What are backlinks and how to get them in 2023?
When it comes to organic traffic on the web, the most important part is to know who your target audience is, what they're looking for and how they use search engines to find it. One of the key factors Google and other search engines use to determine how relevant a page is for someones search is how trusted it is, and this is where the importance of backlinks come into play.
What are backlinks exactly?
To put it simply, backlinks are links from other websites to your web site.
Also called hyperlinks, incoming links, outbound links or hyperlinking. In SEO terms we mostly refer to them as backlinks.
These are the links that you would have clicked on many times while exploring web pages. Sometimes those links lead to another part of the same website and are called internal links, other times they lead to a different website and they're called external links.
Either way, on the origination website they're just links, but when they point at your website, you think of them as backlinks.
Why are backlinks important?
Backlinks are important for a number of reasons. Firstly, because they may send traffic from the other sites where the backlinks are. Secondly, Google and the other search engines use them as an indicator of the quality of your site.
In general terms, the more sites link to your site and the more linked pages you have the more authority or valuable the search engines will think you are and the higher your domain authority will be and the higher your pages will appear in search rankings.
Not all backlinks are created equal, though. Read on to learn about the different types of backlinks and how they will affect your link building strategy.
Types of backlinks
You can think of different backlink types by their attribution parameters, where they're coming from and their quality. Let's explore these:
Backlink types by attribution
- Dofollow links: technically 'dofollow' is not an attribute as such because every link is considered to be a dofollow link unless another attribute has been added.
- Nofollow links: a nofollow backlink is a backlink with a rel="nofollow" tag included. Google doesn't crawl these links or transfer any pagerank along with them.
- User-generated content (UGC) links: create in 2019 site owners can now use UGC links for user generated content instead of nofollow links.
- Sponsored: also created in 2019, sponsored links are used to identify links that are promotional by nature
Using the correct backlink attributes ensures that Google understands your site and sends referral traffic identified correctly thereby avoiding penalties for those receiving the inbound links.
Keep these attributions in mind when building high quality backlinks and when analysing your backlink profile.
Main categories of backlink types
When thinking about building high quality backlinks, the type (or source) of the backlink is quite important. There's a huge difference in the way Google sees a backlink coming from editorial content and those coming from blog comments.
When developing your link building strategies it is important to keep this in mind and ensure your backlink profile has a natural spread of different types.
Let's have a look at the main types:
- Editorial backlinks: dofollow editorial backlinks are backlinks that organically appear in an article on another website. They haven't been paid for or asked for and when they come from high authority sites they are one of the best types of referral traffic. Authors often use them when they want to give the readers the opportunity to read further or provide more data around statistics quoted.
- Guest posting backlinks: are backlinks that you get when you write guest posts on external sites. The can be a great way to get links to your site but different site owners will have different policies on how many backlinks are allowed and where they're place. Bigger publications may just restrict you to a backlink in your bio.
- Guest posting is a great way to gain backlinks to your site but be aware of your backlink profile. Google doesn't like guest posting at scale and may penalise you for it if it gets out of hand.
- Directory backlinks: Google has made public statements that links from directories generally don't help your SEO standing. Whilst most links from won't help your SEO much they can drive traffic and that's the most important thing.
- Google are also quite vague about it so the interpretation is don't go out there and sign up to any random directory, try and find high authority sites and those that are specific to your niche.
- Acknowledgement backlinks: These website backlinks are acknowledging something you've done, like when you've spoken at an event, or sponsored it, or possibly made a donation.
- They might be links from the event site owner or links in social media posts.
- Links in bio: These will most likely be nofollow but sometimes their the only type of backlink you can get for a guest blog post. These still add to the overall number of backlinks and should be a part of your seo strategy. The main benefit from is the traffic you'll get from the guest post along with any social media shares by the publication.
- Business profile backlinks: These are also usually nofollow links but links from appropriate business profiles are another way to be where your audience is and will help with brand building.
- Social Media backlinks: Many of the search engine crawlers won't see a lot of these backlinks but they're important anyway as part of your overall backlink profile, and with great content you'll get more shares and traffic anyway.
Google claims that search engines don't factor social media signals but many SEO experts dispute this and a number of experiments have shown that they make an impact.
It's likely that they don't have the same effect has high quality backlinks but it's also accepted that social media can have an impact.
3 tactics you shouldn't use to get backlinks
Once people realize the value of link building and search engine optimization they can often get carried away. Yes, external links to your site are important for driving organic traffic and lifting your domain authority but how you get them matters.
Let's have a look at 3 tactics you shouldn't use:
- Links from irrelevant sites: posting content on irrelevant sites, even it's great, won't bring you any link juice. Even worse, if it's a low quality site Google may punish you for manipulative tactics.
- Links from low quality or untrustworthy directories and forums: posting links contextually in places like Reddit are standard practice and if you go back a few years posting in any type of directory or forum was a standard part of a link building campaign.
This is a case of more backlinks aren't always better. Links from untrustworthy sources can do more damage than they're worth.
