A Question of Backlinks

Backlinks – the backbone of the internet. SEO expert or not you’ll doubtless be aware of them. You’ll most probably already use them. But what exactly are backlinks and what makes them so important? Let’s take a look at backlinks, what they represent and what you can do to make them work for you – how best you can harness the power of backlinks and at the same time avoid those that might actually work against you.

The definition of backlinks? In short – ‘links directed to your website’. Also called ‘inbound links’ (IBL’s) backlinks are used by the search engines as proof of your site’s popularity or importance. Badges of honour, the more high quality backlinks your site receives, the more relevant you, are and the more Google will reward you in their rankings.  

But don’t be fooled into thinking that winning profile is simply a case of quantity. When it comes to search, Google’s ultimate aim is to deliver relevance. Search relevance as well as intersite link relevance.

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Golden Backlinks

Backlinks from related sites are gold. They’re relevant. The closer the relation, the more the relevance, the higher the quality.

Backlinks from unrelated sites make as little sense to the user as they do to Google.  

Here’s a cheesy example – you run a speciality cheese website. Cheese of any flavour, any description, any nationality – a world of cheese for cheese lovers. The gorgeous Cheddar Gorge Cheese Emporium links to you. Good news. A relevant backlink. More more relevant than a link from the local garage. The higher the relevance the better quality the link.

The search engines hate to feel like they are being played. They want natural, organic links added over time. Nothing fake, nothing false, just real, relevant links from real relevant sites. After all relevance is their currency. The validity and value of any search engine only as good as the results it serves.

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Backlinks That Bite Back

But that doesn’t stop people from trying to work the technology, hiding links, buying links, setting up links from link farms. The fly by nighters trusting that the benefits of a quick burst of high rankings well worth the penalty and punishment. Punishment that can go as far as even having your site banned.

But of course as well as just contributing to your search engine rankings there are direct benefits from having a wide and relevant link network – traffic. The more links you attract the more people are likely to visit your website. One of the easiest ways of doing this is by swapping links with other website owners – reciprocal linking. A nice idea but again, unless there’s relevance there’s trouble with irrelevant inbound links ignored and outbound links diluting the relevancy score.

Respectful Reciprocity

What we’re saying is… take care with reciprocal links. The relevance, popularity and trust of sites that you link to amd that link to you all figure in whether your links help or harm – take care. Choose your partners wisely.

Choose your own sites wisely too. Big linking between your own sites screams manipulation, especially if the sites are unrelated and super especially if your sites share the same IP address (known as a backlink bomb) could blow up in your face. One or two genuine links – fine. Lots? Don’t do it.

Do do this. Do keep a close eye on both inbound and outbound links. The nature of the sites, the backlink anchor and the rest. Use Majestic, it’s great. Amongst other things it will show you all the Google, Bing, Yahoo, and MSN info you need to know plus info on your DMOZ entry, Alexa traffic rank, and indexings.

The Alternative to a Strong Link Profile

There isn’t one. Building a strong, worthwhile backlink profile takes commitment, it also takes time and it takes effort. But it’s a project that’s not just worthwhile, it’s essential. Fail to achieve quality backlinks and you will fail to achieve a significant search profile. It’s that simple, that essential.