Search Engine Optimization 101: The Ultimate Guide To Backlinks

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So, you’ve got a website and you’re wondering how to generate traffic. A few searches have led you to the fact that search engine optimization and digital marketing are the way to go. 

Now all you have to do is get ahold of all those terms and strategies that professionals talk about so casually. It might seem tough to understand what everything means, but we’re here to help. 

We’re going to explore some fundamental SEO today, giving you the full scoop on backlinking. What are backlinks? Why are they important?

Most importantly, how can you generate backlinks and improve your Google ranking? We’re going to explore all of those questions and more in this article. 

A Quick Crash Course in Search Engine Optimization

You probably have a general idea of what SEO is and how it works. That said, you’re just starting out and a little refresher probably wouldn’t hurt. Plus, having some general SEO fresh in your mind will help you contextualize backlinking and all that goes along with it. 

Search engine optimization is the painstaking process of fitting your website into the specifications of the search engine algorithm. In most cases, that means you’re catering specifically to Google. 

Google uses something like 200 ranking factors to decide which sites are most relevant to the keyword search. Different factors hold more weight than others, and it’s important to keep that in mind as you design your campaign. 

Angles of Optimization

It’s key to remember that “all rivers lead to the ocean.” That metaphor might seem strange when talking about digital marketing, but hear us out. 

Some ranking factors take into account the popularity or trustworthiness of a site, while others have importance only on the page in question. For example, your keyword optimization will put a particular post in the running for a search, but the number of business reviews you have will tell Google if people respect what you have to say. 

The ocean metaphor above is meant to show that both kinds of factors benefit the others. The “ocean” stands for lasting success in the rankings. As one of your pages succeeds, your site will gain more respect. 

As you gain more respect, all of your pages will see a little uptick in rankings. Professionals call these “on-page” and “off-page” ranking factors. 

On-page factors relate mostly to the page you’re trying to optimize, specifically. Off-page factors pertain more to your website, its credibility, and how well-suited you are to rank. There are a lot of factors that cross those lines and serve both angles, but it’s good to have some terminology to frame how things work. 

Now that you’ve got a little refresher, we can start our discussion of backlinks. 

The Ins and Outs of Backlinks

In an algorithm with hundreds of factors, backlinks rise somewhere near the top. They’re an important metric because they reflect a lot about your site.

Keep in mind that Google’s primary goal is to provide search results that are relevant to user keyword phrases. Not only do the results have to be related to the search, but they have to be the most useful. There are over 130 trillion pages on Google, so there are bound to be a lot of related pages to every search. 

A big factor in determining what people want to see is social proof. Social proof is the presence of another person’s recommendation or the understanding that other people have had a good experience with something. Reviews and comments are good examples of this. 

Comments and reviews are direct explanations of experiences, while there are other ways for Google to sus out the attitudes of people online. The main indirect reflection of social proof that Google uses is backlinking. 

What are Backlinks?

It’s probably about time that we explain what backlinks actually are. 

Backlinks are links to your site from other websites. There are a whole bunch of different kinds of backlinks that hold different amounts of importance to Google. It’s not always the easiest thing to accumulate backlinks, either. 

They’re important, though, because each link to your site is a nod to your credibility. You can think of rankings as elections, people as voters, and backlinks as the electoral college (the analogy isn’t perfect, but you get the idea). Backlinks have the potential to hold the weight of a number of votes.

A backlink is a vote given to you by a site. It’s an acknowledgment that your content is valuable enough for a competitor to use you as a reference in their writing. When you think about it, the person linking to you is likely competing for rankings, so it means quite a bit. 

Further, depending on how influential the site is, the backlink could really help a lot in your success in the search results. 

Site Influence and Value in Search Results

Let’s say, for example, that you’re a small car company. 

Your rankings aren’t going to jump too significantly if you get a backlink from the toilet store that your uncle owns. You won’t get too much help from businesses or websites that aren’t in your niche. That said, you could see significant results from extremely popular websites outside of your niche. 

A nod from The New York Times or Forbes is certain to be helpful. The goal is to get high-quality from influential companies in your niche, though. If you’re a car company, a backlink from Ford’s website will be really beneficial. 

As we mentioned earlier, not all links are created equal.

Exploring Link Value

A quick look around almost any website will make it clear that there are a lot of links everywhere on the page. 

Some links are generated by users and others are placed on the page by site owners. Backlinks would be meaningless to SEO if links to sites in comment sections were as important as links in the body text. There is some merit to a discussion of your brand in different comment sections, but links to your site through comments aren’t too important. 

