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What are backlinks and why do you need them?

Many people who know about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) will have heard of “backlinks” but don’t know what they are or how they actually help your website’s SEO so I hope by reading this article you will gain a better understanding of how they work and how they can help your website.What are “backlinks”?

Backlinks are links from one site directed towards another website, so for example on a a personal blog: John puts a link to his Golfing club’s website, that will count as a backlink for the golfing club.

A link from another website to yours is called a “inbound link” and a link from your website to another is classed as a “outbound link”.

Backlinks are extremely useful in Search Engine Optimisation as towards search engines they essentially count as a recommendation from other websites which improves your site’s relationship towards – especially Google but it also has an effect on Bing and other such search engines.

Thus websites with more sites linking in (backlinks) will get higher credit for related searches by users with search engines than websites with less backlinks.

How to ensure you have a ‘quality’ link

One important rule in using backlinks effectively to bring traffic to your site is to make sure that all backlinks are of good quality, you may ask how we define which are good and which are bad. The answer is simple – good quality backlinks are those from related websites; so for example a website about cars should not try to get backlinks from other sites about food or clothing.

Search engines look at the websites niche or genre and when links from other sites come in they consider the relevancy of the backlink to the website, the more the sites have in common the better the quality.

Sites with good quality backlinks should ensure that all of the backlinks are related, and preferably a high PR (page rank), a low outbound link rate and quality content.

What to avoid…

Golden rule: “Be very careful about getting links from unrelated webpages”.

There are many tools that generate backlinks, these are to be avoided, as they are often ‘spammy’ or off-topic backlinks, that rather than having a positive reaction on your sites page rank, will plunge it back down. Google have recently become very strict in backlink SEO and therefore bad backlinks will seriously impair your websites relationship with Google and decrease your page rank.

Tools that generate backlinks are often called “link farms” these are webpages which have one purpose – to create inbound links to your site, linking to one of these is very dangerous and can quite easily cause your site to be banned from search engines.

Another thing to avoid is reciprocal linking (swapping links) with other sites, while this used to be a brilliant way to gather a big database of backlinks and increase your PR. Recently Google has cracked down on swapping links by discounting bad quality inbound links, but still counting outbound links with the result that many websites have been flung of their once great PR pedestals by being classed as link farms. Reciprocal linking can still be used with good effect, but only with related sites that have a low “outbound” linkage rate and don’t rely on “black hat” SEO techniques.

If you own websites on the same IP you must be careful when linking sites together, as too many links from the same IP will be entitled as “backlink bombing” by search engines.

Tools to help you

While earlier on I mentioned tools that have a negative impact on your site SEO, there are a lot of tools that can positively aid your site.

  • Alexa – a ‘must-have’ free web browser add-on tool that displays a lot of data and information on websites.
  • YWB backlink search tool - Finds quality backlinks related to your sites niche (free tool).
  • Domain pops – Good free tool that displays even more information about your website
  • Outbound link checker – free tool that checks on how many outbound links are coming from your site
  • There are many more good free tools that can help you realise your site SEO and help you in your search for quality backlinks, some of the best can be found here.

The best ways to get backlinks

  •  Reciprocal linking (swapping links with other related sites) – please remember to be very careful when using this technique.
  • Anchor text – a very underrated method of gaining backlinks – rather than simply getting links from other websites which just say ‘Click here!’ it is much better to use what SEO experts label “Anchor text” this is labelling links so for example lets say you wish to advertise ‘Youngwebbuilder.com’ from your webpage, a better method using anchor text would be “Top tips and detailed guides on how to build a web business!”
  • Being active on other related blogs and forums, when posting blog comments and on forums try and include signatures with anchor text links back to your site.
  • Directories – although a not entirely clean method of getting backlinks, getting your website on top related website directories can create a good backlink (but always remember “link farms”).
Overall conclusion and points to remember
Getting backlinks is one of the best ways to improve your site SEO, and is a must for anyone seeking to get a higher PR, but always remember:
  • Be very careful and cautious with everything!
  • Quality and not quantity
  • White hat always eventually works! (Do not go down the “black-hat” route!)
  • Anchor text
  • Choose a mix of various link types from high and low PR websites
  • Try to get as many dofollow links as possible
  • Get some nofollow links to make your link building look more “natural” to google.
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