Link building refers to the creation of backlinks = links pointing to your site from elsewhere on the internet.
Backlinks are a form of off-page SEO. Off-page SEO, in turn, refers to search engine optimization. SEO consists of building quality signals for Google to determine the relevance and quality of your website and its pages.
Those signals include links from other websites that point back to your website. People sharing your content on Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social networks also work as backlinks.
Indeed, even though this research has found that “backlinks no longer primarily determine search engine rankings”, a handful of quality backlinks will benefit your website much more than a thousand social shares.
What are backlinks?
Backlinks, also known as incoming links, are simply links from websites that point at your own website or web page from another website. Backlinks are used as quality signals by Google.
Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B.
The more votes (backlinks) your website/pages receive has a large influence on your website’s search engine ranking, popularity, and importance. However, not all backlinks are equal: some carry more weight than others.
Understanding Google PageRank
PageRank is Google’s link analysis algorithm, named after one of Google’s co-founders Larry Page. It assigns a numerical weighting (from 0 to 10) to pages on the web based on hundreds of different signals. Don’t confuse PageRank with your search ranking positions, it’s not the same. PageRank (PR) is simply a means of identifying a page’s relevance, quality, importance, and authority. The higher the PR number of a page, the more authority that page carries.
Backlinks from web pages with high PR, preferably higher than the PR of your own website are the most beneficial for your website. One backlink from a PR3 page is worth thousands of PR1 page backlinks. But often the higher the PR, the harder the links are to obtain.
Backlinks and anchor text
Anchor text is one of the most powerful SEO signals. It provides a message to Google regarding the content of a page. For example, if your website sells red widgets and the backlinks pointing at your website’s pages include red widgets’ in the anchor text, then this is a vote from another website that is independent to yours that says: “this website is all about red widgets”.
In turn, Google increases the visibility of your page in the search results, because if users are searching for red widgets, this is what Google wants to give them.
However, you should not abuse the use of anchor texts, because it will not improve your rankings. It would instead land your site with a penalty for trying to manipulate the search results.
When building links, it needs to look natural. The should be built, or they should look like having been built by people genuinely linking to your website, and not by you building them yourself or buying them.
For example: if one hundred people linked to your website about red widgets, it’s highly unlikely that they would all choose to use the same anchor text. Examples of anchor text used might include: “click here”, “cheap red widgets”, “Bob’s red widgets”, “awesome widgets” etc.
So, if you are building links, it is very important to use different anchor text for your backlinks.
Follow and nofollow backlinks
Adding “nofollow” to the links of pages that you link out to is like saying that you don’t want to give your vote to this page, although you are still happy to link to it. So if someone links to a page on your website but adds the “nofollow” attribute, then you will not benefit from this, at least not as much as you would if they left off the “nofollow” attribute which means it’s a dofollow link.
It is good to have a mix of both nofollow and dofollow backlinks. This looks a lot more natural than if all links were to be dofollow. However, the number of nofollow links that are pointing at your site are generally significantly lower than dofollow, often only 10% of total links.
How and where to obtain backlinks
If you follow Google’s advice to obtain backlinks, then they basically just say that if you create amazing content the backlinks will come automatically. This, however, is rarely the case, and you are going to have to go out there and build them yourself if you want your site to rank well.
Ideally, you will want to obtain backlinks from high-quality websites, and also websites that are in a similar niche to your own. But there are literally hundreds if not thousands of different places on the web where you can potentially get backlinks from, some of these include: other websites, blogs, forum profiles/signatures, directories, comments, social bookmarking, YouTube etc…
Anyway, you can search for page ranking services with this search.
Checking your competitors’ backlinks
One of the best ways to discover where to try and obtain backlinks from is directly from your competitors. You simply look at their own backlink profiles to see where they are getting their links from, then try to duplicate them for your own site.
There are a number of tools available that do exactly this for you, and a whole lot more. Majestic, Ahrefs and Moz’s Open Site Explorer are the big three. These are paid services, but they also provide a limited free version which can still prove very useful.
Build backlinks slowly and avoid spam
So, it’s important that everything looks as natural as possible when building backlinks. If you have a new website with a clean backlink profile and you build thousands of links in a very short time, this will raise a red flag or two with Google that may result in a penalty.
Also, you should never consider buying backlinks from people offering link building services. These will do your website more harm than good. If it’s very easy to obtain, then it’s unlikely going to be a good quality link. You should check every single link that you build, and always ensure that you have the possibility to update or remove the links if you need to in the future.
Keep track of backlinks
It’s important to keep track of the backlinks that you build because doing so will allow you to easily carry out a backlink audit if your rankings suddenly drop. You can then find the offending link and remove it. We recommend creating a spreadsheet that contains all of your links, including the date obtained, the PageRank of the page they are on, anchor text, and a contact to update or remove the link.
Actively monitoring your backlinks will also allow you to spot if your competitors are performing what’s called negative SEO. This is basically building lots of spammy links to your website that can potentially result in a penalty for you.
Finally, if you try to remove links that you believe are harming your site, but for whatever reason are unable to, then the Google disavow tool can be used to disavow these links.
Backlinks library: our top 10 articles
Why re-invent the wheel when there are so many great articles out there about backlink building? Check out these backlink building articles from the industry’s leading experts.
Link building guide for beginners.
The author claims this is the most complete list of link building tactics on the Web. It certainly is comprehensive and includes actionable items that you can execute right now as well as others that take several weeks to complete. A good guide to start off with.
A short guide to 6 ways to build backlinks
8 actionable ways to get backlinks by spying on your competitors
The first article in a series about actionable link building tactics
Five basic link building tactics
8 myths about link building, deconstructed
Fractl combed through the 26000 links they built over the years and found out that high Domain Authority sites don’t necessarily attract a lot of social engagement, most sites don’t consistently use the same types of links and certain publisher verticals are more likely to feature a lot of visual assets.
Two very long articles about link building, the smart way.