Search Engines

What is a backlink?

The most effective means to improve your Google ranking, has always been and still is, generating backlinks to your content. Sounds easy enough. But first, you must understand what a backlink is. Then you can avoid accidentally causing more harm than good.

A backlink is when a site other than yours hyperlinks their users to your site. In order to count as a backlink, it must be on a different domain. Each time someone else links their users to your content, it’s like a vote. A vote for your content being the best on the internet for that topic. The reason you’ve heard the name “Google” is because they were the first to realize this as a ranking factor. They use backlinks to bubble the most popular content to the top – a system called PageRank.

What makes one backlink more valuable than another

But not all votes are equal. A backlink from a very reputable website is worth more than one from an unknown. A single link from whitehouse.gov or apple.com could be worth a hundred or even a thousand regular links. Some backlinks can even have a negative impact if they’re from spammy or malicious websites. In that case, disavow them to tell Google you didn’t ask for nor do you want those backlinks.

There are two important aspects of a backlink – the URL and the anchor text. The anchor text is the actual text you click on to follow the link. Typically that would be blue and underlined. If the anchor text relates to the URL, title, metadata, and content, it’s like a boost to the vote.

How to generate more backlinks

It sounds easy enough to generate a few backlinks to your content. You can ask your friends with websites. You can leave a few comments on some open forums. Or even easier, you can hire one of those link building services online. What’s so hard about that? The problem is that every ranking system is eventually reverse engineered and gamed. So Google has ways of detecting malicious attempts to disingenuously improve your rank. Not only can it be ineffective, it can actually result in penalties being levied against your domain. Most SEO services promising quick rank increases or miracle jumps to page 1 are using networks of spammy websites. They only care about creating a temporary short term bump. This will have a negative impact long term.

That’s not to say that you can’t reach out to relevant and related webmasters and request a backlink. But, the best way to generate backlinks is always to write great, engaging content that people want to read. Then they will want to share. It can take longer, but the benefits of playing by the rules are bigger, better, and longer lasting.