Backlinks are inbound links from other websites that point to pages on your website. They are a key factor in how search engines like Google determine the authority and relevance of webpages in their search results.
Backlinks serve several important purposes:
- They help search engines understand what your content is about and determine if it should rank for relevant searches. More quality backlinks signals to Google that your content is worthwhile.
- They bring referral traffic from other sites. When users click on those backlinks it sends visitors to your site.
- They help build brand awareness and credibility. Backlinks from authority sites and quality resources demonstrate that influential sites find your content valuable.
- They support SEO efforts by boosting your website’s domain authority. Domain authority is a metric calculated by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines.
There are two main types of backlinks:
These occur naturally when other sites reference or mention your content with a link because they find it useful. They are the best form of backlinks because they happen organically and demonstrate genuine interest in your content. Building or encouraging organic backlinks should be a priority in any digital marketing strategy.
These are backlinks that are intentionally created through outreach, guest posting, paid placements, or other tactics. When done properly, manual backlinks can also be beneficial. But low-quality or spammy manual links could potentially harm your site.
How Backlinks Influence Search Engine Rankings
Backlinks are considered one of the most important ranking factors by Google and other search engines. The quantity and quality of backlinks pointing to a webpage helps search engines determine relevancy and authority.
More backlinks (also known as citations) to a webpage tells Google that content is worthwhile. It means other sites find that content useful and think it’s relevant for their own users. Google interprets backlinks as votes of confidence.
However, not all backlinks have equal influence. Search engines evaluate backlinks based on:
- The authority of the linking site – links from authoritative, reputable sites carry more weight.
- Anchor text used – descriptive, topic-relevant anchor text is ideal. Over-optimization with keywords can seem spammy.
- Link velocity – links should accumulate organically over time, not spike quickly from low to high numbers.
- Link location – links higher up on a page are weighted more heavily by search engines.
- Link context – links placed relevantly on topic-related pages send stronger signals.
- Link quality – low-quality links from spammy or unrelated sites get discounted.
- Link diversity – links from a wide range of quality sites helps prevent over-optimization.
- Follow vs nofollow – nofollow links pass no equity, follow links pass full equity.
By evaluating backlink profiles holistically, search engines gauge which pages offer the richest content experience for searches. Generally, pages with more quality backlinks outranking pages with fewer or low-quality backlinks.
How to Build Backlinks
Building an organic, diverse backlink profile takes time and effort. Here are some of the most effective ways to get quality backlinks:
- Create Linkworthy Content – Content that delivers value, answers questions, and appeals to influencers naturally attracts backlinks. Develop content specifically designed to be highly shareable.
- Conduct Outreach – Identify sites you’d like to be featured on and reach out to request they link to your content if they find it relevant. Be personal and explain why a link is appropriate for their audience.
- Get Guest Posts – Write and distribute guest articles on authority sites that include a link back to your website. Choose strategic sites that match your industry and target audience.
- Promote Content – Promote your content through social media, email marketing, PR efforts, and other channels to reach audiences likely to link to it.
- Start a Blog – Regular blogging not only provides fresh linkable content but also establishes your expertise over time.
- Get Press Mentions – Media mentions from major publications lend tremendous credibility and often result in links.
- Network and Build Relationships – Having connections with influencers in your space can lead to link sharing opportunities.
- Fix Broken Links – Find broken links on high-authority sites related to your industry and offer to replace them with one of your pages.
- Create Linkworthy Assets – Tools, calculators, quizzes, and other resources on your site can attract inbound links.
- Sponsor Events or Awards – Sponsoring local events can get your brand mentioned on event websites. Awards or scholarships also generate links.
- Get Listed in Directories – Having your site properly listed on high-quality local directories can yield relevant backlinks.
- Conduct Link Earning Outreach – Reach out to sites where a link to your content would add value for readers. Offer to reciprocate links.
- Follow Competitors – Monitor the backlink profiles of competitors to identify new link opportunities.
The key is using ethical, scalable ways to build links naturally over time. Avoid spammy tactics or buying links which can violate search engine guidelines. Focus on high-authority sites relevant to your content.
Do Backlinks Still Work in 2024?
In 2024 and beyond backlinks remain as crucial as ever for SEO success. Google’s algorithms highly emphasize backlinks for determining search rankings.
