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Plain Language, Please: What Are ‘Backlinks’ ?

First of all, know this: ‘backlinks’ and ‘inbound links’ mean the same thing. If you’ve heard either flung around in conversation and felt only vaguely certain of their definition, you’re not alone.

You heard it here:

Backlinks (and inbound links) crop up when SEO experts and web marketers try to explain why having other websites include a link (or links) back to your website is an important part of getting higher Google rankings.

It’s a search engine thing.

And it’s downright confusing; why would links back to your site from other websites have an affect on how it ranks on Google search results?

Well, friends. I’ll tell you in plain language. Ready? Let’s go.

What are Backlinks, in plain language?

Backlinks are inbound links from external sites pointing to pages on to your site.

Backlinks shouldn’t be confused with links among pages within your website, known as internal links.

Why are they important?

As we discussed last time on Plain Language, Please, search engines such as Google and Bing use a laundry list of ranking factors to help them determine where to place web addresses on search results.

SEO experts believe high-quality content, social shares, and proper HTML tags are amongst the 200 ranking factors taken into consideration. That’s why your SEO or web marketer is always on your case for blog content and social media involvement. If you craft your web content to what Google and Bing deems as valuable for their users, you improve your chances of getting that top spot for your targeted keyword searches.

And that’s where backlinks come in, as another ranking factor for website owners to pay attention to.

It’s like word-of-mouth – on the web. When it comes to improving your site rankings, high-quality backlinks are like gold.

Example, please!

This is a backlink. See what happened there? If you click on ‘this’, you are taken to That’s all a backlink is.

In this example, we are the ‘other website’ – the website directing users to CBC. We are in no way obligated to mention CBC on our website. But we just did because it offers better news coverage than Fox, and we like that.

Note that in this example CBC gains essentially nothing from our backlink. If they linked to us however, that link would be incredibly valuable for us. We’ll explain this next.

What’s in a quality backlink?

The Google Webmaster Central blog says, “Links from relevant sites hold more weight. If you own a barber shop and you have inbound links from sites that are related to that subject (such as hairdressing), it’s going to be much more valuable than links from a car repair site.”

That’s why our CBC link isn’t valuable for them. Navigator Multimedia Inc. is a web marketing company in Kelowna. CBC is a national news website, with millions of visitors and links.

You see, the more authoritative the backlink source is, the better. So while our blog isn’t too shabby, it’s not exactly a news-source super-power like CBC. Referral influence from CBC is potent, because big publications are highly trusted by search engines.

So how do I get quality backlinks for my website?

  • Provide valuable information and/or tools on your website. Stuff that compels other web sources, such as blogs and information hubs, to refer your site to their readers.
  • Promote your website on social media platforms and through press releases, guest blog features, and interviews.
  • Seek out the journalists and industry leaders that can help you spread the word. Foster these mutually beneficial relationships with ongoing communication.
  • Be a true blogger. Comment on other relevant blogs with thoughtful insights, and update your own blog consistently.
  • Stay away from link-building schemes. These can work short-term, but sites using these are likely to be caught by search engines and have their rankings decimated.

Participating in link schemes can get you in big trouble with search engines. Here’s how to sniff out a link scheme:

  • If someone or some company contacts you and offers to post a link to your website in exchange for you linking to theirs, that’s probably a link scheme.
  • If a company offers to bring lots of links to your website with an automated program or low-grade blog commenting strategy, that’s a link scheme.
  • If a company offers to include your website in a dodgy-looking directory or bookmark site, it’s likely a link scheme. Links from sketchy sources such as these can damage your rankings. So play it safe, and ask your web marketer for advice before committing to anything link-related.  Chances are, you’ll see the signs and walk away.

Other ‘Plain Language, Please!’ Articles

Need a web-marketing concept or phrase explained in plain language?

Share it with us in the comment section below – it could be featured in an upcoming Plain Language, Please post!

Ohye, Maile. “Good times with inbound links.” 9 October 2008. Google Webmaster Central Blog

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