Google’s algorithm has witnessed overwhelming and major changes over the last two decades. With the landscape of internet becoming more dynamic and vibrant especially over the last one decade, Google made consistent efforts to ensure that its algorithm remains agile and highly responsive. In fact, Google never takes its algorithm’s efficiency for granted and therefore it keeps updating its algorithm almost every year.
However, amid all these algorithm changes and updates, one factor hasn’t changed and is unlikely to change even in the future. This factor happens to be ‘backlinks’. Backlinks has remained the foundation of how Google ranks webpages ever since it burst into the internet landscape in 1998.
As of today (i.e. 2020), backlinks is among Google’s top three ranking factors out of the roughly 200 ranking factors that the search engine giant uses to rank web pages.
Over the years, many SEO experts have predicted that the importance of backlinks is likely to diminish in the coming years. But I personally doubt that this is ever going to happen, at least not in the distant future.
Before going ahead, I’d like to highlight a very important point. Apart from Google, virtually every search engine uses backlinks as one of the core ranking factors to rank web pages. This includes the likes of Bing, Yahoo, Baidu and Go Go Duck. Hence it won’t be an exaggeration to claim that backlinks forms the foundation of how every search engine operates.
However, since Google is the most dominant search engine, I’ve primarily focused on Google in this blog post.
What is Backlinks?
Since now that I’ve already underscored the importance of backlinks, I’d like to go ahead and define this term. The term ‘backlinks’ sounds more like technical jargon and may also intimidate many SEO beginners.
However, Backlinks simply refers to a hyperlink on a website that is created with a sole aim to link to another website.
From the above image, we can infer that the website B has received link or backlink from the website A. Backlinks are also sometimes referred to as inbound or incoming links. However, the same link will be referred as outbound link for website that are offering backlinks. Thus In the above example, the website A has given an outbound link while the website B has received an inbound link.
One can easily spot backlinks on any website as it usually appears in a colored text, signifying that it is a linkable text and by clicking on it browsers will be taken to another website.
For instance, the below image shows a small snippet of the blog post published in Ahref’s blog section few weeks back. As is clearly visible from below snippet that two words GA and Yelp have been highlighted in blue color (see the arrow), which signifies that they both are hyperlinked texts. Clicking on these hyperlinked texts would take browsers to GA’s and Yelp’s official home pages.
What do we infer from these above examples? Well, we infer that Ahrefs has chosen to give backlinks to G2.com and Yelp.com. For Ahrefs this link stands as outbound link and for Yelp and GA respectively, this link stands as inbound link.
Why are backlinks so critical?
Now that i’ve already underscored the importance of backlinks, many will be eager to know
what really makes it such a critical ranking factor? What does backlinks reveal about webpages and websites to search engines like Google?
Well, since Google sees backlinks as a vote of confidence, the latter basically reveals the authority of webpages as well as websites. Based on this authority, Google decides to rank web pages accordingly in its SERP.
This vote of confidence acts so decisively that Google may choose to offset other ranking factors. This only reiterates the fact that backlinks are among the most decisive ranking factors.
Below is the graph showing the correlation between backlinks and Google ranking.
As is pretty visible from the above graph, websites having higher backlinks tend to enjoy higher visibility in Google.
Now many people may be wondering about the exact relationship between authority and backlinks?
Below is the answer to the above question.
Not all backlinks are created equal. Some backlinks have dramatically positive impact on the ranking of webpages while some backlinks simply won’t have any positive impact. Worse, some backlinks may end up dragging the ranking of webpages.
- Backlinks that have dramatically positive impact on the ranking of webpages usually come from high authority websites.
- Inbound links that doesn’t have any impact on the ranking mostly come from low authority websites.
- Inbound links that end up harming the ranking invariably come from spammy websites or websites that has been penalized by Google.
Types of Backlinks
While backlinks can be classified in several types and categories, from an SEO perspective ‘Dofollow’ and ‘NoFollow’ links assumes more importance. Get this straight, backlinks can be either dofollow or no follow.
Both are actually simple HTML attributes that conveys to the search engine about the actual state of the link.
Lets dig deeper to know more about dofollow and nofollow links:
Dofollow: When a hyperlink is backed by dofollow attribute, search engine takes this as a unambiguous message that the hyperlink wants to pass link juice to the target website. Link juice simply refers to actual power of backlinks that will be passed on to the target website.
Nofollow: As opposed to Dofollow, Nofollow attribute sends out a clear message to search engine that the hyperlink doesn’t want to pass link juice to the target website. Unlike dofollow, nofollow attribute has to be added; it has to be added either manually by going into the website’s HTML source code or by simply using a plug in.
Plug ins will prove especially handy for those who are not very confident about their coding skills. If you’re using a WordPress CMS, then you easily find good number of Nofollow plugins. These plugins will easily allow you to automatically add nofollow attribute on any hyperlink on your website. You don’t need any coding skills for it.
Therefore, now it is pretty clear that any website wanting to rank higher on Google’s SERP then it needs to have as many dofollow links as possible in its backlink profile. If the ratio is tilted heavily towards Nofollow links then your website’s chances of ranking higher are pretty dismal.
How to earn Backlinks?
Earning backlinks is by far the most toughest SEO task out there. Sometimes SEO analysts have to spend months to attain a single high quality backlinks for their clients or their own blogs. Higher the quality of backlinks, tougher it is to attain it.
SEO community follows several standard practices to attain inbound links. The below chart shows the standard practices and also their comparative popularity. While these data that has been sourced from third party websites is subjected to slight variation, their popularity more or less remains the same.
Link Outreach: This is by far the most popular and also the easiest method to earn backlink. All you’ve to do is put a mail to the owners/founders of the website from whom you’re seeking backlinks. Through this mail, you basically introduce your website/blog and try to convince the concerned person to link back to your website without being too pushy.
Guest blogging: This method is usually time consuming and also needs great degree of perseverance. Guest blogging is nothing but an act of writing and publishing an article in a third party website. This article will be inclusive of hyperlink that will link back to your website.
P.R: Good contacts with PR can help your blog’s or website earn link placement in third party websites that fall in your niche. Additionally, PR agents as well as social media influencers can also help in securing brand mention or online mention for your website.
To know what is brand mention. Why it is called linkless mention and what makes it different from backlinks, click here.
Link Swapping: Another very popular method were two websites mutually decide to exchange backlinks with each other. It is like you link back to my website and I will link back to your website. This method is also referred as reciprocal link or link exchange. However, Google can penalize your website if you become too over dependent on this method.
To know more about link exchange and Google’s exact policy with regards to link swapping, please click here.
Broken link method: This method follows a tactic that goes after backlinks linking to dead link (expired domains). The tactic here is to reach out to websites that are linking to dead links and convince them to divert these links to your websites.