Backlinks are inbound links from other websites pointing to pages on your site. Backlinks serve as “votes of confidence” – they indicate to Google that other sites find your content useful. Having quality backlinks signals authority and helps pages rank higher in search results.
However, not all backlinks are created equal. Low-quality links from spammy or irrelevant sites can actually hurt your site’s rankings and credibility. It’s important to understand backlink best practices when doing SEO.
How backlinks influence search engine rankings
Google’s ranking algorithm uses over 200 ranking factors, but backlinks and content remain two of the most important.
Backlinks influence rankings in a few key ways:
- They help assess relevance – The number of sites linking to a page about a given topic indicates it likely contains useful information on that topic.
- They indicate trust and authority – Backlinks from reputable sites lend credibility and authority to pages they link to.
- They aid in discovery and crawling – Backlinks allow Google to discover new pages to crawl and index.
However, link quality trumps quantity. A handful of backlinks from authoritative sites can boost rankings more than hundreds from low-quality sites.
Can bad backlinks hurt my SEO?
Yes, poor quality backlinks can definitely harm SEO and rankings. Google’s algorithms can detect patterns of manipulative linking practices and may apply rankings penalties as a result.
Spammy backlinking tactics to avoid include:
- Buying links – Never pay for backlinks – this violates Google guidelines.
- Using link networks or link farms – Interlinking sites solely to boost rankings often gets penalized.
- Excessive link exchanging – Avoid getting or giving links solely for the sake of links. Let links form organically.
- Keyword-rich anchor text – Having too many backlinks with over-optimized anchor text appears manipulative.
- Pointing links to irrelevant pages – Backlinked page content should closely relate to the linking content.
If Google detects manipulative links pointing to your site, pages can be demoted or excluded from rankings entirely until fixes are made.
Best practices for quality backlink building
Focus on earning backlinks through creating compelling, useful content while also doing outreach and promotion. Avoid manipulative tactics and clear any toxic links.
Recommended backlink building approaches:
- Interview/guest post outreach – Reach out to industry sites to contribute guest articles with a backlink to your site. Offer unique value and insight.
- Roundup lists and mentions – Create helpful, authoritative content roundup posts linking out to quality resources on a topic.
- Link insertion outreach – Contact site owners directly and politely request they backlink to your content if it would benefit their readers.
- Ego bait content – Create shareworthy content like rankings and comparisons that incentivizes websites to backlink when mentioned. Just avoid manipulating the results.
- Brand mentions – Brand name drops linked to your site can earn high-quality backlinks, especially from reputable news and review sites.
- Link reclamation – Use link tracking software to reclaim dead backlinks pointing to 404 or outdated pages. Redirect them to active pages.
The key is earning links organically from sites relevant to yours. Each backlink should come from merit-based content, not overly-optimized or manipulative tactics. Site diversity and trustworthiness matter too.
Always monitor your backlinks and disavow sketchy ones via Google Search Console if found.
How to assess backlink quality
Not sure if a particular backlink seems high or low quality? Many factors determine the real SEO value of a backlink – consider:
The referring site’s metrics:
- Domain Authority and Page Authority – Higher is better, 40+ is good.
- Traffic volume – More unique visitors adds more link power.
- Age – Older sites tend to be more established and trusted.
- Industry relevance – More authoritative if an industry-specific site links to you.
Optimized variables of the link itself:
- Anchor text – Keyword-optimized anchors can seem manipulative if excessive. Brand name links are ideal.
- Link placement – Links in body content seem more organic than those in footers/sidebars.
- Link context – Backlinks make sense and relate closely to surrounding page content?
- Link velocity – How quickly have links accumulated from a site? Slow and steady is better.
- NoFollow/Sponsored links – These don’t pass authority. Do follow links within content do.
Always assess links case-by-case. A few examples of high-quality backlinks are an educational link from an Ivy League .edu site, a brand text link from NYTimes.com, and an organic editorially-given link from a popular site in your industry.
Conclusion and key takeaways
- Backlinks remain highly influential for SEO but poor quality links can hurt your rankings.
- Avoid manipulative backlinking tactics like buying links or link networks.
- Focus on earning backlinks organically through strong content, outreach, and promotion.
- Assess link quality based on the site’s authority and metrics along with optimized variables like anchor text patterns and link placement.
- Monitor backlinks via Search Console and use the disavow tool on sketchy links if needed.
Cultivating quality backlinks takes time but pays off with higher search visibility and more site visitors.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a good number of backlinks to have?
Aim for at least 100-200 referring domains linking to your site. Having a mix of backlinks coming from 20+ different C-level domains (.edu, .org and .gov) also adds more trust and authority.
- Should I remove bad backlinks?
Disavowing toxic backlinks via Google Search Console can help reverse potential negative SEO impacts from them. Reach out to site owners first before disavowing when possible.
- How quickly can bad links impact my site?
It depends on the level of link manipulation and risk Google assigns the site. Penalties can happen quickly or take months. Often updates roll out gradually, impacting rankings over time.
- What is an unhealthy percentage of site home page links?
Strive for links distributed across at least 20-30 internal pages or more. Too many links to the home page looks manipulative.
- How do I build quality backlinks to a new website?
Create compelling content, do keyword research to make content people search for. Outreach strategically to relevant sites. Build social media profiles to share your content and gain followers. Pitch guest posts to industry blogs. Stay patient and persistent.
- What types of links should you avoid?
Avoid link schemes, paid links, excess keyword-rich anchor text links, irrelevant links just for SEO, and reciprocal linking solely to boost rankings. Focus on earning links naturally.
- What makes an backlink high quality?
High Domain Authority, strong traffic levels, reputable industry-relevant sites, organic contextually relevant links, brand name anchor text links, and links from long-established authoritative sites.
- How often does Google update link data?
Google incorporates new link data with every major algorithm index refresh, roughly every 1-2 weeks. But it can take months to assess link changes and their rankings impact fully in some cases.
- Can I automate link building?
Outside of initial outreach, be wary of automating the process excessively. Google may detect patterns and apply spam penalties. Links earned organically carry more SEO value long-term anyway.
- How do I build links without violating Google’s guidelines?
Focus on creating truly helpful, engaging content that earns links on merit. Do ethical, strategically targeted promotion and outreach to complementary sites relevant to the content.
- Should I remove affiliate links?
If they meet relevancy guidelines and include nofollow tags, affiliate links are fine. Avoid site-wide footer linking through affiliates just for the link value though.
- How many backlinks per month is too fast?
Aim to build them at a natural pace aligned with your content marketing initiatives, link outreach efforts, and overall site growth. Ramping up too aggressively risks penalties.