Let’s start with the basics—what do we mean when we talk about backlinks? The link between your website and an external website is called a backlink. Also known as inbound or incoming links, backlinks matter for your SEO and content marketing strategy because they act as “votes” from one website to another.
How Backlinks Work
When you link to websites with content you trust enough to reference, other organizations and websites may do the same and link to you when they find value in your content. As a result, those followed backlinks from high-authority sites will add credibility to your content in the eyes of search engines. In other words, Google will see a high number of backlinks as a validation that your site content is worth linking to, which can affect your SERPs rankings and overall searchability.
Like most aspects of SEO, the best approaches to building backlinks have changed over time. Currently, the value of a given link can be assessed by a number of SEO metrics, including the linking site’s domain authority, page authority, the anchor text they choose, the number of links they give, the relevance of the link, and the link’s position. Implementing a strong backlink strategy is definitely a long game, but the following rundown of the major type of inbound links (good AND bad) should help you understand where to focus your link-building efforts in today’s SEO landscape.
What Backlinks Matter
Editorial links are the cream of the crop when it comes to backlinks. These are the natural backlinks that you receive after you have produced and circulated a piece of high-quality content within your network and industry circles. If people consider your content to be fresh, relevant, and credible, they will link to it more often as a resource. If you produce search engine optimized and well-researched content about industry trends, you are more likely to receive editorial attention and backlinks from peer organizations. Consider opportunities to create infographics, data visualizations, videos, or relevant how-to guides if you’re looking for the right type of hook.
How to build them: Create good content! Maybe seed it with a few contacts, or promote it on your social media channels. Then let the links come to you.
Manual outreach link building is the meat of a robust backlink building strategy. Outreach links are those you have identified as valuable through competitive backlink research and created through intentional connection.
What to research: Which organizations are relevant leaders in your space? What sites and content do you reference most frequently? Which organizations would benefit from your resources? You can also do SEO competitor analysis to learn more about how competitor sites look in search and who they get backlinks from.
How to ask: Before doing outreach for backlinks, consider the value proposition that you’re leveraging to make this connection—what do you have to offer in return for links from key sites and influencers? What is the exact action that you need them to take? Make sure your requests are personalized and as easy as possible for your contacts to fulfill—clarify how and why you want them to link to you (or adjust an existing link) and consider whether you can increase their motivation to do so.
How to build them: You can approach outreach link building from different angles, depending on what is most valuable to your site and your organization:
- Ego-bait pieces: Leverage new content towards your link-building strategy by writing listicle-style articles that feature key sites and influencers. By sharing this content with its subjects and bringing the publicity to their attention, you make asking for a backlink a much more natural and appealing request.
- Broken link-building: Research opportunities within your industry to create useful content—when you’re browsing high-authority websites, make notes of any broken or outdated links. Write fresh content to address these topics (where applicable), and share it with target contacts as a replacement for their broken link.
- Link reclamation: Link reclamation involves fixing links that once pointed to your site but no longer do. It’s common to find websites who have written about you or posted your images without linking or any attribution—these instances provide great opportunities to ask for a backlink. You can also “reclaim” links by making sure you fix all 404 “page not found” errors on your own site to redirect to viable pages, so that any site linking to you with an old URL still sends users to a working page.
Self-created links are non-editorial links made with the purpose of tricking search engines into thinking your content is good by manufacturing SEO value. Google does NOT consider this type of backlink valid, and has even been known in recent years to penalize self-created links.
How to build them: Self-created links include any non-editorially given backlink, such as unmoderated blog comments or guest post signatures. Basically, don’t make self-created links— focus your strategy on editorial and outreach link building as much as possible.
Understanding the basics of backlinks is just the first step in building them into your organization’s overall SEO strategy. Learn more about backlink building tactics and using SEO for impact, and tweet us @WholeWhale to share your own link-building knowledge.