The same goes for links back to your site in business listing pages. You might think that creating an account on a business listing site and linking back to your site will do you some good. Unfortunately, that won’t work the way you want it too.

The value in that scenario is that users will have an outlet to get to your website, but Google won’t give you any points for it. What you’re looking for is backlinks placed in the body text of articles. 

Gathering Backlinks

You’re probably wondering how in the world you’re supposed to start getting these coveted links. 

It’s absolutely one of those “I can’t get the job without experience, but I have no experience without the job” types of situations. Websites won’t start linking to you out of the blue, unfortunately, so we have to find ways to get the ball rolling. 

The nice thing is that once you do become an influential site, you’ll rank higher and have more exposure. That exposure naturally leads you toward more backlinks. When someone searches a simple question in your niche and your site is first, they’re very likely to link to your site when the time comes. 

Before that time, though, you’ll have to get crafty. To make things even more complicated, your craftiness has to fall into Google’s best SEO practices.

This essentially means that you can’t try to cheat the system. Paying for backlinks is sort of akin to paying for votes. It’s frowned upon and there are penalties for it. 

Black-Hat SEO

When we think about the ethical side of SEO, we use the terms “black-hat” and “white-hat.” 

White-hat optimization is the process of gaining popularity the hard way. It’s understanding the algorithm, taking time to build up your credibility, and working on all of the things that lead to organic results

Black-hat SEO involves a little less work and might work really well for a short time. It’s anything that Google frowns upon. Google frowns upon black-hat optimization because it seeks to cheat the algorithm or hack the process. 

One example of hacking the system is filling the background of your page with invisible keywords to amp up your relevance. That trick, by the way, will absolutely get you flagged. 

Another example is paying for backlinks or trying to cultivate your backlinks in a way that will give you some kind of unusual advantage. That doesn’t mean you can’t influence others to provide you with links, though. 

This kind of thing is frowned upon because it taints the search results. It allows less-valuable sites to rank higher than quality sites. Ultimately, users that find these low-quality sites will start to associate Google with poor results. 

If that happens, that user could shift over to Bing or Yahoo to do their searching. So long as the results are accurate, though, users are sure to stay on Google.

Black-hat SEO can get you unindexed from Google. It can also send you down to the bottom of the search results. It’s just best to understand it and avoid using it. 

Methods of Linkbuilding 

So, if you can’t pay for links, how are you supposed to get started?’

The first thing to do is to explore your business network with backlinks in mind. You have suppliers, partners, associates, and friends with websites. Ask those individuals to link to your site if there’s a natural connection from their business to yours. 

This is especially important when it comes to your suppliers. Your relationship with whoever provides you with your product is a great one to utilize in backlinks. It’s likely that suppliers are a little more influential than you, and a simple link from their site could do a lot of good. 

Suppliers are great, too, because there’s a really natural connection from their business to yours. 

Ask for Interviews

Whether you’re participating in local interviews or business interviews from forums or sites in your niche, seek out as much exposure as you can. 

There are always opportunities to get mentioned in an article. When that happens, make sure that you ask the interviewer to link to your site in the text. Your odds are good anyway, but a reminder to link seals the deal. 

There’s a great website called HARO that puts journalists in touch with businesses to get information for stories. You can utilize this platform to get a lot of exposure and backlinks. 

Use Your Expertise

Another way to generate links is to write guest posts. 

A guest post is just an article written by someone who doesn’t belong to the organization of the website. These are excellent options because most businesses with knowledge of SEO understand that more content is better. 

Writing a post about something you’re steeped in is a good way to get your name out there and generate a link from a site that wouldn’t otherwise support you. It’s also a great idea because you can typically get guest spots on websites that are far more influential than your own. 

Online influence isn’t a direct correlate to expertise or authority in your niche, so chances are your skill set is applicable to relevant websites across the board. The only thing is, you have to dedicate some time to write an article. 

Reaching out for guest posts is something of an art, too. You should send the pitch without seeming like you’re just trying to plug your website. The receiving party wants to know that they’ll be getting some legitimate value from you. 

It could help to write a sample article and run it by them so they know that you can provide something with legitimate worth to their business. 

Want to Dig a Little Deeper?

The process of search engine optimization is a complicated one, and you can get a whole lot of results if you work hard. The thing is, you have to work hard and have a little understanding. We’re here to help. 

Explore our site for more insights into SEO and how you can make it work for your business.