WHAT IS A HIGH-QUALITY BACKLINK AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
If you've spent more than 5 minutes in the SEO world, you've probably encountered terms like "backlink" or "link building." Indeed, link building is a major service we do here at Longtail Dragon. But what do these terms mean, and how can they help you drive traffic to your website from organic search?
WHAT ARE BACKLINKS?
A backlink is a hyperlink created when one website links to another. The number of backlinks your site “has” is the number of links on the internet that point to your site.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BACKLINK AND AN INTERNAL LINK?
Backlinks point to your pages from other websites, while internal links point from one page on your website to another page on that same website.
They’re both important, but for different reasons
HOW DO BACKLINKS HELP WITH SEO?
The number of backlinks your page has is one measurement of how “authoritative” your content is. Search engines (like Google) view those links as endorsements of your content’s authority. It’s like the internet is “voting” for your page.
Google wants to serve authoritative, relevant results that provide a good user experience. Increasing the number of backlinks that point to your important pages is one crucial piece of an SEO campaign.
WHAT MAKES A QUALITY BACKLINK?
A quality backlink is a powerful, relevant, legitimately-earned link.
Not all backlinks are created equal. Google gives more weight to links that come from powerful pages than links that come from weak pages. Google will also discount–or even punish–links that it suspects are ill-gotten, “spammy,” or manipulative in any way.
There’s no one way to measure backlink quality. Quality metrics can be broken down into two broad categories: how likely a link is to help you, and how likely a link is to hurt you.
(1) How Likely A Link is to Help Me
A backlink is most likely to help you when it is:
- located on a powerful page
- situated in relevant content
The ideal way to measure a page’s power would be with Google’s internal score called PageRank, but Google no longer makes that data publicly available. Tools like Moz, SEMrush, and Ahrefs have scores that attempt to simulate Google PageRank.
One negative indicator of link power is a rel=”nofollow” attribute. If the link’s HTML code contains this attribute, it signals to search engines that the link should not be considered an endorsement. Research suggests that there is still some value in nofollow links. Still, they are much weaker than links without a nofollow attribute.
It’s very common in the SEO industry to measure a link’s power by measuring the entire website’s authority the link “lives” on. Moz has a score called Domain Authority (DA) that is most commonly used for this purpose.
Both Google and Moz insist that Domain Authority is not a reliable measurement of a backlink’s power. For practical reasons, however, DA is probably going to be used in this way for the foreseeable future.
There is no reliable way to numerically measure relevance, although some have attempted to create one.
A common way to determine the relevance of a link is to see if the link’s anchor text contains a keyword you’re trying to optimize for. Similarly, you might look for the keyword in the content surrounding the link or in the referring page’s headings or title tag.
However, that level of over-optimization is rare in the wild, so it could be seen as unnatural or manipulative. These are not my preferred method of determining backlink relevance.
A better method to determine relevance is to look for value-based relevance. To decide whether a link is relevant or not, ask yourself three questions:
- Does it make sense for this link to exist on the page? I.e., does the link give the reader any value?
- Does it make sense for that page to exist on its website? Is it topically relevant to the purpose of its website?
- If a user was reading the content of the linking page and they clicked on the link, landing on your page, would they find what they were hoping to find? I.e., was your page delivering on the value that the link promised
If the link makes sense with the page, the page makes sense with the site, and the promised value of the link is delivered by your page’s content, that link is relevant.
(2) How Likely A Link is to Hurt Me
Even a powerful, relevant link can be counterproductive if there is any indication that you obtained the link illegitimately.
Some companies have developed different kinds of “spam scores” to measure the likelihood that a backlink will earn you a penalty from Google.
I haven’t found these spam scores to be especially helpful or accurate–they tend to be a better indicator of backlink strength than backlink legitimacy.
