Backlinks: An Introduction
Next to content, links are the most touted way to boost your site’s SEO. The theory behind link building is that the more sites link to you, the more trustworthy and valuable you must be. Over the years, Google has refined their algorithm and altered the way link-building works. We’ll take a look at the history of linking, why it works, and how to link properly moving forward.
Link Building’s Salacious History
Once upon a time, SEO was pretty rudimentary. Early search algorithms didn’t account for much when it came to gaming the system. To this day, people try to cheat their way to the top of Google using so-called ‘black hat’ SEO, in contrast to the more honest and reliable ‘white hat’ SEO.
At one time in the early days of Google, you could simply buy thousands of links from disreputable foreign ‘link farms’. Google wasn’t yet sophisticated enough to detect if links were legit or not, so you could appear to be a massive company basically overnight by spending a few bucks on a shady Chinese website. Eventually, Google figured this out, as they always do, and websites with shady backlinks got absolutely buried. Black hat SEO became a risky venture; you may gain in the short-term, but Google hates cheaters, and once you’re caught, it can take years to recover your SEO to where it used to be.
Link Building Today: Why Does it Work?
Link building is all about collecting backlinks. As usual, nobody except Google knows exactly how link quality works, or which links provide the highest value to your website, at least not with 100% certainty. SEO experts do have a pretty good idea how it works, though.
A backlink is a link from an external website that links back to you. Backlinks are more or less effective based on the quality of the website that links to you. One common metaphor for understanding backlinks goes like this: all websites have a certain amount of SEO ‘juice’ flowing through them. Links are like pipes connecting different websites to each other. A backlink from a big, established website is like a bigger pipe, pouring more SEO juice into your website’s reservoir. Small website backlinks are more like a trickle of SEO juice – not worthless, but not really impactful either.
To this end, a number of big SEO companies, like Moz and Ahrefs use their own proprietary scoring systems to rank domains based on quality. Using insights from Google and assumptions about their algorithm, they determine a score, usually out of 100, to rank a website’s overall influence on SEO. In general, the older and more trusted a domain is, the more SEO juice they can provide you.
How to Get More Backlinks
Backlinks can be built through a variety of ways. First and foremost, you gotta have great content. If your content is good enough, people may just choose to link to your blog or website of their own volition. This is you becoming an authority on a given subject. Another way is through directories and organizations. If you run a local business and your website isn’t on Yelp, Google Business, Bing, and various social media sites, you’re doing yourself a disservice. All these sites are huge, with a ton of SEO juice for you to soak up, and, best of all, they’re free. You might also consider joining professional associations, or local organizations like the chamber of commerce. While they aren’t necessarily free, they are valuable.
To Guest Post, or Not to Guest Post?
There’s a lot of back and forth in the SEO world concerning guest posting. Guest posting is when you write content for another blog or website in exchange for the publicity (and backlink). Some experts argue it’s a dying practice, or that it might be, anyway. Others are confident it still provides value. I think a safe rule of thumb for guest posts is to carefully consider the cost of giving up content. Content on your own site may generate backlinks on its own, and is keyword rich. It’s also up-to-date content that keeps growing your site. In order for a single backlink to be worth giving up all that SEO power, it better be a pretty good guest post opportunity.
Links are important for your SEO. That’s a given. As the online landscape changes, so do link-building practices. It’s important to stay up to date with your link-building tactics, and pursue worthy opportunities.