What are Backlinks, and How Do I Get Them?

what are backlinks

The short answer is: Backlinks are easy to define, but considerably more difficult to get.

A backlink is simply when an external site links back to content on another website. So when I tell you that 52 percent of marketers responding to a survey said relevant link-building is one the most difficult SEO tasks they use, that hypertext is a backlink to the website sharing that information.

You may have picked up a critical word in the anchor text (that is, the actual words in the hypertext link): Relevant. Building a strong network of backlinks into your site is critical to improving your site’s organic ranking and generating referral traffic. Yet not just any backlinks will do. Google has been on to the content farm and backlink buying games for a long time.

Understanding what makes a backlink valuable

Another word that’s used a lot regarding backlinks is “authority.” In the world of backlinks, “authority” is sort of a synonym for “quality.” A source’s authority comes from its own tendency for its pages to have high organic rankings and high-value backlinks, which Google interprets as evidence of a having a high degree of trust and credibility.  However, the source also has to be relevant and contextual to whatever your page being backlinked to is about. These are just some of the qualitative aspects that determine a backlink’s link equity; that is, how much value a particular backlink has.

Thus, your first step when you go looking for backlinks, is to define the criteria that will make a site a good source for a backlink. Ideally, you’ve already done in-depth persona research to identify the questions and topics that interest your market, as well as the online sources where they congregate. As part of this research, hopefully you’ve done some keyword research also. Use all this information to create a working list of websites and blogs for you to target in a backlink campaign.

Keep in mind that backlinking is two-way street. While you want to select potential backlink sources that have relevant, valuable content for your market, your website and content needs to appeal to the source website’s market as well. If not, you probably won’t get the backlink, so you’ll be wasting effort. If you can get the link, but the site isn’t relevant, then you’re probably harming your SEO status more than helping it by collecting weak, irrelevant backlinks.

Ways to generate relevant, high authority backlinks

There are tons of ways to seek out backlinks. Let’s start with some of the easier tactics in terms of time and money investment:

  •      Promote your content via social media to expand its reach. This is a bit less targeted than other approaches, which is why it’s on the easy list. Even so, it can generate some backlinks without you having to target specific sites.
  •      Contribute, including posting your own backlink, on other sites by posting comments, reviews or participating in forums.
  •      Link to other content on your own site. This is called interlinking, and don’t overlook its value.

Now moving on to a backlinking tactic that takes a bit more investment but will generate a higher return. The good news is that you should already be doing a large part of this key backlinking tactic: Create awesome content.

You can develop a single high-value, rockstar piece of content that will keep others linking back to it for a long time. Often called “cornerstone” or “pillar” content, this is a piece that provides detailed, actionable information on a topic. This could be an in-depth tutorial on a relevant topic or a beautifully designed interactive infographic. If you don’t have a comprehensive piece of pillar content, you should still have blog that regularly provides high-value information in an engaging way.

You can use either kind of content and build a backlink outreach campaign around it. That’s when you use the list of potential backlink sources you’ve already created and do direct, personal outreach to them presenting your pillar content or specific blog post and asking for the backlink.

That’s right. Ask. Assuming your content is link-worthy and you’ve selected a relevant list of bloggers and sites to contact, follow these tips when reaching out:

  •      Always email a person, not a generic email address at the site.
  •      Keep your message to the point. Don’t write a long email, just long enough for you to let the source know why this piece of content is valuable to their audience. (They already know their backlink will be valuable to you.)

Reaching out via individual emails may seem a like a lot of effort. If you’re focusing on quality rather than quantity, which you should be, then your time is well spent.

Attracting high authority backlinks, as important as it is, is just one high value marketing tactic. Check out our ebook Five Ways an Internet Marketing Company Can Bolster Your Bottom Line to learn about more actionable marketing tips that have proven ROI for your business.