What Are Backlinks? Why Are They So Important for Your SEO?

Sven Scheuerle Last updated 21.04.2021
10 Min.
Last updated 21.04.2021


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. 

Internal 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. 

External links

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=”https://raidboxes.io/blog/online-marketing/content-ideas/” target=”_blank”>Content idea</a>

a href: This attribute is used in HTML to specify that it is a link.

“… ” : The URL between the quotation marks is the web page that is linked to.

target: This attribute can be used to specify that the link should be opened within a new tab. However, this attribute is not mandatory. 

>…<: 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: 

Relevance

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. 

Authority

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. 

Naturalness

A very common mistake that is made when setting backlinks is the too frequent setting of unnatural anchor texts. This means that a backlink should be as natural as possible and flow smoothly with the text in which it is integrated. Thus, naked URL links such as "www.bloggiraffe.de" should rather be avoided. Better would be an anchor text like "self-employed in online business". Depending on the form in which the word sequence can be integrated into the body text, you can - and should - of course vary here. 

Of course, it always depends on the frequency of the set link. If the domain is used "hard" as anchor text and placed countless times on external sites , there is a risk that Google will classify it as spam. The same applies to the use of always the same keywords as anchor text. The consequence is then a downgrading of the domain. This should be avoided at all costs. For more information about anchor text, I recommend the detailed Anchor Text Guide by Nathan Gotch.

Traffic

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.

Placement

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. 

Content length

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. 

Follow links

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". 

Example: 

<a href=”https://bloggiraffe.de/”>Self-employed in online business</a>

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. 

Example: 

rel="nofollow">Self-employed in online business

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. 

Example:

rel="sponsored">Self-employed in online business

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.  

Example:

rel="ugc">Self-employed in online business

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. 

Guest article

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. 

Interviews

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.

Mention websites

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. 

Comments

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?

More information and tips on managing your comments in WordPress are summarized in Johannes Mairhofer' s blog article on the subject.

Find broken links

You can search for broken links on websites that are relevant to you. Because then you have the opportunity to write to the website operator and ask whether there is interest in exchanging the broken link and link you there instead. 

For this you can use the free tool "Deadline Link Checker". 

What Are Backlinks? Why Are They So Important for Your SEO?

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. 

What Are Backlinks? Why Are They So Important for Your SEO?

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 one sentence: For all those who want to be visible in search engines like Google and Co!

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. 

What Are Backlinks? Why Are They So Important for Your SEO?

When you click on each page, you get an overview of which URLs link to them. 

What Are Backlinks? Why Are They So Important for Your SEO?

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. 

What Are Backlinks? Why Are They So Important for Your SEO?

Another free alternative to the Google Search Console is the Backlink Checker from Ahrefs: https://ahrefs.com/de/backlink-checker.

What Are Backlinks? Why Are They So Important for Your SEO?

In this tool, you can look at your top 100 backlinks and evaluate them. 

Final thoughts

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. 

Do you have any other questions?

Do you have any feedback or questions for Sven on the above points? Then feel free to use the comment function. You want to be informed about new articles on WordPress ? Follow us directly on Twitter, Facebook or via our newsletter.

Sven Scheuerle - Independent freelancer and passionate affiliate marketer - has been working in online marketing for many years. He is also a blogger and regularly posts on his blog BLOGGiraffe.de about self-employment in online business.

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