Insights

14th September 2020

What are backlinks and why are they important for your website performance?

what are backlinks and why are they important?

Link building refers to the process of encouraging other people to add a link to your website, within their own online content. Also known as Backlinks, they offer a useful way for users to navigate between pages on the internet, helping you find additional information to that provided by the host website.

In this blog, we take a look at backlinks further and explain how they can help with your SEO and website performance.

When did backlinks start to count towards ranking?

Links as a ranking factor began in the 1990s when one of Google’s founders, Larry Page, invented PageRank, which Google started to use to measure the quality of a page based in part on the number of links pointing to it.

The theory of backlinks is that when someone links to another website, they are effectively saying it is a good resource which is why it’s such a good indicator. This metric was then incorporated into the overall ranking algorithm and lots of SEOs quickly jumped on this, with many even trying to manipulate PageRank.

This has led to Google creating many updates over the years which have been specifically aimed at filtering out sites that don’t deserve to rank and have changed the way that sites can legitimately build their backlink profile. For example, adding links randomly to lots of directories to try and build backlinks can be seen as negative.

There are also tighter rules these days on methods such as blogger outreach and guest posting, which has changed how much marketers can manipulate the algorithm.

What are backlinks for and why should I use them?

As well as being beneficial for users, links are also used by search engines to crawl the web. Search engines not only crawl the links between the individual pages on your website, but they also crawl the links between different websites and this is why backlinks are an important part of SEO.

In terms of SEO, link building is the part of search engine optimisation which we refer to as offsite SEO. Basically, the number of backlinks you have (and what quality they are) can have an impact on how Google views your website and your rankings. To increase the authority of your site you need to have a good backlink profile, which in turn will help to improve how your site is viewed by Google when paired with overall great SEO practice.

Once search engines have crawled pages on the web as mentioned above, they then extract the content of those pages and index it. In this way Google, and other search engines, can then decide if a page is of sufficient quality to be ranked well for relevant keywords. Whilst deciding this, search engines do not just look at the content of the page; they also look at the number of links pointing to that page from external websites and the quality of those external websites.

Generally speaking, the more high-quality websites that link to you, the more likely you are to rank well in search results – but having a balance of high-quality and medium-quality backlinks is best so that your backlink profile does not look spammy.

However, Google does also look at some other link elements when evaluating the quality of a link and its impact on overall SEO.

Below are a few linking elements that Google looks at. There are others, but we have noted some key ones below:

  • Anchor text – where possible, you must ensure that the anchor text in which a link is placed contains relevant keywords. Many sites use generic terms such as ‘read more’ and ‘click here’, and whilst this is sometimes necessary, having more specific and unique anchor text will give an indication of better quality.
  • Trust and Citation Flow – Trust and Citation Flow are metrics trademarked by Majestic. Citation Flow refers to the popularity of a link in a site without considering the quality of the link. A website with a lot of links pointing to it will be influential and will get a good citation flow. In comparison, Trust Flow how trustworthy a site is by measuring its quality. If a link pointing to your website is authoritative and qualitative, then your trust flow will increase, which is great. A good average Trust to Citation Flow ratio is 0.50, as this shows that you have trustworthy links but also influential links. The key though is to not have a Citation Flow that is much higher than your Trust Flow, as this can have a negative impact.
  • Relevance of content – as mentioned above, people used to put links everywhere just to try and build up backlinks. However, you can no longer do that and if you do it will negatively impact your SEO. When building a backlink profile, it needs to be relevant and natural in order to be of any benefit. So, the relevance of the content that your link is placed on is the first step for this as Google will crawl that page, then crawl the link, and then crawl your site to see if it is relevant.
  • Link position – Generally speaking, links that are placed earlier in content or higher up on a webpage are more valuable in terms of SEO and ranking than those placed nearer the bottom of the page. It’s safe to assume Google favors the first link, understanding it to be more visible and, therefore, of greater importance.

What to do if you have too many poor-quality backlinks

Some sites will link to your site randomly without asking or without telling you so, and sometimes these links can be low quality and harmful to your backlink profile and its quality score. If you want backlinks to be blocked from having a negative effect on your website, then ideally you need to ensure that the link is removed completely from the website it has been placed on. However, we now this is not always possible.

If you have looked at your backlink profile and are concerned about some of the backlinks coming to your site, then there is a way to get rid of these. Or as we say in the SEO world, disavow them.

Google’s Disavow Tool (within Google Search Console) is a great tool for helping webmasters with this. It allows you to submit a list of any low-quality links which then informs Google that you’d like the links to be disregarded when search bots are accessing / crawling your website. This can help to reduce the damage done from poor quality backlinks.

That’s a brief overview of backlinks done! If you would like to find out more about backlinks and how your website is performing, then get in touch with the team at Varn today to see how we can help you.

Article by: Aimee, Technical SEO Manager More articles by Aimee

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