Backlinks (also known as “inbound links”, “incoming links” or “one way links”) are links from one website to a page on another website. Google and other major search engines consider backlinks “votes” for a specific page. Pages with a high number of backlinks tend to have high organic search engine rankings.
For example, here is a link from Forbes to my website.
Because that link points directly to a page on my website, it’s a “backlink”.
Why Are Backlinks Important?
Backlinks are basically votes from other websites. Each of these votes tells search engines: “This content is valuable, credible and useful”.
So the more of these “votes” you have, the higher your site will rank in Google and other search engines.
Using links in a search engine algorithm is nothing new. In fact, backlinks formed the foundation of Google’s original algorithm (known as “PageRank”).
Even though Google has made thousands of changes to its algorithm since then, backlinks remain a key ranking signal.
For example, an industry study that we conducted found that links remain Google’s key ranking signal.
And Google has confirmed that backlinks remain one of their three most important search engine ranking factors.
What Types of Backlinks are Valuable?
Not all backlinks are created equal.
In other words, if you want to rank higher in the SERPs, focus on quality backlinks.
Put another way:
A single quality backlink can be more powerful than 1,000 low-quality backlinks.
As it turns out, high-quality backlinks tend to share the same key traits.
Trait #1: They Come From Trusted, Authoritative Websites
Would you rather get a backlink from Harvard… or a random guy’s website?
As it turns out, Google feels the same way.
This concept is known as “Domain Authority”. Essentially, the more authority a site has, the more authority it can pass on to your site (via a link).
For example, here’s a link that I got from TechCrunch.
According to Semrush, TechCrunch is an extremely authoritative domain.
Because that link comes from an authority site, Google puts lots of weight on it. In fact, I noticed a boost in my organic search engine traffic right after TechCrunch linked to me.
Are these links hard to get? Definitely.
Are they worth it? Absolutely.
Trait #2: They Include Your Target Keyword In The Link’s Anchor Text
As a reminder, anchor text is the visible text part of a link.
In general, you want your links to have anchor text that includes your target keyword.
In fact, a recent industry study found a correlation between keyword-rich anchor text and higher rankings for that keyword.
Now, a quick word of warning:
You don’t want to go overboard with keyword-rich anchor text. In fact, Google has a filter in their algorithm called “Google Penguin”.
Google Penguin filters out websites that use black hat link building strategies. And it specifically focuses on sites that build backlinks with exact match anchor text.
Trait #3: The Site (and Page) Linking to You Is Topically Related To Your Site
When a website links to another website, Google wants to see that the two sites are related.
This makes sense if you think about it:
Imagine you just published an article about running a marathon.
In that case, Google will put MUCH more weight on links from sites about marathons, running, fitness vs. sites about fishing, unicycles, and digital marketing.
Trait #4: The Link Is a “Dofollow” Link
Google and other search engines ignore links with the “nofollow” tag attached to it.
(In other words, nofollow links don’t count search engine ranking algorithms).
Fortunately, the vast majority of links on the web are “dofollow” links.
And most of the links that have the nofollow tag aren’t that valuable to begin with. For example, links from these sources tend to be nofollow:
- Blog comments
- Press releases
- Paid advertisements
These links aren’t super helpful for SEO anyway, so it’s not a big deal that they’re nofollow.
Trait #5: The Link Is From a Domain That Hasn’t Linked to You Before
Let’s say you get a link from Website A.
Well, let’s say Website A links to you again. And again. And again.
Are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th links as powerful as the first one?
As it turns out, links from the same website have diminishing returns.
Or put another way:
It’s usually better to get 100 links from 100 different websites than 1,000 links from the same website.
In fact, our search engine ranking correlation study found that the number of sites linking to you (not the total number of backlinks) correlated with Google rankings more than any other factor.
Now that you’ve seen what types of backlinks are the most helpful for your Google rankings, it’s time for me to show you how to start building them.