What is a backlink?
*image A > B with anchor text
Simply put a backlinik is any type of incoming link from an external website. The website points “back” to the linked page. This is important for search engeines because it counts as a Vote to the page and the more “votes” a page receives the higher the placement with certain keywords that the page is targedted for and therefore the higher the organic traffic.
Previously these votes were all created similar but over time different metrics made some backlinks (votes) more or less important.
Most important evaluation
Link Equity – the passing and retaining of backlink metrics which are measured by search engines to determine the quality of a particular backlink
Most Common Backlink Mechanisms
<a> –Text is the most powerful type of backlink and can additionally provide a bonus through the anchor text. if a web bot crawls the following anchor tag it is more likely be relevant to the anchor tag and therefore rank higher. i.e. <a href=”http://yourwebsite.com/awesome-page/”>Catbots</a> then your awesome page will have a higher chance of ranking for “Catbots” (assuming your competitiors Catbots sites don’t have a better backlink porfoloi)
<img> — referring third party images is very common if you are hosting an image and someone embeds that image that is a free backlink. If you are using a service like a CDN which hosts your images for you then you won’t get the backlink.
<iframe> — although antiquated because they are stupid an iframe is another way to get a backlink. This is very commonly used with videos however entire webpages are used as well but again this usually doesn’t work very well with modern web design best practices.
Redirects – redirects (a server directive) although not technically a backlink are treated as one and therefore are important. 301 (permanent) redirects are preferred as they pass link equity however evidence suggests that 302 (temporary) redirects although not by design pass link equity as well.
Antecdotal evendience suggests that 90% – 95% of link equity is passed from the source URL to the destination URL.
Plain Text – Emperical studies are lacking but evidence suggests that brand name mentions i.e. your company name, product name, etc as well as plain text URLs do pass link equity.
What is debated is how much! In other words what kind of affect does plain text mentions have on ranking and organic traffic.
Metrics of a backlink
The following are the most important metrics to consider when reviewing a backlink as well as holistically when viewing a backlink profile.
Do/No Follow: this technically allows webmasters to refer a page without passing link equity. In other words you can provide a page reference without giving them any “SEO credit.” So theoretically it will not help you rank pages. Whether by design or the accumulation of other metrics this does seem to have minimal effect on dimishing the value of rankings.
It will raise red flags if you have a improper dofollow to nofollow backlink ratio.
But the HTML attribute/value is rel=”nofollow” is how you apply this and dofollow is a default assumption search engines use so never add rel=”dofollow”
Page Equity – this is simply how much “SEO” power” a page has based on a page’s backlink portfolio. The best measurement of this is Moz’s PA – page authority.
Domain Equity – this is simply how much “SEO” power” an entire website has based on a the subdomain’s backlink portfolio. The best measurement of this is Moz’s DA – domain authority.
Again this is really a more valid measure of a subdomain www.weekendatbernies.com vs the root domain weekendatbernies.com . Although link equity is passed from root domain to subdomain and visa versa it definitely is not as effective as managing everything under a single domain so just pick one and try to stick with it.
Hosting everything under a single domain with no branching subdomains may have infrastructural & UX drawbacks but in the great subdomain vs subdirectory battle subdirectory wins the SEO battle every time.
IP diversity – you will commonly hear this as C block diversity. Well that is true but really we also want A & B block diversity as well. IP addresses are the addresses of the internet it lets you connect to the correct web server. IPs (IPv4 in this case) is made up of 4 different “blocks” or classes.
Everyone touts the importance of C Class diversity but in reality this is just the minimum class needed to be seen as unique. So you can have an identical C block in two different IPs but if the A and/or B blocks are unique then it is a unique IP and is seen as a unique property.
This is relevtive and must have a minimum of more than one IP to be seen as unique
Data center diversity – never really talked about but this was most likely initiated by Google due to “SEO Hosting” companies gaming the system but providing reseller accounts to SEOs with Unique class C IPs so they can host their fake network of webistes or PBNs (private blog networks).
