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Backlinks: What Are They and Why Do They Matter for Your Site?
What Are Backlinks?
A backlink occurs when another site features your linked URL or website address on their site. Their viewers can then click the link, which takes them to your site. Also known as incoming hyperlinks, incoming links, inbound links, inlinks, and inward links, the more links that are pointing back to a site, the more popular it will be.
Why Do Backlinks Matter?
When someone puts a link to your website on their own, they are saying they support you, respect your work, and it tells their audience that you are worth looking in to or supporting. There are, however, limitations to this; you don’t want just anyone to backlink to you — you want relevant businesses and blogs to backlink to you. The more relevant, or quality the backlink, the more Google, Bing, and other search engines see your site as “important” to your audience and their search criteria.
Backlinks are “worth more” to search engines when the link is created on a site that has more traffic and relevancy to what you do. Search engines see this as a legitimate, respected, relevant, and “valuable” link to aim at your target audience. The more backlinks you have from relevant sites (larger sites with more traffic matter as well), the higher you’ll climb in the search results, making it more likely that new customers, looking for what you do, will find your site.
Who Should Backlink to You?
The best backlinks come from websites that are relevant to what you do, are large in size (many pages), and have lots of traffic. Examples of strong relevancy would be: an art museum featuring an independent artist’s site, a popular food blogger linking to a new foodie’s recipe, or a downtown shopping guide linking to their downtown shops’ sites. In all of these cases, a well-known, largely respected, and highly followed company, group, or individual is pointing to a lesser-known website as something great…and Google pays attention to that. Basically, Google thinks of it like this: “If these well-known companies and individuals support this smaller entity, it must be good, and users Google-ing for this particular thing should be able to find them sooner in our searches.” Unfortunately, relevancy, a big site, and heavy traffic may not always happen at once or at all, so every situation is unique. These varying degrees of relevancy, size, and who’s backlinking to you will create different jumps in your site’s score (it’s important to note that this is more important to Google than any other search engine), which eventually tells Google your site is more important, influential, and credible than another.
So, what if a totally unrelated site backlinks to your site? In most cases, an unrelated or non-relevant backlink isn’t a bad thing and won’t hurt your score, but you won’t gain much from it either. It’s also important to give these unrelated backlinks some context. For example, if a local restaurant catered lunch for a hair salon, make sure to provide the context of the situation with the backlink– “Thanks to X Restaurant for catering our event’s lunch. It was amazing!”
Some businesses may think it’s a great idea to create reciprocal links — I’ll backlink to you, if you backlink to me. While this is completely legitimate and valid in partnership style situations, the sites that are linking to one another really won’t see the same type of importance from a reciprocal link. Ten years ago, people would set up link exchanges to create reciprocal links between sites, but it didn’t take Google that long to figure out how to account for it. Keeping reciprocal links from boosting credibility helps foster genuine support, and therefore, backlinks from companies that don’t receive anything in return.
- CREATE GREAT CONTENT. This is the best way to get people to share your work and backlink to you. Make people resonate with what you do, and put it on your site. Besides having a beautiful and navigable site, blogs are a great way to keep customers and fans up to date with your work. Post your blogs on your social media!
- Make sure all of your social media links take visitors to your site, and that your site takes them to the correct social media pages. Utilize press releases
- Create good relationships with the people and businesses around you. Local markets are great about supporting one another — take advantage of that. It’s especially important to build the relationships with businesses that are relevant to what you do or sell. Building these relevant relationships will create more chances at attaining relevant backlinks.
- Support and get involved with your craft or trade’s own community. A great example is the support within the DIY and craft movement: when designers, artists, and crafters resonate with someone else’s work, they often feature the work on their blog, Instagram, Facebook, etc. Competition is tough, so we know that this doesn’t work with identical products, services, and business types, but when it makes sense, think about supporting your community of related work…someone else may just support you.
- Never pay for a backlink. The exceptions to this are backlinks on networking groups’ sites (i.e. the Chamber of Commerce), in which you pay for a membership. Otherwise, paid backlinks are not beneficial.
- Avoid seeking out unrelated and non-relevant backlinks. Essentially, the lack of relevancy on these unrelated sites doesn’t hold a whole lot of value for your site. If someone unrelated happens to backlink to you, in most cases, it won’t hurt your score.
- Be aware that your site can be punished by spammy sites that have backlinks to your site. Once backlinked on their site, some scammers charge you to remove the unrelated backlink that’s punishing your score (yes, that is extortion). Luckily, you don’t have to give into the extortion. Google has a way to disavow these bad links so that it doesn’t hurt your score. The disavow tool should be used in moderation, as you don’t want to disavow an important backlink on accident, and Google does encourage you to try to remove bad links on your own first by asking them to be taken down.
Learn more about the do’s and don’ts of backlinking.
What businesses, bloggers, or groups would be great for you to have a backlink from? While most search engines are in favor of natural backlinks (ones you don’t ask or pay for), it’s still important to understand who to network with and why. So get out there and network with your local and relevant groups, people, and businesses. When you’re ready, move beyond local and network with national groups. You never know, one day you may have a huge backlink!