SEO, link building plays an important role in driving organic traffic via search engines, especially in competitive industries. When combined with strong technical SEO foundations, great on-page SEO, excellent content, and a good user experience, link building can be super effective at driving more organic traffic.
Today, the need for quality, relevance, and authenticity has never been more important. While low-quality, spammy link building techniques can work, they shouldn’t play a part in a strategy for an organization who is building for long-term organic search success.
- What is a backlink?
- Types of links
- Link profile
- The anatomy of a hyperlink
- Attributes of a valuable backlink
- Link building strategies
What is a backlink?
A backlink is a link from one page to another. If page A links to page B, we say that page B has a backlink from page A.
Backlinks are one of the most important ranking signals. There’s a direct correlation between quantity and quality of backlinks and rankings.
Why are backlinks so important?
Backlinks have been a very influential factor of search engine algorithms since the very beginning.
They work as academic citations. Search engine developers realized that if many quality resources link to a certain page, it means the page is valuable and trustworthy.
At the very beginning, Google created an algorithm called PageRank to incorporate the quality and quantity of backlinks into its ranking system and determine the relative importance of web pages in search results.
The three factors that influence the PageRank of a page are:
- Number of backlinks – the more backlinks the page has, the better
- Number of links on the linking page – the value (called link equity) is distributed among all the pages that are linked from the linking page
- PageRank of the linking page – a backlink from a page with higher PageRank passes more link equity
Types of links
Links can be classified into various categories. Here are the most basic ones you should know:
Internal vs. external links
This one’s quite obvious.
An internal link is a link from one page to another within the same website, while an external link is a link from an external website.
A nofollow link is a link that contains a rel=”nofollow” attribute in its HTML code.
The instances when the nofollow attribute can be used include:
- Links in comments – it helps to fight comment spam as it makes links in comments less valuable)
- Affiliate and sponsored links – with the nofollow attribute, you won’t violate Google’s rules about buying backlinks
- Links to websites you don’t want to endorse – sometimes you need to link to pages you don’t want to endorse
Nofollow links don’t pass authority, they can bring other benefits:
- They may serve as a hint for Google – in 2019, Google announced that they will treat nofollow links as hints to better understand and analyze links
- They can bring you traffic – a nofollow link may not bring you any “SEO points” but it can still bring you relevant traffic
- They diversify your link profile – nofollow links are a natural part of every link profile and it would be odd not to have any; see the next point…
Link profile is another important SEO term you should know. It is used to describe all the links that point to your website.
The quality of your link profile directly correlates with your rankings.
- Diverse – a healthy link profile is a mix of various types of links (both standard and nofollow) and natural anchor texts
- Quality backlinks – a good link profile consists of quality backlinks links from relevant websites
The anchor text is a visible, clickable part of a hyperlink.
We differentiate various types of anchor texts:
- Brand name – e.g. “Themedev”
- Exact match – e.g. “SEO guide”
- Partial match – e.g. “practical SEO tutorial”
- Generic – e.g. “read more”
- Naked URL – e.g. “https://themedev.net”
The anatomy of a hyperlink
In order to understand the importance of link building, it’s important to first understand the basics of how a link is created, how the search engines see links, and what they can interpret from them.
- Start of link tag: Called an anchor tag (hence the “a”), this opens the link tag and tells browsers and search engines that a link to something else is about to follow.
- Link referral location: The “href” stands for “hyperlink referral,” and the text inside the quotation marks indicates the URL to which the link is pointing. This doesn’t always have to be a web page; it could be the address of an image or a file to download. Occasionally, you’ll see something other than a URL, beginning with a # sign. These links take you to a specific section of the URL.
- Visible/anchor text of link: This is the little bit of text that users see on the page, and on which they need to click if they want to open the link. The text is usually formatted in some way to make it stand out from the text that surrounds it, often with blue color and/or underlining, signaling to users that it is a clickable link.
- Closure of link tag: This signals the end of the link tag to the search engines.
Attributes of a valuable backlink
Besides the obvious differences between internal and external links and standard vs. nofollow links, two backlinks may have different values (and pass different amounts of link equity) based on many other factors.
Valuable backlink looks like:
A valuable backlink is topically relevant. It means the linking page should be about the same or similar topic as the linked page.
2. From an authoritative website
As we’ve explained previously with PageRank, pages with quality links pointing to them also pass more link equity to your page.
The uniqueness of a backlink can be discussed on various levels:
a) Website level
A backlink from a website that hasn’t linked to you before is usually more valuable than the one from a site that has already linked to you before.
b) Page level
If you have two links from the same page, the one that appears first may have more value than the second one.
c) Number of other links
Last but not least, the PageRank is distributed equally across the linked pages.
Link building strategies
There’s plenty of link building techniques, hacks and tips (you can check our big list of 60+ link building techniques for inspiration).
In this SEO guide, we’ll cover the 3 most common strategies that work very well.
The most natural link building technique is to create a unique and valuable piece of content – a so-called linkable asset – that will attract backlinks.
A linkable asset can be any piece of content but there are certain types of content that work perfectly for this. These include:
- ultimate guides
- big lists
- research with unique data
- resource directories
- free tools
The next step is to find websites that might want to link to you and contact them (more on that in a while).