like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and Spot a Guest to be updated when a host/journalist is looking for sources/guests in your niche. Chances are that they will link to your website wherever your input is mentioned. This isn’t just great from a link building perspective, but for your overall PR standing too.
- Create Your Own Data – This is probably the most taxing of this list, but it can be incredibly powerful if you get it right. If you have the time and resources to create your own industry-relevant research paper/study, then doing so (and of course publishing your findings on your website) can be a great way to attract backlinks. Chances are it’ll also get your name out there as an authority in your field. Whenever anyone wants to refer to a specific data point from your report on their own website, it’s generally good manners to credit the source – most likely resulting in a backlink to your report. However, it’s essential that you carry out thorough market research before going down this route – if you discover the statistics you’re aiming for already exist, there’s little point in you going to all that trouble to come to the same conclusions. Additionally, you need to make sure that the specific data points are going to be truly useful and impactful to those in your field.
If you’re fairly new to websites and SEO, check out our other easy to follow best practice guides:
- Making the Most of Your Brand New Website: 10 Simple Steps
- What is SEO? A Practical Beginner’s Guide
- SEO for Images: How to Optimise your Website’s Alt Text
Want to talk more about how backlinking and search optimisation can benefit your organisation? Book a consultation with the experts at OLCO Design. Our award-winning team are experienced in all kinds of digital marketing practices, including web design, SEO, pay-per-click advertising, analytics, and social media strategy. Drop us a line today to book a free consultation.