But there are still some clues you can look for to determine if a backlink is illegitimate:
- The link is hosted on a link farm or a private blog network
- The link looks like an advertisement–it obviously exists to promote your site, not to add value to its surrounding content
- Excessive or unnatural keyword optimization
- Hidden links, such as links from site widgets or plugins
- The link is found in duplicate, spun, or plagiarized content
- The link is found in user-generated content, such as a “write for us” guest post
- Sitewide or “footer” links
- Blog or forum comment links
One or more of these indicators could signal that a backlink is illegitimate. If you accumulate enough of these unnatural, spammy links, you could find yourself in trouble with Google.
In short, a quality backlink is a powerful, relevant, legitimately-earned link.
HOW TO GENERATE QUALITY BACKLINKS FOR MY WEBSITE
Generating backlinks is the most challenging part of SEO. But backlinks are an essential part of improving your site’s authority, so a solid SEO strategy MUST have a method of generating quality links. It’s simply not optional.
Techniques for generating quality backlinks include:
- Guest blog posting–generating original content which links to your site and asking third party sites to publish it under their name
- Broken Link Building–identifying broken links and asking the webmaster to point those links to your resources instead
- Unlinked Brand Mentions–finding instances where your business is mentioned online and asking the webmaster to link to your site
- Competitor Backlink Sniping–pulling your competitors’ backlink profiles, identifying broken links or links that point to poor-quality content, and asking the referring website to the point that link to your higher-quality content instead
All of these techniques are incredibly time-consuming. Longtail Dragon SEO utilizes all of these techniques to improve your backlink profile and increase your site’s authority.
HOW MANY BACKLINKS DO I NEED?
It depends on which keywords you’re trying to rank for and how competitive those keywords are.
One way to estimate the number of backlinks you need is to analyze the backlink profiles of the pages ranked on the first page of Google for your target keyword.
The important number is not the number of backlinks that point to each of those pages. Instead, the important number is the number of “referring domains” in the backlink profile–the number of unique websites that link to the page. The average number of referring domains in the page-level backlink profiles of page 1 results will roughly equal the number of backlinks you need.
I say “roughly” because there are other variables that matter.
Suppose you can optimize your page for its target keywords better than the first page results. In that case, you might not need as many backlinks because your page’s superior “relevance” for the keyword makes up for its inferior “authority.”
Also, not all backlinks are created equal. Suppose the current first page results have low-quality backlinks in their profile, and you acquire high-quality backlinks in your profile. In that case, you won’t need as many links.
HOW TO GET LOCAL BACKLINKS
The best way to earn local backlinks is to make sure your business appears in all relevant local business directories online. Many of those will link to your website.
WHAT ARE DOFOLLOW BACKLINKS?
Dofollow backlinks are backlinks that do not contain the rel=”nofollow” attribute telling Google not to count the link as an endorsement.
While rel=”nofollow” links are not harmful per se and can even be helpful, dofollow links are generally more desirable.
HOW TO CHECK MY BACKLINKS
Google will give you a sample of your backlinks in Google Search Console. Tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz can pull a more comprehensive list of your backlinks.
Alternatively, get a backlink audit from Longtail Dragon and we’ll give you a list of all your backlinks.
IS BACKLINKING ILLEGAL?
It is not illegal to link out to a third-party site or generate backlinks for your website.
If you use unnatural, manipulative, or spammy link building techniques, however, you can get your site penalized by Google.
HOW TO CHECK BAD BACKLINKS
Google will give you a sample of your backlinks in Google Search Console. Tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz can pull a more comprehensive list of your backlinks. Those tools will also give you toxicity or spam scores that will help identify the bad backlinks–although I take those scores with a grain of salt.
Alternatively, get a backlink audit from Longtail Dragon and we’ll manually inspect your backlinks and give you a list of backlinks we suspect are toxic.
HOW TO DISAVOW BAD BACKLINKS
You should generally not disavow a backlink unless you have received a manual action (penalty) from Google. If you have received a manual action and you think you have identified the backlinks that are responsible, you can disavow those links in Google Search Console.
Backlinks are not everything in SEO, but they are a vitally important part of a solid SEO strategy. If you are doing SEO yourself, you need to know this stuff like the back of your hand. If we’re doing SEO for you, a high-level understanding is more than enough.
If you're looking to build high quality backlinks to your site, check out Longtail Dragon's premium link building service.