In response, Google made it more challenging by depreciating the amount of links that are received hosted on a specific data center.
This is just were a large set of web servers are housed and managed. Too many link to a single domain or webpage from the same data center can be a red flag but either way will be depreciated.
TLD diversity – Another under represented metic, Really only a problem from young websites. A healthy domain portfolio has different top level domains pointed to them. .com for commercial websites, .org for non-profit organizations, .edu for educational sites, .gov for government sites . There does not appear to be any negative consequenses with having too many of a single type but there is a benefit when there is more diversity.
Page Rank – this is a (no longer public from Google) metric that demonstrates the “power” of a backlink. Imagine a page with a backlink to your site that is new vs a backlink from a page with hundreds of very powerful links to it. The best metric to use to gauge this is Citation Flow with Majectic.
Trust Rank – Trust rank like page rank effects more than backlink efficacy it permeates all of SEO. This basically just states how trust worthy your website or page is. This is measured by a multitude of factors but as far as backlinks are concerned it is measured by the referring domain and page’s trust which is essentially indicated by the trustworthiness of their backlink profiles.
There are thousands of highly trustworthy sites that provide excellent content and have high content standards i.e Buzzfeed – just kidding. The more link you acquire from these reputable online destination the more trustworthy your sites and backlinks are. Trustflow from majestic is the best metric to use for this
SPAM Rank – similar to trust rank this also measure the quality of the sites you get links from and what kind of sites your backlink sources gets links from. If you are an ecommerce site and your entire backlink profile consists of maleware ridden, .info, sitewide, pornographic blogs with twentytwelve wordpress themes installed then you probably are going to have a hard time getting anything out of your SEO efforts or life for that matter. Altough many have attempted this, there are no real third party metrics that are mature enough to give us an acturate measurement. The best way is inspect your backlink profile manually. The main difference is that this has an adverse effect on rank.
Total Backlinks – how many backlinks total do you have. The more the better (ceterus paribus). The best tool to use is Ahrefs – they have a massive index of crawled backlinks.
Total Referring Domains – how many referring domains does each page/domain have is critical. You will get marginal returns from a domain level but especially from a page level. Tihis again is purely a quantitative metic the more domains pointing to your site and page the better
Age – this can really apply to anything age of the backlnk itself, age of the external URL, age of the external domain, etc. But search engines generally have a preference towards age.
Relevance – probably one of the most overrated metric (from an SEO perspective)relevance is simply content relevancy. Google uses LSI understanding which words are that are used which are related and how they are related. If certain keywords are related or relatable i.e. a website that is about cars with a page about nissans linking ot another page about Nissans’ is a perfectly relevant link.
Again this is important but does not seem to influence rank. This is more of a QA measure currently but the referring traffic you receive will more than make up for the lack of SEO priority this metric has.
Link placement – Depending on where the external backlink is placed can have massive impact on passed link equity. The ideal place is a contextual link in the body of the content. If we are only referring to one link then less ideal places would be footers, biography/author boxes, left hand navigation.
Type of Backlink – so the type of website you get a link from determines the type of backlink (see below). The more difficult a backlink is to acquire the more effective it’s link equity. Think of a user generate content site with very loose editorial guidelines like Ezine Articles vs a University department website.
Balance Ratios – take all of the metrics above and the hundreds more not mentioned and attempt to strike a balance ratio. Take guest posting, a promotional strategy that builds relationships, generates high quality content and provides an excellent user experience when done correctly and it strickly abides by Google’s Terms of Service. In 2015? Google announced that too many links from this strategy will result in automated or manual negative actions. The point is do not rely on any one strategy and a natural backlink portfolio is seemingly random so prepare to emulate this or simply diversity your strategies.
Although there are many more different metrics just for the measurement of backlinks these are currently some of the most heavily weighted. When factoring the multitude of different factorial variables there are thousand upon thousdands of things to consider.
