What is Backlinking?

What is Backlinking
What is Backlinking
Kendall Brennan
By Kendall Brennan

In the marketing world there exist large pools of jargon thrown around which can quickly become confusing for those who are unfamiliar. Backlinking is one of them, a term that refers to a tool often used in the context of search engine optimization (SEO).

A backlink, in and of itself, is simply a hyperlink that will connect you to another webpage if you decide to click on it.  They will generally appear as a highlighted in-text reference to a topic that is in some way related to the one you are currently viewing. Backlinks serve to connect you to additional information to help provide background, context, and additional understanding of the term or terms that they reference. They will generally appear something like this:

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Why Do We Use Backlinks?

For the general public, surfing the web in search of information, or consumers hoping to find the perfect item to fit their needs, backlinks are a resource that can aid them in their search. Backlinks serve as a sort of online docent, directing people to the items they desire and pointing to additional, helpful information that they may not have even known they needed. This can be really useful in helping people to truly find the right fit. If you have ever experienced buyer’s remorse after coming to the realization that the item you purchased is not the best one you could have bought, then be sure to explore any backlinks you come across in your future research to avoid repeating the same mistake. Knowledge is power, and backlinks are helpful in that regard.

Benefits Of Backlinking

While we have just discussed the consumer-facing benefit of backlinking, which is relatively straightforward, the business-side benefits are more varied and somewhat more nuanced. You see, a backlink is similar to a reference or a citation of scholarly works such as journal articles and books of reference.  Authors and publications of scholarly works gain acclaim (and by extension, future funding for their research) by having their peer-reviewed works referenced in subsequent publications. Each reference is seen as an endorsement to the value of the work and serves to elevate the author to a position of authority in that particular arena.

Backlinking And SEO Value

Backlinking serves a very similar function in regard to web content. Every backlink lends the same referential value to the page that it connects to as a scholarly reference does to a scholarly work.  Every backlink is essentially a vote in favor of the webpage that is being referenced. These “votes” are of significant value for purposes of search engine optimization (SEO).

How Does Backlinking Affect SEO?

Every search engine employs an algorithm that decides which web links will be most useful to those who search for a specific term. This is often referred to as a “search engine ranking,” and it will impact which links appear toward the top of the list of search results and which fall further down. As you can understand, achieving a high search engine ranking lends a lot of value to your page in that your page is much more likely to receive a high amount of traffic in comparison to those that are buried further down. People have a limited attention span and a conditioned understanding of hierarchy; top is best. So one’s ability to achieve a higher page ranking has become a crucial parameter for those conducting business online. If done properly, more traffic results and more sales occur.

How Does The PageRank Algorithm Decide Page Ranking?

A thorough understanding of the manner in which search engine algorithms create page rankings is critical to the success of online businesses. PageRank, which is named after Google co-founder Larry Page, is the first, most well-known and most commonly used algorithm that fulfills this purpose. Google uses PageRank to:

“…count the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.”

PageRank uses an extensive set of criteria to determine the importance, and by extension, page rank of each website. The most important in regard to backlinks are:

  • Quantity of backlinks
  • Relevance of backlinks
  • Quality of Backlinks

Why Is The Quantity Of Backlinks To My Website Important?

The intuitive answer is that more references made to your website indicate a greater degree of importance or authority to the online community. If a large number of people are willing to offer unsolicited (if indirect) endorsements of your work, information, or product, it stands to reason that it should carry weight with those who might wish to seek similar service in the future. Quantity is arguably the most salient quality that can be used to measure the influence gained through backlinking.

It is not, however, the only measure. There have been many different types of attempts to manipulate this measure to gain maximum exposure over the years which are collectively known as linkspam. Certain people or entities would attempt to furnish their websites with as many inbound links as possible, regardless of whether or not the originating site had any relevance to their site or not. Because of this, PageRank takes other measures into account before granting a higher placement in the search results.

Relevance Of Backlinks

It is extremely important that a backlink is deemed relevant to both the content that it links to and the context in which it is found. Scoring strongly in relevance is a critical factor in a website’s page rating. If a backlink to your site originates on another website or blogpost that is completely unrelated, the algorithm will deem it low in relevance, which will bring down the overall page ranking. Additionally, it is paramount that the anchor text, which refers to the text that composes the highlighted hyperlink, is relevant to the context in which it is found.

Search engine bots designed to detect the relevance of this material (often referred to as crawlers or spiders) will be able to detect whether or not the anchor text is pertinent to the content in which it is embedded. If it is in fact relevant, the page rank score goes up. However, if your backlink is deemed to be irrelevant, the page ranking will drop and your website may be dropped from the search engine results page (SERP) entirely.

How Can I Use Backlinking More Effectively?

The most important thing to understand about PageRank and its kind is that they are designed with the consumer in mind. The entire reason for the existence of search engines is for consumers of information and products to be able to locate and acquire them as efficiently as possible. If you work for the system, the system will work for you (to an extent). With that in mind, be sure to do the following:

  • Be thoughtful of the consumer– by so-doing you’re mirroring one of the key concerns of the PageRank bots. Make sure that your content holds inherent value to those visiting your site and that it strongly addresses the queries that have led them to it.
  • Hire a Copywriter– Ultimately, great articles tend to generate the most links. If you do not have the ability to create fantastic content on your own, you can hire someone who can. Working with a talented copywriter to produce great content may help generate links in the long run.
  • Consider your positioning– Backlinks to your site from authoritative websites carry a lot of weight. If you have a working relationship with an entity that holds a strong position in their field, do what you can to capitalize on that relationship and get yourself one of these valuable editorial votes.
  • Comment and Blog– Track down popular blogs and websites that encourage online interaction. In this case, make sure that your choice is reputable, and that they hold some clout in their field. Also, be sure that their field or publication is relatable to yours so that your new inbound links are rated high in relevance.

What To Avoid

  • Pay to play– Of course, as with most anything else of value, there are ways to purchase backlinking benefits. This will commonly involve working with paid networks of bloggers or social media experts who are able to capitalize on a relatively large and consistent following to subtly drive business in your direction. However, Google is always innovating and finding ways to counteract these types of schemes. Paid inbound referrals may get your site tagged as spam.
  • Low Quality Links– Low quality links generally originate from automated, spam, or even porn websites. These links will likely cause your site to be marked as spam and removed as a result.

Backlinking is still heralded as one of the most influential components of SEO. While it may take some time establish oneself and generate links, doing so with consideration of the fundamental goal of connecting the public with that which they desire—good information—is by far the best practice. Applying the fundamentals while avoiding paid or spamming schemes will give you the greatest chance to succeed.

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Kendall is a Senior SEO Strategist at Power Digital. She specializes in SEO, but also has a passion for the holistic view of digital marketing and seeing how all channels work together to create a strong digital presence.