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Backlinks Basics: What Any Site Owner Needs to Know

When talking to a so-called SEO expert, you’ll get lost in the conversation pretty quickly. He will throw tons of technical terms around, all of which can not be interpreted logically. In the best case, you’ll be just as smart as you were at the beginning of the talk. So today, I want to break down the topic “backlinks” to the level that you really need.

This article is meant for the average site owner. It explicitly is not addressed to real or self-proclaimed experts in the SEO area. The article doesn’t cover all aspects, and does not deal with the details, and intricacies of the final few percent of SEO skills that could be talked about. Instead, it covers the absolute basic knowledge. I also try to stay as comprehensible as possible, even though this requires simplifications.

What Are Backlinks?

Backlinks are links that other site owners place on their page to link to your page. We speak of inbound links. The opposite are the outbound links, which you place from your page to the pages of other site owners. Each link that points to your page, and does not originate from your own website, is a backlink.

What Are Backlinks Good For?

For Google, backlinks have always been an indicator of how relevant your site is. The concept is simple: the more site owners link your page, the better your content has to be. It’s somewhat like the principle of the wisdom of the many, also known as swarm intelligence.

So when Google recognizes that your website is linked by many others, this insight influences its ranking decision. The result is a better ranking of your site, which means that you’ll be higher up in the search results.

It has always been the highest goal of the SEO branch to push their customer’s linkbuilding forwards, meaning the creation of backlinks.

Backlinks and the Manipulation Problem

Only a few years ago, a practice that was common then almost became extinct. Knowing the importance of backlinks regarding the ranking, people quickly developed strategies to abet this goal. There were a lot of things that ended up bringing the backlink as a ranking factor into discredit, ranging from link purchases to an own small page network with the purpose of reciprocal linking.

That’s because the underlying assumption was that a page received so many backlinks, because of how highly relevant its content was. However, when these backlinks sat under keywords that the receiver of the inbound links defined for himself, a good ranking was basically guaranteed.

Over the past years, Google adjusted its search algorithm several times, to detect manipulations and react to them. In the first stage, the search engineers manually punished a lot of link building networks, as well as link purchase agencies, and platforms to show that they don’t want to accept crude link building any longer. Quickly, websites with bought links found themselves very far down in the search results.

Today, the number of inbound links is still an important ranking factor, but it’s not the sole, most important one anymore. Now, Google tries to pay more attention to the quality of the content. Only after high-quality content is detected, the question if linking page owners think the same, and externally link to that content comes up. You could say that there’s another fact check to avoid manipulation now.

Why Not All Backlinks Are Good

Bought links or links from your own site networks have negative effects on your ranking. Links to your page that got placed from the backstreets of the web also negatively affect your ranking. If there’s a significant amount of online casinos linking to your homeopathy page, this can’t get you good results. To a lower extent, the same goes for a site of a very different branch. Why should the ski teacher link to your diversified financial service website? There may be good, harmless reasons. However, these harmless reasons will rarely be the case.

Negative SEO is Also Called Black Hat SEO. (Photo: Pixabay)

Of course, the bad boys of the web have also discovered the meaning of bad backlinks for the ranking of a website. For example, commissioned by one of your rivals, they could make sure that the number of your bad backlinks is driven up significantly.

Remember: Backlinks are still important, but they are not the panacea for good rankings. The best way to build good backlinks is to create good content, and to avoid shady cross-linking strategies. You should fight bad backlinks, too.