As Google’s Panda, Penguin, and other updates have targeted low-quality and artificial links, earning links sustainably has become more nuanced. But well-executed backlink building remains perhaps the most potent SEO tactic.
Recent surveys have confirmed backlinks’ ongoing importance:
- 99% of SEOs say backlinks are effective for improving Google rankings according to Ascend2.
- Backlinks were rated the most critical ranking factor in a survey of over 600+ SEOs by Ahrefs.
- 93% of SEOs view backlinks as very or extremely important for SEO performance according to Search Engine Journal.
Google has become exceptionally adept at assessing link quality and profiling. Tactics focused solely on increasing backlink numbers without considering relevance or health can backfire.
But for SEOs willing to build backlink profiles methodically, ethically and patiently, backlinks continue driving the highest ROI of nearly any ranking factor. Sites developing robust backlink profiles through relevant, authoritative links are consistently outperforming the competition.
What is a Good Number of Backlinks?
There is no universal “good” number for how many backlinks a website should have. The ideal number depends on your industry, competitors, website age and other factors.
As a very general guideline:
- Most successful sites have at least 100 referring domains.
- Strong websites tend to have between 200 – 1000+ referring domains.
- Extremely strong sites for competitive keywords can have 2,000+ referring domains.
However, referral volume alone is not enough. The authoritative ranking boost comes from high-quality backlinks.
Focus first on building links sustainably from reputable sites. As your domain authority grows organically, Google will determine the appropriate number of backlinks your site needs to rank where it deserves.
Can You Buy Backlinks for SEO?
You can buy backlinks from sellers on marketplaces like Fiverr and SEOClerks. But purchased links come with huge SEO risks.
Google explicitly warns against buying links or participating in any form of link schemes. Their quality algorithms are highly adept at identifying and penalizing unnatural link profiles.
Buying backlinks used to be somewhat common in the earlier days of SEO. But it is now considered an extremely high-risk tactic that should be avoided.
The problem with bought backlinks:
- They are seen as spam or artificial by Google rather than earned through merit. This triggers penalties.
- You have no control over link quality or relevance. Purchasing links in bulk inevitably includes low-quality sites.
- The originating sites are not vouching for your content’s value. The links are agnostic toward your brand.
- Sudden spikes in backlinks from purchasing attracts Google scrutiny.
- The sellers frequently use spammy tactics that put your own site at risk.
Google is clear that buying links or participating in link schemes can lead to manual actions against your site. The potential damage to organic rankings is severe. It’s far safer to build backlinks slowly with a long-term approach.
Can You Disavow Backlinks?
Google does provide a Disavow Tool that allows you to tell them to ignore specific backlinks pointing to your site. This can be useful if your site has been subjected to spammy linking schemes or hit with masses of artificial links.
However, Google recommends disavowing backlinks sparingly and as a last resort. Many inexperienced webmasters assume links are bad simply because they are from low-quality sites. But Google’s algorithms are sophisticated and will inherently discount most bad links without human intervention.
Indiscriminately disavowing links can potentially disrupt useful signals used by Google. Disavowing good links accidentally might confuse algorithms and harm your rankings.
Save the disavow tool only for clearcut cases where sites have linked to you aggressively without your permission. Here are some best practices around disavowing:
- Understand how Google assesses links automatically first. Disavow only clearcut spam salvos.
- Disavow entire domains rather than page-by-page. Domain-level disavows are stronger signals.
- Check links are still actively pointing to your site before disavowing. Dead links pass no equity.
- Monitor effects for 1-2 months after disavowing batches of links to check for positive or negative effects.
- Consider temporarily removing pages with damaging links instead of disavowing.
- Reconsider re-avowing links that were mistakenly disavowed after further analysis.
Handling dubious links is tricky. When in doubt, take time researching rather than blindly disavowing links. Contact an SEO professional if your link profile requires major cleanups.
Backlinks remain one of the most influential ranking factors used by Google and other search engines. They allow search bots to analyze the credibility and authority of websites based on the external sites linking to that content.
Earning backlinks from relevant, high-authority sites in your industry should be a key ongoing focus. Backlinks can boost organic visibility, referral traffic, brand reach, and domain authority.
Yet it’s critical that all link building adheres to best practices. Avoid buying links or relying on manipulation. Nurturing an ethical, natural backlink profile through valuable content and outreach is the sustainable path to higher rankings.