The importance of backlinks: What they are, why you need them and where to get them

Backlinks get you higher rankings, which means more eyes on your blog and more leads through the door.

Pranita Tamang
4 MIN|October 9, 2018
importance of backlinks

What is a backlink?

A backlink refers to any link from one website to another. There’s often a little a bit of confusion about the difference between outbound links and backlinks. In essence, they refer to either end of the same link; the definitions refer to the direction of traffic. If I link to your website, I create an outbound link from my website, and you receive a backlink to yours.

There are plenty of different reasons why people would choose to link from their website to someone else’s. Perhaps it backs up their point, provides valuable citation information, extra information, or could just be of general wider interest. One thing’s for sure though: getting backlinks is SEO gold.

So why are backlinks important? And how do you get the best out of them? Here’s more.

The importance of backlinks

The importance of backlinks lies in their value to Google search results. If there are two articles about the same topic – blog A with 10 backlinks and blog B with 5 – there’s a good chance Google will actively rank blog A higher.

But it actually goes one step further than this as well. Let’s say both blogs A and B link off to their own external sources; blog A to blog C, and blog B to blog D. Automatically, blog C gains more ‘vote’ value from their backlink than blog D did, since Blog A is considered more useful a source to start with than Blog B.

Google aggregates all of these scores into an overall ‘domain authority’ (DA) score. Though Google’s own scores are secret, you can get an approximation of your website’s DA score using Moz’s DA checker.

What about no follow links?

As it turns out, not every external link is inherently valuable – as Google themselves discovered back when they first rolled out the algorithm. As soon as the world of SEO first discovered this tool, it was like Christmas: all you needed to do was manually input links to your website in website comments sections and watch as those all-important SEO ‘votes’ pour in.

These links can all be classified broadly as ‘user generated’ – couldn’t be reliably trusted to determine whether a page had DA value. In 2004, Google changed the algorithms, so most links created by external users, rather than by the website admins, have ‘no follow’ tags in the URL – meaning search rankings basically ignores them.

How to get backlinks on to your website

So, you know that you can’t simply go onto another website and put your URL everywhere. Or, more accurately, it would be a waste of time and achieve little to no SEO value.

As it turns out, you need to earn your backlinks. The simplest, and most honest way is simply to write decent quality content that people find good enough to link to.

The problem with SEO, however, is bad rankings make it hard for people to find you, meaning they’re unlikely to link to you, which will further contribute to bad rankings – however good your content is. So occasionally, you need to give things a little boost.

The best way to ‘earn’ backlinks is by guest blogging. You agree to take the time to craft a (hopefully) interesting, engaging piece of content for someone else’s website, and in turn they’ll agree to provide you with a backlink. Everybody wins: they get a free blog, you get a backlink, and the reader gets directed to your platform if they liked your content. Easy.

But that’s not the only way you can go about earning your backlinks.

Your competitors can help

Let’s look at an example.

Anna and Helen both run similar websites and compete for traffic. Grace is an unrelated third party who found an interesting blog on Helen’s website and linked to it from her own.

Thus, a backlink is created to Helen’s website. Good for her. Here’s the catch though: one day Helen changes the page’s URL without setting up a redirect, meaning she loses all that SEO value and Grace’s readers get sent to a 404 error page. Bad for Helen, bad for Grace.

This is where Anna comes in. She’s pretty savvy at competitor analysis and decided to do a Screaming Frog test to find all the 404 errors on Helen’s website, then used Moz’s open site explorer to see which of those have backlinks. She comes across Grace’s link, who doesn’t know the link is directing her readers to a 404 page.

Anna writes a blog on the same topic as Helen’s original and publishes it on her own website. Then, Anna gets in touch with Grace, informs her of the broken link, and asks her to replace it with the one to her rewritten blog. Grace, knowing that broken links aren’t great for her user experience thinks ‘why not?’ and quickly changes the link anyway.

Grace wins because she gets a functional link and better user experience. Anna wins because she gains SEO value and traffic. Helen doesn’t notice the difference because the broken link wasn’t providing her with SEO value anyway.

This process can involve a lot of groundwork without any guarantee of result. There’s no guarantee you’ll find 404 pages with backlinks that you can reproduce, and there’s no guarantee your equivalent of Grace would agree to change the link to your page once you’re done. But if you’re struggling for SEO traffic, failing to get backlinks and losing out to your competitors, it could definitely be worth the search.

SEO marketing for Microsoft Partners

On the surface, SEO is a fairly simple concept; the process for improving your search rankings and getting more traffic to your website. In reality, it requires a knowledge of a wide range of techniques, of which backlinking is just one small part. In our experience, B2B technology companies often find their time and skills are better spent focusing on what they’re best at. However, the importance of backlinks shouldn’t be underestimated.

Get in touch with the experts here at Fifty Five and Five to find out more about specialised SEO marketing for the Microsoft Partner Network. Want to read more about SEO for B2B technology companies? Check out our content here.