Backlinks are an important aspect of SEO.
They help create authority for your website and can also bring in traffic from external sites.
In fact, there are plenty of agencies and online services that just specialise in getting backlinks for your website. After all, ‘experts’ claim that you should continually build backlinks, and there is never enough backlinks for one website.
Saying that, let me introduce what backlinks actually are, how they work, why they matter and how you can get some for yourself.
What is a backlink?
Simply put, a backlink is a link from one website to another.
It is different from a link from your website to another page on your website; this is referred to as an internal link.
Backlinks act a bit like a citation or reference – using information from another source – just like any scientific paper you might of written.
An example of a backlink is this link. I have included it as a citation, and as such, this link is a typical backlink from this site to Wikipedia.
Why do backlinks matter?
The reasons why so many webmasters care about backlinks for their website is because they might be beneficial to SEO.
The theory is, every time you receive a link from another website, this acts as a ‘signal’ to search engines like Google and Bing – that your website is a relevant and reliable source. The more links that a website receives, the more ‘popular’ it is, and hence should be more visible in search engine result pages.
At this point, I should mention that Google have never actually confirmed that their search engines work like this, but the general consensus from digital marketing and SEO experts is that backlinks matter.
A secondary effect of backlinks, is they can help bring additional traffic to your website. Gaining a link on a high traffic website can result in a proportion of this traffic then visiting your website.
Follow vs nofollow Backlinks
I just mentioned that getting a backlink can act as a ‘signal’ to Google to boost your website.
However, before I continue, backlinks can generally be defined as one of two types; a follow or nofollow backlink.
On the face of it, a follow and nofollow backlink looks exactly the same to a user when they are on the page. The only way you can tell the difference between the links is by looking at the actual HTML – the language that is used to make webpages look like they do.
In the beginning, links on the internet were mostly ‘follow’ links.
However, key people in charge at Google, mentioned the fact that links played a big impact in how they rank pages which essentially influences which pages make it to the top of the search results.
This led to spam, a lot of it.
This meant that any chance to get a link back to a website; blog comments, fake accounts and anywhere else where you could stuff a link back to your website took over the internet.
In retaliation, the nofollow link was introduced. This no follow link was designed to be used as a ‘citation’ like normal, but it has no ‘ranking effect’. Essentially deeming the ongoing spam as useless and a waste of time.
Today, both follow and nofollow links still exist, and there are many reasons to use either.
Generally speaking, backlinks tend to be follow links, and for the rest of this article I will refer to backlinks as follow links – unless otherwise stated.
How to get a backlink
There are two main ways you can get backlinks.
You can be passive; wait for other sites to find content you’ve created, or decide it is useful and wait for them to link to you. If you have a new site, or one that doesn’t generate a lot of traffic, getting backlinks this way is highly unlikely. However, if you are writing a blog and regularly producing high quality content as part of a scientific content strategy, it is more likely your content will eventually get linked to.
Alternatively, you can be aggressive with a backlink strategy. This means making a conscious and direct effort to achieve links; being in the right place at the right time or making connections with the people that can help you meet these goals.
Let me cover a few of the methods that you can use to achieve backlinks:
Guest posting is the act of writing an article or blog for another site. In exchange for writing content – usually for free – the host website will usually allow a link or two back to your website, either in the content or included in an author bio.
There are plenty of sites that will accept content, but these tend to be blogs or personal websites rather than the well-known publications or websites generating lots of traffic.
Paid or Sponsored Posts
Slightly similar to guest posts, many sites will insert a link to your site in exchange for some sort of payment.
A word of warning on this. Paying a website to include a link breaks many terms and conditions of search engines; being caught may lead to a manual penalty for both sites involved.
However, a way around this is to approach a site to sponsor a post. By sponsoring a post, you generally have the power to determine what links are involved, hence a link back to your own site. Sponsored posts must explicitly state that they are sponsored within the article or blog as not to mislead readers.
React to news stories
Reacting to breaking news stories or current affairs can be a good way to attract backlinks, usually for free.
When news stories break, journalists usually seek external references and additional information to improve their story. If you know where to look, you can provide an expert quote, or provide additional data to the story, rewarded with a link. Alternatively, you can try the ‘newsjacking‘ method, which means re-writing a news story, from an alternative point of view or with more information and relevancy, and hope other publications reference your website.
This method isn’t always successful, but to increase your chances, you need to be highly reactive to ongoing media; setting up relevant notifications to alert you to such events can help you with this.
Run studies & generate your own data
Rather than reacting to a news story, you can be proactive and try and create the news story.
If your business is in a position to run your own studies to generate unique insights and data, then you could be the source that creates a news story. Done successfully, this can lead to lots of other articles or stories based solely on your data. When this is successful, it almost always ends up with a backlink to the source of your data.
