Although link building as an SEO strategy has changed a lot in the last few years, the link profile of your website is still an important ranking factor. That's a very good reason to take a closer look at your backlinks. In this article, I'll explain exactly what this means and what quality factors play a role.
What exactly are backlinks?
The term backlink is used to describe an incoming link from another URL. This means that an external link to your website was set on another website. It doesn't matter if this backlink links to the main domain or to a subpage.
Today, you often hear how backlinks are no longer relevant. But this claim is utter nonsense. Backlinks are still crucial when it comes to search engine ranking. Google, Bing and Co. use the backlink profile of every website as an indicator to classify the site for ranking.
In other words, the more high-quality backlinks to your website there are, the higher your website will be ranked by the search engines and thus the better it will rank in the search results.
Types of backlinks
One key fact to remember at the beginning is that not all backlinks are equal. There are numerous factors which separate a good backlink from a bad backlink. Sometimes, the details on how backlinks are actually rated are kept secret by Google.
It's important to know there are two types of backlinks: internal and external links.
An internal link is a backlink that links from a subpage of the same or your own domain to another subpage of said domain.
An external link is a backlink that links from a subpage of another domain to a website or subpage on your own domain.
Structure of a backlink
Each link is set in HTML language and looks like this:
a href: This attribute is used in HTML to specify that the link is a link.
"“… ” The URL between the quotation marks is the website to link to.
target: This attribute can be used to specify that the link should be opened within a new tab. This attribute is not mandatory, however.
>...<: The text between these two brackets is the so-called anchor text which is visibly clickable.
What makes a good backlink?
As mentioned above, backlinks are not all equal. There are numerous factors that make a good backlink or, put another way, by which you can recognize a good backlink. You should always check where you set a backlink and where your backlinks come from if they weren't set by you.
Some factors that make a good backlink:
A good backlink should always be relevant, i.e. it should come from topic-related websites. From Google's point of view, "relevant" backlinks are favored.
What does that mean in practice? Let's say you have a website about football and you get two backlinks. One backlink is from a website about sports and the second backlink is from a website about cats.
In this case, the link from the sport site is, of course, more relevant and this relevance will also be reflected in the ranking by Google.
The authority, also known as "Domain Authority" (DA), is an important factor for Google when it comes to evaluating the backlink. The higher the Domain Authority score on a scale of 1-100, the stronger the backlink is.
To evaluate the authority of a domain, multiple factors are considered. These include, among others, the following:
- The age of the domain
- The number of incoming and outgoing links
- The quality of the backlinks to the site itself
In addition to the Domain Authority, there is also the Site Authority, which is subject to exactly the same standards as the Domain Authority. In this case, the evaluation simply refers to a single subpage of the respective domain.
A very common mistake when setting backlinks is to have unnatural Anchor texts. A backlink should be as natural as possible and flow smoothly with the text where it is embedded. Thus, it's best to avoid naked URL links such as "www.bloggiraffe.de". Instead, anchor text like "self-employed in online business" would be more appropriate. Depending on how the word order can be integrated into the continuous text, you can, and should, vary here.
Of course, it always depends on the frequency of the link you make. If the naked domain is used as the anchor text and set to external sites numerous times, there is a danger that Google will classify it as spam. The same applies to always using the same keywords as the anchor text. The consequence is a penalty for the domain. This should be avoided at all costs. For more information on anchor texts, I recommend the detailed anchor text guide by Nathan Gotch.
The more regular traffic a website has from which you receive a backlink, the more "link juice" , i.e. link power, the site passes on. This means the search engines will rate this link to your site as higher quality than one from a website with very little traffic.
The correct placement of the backlink shouldn't be underestimated. The more prominent the backlink is placed on a website and links to your website, the higher the quality is rated.
What does that mean exactly? If the link is in the sidebar or in a footer, for example, it's usually only one of many links and so less link power is attributed to it. If, on the other hand, the link is placed relatively high up in an article, much more relevance is attributed to it.
In addition to the placement of a backlink, the length of the content in which the link appears also plays a role. The longer the content, which is already classified as "more relevant" by Google anyway, the more relevant the link within this content becomes.
The big prerequisite is, of course, that this content is correspondingly well written and is relevant for search engines.
SEO and backlinks
As touched upon earlier, backlinks are essential for search engines like Google to be able to classify the quality of the respective website. It is the quality, and not the number, of backlinks to your site that is important.
In the worst case, if a website builds up a lot of unnatural backlinks over a short period of time, a so-called "Google Penalty" can be imposed. This means the website is completely excluded from the rankings. For this reason, you should regularly check new backlinks and take action against "bad" ones accordingly.
A common situation site owners face is when someone tries to use backlinks you've not set yourself to damage your website. If you find such links, you can ask Google to not take them into account when assessing your site. The "Disavow Links" tool is available in the Google Search Console for this purpose: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main.
To summarize: From an SEO point of view, you should always make sure backlinks to your site are both natural and relevant. The more "trusted" a website that links to your site, the better the effect for you.
The anchor text
We mentioned the anchor text in passing earlier. This is an extremely important component when it comes to search engine optimization.