- Paid links: Google very specific in their Webmaster Guidelines that they don't want paid links to influence search results. It's also pretty clear that a lot of companies do, at some stages, pay to gain links.
Considering that some companies do pay to get links, is it ever ok for me to pay to get sites linking back to mine? There is one way that Google says is ok to pay for backlinks and that's if they use the "sponsored" tag in the link. This is fine because the link then isn't counted as an authority inbound link but still might be worthwhile because it's on a site that might drive a lot of traffic.
Whilst you might be able to get away with it for a short time it's best to earn backlinks organically.
How to check backlinks?
How can you track your website backlinks? There's actually a whole industry dedicated to providing tools for SEO including Google with Google search console which is probably the first place you should start with any SEO strategy.
In relation to tracking your backlinks most SEO tools provide them and they can show you the source of the link, the anchor text and where they're linking to on your site. They'll usually also provide information like your top linked pages and group together multiple links from one website.
One of our favourite SEO tools is Morningscore and if you're just getting started with link building and SEO then it's definitely worth checking out.
So, how do you actually go about getting backlinks in 2023?
The answer to this question depends a lot on where you're at.
If you're just starting out and have a low domain rating you likely won't feature prominently in search engines like Google and so organic search traffic to your site will be low or non-existent.
Having a low domain authority also makes it harder to convince higher quality sites to link to you because your link doesn't offer much value in return. So where do you start with your link building?
The first place I usually start is with directories. There are still a number of high quality directories with incredibly high domain authority that can move your domain authority from 0 to 1.
Another good place to start is with friends or people in your network. They can often find a way to help you with your search engine rankings. After that, your next best opportunity is guest blogging. If you can create really useful content for someone it won't matter where you are in your in link building journey, they'll want your content and will usually link back to you.
How you go about building backlinks when your site is already ranking and you already have some linking sites is a little different. You'll likely already be getting the odd organic website links but you're on a mission to accelerate the process.
This is where content partnerships or brand partnerships in general can really make a difference. Building backlinks gets easier to do at scale when you partner more closely with a likeminded brand. Things you can do with a partner:
- They can find a way to add links from their web page from existing content. This is great at scale because it means you don't need to write a whole guest post, just a paragraph or even sometimes just a sentence. Massive time saver!
- A good partner will automatically use appropriate anchor text or will ask you for suggestions.
- Move beyond just content related activity. Hosting joint events with one more partners should be a key part of your SEO strategy. Not only will the events themselves drive traffic, you'll get extra backlinks from where the event is promoted from places like meetup.com or any dedicated event web pages.
If the event is a big success don't forget all the social mentions from the attendees and any blogs from them as well. One great event and you can get a ton of backlinks to your site.
- A lot of companies have resource pages and it's often an easy place for a partner to drop a link to you with useful anchor text.
- Whilst partnerships can bring a lot of backlinks to your site, they're a powerful multiplier for most of your marketing or growth initiatives.
Lastly, don't forget to explore competitors backlinks. Here are some ways to find link building opportunities from competitors:
- You can check their top linking sites to see if these are linking to any out of date content and then pitch your much newer and improved content to the referring domains. This might sound hard but you need to remember that a site owner will be concerned about linking to poor quality content. This is a risk of negatively affecting their search engine results.
- An even easier way to earn backlinks is if you find links that are broken links. Then pitch your specific page as a solution to fix their broken links.
Where to find partners
For some people finding partners can be hard, especially if you're an introvert. Finding partners often requires cold outreach or attending networking events.
Here are a couple of ways of getting started:
- Start with your Keyword research tool. Once you have some keywords that you're targeting you can search for other websites targeting the same keywords. This usually means that you have at least something in common.
- Use a platform like intribe that is specifically designed to help you find partners. Instead of spending countless hours sending cold emails or linkedin request you can save a ton of time by connecting with brands that are there specifically to partner for growth.
While it might seem that brands at the top of google search engine results pages have all these organic looking backlinks we know that most backlinks have been created intentionally. We know that the number of backlinks is so important for a web page to rank that it's silly to leave them purely to chance. With the impending death of the third-party tracking cookie, getting more traffic to your website without paid advertising is even more important.
If you think about it, especially for a young website, most backlinks have been created by a link building campaign otherwise they wouldn't have nearly as many quality backlinks as they do.
When you start to build backlinks remember, the number of referring domains is important but the quality of the referring domains is more important. Focus on high quality backlinks, make sure a good percentage of those have relevant anchor text and try to build backlinks highly relevant to your niche.
Link building may seem hard in the beginning but once you have a handful of good referring domains you'll start to see the results in google search. Over time it will turn into a growth wheel and the more backlinks you have, the more you'll get organically. In the end your link building will become an automated process.
Finally, don't ignore the nofollow link. Whilst it doesn't pass link juice it does make up a part of a healthy backlink profile and if they're on pages with a lot of traffic it will generate traffic for your site. Even more importantly, nofollow backlinks from high quality sites in your niche can pass the right kind of traffic to your site.
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