Figuring out how backlinks work has become somewhat of a challenge in the world of SEO experts, gurus, and other “mythical creatures”. Because of that, in this article you are going to learn everything about how backlinks work, what they are, and which ones you should look for. And all of this without all the fancy marketing & SEO jargon (I promise 😉).
As you’ve probably experienced, the more you learn about backlinks and link building, the more questions you have. So let’s take this just one step at a time. Here’s what we’ll look at today:
Firstly, we need to briefly define what backlinks are. From there, we can look at how they behave and how they are created. Next on the list is differentiating between the different types of links – and which ones you can benefit from. Lastly, you’ll learn how many of them you need to rank.
Exciting, right? Let’s go.What Exactly Are Backlinks?
A backlink is also known as a hyperlink or inbound link. In SEO, backlinks are the inBacklink coming links that refer from other pages on the web to your own web pages. Google treats these backlinks as a “stamp of approval” between two websites. The more backlinks a page has, the more likely it is to rank at the top in Google. Conversely, the higher a page ranks, the easier it is to earn backlinks for it.
A backlink consists of:The URL that is linked and you will be directed to once you click. This can be another both web page or any other online resource (e.g. a PDF file)The text you click on which is called “anchor text”. If the link is created on an image, the “alternative text” of the image is used as the anchor text.
To see exactly what backlinks look like, let’s look at a concrete example. Example Of A Backlink
In this example, we’ll look at one of the backlinks our website has from outgrow.co. I found this link using our Link Tool but you could also use any other backlink tool.
Here’s what a backlink looks like on the page itself.
And here’s what it looks like in the code of the page:
Now you can see that in the example above, the anchor text is “Ecommerce SEO”. This is a perfectly acceptable word as it’s very relevant to exactly what’s on the page that follows when you click the link.
But if backlinks are so simple and present everywhere, why are they valuable? To answer this, we need to see exactly how they work.How Do Backlinks Work?
Backlinks between websites work like trust signals for search engines like Google, Bing & Yahoo. They are similar to citations in books or scientific research. A linking website passes value to the website it links to (i.e. it “cites” or “refers to”) known as PageRank.
Backlinks are like peer-reviews for web pages. If a book is being cited many times by different relevant and authoritative sources, it is a sign that it contains valuable information. Similarly, many relevant and authoritative links pointing towards a web page means that this web page contains valuable content.
The more relevant links from authoritative websites you have, the more valuable your website is in Google’s eyes. But a system where you can get such valuable links on your own wouldn’t work.
However, other webmasters having influence over your authority is a good system. It often very well prevents scammers (also known as Black Hat SEOs) from ranking high in the search engine result page. In fact, Google has confirmed that if you link to other valuable pages, your rankings benefit from that, too.
But how exactly is this system good? Why would someone link to another web page or resource? Consider this: Valuable pages help the reader solve their problems faster, easier, and better. And webmasters want their pages to be valuable. So by linking to good sources:Webmasters help their readers by citing valuable sourcesThey also leverage the trust of the source they are refer toOffer their “stamp of approval” to the source they find valuableAnd therefore, the page they link to benefits as well
So, links from other websites are called backlinks. But looking at your own website, you quickly notice something. You have links on almost all of your pages. They point from one to another of your own pages (e.g. in the content of the page or the navigation menu at the top). So are those still backlinks?
Well, not quite. We call them “internal links” – because they only link your inner pages together. They still pass value between your own pages – but not as much as backlinks do.
Links are a standard element when building a website. They are everywhere. However, backlinks are specifically called ‘backlinks’ because they link back to your site from other websites.
In other words, while both internal links and backlinks are structurally the same, they differ in the target website / web page they link to. And because backlinks are pointed from other websites towards your website, they are also known as “inbound links”
“But wait a minute! If there are inbound links, are there also outbound links?” So glad you asked! Allow me to explain. What’s The Difference Between Inbound & Outbound Links?
Inbound links are all links created on other websites that point to your site. On the other hand, outbound links are links which you have created on your website and point to other websites. An inbound link for your website is an outbound link for the site that links to you.
And here is an example of that very same difference visualized:
As you can see in the example above, the backlink created on webpage “A” points out towards webpage “B”.
For web page “A”, that link is an outbound link – because it goes out of their website.
For webpage “B”, however, that link is an inbound link – since it’s coming in from another website. Inbound Link Example:
Here’s a real example of an inbound link that we at Morningscore have gotten:
As you will see below, the website shortpixel.com is referencing us on their page. They have linked to one of our resources called “Push vs Pull Marketing” through their content. This immediately makes the link from their website “inbound” to us.
Outbound Link Example:
Similarly, looking at the same example, that very same link is an outbound link for the website. When they link to a page that is not part of their website (domain), the link immediately becomes / is considered outbound.
As you can see, the difference between inbound and outbound links is technically the point of view. It matters whose perspective we’re taking. Looking at the relationship between two websites, the linking site has an outbound link and the linked site has an inbound link.
The bottom line is, having both inbound and outbound links on a website is normal. As we explained, having both is beneficial. But the links that you’re really interested in are inbound links – since that means other websites are linking to you and passing their PageRank value onto your website.
But with so many types of links and talks about “value”, is there really any benefit to having backlinks? Let’s explore! How Exactly Do Backlinks Help Your Website’s SEO?
The primary reason is that backlinks tell search engines your website contains valuable content. Therefore, search engines are more likely to rank your website higher – as it sees it as the authority on a given subject. Backlinks help you gain authority in Google’s eyes.
But Google doesn’t just count how many backlinks you have. Instead, it also judges whether the sites linking to you are of high or low quality. Therefore, there are two most important factors to look out for when getting links:Is it coming from a website with relevant content?Is it coming from an authoritative website?
For now, just be mindful of the fact that it is essential to avoid spammy and very irrelevant links. That being said, you are likely going to get a bad link at one point or another. But worry not – we’ll look at how to protect yourself from those a little later.
To understand why search engines put such a big focus on backlinks, and why it should make up most of your effort in search engine marketing, imagine a university library. There are many scientific books, but if there are fifty on the same topic, how would you classify which one is the most relevant? Hint: citations.