On the one hand, this is the text visitors see on a website and, on the other hand, this text is read by search engines. The anchor text should therefore always be unique and related to the linked site. See also "Naturalness".
Dofollow, Nofollow, Sponsored & UGC attributes
There are now four link attributes you can assign to a link: dofollow, nofollow, sponsored and ugc. This allows you to give Google information about the relationship to the linked website. How these so-called rel attributes differ from each other is explained below.
First, the good news. To set a Dofollow link, you usually don't have to do anything. If a backlink is not marked as "Nofollow", it is automatically a "Follow" link.
With a Dofollow link, the Google bot receives the signal to crawl the link, i.e. to follow it. This link has a positive effect on the ranking of the linked website. This is often referred to as "link juice".
Nofollow Links (rel="nofollow")
With a Nofollow link, in contrast, the Google bot receives the signal not to follow the link further, i.e. not to crawl it. This backlink therefore has no effect on the link structure of the linked site as it is not included in Google's rating.
Sponsored Links (rel="sponsored")
Sponsored links or this link attribute should be used to identify any links set on the basis of any form of compensation, e.g. purchased advertising, links, recommendations or similar.
User Generated Content (rel="ugc")
This link attribute should always be used when content is linked that was created by users of the linked site and not by the website operator themselves. This is the case, for example, with comments on a blog or forum entries.
Link juice (link equity)
When "link juice" is passed on, it means a certain SEO authority or a certain trust of the page that sets the backlink is passed on to the linked website.
The higher this value or trust is, the more influence the backlink has on the search engine ranking of the linked site. All the factors listed in the section "Which factors make a good backlink?" play a decisive role.
Tips for more backlinks
If you want to actively build backlinks for your website, there are plenty of ways to go about it. I'd like to introduce you to the most popular ones.
The classic backlink structure is the publication of guest articles on other relevant sites. This means you look for suitable websites and ask if you can write and publish a high-quality article on the topic.
The prerequisite is, of course, that you're allowed to set a backlink in this article to your website. After all, you're also offering high-quality content for the readers of the respective site.
The approach for interviews is similar to guest articles. The only difference is you ask a website operator for an interview that you then publish on your site. How do you profit from it?
Simple! After the interview is published on your website, you ask your interviewee to share the interview, e.g. on their social media channels or maybe even in a short article.
A very simple and usually effective method is to mention relevant websites regularly in your posts, be it on the website or in social media channels. By doing so, you attract attention and there's a chance the mentioned website will mention or link to you.
A popular (and sometimes controversial) method is to set backlinks within comments. There are numerous topic-related blogs that allow commenting on posts. Unfortunately, this feature is often exploited by SEO spammers. When commenting, you should of course not only be out for a backlink but also read the post seriously and respond to the content. Most website operators immediately recognize generic comments written for SEO purposes only and mark them as spam.
How do you handle comments?
Expert Johannes Mairhofer has more information and tips for you on managing comments in WordPress in his blog article on the subject.
Find broken links
You can search for Broken Links on websites that are relevant to you. You can then contact the website operator and ask if they're interested in replacing the faulty link and linking you there instead.
For example, you can use the free tool "Deadline Link Checker" to do this.
Enter the URL into the tool to have it checked for broken links. If you find a link that fits the topic and is broken, contact the website operator and suggest your website for linking instead.
High quality content
My absolute favorite way of generating high quality backlinks is to create high quality content myself. There are so many ways to do it: write a great article, create infographics, videos and much more.
Social media can also be used effectively. You can publish videos on YouTube, share articles on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. A link to your website should always be included. There are really so many possibilities here.
Who are backlinks important for?
This question can be answered in a single sentence: Backlinks are important for everyone who wants to be visible in search engines like Google!
For people running a website or blog for private reasons, where their site ranks in search engines may not be of interest. If you generate income with your website or blog or offer services or products on your site, however, good backlinks are essential. After all, you want to be found as easily as possible when someone searches for your product or service.
It's therefore essential to build as natural and high-quality backlink structure as possible so that Google deems your website relevant as soon as search queries are entered.
How to check your backlinks
You have two good and free ways to check the backlinks to your website yourself. The Google Search Console is, of course, an obvious candidate. If you've saved your website, you can view the most linked sites and top referring domains here.
When you click on each page, you get an overview of which URLs link to them.
The same applies to the top referring websites. If you click on a website here, you will get an overview of the websites to which it's set a backlink.
Another free alternative to the Google Search Console is the Backlink Checker from Ahrefs: https://ahrefs.com/de/backlink-checker.
In this tool, you can look at your top 100 backlinks and evaluate them.
Backlinks still play an essential role for website operators today. Even though Google increasingly prefers high-quality content, backlinks remain an important factor for Google in signaling the value of a website.
In order for this to work effectively, I recommend always keeping an eye on your backlinks. If you actively set backlinks yourself, pay attention to the factors mentioned above. However, if a backlink hasn't come from you, you have to check whether it meets the requirements of a high-quality link or not. If it doesn't, you should have it devalued via the Google Search Console so it doesn't damage your backlink profile.