Generating your own data usually takes a lot of time, effort and money. This isn’t a bad thing if you are in the position to do so, but doing this for your own business doesn’t guarantee results. To be successful, you should plan as much as possible; reach out to relevant publications that might be interested in your data and even publish a news release to increase the chance that somebody publishes content with a link to you.
Outreach to Relevant Reporters
Related to the last point in the previous section, if you can reach out to relevant reporters or publishers ahead of a news story, you are more likely to be able produce content that is wanted.
Do consider that reporters and publishers are busy people, and they get similar pitches all the time. Don’t be surprised if your attempt to get in touch with reporters falls on deaf ears and you don’t receive a reply.
Finding relevant reporters that you can build a rapport with usually takes time, but usually helps if you can be introduced by a mutual acquaintance to ensure credibility for both parties involved.
Prioritising backlink opportunities
When it comes to backlinks, not all links are equal.
You should prioritise two factors when looking at link-building; relevancy and authority.
Relevancy is all about how similar the content of the website that is linking to you is. Links from science websites such as New Scientist or Royal Society of Chemistry are two examples of sites that would show high relevancy,
Relevancy is unique to each site; if you have an ecommerce website, you may want links from websites that manufacture the products you are selling, but if you are a selling a service, having links from websites talking about the service you are selling suddenly become more relevant.
There is no set rule for ‘relevancy’ but try and consider if the neutral person would see any sort of connection between
Not all websites have the same ‘authority. Authority is the loose term give to how much online impact a website has.
For example, BBC.co.uk is considered a high authority site. It has a lot of traffic and many people link back to it due to the credibility of the content the BBC publishes.
High authority websites are highly sought after, with the theory that they have more ‘impact’ in terms of your overall website SEO. High authority websites are usually aware of this, so will limit the number of backlinks they include in their articles, or tend to use nofollow over follow links.
Ultimately, generating links from websites with high relevancy or authority (or both) will help build your backlink profile and have positive search engine impact. If you can target and receive links from these kind of sites, then your efforts have had the required benefit!
When it comes to backlinks, quality of backlinks is definitely more important than the quantity of backlinks. Consider this when deciding on business metrics for link building.
Getting backlinks is hard, so you should do everything within your power to make each backlink count. Although it isn’t possible to impact who links to you, when building links with other sites, the chances are you are speaking to the person responsible; whether that the webmaster that will post your guest post on another site, or a journalist who you have outreached too.
Backlink Target Page
Backlinks should be distributed to multiple pages across your site. It is easy to direct links to your home page, but including links to multiple pages helps build authority evenly through your website.
Whenever you get asked for a link to reference – such as a guest post bio for example – consider referencing a page that is most relevant to what you have talked about or pages that don’t have links. However, ensure that all links are relevant to the content you have discussed, rather than including them for the sake of it.
Similar to varying the backlinks, importance should be included on anchor text. Anchor text is the text that is included within a hyperlink.
The anchor text should be relevant to the topic of the content that you are linking too.
For example, the anchor text to anybody wanting to link to this page would be ideal if it was ‘Life Science Backlink Guide’.
Again, this may be out of your control, but where you have influence over the webmaster including your link, suggest or ask them to include (or exclude) relevant anchor text.
Paying for backlinks – just don’t!
If you’ve got this far through the article, you’re probably serious about generating some links.
But, let me stress, do not buy links.
There are thousands of people and businesses that will offer you the opportunity to buy links. Yes, they might benefit SEO in the short term, but it is likely you are doing more harm than good.
Google are incredibly clever at detecting paid links, and you run the risk of getting penalised and removed from SERPs completely!
Lots of links over a short period
Even if you are building links the ‘right way’, you should avoid building lots of links of a short period of time.
Although this isn’t necessarily within you control (going viral for example) lots of links in a short amount of time can appear spammy which may run the risk of a Google penalty. However, going viral will definitely have more possible than negative effects for your SEO.
Backlinks are an important aspect of an overall SEO strategy.
Doing SEO well can have a significant impact on your website rankings, but it is not guaranteed.
Saying that, building backlinks are something you should definitely start thinking about. However, building backlinks – especially high quality ones – take a lot of both time and effort.
If you are a beginner link builder, try with some simple tactics like guest posting by contacting websites within your industry and asking for opportunities. If you know any connections in person, ask them directly; use your connections to make things easier for yourself.
If you have prior link-building knowledge, trying a more advanced strategy such as running studies or reports with a unique data source can prove highly lucrative if done correctly. Ultimately, there’s always the chance that your efforts go to waste.
If this sounds like too much effort, or you simply don’t have the time, consider outsourcing your link building. High quality, reputable link building is not cheap to outsource, but the long term benefits it can have to your website can pay dividends!