This is an introduction to backlinks for beginner bloggers.
You may have heard people talking about backlinks. You may also have heard that some people ‘build’ or even ‘buy’ backlinks.
When I first heard these terms I was completely confused. I thought a backlink was simply what happened when another website created a link pointing to yours.
So how could it be possible to build backlinks on other people’s websites, and why would you want to do this?
I soon discovered what building and buying backlinks was all about. And this is a summary for beginners who are asking the questions I once asked.
What are backlinks?
Backlinks are indeed simply links that point to your website from another website. But not all backlinks are equal.
In the early days of blogging, all blogs had a ‘blogroll’ in the sidebar, and/or a ‘links’ page.
This was where you put links to all the other blogs you liked or useful websites that you thought your readers might enjoy.
These are the simplest, and least useful (from an SEO point of view) backlinks that another site can give to yours.
How your backlinks affect your search position
Your blog’s position in the search rankings is very fluid. It will be different for each keyword or search term entered into google by a potential visitor to your site.
It may also be slightly different each time a person searches. And will depend partly on what that person has searched for before.
And on where they are located.
Google creates complicated algorithms to determine where a website features in the search results for any given keyword.
Why are backlinks so important?
Backlinks matter because although google keeps its algorithms secret, we know that backlinks are one of the strongest and most important factors in Google’s ranking system.
Think of a backlink as a recommendation.
If another website owner goes to the trouble of placing a link to your site on theirs, it’s a clear recommendation for your site from that person.
It’s a bit like getting a 5 star rating on trip advisor or Amazon.
Recommendation or ‘word of mouth’ is more likely to be trusted by others than advertising or self promotion, and Google recognises this. But, as we mentioned earlier, not all backlinks are equal.
Good backlinks and bad backlinks
Some backlinks are much more valuable than others. And some are even harmful.
Google doesn’t just do a tally of all the backlinks to your site and give you a score depending on how many there are.
It is much more complex than that.
A backlink coming from a trusted and popular site is worth far more than a backlink from a site with little or no traffic.
And Google is wise now to link farms, link swaps and many other attempts to ‘game’ the system.
If you get a link from a national newspaper or an authoritative domain such as a dot edu site, this will count highly in your favour.
If you get links from a friend in return for linking to her, it probably won’t do you much good.
If you get hundreds of links from a dodgy site scraping from others, it may even harm your blog.
Google also looks at how relevant your backlinks are.
So if you are writing about dogs and you get a link from another dog site, that is going to help you far more than a link from your neighbour’s motorbike site.
How can you get backlinks to your blog?
As a website becomes more popular, provided that the content is good quality, sooner or later someone will link to one of your articles.
It probably takes thousands of visitors to get you a single natural backlink. So this is a slow process.
The Labrador Site grew entirely through natural backlinks.
If you blog regularly, several times a week, those backlinks will come with time, but you need to be prepared to be in it for the long haul. Until they do, your blog is unlikely to feature in the search results.
There is another way to grow backlinks. And that is to deliberately set out to acquire them.
This is known as ‘building’ backlinks. It has nothing to do with building though. It is all about ‘asking’.
And for some of us, that can be very difficult.
I managed without backlink building for several years and was finally persuaded, by my SEO consultant, that it is possible (and acceptable) to do this without compromising my integrity or going around with a begging bowl. Provided we go about it in an ethical way.
Building backlinks in a safe and gradual way, by approaching other website owners and drawing attention to one of your articles that may interest or entertain their readers, is known as ‘outreach’
I’ll tell you a bit more about our own outreach campaign in another article.
The risks in building backlinks
Building backlinks is not without risk. Google knows what the pattern of backlinks grown naturally looks like. And it is believed that Google prefers this natural growth pattern to any other.
This is a problem for those building backlinks, especially if they do so excessively.
You have probably heard of various updates brought out by Google that have damaged the standing of some websites
In the past, many websites reached the top of the search engine results by building hundreds and even thousands of irrelevant links from irrelevant sites (known as link farms), or dodgy directories.
This is why search results were often filled with rubbish sites that were of no value and were there just to display adverts.
Millions were made, and millions were lost when Google put a stop to this practice.
People are now very wary of being subjected to what is known as a Google penalty. Such a penalty probably spells the end of the road for the website affected.
To build backlinks without risk requires care and skill. It isn’t about grabbing something for yourself. It is about adding value to other sites, as well as gaining a benefit.
You should never offer to buy links from other websites, or to swap links, though this was once common practice.
You should make sure you have content that is really worth linking to, and politely make others aware of it. Proceed with caution. We’ll talk more about this later.
The benefits of backlink building
The benefits of backlink building are clear. If two articles are equal or even roughly similar in all other respects, the one with the most backlinks will rank higher.
My determination not to build links in the past has in some cases resulted in me being outranked by what is essentially my own work.
Some articles that were taken from my site and rewritten by another website owner, outrank me now in the search engine results. Simply because my ‘copycat’ built backlinks to his version, and I did not.
If you wish to generate an income from blogging, backlinks are probably not something that you should ignore.
Backlinks are links to your website from another website. They are very important because Google sees them as a recommendation for your website and takes them into account when ranking websites in the search results
You can let your backlinks grow naturally by blogging regularly and this is the safest option.
Or you can help them along by encouraging others to link to your website. This is a quicker option, and may be essential if you are up against strong competition.
There is risk involved in building backlinks and you need to either do a great deal of research before you begin or take advice from an expert.