But simply focus on a handful of rules and you will succeed
Are Backlinks Really important isn’t traditional SEO Dead?
Website creators write sensational articles that say SEO is dead or a certain aspect of SEO is dying. These articles then generate a lot of social shares and seeming fear-based utility. These then gereate a lot of backlinks which result in these articles ranking highly for SEO related longtail keywords and their organic traffic increases and don’t get me started on the engagement metrics. In other words articles screaming that the “SEO sky is falling” is click-bait and a tried and true SEO strategy so “SEO is dead” articles are just good SEO best (if not a bit dishonest) practices.
Some people actually belief this stuff so…
These articles tend to capitalize when there has been a major algorithmic shift with Google these dramatic changes tend to shake the SEO industry and many people’s livelihoods unfortunately.
But imagine a world were Google no longer holds their monopolistic advantage (it would be slow but very real prospect).
SEO as we know it will change so dramatically that it won’t be recognizable in 5 years from now. How do we know? Because it happens every 5 years.
Major algorithim shifts, market share fluctuations, dramatic industry variations all of these things are change. When change happens like with everyitng in the private sector many of the established parties and all of the flexible ones will stay, the newcomers and schemers will leave thus providing more opportunity for the ones that have stayed and over time things will plateau and become static and more newcomers will enter the market.
Unlike technical, onpage, or really any other branch of SEO offpage SEO (or for the sake of argument acquiring backlinks) is the only thing that actually ranks websites so one must remain flexible.
Golden Rule of Backlinks
Build links for the referral traffic and brand recognition, the SEO benefit will come in time. Outreach and guest posting. SEO is a long term strategy and should not your exclusive one. The best linking strategies are the ones that lend to relationship building and manipulation.
Gray Hat SEO’s used to develop linking schemes and required sophisticated software to outrank time tested corporate behemoths. These days Google’s war on SEO has created the SEO’s arsenal to be nothing more than email and sweat equity.
What About PBNs?
Even if you create a portfolio of fake websites/blogs and have your very one private blog network that never has been taken down but the Man(Google). They are still relatively difficult to maintain and manage. And if you are ever going to scale it is easier to simply learn how to market/persuade.
There is no moral bias against or for PBNs, there are many large agencies that thrive off of it but one should really emulate these sites to look like real sites and at that point why not make them real sites and if you are going to make them real site mine as well make consolidate your brand and have one website.
After a year or two, there really is no benefit if you plan on keeping your site anyways…Again it’s easier just to learn how to market your site well.
Types of Backlinks – there are literally 100s of different types of backlinks but these are the most common in order of effectiveness.
Outreach – these types of backlinks are your major heavy hitters. They are the hardest to acquire and provide the most value to your backlink profile. These require you to actually talk to someone (over email) and so most people don’t do it.
Contextual Link – These are ultimately the most powerful as they require the most manhours to generate. Articles and posts with a link surrounded by text. Authoritative adjacent links will provide you a massive boost to this already powerful *descriptive image* manual link.
The outcome of this type of outreach can be summarized into two common outcomes:
Guest Post Opportunity – in addition to the possible editorial link you will receive (see below) you might have a chance to get a link in the body of your text. In exchange, you will have sacrifice 5 – 10 hours of your life to write a superb piece of content. Note: many webmasters don’t let you build a link to your own content so you have to settle for an editorial link or get an alias (but then you have to keep a running list of aliases and portfolios and you’re back in with the PBN crowd – learn to negotiate once you build the relationship)
Update Opportunity – this has a muiltiude of variations broken link building, contextual outreach, influencer outreach but ultimately the process is the same, you want to simply update a piece of content with your link. Ironically, this takes about as much time as writing a piece of content due to lack of participation. People simply don’t want to update their links for your benefit.
List pages – Resource Pages these are typically so powerful because they come from some massively aged domains & URLs. Again the best method to get listed on one of these resource pages is to know someone or meet someone that can control the page. I forgot you can also be an authority on a subject.
Guest/Editorial – These are excellent sources that follow Google’s guidelines to the “T”. But Google has penalized them and if you utilize them too much you will get a penalty. So simply be sure to diversify your backlink portfolio and point these domains to your homepage.
There is evidence that this is merely a manual action taken by Google excluding the most severe cases.
News – This is a garden variety including on one end Fox News and CNN to your local online newspaper. Although greatly depreciated due to abuse these links still make up a powerful portfolio. Press Releases are still a decent way to get these types of links but they are not very effective unless a journalist manually reads your Newswire, curates it, and publishes it online with your link. A better way is simply talk to some newsy nerds and see how you can help them.
Low End Relational – These are common backlinks which are easy to acquire however they do provide
Social Media – one of the easiest and more prolific links in any healthy backlink portfolio are from social media sites aka social signals which can include links from your sites that are Shared, Retweeted, and simply spread.
Due to the ease of getting these this requires a 2003 SEO approach = get as many as humanly possible. Google is validating social signals now by profile and link neighborhoods. Justin Bieber sharing your content is therefore more powerful than your proud mother.
Forum – Coming straight from the 90s this legacy site structure was a common why to communicate with likeminded people about specific topics or industries.
While still used today and many are nothing more than a legacy from lazy webmasters. Nonetheless this type of site is used and will most likely be used for many, many years. Forums have actually morphed into Q&A sites, Reddit, and other hybrids but their link value is relatively the same.
Although these links too have been greatly depreciated they still have some power but offer an incredible way to generate high quality referral traffic. Pick a few related forums (if possible) and become a local hero.
Submission – these have very low editorial guildlines or standards and is typically a matter of filling out a few fields and you get a link that is usually quite embarrassing. They still have their place and can be quite useful for new websites or even individual pages when used as a supplement.
Web Directories – WWW navigation 1.0 these are generally as a holdover when search engines were only theoretical. Step 1: go directly to a web directory, Step 2: find a website that looked interesting. Text-based relational queries are for nerds anyways. Some such as All Top have definite value but many are not worth the time. Aside from these being completely antiquated, they typically only allow links from you highest level domain i.e. http://Only those with a high domain authority or one with a high page authority in which you are guaranteed to land a link on are truly worth the time. Pick 3 – 5 in your first few months after “Go Live” and move on the ROI isn’t there and is probably just a spammy link.
Blog Comments – Another excellent way for referral traffic (when done correctly) but SPAM campaigns just make you look like a noob. Simply find a few relevant blogs with some quality guidelines provide a relevant and interesting comment. Try to learn when a webmaster publishes blog posts so you can be first in line. Read the post. Then write something short and constructive that will blow their mind. Then repeat. You can also make some good relationships this way as well.
Web 2.0 – this is any site where the userbase generated complete pieces of content. Traditionally this was a Hubpages or article directories like Ezine Articles. Basically anyone could publish these and the writing went from hilarious to embarissing peaking at decent. But Google’s war on SPAM killed these into obscurity. Then you have YouTube, is this a social media site? Traditional Web 2.0? Or something else?
Although most SEOs refer to this category as a user generate subsite again think Hubpages, this is actually an incredibly diverse hodgepodge of web properties that are difficult to classify.
Most of these again don’t provide much SEO value and a large portion of these are even nofollow and won’t move the needle much when you have an established site but these could generate some referral traffic. But like social media sites these typically need to develop a user base first on the site then refer traffic to your site. So generally, low ROI unless the website has a significant source of internal traffic like a Youtube.
Practice makes perfect. See if you can build one of each of the following types of backlinks to your homepage. Then see what you can do for an inner page.
This is the part that takes time and doesn’t happen overnight so your competition won’t do that. You would be amazed how good you can get at this with only 100 hours under your belt.